Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Review: Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

Servants of the Storm
by: Delilah S. Dawson
YA Paranormal
Published: August 2014

Goodreads
Do you like the idea of combining Southern Gothic, hurricane aftermath, and abandoned demonic amusement parks? Then this is your bag.

In the year following a hurricane that devastated the city of Savannah, seventeen-year-old Dovey wanders through life in a meaningless fog after watching her best friend Carly get swept up by the storm right before her eyes. Only her fog might not be purely post-traumatic. The mysterious unmarked pills her parents urge her to take every day, and strange sightings--thinking she sees Carly running through the streets--lead her to question what really happened to her best friend.

I loved the Gothic undertones depicting a crumbling and decaying post-storm Savannah, Georgia. The creepy factor is upped further with hints of witchcraft or magic, it's not too clear at the start. Most characters are suspect here, given how Dovey has been in a pharmaceutical haze for the past year, and doesn't know who she can trust. Parts of the mythology reminded me a bit of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, especially how the paranormal world exists within a contemporary "unknowing" world.

And this book gets creepy. People die, and some pretty brutal things go down. There is definitely a horror element here, though in YA you're never really going to get too far in. Still, I was really impressed at the world set up here, and the exploration of the relationships with Dovey, her allegiance to her friend. Add in her school buddy Baker who's by her side no matter what, and the mysterious Isaac, who possibly holds answers to Carly's disappearance, and there's a love triangle that doesn't really feel like a love triangle, in all the best ways.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Take Me On Blitz: Katie McGarry


Release Date: 05/27/14
Harlequin Teen

Summary from Goodreads:
Acclaimed author Katie McGarry returns with the knockout new story of two high school seniors who are about to learn what winning really means.

Champion kickboxer Haley swore she'd never set foot in the ring again after one tragic night. But then the guy she can't stop thinking about accepts a mixed martial arts fight in her honor. Suddenly, Haley has to train West Young. All attitude, West is everything Haley promised herself she'd stay away from. Yet he won't last five seconds in the ring without her help.

West is keeping a big secret from Haley. About who he really is. But helping her-fighting for her-is a shot at redemption. Especially since it's his fault his family is falling apart. He can't change the past, but maybe he can change Haley's future.

Hayley and West have agreed to keep their relationship strictly in the ring. But as an unexpected bond forms between them and attraction mocks their best intentions, they'll face their darkest fears and discover love is worth fighting for.

Excerpt from Take Me On:

She pretends I didn’t speak. “Have you ever wrapped your hands before?”

“None of the fights I’ve been in have included advance notification so I bare-knuckled it.”

“And that,” she says with her best under-eyelash schoolteacher glare, “has to stop. Outside of 

this gym, there are no fights.”

“Hey, I don’t go looking for trouble. It finds me.”

Haley inclines her head at a stool and I sit. “Put your hand up, like this.” She sticks her hand in 

the air, palm down, with spread fingers.

I follow directions and Haley hooks a circle of material at the end of the wrap on my thumb. 

“Do you see the tag?”

I nod.

“It goes faceup. The trick to wrapping is to think in threes.” She winds the material around 

my wrist in layers. “Three up the wrist and then three back down. Tight enough that you create 

tension, loose enough that you don’t cut off circulation and cause your fingers to fall off.”

Haley’s thigh applies pressure to my own and I drop my knee open so she can slide between 

my legs. Every cell within my body hums and, when I breathe in, all I smell is the sweet scent 

of wildflowers. Her fingers work diligently, brushing against my skin as she weaves the material 

around and around again.

The seriousness of her face tells me she has no idea how close she is. How with each caress of 

her fingertips, I go up in flames.



Available from:
 photo 9F3EE1AE-B1F5-45EB-87E4-5D28630C7FC5-7157-000003FF9121E113.jpg  photo 6682AA0B-74D4-4387-95A5-8FF5F06129C8-7157-000003FF90EF4A11.jpg  photo kobobuyicon_zpsb933c957.png  photo C5192E77-11AB-4F0C-A100-1152CA3C5DBB-7157-000003FF90C02846.jpg  photo A2DA65FC-B90B-467F-AF60-4D7E604A5611-7157-000003FF907102DD.jpg  photo bookdepositorybutton_zps03c7c0bd.jpg

Books in the series:
(covers linked to Goodreads)
 photo pushingthelimits_zps8c06f01f.jpg  photo dareyouto_zps7e2247a9.jpg  photo crashintoyou_zpsba4a938d.jpg  photo takemeon_zps1c41c15a.jpg  photo BreakingtheRules_zps17a89236.jpg

About the Author
KATIE MCGARRY was a teenager during the age of grunge and boy bands and remembers those years as the best and worst of her life. She is a lover of music, happy endings, and reality television, and is a secret University of Kentucky basketball fan.

Katie would love to hear from her readers. Contact her via her website, katielmcgarry.com, follow her on Twitter @KatieMcGarry, or become a fan on Facebook and Goodreads.

Author Links:
 photo iconwebsite-32x32_zps1f477f69.png  photo icongoodreads32_zps60f83491.png  photo icontwitter-32x32_zpsae13e2b2.png  photo iconfacebook-32x32_zps64a79d4a.png

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Review: SEKRET by Lindsay Smith

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Image: Goodreads
SEKRET
By: Lindsay Smith
YA Historical/Paranormal
Published: April 2014

Psychic Russian teen spies. Do you need any more than this? The premise of SEKRET, set in early 1960s Cold War Russia, intrigued me from the start. Yulia is recruited by force by the KGB for her capability to read minds, joining a small group of other teens with similar mind-manipulating abilities. Only, of course, not all is as it seems! Yulia's  father disappeared prior to the story, and her mother and brother are taken right before Yulia is taken in with the KGB. She has quite a bit to uncover with her own family, as well as whether she can trust her fellow students.

I really liked the historical factors which blended actual history with embellished psychic abilities, making this more like a speculative, alternate history, which is really exciting to see in Young Adult. Kind of like a YA spin on the TV show The Americans (though this story actually takes place in Russia).

The love story subplot reads a little clunky, but overall the tension from love interests adds to the story's stakes, so it works. If you're looking for a different read with a bit of suspense, a unique setting, and historical details, SEKRET is a fresh read.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Pitch Wars Thoughts and Experiences ... So Far

This is my first time as a mentor with Pitch Wars, the writer-mentors-writer project and contest Brenda Drake hosts on her blog. Check it out here.

Check out my Pitch Wars mentee Dawn on twitter here @norman99
and alternate Adrianne here @writersrepublic


Pitch Wars

I wanted to put together thoughts on what I experienced in my brief stint as pseudo-agent, when potential mentees submitted a query and first chapter to me. The goal being to help the chosen writer prepare their manuscript, pitch, and query letter for the agent round, and for querying beyond that.

You Are All Awesome

Overall, I was super impressed by the quality coming through. So much variety, and so many great stories. I could only choose one writer to mentor, plus an alternate.

I posted on my bio I was mainly looking for Young Adult contemporary since that is what I read and have most of my writing familiarity with. And the entrants delivered! I received mostly contemporary stories, with a few fantasy thrown in based on my request for Magical Realism (more on that later), and a number of YA with suspense or mystery elements, which I also said I would like, plus a few other random subgenres. I based these category preferences on what the agents in our agent round are looking for. No sense in saying I would love to read a vampire mermaid Cinderella retelling if no one in publishing is in the market for that.

Anything I discuss in this post, I saw examples of more than once. I am not singling out any one manuscript or any one writer. These were common occurrences.

Queries



Let me just say this: queries are difficult. They are this weird, extremely specific piece of persuasive writing that is not at all something you just whip up and call it a day. If you want to be successful in pitching to professionals in publishing, this is one aspect that pays to do your homework. The beauty of Pitch Wars is that's what the mentors are here for: to help with queries.

Limit how much you talk about yourself

Most writers had the basic formula down (think cover letter for a job), though some spent half or more of the query discussing themselves as a writer, their story inspiration, their love of books, etc, rather than the story. A few lines is all you need about yourself, primarily limited to writing credentials. When I first drafted a query, I had no writing credentials. I wrote that I was a member of SCBWI and later RWA. That was it, and it worked just fine.

Know your wordcount

I didn't see anything outlandish on wordcount, though a handful were on the very low end or very high end, which I commented on. The industry has guidelines for wordcount per genre. Yes, there are exceptions, though as a debut author trying to break into traditional publishing, it is to your advantage to stay within these parameters. If your pages are amazing and wonderful for your romantic contemporary YA at 120k words, an agent *might* respond anyway. They are inevitably going to ask you to cut that down to 90k or lower. This is reality.

Know your genre

We can debate nuances of subgenres all day. A few I received challenged the conventional norms of YA, and in each of those I appreciate the story and what the author was attempting, I advised to reconsider genre because I knew agents would question it. It had nothing to do with the quality of their story, but more that agents and editors have expectations for what they pitch to publishers.

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Goodreads
Magical Realism. My agent loves this subgenre and I've seen her tweet numerous times about what this genre is, comparative novel examples, and she still receives subs for high fantasy and paranormal thinking they fit in this category. Magical Realism is very subtle unexplained things, or very light magical occurrences that are often not fully explained. Sarah Addison Allen writes them, Like Water For Chocolate is one, and so is Nova Ren Suma's Imaginary Girls.


Again, it's not that I'm picky, is that when you label a story this way and send it to an agent who expects this, and they see something else, it's an easy reason to reject without even reading. You could have a great story, but your portal world with a magic race of fairy elves pitched as Magical Realism might get an auto-reject based on wrong genre alone.

When in doubt, ask! That's what twitter, blogs, writer friends, Absolute Write, and teh Internetz are for.

Resist the urge to be vague

Red flag anytime you see a cliche in a query. Or generic description that could be anybody's book, Cliches aren't so welcome in manuscripts, but they are even more glaring in a query. Lives "spiraling out of control" for example. What specifically about the character's life spiraled out of control? More so, what does the character WANT, and what stands in their way?

People say write a query like a back cover blurb. I think this is bad advice. Back cover blurbs often have cliches in them. Once you get to a point where you are working exclusively with an editor or have multi-book contracts, use all the cliches you want. Until then, I'm telling you. Cliche, go away.

Drive the hook home

Some queries had a great set up, and then the final hook .... a character must seek truth. A character must question their being. These are vague with no stakes. It may be true, but you need a bigger, or perhaps, more specific, ending hook. Even if the story is more internally focused, there have to be external factors moving the plot forward or else there's no plot. Get that plot in the query:

Jerrica must stop the Misfits from stealing her band's gear, or else she will be forced to forfeit the talent competition. 

(Thank you Jem and the Holograms for the inspiration). This hook names specific people, a specific action, and a specific result. Sure,  it could be written with a little more pizzazz, but honestly, getting the basics in there is really key.

Not every weak query led to weak pages

Several of my top choices had either vague or not-quite-there queries. Ultimately, I'm going to evaluate a work on the writing, not just the cover letter to the story. So it wasn't always the case that a weak query meant weak writing. Queries are fixable. The point again is, will an agent or editor keep reading? I did because I'm not either of those; I'm a writer helping writers.



First Chapters

Reminder: I am not singling anyone out here: I saw multiple examples of these issues.

Predictable or cliche starts

Beginning a book with a character driving or just arriving somewhere.

Beginning a book with a character waking up, eating breakfast, getting ready, and driving somewhere.

Yes, you can do these things. But should you? Often these scenes had great interaction between characters, showing their personalities or sharing essential information. Sometimes they had characters explaining mundane details, or even explaining plot, right there on the first page.

Strive to do more. Make your opening page engaging with a scene we haven't seen before. Yes, you can have a character wake up and start their day. Take two sentences for that--now what?

Beginning a book with a character staring into space and pondering their life.

Do you want your story, that you've sweat over, cried over, dissed time with your friends and family over, to start out the way so many other stories do?

Resource: Donald Maass Writing the Breakout Novel. Get your characters out of the car, and out of the kitchen.

Disoriented starts

Some pages started out great, and then I found myself backtracking. Who did what now? Wait, who's that guy? Is he the guy who said the thing, or the other guy? A general good rule is to limit how many characters you introduce on the first page; no set rule, but introducing five characters and they are all talking and interacting can be tough to engage with.

There's a sweet spot with starting with action. A chase scene *might* be too much if we don't know who the main character is, what they are running from, and why we should care. Backing up a little to show how the character got there could help show them in a current state before the chase. However, backing all the way up to 7 a.m. and breakfast--probably not needed. Start as close to the action as you can, but not necessarily in the middle of it.

Easy right?

That's why you have your writer friends, and why Writers Digest makes money. We all want to know how to do this book thing better.

I hope everyone who subbed to me stays encouraged and keeps pressing on. This biz isn't easy, but we're here for each other as much as we can be.

Happy editing.






Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fall Writing Bootcamp

Need writing motivation?

The YA Buccaneers are at it again:

Fall Writing Bootcamp runs from September 1 - November 30. Three months of goal setting, encouragement, and weekly check-ins.

Sign up here.




My big goals:

  • Polish up my Nano 2013 novel (in its third-ish draft)
  • Outline my Shiny New Idea 
  • Possibly do Nanowrimo 2014? My Shiny New Idea already has 3k down so maybe not
  • Work with my Pitch Wars mentees (who will be announced at midnight tonight!)
  • Judge contest entries for my RWA chapter

If you're looking to network with other writers and gain some support, I highly recommend joining up and checking in. Happy writing :)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Review: Behind the Scenes: Dahlia Adler

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image: Goodreads
Behind the Scenes
By: Dahlia Adler
YA Contemporary
Published: June 2014

This book has everything: Hollywood, teen TV dramas, prom, and deeper family issues. In Behind the Scenes, Ally's childhood best friend Vanessa is in the Hollywood spotlight, having just been recruited as the lead for a hot new teen soap (think The Vampire Diaries or The O.C. ). Ally, a top student,  may need to sacrifice her Ivy League college dreams after her dad's melanoma diagnosis turns fatal. She picks up a job as her friend's personal assistant where she meets and falls for Vanessa's costar, Liam.

The balance of Hollywood vs. real life felt so realistic here. Seeing, literally, behind the scenes of a TV production with the publicists and paparazzi and the press who skews the truth, makes that whole side of life seem far less glamorous. Ally is a great character because she's loyal to Vanessa, not a TV show. Liam has a great backstory, and his relationship with Ally, with his costars, and his own family are explored and played off of Ally's experience. Lots of conflict that felt realistic despite being set among celebrities and the TV/movie scene.

I recommend this for fans of writers like Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson. A great summer read with that touch of depth from the family issues to provide a really engaging read.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Write Fast, Meet New Writers: Fri. August 15 #ChiWords Write-in + prize!

Photo: Shan Jeniah Burton via WANAcommons
This Friday join Chicago area romance writers for a twitter 1,000 word/1 hour write-in hosted by me!

Details:

From 8:45 pm CST to 10:15 this Friday August 15 join us with the twitter hashtag #Chiwords

You do not need to write romance or be a part of RWA to join. The point is to encourage you to get some wordcount down with the online support of other writers.

Did I hear something about a prize?

There will be a prize. A book of romance fic-leanings from one of the many great books RWA conferences have netted me.


Why Write-ins are Awesome

Last year I joined my first blog accountability group. A group of YA writers decided they wanted to check in with each other weekly, so they did. As simple as that. I've done 3 different check-in challenges over the past year where I set my own weekly goals for writing, revision, critiquing--whatever, and then checked in.

The results: last year I drafted two manuscripts in 4 months. Yup. Two manuscripts. Four months. 

These were first drafts*. One was for Nanowrimo, which has its own built-in word count goals and motivation system, but I don't think I would have attempted Nano last fall if I hadn't had so much progress with my other draft.

Checking in with other writers--whether it's word sprint check-ins on twitter, goals on blogs, or a simple text or phone call to a writer friend--works. Maybe overwhelming to some, but go ahead and try it. You might find you finish more than you would since others are counting on you.

*those unwieldy beasts which will be later dissected and torn apart, but without their existence THERE IS NO BOOK.

Hope to see you this Friday!

#Chiwords sponsored by: Chicago North RWA and Windy City RWA chapters

Additionally, Windy City's Four Seasons contest is currently open to entries through Sept. 30.