Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Revenge of the Nerd: How To "Show Not Tell" When Stereotypes Are Changing

Probably more than most, those of us who gather here are well too aware of the long lead times from a book’s creation to its bookshelf debut.  What that means for us is lots of teeth gnashing and chocolate consuming, but what it means for the rest of the world is that books are often a step behind of pop culture (excepting the 50 Shades of Gray’s that actually create pop culture moments).  Mediums with faster reaction times, like television, are often responsible for setting the trends that books and movies respond to.

The latest is the reimagining of the classic nerd. Remember the cringe-worthy Erkel? Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles?  Anthony Michael Hall in Breakfast Club?  Anthony Michael Hall in that Bill Gates movie?  (Did that guy get typecast or what?).  But have you noticed that there are very few true dorks in pop culture these days?  Let me amend, there are few nerds who are not completely likeable, accepted and praised for the dorky tendencies.  I’m talking about Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, Zooey Deschenel’s character on New Girl, and Artie on Glee. I’d say the nerds have had their revenge. 

But, as a writer, how do we handle stereotypes being shattered?  Of course we don’t want our characters to be completely cliché (unless we’re aiming for satire in the vein of Mean Girls) but we also need ways to show our readers our character and their possible motivations through actions, dress, accessories, and even meal choices. And for our audiences to “get it” without us telling them, we need for them to have access points.  We need them to understand that when we dress our character in floods and have them wear pocket protectors or cart around an Astrophysics textbook the size of Texas, and compete as a Mathlete, that this guy might not be dating the head cheerleader. Except, as Glee has shown us, that’s now not only entirely possible, but probably even likely.

Our primary audience of teens have grown up seeing, or likely even part of, blended families, gay families, Modern Families.  There’s a New Normal and we need to accept and embrace it in our own writing.  Which beg the questions: when is it our job to perpetuate stereotypes to make our writing accessible, when and how do we respond to shifting cultural changes, and how do we try to impact them ourselves? How are you dealing with stereotypes in your writing?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Guestopia: Rebecca Phillips

Click here for more information about our monthly Guestopia feature!

How the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest Changed My Life

by Rebecca Phillips

My favorite YA author of all time is Sarah Dessen. She’s been a huge inspiration to me since I discovered her almost ten years ago, and I read everything she writes. So naturally, I've always read her blog. One day, about three years ago, she mentioned in a blog post that she was a guest reviewer for a writing contest I’d never heard of before—the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. She provided a link, which I immediately clicked because hey, I had a finished novel that I could enter.

ABNA is kind of like American Idol. Contestants get eliminated in each round based on originality, talent, looks (okay, maybe not looks), etc. Instead of a celebrity judging panel, they have editors, Amazon Vine reviewers, Publishers Weekly, Penguin representatives, expert reviewers, and finally, the voting public. The grand prize was certainly tempting: a publishing contract with Penguin and a $15,000 advance. Sign me up!

Two years ago I was doing what most writers do: writing, querying, cursing, and then querying some more. Back then, I was trying (and failing) to land an agent with my first book, Just You, a contemporary YA.  I was pretty much resigned to the fact that Just You wasn't going to happen. This contest would be a last ditch effort. What did I have to lose? Just You got cut after the second round, but by then I was hooked. In 2011, I entered the same book again. This time it got cut in the first round, but that didn't deter me. I started outlining ideas for my third book, tentatively titled Out of Nowhere, a story about an uptight hypochondriac and the sexy daredevil who rocks her world. I finished it just in time for the 2012 contest. Third time’s the charm, right?

This time, much to my shock, I kept advancing. Still, I never once thought I would get that coveted phone call in May, telling me I was one of the three finalists in the YA category. I never once thought I would get to travel to Seattle for the awards ceremony and rub elbows with other writers and people from Amazon, Createspace, Publishers Weekly, and Penguin. But it happened. To me! A thirty-five-year-old mom from the suburbs! Being an ABNA finalist made me feel confident and validated, like all the time and effort I’d put into my writing for the past five years had finally paid off.

Out of Nowhere didn't win the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, but being a top three finalist was the key to opening so many doors for me. In June, I finally gathered the confidence to publish my first two books, Just You and Someone Else. Then, less than two months after the contest ended, I signed with my amazing agent, Carly Watters. I realize now that ABNA was just the beginning for me.

Even Sarah Dessen had to start somewhere.

Rebecca Phillips has been a fan of contemporary young adult fiction ever since she first discovered Judy Blume at the age of twelve. After a brief stint of writing bad poetry as a teenager, she finally found her niche with realistic, coming-of-age YA. She didn't start getting serious about being a real author, however, until she was in her early thirties.

After several years of writing, rewriting, revision, submission, rejection, and banging her head off the keyboard, she entered her third novel, OUT OF NOWHERE, in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. She made it all the way to the Top 3 in the Young Adult category. She’s also the author of a two-book contemporary young adult series, JUST YOU and SOMEONE ELSE.

Rebecca lives just outside the beautiful city of Halifax, Nova Scotia with her husband, two children, and one crazy kitty. She absolutely loves living so close to the ocean. When she’s not tapping away on her trusty Toshiba laptop, she can be found vacuuming up cat hair, spending time with her family, watching reality TV, reading all different genres of books, or strolling around the bookstore with a vanilla latte in her hand.

Rebecca is always writing something, even if it’s just a grocery list. These days, she is hard at work on her next novel. You can find out more and connect with Rebecca on her website:

Website * Blog * Facebook * Twitter * ABNA

Just You

Through witnessing her parents' bitter divorce, fifteen-year-old Taylor Brogan has learned what she believes to be a certainty: men lie, men betray, men can't be trusted. When her first boyfriend cheats on her, Taylor can't even pretend to act surprised. After all, her own father left her mother for another woman after fourteen years of marriage, so it was only a matter of time before it happened to her too.

Betrayed one time too many, Taylor vows to give up boys for good. But when she meets sweet, gorgeous Michael Hurst at a party, her resolve to stay single begins to crack. Maybe, just maybe, she can trust him not to break her heart. Taylor and Michael begin an exciting-but-cautious romance, hitting several challenges along the way--parental disapproval, family secrets, and the most daunting obstacle of all, Elena Brewster, a calculating beauty who is determined to make Michael hers.

Not just another teen romance, JUST YOU is about forgiveness, facing your fears, and learning to embrace the risks involved in trusting someone with your heart.

Amazon * Kobo * Barnes and Noble

Rebecca is giving an ebook copy of Just You! Comment down below with your email address before 11:59 Eastern on December 2nd to enter!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Psychoanalyzing Your Villain

My dear YA writers and readers, there's one thing you and us MG folk can both boast about:


Of course yours tend to be either suave and sociopathic or brooding and murderous while ours tend to lean more towards the vengeful and vindictive or the so-evil-it's-almost-comical side of villainy.

So, what makes an awesome villain, you ask? It's hard to pinpoint exactly. We all know examples of cool villains. Voldemort is pretty awesome. The Red Queen is my personal favourite. President Snow. The White Witch. Mrs. Coulter. The Wicked Witch of the West. Count Olaf. I could go on and on and on.

What do all of these baddies have in common? Why, they come from a place of pure, unadulterated imagination, of course! The advantage we have as writers for young readers is that the scope for imagination is soooooo much greater. It's no surprise that many of us spend just as much time dreaming up our villains as we do our heroes. If you're me, you might even have an image of your villain in your mind before you even think up the story!

Our villains aren't cookie cutter either. They're so dastardly that you want them to die a nasty, miserable death. Yet, they're so cool that you might even fall in love with them. They make you laugh. They make you seethe. The point is, our villains make the readers feel something for them. That's what an awesome villain is supposed to do.

Getting into the psyche of your villain isn't an easy task. They are evil for a reason, you know! Villains have wants and desires, often complex, just as heroes do. They have back stories and relationships too. These are the things you must fish out of your imagination when creating your villain. What makes them tick? Why do they do what they do?

The key here is this: your villain should NOT be just a plot device. He or she or it should be intimately ingrained in the story.

Here's a little exercise I came up with that might help give the ol' imagination a boost when it comes to writing your antagonists. It's called "psychoanalyzing your villain." For this demonstration, I'll be using the Red Queen from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.


The following is the log of Dr. Fudder Wacken, psychiatrist at the Wunderlund Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane.

"I'm here with patient #336, also known as the Red Queen. She's a strangely-proportioned woman with a very large head and... uh... far-reaching posterior. She was brought to the Institute after a manic episode in which she attempted to behead her entire court. I will now attempt to get to the bottom of her disturbances by asking her a series of probing questions.

Red Queen, what makes you happiest and why?

Patient's response: A freshly offed head, of course. Why? You have the audacity to ask why? I don't need to explain myself to you. In fact, off with your head!

Red Queen, what makes you more angry than anything in the world?

Patient's response:  Insolence! For instance, the way you're staring at me right now, as if we're equals! How dare you! You didn't even bow when I entered the room! I'd off your head right now if I could.

Red Queen, in your opinion, what makes a good companion?

Patient's response:  Obedience. A strong back to rest my weary feet on. Muscle for carrying out my bidding. And I guess it would be nice to have someone tell me I'm pretty and not just be kissing my behind.

Red Queen, if I told you to say one nice thing about your worst enemy, what would you say?

Patient's response: Alice? Never! Well, I suppose she'd make a lovely head spike. And she's particularly well-spoken... for a foolish girl. That's why I hate her.

Red Queen, if you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Patient's response: My head. It is much too small for my body."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

New routes to publishing don't mean easier

The face of publishing is changing with writers' communities and self publishing giving authors direct access to readers and giving readers the opportunity to influence what gets into mainstream publishing.

When I first joined Inkpop, I had a feeling it was going to part of something new and exciting. And it was. Leigh Fallon and Wendy Higgins both were discovered via Inkpop.

Wattpad, Figment (who bought Inkpop from HarperCollins) and Movella are sites that I've dabbled on. I'm not overly active on them anymore as my day-job, writing, internship with Entangled and blogging all take priority of these sites. But they can be a lot of fun and a great way to meet writers.

Wattpad has produced Brittany Geragotelis, who had a huge following on the site, self published and then scored a three-book, six-figure deal.

Movella has produced Emily Baker, a member who wrote a One Direction fan fiction that was spotted by Penguin. The publisher then commissioned her to update the story for publication.

We all know Amanda Hocking started in self publishing and then got snavelled up by a publisher.  E.L.James started out with fan fiction that she shared online.

One thing I've noticed with all of these writers is that they all worked really, really hard. Like super hard. On the writing/fan fiction communities you have to work really hard to get readers and develop a following. On Inkpop I had the most popular Australian story, but that involved about 1,000 people reading it. That's nothing compared to Brittany who had 13 million reads.

Amanda Hocking work extremely hard  and she talks about how self publishing isn't easy on her blog. Leigh, Wendy, Brittany and Emily all worked hard on their respective writing sites to gain followers. Site like this can involve a lot of time reading other people's work and giving feedback on it as well as promoting yourself.

Basically, there is no easy path in the publishing industry. You need to write a story people want to read, write it well and then get it out there. It's hard work, but it can be done if you've got the right stuff and are willing to work hard.

So I have some questions for you:

Have you tried any writing community sites that you would recommend?

And if you're interested in getting published, what path are you thinking about taking.

P.S. For those of you looking for an agent, I'm one of the coaches for Pitch Wars and I'm interested in seeing YA and NA pitches.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Teentopia: Taylor

Teentopia is a monthly feature here on YAtopia where we ask real teens questions about what they like to read and how they choose the books they read. For more information and more Teentopia posts, click here.

For the return of Teentopia this month, we have a special guest. Please welcome Taylor, a twelve year old boy from Florida who loves to read!

How many books do you think you read in a year?

About 6 (I read slow)

What are some of your favorite recently-read books?
The harry potter series
How do you find out about and choose books that aren't assigned in school?

On the computer or friends at school
On a related note, do you read reviews before you decide to read a book? Where?

Do you read author's blogs/facebooks/twitters? If yes: before you read their book or after - and what kind of content do you like to see?

What kind of covers draw your attention?

It doesn’t matter
Do you feel like YA books accurately represent teen culture? How so?

Yes they are very fun to read
Is there anything (themes, character types, genres, time periods, etc) you'd like to see more of in YA books?


Anything you want to see less of?


How do you read books? (paper, e-reader, phone, audio, etc)


What do you think about all the YA books that have recently been made into movies?

I don’t like those movies because they mess up the story
What book have you read that you think deserves more attention?

Inkheart series
Do you use any book-specific sites to keep track of what you've read?


What's the most important element to you: characters, plot, writing style?


Have you ever seen a book trailer? If so, did it make you want to read the book? What do you think about them?


Friday, November 16, 2012

A Natter with Indie YA Author: Sara Hubbard

A couple of months ago, I signed with a wonderful indie publisher, Etopia Press. Asides from the thrill and excitement of knowing my first YA title - Obscura Burning - would soon be released (December 7, so excited!), I also got to meet some amazing new authors. Sara Hubbard is one of them. Her recently released book - Blood, She Read - is a fantastic paranormal romance for fans of books like Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys. You can read my full review of Sara's lovely debut over here.

First a little about Sara:
Sara Hubbard is the author of young adult books. Her debut novel BLOOD, SHE READ recently released and is a NEORWA Cleveland Rocks winner and a RCRW Duel on the Delta finalist. 

Sara was born in Australia to British parents, but has lived in Nova Scotia, Canada for the majority of her life. She began writing when she was ten years old; and her poetry earned her a spot as a young author in a local competition. After that, she moved on to writing short stories about a group of crime-fighting preteens called the Super Sleuths. She loved the time she spent writing, but took a detour from it when she began junior high. She quickly became distracted and preoccupied by all things social, like hanging out with friends and dating boys... And she spent an awful lot of time on the phone.

After high school she completed a degree in business, a graduate diploma in human resources and recently completed her degree in nursing. She didn't return to writing until about four years ago, after the birth of her two children. When she's not procrastinating, she spends her time mothering her two children, writing, and working as an RN in the military.

But chatting to Sara in 140 character increments on Twitter just wasn't enough, so I asked her to sit down and answer a few of my questions about her life as an author and avid reader.

1. Tell a little about yourself, what you do when you’re not writing, what are your aspirations for the future?
I am a registered nurse with the military. Currently, I am doing a rotation in a local emergency room. It’s a little chaotic there and a little bit stressful, but very satisfying. In the future, I hope to lessen my hours as a nurse and spend more time writing. I love nursing, but writing is my passion. 

2. When and why did you start writing?
I wrote as a child, but I kind of moved away from it as a teen and as a young adult. I didn't return to it until after the birth of my two children. Becoming a mother was a huge adjustment for me since I hadn't spent much time around babies before--like ever. And I had a bout of depression as well after giving birth to my first. Writing helped me to escape from the stress of my life and allowed me to take some time for myself. Since I began writing again, about five years ago, I've never been happier or more relaxed. 

3. If you could only read one book over and over again for the rest of your
life, what would it be and why?
Oh, gosh. I have a lot of favorites. I've read the Twilight books multiple times and my most recent fave is Beautiful Disaster by Jaime McGuire. But if I have to pick one book, it would be a classic. Pride & Prejudice. Cliché, I know, but I love the story. 

4. Give us some back story about Blood, She Read, where and when did you write it?
I began writing Blood, She Read in the spring of 2011. I was in my third year of nursing and I found I couldn't get my main character, Petra, out of my head. I wrote it during the day, sometimes in class, and late at night. I had major writer's block when I reached the 20,000 word mark and it took several months before I got back on track. Then, I wrote the remainder of the book in like five or six weeks. 

5. What inspired your story? 
A vivid imagination? In my head, I kept seeing this scene of a young girl with a gift, watching through the stair rails as a man came to her house and begged her mother to let the girl read his fortune. I imagined his wife being sick and him wanting answers. Obviously this doesn’t happen in Blood, She Read, but the idea for the book kind of morphed from this one scene.

6. What was your favorite part of Blood, She Read to write?
There is this one scene in the book where Petra is covered in a concrete-like concoction meant to heal her and her mother whacks her with a mallet to get the stuff off once she’s healed. It was kind of twisted, kind of fun, and I smiled the entire time I wrote it. It really spoke to the perverse nature of her mother.

7. Your book's going to be made into a movie, who would you cast in the main roles?
Oh my God!!! My book is going to be in a movie! LOL. Wouldn’t that be awesome? For Petra, I would absolutely cast Emma Stone. For Finn, I would cast Ben Barnes, and for Tommy, I’m thinking Kellan Lutz with a Mohawk.

(Not a bad looking cast, Sara. When is this movie being released?)

8. Are you a Pantser or Plotter? Why?
Complete plotter. I hate rewrites, and I find the more you plot, the less you have to edit. Also, if I know what is coming next it helps to prevent writer’s block which is seriously awful.

9. Do you have any tricks to your trade, bottomless coffee, a magic pen, a special muse?
Hmm. I don’t know. I drink a lot of Diet Pepsi. But I think the best thing I ever did for my writing was to join a writer’s group. I belong to Romance Writers of America and my local chapter is Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada. They’re amazing and always willing to help and teach me in every way they can.

10. If you could be any fictional character for a day, who would it be and why?
Great question. I can think of many characters I’d like to be, but I think I would choose Sookie Stackhouse from the Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels (True Blood on HBO is based on them). I am in love with Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsguard) and I want to have his vampire babies. :) Plus, how cool would it be to live in a world where fairies, werewolves, and vampires lived?

Huge thank you to Sara for taking time away from writing to have a natter with me. Be sure to check out Blood, She Read. I think I need to reread it just so I can picture Ben Barnes as Finn :)

Seventeen-year old Petra Maras lives a charmed life—but only in the magical sense. Her absentee father is a criminal, her mother is emotionally dead, and everyone at her new school knows she comes from a family of witches. All she wants is to be normal, but this is impossible given her family. When a cop approaches her and asks her to use her psychic abilities to help him solve a murder she is unsure if she should say yes. Magic has brought her nothing but grief, but in the end she agrees, thinking it might help make up for all the horrible things she did in her past. She sees the scene of the crime but can’t hear a name or see a face. This proves problematic when the main suspect decides he wants to date her.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

So you want to be a Writer

I attend a lot of sci-fi/fantasy conventions as an attending profession and the big question/statement I get in some sort of variation by all ages… I am a writer, I write, I am working on a book… which means they are normally looking for some advice.

Davey’s Pieces of advice for Writing and Being an Author

1. There are easier ways of making money. So if you are in it for the money, do something else. You write because you love to write. You write because you couldn’t imagine doing anything else. You have to remember only about 5% of authors are able to do it full time and make a living at it. I am a librarian to help supplement my income.

2. Finish what you are writing. Quit editing as you write. Just finish, because once you have a finished piece be it a short story or a novel you have a finished work, which is now ready to be edited. A lot of people tend to procrastinate in their writing by editing before they are done.

3. Not everything you write is going to be golden and that is okay. Be prepared to write garbage.

4. Have someone besides friends and family read your writing, because 9 times out of 10 they will love whatever you write regardless if it is good or bad. You need real critiquing of your works.

5. You have to have a thick skin from receiving honest critiquing to rejection letters from publishers; watching someone reject or rip apart something you write can be tough.

6. Be willing to rewrite or take out your favorite scenes in your story, because sadly a lot of times that is the scene that needs to go to make your work flow better.

7. Stop editing. You can only edit so much. At some point you have to say enough is enough and just do what comes next…

8. Submit, submit, submit… you can’t be a published author if you don’t submit your finished story.

9. When submitting your story follow the submission guidelines to a tee. There is a reason the publisher, magazine, anthology, editor has them. This is the first step in their weeding process. If you can’t follow their directions or read them; why should they read your story and give it consideration? Trust me they are not going to read it if you don’t follow the guidelines.

10. If an editor sends you suggestions or corrections for your story; do them and send them back. Most editors will not send you corrections if they aren’t interested in your story. So DO THEM and then send the story back to the editor.

11. Don’t give up. A lot of writers receive a lot of rejections before they receive that first yes we will publish you letter.

12. Once you have sent off a story, don’t stop writing. Start on the next story, book, novella, etc. Keep writing! The more you have finished the more you can send out to various publication outlets.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Olde City, New Blood Spotlight: Janice Hardy

This is the third in a four-part series featuring authors who will be attending Olde City, New Blood. Check out the bottom of this post for more info on the con! Today, we're featuring Janice Hardy with her "Eight Tips for a Great Conference Experience."

Janice's Bio

Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE. DARKFALL. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel.

You can visit her online, chat with her about writing on her blog, The Other Side of the Story, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

Eight Tips for a Great Conference Experience

I have always loved conferences and conventions. In high school, a good friend wanted to be a monster makeup artist, so he suckered me into playing the female role every time a sci fi/fantasy convention came to town (we won a lot of costume contests I might add). I didn't mind a bit, because they were awesome and fun, and my mother even helped us make the costumes.

As I got older and got more serious about my writing, it was only natural that I started attending fan conventions, and then later, writers' conferences. I've been on both sides of the fence now--as an attendee and as a presenter--and I've learned a few tricks to make any con a great experience.

The Practical Tips

1. Dress for it

Wear clothes that fit the venue you're attending. If you look over or under dressed, you might feel out of place. I have a typical "author's uniform" style I wear to my events. But at a fan convention last year, my typical outfit would have stood out and made me look strange. It was a jeans and T-shirts kinda crowd, so I got to dress down and wear my geek girl stuff (Go Gir). At a more professional con I spoke at, business attire was the norm, and though it's not fair, those who dressed down did look less serious about their writing pursuits. (fan conventions of course don't have to worry about this. It's all about fun)

Also remember to dress comfortably, and layers are always a safe bet. Rooms are frequently either freezing or stifling for some reason. Odds are you'll be doing a lot of walking, so bring shoes that'll hold up to all those steps. And band-aids in case of blisters.

2. Drink lots of water

I don't know if it's the A/C or the busy schedules, but dehydration is pretty common at cons. It leads to headaches and makes you feel tired, so you can't enjoy yourself as much. Most rooms will have cups and water in the back or outside in the common areas, so take advantage of them. Be wary of too many sugary drinks since you'll be sitting a lot, and the jitters can get you.

3. Bring snacks

Events are often scheduled with just enough time to get from one to the next, and when you get hungry, there's no time to eat. This is doubly so if there are events scheduled over lunch. Granola bars or bags of nuts are great things to stash in your backpack or conference bag to keep your energy up and your tummy from growling during a session. (not that that's ever happen to me -whistles innocently-)

4. Plan ahead

Some cons are closely packed, others are spread out over multiple floors or even buildings. Check your programs and schedules and figure out what you want to attend and where it is. You might discover two events are at opposites ends and it'll be a race to get from one to the other. It's also nice to know ahead of time where you'll be so you don't feel like you're rushing the whole time.

The Fun, Social Tips

5. Talk to everybody

One of my favorite things about a con is talking to people, but for some folks, chatting up a random stranger is terrifying. Take comfort in the thought that everyone there has something in common with you--or you wouldn't be at the con. Stuck on what to say? "Is this your first con?" is a good conversation starter. So is "what do you write?" if you're at a writer's conference.

6. Approach the presenters

I can't speak for everyone of course, but it makes my day when folks come up and talk to me at a con I'm speaking at. I'm very approachable! Socializing is half the fun at these things, and everyone is going to wind up at the bar, lounge, or whatever gathering spot exists. (At RWA this past year, it was the poolside bar) If I'm hanging out and you come over and say hi, I'll most likely invite you to join me. So will a lot of folks.

However, if you see "don't bother me" body language on someone, or it looks like a serious and private conversation, then wait for a better time to say hello. I can remember an agent I was on the same hotel floor with years ago, and every time I passed her in the hall she looked like she was terrified someone was about to pounce on her. This was not a woman who wanted to be approached. Respect boundaries, but don't be afraid to be outgoing when you see folks in social areas. (It goes without saying not to approach them in the bathroom, right?)

7. Wear something distinctive

I got an urge last year to dye a big streak of my hair bright purple. Since then, I've had more people approach me at cons than you'd believe (and everywhere else, actually). There's something about an obvious conversation starter that makes it easy for people to talk to you. It gives them something to say. If you wear a unique piece of jewelry or clothing, or do something funky with your hair, you increase the odds of meeting people.

8. Try sessions outside your normal interests

There will be plenty of things you'll want to see and do, but go wild and pick one or two sessions that fall outside your bailiwick. You never know what you might discover or who you might meet. I've wandered accidentally into sessions and learned things I never would have otherwise. If you're not sure you'll enjoy it, sit in the back row so it's easy to quietly slip out.

Conferences and conventions can be a lot of fun, especially if you embrace the social aspect. I even met some of my best friends at a con. Where else can you find a large group of people who like what you like?

What conference tips do you have? Come share!

About The Shifter

The Shifter is the first book in The Healing Wars series.

A dangerous secret. A deadly skill.

Nya is an orphan struggling for survival in a city crippled by war. She is also a Taker—with her touch, she can heal injuries, pulling pain from another person into her own body. But unlike her sister, Tali, and the other Takers who become Healers, Nya's skill is flawed: she can't push that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it into another person, a dangerous skill that she must keep hidden. If discovered, she could be used as a human weapon.

But one day Nya pushes her luck too far and exposes her secret to a pain merchant eager to use her shifting ability for his own sinister purposes. She refuses—until Tali and other League Healers start disappearing mysteriously. Now Nya must decide: How far will she go to get Tali back alive?

Don't miss your chance to meet Janice and spend some time with her and other awesome authors and readers at the Olde City, New Blood urban fantasy / paranormal romance mini-convention this February 8-10th in St. Augustine, FL. We'll have panels, readings, meet & greets and lots of time for everyone to mingle with their favorite authors. Check out for all the details. Can't wait to see you there!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tips for Writing About Serious Subjects

One of the most amazing things about having a book out is finally hearing what lots of different people think about your writing. I've heard some amazing things and some bad things, but one of the most interesting things is how raw and realistic my work is, especially when it comes to heavy subject matter. What is heavy subject matter? Self-Esteem, Drug Use, Abusive Relationships, Self-Loathing, Insane Parents, Teen Pregnancy. Basically just your day-in-the-life of most teenagers or their friends or classmates. This isn't something I set out to do intentionally, but I am so happy I am being recognized for it.

I am so happy readers and reviewers think PRETTY AMY speaks to teens, adults, teachers, parents about the real issues they go through.

For my first official YAtopia member post, I thought I would share some tips on how to write about serious subjects and have teens and adults actually listen.

1. Do not censor yourself. As you're writing you might hear your inner editor say things like, don't use swear words, don't say things like that, don't let your MC admit they think things like that. When you are writing about serious subjects you need to put yourself and your characters out there, otherwise your readers will see it as inauthentic.

2. Open a vein. Not literally, but let yourself feel what your character is feeling. Teens feel differently and more intensely than adults do. They haven't learned to brush things off as easily as adults. If something happens to them, give it the attention it deserves in their life and on the page. In PRETTY AMY, Amy is arrested on Prom night, she deals with this challenge for most of the book. It would be strange for her to feel better, or understand the full-impact of her arrest immediately.

3. Don't Preach. Present the issue without any kind of opinion. This is very hard, but you don't not want to come out and say, drugs are bad, or you should know you're pretty, or anything like that. It seems inauthentic and will make a teen shut your book faster than they could download it.

4. Don't solve the problem with a neat little bow. Happy endings happen sure, but make it seem believable. If someone is going through something horrible, there is no way they will be completely better by the end of the book. They will be a little better, they may see things more clearly, but no be jumping up and down with happiness so create your endings accordingly. In PRETTY AMY, Amy has come to a place of understanding about herself and her life, but she also knows and acknowledges that she has a long way to go.

5. Use detail. Make your reader feel the searing pain of having a boy reject you, the fear of being arrested, the dull ache of not being good enough. You can't just say your character feels these things, you need to show how in scene.

6. Allow your character to grow. (This would be something I learned from my editor). When you are dealing with serious subjects, you tend to have characters that are negative, angry and closed off. They cannot be like this for the whole book. They need to open up eventually, or the reader feels duped.

7. Keep some scenes funny and light. Even if you are dealing with serious subjects you need to entertain the reader. Your whole book cannot be doom and gloom. Also having scenes that are funny and light tends to highlight the deeper and heavier scenes making them more poignant. There are several scenes in PRETTY AMY that have been referred to as "laugh-out-loud". I placed them strategically in between very heavy scenes.

8. Open your high school yearbook. I'm serious. Nothing takes you back to the way you really felt in high school than by looking at it. This all goes back to sounding authentic.

9. Use overarching metaphor. This gives your book and main character deeper meaning. Choose a symbol that brings to mind a particular emotion or feeling. In PRETTY AMY it was Amy's parrot AJ. It talked and she felt like she could not. It was in a cage and she felt trapped. It was set free at the end, where Amy starts to understand how to "set herself free".

10. Be real. Like really, really real. I think if you are a Contemporary YA author you have a duty to present the kind of issues and situations that teens really experience. Sure, not all teens are arrested on prom night, but what teen hasn't dealt with feelings of inadequacy. That kernel is where the true story should come from.

Any tips you would add? Please mention them in the comments.