Book Review: Before Beauty


Title: Before Beauty (First Book in the Trilogy)

Author: Brittany Fichter

Blurb: Prince Everard’s father spent the boy’s youth forging the prince into a warrior. Upon the king’s death, however, Everard realizes he’s lost himself somewhere along the way, and in his pain, makes a decision that brings a dark curse upon both him and the great Fortress that has so long guarded the people of Destin.

The prince’s sin doesn’t simply affect those of his citadel, however. Isa, the daughter of a local merchant, has suffered the prince’s hasty temper before, and it changed her life forever. When Everard’s final outburst cuts off his people’s source of protection with the curse, he demands that she, a crippled commoner, come to help him break it. All the while, Destin’s northern enemy crouches at the foot of the Fortress’s mountain, waiting for the right moment to capture the stronghold that has stood for a thousand years.

Can Ever and Isa move past their brokenness to save Destin together, or will they and their beloved kingdom remain under darkness forever?

Brittany FichterReview:

If retellings are your thing, then check Brittany Fichter out asap. She’s quickly becoming a QUEEN of retellings. Prolific is not enough to describe her. Look below for a few more titles in her Classical Kingdom Series.

Before Beauty–her Beauty and the Beast retelling–is one of the most beautiful and unique spin-offs of this classical fairytale that I have read in a long time. There is very little “this has been done before” and the transformation of both characters unfolds in a compelling and fresh way.

Characters/Voice: Prince Everard and Isa each have unique voices, back story, personality and roles in this story. Each are unique and relatable and I loved them right away. Isa, who is disabled, brings vulnerability, transparency, and un-dealt with anger to the table that is completely identifiable, while Everard, who must conquer who he truly is–the boy he was designed to be or the boy his father wants him to be –brings reflection, sympathy, and agony as you watch his growth. So good!

Pacing: Does this book keep you up late at night? YES. Don’t read at night unless you want to get caught up in their story, their romance, their battles, their enemies, and their future. The story moves at a perfect pace, increasing with each chapter. I really believe it moves so quickly because it touches on so many deep and real human emotions.

Plot: Perfectly executed and unique. The idea of the “Fortress” and the raging mind battles between Prince Everard and his enemy are a fresh kind of power-set and makes for an interesting setting. Why Isa is the one to be selected, not to mention their past encounters coming in the present time, makes for a complex plot with large pay-offs. I was entirely satisfied and wanted more.

Setting: Fichter’s world building for Destin and the surrounding kingdoms were all well done. The land was easily pictured and likable. The history of Destin was easily understood and believable, which makes it easy to follow the story and its motives.

Themes: This story spins all kinds of universal truths of goodness, humility, faith, hope, strength, identity, and more. I love how it’s all weaved together in the characters. It’s also appropriate for all MG/YA ages and can be a great alternative to other retellings that  have adult content or an upper YA/NA feel.

Brittany Fichter obviously has a gift and passion for retellings. I look forward to checking out the rest in her series! Check out titles below.



Nova, signing off.



Query + Pages Critiques + Journals!


Pen Friends ~ Looking for a query critique or your first chapter looked over? Nova McBee, SP host (in charge of Author Interviews & Book Reviews,) is offering her 2nd out of 3 Giveaways in November. Don’t miss out. She does the majority of query critiques at the SP and has become really good at pinpointing just how to make a query successful!

Thanks for all of your support and being part of our writing community!

Check here for details: November Giveaway Part 2!

Signing off,

SP gang!


Nova McBee’s Launch & Giveaway!

Pen Friends, our very own SP host, Nova McBee, will launch a newsletter and start blogging on her new website! To celebrate, she will have THREE Giveaways in November for writers and readers. You don’t want to miss on those or a chance to support this upcoming author!

* Check out her post by clicking the link below!

Congrats, Nova! We’re all excited to be part of your journey!



Many moons ago, on a rainy Sunday in November, two young parents ran out of gas on the freeway trying to get to the hospital to have a baby. They eventually got there and I was born in a whirl of excitement. After this, one of my first memories was of smelling pumpkin pie–obviously, that […]

via NEWS & November Giveaways — Nova McBee

EDITOR TALK with Heather Webb

Pen Friends ~ We are super excited to hear from PRO EDITOR and Historical Fiction author extraordinaire, Heather Webb as she shares her editing and writing tips. Also check out her latest book, Last Christmas in Paris It’s out now! See below!!

Heather Webb, Smiling 2Hi Heather! Thanks for joining us. Since you are both an author and an editor, we are seriously eager to pick your brain. But first, please tell us who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

Hi all! I’ve been writing since 2008, so about 9  years or so. I can’t even believe that! Sometimes I feel like a newbie with so much to learn.

SP: First love– writing or editing? Which came first career wise? Bonus: How long did it take for you to write your first book?

Oh, definitely writing on both counts—my favorite, and it came first. As for my first book, it took me about two and a half years to complete.

SP: Mistakes, faux pas, cliches and the like–AS an editor, which do you see in debut authors and what tip can you give them to fix it before querying?

It really depends on the writer. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, and if you’re doing it right, you will continue to learn and grow the whole of your writing life. Mistakes I see most often include too much “telling” or explaining what’s happening instead of putting the reader directly into the character’s head; too many verbs of being that water down the prose and give it a passive feel; stage directions in which there are too many prepositional phrases explaining direction or location; also, awkward and unnatural dialogue.

In terms of a tip, I’d advise writers to streamline their editing process. Your first few drafts should be all big picture edits for story arc and character arcs, as well as story structure. The following several drafts should be layering, deepening, and polishing. If you haven’t done at least five drafts, your novel shouldn’t be sitting in an agent’s inbox yet.

SP: What are the most important elements of story that you look for?

I’m a sucker for great characters with distinct voices. When I walk away from a novel, what I always remember most is a well-drawn character. Plot is second for me, followed by world-building in third place, though sometimes it’s a tie for second place. I really like to be transported while reading.

SP: How does being an editor influence your own writing?last xmas in paris

Editing for others has helped me grow tremendously. I’ve trained myself to have an eagle eye, and I’ve become very meticulous with my own writing. I’ve been told this by all of my editors and my agent so something must be working. It can hinder me at times, too. I’m a lean writer so while drafting, I tend to despair over how thin it is, and I get in my own way sometimes. I have to talk myself through a first draft just to get to the end. That’s when the fun begins and I can start developing the manuscript into an actual book.

SP: When do you know that a writer is not ready to publish?

This is fairly easy to spot, after seven years of editing, nine years of writing, and a lifetime of reading voraciously. Craft issues, uneven pacing, unbelievable plotlines or thin characters—they all jump out at you after so much time and practice.

SP: Which genres do you love editing?

Historical fiction, any category of young adult, romance, literary, speculative fiction. Honestly, though, I enjoy working on anything that’s got a great hook.

SP: What is the hardest part about being an Editor?

Delivering difficult feedback. I always hold my breath when I send off the editorial letter and a manuscript that’s bleeding with red ink. I never want to crush someone’s dreams, or make them feel bad about themselves or their talents, but I do think honesty is a form of tough love that is absolutely pertinent to growth. I struggle with it as a writer myself, still. Receiving feedback is part of the process. I think my clients understand that I have their best interests at heart and tend to be open, for the most part, to thoughtful criticism. I truly want to see them succeed so I push them hard to go to the next level. That’s what it’s all about. Can you tell I used to teach high school? J

SP: What important changes/trends do you see happening in writing right now?

The advent of cell phones and internet and all that is high speed means the average attention span has shortened considerably. I think it’s important for writers to keep this in mind while crafting their stories. They need to be instantly gripping, compelling, and well-paced, regardless of genre or category. I’ve noticed a huge increase in audiobooks as well (including on my end! I love them!).

SP: Where can we learn more about you, your books, and editing?

Please read my bio below for more information and links! Thank you for having me on this wonderful site!


Heather Webb is the author of historical novels Becoming Josephine, Rodin’s Lover, and the newly released Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of WWI, which have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Elle, France Magazine, and more, as well as received national starred reviews. Rodin’s Lover was a Goodreads Top Pick in 2015. Up and coming, The Phantom’s Apprentice, a Gothic retelling of Phantom of the Opera from Christine Daaé’s point of view will release February 6, 2018. To date, Heather’s novels have sold in multiple countries worldwide. She is also a professional freelance editor, foodie, and travel fiend.


Twitter:  @msheatherwebb


Instagram: @msheatherwebb

Last Christmas in Paris Blurb:

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

SP: What fantastic advice and congratulations on your new book! Thanks so much for joining us!


Nova, signing off

How to Survive NaNoWriMo


         Before you can continue with this guide, you first have to know WHAT in the world NaNoWriMo is. It stands for National Novel Writing Month and takes place every November. The standard goal is to write 50k words in ONE MONTH. Sounds crazy, right? Well, now you know why you need this guide. (If you want more info on NaNoWriMo, visit

Okay, so last year I completed my goal of 50k words and managed it in just 28 days. How? It was pretty dang hard, to be honest. But that’s the point, right? The whole idea of Nano is to push your abilities, force you to stop procrastinating, and GET CRAP DONE! YEAH!

Let’s jump right in!


1) Find the Motivation

In order to get anything done, you have to have motivation. So that’s where we’ll start. (This is where I get you HYPED!)

A. Break it Down Now, Y’all! So, 50k words seems a little overwhelming, right? Yes, yes it does. But let’s break it down here using some complex Calculus and rocket science.

50k words/30 days in November/16 average hours awake in a day. So, you need to write 105 words per hour. Not horrible, right? Realistically, you won’t have a chance to do it every single hour. A better approach is to do it 1-3 times over the course of the day. Mostly you just need to know what style works best for you. Are you best at cramming it all in at once? Then write 1,667 at once all at once. If you’d rather spread it out, set aside two-three times a day to do it and write 835 or 555 words. Manageable, right?

B. Tired of Procrastinating. Yes. We are all there at some point.  As Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing, I love having written”. NaNoWriMo basically forces you to stop procrastinating and get those fingers flying across the keyboard. Especially if you’re an achievement/goal oriented person like myself.

Seriously, think about it. If you follow through with this, you could end up with 50 FREAKING THOUSAND WORDS WRITTEN IN ONE MONTH!!! If that’s not a good enough reason to be absolutely hyped, I don’t know how you help you.


C. Accountability and Friends. While this goes along with point B), I feel like it is worthy of a separate category. Some of us have writing “accountability partners” to make sure we don’t waste our time getting everything EXCEPT writing done. But not all of us have that privilege. NaNo builds that benefit in. It makes it easy to connect with people online who are also taking place in the “Great Writer’s Race”. Not only that, it makes it easy to talk to people you may know in real life about writing, thus helping you create that accountability that may continue beyond NaNo!

2) Find the Time

So now you’re HYPED! But you’re still thinking, “How in the world will I find time to write 1,667 words a day??” Valid question. Let’s jump into the answer.

A. Schedule It. Yes, you’ve heard it before, and yes, it’s still true. You’re probably going to have to schedule out your writing time. It might not be the same time(s) every day, but that doesn’t matter. Schedule it like a meeting!

Truthfully, I didn’t schedule an exact time, but my strategy was “Get home early every night and write for two hours”. Simple, yet very effective. I purposely left events early, said no to plans, etc. This is going to take sacrifice. But keep the goal in mind! Like these two adorable dogs!


B. No Breaks. At the beginning, you might start really strong and manage 10k in the first 3 days. If this happens, you’ll be tempted to slow down and say, “Yeah, I’ve got this. I’ll take a break.” DO NOT SLOW DOWN. The worst thing you can do is break the habit of writing you have developed throughout the month. Do not stop unless you absolutely have to. You never know what’s going to happen in your life, especially when Thanksgiving rolls around. If you get ahead, stay ahead.

C. Drop the ‘Flix, the ‘Lu, and the ‘Gram. You heard me. This is something I preach on relentlessly in my blogs. Netflix is not necessary. Hulu is especially unnecessary (c’mon, you still have to watch ads even with Hulu+?), and Instagram gives you unlimited garbage to mindlessly sift through. As someone who runs a large writing Instagram account *cough* follow @write_or_left on Instagram*cough*, this advice is BAD for business. So you KNOW I mean it.

Yes, all of them have some benefits, but very few will help you write. If you REALLY want to reach your goal, you’ll find a way to do without for a month. Or at the very least, cut back.

That’s basically all you need at this point. In review:

  • Find the motivation from deep within yourself, like a tribal warrior summoning the spirits of his ancestors.

  • Make time as if J.K. Rowling offered to tutor you for 1-2 hours every day for 30 days straight.




Tell me what you think! Did I miss any vital tips?

Until next time, Caleb Robinson

Winning: How to Get the Most from Your Beta Readers


Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

You’ve finished a draft of your manuscript and done all your brain can possibly do alone. You celebrate because it’s readable– one might daresay enjoyable– but you know the time has come to let other’s eyes see your story. It’s time for beta readers.

Use these 5 tips to get the most out of your beta readers and kickstart your next draft.

Continue reading

Author Interview: Laura Frances

Pen Friends ~ A treat and an inspiration for you today, Laura Frances, Indie Author of Slave, is here to share her writing tips and publishing journey with us!

FullSizeRender (2)SP: Hi Laura! Thanks for joining us. First, please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing?

Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be featured here on The Spinning Pen!

I’m a wife and mom currently living in beautiful Japan. We teach English at a school run by a local church. On the commute from the States to our home here, we hauled over 150 pounds of books. It’s safe to say I have a problem, because yes, I do also own a fully stocked Kindle. Continue reading

Becoming a Better Writer: A Guest Post by Fiona Claire

CloverWhen you’re surrounded by a lush, green landscape, crumbling medieval castles, and ancient stone circles, writer’s block isn’t a thing.

I live in Ireland. And I’m a writer. Those two things seem to go hand-in-hand. It’s no coincidence that some mighty scribes have lived here. William Butler Yeats, Anne Enright, Oscar Wilde, Roddy Doyle, C.S.Lewis and John Banville all called Ireland home at one time or another. I think that’s because the land on this island is fertile, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too. It feels like stories come up out of the ground, grab me by the ankle, and demand, “Write me!Continue reading

Author Interview: Aimee Salter

Pen Friends ~ Meet Aimee Salter, author of A Dark Touch & Every Ugly Word, and 2017 PitchWars Mentor, who is here to share all kinds of writing gems with us.

Hi Aimee! Thanks for joining us. First, please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

Hi there. Thank you for having me!

I’m Aimee L. Salter. I’m an American who grew up in New Zealand, married a kiwi, have a kiwi son, and am now back in Oregon permanently.

I’ve always dabbled with writing and have loved it since I was in elementary school. I had a couple false starts on books earlier in life, but the first manuscript I ever completed with an eye to publication was in 2009, when I was 33. I got my first publishing contract in 2014 when I was 38. Continue reading

What an English Major Learned at Writer’s Conference: A Guest Post by Hilary Bowen

Recently I attended a writer’s conference in a foreign country. To all of you wondering, foreign in this context means not America.

There were twelve of us there and we were there together for one week. Everyone learned lots of things. Including me. Five years and two English departments at institutions of higher learning and—I still don’t know it all.
So in light of that illuminating statement allow me to share with you three things I learned in my week away.

1. It All Started Because of a Dream:

ross-errillyEvery blog post you’ve read, every lecture you’ve attended, every book you perused, and all of your own experience will tell you that you must buckle down and work. Write that book, edit those sentences, iron out that plot, blah blah blah blah blah. But sometimes you have to cut loose and live a little. The writer’s version of a wild party. Remember why you like to write.

Continue reading