Thursday, May 25, 2017

GUESTOPIA: YA Author Marlo Berliner

Marlo Berliner

It's May already, and so far this year I hope I've introduced you to some new authors whose books you've added to your shelves. But I'm not stopping there, oh no! There's still a bunch of awesomeness to come, and today I have the very special, award-winning Marlo Berliner with me!

Formerly an accounting manager for a Fortune 500 company, Marlo Berliner is now an award-winning author. Her first book, THE GHOST CHRONICLES, was released in November 2015 to critical acclaim. The book won the 2016 Golden Leaf Award for Best First Book, was awarded FINALIST in the National Indie Excellence Awards for Young Adult Fiction and received the Literary Classics Seal of Approval. Marlo writes young adult, women's fiction, and short stories. She is also a freelance editor with Chimera Editing. Marlo is represented by Eric Ruben of The Ruben Agency.

When she's not writing or editing, Marlo loves reading, relaxing at the beach, watching movies, and rooting for the Penn State Nittany Lions. After having spent some wonderful time in Pittsburgh and Houston, she's now back in her home state of New Jersey where she resides with her husband, two sons and a rambunctious puppy named Max. 

What an impressive bio! And here we go with the interview...

Is this your first published book?

What’s it called?

Which genre?
YA Paranormal

Which age group?

Is it a series or standalone?
A series

Are you an agented author?

Which publisher snapped up your book?
Teddy Blue Books (my own imprint)

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?
100% involved!

Do you have another job?
I’m also a stay-at-home-mom and freelance editor

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?
Yes, many, through several rounds of querying to agents and editors. The book got very far with dozens of them, but ultimately no one bit so I decided to self-publish it.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?
I was on the beach at the Outerbanks, NC reading Harry Potter, Chamber of Secrets along with my son. The chapter called The Deathday Party ignited the spark that lit the fire that would become THE GHOST CHRONICLES. But the whole idea for the book really came together after I stayed at the Angel of the Sea, a famous bed and breakfast in Cape May, NJ and heard the legend of the haunting there.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?
Only a couple weeks. Basically, I just dove into writing it.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?
The story did flow naturally, but it took many rounds of revisions to get the book into its current state.

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?
I wrote two drafts before I pitched it to an agent and she requested the full. After reading the full, she asked for a revise and resubmit right away.

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?
I had a few beta readers before I started querying, and afterwards, a professional editor.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?
Like I said, just those two drafts and then off to an agent it went.

How many drafts until it was published?
Easily a dozen.

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?
I originally wrote the story in a very distant third person POV and then revised it to be very close third person. I also changed the ending chapters substantially.

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?
A few tiny things here and there, but nothing much really.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?
Taking a book from rough draft to finished product. That’s when my writing truly flows and the magic happens, as long as I can stay in the ‘groove’.

What part do you find hardest?
If I have to leave a story for too long because of other commitments, I tend to lose the flow of the writing and it takes me much longer to get into that ‘groove’ again.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?
I try to push through, even if it means leaving one chapter and working on a different one. Occasionally though, I have to step away to gain perspective.

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?
About three.

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?
I personally think it takes a bit of both. When I was younger I was told I had a gift for writing, but it also took learning a lot of craft through workshops and books to really bring me to the level I’m at now.

How many future novels do you have planned?
For this series there will be a total of three books. After that, I have five other novels currently in the works. And folders full of ideas for others!

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?
I’ve written several short stories that I may put into a compilation.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?
Hearing from fans! Every time I get an email from a fan saying they can’t wait for the second book in THE GHOST CHRONICLES series it makes my day and spurs me on to write faster.

Give me one writing tip that work for you.
I swear by Michael Hauge’s story structure.

And one that doesn't. 
Character interviews. My characters just don’t speak to me or come to me like that.

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?
Much of the book takes place in Cape May at the Angel of the Sea again, but there’s also a scene that takes place in Boston.

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have?
What would the answer be? Did you ever experience anything paranormal, or anything you couldn’t explain while staying at The Angel of the Sea? And the answer would be, yes!

Fantastic interview! Thanks for joining YAtopia, Marlo, and we wish you all the best with the series.
If you would like to follow or find out more about Marlo and her books these links might help!

Buy links -

Social links -

Authors: Kill These Bad Social Media Habits

Hello YAtopia! So sorry for being a day late on this post but I am in the middle of moving (within the same city) and also my Windows decided to "update" and now my touch pad doesn't work. Yay.

Our topic this month is "Kill Your Darlings" so I'm here to talk about social media practices you should murder and leave in a ditch somewhere!

1) Twitter auto-DMs when someone follows you

I follow someone on Twitter because I think they're fun/nice/entertaining/informative. Within minutes, I have a private message from them. Which seems nice, right? But wait, the message is an impersonal version of "Thank you for following me. Check out my books at [amazon link]."



Don't do this.

Since people always argue with me about this when I teach "Social Media for Authors" classes, I'll try to explain why. If you're at a party and you think someone seems like an interesting person to talk to. You go up and introduce yourself. The person says, "Thanks for saying hi. Check out my office supply store on Main Street," then turns and walks away.

At the last conference I went to, we literally had a 15-minute rant session about how much we hate auto-dms. Yes, even if it's not a direct sales pitch.

If you want to interact with your new followers, reply to something they've tweeted with a relevant comment. That's the best way to begin a real relationship.

Treat people like people, not like potential customers.

2) Feeding your Facebook posts into your Twitter posts

We all know Twitter has a 140 character limit, right? A lot of people have it set up so that whatever they post to Facebook automatically posts to twitter. There are more subtle reasons as to why this isn't a good idea, but the big one is that your message is truncated. Most twitter users are on mobile and don't want to click over to Facebook to finish reading your post. This is why doing it the other way around (Twitter posts to Facebook) isn't as bad (but still not ideal).

3) Reposting the same tweet about your book, every day

Believe me, I know how tempting it is to schedule this tweet once so you never have to think about it again. But I see the same tweet from you, every day, and it's just noise at this point.

4) Follow and unfollow and follow and unfollow and follow and unfollow for followers

Dude. I'm not going to follow you back. I follow people I find interesting, not just because they followed me.

Be fun and interesting and nice and way more people will follow you than you can get using any kind of "strategy."

5) Copyright infringement in your advertisements

We all know that stealing someone's writing and posting it without their permission is a no-no, right? Why don't we apply the same knowledge to photos? If you don't have the legal (usually, paid) right to use an image, do NOT use it in your advertisements. This goes double for celebrity photos.

Photos used in discussion/commentary are a different matter, but in promotional materials for your book? You better have the rights to use it.

These days, social media is an important part of author life. You can't make everybody happy, but killing the habits listed above will help you scare off fewer potential readers.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Character motivations as shown by Disney’s ‘Tangled’

Confession: I’ve not followed the theme this month. The closest I can get is that the weather in Tangled is really summer-y… and the Darling Buds of May is summer-y too….

Yeah OK it’s not linked.

Anyway, I was listening to Disney’s Tangled’s soundtrack yesterday (Yes it’s on my workout list) and as I was singing along to ‘I’ve Got a Dream’, I realised that Disney has basically whittled down one of the most important parts of fiction writing into a really catchy song. For those of you not Disney-inclined, this is sung by a group of scary pirates/thugs in a dodgy tavern, and it’s describing how even though they’re a bit murderous, they all have a dream that’s separate from their ‘day job’ of being violent.

I can’t directly quote the lyrics here due to copyright, but the opening of the song describes one pirate’s desire to become a concert pianist. (It’s so catchy, look it up.)

I know in YA writing we can’t be quite as obvious as Disney can, handily providing an exposition song to explain a character’s motivations, (if only) but the song is a really good reminder that no matter what character you’re creating they will ALWAYS have something driving them, and often more than one thing. So here we have a guy whose motivation seems to be money, taking out his anger on others, intimidating others etc… which is a bit of a 2D cliché, right? But then we’re told he actually wants to be a pianist. So, let’s say we were writing about this character and taking him out of a Disney realm, we could show his hidden motivation in subtle ways such as demonstrating his fondness for music; exploring his lack of opportunities to follow his dream growing up; maybe even having another character hear him secretly practising his tunes…

The song goes on to describe a multitude of cameo characters’ dreams, such as being a florist, doing interior design, being a mime artist, making cupcakes, knitting, sewing, performing puppet shows and collecting unicorns.

So now we have an ensemble cast who have suddenly become individuals with names, hobbies and aspirations, all in eight lines! Again, I know that when we’re writing YA we can’t just list what drives our characters, but if we know what they are as the writer, it will shine through in their actions; the way they speak and react to things and their understanding of other characters, which will all contribute to making them well-rounded 3D characters.

Within the song, we also have the main characters’ love interest sing about how his dream is to be ‘surrounded by bags of money.’ This is great, because it shows us how the character perceives his own motivation, whereas by the end of the film we know what will really make him happy is to find someone to share his life with. So now we start adding layers onto the motivations of our characters – what do they think drives them in comparison to what they ACTUALLY are looking for, if they were honest with themselves?

If you know all this, your characters will naturally demonstrate their motivations (hopefully in ways slightly more subtle than bursting into song,) within your writing.

And if nothing else, this post will ensure that you won’t be able to stop humming ‘I’ve Got a Dream’ for the rest of the day.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Be a Killer Queen

The Darling Buds of May/Kill Your Darlings inspired our May theme for YAtopia. And my post today is inspired by Queen's kick-arse song Killer Queen. 

Why? Because I want to be a Killer Queen. As in, I need to be prepared kill more characters in my series. I feel like it's something I've shied away from, despite having a homicidal super soldier as a character in my series, there has been a total of three deaths, and two of those were 'off-stage'. 

It's not like I want to get all George R. Martin and kill off  a truck load of characters, but I need to know when it's okay to kill my little darlings for the sake of the story, and to improve the reader experience. 

Now you may be asking, how does killing off characters make for an enjoyable experience for the reader. It doesn't always, especially if there's no good reason for it, but if the story needs to show characters being ruthless, having ambition, and a lack of respect for human life, then killing off characters can be a way to do that. 

A great example of this is A Court Of Fives. One of my 2017 Pitch Madness Team members recommended this to me to help me tackle the world building for my first ever fantasy attempt. The book is Roman Empire inspired, and is filled with political intrigue, defined classes and ruthless ambition. I won't spoil the story for you, but there were multiple times where death was depicted, either of supporting cast members, or scenery characters, and the impact on me was quite strong. I was often floored, not expecting it, but it supported the world building and the character development within the story, and overall cemented the story as one of the most exquisitely crafted series I've ever read. 

I know to achieve this I need to hang up my pantser pants and put on my plotter pants on. And thanks to finally taking the plunge and purchasing Scrivener, I'm hoping to become a converted plotter, and to kill many a darling in my pages. 

Sharon M. Johnston is an Australian author of YA and NA novels. her Open Heart Series is out now with City Owl Press. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Truth About Revising

Revising is a difficult subject for writers because a lot of work occurs between the first and final draft. However, writers need to remember one very important thing. They are the ones in charge of their work. Yes. It’s important for writers to take constructive criticism. But writers still need to stay true to their vision. And I would like to share a few revision tips I have learned over the last couple of years.
Worldbuilding is one thing I’ve improved on with my writing. Worldbuilding means rituals, details, and information that’s necessary to a novel. In a fantasy novel, that could mean how magic works. In a contemporary/non-fantasy or science fiction novel, worldbuilding could mean mentioning the school’s mascot if it’s a middle grade or young adult novel or even an annual event that’s important to the novel’s setting. Those are just a couple of examples. However, my point remains clear. Little details don’t have to be distracting. They just make the book’s world more fleshed out.
Characterization is another thing I’ve improved on with my writing. Having well-defined characters is necessary because people are complicated in real life. That doesn’t mean villains have to be redeemed. It just means characters need layers. Writers don’t have to drop a character’s entire backstory in a scene to give the character depth. They could just reveal a small detail. For example, a scene between a main character and his or her friend might entail the friend revealing a problem. The problem doesn’t even have to be large. But it gives insight into the friend and helps also flesh out the main character. Other characters often support the main character and it’s good if the main character can repay the favor somehow. However, it’s still okay to plan backstories for each character. The details might not all make it on the page. But they do inform how authors write a scene. For instance, someone who lost a parent before turning thirteen would have a different outlook on life as opposed to someone who never had a trustworthy adult figure as a kid.
Style is another thing I’ve learned about when revising. Writers need long, short, and medium sentences. Having a variety in terms of sentence length helps the writing be smooth. Too many short sentences would be boring and monotone while too many long sentences might lose readers.
Information is another issue related to revision. Details are essential for fiction. Although dropping too much information on readers can be dangerous. Readers only need as much information that is necessary in the actual scene.

To all my fellow writers: remember to take deep breaths when revising. It can be overwhelming. The trick is knowing you put solid planning into the novel. And I don’t say that lightly. I’m revising a YA Fantasy novel right now. Although this revision is only about modifying emotions/reactions and digging deeper with interiority in terms of the main character’s emotions/reactions. For instance, violence is present in the novel and can’t just be glossed over (the concept of the novel is fascism in a fairytale/fantasy setting). That means the main character needs to express his thoughts to those types of situations so the story will be fleshed out more.