The Summer I Became a Nerd-- Cover Reveal!

Nov 30, 2012

Today is the cover reveal for my good friend Leah Miller and her book, The Summer I Became a Nerd!
I totally love this cover.

"On the outside, seventeen-year-old Madelyne Summers looks like your typical blond cheerleader—perky, popular, and dating the star quarterback. But inside, Maddie spends more time agonizing over what will happen in the next issue of her favorite comic book than planning pep rallies with her squad. That she’s a nerd hiding in a popular girl's body isn’t just unknown, it's anti-known. And she needs to keep it that way.

Summer is the only time Maddie lets her real self out to play, but when she slips up and the adorkable guy behind the local comic shop’s counter uncovers her secret, she’s busted. Before she can shake a pom-pom, Maddie’s whisked into Logan’s world of comic conventions, live-action role-playing, and first-person-shooter video games. And she loves it. But the more she denies who she really is, the deeper her lies become…and the more she risks losing Logan forever."

Born and raised in northern Louisiana, Leah Rae Miller still lives there on a windy hill with her husband and kids. She loves comic books, lava lamps, fuzzy socks, and Cherry Coke. She spends most of her days reading things she likes and writing things she hopes other people will like.

This is exactly the kind of contemporary YA I love, and I can't wait to read it! It releases May 7, 2013. You can pre-order at Amazon and BN, or add to your Goodreads list! And keep an eye on Leah's blog, because there will be a Goodreads contest as launch nears.

In Healthy Writer's Club news...all is not going according to plan. Illness, vacations, and Baby Noodles' opinion that sleep is for wimps mean I'm way behind on my half-marathon training schedule. I'm likely going to have to go for a race in the fall. Which is okay. As long as I can get running again-- all I did this week was half an hour of P90X. Someone tell this baby to SLEEP, please!

So, my friends, what do you think of Leah's cover? Are you as excited for the book as I am?

The Hard Truth About Writing: Good is not good enough (but you can be better than good)

Nov 27, 2012

Okay, folks. Today I've got some hard truth. But keep in mind that "hard" doesn't mean "bad"-- so stick with me a bit. I can always find a silver lining. ;)

While working on revisions, I had a conversation with my agent. She mentioned that in a lot of cases, editors are turning down good books they would have picked up not long ago. I joked that I'd better work hard to make my book "much more muchier" (Mad-Hatter-style) so it could really stand out.

And that's it, friends. That's the hard truth. Writing a good book, even writing a really good book, is not good enough. Thanks to wonderful writing blogs, writing books, and writing conferences, with some hard work, anyone can become a good writer. I firmly believe that-- and actually, I firmly believe that's a good thing. It means if we really want this dream, we have the tools to achieve it, no matter who we are. That makes my optimistic little heart happy.

Here's the flip side: it's also an equalizer. If anyone can be a good writer, it's a heck of a lot harder to stand out. It's a heck of a lot harder to get a thumbs-up from an editor/agent. And if you self-publish, it's almost more important. The self-pub market is glutted with a mix of good, mediocre, and terrible. If you want to sell more than a few books, you HAVE to stand out in that crowd. You can't be good. You have to be extraordinary.

So, then. Be extraordinary.

If only it were that simple, right? But you know, I truly believe if we want it bad enough, we CAN be extraordinary. I believe we were designed to be extraordinary. It takes hard work. It takes faith in yourself. It takes sacrifice. And that's what makes it worth it.

Granted, good books and bad books and mediocre books get published every day. Which is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time. Here's how I think of it, though: If I have it in me to be extraordinary, why wouldn't I shoot for it?

So, my friends, don't sell yourself short. Have confidence in yourself and your ability to get better and better every day. Work hard. And be extraordinary. What will you do to be extraordinary today?

Writing Deeper: Turning a Character's Fail into a Win (and Vice Versa)

Nov 20, 2012

I'm lucky enough to have a brilliant and beautiful sister-in-law who is a fellow YA writer. She and I have attended conferences together, swapped stuff to read, and commiserated over writerly things others just don't get. She's author David Farland's assistant, and occasionally does crazy-awesome things like fly to New York just to meet J.K. Rowling. And she had some brilliant insights on my post about try/fail cycles, which I had to share with you all. So here for your reading pleasure is Kami McArthur!

"I had this sudden revelation that a character can succeed and fail at the exact same time, because characters have long and short term goals.

In Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter's main, overarching goal is to find out what Malfoy is up to, which he fails at throughout the book. In Knockturn Alley, Hermione goes to Borgin and Burkes to try to find out what Malfoy wanted fixed and she fails, so it's a fail for the short term goal and the long term one. But on the Hogwarts Express, Harry eavesdrops on Malfoy (short term goal) and succeeds. But he fails to actually find out what he's up to. Maybe that would be considered a "Yes, but"--but in the big picture it's a fail for Harry and a bad fail as he ends up getting his face smashed in.

So sometimes the same event can be a "yes, but" and a "fail" depending on the context.

And there are examples where a failure ends up actually being a success in the long run. Like how Harry failed to break the habit of using Expelliarmus in Deathly Hallows, but the fact that he failed brought him success in destroying Voldemort--since that's the spell he beat him with.

You could play with it and have a character try to succeed at something, and when they succeed they actually realized they failed--that their success, in reality, ruined everything, not fixed it. For example, Snape worked for Voldemort, and therefore against Dumbledore. He overheard part of the prophecy that Professor Trelawney made to Dumbledore, and seeking to help Voldemort, passes along the information, which he would have considered a success. However, at the exact same time, it’s his worst failure, though he won’t realize it until later, because the prophecy results in the death of Lily. When he learns the prophecy might mean Lily’s son, the context changes and his action becomes a fail, especially since he prizes Lily’s life more than Voldemort or the Dark Arts.

You could also have a success and failure at the same time WITH the character’s knowledge of it. I think this one is more common than the last. Like at the end of the movie Dragon Heart you have a success and failure because Draco’s death results in the death of the evil prince (success), but it’s a fail because it also means the death of the dragons. The characters had two goals that conflicted—kill the prince, and save the last dragon.

I think these are different from the “Yes, but…” because the “Yes, but…” means the character succeeded, but now there’s more to it. Like Frodo’s original goal in Lord of the Rings was to take the ring to Rivendell, and eventually he succeeds BUT then he has to take it to the Crack of Doom, which is way worse and more dangerous than the journey to Rivendell, and to top it all off he doesn’t even know how to get there!

I think you could also try to create a double or triple fail (three goals fail by the same action) and then it would be extra devastating and a big blow. Or you could double or triple success by accomplishing multiple goals at once—though, I’m thinking this is usually how many stories end. But you could put something similar somewhere else in your story to twist it up if you wanted."

So, my friends, have you ever tried to take your story deeper by turning a win into a fail? Or vice versa? And hey, if you're on Twitter, do you want to follow Kami? She's looking for more writing buddies. (And as you can see, she's sort of brilliant.)

How to Beef Up a Soggy Middle-- Your Character Must FAIL

Nov 13, 2012

While doing some key revisions on TUGL several months back, I realized something interesting about the middle of my book. Except for a key moment near the climax, my character succeeded at almost everything she attempted. This was not a good thing.

She'd be like, "Gee, I wonder if THIS would work."

And the plot would be like, "Of course. Naturally that works. Let me hand it to you on this silver platter."


I'd thought I was putting some great conflict in the book because there was tension in these scenes. But of course, with my character skipping her way through every challenge, there really wasn't as much conflict as there could have been.

A key part to conflict-- and a proper story structure-- is what is known as a try/fail cycle. Throughout the book, especially throughout that sticky middle section, your character should be trying various things to achieve their goals. And of course, the antagonist should be opposing those goals. Here's the thing with that. If the main character WINS every time they try something, it kills the story. At the climax, there's no tension because we've already seen them beat the antagonist constantly. In a try/fail cycle, the character must FAIL.

Ever seen a Die Hard movie? You know how Bruce Willis always looks like chopped meat by the end? Yeah. That would be the result of a lot of try/fail cycles.

You CAN have the character win occasionally. However, that comes with a caveat. If they win, something else needs to happen to complicate things. So basically, when the question is, "Will my character succeed at this attempt," the answer should be one of two things: "No," or "Yes, BUT..."

Your character should, of course, win at the end. But they need to work for that win. They need to be dirty and wounded and heartbroken and have had to really suffer and DESERVE that win. It should be the result of all those fails-- they've learned enough through all the failure that they can win this time around. By beefing up your middle, you'll make your ending that much more powerful.

So, my friends, is your middle soggy? Do you use try/fail cycles? And do you have a favorite Die Hard movie?

You Will Never Have A Fully Original Idea. And You Will Still Be Awesome.

Nov 9, 2012

It's Friday, which means Healthy Writers Club day. I ran 2 miles this week. Not great, but better than I have been! And I'm planning to do some P90X cardio today since it's raining, so I'm pretty happy with myself. Now, I've decided to only do full posts about HWC once/twice a month, instead of every Friday (depending on varying factors like my mood/the weather/how good I've been at exercising...), so now let's talk about creativity.

I watched a movie with the Hubby recently. It had wizards and witches. It had a troll. It had a magic-ified building. It had a boy named Harry Potter mixed up with these wizards and witches and trolls and cool places to live. This was not, alas, the first Harry Potter movie. It's a show from 1986 called Troll, and it was particularly ghastly for a 1980's film. (The Hubby loves subjecting me to his favorites from the 80's. Were there any good movies made in that decade? ANY? Oh, wait. Terminator...okay, the 80's get a win for that one.)

It would seem the two movies about a boy named Harry Potter have a lot in common. If you actually watch the movies, of course, they are NOTHING alike. And you want another book about a wizard in wizard school? How about Willy the Wizard?

The point? YOU WILL NEVER HAVE AN ORIGINAL IDEA. Even I had a recent panic when agent Sara Megibow recently tweeted about getting a lot of recent submissions dealing with memory-- one of which was mine. It's hard to be writing or have written a book with an idea that you find out has already been played with. But ideas are not what books are about-- they are about STORIES, and stories, as my own awesome agent says, "are bound up in how they are told."

And just this weekend, she tweeted something else: "great writing makes an old idea seem creative and new."

Say it with me, folks: I WILL NEVER HAVE AN ORIGINAL IDEA. I CAN STILL WRITE AWESOME BOOKS. Creativity isn't having a single brilliant idea. Creativity comes in what you do with that idea.

When you have that brilliant idea, how do you make sure you're being creative, and not rewriting what's already been written? Try this: think about the stories that idea could contain. Instead of going with the first story concept that comes to mind, make a list. Create a few stories from the same idea, and pick the one that speaks to you. Then, write it. The writing is where the story will truly become yours, and becoming yours is how it becomes original.

So, my friends, have you ever felt like someone "stole" your idea-- even if they wrote the book first? What was your reaction? How do you stay creative? And do you have a love/hate relationship with 80's movies like I do? 

The Stars Fell Sideways-- Review and Interview with Cassandra Marshall!

Nov 6, 2012

"Alison Arroway takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’. She has to, or she won’t get paid. Alison is a stunt double for pampered teen actress Pomegranate and when the director takes the shoot to Portugal, Alison is anything but thrilled to be rooming with Pom. But getting to hang around teen hearthrob Erik? Now that’s a plus. 

Erik invites both girls on a sunset boat trip and Alison manages to have a decent time. Until the storm hits and the boat is shipwrecked on a small island, leaving Erik missing and the boat captain dead. 

In the morning light, Alison and Pom find themselves on the lost island of Atlantis. Only one problem: now that the girls know the secret of the island, the Atlanteans don’t want them to leave. They're stuck with corsets, full-skirted dresses, and the strange steam-driven contraptions that are just a way of life for the islanders.

When a plot by the ruthless army Captain to take over the island and declare himself General over all emerges, an underground group promises to return the girls to the mainland if they can help stop him. They'll go through a mountain, literally, to find the Book of Blue, a book that will explain how to make ‘the stars fall sideways' in order to save the day and earn their freedom."

I enjoyed this adventure on a (light) steampunkish island of Atlantis. It was a light read, and a quick one-- the pace kept the story moving right along. I wish there had been a little more depth to the characters and the world (I enjoyed the unique people in a unique situation and wanted more!), but overall it was a fun read! You can check it out here.

And now, a few words from author Cassandra Marshall.

What was the spark that started The Stars Fell Sideways?
I'm sad to say I don't remember :( I did a thriller-ish contemporary for NaNo '10, right before writing this, and wanted something completely different. What the spark was though, I have no idea. 

What did you enjoy most (or least!) about writing the book?
I really loved that friends of mine kept bugging me for more pages! Have that sort of accountability was great!

Which of the Atlantean cities in the book would you want to visit most?
I like making things, so I think I'd like to visit Hazzot and see all the things that are unique to the island and how to make them. But I bet Aeddlist has one heck of a view... and Scale does have canaries and I think having a canary would be fun too! 

What are some of your favorite young adult books?
Across The Universe, The Age Of Miracles, Life As We Knew It, The Giver, A Separate Peace, and of course, Harry Potter! 

What has been the most exciting part about choosing the indie publishing route?
Probably sharing the news with my local library! They've been super encouraging and are planning a book launch/signing party for me!

And, just for fun, if you could invite one character from any book/movie to Thanksgiving dinner, who would it be and why?
Hermione Granger! I'd listen to her tell facts and stories about Hogwarts all day long!

And now to you, my friends! What fun books have you read lately?

NaNoWriMo: Don't let the short-term goals get in the way of your long-term goals

Nov 2, 2012

I'm doing NaNo this year! Sort of. I'm actually still putting the finishing touches on my planning, and haven't written a single word yet. Hopefully that will change tonight-- I'm a little nervous about starting off behind.

But not too nervous. I'm using NaNo as a tool, not as an end-game in and of itself. I want to punch out a draft quickly, and NaNo is a great way to encourage that. However, I don't want to turn out a crappy draft-- well, I guess I don't want to turn out a crappier first draft than I have to. I want to make sure I get it as "right" as I can so I don't have to spend extra time in revisions. Basically, I don't want NaNo itself to get in the way of the story, so if I don't "win," I'm okay with that.

NaNo is a short-term goal. Writing this book and writing it well is a long-term one. I don't want the short-term to short-circuit the long-term.

On the Healthy Writers Club front (you can join here!), I'm finding a similar issue. I twisted my ankle earlier this week, and wasn't able to run. I DID walk twice, half a mile each time, so I got some exercise in. But I don't want my short-term goal of running three times a week to get in the way of my long-term goal of running a half-marathon. So I scaled back in order not to injure myself.

So, my friends, are you NaNoing? What are your goals? Did you have a healthy week? And if you are NaNoing, I'd love it if you buddied me! My username is Shallee.

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