Monday, October 10, 2016

Character Tension - Part 2 - Family

Welcome back to this mini-series about how to build tension in your novel. Last month, we looked at conflicting characters. This week, we’re going to take it one step further and look at conflicting family members. Check out the top three suggestions I have for really amping up the tension between those who love (or hate!) each other the most:

First - family members are all raised in the same way...or are they? Take a look at how some family members might be favored over others? Who gets away with blue murder, and who doesn't? Why is someone their father's favorite and another not? Who is unfairly treated and who is the princess/prince of the house? Even as adults, characters will harbor resentments (or over the top loyalty) depending on how their parents raised them.

Second - how do partners raise their children? Do they agree on discipline? Disagree? Do they disagree on where they should live, work, let the children go to school? What if one person listens exclusively to their parents and never to their wife/husband? There are many instances in a family unit to rub up against one another. Everything from divorce, custody battles, substance abuse problems, neglect to success, religion, sex and more.

Third - power struggles within families also create a great way to build tension. What happens when one family member wants power over another? Maybe a son trying to prove himself over his father? A mother trying to show how much more beautiful she is than her teenage daughter? A father trying to rule his house with an iron fist?

As you can see, there are many ways the family unit can build tension throughout the landscape of your novel, and you should make sure these elements are fully developed as they'll give your character a new level of depth, too.

Check in next month for my final tension post - love and romance!  

Monday, October 3, 2016

Your Creative Space

I’ve recently moved. Not a major, new-city-new-life type move, but it is a new house which means I’m carving out new spaces to write in. So writing spaces and office spaces are on my mind. 
Any space can become a writing space. I’ve written in hotel rooms, studio apartments, coffee shops, church classrooms, theaters. For me, these are what I need to settle into a space and make it inspiring:
  1. A computer or a tablet with a keyboard. Okay, so that’s probably a little obvious. I have, in a pinch, written scenes in a notebook, but I prefer typing. My iPad mini and a bluetooth keyboard served me well for a few months, and they fit easily in a purse without adding much weight. I can be ready to write at a moment’s notice.
  2. Music. For me, music is often necessary. It blocks out nearby conversations, if I’m writing in public, or the screams of either silence or the kids if I’m writing at home (playing screams, of course). Music also gets me into the story’s mood, since I generally pick a specific album or build a playlist for each manuscript. So this also means I usually need earbuds. Once, I had to beg my husband to bring me a pair when I was at a coffee shop. Now I make sure to keep a pair in every bag that I might carry with me.
  3. Coffee, tea, or water. I need something to drink. If the writing is flowing, I’ll ignore it, but I need a mug or cup nearby. Just because.
  4. Bathroom access. Number 3 explains this necessity, but I need breaks while writing, and a trip to the bathroom is the best excuse to get up and move. 
  5. Table and chair. While I have written while sitting on the floor, I prefer a table of some sort and a regular chair. I know many writers who write on the couch or the bed, but for me, that’s not usually where I’m able to be most productive. I also like to get dressed as opposed to staying in pajamas even when I won’t be leaving the house. 

What’s on your list of necessities for carving out writing space?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

How to Work on Multiple Novels at Once

I've always balked at the kind of people who could read two or more books at the same time. I'd much rather be totally immersed in one world, start to finish. And isn't it kind of like cheating on one book with another?

That's what I thought when it came to writing multiple novels at the same time too. My main fear was that I would fall more in love with one WIP (work-in-progress) and the other would fall to the side, never to be seen again.

Until, without meaning to, I found myself in a wild love affair with three WIPs. Three. The scandal!
Since I've been balancing all three projects pretty well (or as well as I can with my attached baby) for a few weeks now, I'm an expert (of course). So if you're thinking of dipping your toes in the torrid world of multiple projects, here are three expert tips to help you stay faithful (ha!) to all of them.

1. Your WIPs should be at different stages.

All three of my WIPs require different kinds of creativity and thinking. One of them is a fresh idea, so I'm playing with world-building, plot, characters, everything. No actual writing is happening yet. Just daydreaming, notes, and Pinterest boards. Total freedom.

My second is in the first draft stage and is actually the sequel to my third WIP. So the world and characters have already been established. I know most of the plot, but I'm a bit of a pantser so there's a lot of room for exploration here too.

My third project is my oldest. This one has gone through revision after revision, edits after edits. Queries. Contests. And after Pitch Wars this year, we're saddling up and going through revisions yet again. (Never surrender!)

2. Establish Priorities.

With the different kinds of creativity and thinking, if I get stuck or bored with one kind, I can easily cozy up to another one for a while. But I also don't want to lose focus by switching things up too much. My goal is publication. So I want to move each project forward, but I want to move the revisions forward before the one that has no words, you know? So if I'm not stuck, first priority goes to revisions, then the sequel, and then the new idea.

3. Don't try this with more than a few books.

This can really only work if you're able to prioritize and give honest, good time and effort to what's most important. That won't happen if you're trying to juggle ten books. You have to commit at some point, player.

Have you tried working on multiple novels? What worked and didn't work for you?

Happy writing!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

$20 Amazon voucher to celebrate Shattered Book Blitz


SHATTERED: An Open Heart Novel Book 2
Healing a battered heart will risk her last link to humanity

Mishca needs to save her sisters, but only Ryder can save her.

The truth about Mishca’s past shattered her heart. She deals with the pain by focusing on a new mission: saving her newfound family from their creator. With her sisters scheduled for termination, Mishca and her friends set out on a journey up the North Queensland Coast to save them before someone else dies.

Ryder understands the need driving Mischa. It’s in her DNA. But he’s not giving up on the chance they can still be together. She’s the only one to have seen him levitate. The only one to watch the sparks dance across his skin. The only one he trusts enough to know what is in his heart. And now, he might be the only one who can stop Mishca from losing her humanity. Driven apart by secrets, will they come together in time?

Buy SHATTERED on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooksKobo, Fishpond,  Indie Bound, Booktopia or via the various outlets found on the City Owl Press website.

Don't forget to add it on Goodreads! Haven't read DIVIDED yet? Find it at AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooksKoboFishpondIndie Bound, WalmartBooktopia, Boomerang Books, or via the various outlets found on the City Owl Press Website. And you can add it on Goodreads!

To celebrate the impending release of SHATTERED, you could win a $20 gift voucher. Check out all the ways to enter in the Rafflecopter Link a Rafflecopter giveaway

DSCF0416About the author

YA & NA author, Sharon M. Johnston, hails from sunny Queensland, Australia. When she's not writing, Sharon works in PR, spends time with her family, and plays far too much Pokemon Go.

You can find her on TwitterFacebook, and on her website.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

99c for DIVIDED: An Open Heart Novel Book 1 - Price Drop!


In preparation for the release of SHATTERED: An Open Heart Novel Book 2, you can grab DIVIDED: An Open Heart Novel Book 1 for only 99c

A new heart should mean new life, instead it’s a living nightmare. 

Mishca Richardson’s life is at an all-time high after her heart transplant. With new boyfriend, Ryder, she has the perfect summer romance. Even the nightmares plaguing her sleep since her operation can’t dull her new dream world. 

Yet, life starts to unravel when Mishca develops superhuman abilities. She does her best to hide them so as not to end up a science experiment in a lab, but she can’t ignore the strange instant attraction she experiences when she meets her university professor, Colin Read. 

Torn between love and obsession, Mishca must unite her divided heart and decide between the two men. But when the truth about her weird powers comes to light, she’ll have a lot more to worry about than romance. 

Some thoughts on DIVIDED

"...authors like Sharon M. Johnston keep the genre (NA) from getting stale by taking a creative bent and exploring overlapping elements."- LIBRARY JOURNAL

"This story by Sharon M Johnston will tug at your heart strings and leave you raw, and yet wanting desperately to read more!" - READERS' FAVOURITE


To celebrate the impending release of SHATTERED, not only is DIVDED down to 99c, but there's also a giveaway! You could win a $20 gift voucher. Check out all the ways to enter in the Rafflecopter Link 

About the author

YA & NA author, Sharon M. Johnston, hails from sunny Queensland, Australia. When she's not writing, Sharon works in PR, spends time with her family, and plays far too much Pokemon Go. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and on her website.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Problem Must Matter by Marion Crook

Today I'd like to welcome Marion Crook, author of the book Writing for Children and Young Adults, to YAtopia. 

In addition to the expert advice author Marion Crook shared in earlier editions of Writing for Children and Young Adults, in this vibrant new edition, Crook explains some of the nuance and choices about the writing world online. 
As well, she revisits the fundamentals of writing: establishing character, creating lively dialogue and developing plot with updated worksheets and examples. This edition shows the writer how to begin a story, plan plot, develop and hone the work for an agent or publisher, and how to make the crucial submission for a book that agents want to represent and publishers want to buy!
Writing for Children and Young Adults helps you create the manuscript that sells!

The Problem Must Matter by Marion Crook

Most writers want to engage their readers, have the readers worry about the characters and feel relieved when danger is overcome. That emotional involvement will happen only if the readers care about the character and that happens if we, the writers, have created a character appealing enough to tug at the readers’ hearts. We work hard to create such characters--but it’s not enough.
Jessie Mullins made an important point in her blog of July 28th. A story needs real stakes. It’s not as easy as one might think to put your beloved character into danger. I am protective of my character and have to deliberately thrust him or her into peril. But it’s my character’s tussle with danger that gives impetus and importance to the story.
The protagonist, no matter how emotionally attuned the readers are to him or her, needs to have a problem. What does he or she want? What is standing in the way? If the problem is personal, important, seemingly impossible to solve, and contains a time in which it must happen, chances are the story will have tension and excitement. The problem doesn’t have to be earthshaking to be important to character: Leaving home is important if the character is afraid she may never return. Being stuck in an elevator is important if his only chance at an Olympic gold is in half an hour. This is where writers ramp up their imaginations. We put ourselves into the skin of our characters and find what threatens them in their world. The stakes must matter to that character. If we have created a character that engages readers, then the quest will seem important to them.

When your characters are tested by danger or threatened by adverse circumstances, it gives them a chance to grow emotionally and spiritually. This, while not always necessary to the plot, is necessary to reader satisfaction. And as writers, we eat and drink reader satisfaction. 
About the Author

Marion Crook has written many books for young adult and middle-grade readers. Here, she offers advice on writing, publishing, and marketing. Crook’s background in child development education as a nurse and her Ph.D. in education give her solid knowledge, but she maintains that a keen observation of people, places, and events can be the author’s most useful tool. An experienced teacher and writer, she gives her readers clear and practical tips, with humor and obvious understanding of what it’s like to write and publish.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The importance of perseverance

A few years ago my publisher closed down. No royalties came through for most of the authors. It was a huge deflating moment. This was my first novel. I wasn't confident with self publishing, so I shelved it. I was pretty down about it. This story meant so much to me. 

It was a year or so later, I spontaneously threw out my pitch for the story as part of a Twitter party. And it got requests! Including from my publisher, City Owl Press. My book was reborn as DIVDED: An Open Heart Novel. 

I was thrilled. City Owl Press have been amazing. 

And now, I'm getting ready to launch the sequel: SHATTERED.

Writing is such a subjective business that you don't know if your novel will make it. The wave of trends that come and go mean a novel you shelved five years ago could be dusted off now and put back out in queries. Like how agent Pam Howell is currently looking for YA Vampires

Sometimes it's not you, it's the industry trends. Sometimes it's not you, it's the agent's wishlist not matching. Keep believing in yourself and persevere, not matter what is thrown at you. 

And then maybe one day you'll be about to celebrate a book launch too. 

BTW - if you'd like to sign up for the book launch of SHATTERED you can here. No blog required as promo can be via Twitter. 

Sharon is an author of YA and NA fiction. You can find her hanging out on Twitter, or playing with her cats. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Book Spotlight: The Songbird Thief

Today on YAtopia, I'm featuring The Songbird Thief by Skye Allen, a brand new YA fantasy novel now available from Harmony Ink Press.

Where’s the harm in a little petty theft now and then? Fifteen-year- old Lee is about to

find out. Lee has a gift—the ability to use her songs to enchant prospective victims,

making them easy to rob—but it isn’t without a price. The source of this mysterious

ability is revealed when Lee comes to San Francisco, fleeing her stepfather’s abuse: she

is half fey. That’s a problem for Lee’s friend and secret crush, Sonja, since Sonja thinks

entanglements with the fey only lead to trouble. As her adventure takes her deeper into

the Faerie Realm, Lee discovers her power has the potential for more than fun and

profit. Some would use it for evil, and only Lee can decide if there’s good to be found in

her songs.


I know Sonja will be late even before the tired woman behind the counter yells my

name to give me the message. My name is an all-access pass— Lee—but she still

manages to make it into two syllables. I jolt out of my exhausted trance when I

finally realize I’m the Lee she’s yelling for. I’m pretty sure I’m the last girl in

California not to have a cell phone. It’s after one o’clock in the morning. I’m at the

24-Hour Chinese Food and Donuts on Harrison Avenue and Second Street. Transient

central for San Francisco. I probably look like a homeless person, but I’m technically

only between addresses for a few hours. I kick my duffel farther under the table and

make my way up to the counter, watching my bag the whole time, and wait for the

inevitable announcement—“Your friend is on her way.”

I sit back down and hug my wilted cup of coffee to my face. The strength of it

surprises me, dark and oily. A man in a tight green dress flashes an incomplete set of

teeth at me from the counter and holds up his own cup. He looks harmless, but he

could get chatty. Social rejects get chatty late at night. Sure enough, he starts up in a

groggy voice, “You sure are tall, honey. What are you, six feet?”

He’s off by two inches, but I don’t want to talk about my height. I touch my index

finger to the rim of my cup and draw a line across the yellow Formica in front of me.

It works better with actual spit, but I just got off a Greyhound bus. I don’t want to

lick my fingers.

“Are you part black or Indian? I don’t mean anything by that. I’ve dated many

gorgeous brown men. And with that cute short haircut, you could just about pass for

one of them.” My new white friend chuckles.

I don’t know the answer to his question. I stare at the line I drew and wait for it to

work. I don’t have a lot of magic, and whatever I do have is most likely evil, if I can

believe Da. I discovered the spit trick by accident, and it doesn’t work for much, just

redirects people’s attention when I don’t want it. That and the music thing. Maybe

one or two other minor skills. That’s all I have.

I don’t know what else I’d have in the way of magic if it weren’t for Da. His house, his

rules. He’s my stepfather, or he would be if he’d married my mother. We have no

legal or blood relationship, not that it matters. I know kids whose real dads beat

them up. Being related doesn’t do them any good.

But I’m still going to look for my real father. That’s why I’m here.


Skye Allen is the author of a young adult LGBTQ+ urban fantasy novel, Pretty Peg.

Her short fiction has appeared in Toasted Cheese Literary Journal and Of Dragons and Magic and her poetry in Insomnia and Sinister Wisdom. She is also a musician and occasionally performs around the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives with her wife, their cat and a flock of chickens. The Songbird Thief is her second novel.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Guestopia - Ampersand Prize winner, Cally Black

Today, we've switched things up! Instead of our Guestopia Interview going live on the 26th, we've brought it forward - and for good reason!

First, let's meet today's very special guest... Australian author, CALLY BLACK!

Cally is a winner of Hardie Grant Egmont's Ampersand Prize, and her debut novel In the Dark Spaces will be published in 2017.

She has travelled throughout Asia, Europe and Africa and now lives in Melbourne with her family. When she's not writing YA sci-fi, she teaches TAFE, writes for the educational market, and works with gifted children.

Awesome! Now click here for a little info about the Hardie Grant Ampersand Prize, which closes this year on Friday, September 16th, to find out what a massive writing prize this is!

So, let's gooooooo!

Is this your first published book?

Yes, this is my very first trade novel. It's very exciting.

I've had short stories published for children in Educational Publishing and in SF magazines before but have been focussing on YA novels for the last couple of years.

What’s it called?

In the Dark Spaces, which has a double meaning, and, I feel, invokes a mood similar to one of my favourite stanzas from a Robert Frost poem, “Desert Places.”

Which genre?

Science Fiction Thriller

Which age group?

Young Adult

Is it a series or standalone?

This is standing alone, and if it does really well... who knows?

Are you an agented author?

No. Unagented.

Which publisher snapped up your book?

Hardie Grant Egmont selected it as their Ampersand Prize novel for 2016 from their annual competition. Very exciting for a first novel to hit the ground with an award behind it!

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

I'm very hands-on. Marisa at HGE has a lot of advice and ideas for tweaks and I see it as my job to realise that potential, so it's a lot of hard and rewarding work. I don't think anyone else could do it for me. There's an unusual voice and it's set in an unusual world. I wouldn't want anyone else to do it for me!

Do you have another job?

I have two other jobs. I work for a private educational company that works with children during the day and I teach at TAFE at night. Fortunately, I get school holidays off both of those.

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?

Only about a gazillion! Actually the last couple of years I'd stopped sending work out (this stops rejections!) and turned inwards to focus on my writing to try to understand why it got attention but never an offer, and to try to improve. It was a process that involved reading a lot of essays and articles by writers and reading their novels and picking apart how they did the things I loved. I'm still in that process. I may always be in that process. There's so much to learn!

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?

 I'd read Hunger Games and then I read 5th Wave and I thought you know what? These authors are having fun and letting go and not censoring themselves. Gloves off! I'm going to go into a novel swinging and punching. What's the worst that can happen? I told myself I didn't have to show it to anyone. It was just for me. And there were a few new techniques that I wanted to try so it was all useful.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?

I don't plot. I write to tell myself a story, to entertain myself. If I plotted, I will have told myself the story and the process of writing it would change. What I do is I write scene by scene, and when I get to the end of the story. I put it aside and write it again in a more orderly fashion from scratch, and try to fully realise the motivations and quirks of each character. So I write and then I plot, and then I write again. This second time, I guess is with a writer hat on, whereas the first time, I suppose I'm inhabiting the viewpoint character. This is a very slow way to do things, even if you can type 40wpm, but I think, if the writer is enjoying themselves and connected with their character, you can feel that in the words.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?

I started it. It went in a weird direction after 20,000 words. I turned the page and started it again, and I've been wrestling it ever since!

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?

 Well, you understand this was a novel just for me. I made about half a dozen passes over it. Put it aside, came back to it, and I still liked it far too much for the strange thing it was, the experimental thing I was never going to show anyone. So I showed the opening to an online writing group in the US, and they were really accepting of it. They didn't bag anything I thought they would. So then I showed the opening to Dee White who is a great friend and great writer and she liked it. So then the thing I didn't have to show anyone, became something I could actually show people.

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?

Only the opening with Dee before querying. The Ampersand was a bit of a spur of the moment thing. Normally I would run the whole thing via friends, do a novel swap. I'm pretty good at editing, so it's the story that I need examined. Dee has read the whole novel since to help me with the HGE edits.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?

Probably around eight. I'm obsessive about getting things right. Not good at keeping track of numbers.

How many drafts until it was published?

Another four implementing big and minor changes with Marisa.

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?

The core main character has remained the same and the core story, but another character was added, and a lot of work expanding characters and their motivation has improved it significantly. It basically grew a heart.

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?

Yes! Always! Marisa's just pried it from my hands! I'd keep working on it forever. If only there was more time, if only I could have another 10,000 words!

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

I find being the character and writing the openings the easiest. I love writing dialogue. Finding a voice. I love setting the character free to tell her story.

What part do you find hardest?

Endings are hard. Being bound by word counts and pacing is also hard. Not letting the dark parts of the stories overwhelm the light... as might be judged by a YA reader is difficult, because clearly I'm a dark person! My darkometer is a bit stuffed.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

I'm diseased with writing. Did you see above where I said even though no one wanted to publish me, I wrote just for me for two years? I write to entertain myself. I write to learn more about writing. I write because it's a habit I just can't kick, but at least it won't damage my liver.

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

Erm... three lately but usually two.

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?

100% learned. I'm not “writer material” whatever that is. I wasn't read to or raised among bookshelves, we didn't own many books. School libraries were my only source of books. I was good at English but it wasn't my favourite subject. But I am from a family of storytellers. The things we did, became stories told at late night fires after hard day's work. The things we survived, were relegated to stories, told over and over to friends. My history is a collection of stories that have been garnished for entertainment value. There is the truth softened and made entertaining by the story. I am a collection of stories. Maybe we all are.

Early on in my daydream of learning to write, I read Dare to Be a Great Writer by Leonard Bishop. Bishop told me it didn't matter where your starting point was, as he was once a hobo who won a typewriter in a dice game, your voice can be as relevant as any other, more so, if it's honest and raw. It's taken me a long time to trust my voice.

How many future novels do you have planned?

 100s but how many get published is up to the readers, and whether they like this novel.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?

I don't have time to blog. Lately nothing on the short story front. But perhaps some more in the future.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

The first meeting with Hardie Grant Egmont when a young woman from marketing came to meet me with Marisa and I asked what her role in the meeting was (feeling nervous I was being assessed for marketability) and she said, she adored the book so much she had to meet the person who wrote it! My first fan!

Give us one writing tip that works for you.

'Don't stage direct the senses.' Your main character is usually too busy seeing something to think about the fact that her eyes are doing the seeing or pointing in a particular direction. Just plunge on in with what's happening.

And one that doesn't.

'Start with action.' Don't start with action, start with some movement, but something that allows your reader an insight into your character. Don't expect a reader to care that an unknown character is under threat of death in the opening paragraph. This is my Ampersand Prize entry tip too.

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?

Erm... I haven't got that far along yet. If readers want a sequel, they'll have to let me know next year after they read In the Dark Spaces, but at the moment, I'm writing another YA set closer to home, in small town Victoria, which involves a lot of missing people and a bit of an invasion.

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?

You realise I can say almost anything because as a new author, I've not been interviewed!

But maybe I can share what I was like when I was the age of my protagonist, with the question, “What were you like as a young adult?”

And the answer is: angry, stupid, a lanky goofy thing with no identity or sense of value with a deathwish ambition to be burnt out before 20 (told you I was stupid). And I'm so glad that was one of the many things I failed at.

And that's a wrap! Fantastic. I for one cannot wait to read In the Dark Spaces, it sounds awesome. Thank you so much for joining YAtopia today, Cally!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Character Tension – Part 1 – Conflicting Characters

I decided to write a three part series on how to create tension in your novel. Before we dive in, let me just say that there are hundreds of ways you can add tension into your novel and this mini series just looks at the tiniest little level of tension in regards to character.
Often, people think tension in your novel comes only from high action and do or die situations. While this can often be true, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other kinds of tension that are just as important (and effective) as the do or die variety. So let’s take a look at different types of tension and how you can use them in your book. Here are my first three suggestions about creating conflicting characters:

One - The first thing (and perhaps the most obvious) is to create characters that have conflicting personality traits. This doesn’t just mean for your protagonist and antagonists. Your secondary characters can conflict against other secondary characters (or the main characters). How do these characters work together? Against each other? What happens in a disagreement? What could ever make them agree?

Two - Characters with different backgrounds can also conflict – are some poor and others rich? How does this affect them? What about those of other religions, castes, creeds? How about social standing? What about nationality? Education? Neighborhoods raised in?

Three - Then there are characters that are part of conflicting social groups. Are some anti-abortion and the others pro? How about those pro war and those against? Is there a member in a group who is a zealot and another who wants to leave?

Take a look at the characters you create and how they will all interact. Is there something more you can do to make them rub up against each other? Building characters who have opposing views and lifestyles can bring a lot of tension to your story, so make sure you use it to your advantage!!!

Check back next month to see Tension – Part Two – Family!