When reality meets fantasy…

On my way to the library every week or so, I pass a beautiful 1960-something red Ford Mustang that is in desperate need of some TLC. I always give it a longing look, thinking if I had the resources, I’d go up to the door and make the person an offer on that baby.

Why?

Only because I’ve got an apple red 1968 Mustang that stars in my Teen Mobster Series. Sigh.

I’ve been a pretty big Mustang fan since the moment I put a car in drive. In fact, at my wedding over a decade ago, my husband and I drove away from the church in a friend’s orange and black one. So when I started writing Accidental Mobster, I knew I wanted the main character’s car to be something near and dear to my heart.

Enter the 1968 red Mustang in book one of the series, and a second Mustang (same year) in book two. The trifecta is perfected in book three with an addition of a black one.

But my real-life experience with this particular year of classic Mustang was limited to vast Internet research until just last week. At the ice cream festival in my husband’s hometown, we stumbled upon the festival’s car show. The first time through, the only Mustang in the show was a souped-up version only a year or two old. Still cool, but not quite what this girl was looking for.

Well, in order to get to the parade, we took another trek through the show about an hour later. The result?

Paydirt.

DSCN4607    DSCN4609

Okay, so not my dream color, but hey, any day I get an appointment up close and personal with a 1968 Ford Mustang is a good day, people! And if this car is getting your engine revved, pick up the Teen Mobster Series, because you’ll get to spend some quality time with this car!

Five reasons YOU should be on Goodreads…

Sometimes, I forget that Goodreads isn’t quite Facebook or Twitter yet. I mean, to me, having a social media outlet for my reading (which is, you know, on that list with air and water and food and stuff) couldn’t be more important. Well, if you like reading (anything, really), and you’re always looking for “just the right book,” let me tell you why you should be on Goodreads. And if you don’t like reading, well, you just haven’t found the right genre. And that’s the honest truth.

So, check out Goodreads because…

1. There are a lot of books out there…How in the world do you find a needle in a haystack? Well, on Goodreads, through friends’ and Goodreads recommendations, and by searching for your favorite authors, you can find out what people are saying about a book and get a feel for how you’ll like it before you dive in and commit. Because, let’s face it, we’ve all started a terrible book and just kept going, simply because we’re human and need to know the end!

2. Get this! Some people love/hate something as much as you do! Sometimes I wait to check out the reviews until after I read a book that I know I’m going to read anyway. But when I look at the reviews afterward, the best thing is discovering how many people feel just like I did about it! And, because there’s always diversity of opinion, it’s also nice to know (as an author) that even if there are some haters, others will love your story to death:)

3. Authors are on Goodreads and sometimes give away freebies. Just join a discussion that features your favorite genre, and often authors of that genre will offer giveaways. ‘Nuff said.

4. The ratings feel more personal/real than the ones on Amazon. I’m sure publishers have people who post ratings on both Amazon and Goodreads, but I get a much more personal feel from Goodreads. It’s definitely a community of readers being pretty honest about what they like, and I can also easily find my friends’ reviews, so yeah, I’m liking that!

5. Sheesh, do I even need to say it? Friends make the best recommendations…One of my writing friends recommended What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarity, and I swear that thing’s like a teddy bear to me. I just love to cuddle up and fall asleep with it at night and, you know, get a little drool on the spine. And guess what? I’ve often found my favorite books come from word of mouth recommendations. So, it bears repeating. Friends recommendations is the number one benefit I believe Goodreads offers.

So what are you waiting for?

Critique groups – Three rules for “keeping it real”

For a long time, I was adamantly opposed to having anyone but family members and prospective agents read my books.  Eventually, when I signed a contract for two series with a small press publisher, I had to get used to having people (editors, in particular) go over my stuff with a fine-toothed comb. The process taught me two important things: stand up for my writing when absolutely necessary, and the rest of the time, practice humility. Because you know, I’ve learned that suggestions that frustrate me at first sometimes do make the book way, way better.

One thing I’ve learned through the process of gaining a literary agent is that my writing can always get better. I’ve also realized that what I think is good doesn’t always make sense, and a collection of opinions can be really helpful in appealing to a wider audience (science of statistics, really, although I won’t get into that.)

Enter my critique group. We don’t always agree. We don’t always get along. But what we do have are these necessary items: 1) Trust, 2) A willingness to listen and grow, and 3) Respect for one another’s work. And from reading the acknowledgments from many writers, I know how vital these groups can be to any author’s success.

How did my critique group get to a place of trust and respect? Well, maybe because we’re swell people, but even swell people get stinky sometimes, so let me tell you three things that have really helped.

We all participate. Even if a member doesn’t submit work for the month, he or she is expected to read the submissions if he or she attends the meeting. From the onset, the other group administrator and I were very straightforward that everyone must contribute to the discussion. It’s non-negotiable. The benefit is that the author can sort through the feedback, and if a bunch of people are saying the same thing, then a certain point may be worth addressing. Everything else? A person can take it or leave it.

We focus on the good first. Whenever we begin the discussion on an author’s work, we always, always start with what we loved. This helps ease the author into the water before voicing concerns, questions, or missed opportunities (we never, ever call it the “bad”). A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down, right?

We keep a time limit. And finally, this isn’t “talk about me and all my talent time.” Early on, we realized that to keep things fair and on schedule, we were going to need to set a time limit for each critique. Now, each work gets ten to fifteen minutes (depending on attendance), and when the clock stops, it stops. This means there is time at the end for writers to ask one another questions and discuss things, but at the end of the night, everyone is treated equally. And that makes our group a group worth coming to.

But, as always, I’d love to hear what type of things work or don’t work for other groups. So feel free to share. I’ll be fair-minded:)

 

School visits – Ten things every author should know

photo3As an author who specializes in writing fiction for the younger generation, I know that a good portion of speaking engagements will be with that younger generation (more specifically, middle and high schoolers). Now, with a few of those (terrifying!) experiences under my belt, I’d like to help my fellow writers out with a  brief checklist that will keep the word “boring” or  “awkward” far from those teens’ thoughts!

1. Be yourself. When I was getting ready for a day at a high school recently, I put on a boring pendant in place of the quirky necklace I love. Five minutes later, I swapped out the pendant for my fave. I told you that to say this: Be yourself. Show your writing through your style and in your presentation. If you write quirky stories, don’t be afraid to be quirky. I’ve found in my visits that the “reading” students often have the funniest, biggest personalities. They’ll appreciate someone who isn’t afraid to be just what we are–crazy writers:) And you might get a compliment on that necklace!

2. Just say no to death by PowerPoint. Unless you have the funniest slides, like, ever, just don’t do it.

3. Talk about your book. It wasn’t until I was about ten minutes into several of my talks that some teenager would raise his or her hand and say, “So what is your book about?” Oops. As much as I want to inspire others to write and talk about getting into the biz, getting down to the nitty gritty, that is, the book, is an important part of why you’re there.

4. Know your–ahem–stuff. At one point, I was talking about the “big five” publishers, and a kid asked me who they were. I mixed two of them up, and even if those kids don’t fact check me, it’s a failing on my part not to know my business like the back of my hand.

5. Know the rules. Thankfully, I have successfully reminded myself each time to remember that this is a school. As a visitor, I need to keep my speech to the point, which includes my books, what it’s like to be a writer, and the publishing biz. Topics such as religion and politics are off the table. I have had some success discussing the purpose of foul language in writing and how the kids respond to it, but that’s about as far as I feel I should go. I’ll leave heavier debates for the people who know the parameters better than I do. That’s right–those hard working teachers!

6. Do some research – Part I: Know your audience. Are they an English class? Creative writing class? What’s the school’s mascot? If you have a chance to speak with the teacher, what are the kids working on or reading? All of this knowledge opens doors for you to connect with your audience.

7. Do some research – Part II: Use this opportunity to connect with the very people you’re writing for! I ask the audience plenty of questions about their favorite books, authors, and genres. What do they like or not like in a book? In the meantime, I’m also engaging them.

8. Which leads me to…don’t talk the whole time! Twenty minutes is about the max for anyone to sit and listen to a speech. It is. So, if you have a longer presentation, you’d better break it up if you don’t want students to use your talk as sleep catch-up time. Give them fun writing exercises, or even a book quiz where they can win a prize (your book maybe?). Or, make sure to keep most of the discussion Q&A, addressing their interests instead of just what you think is interesting.

9. No PowerPoint. Did I say this already? Anyway, you hate it, I hate it, they hate it. If you want graphics, use the Internet creatively or very visual PP slides, at the least.

10. Have fun. Kids are crazy smart. They’ll know if you are enjoying yourself, so make the experience as fun for you as you hope it will be for them, and everyone will win.

What is steampunk?

Steampunk. If you’re a writer, you may have run across this cute little term in an editor or agent’s “interests” section. As a reader, your thinking, “Say what? Punk?”

Yeah, I know. Makes me think of pink Mohawks too.

But don’t get confused here. Steampunk is a blenderized combination of the late 1800s/early 1900s, industrialization, and, you guessed it, a punk rock feel (click here for Wikipedia’s more in-depth, more technical, and more helpful description). While discussing this theme with another writer, she and I decided (scientifically and on our very strong authority) that this isn’t a genre so much as a thematic element of a story. Difference? Steampunk can be implemented in so many stories, making it a creature all its own.

steampunkSo, what is considered steampunk? Well, going back to the beginning, when the late 1800s was contemporary, you had the oh-so-talented Jules Verne writing books like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and H.G. Wells’ Time Machine. There you go. There’s steampunk in its infancy, in probably its most original form.

In modern days, the element of steampunk may look like the new movie versions of Sherlock Holmes, or something of that nature. It could almost be described as sci-fi meets historical fiction…or something like that. But steampunk doesn’t have to take place in the 1800s. Oh no. It just has to have the look and feel of Victorian times and industrialization. So you can set it in modern times and the future too!

Don’t ask me how. I haven’t been able to generate any ideas on those two points.

But I do have some thoughts swirling now. So I best get started. If the book industry has taught me anything so far, it’s that as soon as something’s made into a movie–wizards, vampires, dystopian, etc.–it goes out of vogue for a while.

So I better get cracking. I don’t mean to be rude, but excuse me while I go pick up my copy of Around the World in Eighty Days.

Thankful to be a writer…

Being a writer is a tough gig, especially if you’re wanting to do it to bring home the bacon. But instead of focusing on the negative aspects of a writing career, I’m going to tell you a few reasons that I, and maybe you, should be grateful for our love of the pen (or keyboard…or whatever).

1. Writers get to live twice. Natalie Goldberg said it, and it’s the honest truth.

2. Writers are more likely to win an argument about grammar. For a competitive gal like myself, that’s cool.

3. On the writers living twice thing, as a novelist, I can be a hotter, braver version of myself, or even take on the role of the opposite sex.  How much fun is it to be a guy sometimes! You get to be so much funnier without nearly trying as hard:)

4. Writers have the chance to work from home. In PJs. With a jar of peanut butter and a spoon sitting right there on the desk.

5. Writers get to dream big and orchestrate good endings. We also get to dream about nuclear holocausts, genetically engineered monsters, and bad guys stroking white cats, but those thoughts don’t warm my heart so much.

6. Writers get to fall in love over and over again, especially in the romance genre. Okay, that’s cheating off the “writers live twice” quote again. Whatever.

7. Writers can write whatever the heck they want. The flip side is someone’s going to have to want to read it.

8. Writers have the opportunity to the understand the world through exploring the weaknesses of their protagonists and finding empathy with their antagonists. We’re almost like psychologists. But not quite. (So don’t ask me for advice for your problems; I might put them in a story.)

9. Writers can take a little revenge on past wrongdoers. We just change the last name;-)

10. Writers have an opportunity to make a difference for a wide audience. We just have to write something real and get it out there.

What a job…

What the fudgcicles? To cuss or not to cuss in YA fiction…

In every writing workshop I conduct, the topic of using swear words in teen fiction is a huge issue of debate, with people as polarized over the subject as the American legislature on the Affordable Healthcare Act. And I have to say, I’ve found both sides (on the swear word debate) to have valid reasons for believing the way they do.

On the pro side, I’ve found that teens in my workshops shrug their shoulders and often tell me that they use bad language all the time. “Why not use it in writing? It reflects reality,” they say. And I see so many aspiring writers who appear to do just that–have their characters use bad language in an effort to make them seem real. Cool. Edgy.

Then, on the other side of the debate, are those (often parents) who say, “Why expose my kids to this? They get enough of it every day.” Still others say it’s lazy writing, that curse words are used when the writer wants to sound tough but can’t think of any other way to achieve it.

I like to take a step back from the argument. I mean, I’m breaking up fights between toddlers on a daily basis; by noon each day, I’ve usually done a year’s worth of refereeing. I don’t like to take sides when I don’t have to. I’m a “let’s look at the situation” type of gal. So where do I weigh in on this issue?

After writing twelve novels (and counting) and having both used language and shied away from it in the past, I’ve learned this: your character and target audience will make the difference. For example, in the Teen Mobster Series, my target age range is eleven and up. Of course, it is the Mafia, which isn’t known for it’s, uh, gentlemanly behavior. But I found a way around it, telling my audience that men are “cursing” in the story without writing the actual words. Realistic, but still appropriate for the age range.

But in other books, especially more mature teen books (14+) that deal with contemporary issues (sexuality and bullying, for example–follow my Twitter handle to learn more about upcoming releases), sometimes a character displays his or her personality through the use of a curse word, or a character’s reaction to cursing tells the audience more about him or her. I try to use swearing sparingly, but with discretion, always wanting a novel that deals with critical issues to feel authentic to the readers it’s meant to touch.

So the decision is yours. Just remember what Ernest Hemingway said:

“…Try and write straight English; never using slang except in dialogue and then only when unavoidable. Because all slang goes sour in a short time.”

Cheers.

Five reasons ANYBODY should read the Teen Mobster Series

I love getting feedback on the first two books in my three-part Teen Mobster Series from Bluewood Publishing. People like the characters, the drama, the action, and the romance. Yeah, I’m kinda’ partial to it too:)

But apparently, I’m competing with a smorgasbord of technology for teen readers these days. I mean, who’s going to pick up a book with, like, words in it when you can watch a movie that will give you an explosion every 5.2 minutes? Who needs a plot? Who needs a realistic character? Let’s play a video game we’ve played five-hundred times and try to kill the same villain over and over again.

Or…

Let me give you (and I mean anyone over the age of ten who likes a little action, romance, and suspense–which is everyone) a few reasons to pick up Accidental Mobster and its friend, Undercover Wiseguy, this weekend.

1. It’s the Mafia. You’ve survived six seasons of The Sopranos and three Godfather movies. Who can give you your mobster fix now? That’s right. This gal.

2. The main character, Danny, can hold his own in a fight–even with mobsters. I’m sorry, but that’s just cool.

3. There’s money, and lots of it.

4. There’s explosions. And kissing. And gunfights. And family drama. And explosions. I mean seriously, who needs a movie when I’ve managed to shove all that into one trilogy?

5. It’s the Mafia. Did I say that already? You’re not cool unless you’ve made it. And this series will give you a head start on all that mob lingo.

I said five reasons? Well, here’s one more–in all seriousness now. This entire series gives a shout out to law enforcement–at least the good ones. And at the end of the day, justice gets served on so many levels, I promise you’ll love it.

Oh, and it ends with a wedding. I mean, come on!

So come on down and join the family…

www.teenmobster.com

How many words to write…a creative person’s lesson in time management

I am a writer. That means that while I do many things, my mind is in Never Never Land, working out the stories in my head. If it sounds a little crazy, that’s because…well…it is.

I discuss my writing habits with many people, and because I have small children and several endeavors in development, the fact that I have completed no less than seven novels in two and half years may sound impressive (twelve overall, with six under contract with Bluewood Publishing and the rest of my work now represented by Dee Mura Literary). But the thing is, anyone can accomplish certain word counts. The tough job is ensuring that what’s coming through the tips of my fingers is quality. This doesn’t always happen on the first go around, and usually the editing process hones the story and makes it sing.

However, even though I’m a creative writer, I am organized. That doesn’t mean my house is filled with perfectly stacked, labeled storage bins. If only. But it does mean that I make lists, and plenty of them. And generally, except for the grocery list that disappears to its own version of Never Never Land right before I reach the store, these lists help me organize my wild and crazy life.

But whether you’re the OCD poster child or more of a “What? It’s midnight already and I just got out of my pajamas!” type , managing time, especially time for writing, can be achieved. Here’s a few methods for fitting that book into your life–no matter how busy.

Review your free time – Think of it this way: the time of day you’d be watching your favorite shows or surfing social media is free time. Try to calculate how much time you spend doing it. This is time that can go directly to your writing. Now, I’ll caution that you should definitely set time aside to read, especially in the genre you’re writing. And, if you absolutely must watch the finale of the Bachelorette, just DVR it. Those commercials are stealing your life away.

Organize your story – From my experience, if I know where I’m going, I’ll get there faster. You don’t have to possess a comprehensive outline, and actually, spending too much time outlining can distract from what really needs to be done–yeah, writing. But when I know what big scenes are coming and a good idea of how I want to reach them, the words flow faster. This also pertains to research–taking time to get it done (visiting locales, interviewing specialists, reading nonfiction material) will only speed up the storytelling process.

Take a break; strengthen relationships. I could always be writing. It’s a hard switch to turn off. In fact, I carry a notebook everywhere to jot down ideas as they come to me. But I need to turn off the brain faucet from time to time–and I do. My family and friends, my health, and my other odd-but-awesome jobs (Edmond Sun‘s Mom Around Town and Metropolitan Library System writing classes) are priorities that can’t be shirked. Developing strong relationships as a writer sits at the top of my list, because not only can writing be a lonely profession, but I write better people when I spend time with people. I also write more hopeful stories from living a full and positive life (despite the setbacks, heartbreak, and tragedy that are inherent in life), and at the end of the day, that’s the kind of thing I want to put out there.

So don’t worry. Be happy, and write on:)

My favorite guests at a writer’s workshop

Every month or so, I teach a writing workshop, and I find that just like when I coached skating, my own mastery of the craft improves as I review the fundamentals. So as I gear up for my next gig (Jumpstart Your Novel Class), I find that I’m excited to get in touch with some old friends. Those friends, in no particular order, are an eye-catching opening scene, expert character development, active description, effortless dialogue, the build-up to a nail-biting climax, and of course, the perfect marketing plan.

Let me give you their bios:

Eye-catching Opening Scene – Although sometimes overlooked as being “just the beginning,” no other element of your story will be more influential in catching the ever-roving eye of an agent or editor. So it better sparkle. Or crackle. Or sizzle. Or all of the above.

Expert Character Development – A character who doesn’t struggle with any internal demons, well, just wouldn’t be human. Although this story element can often seem a bit cumbersome, it is essential for any novel. Any and all action should stem from your character development AND develop your character further. Don’t understand what I mean? Read on.

Active Description – Taken by themselves, action and description appear to be polar opposites. Action is so, well, fast, whereas description is often slow and deliberate. Put them together, though, and you have a match made in heaven. Just think of how you take in a setting. You don’t stand in a room and note the color of the walls, the light fixtures, or the volume of the room all at once. You experience these things as you go.

Effortless Dialogue – I hate a run of dialogue followed by the perfunctory he said/she said. I also hate dialogue with no tags, making me count lines to remember who said what. Feeling that dialogue is woven easily into the story is essential for good writing, and it should exist in conjunction with action and expression (read Sarah Dessen for good examples). As a former communication major, a point that was pounded into this little brain was that most of human communication is nonverbal. It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it. That said, beware of adverbs in dialogue tags. Most editors hate’em. Just so you know.

The Build-up to a Nail-biting Climax – Stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. You can deviate if you want, but just keep in mind that almost all successful stories follow this format in some way. Seem elementary? It’s not as easy as you think. Your characters will go through an arc, just as the story climbs up and down one as well. As a teen fiction writer, every scene I write builds on the last and builds toward the ending. If it doesn’t add to your story’s premise or a character’s development, you don’t need it.

The Perfect Marketing Plan – This should never be the last guest at your little writing-party. Why? Because it’s super important if you want to succeed. Before that first sentence goes on paper, ask yourself this: Who is my audience? What other books like mine are out there? Have I read these books? Can I write this subject-matter in a new, interesting way? Who will I try to sell this to? Who would publish it?

Once you have all these elements assembled, go forth and write! Just remember to circle back and review them every once in a while. It never hurts to stay on track:)