Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Feels: An Author's Advantage

With puffy, red eyes I bring you good and bad news.

(Can we pause and take a second to appreciate my amazing, creative flow-chart-making abilities?)

Yes, it's true. Life doesn't always go as planned. And sometimes the way things go is a lot less fun than what we planned.

I know, I was surprised when I found out too.

Let me tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, there were three siblings. They all had red hair. And they were not the Weaslies. After many trials such as "She Won't Stop Touching Me" and "He Went in My Room Without Asking", the three became an inseparable trio. 

With impending adulthood in the horizon, the three made a pact. A pact that is totally reasonable. "When we grow up, let's all live right next door to each other and have a pool that stretches across the three backyards."

Adulthood came. The oldest one went to college, moved back home, got married and then moved to the next town, twenty minutes away from her beloved siblings. Eventually, the next two graduated from high school, got jobs, and did college. They still didn't have the three houses next door with the giant pool, but things were pretty okay anyway. 

Until...the middle one got engaged! Birds sang. Family cried tears of joy for the beautiful bride-to-be. And then she announced she'd be moving two hours away after the wedding. TWO HOURS. The oldest one cried lots of tears. Even though she was elated for her sister, she was sad to let go of their childhood fantasies and close proximity.

In the middle of all these tears, the oldest one giggled at a thought. "This gives me so much material to use in stories." 

And that concludes the story. I'm the oldest, by the way. Here's a super adorbs picture of us to tug at your heartstrings as you cry in sympathy for me and the three-house-length pool that may never be.

From left to right: Jen (the middle) , Bugy (the youngest), and me, Jessie at my brother's high school graduation.  

In case you got lost in that story and forgot the purpose, it was to tell you this:
-Life doesn't always go as planned.
-The bad news is that tears and not-so-fun emotions are a common side-effect.
-The good news is you're a writer.

You're a writer!

Not that we're generally cooler than, say, everyone else, but...we kind of have a one-up on them when it comes to The Feels.

See, when commoners non-writers get The Feels, they have to do things like:
-Talk it out
-Punch walls
-Scream in pillows
-Plants gardens
-Cry into buckets of greasy food
-Vent on Facebook and Twitter
-Play with sock puppets in therapy

And sure, we can and do participate in that stuff too, but we (and all other superior people artists) have something more.

We use The Feels to make art. Beautiful, sad, happy, nostalgic, dream-filled art. We get to take that moment of pain and make it something more. We get to immortalized our special human-moments. We get to make sure they matter to other people as much as they matter to us. We get to send stories into the world that connect us with other people. We get to use The Feels to create heart.

And that's pretty cool.


I would like to dedicate this post to my sister and brother. Thank you for being the kind of people who make me cry at the thought of you being far away. I love you. (And shout out to my future brother-in-law because I love you too even though you're kind of partially responsible for the giant pool not happening.)

Love, Jessie


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Guestopia: Interview with Rachael Craw, author of Spark!

Today, YAtopia has been joined by YA author Rachael Craw. Without wasting any time, let's get straight to it. 

Hello Rachael, thank you so much for joining us. 

Is this your first published book?

What’s it called?

Which genre?
Sci-fi premise with a pinch of Thriller/Contemporary and Romance 

Which age group?
YA, 14+ 

Is it a series or standalone?
First in a series. Stray is scheduled for release September 2015, Shield in 2016 

Are you an agented author?
Yes, with Chris and Barbara Else

Which publisher snapped up your book?
Walker Books Australia

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?
Walker Books Australia are an incredible team who really know their business and have a reputation for producing beautiful, high quality work. I was/am such a clueless newbie, so I was pretty thrilled to partner with them and follow their lead especially because they are so invested in Spark and it's success.

Do you have another job?
Nope, I am very blessed to be able to write full time (thanks to an extremely forbearing husband) before I started writing full time I was a High School English Teacher 

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?
My agents submitted the manuscript to one publisher before Walker who gave me a pretty fabulous rejection. They told me they loved my writing and would like to see anything else I produced in the future but weren't looking for sci-fi/genetic experimentation storyline at that time.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?
Hmmm, I just had my 3rd baby, so I was doing lots of night feeding and in a state of zombied confusion, so who knows. I just remember the unction to write hit me pretty hard, like a physical ache.  

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?
I knew I wanted to write YA, have a 17 year old female protagonist, a high school setting, and a fantastical element that gave my character superhuman abilities. I was quite keen to use a sci-fi premise to create that fantastical element but I didn't have a BIG idea. I sat on my bed one night and prayed for an idea and went to sleep and had the dream that became the prologue of the story. I was running through a forest at night with incredible speed, reflexes, strength etc then I was gripped by a terrible sense of urgency and I knew there was someone out in the dark who was in great danger. I had to reach this person before someone else - the killer - did. When I woke up I took it on faith that I had my idea and my brain had a party asking questions like: where did I get my strength/speed/reflexes from? why was someone trying to kill the person in the woods? how did I know they were in danger? why was it my responsibility? etc etc.

I'm a pantser, so once I knew the general gist of what the story was about, I just felt my way towards the end like walking through that forest blindfolded.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?
Mostly it flowed but EVERY day I would sit at my laptop and have that moment of dread: what if I can't think of anything! 

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?
I have a bestie in Christchurch named Audra who read every single word I wrote for Spark. Multiple versions, multiple re-writes. She was the ultimate cheerleader, devoured everything and was always demanding: MORE PAGES, PLEASE! Very motivating. BUT, Audra would admit it herself she had no ability to critique, she just loved everything. Ha! So I had professional assessor tell me the hard truth.

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?
I went through TFS and Barbara Else did my first 2-3 assessments, then I had a year of mentoring with Chris (I like to think of them as good cop/bad cop) and then they offered to represent me as agents. They were completely amazing to work with. Lots of hard work, but totally invaluable.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?
I sent my first completed draft to TFS 

How many drafts until it was published?
Probably 4 or 5 while working on it with Chris and Barbara, then another re-write with my editor through Walker Books. 

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?
Yes, It was 150,000+ words when I first sent it to TFS (poor Barbara, what a waffling great nightmare) and was approx. 94,000 when it went to print. We dropped the first 4 chapters, cut 2 characters (the main character's father and another potential love interest). I changed the title from Borders, to By the Border River, to The Keeper, to Spark. I changed the roles from Keeper, Seeker, Trigger to Shield, Stray, Spark. And tons of little bits and pieces all over the show,

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?
I am NEVER satisfied, I would edit myself into the grave. Handing the manuscript over is excruciating.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

What part do you find hardest?
Having perspective.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?
Push, push, push. Like birthing a watermelon.

Eew! How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?
Just the trilogy. It consumes all of my brain cells, I have no room in my head for ANYTHING else. Sometimes I worry there is nothing else, that it's destroyed neurons that will never be replaced.

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?
I believe I was born with  a love of words, even from a very young age I would be captivated by the sound of an interesting or beautiful word but I believe the craft is learned.

How many future novels do you have planned?
I have just finished Stray (bk2) and sent that to my publisher and this year will be ALL about Shield (bk3) beyond that I have no plans but I have an unction to write some magical realism so who knows...

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?
Before Spark I wrote scripts for amateur theatre, and screenplays that I never submitted to anyone and tons of cringe worthy poetry. I have no stamina for blogging. 140 characters on Twitter is just the right pace for me.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?
Random email through my website from kids who are beside themselves about Spark. It NEVER gets old.

Give me five writing tips that work for you.
1. Know what your character wants the most and deny them that thing
2. Drama is created by giving your characters opposing scripts (Sol Stein)
3. put your fingers on the keyboard and make them move up and down even when they don't want to
4. create problems for your characters, BIG ones that you have no solution for and trust that the solution will come
5. get your work professionally assessed. I don't regret any of the money I spent learning my craft. Its an investment.

And one that doesn't.
Hmmm, I don't think I've been given any advice that hasn't worked for me in some way.  

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?
'Spark' is like a superhero origins story where Evie must come to terms with her destiny and calling, her life interrupted by the synthetic gene in her DNA. 'Stray' (bk2) is a darker, moral dilemma story where Evie is torn between the people she loves, her duty and 'doing the right thing'. It takes you behind the scenes of the Affinity Project, the secret organisation responsible for the genetic experiment. When Evie chooses to help a Stray she defies everything the Affinity Project stands for and suffers the devastating consequences.

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?
Occasionally, reviewers comment or wonder why I didn't set Spark in New Zealand but no-one has ever asked me why I didn't or they assume I set it in the States as a cunning marketing ploy. I'm afraid I didn't give it as much thought as that. I simply set Spark in the states because the premise of the story 'felt' very American. The original gene-experiment occurs in the early 70's and the Affinity Project's agenda was to create super-soldiers for hire, for military, political, corporate espionage. It didn't feel practical/feasible/believable to me to set that in New Zealand, makes it rather difficult to quickly deploy one's agents into the field at such a distance. But to be totally honest, I came to that conclusion very quickly and made no effort at all to try and come up with a justification for setting it in NZ, so perhaps that was lazy of me. I was completely comfortable with the American setting, to me it was just the kind of comic-book madness you'd expect!

If you haven't read Spark yet then WHY NOT? You must, it's absolutely brilliant. Find out more about Rachael and her books here:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: My Top Ten Favorite Heroines From TV

Since my day happens to fall on Tuesday this month, I decided to do Top Ten Tuesday! This meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic is Top Ten Favorite Heroines from TV!

1 - The Clones, from Orphan Black

If you've seen the show, no explanation required.

2 - Kenzi, from Lost Girl

Don't we all, Kenzi?

3 - Tamsin, from Lost Girl

Her character arc is one of the best I've ever seen.

4 - Kaylee, from Firefly

If you don't love her, you have no soul. My professional opinion.

5 - Petty Officer Anastasia Dualla, from Battlestar Galactica

This show has a lot of fantastic characters, but Dee had a quiet, steady strength that I think most people overlooked.

6 - Bo, from Lost Girl

Can you tell I love this show? A kick-ass, feminine, bisexual woman who doesn't apologize or agonize over her sexuality? Yes, please!

7 - Daenerys Targaryen, from Game of Thrones

Y'all know I couldn't leave out the mother of dragons.

8 - Claudia, from Warehouse 13

9 - The Pink Ranger, from Power Rangers

You go, girl! #notashamed

10 - Rocky Blue, from Shake It Up

Yes, I watch the Disney Channel. Don't judge me. I love Rocky!!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Beta Reading is a Gift Everyone Can Give

Image result for picture books everywhereAlthough I’m a freelance editor and get to read and work on unpublished manuscripts as my day job (I know, it rocks!), it’s still not enough. So, I often offer to beta read for authors with an early, and later, draft of a novel. It’s what I like to do with my free time. 

To be honest, I have to beta read all the books I've been instructed to edit as well because the same initial process applies. I need to read and understand the story and the characters, and consider how it makes me feel from a reader’s point of view before I delve into any edits.

Other than the usual considerations of characterisation and depth, of structure and plot, and so on, here’s some more general things I do and consider before, during and after a beta read.  

I’ll pretty much beta read any genre. Why not? If anything, it might introduce me to a category or genre I’d never have considered before. Plus, my eyes will be fresh and completely unbiased in my review. You don't have to be an expert to read a person's book, just being prepared to give honest feedback is qualification enough.

As I read, I do my best to make very few notes. I don’t when I read a published book I buy from Amazon or a bookstore, and so it's essential I apply the same reading attitude to an unpublished book. Otherwise, I run the risk of losing any enjoyment the story might give me as I’m too busy fussing over technicalities. My notes might simply consist of ‘passive’ or ‘telling’ or ‘repeating xxxx’ or ‘dialogue unnatural’ and so on. And I love to highlight. 

Image result for crazy highlighting book pictures

I’ll only make more detailed notes if there’s a section of the book I have to re-read or go back to check; it’s a sign that that particular scene or element isn’t working or perhaps there’s an inconsistency somewhere. Sometimes it could be my own situation, i.e. misbehaving children, snoring husband, etc., that prevents me from following the story, but more often than not, my instincts are right.

I focus on the look of the words on the page. Is there a lot of attractive and calming white space? Is there a range of sentence lengths? Do the paragraphs vary in size? Is there plenty of dialogue? That kind of thing. Because appearance affects a reader’s mindset and attitude when they read; it needs to appeal visually, just like a good dinner does before we tuck in!

My reports often babble on, I can't help it, it’s habit, but I do try my hardest to be as brief as possible in the initial contact. But I’ll say to the author, that if they’d like me to go into more detail on any specific points, then they only need to ask. I keep my door wide open to anyone I beta for, because rewrites are blinking hard, and if I can support in any way possible throughout, answering any questions or discussing a new idea or direction, then I will.

Above all else, I look for the positives and the strengths in the story and the author’s writing. Not only because encouragement and support is pretty much everything for an author at this stage with a WIP, but also because, for me, it actually makes it easier to weed out the weaker areas. I like my reports to feed back on what the author’s doing right as much as what they might need to work on.  

Image result for gift of readingBeta reading is a wonderful thing, and a gift every author and reader can give. To be a good writer, we need to read as much and as diversely as possible. And if we can occasionally do this whilst helping and guiding our fellow authors, everyone’s onto a winner.

Friday, February 20, 2015

I SUSPECT there's an awesome book here if you ELECT to look inside

East Country upheld the laws. Mid destroyed them.

In the year 2185 Earth is rebuilding after climate change created a global eco-crisis. Countries maintain complete isolation so there is no warfare over scarce resources. One Elected family is chosen to lead each country for 100 years to ensure stability. Women aren’t allowed to take office and must reproduce at all costs. Technology use of any kind is banned to preserve what’s left of the environment.

And yet, I’m my country’s Elected. I’ve just sanctioned technology use to ready us for war. I’m about to cross the border to spy on our neighbor. And…I’m a girl. 


A note from Rori Shay
"A lot of you asked me to let you know when the next book in The Elected Series came out.  SUSPECTED, book 2, opened for pre-release this week on kickstarter.

It releases in all major vendors (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, etc.) for real on Earth Day April 22, 2015.  The pre-release lasts just for a month and is fun because it allows the publisher to supply limited edition items, signed copies, ability for readers to get their names in the back of the book, stretch goals for free items, etc.  There are even tuckerizations available during the pre-sale, which won't be available at any other time.  A tuckerization is when the author writes you into the book as one of the characters.  Those are kind of expensive, but they're really cool!"
To check out the exciting pre-release on kickstarter, visit here!  

Book One
It’s the year 2185, and in two weeks, Aloy will turn eighteen and take her father’s place as president of the country. But to do so, she must masquerade as a boy to avoid violating the Eco-Accords, four treaties designed to bring the world back from the brink of environmental extinction. Aloy hopes to govern like her father, but she is inheriting a different country. The long concealed Technology Faction is stepping out of the shadows, and as turmoil grows within her country, cryptic threats also arrive from beyond their borders.

As she struggles to lead, Aloy maintains her cover by marrying a woman, meanwhile battling feelings for the boy who knows her secret—the boy who is somehow connected to her country’s recent upheaval. When assassination attempts add to the turmoil, Aloy doesn’t know whom to trust. She understood leadership required sacrifice. She just didn’t realize the sacrifice might be her life.