Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Spring Clean Your Writing Space (or Don’t)

Full disclosure: I’m not a spring clean type of person. I think it’s great to have milestones throughout the year that can offer new beginnings and a feeling of rejuvenation, but we need these more than just in spring; the turning of the seasons or the new year. I keep the place around my desk in a state which makes me feel most peaceful and motivated, and of course that changes throughout the year and according to my mood, so I alter the space around me to fit.

(I was however, forced to do a physical spring clean on Monday to rid my home of smoke from an actual fire – toaster set alight - but that was begrudging and involuntary!)

Anyway, every procrastinating writer knows the benefits of tidying up their writing space. And to be fair it probably is a better way to delay tackling that plot slump than cruising on Facebook for an hour, but I have good news for those who prefer to sit within a mess of books/banana skins/loose bits of paper/toenail clippings (OK that’s a bit gross)… According to Women’s Health mag, it’s better for your mental energy to embrace your mess than to force yourself to work in a clean, clutter-free space. (Barbook T (2017, March). The Energy Crisis. Women’s Health, 114. U.K.)

I believe it’s important for any writer to identify what keeps them happy and motivated and to surround yourself with that when you write. That might be complete minimalism, block colours which don’t distract you from your creative thinking, or murals of inspiring images from your WIP around your writing desk. Don’t be afraid to switch up the space around you as your mood changes, too. I can’t stand things becoming stagnant, so my writing space will be cluttered and crazy one month, and so barren the next month you could probably catch some tumbleweed floating past it.

So change up your pictures, invest in a new scented diffuser, stack your books high…. Or don’t! Think about what makes you happy right this minute and surround yourself with it. But the moment it stops being a place where you want to sit down and continue your character’s stories, switch it up. Don’t wait until next spring!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Clean Out Your Stereotypes GIVEAWAY!

G'day mate. Wanna throw another shrimp on the barbie?

Um, that's not what we say here in Australia. A shrimp refers to a tiny person. But it's a common misconception that's to an advertising campaigned thirty or so years ago that was aimed at Americans.

Admittedly, this is a pretty innocent misconception. It doesn't harm anyone, really. However, other stereotypes do, and when these are perpetuating into writing, you can end up with harmful representation.

I see a lot of talk about it online, and I know as a cis white female, I'm pretty clueless on what others face and it's my responsibility to research for my writing to try make sure I don't have harmful rep in my writing.

I really don't want to give examples, as I don't want to perpetuate any, so I'll only talk about things I have personally experienced. And the examples aren't particularly harmful, but were at times annoying. They are more to exemplify how stereotyping can get things wrong.

  • White collar workers in Australia vote Liberal: My father was a white collar worker, who was also a member of the labour party at one time. 
  • PR deals with the fluffy stuff: Problem solving is one of my strongest attributes, often because I think outside the square with creative solutions, but also because I see patterns. 
  • Front-row Rugby League players are meat-heads: My eldest son was simultaneously a representative level front-row rugby league player and dux of his primary school (smartest in his grade) and is now studying engineering. 
  • People with OCD are neat-freaks: I am one of the messiest people ever. That's because OCD is way more complex, and present in more ways, than people think.
  • People with epilepsy fall down and thrash around: That's a way to describe someone having a grand mal seizure. My son has complex-partial epilepsy, and his seizure involve him looking vague, having automation, and not comprehending what is happening around him. There are more than 40 different types of epilepsy. 
  • The man is the breadwinner of the house: My husband has been the primary carer for our children for about three-quarters of their lives, while I have been the main income earner for more than half of my husband and my married life. 
So non of these busted stereotypes are particularly harmful, but stereotypes can be. If you want your characters to have depth, write beyond the stereotypes. 

And now for the GIVEAWAY details. 

Lakewater Press was created one year ago by my friend Kate Foster. To celebrate Lakewater Press' birthday they're having a GIANT giveaway! It's HUGE. Amazon gift cards, books, bookmarks swag! You can find out all the details here

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Writing Tips When Stuck

Spring is an interesting time of the year. It’s a period of rebirth despite how it’s in March as opposed to January. I would like to offer a couple of writing tips that I’ve recently implemented in the last few months in the spirit of Spring Cleaning. They aren’t magical solutions to have brilliant writing. But the tips are a way to make writing more developed for writers that might be stuck with how to polish their writing.

A more rigorous outline is one example of a writing tip. Yes. I’ve always used an outline when writing a short story or novel in terms of plot. But I’ve made them more detailed by including the sensory details I want in each scene. Including sensory details in my outlines has been invaluable. Writers are often bombarded with the idea of, “show don’t tell.” Fixing that issue can be difficult, though. The details don’t even have to be complicated. They can be as simple as “the wind whistled, pushing an empty can a few feet down the sidewalk” or “the mixture of the bitter flavor of the espresso and sweet taste of the caramel jolted my taste buds after I sipped my Caramel Macchiato.” Those are just two examples. But my point remains clear. Such details bring writing to life. Imagery helps writing even when not writing literary fiction. 

Setting is another way to expand upon writing craft. Setting is different than imagery because it doesn’t have to directly be one of the five senses. Setting can mean having the main character observe an unusual looking person or building in a scene. Such scenes can make writing richer without seeming highbrow or convoluted. Doing so offers an opportunity to for writers to have their character “meditate.” Having your main character see a person that’s “larger than life” or an unusual building or location can make the main character ponder about his or her life or display psychology by showing how a character thinks (like in terms of judgements).

I’ve also improved upon endings with my writing.

It’s difficult to find the right balance between closure and ambiguity if a novel is part of a series. Pushing forward is a way I’ve improved with endings. For instance, one of my teen mystery novels originally ended with a murder staged as a suicide. But I pushed forward when polishing that specific ending because payoffs are necessary. That means the door can be open for more material while seeing some consequences of the event. Let’s continue with the murder staged as a suicide example. I brought the staged suicide into specific text as opposed to ambiguous text or just plain subtext by adding a few more chapters after the event. 

Ultimately, writers must realize that there is no one right way to polish writing. Yes. I wrote polish instead of revise. Revise sounds clinical, which make expanding upon writing craft overwhelming. Because what is right for one writer might be completely wrong for another. The point is, writers needs as many tools as possible to work with.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Clearing out the Cobwebs in your Mind

Winter can often be a time of peace and reflection for writers who look to escape outside distractions in order to channel creative energies into new projects, or concentrate on polishing old ones. It’s a great time to hunker down with a cup of tea, without many distractions, and focus on writing.

But often times, as winter moves on, things start to shift. The atmosphere inside grows stagnant from a lack of fresh air, bulky clothes start piling up, salt and dirt are constantly tracked inside from the remnants of snow. Day in and day out, the world is painted in shades of gray, the barren trees less inspiring and more depressing than before. If you’re anything like me, the dreary cold starts to become a distraction that triggers a longing for the sun and warmth again.

At the first sign of spring, I become eager to clear out the old to make way for the new. I put away the last of the winter decorations and break out flowering spring wreaths and cheerful centerpieces. I replace earthy candles and soaps with lighter, citrus scents and start to gut my dressers and closets of clothes that are taking up too much space.  (I began this process last week, actually, when we were enjoying 50-60 degree weather in New England. Of course, I jumped the gun and totally jinxed the Eastern seaboard, and now we are in the midst of a Nor’easter.)

Regardless of the late-season snow, as my living areas got a (premature) spring makeover, I was hoping the de-cluttering would extend to my mind, freeing space to receive new inspiration. Over the course of winter, as heavy as the air in my house had become, so had my thoughts. Any levity or joy I usually find in the creative process seemed to have abandoned me. 

Regardless, I’m hopeful as new life outside grows, the seeds of creativity will start to bloom again and I will become excited about a new project, or maybe revising an old one. As Fiona stated in her previous post, sometimes new inspiration can come from picking through pieces of older work or borrowing from unfinished projects. If you’re experiencing cabin fever of the mind after a long winter, cleaning, dumping, or altering your surroundings might cause the shift in energy you need to start the creative process flowing again. And ... who knows what jewels lie beneath the clutter.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Spring clean your writing!

At the start of the year, most of us make new year resolutions. For some of us, they'll be going great. For others, they might be middling, and for the rest of us? Well, that fell flat on its face. Not to worry. Regardless of where you are now in your new year of writing, it's the season of spring cleaning!

Okay, okay, don't go busting out the mop and polish. What I'm talking about is having a look through your old folders (my friend affectionately calls this her "book graveyard"). Try reading a few pages (or all) of your older work. Any ideas in there you could repurpose? Anything better than you thought it would be? Something badly written but makes you giggle now? Great. These are all very useful.

For one, if there are things we can reuse, improve, or repurpose, then it adds another tool to our writing arsenal. And for another, if it isn't fit for reusing, then what can you learn from it? What strikes you as the most obvious flaw? Why didn't it work? They say taking time away from your ms gives you distance. Some of us manage a month or two away from our current ms before diving back in. But what about that ms you haven't looked at in a year? Two years? Five years? What can you learn from that? By checking it out again, it's going to help improve your skills just by the power of neutral (not emotion-filled) observation of your own writing.

You might also find parts in there that you love. Not all old writing is bad writing. There can be some real shining gems hidden amongst those pages. Perhaps you couldn't appreciate them for what they were before. Maybe they got trapped under the dust of a few dodgy scenes, but wherever they are, you'll recognize them now and be able to use them to learn more about your writing in another way.

Now, if you're an organization-bot like me, you'll end up creating folders & sub-folders & sub-sub-folders, breaking down all the necessary elements that appeal to you. If you're not, then a good mental spring clean of your old books without all the fuss might just be your thing. Either way, looking back can sometimes help us look forward. And clearing out your writing mental space can be done in a very physical way.

This is my way of spring cleaning my writing, my skills, and learning to appreciate what I've done well, what I didn't do well, and where I can improve.

Happy cleaning everyone!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Agentopia: Lauren Spieller and Catherine Cho

Welcome to the March edition of Agentopia! As a spring treat, we have two amazing agents in the spotlight this month. 

First we have Lauren Spieller from TriadaUS Literary Agency.

About Lauren:

Literary Agent Assistant Lauren Spieller comes to TriadaUS with a background in literary scouting and editorial consulting. She has a sharp editorial eye, and is passionate about author advocacy. Lauren is seeking Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction, as well as select Adult fiction and non-fiction. Whatever the age category or genre, Lauren is passionate about finding diverse and underrepresented voices.

In YA, she’d love to find authentic teen voices in any and all genres. She is especially fond of fantasy, magical realism, and space operas; contemporary stories with a hook; and anything with a feminist bent. A few favorites include Dumplin’, Scorpio Races, An Ember in the Ashes, OCD Love Story, Six of Crows, The Raven Boys, and Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda.

What is currently on your wish list?

I'm dying to see more character-driven middle grade. Some of my favorites include The Thing About Jellyfish, Rooftoppers, and Wonder. I'd also love a Middle Grade version of Dumplin'. In YA, I'm looking for diverse Contemporary, such as When Dimple Met Rishi, and ensemble cast Contemporary Fantasy like The Raven Boys.

What's a personal turn-off in a query which is guaranteed to get the author rejected?

Not including pages. Always follow guidelines!

Do you google authors who query you and if yes, what are you looking for?

Sometimes. When I do, I'm looking for a website and Twitter account, so that I can get a sense of their personality and their writing community. But neither are necessary-I just want wonderful books!

To submit to Lauren send a query letter and your first ten pages with the word QUERY in the email’s subject line, along with the age category and genre (ex: QUERY YA Fantasy).
Twitter: @laurenspieller

Don't forget to check out Lauren's official Manuscript wishlist

Next up is Catherine Cho from Curtis Brown.

About Catherine:

Catherine joined Curtis Brown in Spring 2015 to work with Jonny Geller on his incredible list of fiction and non-fiction.

Originally from the U.S, Catherine studied English literature at New York University. After graduating, she took a detour in corporate law and decided to move to Asia. She lived in Hong Kong for several years and received a J.D. from the University of Hong Kong. She spent a year at a lobbying firm in Washington D.C. before realizing that she would rather lobby for something she believed in and moved to the book world. Catherine worked as a literary assistant and Contracts Manager for Folio Literary Management in New York and then moved to London.
When looking for books to represent, Catherine is drawn to atmospheric settings and great storytelling. She loves books that transport you – stories with magical realism and speculative elements (time travel or high concept). She is drawn to historical fiction, and she also enjoys science fiction and fantasy (Robin Hobb, Justin Cronin) and she would love to find novels that transcend genre, like Kazuo Ishiguro, David Mitchell or Margaret Atwood. 

What is currently on your wish list?

I would love to find something with magical realism or sci-fi elements. I would love to find fantasy with a strong female heroine, Tamora Pierce or Victoria Aveyard. And always, I’m looking for a strong love story, like Rainbow Rowell or Jenny Han.

What's a personal turn-off in a query which is guaranteed to get the author rejected?

First impressions do matter, so any cover letters that begin with Dear Sir or Madam, or any glaring typos in the cover letter, usually mean that an author hasn’t been very careful, and it’s usually a red flag for me.

Do you google authors and if yes, what are you looking for?

In terms of authors who submit to me, I don’t tend to google them. I rely on the cover letter and the writing material.
For prospective authors who write online or who have been published in journals, I do spend time looking through online publications so that I can reach out.

To submit to Catherine, email a cover letter, synopsis, and the first 10,000 words in the body of the email to:

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Remember How it Feels to be a Teenager in Love

This one goes out to all the YA writers, the creators of teens, and especially the writers who aren't, well, teenagers anymore. If your teen character is going to fall in love, you need to remember what it's like to fall in love at that age. If you can't remember or never experienced it, my high school diary and I are here to help.

Disclaimer: I married my high school sweetheart, so I've never fallen into new love as an adult. I can't compare new teen love to new adult love. Buuuut, after you read my diary excerpt, you'll probably agree that new adult love wouldn't look the same.

A little background on my highschool love story:

In sixth grade, my family moved into a new house, where I met my future husband, who lived next door. At first, I thought he was a weird creep because he and his siblings stood on their side of the hedges and just watched us move in all our bags and boxes. Then, to my dismay, he started coming over to our house to hang out with my brother. Little did I know, he was only befriending my brother to spend time closer to me! I can't remember how or when it happened, but suddenly I started caring how my hair looked when he came over. I found out he thought Donna from That 70s Show looked cute in her school uniform, so I started keeping on my school uniform after school, but in a totally chill way, like, "Oh, I forgot to take off this outfit I'm forced to wear every day? Huh." I giggled over every little thing he said and couldn't wait to come home from school so we could play dodgeball together.

We both like liked each other, but we pretended not to until the summer before ninth grade. Everything changed the night of the Miss America Pageant. He was watching the pageant on TV with my family and me (I know, he REALLY liked me), but we were bored and passing notes. Because you don't just have a conversation right there with your parents and siblings listening. And we didn't have cell phones quite yet. I asked him if he liked anyone, he said yes. Someone I knew? Yes. How many letters in her name? Seven. (SEVEN! OH MY GOSH, THERE ARE SEVEN LETTERS IN JESSICA.) And then finally he sent a note back that said, "YOU." My face erupted with heat. I couldn't breathe, couldn't form a response, and definitely couldn't look at him. Because it was the only answer I wanted, but at the same time...when you're a teenager, falling in love for the first time feels like:







You get the point. Lots of emotions backed by lots of hormones.

Okay, so I mentioned a diary excerpt. My old diaries should probably be burned, but instead, I'll share pieces of them with the internet because that's a good idea and not at all embarrassing.

The diary:

First of all, check out this cover.

I was obsessed with Hilary Duff. But not as obsessed as with Gary, my crush and now husband, as you can see from the inside cover.

I mean, when I was fifteen and he was fourteen, I actually thought that a marriage proposal was in the realm of possibility just because he said he had a surprise for me.

And then here are a couple just in case you don't understand how consumed I felt.

As an adult with normal amounts of hormones and some life experience, it's tempting to tell the teen who wrote these diary entries, "Whoa, calm down because you're kind of desperate and obsessed and there's more to life than this boy." But my feelings were real. Healthy? Ehh, probably not. But real. And that boy was the great love of my life. My forever. (And you know it's real love because he has since seen this diary and did not run away.) 

So when you're writing teen love, checking to see if you pass the Bechdel test, and writing independent young women, don't forget what love actually feels like to young people. It's HUGE. Love consumes. Love is wild, torturous, good, emotional, physical, and oh so real. Don't be afraid to go there because teens need to see themselves in books...even the parts of them that are desperate and obsessed.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

GUESTOPIA: YA Author S.J. Lomas

It's February Guestopia time, and today we're welcoming the fabulous S.J. Lomas to YAtopia!


S.J. is a cheerful Michigan girl who writes strange and somewhat dark stories. Librarian by day and writer by whatever free time she can find, she has an extra special fondness for books by Michael Lawrence, Beth Revis, and Kelly Creagh. Her to-be-read pile will take several lifetimes to get through, yet she continues to add to it. She thinks she'd enjoy living an extra life in a dreamworld, especially if she could dream her way to England

Off we go!

Is this your first published book?

This is my first YA book. I have also published 3 digital picture books with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as Sarah Perry. Pajama Girl, Pajama Girl Meets Blanket Boy, and There Was an Old Woman: An Alphabet Adventure.

What’s it called?

Dream Girl. The sequel, Dream Frequency, will be released this spring.

Which genre?

Young Adult

Which age group?

Teens age 13+

Is it a series or standalone?

It’s a duology. Just the two books.

Are you an agented author?

Not yet, but I’m hoping to get there someday.

Which publisher snapped up your book?

An independent publisher in Royal Oak, Michigan called Scribe Publishing published Dream Girl. Unfortunately, the publisher is no longer doing fiction so I’m putting Dream Frequency out on my own.

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

For Dream Girl, I was lucky to have a good amount of creative input into the publishing process. For Dream Frequency, I am the publishing process. I have a lot of great connections so I can’t say I’m going through it alone, but it is cool to have the final say on everything.

Do you have another job?

I’m a librarian. (Can you tell I love books?)

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?

Yes! It’s a disheartening experience, but I’ve read a lot of articles about how many times very famous authors were rejected so I always felt that I was in great company.

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

The very first inklings of Dream Girl came to me during college. I woke up from a very weird and vivid dream and scribbled down some thoughts about it. I knew it would make a great story somehow, someday but I didn’t do anything with it for several years. Finally, I was reading A Crack in the Line by Michael Lawrence and when I finished it, my dream popped into my mind and it hit me it had to become a young adult novel. The storyline started coming to me after that.

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

I am more of a pantser than a plotter. I scribbled a few character notes and took off writing.

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

There were some missteps with the plot, but I tried to write as much as I could and not worry about the draft until I had to. Just getting something down was more important than having it come out right. You can always go back and revise.

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

I was still writing it when SCBWI had a local conference with paid critiques available. It was for the first 10 pages so I decided to give it a try to see if it was even a project worth continuing. I was matched with NYT Best-selling author, Jay Asher. Even though it was pretty rough at that stage, he was very encouraging and enthusiastic about the pages he saw. That kept me going. I didn’t let anyone else read it until about draft five. And that was my fellow writer/friend, Jody Lamb.

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

Jody Lamb read and edited for me before I sent it out. I was also lucky to have worked in advertising for a few years. Through that, I have friends who are graphic artists and proofreaders. I became good friends with one of the proofreaders and she went through the manuscript before I sent it out. 

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

I believe it was around seven.

How many drafts until it was published?


Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?

Not so dramatic that you wouldn’t think it was the same book, but there were some substantial changes, including a character who wrote himself in halfway through. He ended up becoming one of the most important characters in the book.

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

Oh yes. I think I could always find something to change around, add, delete, or fiddle with. When I come up with an idea for a novel, it’s like this glowing orb of possibility in my mind. It isn’t concrete but it’s shining and beautiful. I think it’s impossible to ever get the finished project to fully realize that glowing ideal I started with, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. I get as close as I can, but there’s always more that could be done. At least, it feels that way.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

Naming characters and writing dialog comes easiest for me.

What part do you find hardest?

Getting through the marathon of completing that first draft is the hardest. I often find myself wishing I could just plug a USB drive into my brain and get the basic story out that way. I’d rather work on revising what’s already there, even though that is difficult too. But all of it’s difficult in a good way.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

It depends. Some days, I sit down at the computer, open my Word document and then say, Crap. It’s THAT scene. Suddenly, housework never looked so appealing, or scheduling appointments, etc. But I can only let myself get away with that for so long. Then I take a look at what’s really happening. If I’m so frustrated that I can’t write a scene, there must be something wrong with the story. If I don’t want to write it, then who can I expect to read it? Once I figure out where it went wrong, I can figure out how to fix it. Then I’m ready to dive back in.

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

One is more than enough!

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

I believe it can be learned, but I think you’re born with the interest to do it. In my case, I fell in love with writing in 2nd grade when our teacher gave us little construction paper journals and had us write every day. I loved it! It was a joy that never left me so I decided to get serious about it.

How many future novels do you have planned?

Beyond Dream Frequency, I have a contemporary realistic YA that I’m going to work on next, followed by a New Adult novel after that.

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

I do have a couple short stories on Amazon. I have a blog but I only write posts when I feel I have something to say. I also write picture books as Sarah Perry.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

There is nothing like seeing the excitement someone else has for my work. Especially people who aren’t related to me! There are two teenage girls, in particular, who really enjoy Dream Girl and can’t wait for Dream Frequency to come out. I’m not going to lie. It was really difficult to write Dream Frequency and I often thought of those two girls and it helped me keep going.

Give me one writing tip that works for you.

Trust yourself to write the story that’s inside of you. It can be very hard writing a novel. It’s easy to second guess yourself or compare what you’re doing to what others have done. It’s nice to remember that my story is exactly that, mine. I am equipped to tell it if I just stop getting in my own way.

And one that doesn't.

Real writers must write every day! Sorry. That just isn’t my reality. I write when I have the energy and the time. I’ve tried to sit down and write when I don’t have either of those things and nothing happens. It may take me longer to get those drafts out, but I still do.

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

Dream Frequency takes place mostly in the United States Agency of Dream Work. Readers finally get to see what that place is like and what it’s all about.

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

I have always wanted Paul McCartney to ask me to dinner. The answer would be YES! Does that count?

Brilliant! I love this answer - and hope one day Mr. McCartney gets in touch! Thank you so much for joining us today, S.J. Lomas. We wish you heaps of luck with and your other titles and future works.

If you want to follow S.J. Lomas' journey and find out more about her, here are some links that will help!