Progress Report

Or: A Retrospective on My Writing Journey

Nearly a decade after starting my first “real” story (i.e. the first one I realized I wanted to finish, no matter what), I am still not finished with a complete draft. That might be depressing to some who aspire to finish their newest tale in under a year, but I knew when I started that I was undertaking a large task in attempting it: the story includes an enormous cast of characters, creating their world from the ground up, setting up a history of at least two hundred years, putting political systems in place (and the different monarchs use very different systems of ruling!!), learning about military campaigns…. The list never really ends, and the stories of minor characters have moved beyond my control, so that now when I mention it to friends in-the-know, I lovingly call it “The Epic.”

I didn’t set out to spend ten years trying to write the thing ( I probably would have balked at even starting if I’d known!) At the time, I wrote to keep myself awake through long midnight shifts at my job. The story grew out of an idea for fanfiction that quickly passed the bounds of those characters, and as I begin coming up with their names and feeling out their story, I realized that I had something unique, and for the first time started to consider myself a writer, and not just someone who liked to write. Continue reading

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How to be a Writer and a Mom

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Ok, you just did something really hard. You might be getting back on your feet after having a baby or after stepping on a race car that your precious child left on the kitchen floor. Either way, your responsibilities and the calls for your attention just increased enormously, but for the sake of yourself and of your family, you are striving to keep doing what you love.

Session Goals, Space, and a Set Time are the elements that can help you keep writing even as your life is being turned upside down. What makes these things important is that they all clear the way for you to be able to get down to writing. If you’re looking for tips on content, check out our Character Development, Plot Development, and World Building sections on the menu above.

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Book Review: Bridge of Clay

BOCTitle: Bridge of Clay

Author: Markus Zusak

Blurb: The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance.

At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge—for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle.

The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome? Continue reading

Author Interview: Joanna Hathaway

Pen Friends, I’m so excited to introduce you to debut YA Author, Joanna Hathaway who will talk about her YA Fantasy (with Historical aspects), Dark of the West, which comes out February tomorrow, the 5th!!! Let’s hear what she has to say about books, publishing, marketing and more!

JHSP: Hi, Joanna! Thanks for joining us! Congrats on your debut coming out in February! I bet you’re getting excited!  But before we dive into all the book stuff, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

JH: Thanks so very much for having me! Yes, it’s getting very exciting, and as you mentioned, Dark of the West is my debut. It’s my first book to be published — but it’s also the first book I’ve ever finished! I started working on it when I was in university, over a decade ago, and it was the only story that stuck with me through the years. I like to say that I “grew up” as a writer with this book. I’ve revised it so many times, and in so many different ways, that it’s taught me most of what I know about craft at this point. I know many authors write a few different books before they reach The One, but for me it took agonizing over countless drafts to makeDark of the West become The One!Dark of the West

SP: Your debut, Dark of the West, will come out February 5th! From the first moment I read your description, I knew I would LOVE this book!

Here is a blurb:

Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan’s mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it’s the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania—Aurelia’s mother. Determined to avenge his wife’s murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.

Athan’s mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it—a war in which Athan’s father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been raised to believe. Continue reading

Book Review: Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles)

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Title: Cinder (The first book in The Lunar Chronicles.)

Author: Marissa Meyer

Blurb:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

With high-stakes action and a smart, resourceful heroine, Cinder is a Cinderella retelling that is at once classic and strikingly original. MM.jpg

Review: I want to start my review with the quote (below) from Entertainment Weekly. This quote–the concept for Cinder–hooked me into reading the book in a way my friends couldn’t. I was so intrigued by mashing these genres/titles together, I simply had to see how she had done it.

“An interesting mash up of fairy tales and science fiction . . . a cross between Cinderella, Terminator, and Star Wars.” ―Entertainment Weekly

 

All I can say is WOW. I was blown away by the creativity and imagination that went into creating this plot & series!

Characters/Voice: Once I started the book with this quote in mind I easily slipped into Cinder’s voice. She was sympathetic and I loved getting to know her story, and of course the quote had me rooting for her from the beginning. Prince Kai, Queen Levana, Peony and Cinder’s step mom were all well done; easy to read and follow and had depth. I could easily see their motives. The book moved between the scenes and characters with such great timing I was invested in each story line and character.

Pacing: The pace kept me reading and invested the entire time. It was hard to put down.  Mainly because that same quote had me asking questions. How will Meyers do this? I loved the weaving of the plot and the mystery. Seriously, it was so well done!

Plot:  The plot is super creative because as you read in the blurb, Cinderella is a cyborg set in a future world with the threats of wars and conspiracy. The main plot and sub plots are complex and full of mystery and suspense. It’s believable and fun.

Setting: Loved this imagined future world. Loved the scientific developments and new technology. Loved the descriptions of New Beijing and the Eastern Common Wealth and Luna, the moon civilization. Loved the backstory on the history of World War 3 and 4, and how the earth was redivided. Her writing and description was not dry in any way.  A perfect balance between setting and plot and character and pace.

Themes/ Audience: The themes that were most obvious were standing for what is right and finding your true identity and being ok with who you are. As for audience, I gave this book to my Dad because he loves Sci-FI and he loved it! LOL. He is already on book 3 (as am I.) It is also totally appropriate for younger ages. Needless to say, I would totally recommend this book to younger and older teens (and even adults who love fantasy, fairytales, or sci-fi-fi action books!)

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Nova, Author of YA Contemporary Action/Adventure & Fantasy, signing off! See Nova’s book stuff here and her latest book news announcement – I’ll give you a hint–film is involved.

Becoming An Expert (The Writer’s Way)

How many times have you heard “write what you know”? It’s good advice – to a point. Because if everyone only wrote what they knew, we’d have no space odysseys, no dragons, no magical words, no elves or dwarves or krakens… and we’d be poorer for it.

So where does one draw the line between what you “should” write and what you can write? I’d say there isn’t a line, and if you’ve been limiting yourself, STOP! If you can make your readers want to enter the world you’ve written, no matter how unrealistic or crazy, then you’ve still succeeded in writing something good (i.e. interesting). You don’t need to be an expert in fighting to write a fight scene, or on trains to write about your characters taking a train ride. Same goes for flying on the back of a dinosaur, or piloting a ship through outer space – if you can make it interesting and immersive for your readers, only a few are going to nitpick the details. ♦  Continue reading

Book Review: Just For Clicks

just for clicks book mockup photoTitle: Just For Clicks  (Release date: February 19, 2019)

Author: Kara McDowell

Blurb: Mommy blogs are great . . . unless the blog happens to belong to your mom.

Twin sisters Claire & Poppy are accidental social media stars thanks to Mom going viral when they were babies. Now, as teens, they’re expected to contribute by building their own brand. Attending a NY fashion week and receiving fan mail is a blast. Fending off internet trolls and would-be kidnappers? Not so much. Poppy embraces it. Claire hates it. Will anybody accept her as “just Claire”? And what should Claire do about Mom’s old journals? The handwritten entries definitely don’t sound like Mom’s perfect blog persona. Worse, one of them divulges a secret that leaves Claire wondering what else in her life might be nothing but a sham . . .

Review: If you love Contemporary YA, especially ones with swoony unique characters, slow burning romance, fresh concepts and plot twists you CANNOT guess, then you will love Just for Clicks!

I had the privilege of reading an early copy this book–be jealous! kara mcdowell author photo 2

 

Characters/Voice: One of the aspects I love most about this book is the VOICE. So well done! Claire is one of the most relatable characters and I could identify with her immediately. Poppy and Rafael, even her mom, get under your skin too because you get to know them all in a very real, vulnerable way.

Pacing: The pace and plot were steady and fresh the whole time and kept me turning pages and man– the twists— I did not see them coming. Well done, Kara. Sorry, y’all == no spoilers!

Plot:  As for the story, the plot is wonderfully executed and thought out. (see synopsis above!) I thought the plot (& concept) was genius for today’s audience and I was amazed at how well Kara wrote it! The phenomenon of youth online, blogging, texting, youtube, reality shows, etc. It was so real to me, I felt that this could be an actual story online the entire time! lol.

Setting: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in Arizona and I loved it. It was so different from where I’ve lived that learning about how the weather at Thanksgiving could be 90 degrees and how that effected life made me feel the setting in a fresh way. The high school was a typical American set-up, but in each place Kara set the moment, whether at home or outside. I was there.

Themes: “Breezy and fresh meditation on privacy and relationships in the internet age, with a likable protagonist who would rather code than braid her hair for a fashion vlog.” (Fiction. 12-18)

**This is a clip from the Kirkus Review, which I recommend reading the full review here.

Audience: I would totally recommend this book to younger and older teens (and even moms!)

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Nova, Author of YA Contemporary Action/Adventure & Fantasy, signing off! See Nova’s book stuff here.

The Querying Show: Final Episode

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Welcome to The Querying Show’s Final Episode (until later)!

For the last 3 months we’ve witnessed every juicy (and completely stagnant) detail of our SP Staff Member’s querying life in the SLUSH PILE!

(Check out our rules and reasons in our intro post here!)

So the question is, DID CR’s/Write_Or_Left achieve AGENT success? Or DID HE result with a querying and MS reboot?

Today is the final week of CR’s journey (at least online!).

First, as always, let’s check in our with brave querying fellow and see how things have finished. (Click here for Episode 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5.)

SP: Happy New Year, CR/Write_Or_Left! For our final week, we will ask you for the last time about your STATS. 

Any new queries? Rejections? Requests? Tell us!

CR/Write_Or_Left:  Short answer: Nope, nothing to report! Short reason: I made the mistake of querying too early.

I realized pretty early on in the process that my book was not quite where it needed to be for querying. It all boiled down to my characters just not feeling real/relatable enough. Because of this, I’ve been focusing a lot more on rewriting than on actual querying.

SP: So, after four months of querying in the slush pile during the querying show you did not get an agent. (Boo!)

What is your take away and what have you learned? What will you do differently next time?

CR/Write_Or_Left: Trust my gut regarding the content of the story. I never felt like I got to know my characters all that well, but I thought my plot would be strong enough to carry the book. Obviously, that’s not a good mindset. I’m going to make sure my book is exactly where I want it to be before I jump back into this process.

SP: Now that you have this experience under your belt, which steps will you take on your next attempt to query? When do you think you will query again? 

CR/Write_Or_Left: I’ll try to query again as soon as my story is ready. I spent much of my Christmas break rewriting. Not just editing, but really reworking most the story. Once I feel that everything has come together, I’m going to be more consistent about sending queries on a schedule. The more the better!

SP: Thank you for being courageous and willing for us to WATCH as you dove into the slush pile. Was it worth it?

CR/Write_Or_Left:  Absolutely. I learned how to write (and rewrite) a query, research agents and find the qualities and agencies I liked. I also learned how to remain patient and recognize the talent in the slush (which is amazing), and my understanding of the industry in general really grew in. I’ll definitely be more prepared next time.

SP: We wish you the greatest luck next time, confident that you will walk away with an agent soon!

Final question: We are happy to see your Instagram account is steadily growing, now up to 28k from 25,000 followers since the last Querying show! We look forward to your coming post on the Spinning Pen talking about growing your social media!

You also recently started posting on WattPad – Can you tell us about that? Can you give us the link?

CR/Write_Or_Left: 

IG: My account has been getting a lot of traffic recently, and it’s been really cool to see! We actually just hit 29k yesterday. The secret is pretty simple, and I’m sure I’ll be back to talk about it eventually 😉 (see a tip here from last episode!)

Wattpad: Yeah, so I wrote my first novel when I was in my teens. I decided I would post that story each week just for fun! You can read it here. Keep in mind I wrote most of this from ages 16-19, so you should go into it with a mindset of, “This guy has improved a lot since then, but it’s cool to see his early efforts” and not, “This should be as good as a published novel.”

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SP Querying & Pub TIP of the week:

  1. Read the back cover of ten stories that are in your genre. Then read the first chapter on Amazon, if available. Did the voice, feeling, hook, capture you in both?
  2.  Read summarizes both long and short of books online, distinguish which ones capture you and why.
  3. Practice your craft & Never give up!

Good luck!

 

CR & Nova Signing off!

Author Interview: Astrid Scholte

Pen Friends ~ As a 2016 PitchWars mentee, I’m giddy to tell you that my fellow 2016 PW tribe member, and YA debut author, Astrid Scholte‘s incredible, fast-paced, and highly anticipated fantasy, FOUR DEAD QUEENS will be out in the world in February! Her story of perseverance and hard work is inspiring. Enjoy the interview!

 

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SP: Hi Astrid! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, we’d LOVE for you to share with our readers a bit of your inspiring (never-giving up) writing journey. Who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

AS: Thanks so much for having me! Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be an author, writing my first “novel” at age 5. Another love of mine was drawing so I thought a picture book illustrator would be the dream job. Back then, I thought I could illustrate my own books. It wasn’t until much later that I found out most authors don’t also illustrate their work.

While my passion for writing was there from a young age, I pursued a career in 3D animation and visual effects as I also had a love for the magic of movie making. I studied 3D animation at university and have worked (and still do!) in the film, TV and animation industry for the past 10+ years. Working in film production is a taxing job, with long hours, so my writing took a back-seat for a few years. It wasn’t until 2012 that I finally finished a novel. It was a YA paranormal romance and I thought for sure it would get published!

I attempted to be published here in Australia, where you can submit to publishers directly. After getting close with one publisher (or what felt like close at the time as they gave a detailed, positive rejection) I decided to query agents in the USA. Over 100 rejections later, with only one full request, I realized that like many of the characters in YA paranormal novels, the genre was also dead.

That year, I attempted Nanowrimo for the first time and wrote 50K words of what would become my second completed YA novel, an elemental YA fantasy. This time, I went straight to the USA, as I’d been told that speculative fiction was a difficult sell in Australia. I amassed around 80 rejections, but has 12 full requests and some positive feedback. The common feedback I kept hearing was that YA fantasy was over saturated and mine wouldn’t stand out in the market.

So I decided to try one more time. (In truth, I’m sure I would’ve kept going!) I wanted to combine all the things I loved about YA and fiction, including twists, morally gray characters, forbidden romance, secrets and murder mysteries. I also wanted to query as quickly as possible as I’d spent years on failed manuscripts. This book was Four Dead Queens and it ended up getting into PitchWars in 2016, landing me an agent a week after the competition ended, and a publishing deal less than two weeks after going on submission! Luckily I didn’t give up!

Overall, it took me 10 years of writing seriously and 5 years of attempting to get an agent and publisher before I got my offer.
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Guest Post: Championing Our Words

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My writing dream all began when an innocent teacher said the fateful words, “Wow! You’re a good writer!”

And a monster was born.

I’ve been writing since middle school, more seriously since high school, and first tried to get published over five years ago. (*I’m still not yet published.) Over that period of time, I’ve made a lot of  mistakes and learned many valuable lessons. But here I am still plugging away at my writing & publishing dream. Why do we writers torture ourselves this way?

We have words inside us that need to be heard.

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