Saturday, December 28, 2013

How to Build An Author Website

If anyone heard a long string of creative curse words emanating from the direction of my living room this month, that was not me trying to get on Santa’s naughty list.

That was me trying to learn website building software.

With the calendar about to turn to the year my book launches (hooray!) I was feeling behind the gun on some of my marketing efforts. Chiefly, on my web presence. Most days you’ll find me wasting time, er, “building my author brand”, on Twitter, and just try to pry Tweetdeck from my cold, dead hands. However, I termed my blog “my unblog” for the very reason that I knew I couldn’t be counted on to post witty truths on a regular basis and there is noting I hate more than a sad, neglected blog. Blog: out. On the other hand, a static website where I could show a little of my personality and introduce readers to me alongside my stories, was very definitely in. It just took me a while to figure out what that vision would include.

I started with research. Lots and lots of research. I began by bookmarking the websites of other debut authors to see what sort of information they were including. Next I made a list of twenty authors who wrote in a similar tone or style or for a similar audience to mine. I combed over their sites as well. And then I made a big old master list of all the things I loved about those sites and why. I knew right away that I wanted my site’s tone to reflect my writing style- light, fun, a dash of humor (hopefully).  I also knew right away that while the words should be mine, the design should not be. Unless I wanted to scare readers and, well, I don’t write horror, so…

I enlisted the help of an extremely talented illustrator I found on Etsy and commissioned a custom design from her. She worked with me to find a concept for a home page illustration and headers, as well as a color scheme. My particular challenge to her was to come up with something that would be girly enough to appeal to tween readers (as my first book is a middle grade aimed solidly at chicklets) but also sophisticated enough to sustain an older audience (as I’m hoping to publish a YA novel in the future). The result:

I’m hoping I got it right! I had a little TOO much fun being interviewed by my tween self and I’m especially having fun with plans for my secret hidden bonus page. Hint: click on the hedgehog), though I suspect my future is full of endless tweaks. 

But for now I’d love to know what YOU look for in an author’s website. Do you visit them? If so, are you there to learn more about the book or the author? What type of information do you hope to find there?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Debut nerves and cool stuff (including prices)

I usually keep my writing and my real life separate. I don't talk to a lot of people I know about my SLEEPER came out, I know it was a good idea to promote it locally as well as online. So I put out a press release and it received some media attention.
writing, even though I'm not normally a shy person. But when my debut novel,

For the past few weeks I've been receiving congratulations through friends, work colleagues and acquaintances. I usually shift uncomfortably and give an awkward thank-you. I think it's because I know that people I predominately mix with online think more like me - love YA, NA and Speculative Fiction and understand the publishing industry. I have no idea if people I mix with off-line are into my weird story lines.

But it was worth putting myself out there.

I had one new friend that I met though my community consultation work tell me that she's really enjoying my book. Not only that, but when she reads it, it's like I'm reading it to her - in her mind she hears my voice saying the words. That kinda blew me away.

This leads me into some of the highlights of of my debut release so far:

  1. Being told I'm narrating the story to a reader.
  2. Having an adult male reading my book, and enjoying it!
  3. Getting reviews like this!
  4. And like this!
  5. Getting Tweets like this.
  6. And like this!
  7. And this.
  8. And then there was this:

There were times where I was going to give up on SLEEPER. But I'm so glad I didn't because knowing I'm writing something people enjoy is worth it.

If you're yet to be published, don't give up. And if you are published, congratulations on sticking with it.

I've shared my ups, so now share yours. What's your favourite part of your writing journey so far?

(And don't forget to enter the giveaway to celebrate SLEEPER's Release)

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Killing Your Darlings with S. M. Johnston

Today I'm handing over the blog to one of our, Sharon Johnston, in celebration of her latest release, SLEEPER.

A new heart should mean new life, not a living nightmare.

Mishca Richardson’s life is at an all-time high after her heart transplant. With new boyfriend, Ryder, the two of them have the perfect summer romance. Even the nightmares that have been plaguing her sleep since her operation can’t dull the high she’s on.

Things start to unravel as 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 instant attraction she experiences when she meets her university professor, Colin Reed.

Torn between the blossoming love and the obsession, Mishca must decide if she wants Ryder or Colin. But the organization responsible for her changes and her connection to Colin, is moving to secure Mishca for himself so that she can be the weapon he always intended her to be. If Mishca can’t resist her programming she’ll have a lot more to worry about than romance.

And over to Sharon...

I rip out the hearts of my darlings…and occasionally kill them

I am a mean-arse writer. My characters get torn apart. While I give my main character, Mishca, a really rough time in SLEEPER, the worst of it is for her love interest Ryder.

Readers seem to be falling in love with Ryder and I rip his heart out and then stomp all over it. My beta editor warned me that readers would not be happy with me for it. And so far she's been right, but it's a low point that is essential for the story - as you can see from the snippets of a review below.

"I was pretty pissed and really not happy at all"…and then "It was near the end that the plot turns hectic and you are blown away with what is really going on with this girl" ~ Eclipse Review (Read the full review here).

If everything was sunshine and roses the whole time it would be a very boring book, though I went beyond mean to down right cruel. But it's an important process to go through as this story is not just Mishca's. Book 2 of the Toy Soldier Series, DESERTER, is a dual POV between Ryder and Mishca (which should make some readers VERY happy). SLEEPER is the opening scene that lays the platform for what is to come, and it's a whole lot of pain for them all: Mishca, Ryder, Nerissa and Finlay.

Their stories intertwine over the four books, and I stomp all over my little darlings the whole way. But that's what a good writer does. They draw you in to the characters and make you feel so deeply that you may have the urge to throw your kindle across the room at the pain the author has caused to the characters.

But a good writer also keeps up a sliver of hope that there will be a happy ending at the story conclusion, though occasionally the author denies the readers of that as well. I know how the Toy Soldiers series ends, and I won't say if there will be squees of joy or cries of angst from readers, but the journey will be filled with ups and downs, heart-ache and sorrow, loss and a death or two.
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Sunday, December 15, 2013

An Interview with New Author Riley Graham

So this month I decided to interview one of the many talented and wonderful authors I know; Riley Graham. I have known Riley for many years now and this is her debut novel Accidents & Incidents. And there might be something special at the end of the interview.


Give us the Elevator Pitch for your book.

Could we take the stairs instead? : - ) It’s a little longer than your typical elevator pitch, but here’s the book description:

Sometimes finding love means taking the scenic route …

Living with her faultfinding mother has taught Leslie not to ask for much. Just watch your step, stay on the sidelines, and take what you can get. But she wants a mom who thanks her for cleaning the kitchen instead of yelling at her for missing a spot, and a boyfriend who does more than score her a seat at the popular table—someone who actually notices her sitting there.

So when Cain, the school heartbreaker, turns his Carolina blue eyes her way, Leslie can’t help but be tempted, even if he’s her boyfriend’s best friend. Things get even more complicated when Leslie strikes up unlikely friendships with Meredith, Cain’s girlfriend, and Dennis, a boy addicted to cigarettes and solitude. Despite his tough exterior, Dennis seems to understand Leslie in a way that no one ever has, and to need her as much as she needs him.

For the first time in her life, Leslie feels like she could belong. She’s just not sure where.

What inspired you to write this book?

I was working on my library degree when I took a course in young adult literature and remembered how much I love it. There’s something about that time of life—everything is so emotionally charged. I wanted to try and capture that on the page.

A lot of the inspiration from this particular book came from my own life. For instance, I ended up falling for a guy I was close friends with in high school, though for the longest time, I thought I wanted his best friend. There’s a little bit of that dynamic in the book, with Leslie being drawn to the high school “it” boy as well as the boy who listens to her problems and shares his with her.

What is one thing you want the reader to walk away with after reading your book?

What I want most is for the characters I created to be as real and complex for the reader as they are for me. If I succeeded there, the reader should walk away with the understanding that even people who might seem cruel or unfeeling often have their own problems that determine the way they interact with others. And even people who seem to have it all can have their hearts broken and their worlds shattered.

How did you write your book? Did you outline then write or just jump in and begin writing?

I’m definitely a planner. When I started this book, I wrote out some basic character outlines and then started a Word document where I just brainstormed my ideas, from character backgrounds to plot scenarios to themes that I wanted to carry throughout the book. A lot of the details changed as the story unfolded, but the core of the story didn’t. I also kept the motifs I started with—holidays and car accidents for instance—as well as the theme of difficult family relationships.

What do you do when you aren't writing?

Read. Though I have to be careful because I can easily go on reading binges that keep me from getting my own writing done! When I first became a librarian, for instance, I went through a period of reading almost a book a day. I’m also a real Netflix junkie and love to discover new series. I think writers can learn a lot from watching well-written TV shows. Plus, it’s fun : )

Why did you choose to write and become an author?

I didn’t have cable TV growing up, and there was no Internet. So I kind of learned to create my own entertainment, which involved lots of reading as well as making up stories I’d act out with friends, though I didn’t start writing things down until later. I also used to go to bed every night running different scenarios in my head—of course, a lot of them involved me being courted by my favorite actor at the time, but you get the idea.

The first time I seriously thought about becoming a writer was when someone in school pointed out that I was good at it. And something clicked—I knew that was what I wanted to do. It took me a while to discover that I wanted to write fiction though, so most of my early writing involved journals filled with poetry that nobody but me could understand. I still write poetry sometimes, but fiction is my true love.

What do you like to read when not writing?

Lately, message boards, blogs, and books about writing and publishing! But as far as fiction goes, young adult contemporary is my favorite. Sara Zarr, E. Lockhart, and Sarah Dessen are some of my favorite writers there. I also really enjoy new adult, especially work by Jessica Park and Tammara Webber, who showed me that there was real talent in the self-publishing world. Right now I’m reading Openly Straight, a YA contemporary by Bill Konigsberg, and No One’s Angel by Kelly Walker, a talented fantasy and new adult author as well as my cover designer.

How do you deal with writers block?

Different ways. Sometimes I force myself to sit in front of the computer and reread what I’ve written until I can get a few words out, even if I’m not thrilled with them. Sometimes I take a break from the actual writing and just work through things in my head. I’ve often gotten myself unstuck while driving, grocery shopping, or drifting off to sleep, for instance. Sometimes I work on another writing project, and other times I skip the scene that’s giving me trouble and work on a different part of the story.

Where can people find you on the Net?

And Accidents & Incidents is available from these online retailers:

What is one question you have never been asked but have always wanted to answer?

The question: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

My answer: Try not to compare yourself to others. I still struggle with this. Even when visiting discussion boards about writing that are generally helpful, I can work myself into a real funk if I start comparing my own productivity and sales with others. So instead, I’m trying to learn from their success while at the same time realizing that what works for them may not work for me. We all have to find our own way.

Here is a Little Bit More About the Author and Your Chance to Win a Copy of Accidents & Incidents: 

Riley Graham is a high school librarian and writer who lives in North Carolina with her husband, two dogs, two cats, and an embarrassing number of dust bunnies. She’s currently at work on her second novel, another young adult contemporary.

To celebrate the release of her debut novel, Accidents & Incidents, Riley is giving away two signed paperbacks and ten signed bookmarks.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

The non-writing reader

Oh gosh, I'm three days late on my post.  This is what happens when Brenda Drake ( hosts Pitch Wars (a competition to help new writers to find agents).

Apologies for the delay.  Let's get into the meat of this month's post!

I'd like to talk about reading as opposed to writing this month.  A lot of the time, writers can dominate the Internet when it comes to books.  However, it's just as important that we hear from a reader's point of view as well.  And I mean a normal, non-writing reader.

To that effect, I discussed books with a few non-writing friends to find out what pulled them into a YA book.  And this is what they said.

"I loved how you could see everything.  It was like a movie in my head.  I want to be able to watch it as I read.  If I can't see it, I can't get into the story.  It doesn't seem real."

"It has to make sense.  I find stories that miss out information confusing.  I want to understand the logic of what's going on.  I don't mind little leaps across the page, but I need the characters to make decisions that I can believe they'd make."

"Sometimes I like the other characters more than the main characters.  They seem to have more interesting quirks and I can often see myself in them."

"I get bored and skim the pages if they talk about what places look like or how people look for too long.  If I can skip a few pages and still follow the plot, then usually it's a book I get bored of easily."

"Character's talking always makes it easier for me to read."

"I'll buy a book by an author I like when I see it in the store."

"Good covers make me look at new books.  And ones my friends say are good."

So, straight from the non-writing horse's mouth!

Happy holidays everyone, and I promise to be on time next month!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Coastal Magic Con Spotlight: MR Merrick

Coastal Magic Con is an awesome weekend celebrating paranormal romance and urban fantasy in Daytona in February! Today, I'm featuring one of the featured guests, MR Merrick.

M.R. Merrick is a Canadian writer and author of  The Protector Series, a Young Adult mash-up between Urban and Epic Fantasy. Having never traveled, he adventures to far off lands through his imagination and in between cups of coffee. As a music lover and proud breakfast enthusiast, he's usually found at the computer between a pair of headphones and in front of a large bowl of cereal.

Facebook | Twitter | Website

YAtopia: Do you have any weird writing habits?

MR: I'm not sure how weird it is, but when I'm starting a story, or at any point when I get stuck, I use daydreaming to get through it. I'll find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, and depending on the mood, plug in my earphones and turn on some tunes. If I'm just starting out, I just try to envision the emotion I want from the story. I take the base characters I have started with, or want to create, and I imagine them in this world in various situation, reacting to one thing or another, sometimes each other. When I'm at a road block, I'll dream the story that I've written thus far. This way when I get to the point in which I'm stuck, it seems easier to envision what might naturally happen next. It's not really "out there" as far as strange things go, but I like to play things in my head like a movie before I start writing them down.

YAtopia: Name three books you think everyone should read.

MR: The Harry Potter series is a favourite of mine. For me it has characters and creatures that come to life in such an incredible way, and the vivid world building astonishes me. The story took me away and I love coming back to them.

A book blogger gifted me Stephen King's The Long Walk last year and demanded I read it, and when I was done, I wished that I had read it so many years earlier. There isn't much for world building in it, but the simplicity and dynamic of the characters as they go on their journey is incredible. I loved it and although I've only just recently read it, I think it's a fantastic book.

Lastly, The Giver. It was a book we were forced to read for school, and other than Lord of the Flies, it's the only one that stands out in my mind. I'll never forget reading it as it was the first book I can remember enjoying, and I think it's something everyone should experience at some point.

YAtopia: Which one of your characters has the most of you in him/her?

MR: They all have bits and pieces of me. I know for certain that Chase is very much like I was as a teenager, minus the whole killing demons part, but his anger and thick skull were definitely an attribute I carried in my younger years. I'd have to say that Tiki and Willy probably have traits that work more towards my current mindset now, but I really could pull a little bit out of each of them and say that's definitely me.

YAtopia: If you could only give aspiring writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
Write the story that you want to read. The market isn't important, the advance isn't important, the critiques aren't important. Find the story that's missing in your life and put it on paper. Create characters and monsters that you want to see come to life on the page, take an adventure with twists and turns you want to experience, and when you have your imagination overflowing, just close your eyes, put your hands on the keys, and let go.

YAtopia: What's next for you? What are you working on now?

I have three projects on my mind right now. One is in the idea phase as it's a fairly complicated three book project, and I'm plotting it out silently in my head. The other two are right there and ready to go. One is a few chapters in, but is on the back burner at the moment. I don't like to be hands on with more than one book at a time, and right now I'm working through some obstacles with it. The other is coming along great, but at a slower pace than I like. It's the first in a new series, and that first book is always the toughest for me. I need to really build a solid platform for the rest of the series, and I'm taking my time with that. This one is a Post Apocalyptic Urban Fantasy…I guess that makes it a Dystopian of sorts? Anyways, it's pretty fun and has my imagination moving all over the place. It's a darker story, and full of a lot of emotion. I'm very proud of it so far, and I truly hope to see it out late this year or early 2014.

YAtopia: Thanks for stopping by today! 

Do you love urban fantasy and paranormal books? Check out Coastal Magic Con

Chase Williams is a demon hunter in the Circle, or at least he was supposed to be. On his fifteenth birthday, Chase stepped up to the altar to claim his elemental power, but it never came. Elemental magic is passed down to a hunter through the bloodline, but on Chase's birthday, the bloodline stopped.

Exiled without the Circle's protection, Chase has spent two years trying to survive a world riddled with half-demons and magic. When he has a run in with a frightened and seemingly innocent demon, he learns the Circle's agenda has changed: the Circle plans to unlock a portal and unleash pure-blood demons into the world. Vowing to stop them, and knowing he can't do it alone, Chase forms a reluctant alliance with Rayna - a sexy witch with an attitude and a secret. In their attempt to stop them, Chase and Rayna find themselves in the middle of the Circle's plan, leaving one of them to decide what their friendship is worth, and the other's life depending on it.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Inside, Outside, and You Won’t Be Upside Down

In last month’s post, I shared my light bulb writing moment. Thanks to a novel planning course I took, I went from a floundering pantser to a flourishing plotter. And I’m still pinching myself that the agent and book deal swiftly followed. The concepts from that class are so instrumental to my novel planning and writing that I wanted to share them and hopefully give someone else that “aha!” moment.

Last month I discussed the importance of writing exercises. As I teased in that post, writing exercises have a way of tossing the most unexpected of things into your writing stew. I know because it happened to me. While creating a character profile, a single question sparked an answer that now forms the backbone of my book, BECOMING JINN. I know I promised to tell you more this month, but I realized I can’t. Not yet. Because first, we need to have a little chat about a key component of story planning: inside and outside story. 
If I had to pick one concept that had the greatest overall effect on my writing, it would be this one. Unfamiliar with the terms? Let me explain.

The outside story is the plot. The what and the when. The inside story is more subtle but arguably more important. Because the inside story is the why. Think of it as the motive for the crime. 

Your outside story question is the goal your character is outwardly striving to achieve. It is something tangible. It is not “to be happy.” It is “to win a World Series.” The plot will revolve around this story question. All the obstacles you toss your character’s way will try to thwart him from achieving his goal.

The inside story question asks why your character wants to achieve this particular goal. It is the emotional side of the story. Your character has a need she inwardly yearns for, a need she may not be fully aware of until your outside story kicks into gear. If the character is aware of the need, he is not actively striving to fulfill it until the inciting incident bops him over the head. 

In order to hook your readers and keep them with you and your characters until the very last page, your characters must be real. We must be able to sympathize with them. For that to occur, your characters must have an inside story. We must know the emotional question your plot is serving to answer. 

You cannot plan a novel without knowing both your outside story and your inside story. From the start. This is key. No, it’s more than key. It’s essential. Understanding this truth is the turning point in my writing career. You cannot add the inside story after the fact. I tried. It doesn’t work. This is because the direction your novel goes depends upon, and changes, based on your character’s need. 

Maybe the character wants to win a World Series game because his need is to make his father proud. But maybe it’s to finally give him the self-esteem that years of schoolyard bullying stripped from him. The past and present events in your character’s life, the relationships, and all the supporting players depend on the direction the need takes you. Take the same plot and the same character and shift his or her inside story question and you’ll have an entirely different novel on your hands.

Often writers think the inside story must be veiled, some mysterious thing the reader has to work to discern, but that’s not the case. You can state it frankly, plainly, and hopefully right at the start of your novel. Knowing the emotional question is like giving your readers a blueprint, a guide for how to read your book. It’s a measuring stick against which both you as the writer as well as your readers can compare your character to see if and how the actions (the plot) in the story are changing your character (or not). 

Your inside story question, like the disasters in your outside story, must change, must ratchet up, must keep upping the stakes and refining itself. Keep in mind that your character doesn’t have to achieve his or her need. Often the best stories leave characters yearning. The character doesn’t have to change, he or she just needs to be presented with the opportunity to change.

A balance between the inside and outside story is what makes a good novel great. All plot and the story is too surface. All character and the story will drag. The combination of the two is what makes a novel work. It gives us events that happen to characters we care about. 

When you plan your novel, you must plot both the events in the outside story as well as those in the inside story. When you come up with the obstacles you throw at your characters, consider the inside story question and see how the emotional component of the story is served as a result of those obstacles. Often the “disasters” in each timeline will match up. Sneaky how that works . . .

The following overly simplistic example distinguishes the inside and the outside story and illustrates the drastic difference having an inside story makes:

A man and a woman are shopping in a grocery store. The man pulls a box of sugary cereal off the shelf and tosses it in the cart. The woman not so subtly suggests oatmeal might be a better, more nutritious choice. The man rolls his eyes and stacks a second box of chocolate-coated cereal on top.

What I’ve just given you is a very short story that is all plot. It tells you what happens. But as a reader, if you’re not bored, you are quite generous. Why do we care that these two people disagree over what constitutes a healthy breakfast? We don’t. At least not yet. Not until we have the inside story. Take two:

A man and a woman are shopping in a grocery store. The man’s hand shakes as he pushes the cart down the cereal aisle. The couple’s best friends are not only getting married the following week but just that morning at brunch announced they are having a baby. He speeds up as they roll past the jars of baby food. He reaches for a box of sugary cereal and casually tosses it in the cart. The woman watches her boyfriend of eight years not even hesitate as he chooses food meant for a child. How is he supposed to raise a child if he still is one himself? She breezily suggests he try oatmeal instead. The chocolate cereal he deposits in the cart answers her question. 

We have the same plot: a couple grocery shopping in the cereal aisle. But with the addition of the inside story, the plot now has context. We understand why each character acts the way they do. We understand their motivations. And keep in mind, I said “each character.” Because every main character and even most of your supporting characters should have an inside story. These characters must need something. They must want something.

Which brings me to the concept that changed BECOMING JINN: the wound and the want. Unfortunately we are out of space! I promise to tackle the idea of the wound and the want, character profiles, and how they shaped my book next month!

Contest Announcement!

My 2015 YA debut author group, the Freshman Fifteens, wants to help make your holiday season shine. Our giveaway, The Twelve Days of the Freshman Fifteens, will open on 12/12 and run through 12/23. Critiques, ARCs, gift cards, and more up for grabs! Be sure to follow us on our Web site and Twitter (@Freshman15s) for details and keep an eye out for the official announcement!