What To Do In That Post-Conference Glow

It’s Conference Season, Pen Friends! If you’ve ever been to a writer’s conference, you know the wonder and the crazy exhaustion and overwhelm that come as a result of being immersed in a gathering of a couple hundred (or more) writer friends.

I just got back from Realm Makers in St. Louis, and as I myself am feeling the end-of-conference feels, I thought I’d share this #throwback post for you in case anyone else is going to be conferencing soon (or if any of my fellow Realmies need a boost as they readjust to real life).

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How to (somewhat) be a Productive Writer. Guest Post by Ellen McGinty

How to be a Productive Writer – a (somewhat) unhelpful guide from a mom with three kids under 5.

Writers, we are all busy people so I’m going to break this into easy bullet points. But first, my (somewhat) unhelpful tip to be a productive writer and have a balanced family life.

That is, DON’T.

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Life will never be perfect – need I say that? When I strive to balance everything I’m stressed, hair falling out and ghosted by writerly angst.  No matter how good I am at multitasking, I still have to choose where my energy goes. I don’t know about you, but if I have to choose, it’s family.

So how does this help me be a productive writer? Continue reading

Book Review: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

StarfishTitle: Starfish (standalone)

Author:Akemi Dawn Bowman

Blurb: Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin. Continue reading

Author Interview: Taylor Bennett

Pen Friends ~ We are delighted to have Taylor Bennett, debut author of Porch Swing Girl, here with us today!

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

Taylor: Thank you so much for having me. I’m absolutely thrilled to be here! For those who don’t know me, I’m a seventeen-year-old homeschool senior, and I’ve been telling stories literally since I knew how to read. I’ve always loved beautiful words, and stringing those words together to create a story has always been one of my favorite things.

I never knew I could actually succeed in it, though, until I got offered a three-book contract! I write contemporary Christian young adult novels that tackle tough subjects and show light can shine even in the darkest night. When I’m not writing, you can usually find me taking pictures for my Instagram, eating really good food, or walking in the beauty of the PNW.

SP: We love the idea behind your debut novel, Porch Swing Girl (which is out now!)! How did this idea develop? How long did it take for you to write it?

I first got the idea for Porch Swing Girl by literally waking up. One morning, I honestly woke up, and the title was just there…I couldn’t get it out of my head, and I started playing with the idea of a girl on a porch swing. I didn’t know who she was or what she was doing, but I knew something had to be wrong. And…it all started from that! It took me nine months of off-and-on writing to finish the first draft, and about the same amount of time to edit it, which was waaay too long!! Now that I’m under contract for books two and three, I’m learning to write much faster 😉

SP: Will you tell us the story of your journey to getting your first contract?

Of course!

So…when Porch Swing Girl was still in its earliest stages of development (AKA I think I had maybe fifteen chapters written???) I decided to test the waters. I was already registered for the Oregon Christian Writers’ summer conference, and, because of that, I was able to send advance submissions to three editors of my choice.

I ran down the list of publishers and found three I liked–including Mountain Brook Ink–that were willing to look at a contemporary YA novel, sent off the queries, and went on my way.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I received an email from Miralee, the force behind Mountain Brook Ink, requesting to see more of my manuscript before the conference. I did a little happy dance, sent off the required chapters, and started counting the days until we would meet at the conference.

Porch Swing Girl coverWhen we connected a few weeks later, Miralee expressed a lot of interest in my book, and she was interested in seeing more–not just the rest of the still-unfinished manuscript–but a full proposal for a trilogy. I worked for an entire year to polish and perfect Porch Swing Girl, as well as start work on a second book. By the time the Oregon Christian Writers’ conference rolled around the next year, I was ready. And so was Miralee.

She found me in the hallway and invited me and my mom to meet with her later that afternoon. We did, and that was when she informally offered me a three-book contract. A total dream come true!!

SP: What are some books that have inspired you along the way? 

Every book that I read inspires me in one way or another! I’m particularly drawn to intense, raw stories like those written by Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray is one of my all-time favorites) and Joanne Bischof (her book, This Quiet Sky, rips my heart out every time I read it). But I also draw inspiration from the whimsy of classic children’s stories. The original Winnie-the-Pooh tales spark a desire in me to tell timeless, heartwarming tales. The way Jeanne Birdsall (author of the Penderwicks series) showcases the small bits of magic in everyday life constantly encourages me to do the same.

SP: What kind of a writer are you? Do you start with a scene? A big picture? Are you plotter? Gut feelings?

I’m what I’d call a “mood writer”. What I mean by that is I usually get my ideas from a feeling. Maybe I want to write a story that feels dark and a little bit edgy, but that also has the glimmering magic of a city skyline. Perhaps I get the urge to pen a tale full of light and life and hope. Every idea of mine revolves around a certain kind of aesthetic. I have billions (approximately) of Pinterest boards with different aesthetics, and each one represents a story I’d like tell someday.

For me, plotting is the most difficult part of writing. It’s easy to create characters, settings, and emotions, but plots often elude me! I know how I want the book to feel, and I usually have a vague idea of the type of emotional roller coaster (upside-down, dead drop, loop-de-loop, etc.) I want to take my readers on, but it’s a struggle for me to find the best way to create those big twists and turns.

SP: You’re still in high school (wow!)–how do you balance being an author with everything else you have going on as a teen?

Honestly, I’m not very good at this. I’ve never been good at balancing things. When I do something, I usually put in about 200%, which means I have a hard time stepping back and focusing on everything else in my life! One way that I’m working to get better at this is by making a to-do list at the start of each day. I’m homeschooled, so my schedule is pretty flexible. 🙂

I list all of the things that need to be done by the end of the day, but I don’t put them in order, and I don’t give myself a time limit for each individual activity. If I get everything done, great! If I let a few things slide…I have to add them to the next day’s to-do list. BUT, like I said, I’m still learning how to balance all of this myself, so my advice is far from expert!

SP: If you could pick the brain of any author, who would you want to hang out with, and why?

Hmm…maybe Sara Ella. She’s such a sweet, kind, and TALENTED author, and I am amazed by the success she’s had in both her writing and marketing. Her Instagram account is on point, and I love the way she connects with her readers in a real and honest way. I’d also love to go back in time and chat with A.A. Milne. His stories are so simple and childlike, yet they explore huge themes and have such a depth to them that makes my writer’s heart swoon.

SP: What’s your advice for other young writers who dream of being published?

Don’t be afraid to reach out! For a long time, I was nervous to connect with other authors, because I practically thought they were celebrities. And, yes, some of them kind of are. BUT there are a ton of super friendly, down-to-earth writers who are MORE THAN HAPPY to chat with you. Send them an email, track them down at a writer’s conference–trust me. They’ll be thrilled to hear from you!

When I first approached a published author, I was sure they would send me off with nothing more than a pat on the head. Instead, they were extremely kind and inspiring. They chatted with me, gave me advice and encouragement, and even read a bit of my work! So, no matter where you are in your writing journey, don’t be afraid to connect with other, bigger-than-you authors. Building relationships with them can be so motivating, and a real blessing for both you and them 🙂

SP: Favorite drink while writing? Snack? Distractions? 

Considering that I actually hate coffee and anything carbonated, I mostly drink water, though I have a certain weakness for unique blends of tea and flavored lemonade. My favorite distraction is Instagram. Hands down. Bookstagrammers are so creative!! And my favorite snack would have to be chips and hummus. I’m obsessed XD

SP: Where can we learn more about you and your book?

You can visit me on my website, or find me on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and YouTube. I’d absolutely love to connect with you, so feel free to shoot me a message any time!

Thanks again, Taylor! 

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Dana, signing off.

My Favorite Villain: Making the Bad Guy

“We often find the hero and villain have the same goal, but are using different methods to reach it.”

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That quote was used in a panel of writers talking about anti-heroes and villains at the annual North Texas Teen Book Festival. All the authors had one thing in common: they’d written tales with the villain – an anti-hero – as the protagonist. They explored the reasons why they had chosen to write stories from the “bad guy’s” point of view, and went over their favorite villains and anti-heroes.

I have two favorite “villains” about whom the above quote happens to be true. One is from a book series, and one is from an anime. *spoilers ahead!* Not every villain has to share a goal or vision with the hero, but oftentimes adding comedic (or tragic) irony to the conflict in your story causes it to have greater depth and complexity.

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Book Review: The Story Peddler by Lindsay A. Franklin

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Title: The Story Peddler, The Weaver Trilogy Book One

Author: Lindsay A. Franklin

Review by: Jennifer Lindsay

Blurb: Tanwen doesn’t just tell stories—she weaves them into crystallized sculptures that sell for more than a few bits. But the only way to escape the control of her cruel mentor and claw her way from poverty is to set her sights on something grander: becoming Royal Storyteller to the king.

During her final story peddling tour, a tale of treason spills from her hands, threatening the king himself. Tanwen goes from peddler to prey as the king’s guard hunts her down . . . and they’re not known for their mercy. As Tanwen flees for her life, she unearths long-buried secrets and discovers she’s not the only outlaw in the empire. There’s a rebel group of weavers . . . and they’re after her too.

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How to Lower Your Word Count

I recently took a 2-3 month break from my novel and wrote short stories. Why? For one, my novel needed to sit for a bit. But more importantly, writers should always expand their skillset. While I don’t claim to be a Poe or Hemmingway, I have learned a lot about the craft from my stint as a short story author. Not just about short stories, but about novels as well.

(NOTE: This was going to cover all the things I learned from short stories, but it turns out there is just too much to fit in one blog. So we’ll just cover one topic)

Brevity (being brief) is key to any good short story. Trying to fit an entire plot in the span of 500-5,000 words is quite a challenge, especially coming from a guy who wrote a 141k word first draft (that’s me if you haven’t guessed). Novelists just do that sometimes. We ramble.

This is a guide to cutting down your word count!

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Cutting Scenes

“But Caleb, my story needs those down times and small scenes where the reader can get to know the characters!”

Yes and no. Yes, you should have side scenes and downtime if they advance the plot in some way. No, you shouldn’t have them if they do nothing except provide not-quite necessary backstory, character development, etc. Those aren’t enough. A general rule to follow is this (you may have heard this before and for good reason): if the scene can be removed and the MAIN plot remains intact, cut it.

But how do you have those special small moments between big events that really showcase characters and setting? Easy. Give the scene something important. Even if it’s something super small like noticing a clue, a character acting strange, or a shift in the weather, as long as in pertains to the main plot in some way, it’s okay. This is one of the main reasons I plot my books religiously. It makes it so much easier to write these “small” scenes and plant the important plot bits in them.

Small-Scale Cuts

Okay, so cut unnecessary scenes. Got it. What else? Cut unnecessary paragraphs, sentences, and words. The best thing you can do to get rid of unneeded words on a smaller scale is to look for repetition and cut it. Repetition is absolutely the worst and will pull the reader out of the story. Get rid of repetition; it basically just annoys everyone. See how painful that was to read? I just used three sentences to say one thing. You do that too sometimes.

Description is the big hitter for me. I get WAY too wordy on this stuff. Let me just show you why fewer is better with an example.

  1. The cafeteria smelled of old green-beans and rotting fruit. The floors were streaked with grease and dotted with gum that was yet to be scrapped off by detention students. The trash cans were overflowing with unfished lunches and sat in the corner like decaying toxic wastes. Children shouted across the room to each other, danced on chairs, and threw grapes at each other in a frenzy. The lunch-ladies huddled in the corner, too afraid to stop the madness.

You definitely get the picture. But could it be done with fewer words?

2. The cafeteria was about as clean as the inside of a dumpster, and the chaos within would have put even the wildest of daycares to shame.

I know, some of you are thinking, “Well I liked the first one better.” That’s fine. But the issue here is that if we describe every single thing we encounter in the book with this level of detail, our readers will lose interest. Or least some will. It’s okay to be wordy sometimes, but often it’s better to go with option 2.

Cutting Dialogue

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Dialogue can be the factor that really gives your story value. For some writers, it comes easily. Not to me. I make my characters say just plain stupid stuff and have been known to write entire sequences of unneeded conversation. But I have learned a few things along the way. Here are some quick tips that double as ways to improve your dialogue and cut down on your word count.

  1. If you can show what a character is thinking instead of having them say it, do that. For example:

“I’m really nervous about the test,” Kaven said, his knees bouncing up and down in rhythm.

“Relax, you’ve got this,” Angela reassured him.

Versus

Kaven drummed his fingers on the bench and glanced again at the door. His sister Angela put a reassuring hand on his shoulder and tried to smile.

  1. Watch for repetition. Yes, it’s ironic how often I mention not repeating yourself. But still, the same thing applies to dialogue. Example:

“Yeah. I know he’s not mad at me,” Sade said, staring at the puddle under the bench. She watched it ripple with each drop of rain. Thunder rumbled overhead as if to reflect her mood. “He’s not mad, but I still feel like I’ve done something wrong.”

That doesn’t seem terribly repetitious. In fact, it sounds very much like something someone would say. But rarely do dialogues in books truly sound like real life. Otherwise, it would take about 100 pages just to get through a dinner scene. Just try and read the paragraph above without the second, “He’s not mad.” Still makes sense, right? And it’s cleaner. Need I mention, briefer?

  1. Don’t always start at the beginning. Again, life is slower than a book. There’s no reason to bore the reader with how the conversation got started every single time. I’m not saying to start every conversation with, “Well, you’re the worst, Tony! I can’t believe you tried to microwave my glasses again!” But definitely, do it some of the time. I mean come on, who doesn’t want to know why Tony’s at it again with the shenanigans?

Well, that’s about it! These are just a few of the ways you can cut your word counts. Let me know if I’ve missed any important methods!

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Now go write/edit!

 

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Until next time! – Caleb Robinson

 

 

Book Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

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Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Author: Patrick Ness

Review by: SP Teen Writer Noah Dingman

Blurb: Todd Hewitt lives in the last surviving colony on New Earth, Prentisstown. Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in a constant, overwhelming Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets. Then Todd Hewitt unexpectedly stumbles on a spot of complete silence. Which is impossible.

Moreover, all the women in Prentisstown have been killed off by a virus in a war with the planets natives, and the men have to live with the side effect, called the Noise.

Todd is the last boy in Prentisstown and with his thirteenth birthday fast approaching, the day he becomes a man, he discovers a strange absence of the noise in a nearby swamp. He also discovers a girl. And now he’s going to have to run…

Review: As soon as I read the first sentence in the Knife of Never Letting Go I was hooked. This book picks you up and doesn’t let go. It begs you to lock yourself in your room and read it cover to cover; you will stay up to late reading this book. The Knife of Never Letting Go takes you on a fast-paced adventure similar to other YA books like The Hunger Games, but never once feels derivative or unoriginal.

Characters/Voice: The main character Todd, whose eyes and thoughts the story is told through, is very likable and real. Although you might not always agree with the decisions he makes, you can’t help but root for him and his talking dog Manchee. Todd tells you the story as it is happening to him, in that way you get to experience the action and surprises as he does. Todds voice simultaneously tells you the story and helps you get an idea of what it would be like to constantly have your thoughts projected around you in the Noise. I don’t want to give too much away, but this book has fantastic villains. By fantastic I mean the kind of villains that make your hairs stand on end and give you the shivers. It’s great.

Pacing: As I said earlier, this book is a page turner. Once you’re in, don’t expect to put it down anytime soon. Patrick Ness has crafted a unique voice and story that pulls you in and leaves you hungry for the resolution.

Plot: The plot sends Todd and Manchee on a journey through New Earth. Like lots of YA books it is very plot driven, but a lot of the book is driven by the character interactions as well. The plot is never predictable and in that way,  there isn’t really a dull moment.

Setting: Patrick Ness’s world building is great. You can clearly picture New Earth through the descriptions given. It feels a lot like the world we live it, but anytime you come across a difference it’s intriguing and well-integrated.

Themes: The Knife of Letting Go deals with many different themes, a few that stuck out to me were manipulation, guilt, and coming of age. The coming of age part is different in this book than most other YA books as it is a coming of age story in a world that is still “coming of age”. Exactly what coming of age means in Prentisstown is different from what it means here, so Todd has to figure out if he should even come of age.

Patrick Ness has written a book that I think anyone who likes YA books (or likes reading as far as I am concerned) should pick up. I guarantee by the time you finish reading The Knife of Never Letting Go you’ll be running to the nearest library, bookstore, or booting up your Amazon app to get your hands on the second book.

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Noah, signing off.

How I Got My Agent, Guest Post by Ellen McGinty

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Lately, a lot of my friends are doing these “I got an agent” posts. I love hearing their stories. But if you haven’t got there. If your critique partners haven’t got there. It’s OKAY. Where is “there” anyway?

Go climb mountains.

Tear down lies.

Celebrate life NOW.

And yes, I can say that with two kids under five, hay fever stalking my house, and depression howling like the wind. This is a journey. It’s a loooong one and I need lembas bread, not just potatoes.

WRITING THE BOOK

It took me years to write my first book, THE WATER CHILD. I wrote chapter by chapter and revised the plot umpteenth times before it was right. SCWBI, critique partners and amazing sensitivity readers encouraged me, many urging me to query. Of course, there was also hard feedback, things I had to change and consider. Places I had to stand my ground. But I grew as a writer and as a person.

Along the way I learned one key thing: Self-pity and excuses waste a lot of time.

Truth is, I have enough time every day – but I have to choose what to do with it. I am responsible for my writing, no one else, and certainly not the ticking clock. At the same time, I’m not superwoman, so I’m learning to practice self-care and seek help when needed.

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QUERY

My First Conference.

My First Query (I think – I wasn’t keeping track at the beginning!)

Like any proper introvert, I tip-toed into my first writing conference. I hid myself in a corner during the session breaks to scribble story ideas instead of mingle. But, I’d signed up for a query and first chapter critique with an agent.

The agent didn’t smile. She leaned across the table with my precious pages in hand.

My back pressed against the conference chair, too-stiff, nervous. I think she hates it.

“Your query is crap,” she said.

Yep, she hates it.

“And I want to see the full manuscript. I’m getting drinks later, come and we can chat about your book.”

Shock – a lot of it. The agent bought my dinner, offered pointers on query and character, and introduced me to publishing friends. It was my first conference and I felt like a little peon accidentally invited to a ball. A not-so-conventional introduction to querying.

From there, I queried about 30 agents. In retrospect, I began querying my novel too early. It was my first completed manuscript and I didn’t know much. But about half of the queries resulted in requests for fulls or partials. I’ve heard those are good stats, but at the time I found it confusing. Why the interest? And what was missing?

I stepped back to revise with feedback and then tried again. But this time, with contests!

PitchWars: I didn’t get in, but I met the wonderful Jess Calla who encouraged me and believed in my story. She also introduced me to the Writer Twitter Sphere. Hurray!

PitchSlam: I revamped my query and found the true heart of my story. This resulted in an overwhelming number of requests but my story was still missing something…

Pitch2Publication: editor Lindsey Schlegel suggested I write a prologue. Something I’d always opposed but after I wrote it, I LOVED it! I met some of the most amazing writers and critique partners through this competition. I wish I could list them all by name, but a special thanks to Tara Lundmark, Anne Rowland Stubert, and Carolyne Topdjian for their insight and friendship! Critique partners are special people – cherish them!

Personally, Twitter contests helped me grow the most in the querying process. I found community and editors/agents who spoke into my book and believed it would find a home.

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THE AGENT

Then, on a twitter pitch contest, an agent requested the full and offered a Revise & Resubmit.

Her editorial letter brought tears to my eyes – in a good way! Never had I imagined finding an agent who not only loved my writing but also had a passion for Japan and had traveled to Tohoku during the 3/11 Tsunami aftermath. And her edits! Kaitlyn Johnson is a fantastic editor on so many levels. I knew, no matter what other offers I received, this was a match.

And I’m fairly certain that after “The Call” I entered Neverland. I did the usual, informing other agents of the offer, biting my fingernails, dancing, etc. And Voila!

I signed with Kaitlyn Johnson at Corvisiero Literary Agency.

And the journey continues…but not to get “there” wherever that is. Writing a book, getting an agent, publishing, hitting the best-seller list, we put these on a golden ladder and compare everyone accordingly. Don’t!

“There” is on the inside. It’s the YOU that makes you proud. And it can never be replaced by how successful you are on the outside.

Keep writing and living fully!

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Ellen McGinty

www.ellenmcginty.com

 

 

 

Photo Credit:

1st Photo by Smart on Unsplash

2nd Photo by Fab Lentz on Unsplash

3rd Photo by Seth Hays on Unsplash