Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Love Indies Blog Tour!

The fabulous Lisa and Laura have declared May 31 I <3 Indies Day, and I have to say: I really love indies! In particular, I *adore* my local indie bookstore, Fireside Books & Gifts.

There are a lot of reasons to love Fireside. First: the people. I know I can walk into the store and be greeted personally--often with a suggestion of a book that I will love. If Valerie hands me a title, I know I'm going to gobble the book up.

But Fireside has a special place in my heart because it's where I had my first author event--my launch party for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. I was gobsmacked by the response, and every time I walk into the store, I remember how wonderful it was to see everyone and launch my book at Fireside.

So, of course, I love Fireside most of all--but I love all indie bookstores, and today's about celebrating indies!

And one of my very very favorite things about indie bookstores is that they are most likely to have...signed books! I love signed books--in fact, that's about the only thing I collect--and I love that often, authors will partner with indie bookstores in order to provide signed books!

Fireside is my partner indie store--if you'd ever like to get a signed copy of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, just click here. I can personalize it any way you like, too--the store calls me up, I come down and sign the book for you, and they ship it as soon as the ink dries.

Lots of authors do this (which means my collection of signed books continues to grow...). Here's a sampling of some local indies that can hook you up with signed books! (And please feel free to steal this list and post elsewhere--the more books sold, the better!)

Indies that Feature Signed Books

And a few bookstores will be hosting launch parties soon--so call them now for signed copies!

Do you know of any other authors who partner with bookstores to sell signed books? Let me know in the comments, and I'll add it to my list! 


Thank you to Lisa and Laura for coming up with the brilliant idea to feature indie bookstores today. Please visit the blogs below--each one another stop on the We Love Indies Blog Tour! And be sure to stop by Lisa & Laura's blog in particular--they're hosting a giveaway to celebrate indies!

And don't forget: the best way to show your support for a local indie bookstore is to shop in one. Why not go out today and pick up a book? Support reading and your local economy!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Blog Tour: Elana Johnson's POSSESSION!

I first met Elana online soon after I started blogging--I mean, everyone knew the Query Ninja, amirite? Over the years I got to know Elana better--and even got to meet her in person!--and can honestly say she's one of my favoritest people.

Which is why I'm thrilled that her book's about to come out! Elana is the author of the dystopian POSSESSION, and today I've cornered her with some questions about her book, her writing, and more!


We can read all about your fascinating life from the bio in the jacket flap of your book or on your webpage. So, what's a completely random fact about you that most people don't know?

I am scared of all animals that have more legs than I do, all ducks and geese, every species of snake, and some hummingbirds.

As a kid, what was your favorite book? Have your tastes changed since growing up?

My favorite reads were The Babysitter’s Club series. I’d like to think I’ve matured since then, though I still don’t read grown-up novels.

POSSESSION is a dystopian novel—could you tell us a little bit about why the genre appealed to you?

Dystopia blows my mind, because it’s possibilities are endless! If you can dream it, you can make it into a futuristic society. And I love that there’s a place for my twisted imagination to run wild.


It's the inevitable question: could you tell us a little about POSSESSION and what inspired it?

POSSESSION is an angry-girl novel set in the future, with some sweet tech gadgets and a sprinkling of paranormal abilities.

The novel was inspired by the question: “What would life look like without free will?” And, of course, the emotional angst I poured into it. There’s always that, too.

POSSESSION starts in medias res, throwing us right in the action. Can you give us a little more detail about what Vi's world is like and how it got that way?

Okay, I might have had to Google that. I actually think POSSESSION starts “slow.” Vi and her match, Zenn, are walking in the park. No explosions, no horse stampedes, no alien abductions. I wanted to give the reader a sense of her first, and her opinion on her society—because she’s not a fan from page one. (That’s something that’s a little different than most other dystopian novels.)

The reason Vi doesn’t like her world is because it’s not a very nice place to live. All citizens are required to clip-in to transmissions each night. They’re told who to marry, what jobs to have, what foods to eat, what clothes to wear. They’re brainwashed, devoid of personality and unable to make their own choices.

Thinkers do all the thinking, so regular people won’t have to. Our world evolved into the world in POSSESSION through paranormal means. I know, I know. I just can’t decide what I’m writing. Paranormal? Yes. Science fiction? Yes. Dystopian? Yes.

Hey, it’s a trifecta of awesome!

I'm going to be extraordinarily selfish and ask this question for me: did you always plan to end the novel in the way that you did?

Don’t feel bad! They people from MTV.com and Publisher’s Weekly asked me this in New York City, too.

The answer is yes, this is exactly how the novel has always ended. When I drafted it, and it came out this way, I sat back and thought, “Wow. That’s perfect.” And it’s been that way ever since. I’m just glad I found an agent and an editor who loved the ending as much as I did (because, believe me, I queried many an agent who didn’t).

Can you tell us a little bit about the process—particularly the timeline—of writing POSSESSION?

I’m a discovery writer, so I drafted POSSESSION in only 17 days in April of 2008. After that, I left it alone while I continued to draft my fingers off. See, at the time I didn’t particularly know how to get a book ready for publication. But I knew how to type.

So I wrote a lot of other books. Seven more, to be exact. It was now December 2008, and my first novel had failed mightily in the query trenches. So I was looking back over my other projects, trying to decide which one to fix up enough to query.

I chose POSSESSION. I revised and rewrote, and revised and rewrote. I sent it to betas. They seemed excited, and I got excited. I perfected my query and put on my bullet-proof vest. I started querying in late April 2009.

I got a lot of requests. But no one leapt out of their slippers to offer. I queried through the summer of 2009. I talked to three agents on the phone—they all wanted revisions. I did revisions two separate times, each time making the book stronger and stronger.

Finally, in November 2009, Michelle Andelman offered, and I accepted. After a couple more rounds of revision, we went out to editors in February 2010. The book sold very quickly, and I’ve been on the roller coaster of lifetime since then.

If your reader could only take away one emotion, theme, or idea from POSSESSION, what would you want it to be?

Oooh, brain bender. Whenever I read POSSESSION, I contemplate my own beliefs and why I believe the way I do. Am I making my own decisions? Or is someone else influencing me? If so, who?


What's the most surprising thing you've learned since becoming a writer?

I think the most surprising thing I’ve learned deals with the huge wide world of social media. I often think to myself that I would never be on twitter, or Facebook, or operate a blog if I wasn’t a writer. I wouldn’t even know those things exist. So it’s surprising that I like them as much as I do.

Beyond the typical—never give up, believe in yourself—what would be the single best advice you'd like to give another writer?

Allow yourself to write badly, so you can figure out how you write best.

What do you think are your strongest and weakest points in writing?

I think I’m pretty good at voice. My characters seem to have a mind of their own, and I just make sure it sounds right on the page.

I’m horrific at setting. It’s something I’m working on, and that my crit partners are always harping on me about.

Thanks for stopping by today, Elana!

Winners of iClue!

We hope you enjoyed playing iClue with us! I know I enjoyed it--I loved teaming up with other authors to write mysteries and to do the #askiClue chats--and to get to know more readers! So, without further ado...

The winner of the 6 autographed books is....

Melissa Wheelock!

Congratulations Melissa! We'll be sending you an email shortly to get your address.

And.....now for the grand prize. The winner of an iPod Touch donated by The Reading Room, loaded with six AMAZING mysteries is...

Jasmine Miller!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Music & Writing

One frequently asked question I tend to get is "What kind of music do you listen to while writing?"

I love music...but I'm not a good music listener. I tend to listen to the same song over and over and over again. I'll never forget how, in the first few months of living with my college roommate, I decided I wanted to learn the words to Bare Naked Ladies' hit single "One Week"--and I listened to it on repeat until I thought she was going to stab me in my sleep.

When in the car or exercising or nearly any other time, I like my music loud and fast. But when writing, I need a rare kind of song that's not too fast and not too slow, that's doesn't distract me but that I don't completely ignore, that's not too loud or too soft.

I need a Goldilocks song.

While working on edits for A MILLION SUNS, I have come up with a small collection of songs that are perfect. And I just listen to them over and over and over again. Over the last few weeks I've developed a playlist of 10 songs that I listen to on repeat. Proof:

Heh. Yeah. That's 400 plays of "Forbidden Friendship" from the How to Train Your Dragon soundtrack. It's more than double the listens of most of the other songs because for a couple of weeks, that's the only song I was listening to--that song on repeat all day.

It would drive most people crazy, I think, to listen to the same thing over and over, but I like it for writing. I get in a zone where I forget about the music, and the repetitive music helps me stay in the zone. Occasionally I'll write while listening to the radio or Pandora, but every once in awhile, they'll play just a terrible song that I hate, or something that clashes and it'll break my concentration.

In truth, I'm a little envious of the writers who actually have a cool playlist. I see lots of (cooler) writers who post these playlists with AMAZING songs that perfectly hit the mood of the book. I know some writers who won't start writing until they've picked out individual songs for each of their characters or made a book playlist. For them, the songs create a mood that fits the books. These people are so much cooler than me. I'm just going to be jamming away to the same songs on repeat in the corner ;)

PS: I feel the need to explain that "Across the Universe" by the Beatles has such a low number of plays because this is my A MILLION SUNS song list. For ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, I had over 800 plays of the song. :P

Sunday, May 22, 2011


It's about to get all shades of steamy up in here.

So... occasionally I read a romance novel. I say "occasionally" not because I think it's shameful to read romance novels--after all, my mom reads little else--but because I don't want to lose my street cred as the writer who would rather (literally) blow up her character than have a kissing scene.

But every once in awhile, I find myself not wanting death and destruction with a healthy handful of zombies or killer unicorns or dragons thrown in. Every once in awhile I'd like a bodice-ripper. (Or, as the very old lady at my church put it: "thigh warmers". It took a full minute for me to figure out what she meant by that term, and I nearly choked at the pot luck when it finally hit me.)

Anyway, last night I started NINE RULES TO BREAK WHEN ROMANCING A RAKE--so far a clever title by the author of the YA novel THE SEASON, Sarah MacLean.

One scene stood out to me. In in, Callie has asked for a kiss from Ralston, a playboy rake. They brush lips, barely, and Callie says she's satisfied with such a kiss.

His lips curved at her ear as he spoke... "Kisses should not leave you satisfied."  [Insert Very Hot and Steamy Kiss Here, a Kiss so Passionate it Leaves Callie Breathless. Ralston then says:] "They should leave you wanting."

Okay, first? HOT.  Second: isn't that what a good novel should do? Maybe it's because I've got the ending of Hitchcock's THE BIRDS on the brain (my topic at the League today) or maybe it's because I'm already starting to think about the end of my own trilogy, but I think there's a very important lesson in this scene.

A good story leaves you satisfied. It makes you close the book with a happy sigh. All is well, the heroes have won (or lost nobly) and it is over and you're happy.

But...a great story leaves you wanting more.

A great story makes you want to write fan fic. It makes you want to live in Hogwarts, it makes you go looking in wardrobes for Narnia, it makes you jump on your broom while sweeping and pretend to fly, it makes you flick your pencil like a wand, it makes you want more. A great story will bring you to the bookstore at midnight for the sequel. A great story will make you dream of it at night after you close the book and leave it on the nightstand.

A great story should leave you wanting.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Live-Blogging! Edit Version

I have edits due. Soon. And while I've been plugging away like a good little writer, I've noticed in the last two or three days that my productivity has....fallen. Drastically.

I think the answer to WHY my productivity on edits has fallen can probably be found in this video, but I kept getting distracted by the awesome British accent and therefore didn't learn a thing.

So anyway, the husband has the guys over for boy's night (read: bacon-wrapped-hotdogs, beer, XBox, Risk) and, as I usually do during boy's night, I have holed myself up in my office. With my laptop. And coffee. And I'm going to stare at these edits until either they're done, or my eyes bleed. And while I do it, I'm going to live-blog.

If you don't know what I mean by live-blogging, then check here first (with links to more live-blogging sessions in that post). Basically, my biggest distraction from doing work is the internet. So, when I really need to focus, I live-blog: I work on my book, and when I get tempted to play online, I start off by logging my time here--and then I usually guilt myself into not really slacking off.

How will it go? Stay tuned to find out!


8:45pm: 1st cup of coffee. I'm a little worried about how this is going to go, btw, because I mowed the lawn and have allergies now and I'm already feeling blargy.

8:51: And I immediately got distracted by blogs...

8:57: Put my mitts on. STUFF JUST GOT REAL, Y'ALL.

9:01: Had to Google Image "stoop." Because...while I used the word, I realized I actually don't know what one is...

9:03: In researching stoops, I found this. That's rather stupid, no? I mean, don't you always need steps? Why even have this? I guess maybe it's not real steps...but. I don't get it.

9:09: Woot! Edited...three whole pages. So...uh...that's 3 pages in over 20 minutes. Hrm. Not good.

9:15: Hello Failbook. Oh, WAIT. *ducks head* *goes back to editing*


9:42: THIS is what has been distracting me!!!

THIS is what distracted me!!! See the wording on the picture? DISTRICT 12. As in...THE HUNGER GAMES! They're filming in the town I used to work in, and my friend Laura snapped this picture. I am now plotting on a time/day I can go stalk the set  stroll around casually STALK THE SET.

9:54: ...annnnd back to work.

10:00: OK, seriously this time, back to work.

10:10: I love it when my editor makes a note about how much she likes a certain scene. :)

10:32: Got distracted when getting another drink. The boys are watching HUMAN CENTIPEDE. There's no hope for them.

10:33: YAY! I finally got the email all the other authors are getting that says, basically "I'm your biggest fan, now can you please send me a free signed copy of your book?" I feel like I'm in the cool club! ;)

(In related news, if you'd like a signed book, you can order one here. But...uh...I can't afford to just pass them out like candy. Them suckers get expensive over time.)

10:57: DUDE. I've gotten so distracted!!! But I found this awesome Etsy shop--and in particular, this item--and...*sigh* I told you the internet was my distraction!

11:23: Crap. Yeah. Getting offline....NOW.

11:30: Back online. But for legitimate research purposes! Researching...a toilet. (Seriously)

12:06: See? This is the dangers of researching toilets. One things leads to another and a half hour has passed and *sigh*. Internet, you are evil.

12:26: INTERNET YOU ARE EVIL. *disconnect*

12:35: Nearly 20 pages edited! Woot!

12:43: It's the little words that make me stumble. It's dithering between "viciously" or some other adverb that leads me away from the document. If I can't decide immediately on whether or not to change (or in what way to change) the manuscript, I trip off to the interwebs.

1:10: Oh, hello WALL. Let me just go ahead and CRASH into you.

1:36: I think I've got a way to insert this particular scene from one chapter into another, but... *I feel like I'm playing Operation*

2:10: I'm at the 150 page mark in the manuscript--not bad, but not great. Still, more than I'd done in one sitting before!!

2:17: Yup, I'm calling it a night. Sort of. I'm going to take off to watch Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS--it's for research, I swear!

PS: Comments are greatly welcomed and fill me with joy!

Friday, May 20, 2011

An Online Presence

The other day I did something SHOCKING and STRANGE.

I bought a book.

"That's not shocking and strange!" you might exclaim.

Well, true. It's not. Especially for me. But here's the kicker: I bought a book written by an author I had never heard of. This author had NO blog, NO Twitter, NO Facebook. NOTHING.

Does your face look like that when I say I bought a book from someone with no online presence?

Probably not.

Because chances are, you have, too.

How many times have you gone into a bookstore or logged onto Amazon and just picked up a book not for the author's name, but because the book looked interested? Most people buy books that way.

I bring this up because I was lurking in the background of a YALitChat recently, and saw several people ask variations of the same question: how many followers do I need to have on my blog before an agent or publisher will notice me?

The answer to that question is simple: none.

Calm down. CALM DOWN. A blog, or Twitter, or Facebook are not a book. An agent will not sign you because of your blog. A publisher will not pay you an advance because of your online presence. They want a book.

"But!" some of you say, "But! They might want me more if I have a book and an online presence!"

Maybe. I can honestly say that I've bought some books only because I knew the author through her online presence first. And we all know of stories where someone was "discovered" because of her blog (or whatever). But chances are, that's not the reason why you'll be found. Sorry. But, statistically, MANY more writers are "discovered" because their book is good, not because of their online platform. (And wouldn't you rather be known as the writer with the amazing book, rather than the writer with the blog?)

You want a number? Okay, how about this: Hyperbole and a Half started out as a blog, and the author recently announced she had a book deal. This is a case where I'd be willing to bet money that the blog had an impact on the book deal. You want to know how many followers Hyperbole and a Half has? 52,555. Fifty-two thousand, five hundred and fifty five. So, sure. Get that many followers and you've something significant.

(Honestly, though? Hyperbole and a Half still doesn't have a book deal because she has over 50k followers on her blog. She has a book deal for the same reason she has over 50k followers: because her work is effing hilarious.)

Long story short? Numbers don't matter.

Think about the analogy I gave above. Think about yourself when you go into a bookstore. Don't you usually buy a book because the book looks good, not because you know the author online?

Yes, online social media can help. But you should do it because you like it, and you should do it in such a way that writing always comes first. You never have to apologize for not being a good blogger, or for not even having a blog. In the end, never forget: the book sells the book. Not the online media. And for you aspiring authors, the same principle applies: your book will land you an agent and a book deal. Not your blog.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tonight! Mundie Moms Chat!

Just a friendly reminder that TONIGHT at 9pm EST, I'll be chatting with Mundie Moms LIVE. Details are here, but please stop by and ask me anything you like!

PS: I'll be giving away a SIGNED copy of the book--open internationally!

Bookanista Feature: Neil Gaiman's ANANSI BOYS (narrated by Lenny Henry)

I'm going to do something a tad different for this Bookanista review: I'm reviewing the audiobook version.

First let me explain: I LOVE AUDIOBOOKS. Which goes well with another deep-seated feeling I have: I HATE HOUSEWORK. So, I usually let the housework pile up until we're out of clean dishes and can no longer find the floor. Then I take a day and do all the house cleaning stuff all at once.

That's where audiobooks come in: I listen to audiobooks while doing housework, and it makes the housework not quite as painful. In fact, the mark of a good audiobook is one where I will voluntarily do household chores so I can keep listening.

ANANSI BOYS by Neil Gaiman kept me washing dishes, vacuuming, mowing the lawn, and even--gasp!--dusting. It's that good.

About the book: This book is strange. And I mean that in the best possible way--and fans of Neil Gaiman (who have all probably already read this book) will be happy to know that the unexpected, at times eerie, at times comical is strong in this novel, too. Briefly, ANANSI BOYS is about the sons of the African god Anansi, the spider god who owns all the stories. When Charlie Nancy's father dies, he discovers not only that his father was a spider god, but that he has a brother who inherited the powers of their father--and who's stopping in for a visit that will ruin change Charlie's life forever.

Cool, right? You can see why I wanted to know this story!

About the audiobook: But here's why I'm featuring the audiobook version of this book specifically: the narrator, Lenny Henry, was perfect for the role. Typically Gaiman narrates his own audiobooks--in fact, I bought ANASI BOYS as my first Gaiman audiobook expecting Gaiman to be the narrator specifically. I was a little disappointed to find that Lenny Henry narrated instead.

But I was quickly in love with this voice actor! He had the perfect accent for each of the characters, and his voice made them each pop in a magical way. I found Jaguar's voice in particularly to be brilliant, especially when compared to Graham Coates.

The voice narration added a whole new layer of depth to the book. Henry's voices were not the voice that I'd have used in my mind--instead, they were better. Individual words stood out, tones were nuanced. I cannot say enough how perfect this narrator was for this book.

If you'd like to try out this or other audiobooks, I'm a big fan of Audible.com--a monthly subscription service where you can get a new audiobook a month or buy audiobooks at a discount.

If you'd like to see what the other Bookanistas have been reading, check it out below!

Elana Johnson marvels at Moonglass
Christine Fonseca  raves about It’s Raining Cupcakes
Shelli Johannes-Wells  chats with Pure and The Summer of Firsts & Lasts author Terra McEvaoy
LiLa Roecker  and Carrie Harris have a passion for Possession
Beth Revis admires the audiobook of Anansi Boys
Carolina Valdez Miller is giddy over Moonglass – with giveaway
Megan Miranda  swoons over Strings Attached
Shana Silver delves into Divergent
Sarah Frances Hardy gabs about Gossip from the Girls Room
Matt Blackstone is tantalized by Bad Taste in Boys
Stasia Ward Kehoe  glories in a guestanista review of The Rendering

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Doing It Justice (Wherein I Fangirl at Laini Taylor)

Yesterday I talked about Story (with a capital S) and it turned into a wibbly-wobbly sort of explanation. Then, of course, I went to two--yes, TWO!--different blogs who both said it better than me:

So yes: go read these two ladies, especially if you're either in the first draft or the revising stage of a novel.

Something in Laini's post really struck a chord with me:

Big Things. Big Ideas. Big Plot. Back when I was brainstorming it and plotting (in the fall) I had a "OHMYGODTHAT'SSOCOOL!" brainwave that made the whole thing click into place, and now I am upon that thing! Yay!

But also: Oh! Now I have to do it justice. *knuckle chew nail bite*

I know exactly what she means by this. When I came up with the idea for Across the Universe, it really felt like a Big Idea--and my task really was to do it justice. Even as I was writing, I was conscious that I needed to push myself harder, find the right words, make everything about the novel just sing so I could do the story and the characters justice.

In the end, I was able to look at Across the Universe and know I'd given it my level best. If I hadn't done the Story justice, it wasn't from lack of trying.

I think that's why I struggled so hard with A Million Suns. I had the Big Idea--and I have cackled often when people tell me their guesses for the sequel because I think I've thrown a real shocker in there. But I was also conscious of the idea that I not only had to do the Story justice--I also had to do you justice. I definitely had a much more present idea of who my audience was, and a desire to make you happy with the sequel.

Laini also said something else in her post that's highly relevant:
Sometimes stories just "happen" and you hear writers talking about "taking dictation" etc as if a muse is speaking it straight into their brains or whatever. Ignore those writers. They will just drive you crazy. The huge majority of the time, we have to make our stories happen.
When I read this, my exact response was yes. YES. Because 90% of the time, it's the work that has to happen. And I can honestly say that A Million Suns was much more work than Across the Universe--but also just as worth it.

Ah! Well, that's me, being all verbose about writing! Enough philosophy: let's look at pretty pictures!

Lookit! LOOKIT! It's the German cover of Across the Universe--titled as Godspeed--The Journey Begins. Such a fitting title! What do you think?? And, if you happen to want a German edition of the book, you can pre-order it here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Story Comes First

So I'm working on edits right now.



If you've noticed that posting has been scanty lately, that's why! Everything is currently on hold while I zero in on the manuscript of A MILLION SUNS and try to get it right. That means: house = filthy, dogs = dissatisfied that I'm not throwing any balls, husband = sadly neglected and poorly fed, personal hygiene = questionable.


Not too long ago, I was talking with another author about edits. Basically, most people get three rounds of edits with a manuscript (at least):

  • Edit Letter = broad, general changes to make to the story. This comes as a letter with suggestions on what to change. For example: "introduce Character Y earlier," or "strengthen the subplot with Character B," or "make the pace faster in the first hundred pages."
  • Line Edits = comments about specific lines in the text. Changes could be broad: "explain the motivation for the character in this scene" or specific: "make these sentences shorter and change these words."
  • Copy Edits = grammar and continuity, other housekeeping details. 

In talking with this author, I told her that the part I found the easiest was copy edits. Grammar is something I understand well, so usually as I go through the copy edits, I'm either hitting myself on the head for letting something slip, or I'm breaking out my MLA handbook and arguing that the comma should stay in the picture.

But this other author told me that she found copy edits to be excruciating--she questions each word change, and worries about whether the sentence will flow rhythmically still.

I admire that, I do. And her books are lyrically beautiful and poignant and show the level of care that she takes with each and every word on the page.

I'm at the line edit stage right now, and--for the most part--I'm pretty quick to accept changes in word choice and rewrite sentences, and I'm fairly certain that when I get to copy edits, I'll be even quicker on that. The thing is--with a few exceptional cases--I care more about the story than about the words.

Caveat: I'm not saying either of us are wrong--the other writers books are brilliant and among my favorite works published today.

But for me: the words are the frame for the story. Story is an intangible thing that I can't describe. You know that feeling you get at the end of a good book? That satisfied, happy feeling you get? Maybe it was tragic and you've got tears on your face, or maybe it was funny and you're still wearing a smile, but the point is: when you close that book, you've got a feeling inside of you that wasn't there before?

That's Story. And that's the thing that doesn't change.

(I feel as if I'm explaining Story in the same way Doctor Who explains time:)

Words are part of Story. The author I'm talking about weaves words like gilded thread in a tapestry. But I'm much more focused on the ball of emotion that lies in the back of your throat when you close a book than the words that will get you there.

I couldn't have put this in words a year ago. I don't think I'm doing a good job of putting it in words right now. But I think this focus on Story is what has effected my writing style more than anything else. I am quick to cut and quick to rewrite--I will chop up chapters and character and shuffle them around and hack mercilessly at the manuscript. I have beautiful words sometimes, and I hate to see them go. There's a scene I just cut in my manuscript, actually, that I thought--and still think--is pretty writing. But it slowed the Story. So I hacked it out.

I just sent an email to someone who mentioned that she liked the story of how my Chapter 1 of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was originally Chapter 4 (hi Liza!). And I'm working now on my fourth draft of A MILLION SUNS, and I honestly think that about 90% of the words have changed from draft to draft. If you held up draft 1 to draft 4, there's almost nothing the same, word-wise. Character, plot, scenes--all of that changed drastically.

But the Story didn't change--other than that it was enhanced with each cut, each rewrite, each new word.

I don't quite know what point I was trying to make with this post. But I'll wrap it up with this: for me, as a writer, the beating heart of the book is the Story. Everything around it--the individual words, the characters, the plot, the setting, everything--all of it serves the Story. So, if you're editing, don't get lost in the words. Don't get tangled up characters or drowned by plot. Focus on Story.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cows in Space?!

I think most sci fi writers might not care about National Cow Week, but when Mercy emailed me to tell me of this event (more info here), my first thought was: AWESOME! My book has lots to do with cows!

And while yes, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is a sci fi, and yes, it does take place on a space ship...it also does have a lot to do with cows. Because while Godspeed is a space ship, it's a generation space ship, a special kind of ship that allows generation after generation to live on the ship. It is, essentially, a bio dome.

And there are cows.

I actually thought about this, and made sure to include cows in the ship. See, I'm from the country. And there are a lot of cows here. In fact, on my first day of teaching at the school where I used to work, I was taken for a tour of the cow pastures.

I even mentioned cows in my author video :)

For a peek at the cows that reside on Godspeed, here's a little excerpt:

I slow down when I see the cows up close.

They’re not normal cows.

I haven’t, you know, grown up on a farm or anything, but still, I know what a cow is supposed to look like. And these cows—well, clearly they’re supposed to be cows, but I’ve never seen any cow like these before.

For one thing, they’re shorter. A lot shorter. Their heads barely reach my shoulder. The males have horns like cows are supposed to have horns, but they’re mushroom shaped and blunted, not because they’ve been cut off, but because they’ve grown that way.

They seem as curious about me as I am about them. I stop at the fence and lean over it, panting and sweaty, and a few of the cows wobble in my direction. They have more muscle on them than normal cows, meat bulging under their hides, making them bowlegged and slow. They chew on cud in even, measured movements, smacking a little each time, releasing a whiff of dirt and grass that almost reminds me of home.

One of them moos, but it’s not a regular moo; it ends with a squeal like a pig. Moo-uh-eeee!

I back away from the fence.

The cow-pig-things watch me as I go, their silent big brown eyes somehow ominous.

Hurrah for cows! Even genetically-altered cows on a creepy space ship!


Thanks to everyone for participating in my Charity vs. Zombies contest! I turned to Random.org, and the winner is...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Last night was pretty scary.

Just as we were going to bed, the whole house lit up with lightning--it was as bright as day for several seconds. I rushed to the door and called the dogs inside. Just in time--moments later, hail and thunder and lightning rained down on us--hard. The power flickered, then died. Lightning lit up the sky--well over a dozen lightning bolts a minute--and the sky turned strange colors--pink, beige, a weird bright blue-green color. My husband and I listened for tornadoes; we made a hasty plan for shelter.

The storm lasted over an hour. In the end, several power lines broke and poles snapped. Dozens of trees fell. And tragedy struck.

It was a bad storm--and yet, tiny compared to the damage in Alabama and other parts of the south. Compared to Japan. Compared to other disasters around the world.

My previous post is also on the storms and what we can do to help. I was going to post something different today. But, given the weird blue-green sky in the middle of the night and lightning that is both beautiful and terrifying, and twins who will never graduate...well, I figured it was worth it to spend one more day not forgetting the terror of nature and the mercy of humans.

And don't forget: if you can, help out the victims.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Charities vs. Zombies

There's a lot of suck in the world. Storms and tsunamis and disease and lots of other sucky things that we just can't help.

But fortunately, there's a lot more good people than sucky things. I've been continuously amazed at how a tragedy leads to an outpouring of love and aid and goodwill, and the writing community is no different. So, today I want to call your attention to some charities and goodwill things happening online--and then I want to challenge you to do good--and then I'm going to link it all to zombies and a giveaway (really!).

The storms in the Southern US recently were devastating. It's sad enough when one person loses his home--but when the entire neighborhood is homeless? The entire city flooded? Great swaths of a state left eradicated?

There are currently two auctions online that seek to aid these areas specifically. Help Write Now is in full swing, and while some auctions are closed, there are more opening every day, and they are truly brilliant auctions indeed! Marketing plans, agent referrals, signed books and swag, critiques--it's a plethora of writing goodies that you wouldn't believe!

Coming soon is All 4 Alabama, another auction site dedicated to bringing as much aid as possible to a specific area. Auctions at this site will open soon, but for now they need the most help spreading the word.

Not only that, but you can also donate by just making a regular ol' book purchase:
Thanks to author Lindsey Leavitt, you can buy books AND support relief efforts!

Between May 7th-14th, use code bookfair #1048605 when making a Barnes and Noble purchase online or in store. 10% of sales using this code will go to the United Way's West Alabama chapter to help tornado relief efforts.

If we raise over $2500, the percentage goes up to 15%; if we raise $10,000, the percentage is 20%!
On a more personal level, TLC Auctions is seeking to aid two specific individuals:  Daniel, a father who was wounded in a hunting accident, and Kaylea, a young girl with leukemia. The auctions will extend throughout the month of May, and so far the items up for grabs have been going for a steal of a deal.

If you'd like to donate books instead of money, there are two very worthy charitable donations set up.

The first is being run by Guys Lit Wire. Ballou High School needs books. The shelves aren't empty, but they aren't full, either. According to the site:
So there was barely one book for each student (the ALA standard is 11:1). ...what struck me in all the efforts to help is what always hits me - people send books they have (publishers do the same) which is lovely, but not necessarily the books that the school needs or, most importantly of all, the students want. That’s where we come in and why we keep doing this, and loving it, every single year.
Over on Guys Lit Wire, they've organized a whole wish list of books. Scrolling through it, I found some recent ones (like, *cough* mine) and classics that I, personally, found inspiring as a kid: A Wrinkle in Time, The Giver, and more. I challenge you to look at the list and not find a book that you would put in the hands of a kid if you could...because when you find that book you loved when you were young, or the hot new title you yourself have been longing for, how can you not do the simple thing of sending it to a library that desperately wants that exact title?

And speaking of books that people want, have you heard of RAK? Random Acts of Kindness is run by Book Soulmates, a blog that hosts RAK. Basically, if someone really wants a certain book, they list the book they wish they had. Then anyone who wants to can see the list and do a random act of kindness by sending the book to the person who wishes they had it. You can see the wish list and more info on the project here.

So, as you can see, there's lots of different ways to do something good--auctions to bid on, charities to donate to, books to share with students and bloggers--tons of ways to make the world a better place.

So, today, I want to challenge you: Do something good. It can be anything you like--one of the auctions or charities I've listed here, or do something on your own. Help a neighbor out. Spread the word about the charities. Heck, just smile at someone. There's a lot of suck in the world. I challenge you to make a conscious effort to do at least one thing today to decrease world suck.

Here's my theory: The thing that separates the good people from the zombies is the ability to do good (as opposed to eating brains). And the reason why I bring up zombies is because in order to encourage you to make an effort to decrease world suck today, I'm going to be giving away a signed copy of Carrie Ryan's latest novel, THE DARK AND HOLLOW PLACES.

Want to prevent the world from becoming a Dark and Hollow Place? (see what I did there?) Want to prove that you're not a zombie? Do one good thing today. Not just a typical thing you do every day anyway--go out of your way to do one extra good thing toady.

And when you do, sign up here.

Giveaway details:

  • Open internationally
  • Sign up by Sunday, May 15th
  • Winner announced Monday, May 16th 
  • One entry per person
  • You must be at least 13 years old to enter
  • You don't have to tell me your good deed. I trust you. It's all good.
  • I'd take it as a kindness if you'd help spread the word on this.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bookanista Feature: PJ Hoover's SOLSTICE

You can go ahead and be jealous of me now--I got a chance to read SOLSTICE as a beta reader, and thus already got to experience the awesome world of Piper and her two hot leading men!

But luckily for you, this ebook is going to be available THIS MONTH.

That's right--ebook. PJ Hoover is represented by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency,  and "SOLSTICE is the first front-list novel to be independently published by an Andrea Brown Literary Agency author. SOLSTICE will be available on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords in May." This is a really neat idea, to release a book independently online. I know I, for one, am going to be keeping a close eye on SOLSTICE's success!

While the novel itself isn't released yet, here's the video trailer to whet your appetite:

My favorite part? I love the tagline: "Where mythology and dystopia meet." That's just brilliant.

And also, I wanted to draw your attention to that cover. Isn't it beautiful? I love the decoration on the "O" in SOLSTICE (I'm a sucker for that sort of thing), but the really interesting part to me is the dried, cracked earth on the bottom of the cover. The top part of the cover represents the mythological world; the bottom reminds us of the dystopian world. It all blends nicely with the solar flares in a way that ties the whole cover together, bringing together two seemingly disparate ideas in one unified picture. Very very cool.

You can find extras on the novel, including the first five chapters and a very cool card game, by clicking here. A Q&A about SOLSTICE (love the reason the setting is in Austin!) can be found here.

Find out what the other Bookanistas are raving about here!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Linkspam: Places to Go Other than HERE!

Today I'm directing you to other places! YAY!

  • Go HERE to read the first two chapters of Elana Johnson's book, POSSESSION. Click it. Go on. You know you want to. 
  • Go HERE to read the first chapters of Nova Ren Suma's book, IMAGINARY GIRLS. Also very clickable.
  • Go HERE to see the latest YA auction for charity--Help Write Now, in support of the victims of the storms in the South. As a Southerner, this charity is especially close to my heart. You should start watching is NOW as there are some very big names coming up in the auctions. Also: every single person who bids on my auction will get a prize. Every. Single. One.
  • Go HERE to watch a video about how your good taste makes you think your own work sucks, and how that's okay. This was pretty cool.
  • Go HERE to show your love for Southern Independent Booksellers.
  • Go HERE to see MTV's pick for Tuesday in its Dystopian Week (hint: it's ACROSS THE UNIVERSE! Squee!)
  • Go HERE to check out the schedule for the new Smart Chicks Kick It Tour. Oh look at that...two stops have ME. SQUEE!!!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I have for your viewing delight two awesome videos that have both MUSIC and SCI FI! The first also features a cute British boy: here's YouTube sensation Charlie with a new song on Doctor Who:

Second, reader April made a fan video trailer for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE using SIMS characters (wow!) and it is jaw-droppingly cool:

She also made a different one using different music--click here for it.

Thank you so much, April!!!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Fear of the Unknown

Do you watch DOCTOR WHO? If not, please get on that now, kthx.

For those who haven't yet discovered the Doctor, here's a super brief run-down. Actually--let me let Neil Gaiman tell you about it:

There’s a big blue box. It’s bigger on the inside than the outside. It can go anywhere in space and time, sometimes where it is supposed to go. Something will go wrong, and there’s some bloke called The Doctor who’ll make it all right because he’s awesome. Now sit down, shut up and watch Blink.

Which does pretty much sum up the wonderfulness of this show. A lot of people get intimidated by DOCTOR WHO because there seems to be so much you have to catch up on in order to watch it. Honestly? You could start with last season (the season that starts with Matt Smith) and be fine. Although, like Gaiman, I do think you'd be missing out if you missed the episode entitled "Blink."

So: the short of it is that this show is amazing, and you should definitely watch it.

But that's not my point with today's post. Today, I want to talk about this:

The season opener and the sequel to it aired recently, and I still can't get over how awesome it all was. I'm going to try to not spoil anything because I know several of you don't get BBC or BBCA and have to watch the series on Netflix.

The monster of the week was that ugly mother up above, known as the Silence. And I don't want to tell you what he does...but it's terrifying. Truly scary. I was on the edge of my seat last night, watching the episode, and I truly didn't know what was going to happen next.

DOCTOR WHO is a show that can be funny and tragic at the same time, romantic and adventurous, and, yes, horrifying. The brilliance of the show lies in the way it blends genres--you never know if you're going to get a love story or if by the end of the episode you're going to be curled up on the couch weeping.

But for me, the best episodes are the ones that scare me. That make me afraid to turn around, that make me reach for the light in the middle of the night.

This has got me thinking about what fears us, and what drives a story forward. A story needs a conflict, and when that conflict is something terrifying, the emotions are ramped up even more.

I am working now on a story--it's just an idea, but I'd like to turn it into a book. But while I have an idea for a resolution, I still need a big bad. I've asked many of my friends: "What scares you the most?" And most of the answers have been spiders or public speaking or something like that. I've been brainstorming ideas, and I thought about the reason why the monster on DOCTOR WHO always tend to be so frightening.

It's because they're unknown.

Our most basic fear is the thing that goes bump in the night. We know this as children. We turn the night light on and ask our parents to check under the bed. But when we grow up, we learn to tell ourselves there's nothing there. No monster in the closet, no reason for the nightlight.

DOCTOR WHO goes back to the thing that goes bump in the night. And when you turn the lights on, it shows you the monster you thought wasn't there.

So that's what I'm doing now, as I brainstorm a new book idea. I'm figuring out what's hiding in the dark.