Writer Spotlight - Erin LaVallee

Erin LaVallee
Today I'm pleased to introduce Erin LaVallee from Phoenix, Arizona.

Hi Erin!!! Welcome.
1. What manuscript do you have out on submission now?

Hi, Paula!  Thank you so much for having me today.  I truly love my characters and it’s a thrill to have the opportunity to chat about a story I feel so passionate about. 

I'm currently querying my completed 88,000 word manuscript, THE EYES BENEATH, a conglomeration of YA romance and paranormal fiction. Even though this story is set in the present day, it has a historical/costume bent.

2. Give us the three to four sentence pitch.

Sure!  Here are three sentences from my query letter for THE EYES BENEATH:

Poor, independent Cara and rich, emotionally unavailable Grant would seem to have nothing in common—but fate lands Baton Academy seniors Grant and Cara in the same Civil War history class, and soon undeniable feelings ignite between these two unlikely lovers. When a required Civil War reenactment field trip brings Grant and Cara to Oak Alley, the grand old Baton Rouge plantation where a mysterious older gentleman named Milo Harper volunteers, the two soon discover that Milo is actually but the possession vessel for an ancient demon named Alvah, who lures the couple with a private tour to the plantation’s attic, perilously trapping them. However, Cara is no damsel in distress, and she’s determined to find a way to defeat Alvah and save her true love, all the while discovering the destiny her grandmother hinted at years ago.

Awesome!!! As in uber-awesome!! Destiny, demons, Civil War, and true love, what's not to love, right?

3. Would you care to share the opening line or paragraph?

I’d love to, although my opening is the only part of my story told from the antagonist’s POV (gotta love an intriguing bad guy).

Some refer to me as the fallen. 

I choose not to see myself that way. 

For how can one be “fallen” when living on such an indulgent high? 

Fallen are those who succumb to me.

 VERY nice, Erin. I'm totally creeped out and freaked out and...I want more!!!

4. What is your least and most favorite word? Use each in a sentence, writing in the voice of one of your characters from any of your manuscripts.

I have a love/hate relationship with the passive verb was.  In my writing, I make an effort to replace it with an active verb whenever possible.  However, there are times when the story simply dictates that It was cold with no further description or elaboration needed.  (Or at least that’s what I tell myself when I’m stuck. *grin*).

My favorite word at the moment is a toss up between ramshackle and hood-rat.  Comically, I used both in THE EYES BENEATH to describe Cara’s vehicle.  Here’s an excerpt from THE EYES BENEATH with the use of the word ramshackle in Cara’s voice.

“Also, the school will not be providing any transportation to this event, so please coordinate amongst yourselves,” Mr. Woodworth instructed in his prominent drawl, with jittering hands and perspiration beading on his middle-aged brow.

Perfect.  My ramshackle car hadn’t run in several months.  I would either need to figure out some kind of public transportation, which probably didn’t even run to that part of town, or worse . . . I’d have to get a ride with one of my classmate Civil War super nerds.  Ugh!  This just keeps getting better and better.  The expression on my face dropped from displeased to dire.

Okay, and now for hood-rat:

              Bobby’s beautiful shiny black Tahoe sat front and center in the visitor parking lot.  Scotty pressed the unlock button on the keypad and the SUV chirped, dazzling us with its blinking lights. 

“Beats the hell out of your hood-rat vehicle.  I’m really starting to like these guys,” Scotty said with a satisfied grin.

Ooh, hood-rat, I do believe I've owned a few of those. And I'm sure you prefer to call them hood-rats than lemons, yes : ) **See below.

5. What are you working on while you wait?

I’m working on a sequel to THE EYES BENEATH along with a hodgepodge of other creative projects stirring in my brain.  I’ve also started kicking around the idea of writing a fresh contemporary YA retelling of Richard Matheson’s, SOMEWHERE IN TIME.  I’ve been mesmerized by that story since childhood and it’s fair to say that when it comes to time travel, I’m a geek to the core. 

In addition to my writing, I’m always cookin’ up something on my blog, so be sure to pop by The Lemonista (my blog) when you get a chance.

* Warning, do not visit her blog on an empty stomach unless you are prepared to stop whatever you're doing, run to the grocery store, and cook one of her yummy creations--just saying. (Mouth-still-watering.) I'll, uh, be back, gotta go get the makings for her butterscotch pecan sticky buns (click here for Erin's recipe). Keep reading while I'm gone.

6. What book have you read in the past six mo that’s inspired you and why? 

Gosh, I’ve read so many great YA novels recently, but to narrow it down, the following books have really stuck in my craw (which is a good thing):

The Hush Hush Saga by Becca Fitzpatrick
The Fallen Series by Lauren Kate
The Great And Terrible Beauty Series by Libba Bray
And most recently, Nightshade by Andrea Cremer. 

All of these novels appeal to my love of presumably real teens thrown into a paranormal world.  I’m inspired by the amazing world building, ambiance and cross-over sensibility of these stories.

So true. Real teens, as long as they are not our own real teens, yes? And Nightshade, I did enjoy that one, too, as well as the others.

7. Do you have a literary-character crush?

Well, I’m almost embarrassed to say that I just may never get over the alluring draw of Edward Cullen.  “Real men sparkle”—damn straight. *wink*

Okaaay, okay, I'll step forward, too. My name is Paula McLaughlin and I am obsessively drawn to sparkly vampires with the first name Edward and the last name Cullen. Phew, glad that's out. : )

8. Any random fun-facts you’d like to share about yourself?

I’m a stay at home mom of two young kids, a miniature schnauzer, two ducks, two fish and a beloved hamster.  I’m also a highly creative person and a foodie.  Seriously, I live to eat. *grin* Although I’ll always be a Midwestern farm girl at heart, I live in the big city of Phoenix now.  Nestled in the center of a very urban area, my post-WWII neighborhood once existed as a citrus orchard in the 1920’s.  Many of the original citrus trees still remain and we enjoy the grapefruit, oranges and lemons that grow on our city lot!  My impossibly large and beautiful lemons gained instant online popularity when a baker’s dozen sold in an East Coast charity auction for a surprising sum of money.  Since then, I’ve shipped lemons all over the country and established quite a following on private chat boards (including a few celebs who shall remain anon). *wink* With the recent completion of my novel, I decided to establish a public platform with The Lemonista blog and Twitter. Even though I’ve only been at it a short while, I’ve already developed an immeasurable amount of respect for successful bloggers. Building a public platform is nothing short of hard work, however, essential.

Say whaaat, you can't tell us the celebs? Was it Edward and Bella?  I know they were in Phoenix while James was on the hunt for Bella. 

Thanks again, Paula, for hosting me today.  May we all see our creative dreams come to fruition in the very near future!

Amen to that!!

Erin, thank you so much for the interview and I wish you all the best in finding a home for THE EYES BENEATH. Keep us posted.

Do stop over to her blog, The Lemonista, Erin makes you feel right at home with the warmth and charm of her writing, and her good cookin'. Thanks Erin!!!!!

Writer Spotlight - Taryn Albright

Taryn Albright
Since BlogGRRRR, yes you do sense frustration, was on the blink yesterday and many readers who wanted to show Taryn some love by commenting weren't able to do so - I decided to leave this post up for another day. Here's hoping for less GRRR and more Blog today.

I'm pleased to introduce, Taryn Albright. Whoohooo!!! Welcome, Taryn!! (Wouldn't her name make a great character name? Hmmm. Oh, sorry, getting sidetracked).

Where to begin. There is SO much about Taryn that amazes me. To start with she's only eighteen, but she's already written nine, yup, that's right, n-i-n-e manuscripts already. Her's what her bio says:

Taryn started writing full-length novels in eighth grade with purple sparkly gel pen in the middle of English class. Nine manuscripts and six years later, she has graduated to industry standard double-spaced TNR. Good thing she started early! Though she reads nearly any genre you set in front of her, Taryn only writes YA dystopian, contemporary, mystery, thriller, romance, drama, inspirational, epic fantasy, and magical realism (okay, she writes nearly any genre, too). Her YA thriller SPLASHBACK is currently being queried, and she is working on a YA dystopian entitled PLAYING GOD.

Hell-o, yowza, right? But no, no, no—that's not all . . .

When she isn't writing, she loves to work out. From age 6-18, she was a nationally ranked swimmer, swimming 20 hours/week, and she also cycles almost 10 hours/week. Her other athletic passion is weight-lifting, and she will defend her "un-girly" passion to the end. Other interests include editing, reading, blogging, lifeguarding, teaching swim lessons, and meeting writers. She is a college student on her way to a double major in English and Creative Writing with a minor in Exercise Science.

She's smart, athletic, and has super strength?!! Okay, so, I don't know about you, but I am plum tuckered out after reading all the things she does.

Taryn my dear, do you sleep? Good Lord!! 

Oh yeah, sheesh (bangs palm to forehead), I almost forgot, she has three blogs going, too, because why have one, right? And they ALL sound uber awesome, just like Taryn:
  • Write On! is the happening place for writers and readers ages 13-18.
  • Noveltee(n) is a blog run by five teenage authors chasing publication and loving books.
  • And her own personal blog, A Fool's Golden Paradise, where I just took this really cool quiz that tells you what kind of genre writer you are. Apparently I am a dystopian paranormal romance  writer (yeah, it's a new genre, just saying). Anyway, back to Taryn.

What manuscript do you have out on submission now?

My YA Thriller SPLASHBACK is complete at 60K.

Give us a short pitch.

Seventeen-year-old Lottie Maverick wants to give up the sport that sucked away her life--too bad swimming's the only thing that can save her missing sister. It's been fifteen empty months since Heidi disappeared, and now some Olympics-obsessed criminal has given Lottie an ultimatum: make the Olympic team one year from now, and he'll set Heidi free.

Cool. This is a fresh and thrilling premise. Love it!!

Would you care to share the opening line or paragraph?

The Sour Patch Kids in the bottom of Heidi Maverick’s sparkly clutch probably bothered him the most. 

The Sour Patch Kids, or the ticket stub from that new boy band's concert.

The Sour Patch Kids, or the ticket stub, or the cotton candy flavored lip gloss.

As he dug deeper into the purse, those random bits of garbage tickled his hands with worry. He thought he'd picked the right girl this time. From afar, this Heidi had looked like a high school upperclassman, slutty and desperate--just the kind he usually took. He had even chatted her up to make sure her family wouldn't come looking; sure enough, her parents were another dead-beat dad and overworked mom. Look good and normal. Most importantly, she seemed profitable. So, he had signaled to his partner and spiked her drink.

This is soooo creepy-good. I don't think I like Sour Patch kids anymore. VERY nice opening!!! I am hooked.

How would your main character describe you? If you entered into a scene in your manuscript, how would you be introduced, how would the MC perceive you? Give us a short scene but keep it under 250 words : )

I didn’t notice the new girl when she walked onto the deck. January—six months til deadline, and I still had seconds to drop. But Lee made us all play nice and introduce ourselves, wasting time I could have used to train harder, faster, stronger.

“I’m Taryn,” she said to the team. Maureen grinned at her; I vaguely remembered Mo saying something about convincing a decently fast girl to transfer to our club.

She was short, maybe five four, but Janet Evans had proven short could be fast. Long torso, and strong limbs. Curvier than most swimmers—probably a butterflyer, then. She wore Nike’s newest design, so she cared about her swim suits. Fashionable. Like Heidi. I blinked away those thoughts.

Mo called her over to where we stood and gave her a one-armed hug. “Taryn, this is Lottie Maverick.”

“I know—I mean, nice to meet you.”

Great. Another fan.

“I’m a swim-stalker,” she shrugged, blushing a little.

Lee called out the warm up just then, and I dove into the pool. No time for small talk, but at least Taryn might get Maureen off my back.

Nice job. We get such a great sense of setting here and it's clearly one you know well : ) Do swimmer-stalkers wear shark fins on their backs? Just curious. 

What is your least and most favorite word? Use each in a sentence, writing in the voice of one of your characters from any of your manuscripts.

This was a really hard question, but I’m going to go with cacophony (for most) and quite (for least). I overuse quite, and it frustrates me—especially now, during edits.

As the night dipped closer to morning, she fell into a restless sleep of nightmares and dreams, a cacophony of stories in all of which Tony was the star. (That may or may not be an actual line in my WiP.)

Even though traces of her bright red, “Sinfully Scarlet” lipstick still streaked her mouth, her thumb hovered inches from her parted lips as if she hadn’t quite given up sucking it. (Ditto.)

I’m quite sure the sentences are in your wip ; ) I like cacophony, too.

What are you working on while you wait?

PLAYING GOD: In a dystopian future where humans are gods, a shy teen exploited by the government discovers the awful charade by which writers seem to create portals to other worlds.

Ooooh, that sounds really interesting. I love portals. Can they write me one that leads to Hogwarts, pleeeeease?

What book have you read in the past year that’s inspired you and why?

I read about 25 books per month, and each inspires me in some way. I’ve reviewed Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer on my blog because it was so unique and so not what I was expecting. It has been pitched as a book version of Glee, but it’s not. It’s a tale of friendship and rivalry and who stands by you down at the wire.

Another one would be Five Flavors of Dumb. It’s also unlike anything else out there. There’s a hot guy—but he stays a jerk. There’s a mean girl—but she’s layered and ends up the MC’s friend. It says a lot about common enemies and overcoming prejudices.

Those both sound great!!! Thanks, I will check them out.

Do you have a literary-character crush?

Um, of course. If I had to pick just one it would be Kartik from Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty. A second would be Etienne St. Clair (of course) from Anna and the French Kiss. Third is Benedict from Much Ado about Nothing. And my secret shame is a huge crush on Ender Wiggin.

The secrets out now : )

Any random fun-facts you’d like to share about yourself?

I have swum competitively for eleven years now and been ranked as high as 4th in the nation. 

WOW, that's great!!! I see where the inspiration for SPLASHBACK came from.

I also have the Washington state high school record for bench press. And I skipped fourth grade.

GAH! Stop, please, I can't take anymore. Just teasing—not! No, really, really, I am—teasing that is.

Taryn, I look forward to watching all that you do in the future and wish you lots and lots of success with SPLASHBACK and your other works. Taryn has her query stats for SPLASHBACK posted on her blog here, along with the query, which is neat to read (good luck with the revision/resubs!!)

It's been a pleasure, Taryn. Thanks for the interview and keep us posted! 

**Need more writers to step into the spotlight. If you are that writer or know someone who meets the criteria (see page above), please email me.

Pump Up and Write Now - Monday

Still in NYC with limited Internet, but having a BLAST.

Kiki and I walked EVERYWHERE yesterday after writing for two hours at Starbucks. Then we came back to the apartment and wrote and wrote while Harry Potter played in the background. Is that perfect or what?

So here's a never-give-up-pump-up-and-write fact for today. Did you know:

Starbucks was rejected by three-HUNDRED-and-fifty-something banks before they got that one, glorious yes. I shudder to think where I would be writing if they didn't persevere : )

Now, go write!!! Now!!

Writing in NYC Today!!

Me (left) with Kiki Hamilton at Starbucks in NYC

I'm in NYC today with my writer friend, Kiki Hamilton, author of THE FAERIE RING, which comes out in September. We are working on our wips at Starbucks and well, our blog posts, too.

Kiki, along with a group of other writers from the Class of 2K11 are in town for BEA. They will visit a number of book stores in Manahanttan as well, so if you're in town go say hi and hear more about their books. You can find the schedule of appearances here.

If you are attending BEA this week, Kiki Hamilton will be signing arcs of her book, THE FAERIE RING at table 12 at 2:30pm to 3:30pn. Lisa Desrochers, author of PERSONAL DEMONS and ORIGINAL SIN (coming out in July), will also be signing so be sure to visit.

Wednesday - Random Funnies

One of my all time favorite MG books is Roald Dahl’s, THE BFG. I didn’t read it as a child, but discovered it when my son's third grade teacher read it to his class. My son would come home and tell me, between laughs, about this giant that whizzpops and eats children and talks funny and...and...None if it made much sense to me so I went and read it for myself so we could talk about it. Wow am I glad I did.

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THE BFG is seriously one of the few books that had me LOL.

If you haven’t read it, go read it asap. If you have then you know Dahl’s giants have their own unique phrasing and dialogue. Through dialogue and action Dahl transforms one giant, The BFG, from fearsome to extremely likable. And Sophie is such a smart and brave little character. A fun, adventurous, and heart warming story. Here are some lines from the book that make me smile.

"A whizzpopper!" [fart] cried the BFG, beaming at her. "Us giants is making whizzpoppers all the time! Whizzpopping is a sign of happiness. It is music in our ears! You surely is not telling me that a little whizzpopping if forbidden among human beans?" –Roald Dahl

“Two rights don’t equal a left.” –Roald Dahl

“Do you like vegetables?” Sophie asked, hoping to steer the conversation towards a slightly less dangerous kind of food.
“You is trying to change the subject,” the Giant said sternly. “We is having an interesting babblement about the taste of the human bean. The human bean is not a vegetable.” –Roald Dahl

“What I mean and what I say is two different things, the BFG announced rather grandly.” –Roald Dahl

“Words,” he said, “is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life.” –Roald Dahl

Do your characters ever use made up words? Have you ever made up your own language?

Writer Spotlight - Jared Larson

Jared Larson
Today Jared Larson from Utah steps into the spotlight. Hi Jared!! Come on down and welcome!!!!

1. What manuscript do you have out on submission now?               

My MG Fantasy, I’M HERE TO SAVE YOUR DAY–THE ADVENTURES OF BO WOLF is complete at 37,000 Words.

2. Give us the three to four sentence pitch.

At eleven years old, Bo Wolf was born to conquer bullies. Sure, his arms look like flexi-straws, and the other kids tell him to go back to his home on Dweeb Island, but Bo doesn't care, because with his mad fencing skills and soon-to-be smoking good looks, he's convinced he's on the road to awesomeness. But when Bo puts the smackdown on a playground bully, he finds a much more powerful adversary in the kid's mom, the school lunch lady, who's actually a witch, plotting to poison the school with her irresistible gingersnaps. It falls on Bo to face his fears and save the school from an imminent cafeteria-induced death.

Oh this sounds so great!!!!! Love the humor and I can hear Bo’s voice in the pitch. Nice job, Jared.

3. Would you care to share the opening line or paragraph?

I never lie. Never. I’m all about telling the truth. A long time ago, there was this man named George Washington who told his dad he couldn’t lie. And then the guy became President of the United States. I’m exactly the same way. If I lived way back then, George and me... we’d be best bros’ forever. I’m sure of it.

Very cute opening. We get a good sense of Bo straight off. Nicely done.

4. How would your main character describe you? If you entered into a scene in your manuscript, how would you be introduced, how would the MC perceive you?

Bo turned to Reagan. "Hey, who's the new teacher on the swing? He's about to bust the entire jungle gym." Bo pointed at the wooden beam that the swing chains were bolted too. "Look at that baby bend. It's gonna snap!"

Reagan narrowed her eyes, focusing on the unfamiliar face. "I don't think that's a new teacher, Bo."

"Weeeeeeeee!" yelled the man. He flew off the swing and landed in the woodchips below.

"He's weird," said Bo. "Who the heck is he?"

"No clue," said Reagan, keeping her gaze cemented on the stranger.

The man looked at them as they stood on the highest deck of the jungle gym. He walked toward them.

"Eh, he's coming this way," Reagan whispered. "Do something."

Bo patted her arm. "I got this."

He walked toward the oncoming stranger, working his way through the jungle gym's different gizmos and tunnels.

Then, they met. Right smack dab in the middle of the balance beam.

"My name's Larson. Jared Larson," said the man. "And I hear you're handy with the sword?" His hairy eyebrow arched as he waited for a reply.

"Yeah," said Bo. "So what?"

"I just thought you'd be up for a friendly duel."


The man pointed at the balance beam. "How about here? Right now?"

Then, Bo withdrew his trusty plunger handle he always kept in the back of his pants for purposes such as these. His hands tightened on the smooth, wooden grip. "Let's do this."

The man smiled. "En-guard!"

LOL! Okay, so if my kid met this Jared on the playground I sure the heck hope he’d run—like FAST. Just saying. No offense or anything : )

5. hat is your least and most favorite word? Use each in a sentence, writing in the voice of one of your characters from any of your manuscripts.

Least Favorite Word: HATE
"Hate is a cruel word and it will get you nowhere in life."

Most Favorite Word: LOVE
"If you have love, you have it all."

I hate the word hate too. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to say it growing up and my kids aren’t either, though my characters at times insist.

6. What are you working on while you wait?

Well, I'm elbows deep in a first draft of a MG ghost story at the present called, Inside the Walls. It's a bit of a different direction for me, but as a kid, some of my most prominent memories are being afraid when I was alone. I thought I'd play off of those fears and thrills and see where it goes. So far things seem to be coming along nicely… and terrifyingly (what an adverb!) But hopefully not too scary. Never mind, hopefully too scary.

Sounds great. There’s definitely a market for ghost stories it seems. Good luck.

7. What book have you read in the past six mo that’s inspired you and why?

I've been middle grade hungry for the last two years and have been trying to get my hands on everything MG, just because that's what I'm writing at the moment. But I did read Steven Pressfield's, Gates of Fire, about the last 300 at Thermopylae. It's definitely not MG, but historical fiction, and magnificently graphic. It was powerful and mind-numbing—such a huge triumph for literature. Great stuff!

Thanks, I’ll have to check it out.

8. Did you have a literary-character crush as a teen, or if you were a teen or MG-er now, who would be yours?

Well, I'd have to say my first big crush was the character Diana, from Lloyd C. Douglas's, The Robe. Such a good book!

Probably the most prominent literary-crush would have to be Eowyn, from The Lord of the Rings. When I read it at sixteen, I was so emotionally involved with that book in such a transcendent way. I felt a part of Middle-Earth. It was unreal. And when I delved into the Rohan part and discovered Eowyn in her agony, her suffering, her need to be loved and cared for, oh man… did I want to be that guy to hold her! To tell her it would be okay. She was a beautiful character. Sorry Arwen. You're awesome too. But Eowyn stole my heart.

But if I was a kid again, I'd definitely say Hermione. She is such a powerful and compassionate character.

Ah yes. I remember crushing on Rohan when I was young, now that you brought it up.

9. Any random fun-facts you’d like to share about yourself?

I think there are more random facts than fun.

Oh come on, think.

I did find my own Eowyn who needed rescue, but as it turned out, it was me that needed rescue and she pulled it off brilliantly.

Aw, that’s so sweet.

We have three beautiful kids who are the greatest joys of our lives. When we don't feed them, they take care of the ant problem in the house at meal times. You'd be surprised how it saves on grocery budget, and they do say ants are a good source of protein. We don't have to waste money on ant bait. Just sayin'.  But here and there and quite often, I'm up for a good Nerf sword fight, or a tea party with one gorgeous little girl and three psychotic looking marker-colored dolls.

And there's the fun! LOL. We have (or had) a psycho doll with one arm, one eye, marker-ed up body, and the most hideous hair cut ever. The daycare woman asked me to please not let my daughter bring it with her anymore because it frightened the other children.

As far as fun… eh… I got nothing. I'm boring. Sorry.

Not boring--funny.

Oh! I hike! I love to get away and hike. I live in Utah, so there are national parks everywhere. Great hiking spots! Okay, that's all.

Keep on climbing, literally and figuratively, toward that peak. Good luck with I’M HERE TO SAVE YOUR DAY–THE ADVENTURES OF BO WOLF. It’s the perfect premise for this age group and I know my son would LOVE it!!! Keep us posted on your success.

If you'd like to know more about Jared Larson and read some great interviews visit his blog here.

Pump Up and Write Now - Monday

Happy Monday, everyone.

Over the next few Mondays I will provide you with a summary of some of the awesome lectures I attended at the Western Washington SCBWI conference in April in hopes the info will inpire you and pump you up to write as they have me.

Today I will highlight Holly Black's lecture on how to build a magical system that feels balanced and believable.

Okay, okay, so not the Magic Johnson kind of magic, though that is magic. I'm not even a Lakers' fan but I admit, he's got magic baby.

Back to business.

Before you start writing that magic filled story you must first answer the following: In your world-

1.      Who has the magic? Is it one in every one-thousand, genetically passed down, or does it show up randomly, is it given, is it stolen . . . 

2.      What kind of magic is it? What can be done with it? Some examples she gave were curse magic, luck, dream magic, memory, transfiguration, protective, destructive, death, life giving.

3.      How do you make it happen?  Is it complicated with potions and difficult to pronounce spells, or does it require meditative concentration? Do you need to go to a school to learn how to use it, or are you apprenticed, is there any organizational system, any ceremonies involved? Is it touch magic (need to touch the other person for it to work) like in Holly's CURSE WORKERS series.

4.      How is user affected? This is important. There must be some cost to performing the magic. Is there a drain on energy, premature aging, pain, madness, blindness. Are there rules about when, where, how magic is used? Who makes the rules: the family, community, government? Are there magic-police?

5.      How is the world affected by the use of magic? Does it cause blight, disrupt the function of machines, use up the oxygen? In Holly's CURSE WORKERS series everyone wears gloves to avoid mistakenly performing magic on someone by touch.

6.      How are the users of magic grouped and perceived? Are they looked upon by others as immoral and inhuman, are they worshiped, feared, valued or scorned, exiled?

Okay, so you have all that figured out. Phew. Good work. What's next?

Next Holly suggests you decide what limititations the magic will have. Can the character curse people from a distance or do they need to be close? Can you work magic on more than one person at a time? And so on. Go back and review the costs (to the person, the world, the family...) of performing the magic. Without parameters the characters will trample on your pages, zap and curse at random, doing whatever the heck they want with no consequence and ruin your story. By setting limits and consequences that our characters will no doubt push the limits of will make the story believable and create more opportunity for conflict.

The best minds to test the strength of your magical world for holes are those who design and/or play video games. When playing they search for those holes that allow them to win the game and will be quick to find things in your magic system that may not add up.

Last, though I'm sure there's more, what kind of 'logic' will you use to tell your story, day logic or night logic?

Day Logic is where the magic is clearly explained by the writer and is almost a science. HARRY POTTER is an example of day logic.

Night Logic is when the story implies the rules, the magic is believable, but the rules are never fully revealed. Fairy tales, Holly says, are almost like night logic because the reader knows there are limits, they are sensed, but the reader doesn't really know exactly what they are. LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE was the example Holly gave as a night logic story.

So there it is, words of wisdom from the magic maker herself, Holly Black, interpreted and transcribed by moi.

Now go write!!

Wednesday's Random Funnies

      Uhhhhh, yeah, (scratches head). 

 Is there a "Rotten" Spoons cup too?

Um, okay, so, I don't get it. Anyone?
So do you think the dog is "real?"

Apparently, only one "person" works here.

I'm thinking it's a safe bet the "Lid"
 is safe. You? 


Writer Spotlight - Betsy Devany

Betsy Devany
It's my pleasure to introduce Betsy Devany today. Let's give it up for Betsy!! Whoohoo and welcome!

It's been four years plus since I mustered up the courage to attend my very first local Shoreline SCBWI group meeting. Petrified? Me? Uh, yeah. I remember what I wore (turquoise blue top with white tank, black pants), I remember what the meeting leader said (oh that color is wonderful, my favorite color of blue), and I remember searching the room like the new kid in the school cafeteria. There was a woman walking the room with her adorable newborn baby (that was Faith Elizabeth Hough), but she wouldn't be sitting and had her hands full so . . .

And there was Betsy. She looked nice (see her picture, doesn't she look nice). Well, she is and continued to be helpful to this newbie writer who still had a ton to learn. Since then I've met a many of the other super nice writers in the group, but Betsy was the first. 

So without further, er, stuff....heeeere's Betsy.

1. What manuscript do you have out on submission now?

Currently on submission is one of my middle grade novels with the working title SAVANNAH'S MOUNTAIN. The word count of this contemporary, character-driven story is 60,000. Professionals in the field who have read portions of the novels say it has a classic feel to it, and have called it a literary timeless piece.

2. Give us the three to four sentence pitch.

Savannah Lucille Mays faces her largest mountain ever: her mother’s rapidly declining early-onset Alzheimer’s. While spending the summer in Richmond, VA with unfamiliar relatives, the eleven-year-old continues to reach out to Momma while saving her memories.

Gradually, with courage and conviction, Savannah learns to face her own fears and Challenges of the Day in a story of hope, wish stones, memories, paper cranes, keeping promises, and learning how to let go.

I've had the honor of reading earlier drafts of Savannah's story and it tugs at the heart, big time. 

3.Would you care to share the opening line or paragraph?

I said goodbye to Momma on a Tuesday in June. The day was so humid sweat dripped off Aunt Ruth’s forehead and made her white hair stick up. Momma never told me how old her sister was, but once you start seeing white hair, you’re on your last hill. Aunt Ruth looked to be halfway down the slope already. She was standing by the living room window, fanning herself with a rolled up TV Guide.

Goodbye, blue chair, I whispered to the last of Momma’s favorite belongings that wouldn’t fit in the bottom of my suitcase.

“Savannah . . . what exactly are you staring at?” Aunt Ruth said.

“Nothing.” I glanced away, picked at a patch of worn carpet.

“Never mind all your nothings and finish packing.”

Grabbing a pair of jeans from the pile on the floor, I eyed Aunt Ruth again. At least she could reach the bottom of the hill on her own. Momma didn’t have a clue how to get anywhere, even though her hair showed only a little white.

“Roll those pants tighter,” Aunt Ruth said. “Here, let me help.”

I didn’t want her help with rolling and shoving and packing. I wanted to take that old suitcase back to the attic. Leave it in the dust. I wanted Aunt Ruth to change her mind and let me stay in South Carolina for the summer.

I wanted to fix Momma.

Beautiful opening, Betsy. We can really feel Savannah's heart breaking and her desire to fix  her momma.  

4. How would your main character describe you? If you entered into a scene in your manuscript, how would you be introduced, how would the MC perceive you? Give us a short scene but keep it under 250 words : )

I chose Betsy to tell my story to because she listened. Four years ago, I whispered the first line while she was in Idaho. At first, she ignored me. I tried, again and again, repeating the line “I said goodbye to Momma on a Tuesday in June,” until she stopped cutting pieces of fabric and asked, “Who are you? What do you want from me?”

“I need to tell someone my story.” Then, bit by bit, I whispered scenes to her; told her about Maggie and Momma and Aunt Ruth. And when she was overworked and didn’t have time for me, I waited. Just like I waited for Momma to get better. Betsy never gave up on my story. When she had the facts wrong, I’d reach her through her dreams. In the morning as soon as she woke up, Betsy would roll out of bed, and sit for hours at her computer.

Today the story is as much hers as it is mine.

For an exercise we did together (suggested by her father), go to this post on Betsy’s blog.

Betsy is lucky like that, her characters really do talk to her. She's not making it up. They even tell her their shoe size : )

5. What are you working on while you wait?

First, I don’t consider myself as waiting. Waiting implies lingering around, and for me, that is a waste of time and precious energy. I am writing. Always. I continue to hone my picture books while also working on several middle grade novels. Two of the novels I would consider younger middle grade. They are an absolute delight to work on. I rise early, eager to spend the morning with characters that always surprise me with their antics and keep me laughing. In addition, I am working on a young adult novel, the kind of story one has to write because you feel it in your core. Until I get the words down, the deep ache will not subside.

Because I am writing more than one novel, discipline is essential to stay on track. While I may want to follow another character at this time, I am committed to finishing E. B. Louise and the Elephants first. I write by a schedule, which I keep posted on the calendar beside my computer. I do have a long queue of manuscripts waiting for my attention.

My mind isn't that flexible to write two first drafts at the same time. Revisions and a drafts, sure. Random scenes, yeah. It must be all your dancing experience.

6. What book have you read in the past six mo that’s inspired you and why?

There are a number of books that have inspired me in the past six months, one of which is PENNY FROM HEAVEN, by Jennifer L. Holm. I mention this novel, which is set in the 50’s, because it surprised me. It starts out as a sweet story and then something happens that I never saw coming. When the event occurs, you are so invested in the main character by that time, it grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. This is good writing.

When reading novels, I keep notes on what worked well, and what jumped out at me. And why. In my reading log, I also record the first line of the book.

What a great idea, Betsy!!! I'll have to get going on that one myself.

7.  When you were a child or if you still are a child at heart (like me), which story or world would you like to live in and why? Who would you want as your BFF?

The character I would have loved to hang out with as a kid would be Ruby Lavender. (There are actually lots of characters from children's literature that I would have loved to hang out with--so hard to choose just one.)

I chose Ruby because of her spunk and determination; her love for her grandmother, Miss Eula, and how she protects and cares for the stolen chickens. Yes, it came down to the chickens. I would have done exactly what Ruby did, which is why I love her so much, as I do all of Deborah Wiles novels.

Good one, Betsy. So how do you all like the substitute question? No more lit-crush question, well, unless you want to tell us about who you'd crush on were you a kid or a teen reader.

8. Any random fun-facts you’d like to share about yourself?

When not writing or working at the toy store, I love taking pictures. I find photography quite relaxing, as well as being an extension of my creative side. Favorite foods are rice pudding (no raisins), key-lime pie, and loaded baked potatoes. Oh, and mangoes. True joy for me is spending time with my family and pets, laughing, listening to children tell me their stories at the toy store, and writing. Gardening is also a passion.

Fun facts: I studied acting with Nancy Marchand who played Tony Soprano’s mother on The Sopranos. I was a photographer’s assistant on a shoot for Campbell’s Soup labels. My job was to make the soup and line the ingredients up with tweezers for the picture. Everything had to be perfect.

Wow, that's cool, Betsy. One thing she left out is that she has a pet gorilla. Visit Betsy's blog if you'd like to meet Norman. Don't worry, he's friendly, I've met him.

Thanks so much Betsy for sharing your work, yourself, and your  journey. And BIG congrats again on winning the Tassy Walden Award, which you can read more about in yesterday's post. Best of luck finding the perfect home for SAVANNAH'S MOUNTAIN.

Pump Up and Write Now - Monday

New Voices in Children's Literature: Tassy Walden Awards

On May 4th the Shoreline Arts Alliance (a Connecticut group) announced the winners of the New Voices in Children's Literature: Tassy Walden Awards.

"This annual competition presented by the Shoreline Arts Alliance encourages and nurtures the creation and publication of exceptional quality books for children by unpublished Connecticut writers and illustrators."
Faith Elizabeth Hough

Our very own Faith Elizabeth Hough, who was the first writer I interviewed for my Writer Spotlight, received an Honorable Mention for her YA historical fiction THE WITHERING VINE!!!! Check out her interview and pitch here and visit her blog to say congrats! WHOOOHOOO, keep up the faith, Faith!!!
But wait, that's not all.

Betsy Devany
 Tomorrow Betsy Devany will step into the Writer Spotlight right here on Write Now!!! AND, Betsy won the Tassy Walden Award for her MG manuscript, SAVANNAH'S MOUNTAIN. BIG congrats!!! SO exciting when one of our own gets recognized for their hard work and their wonderful stories. Come by tomorrow to read all about Betsy, about Savannah's story, and about her writing journey so far.  
Betsy, Faith, and I (along with a few other uber awesome writers) were in a critique group together for about a year. I've had the opportunity to read not just the works they were honored for, but many of their other WIPs. Both are great writers and an inspiration. I'm so happy and excited for them (if you coudln't tell)!!
On May 18th I will attend the award ceremony in support of their accomplishment, so look for pictures.
Little steps everyone. Each one counts. Seriously. Keep writing, keep learning, keep querying!!!
To read about the other awesome winners and about the Tassy click here.

Wednesday's Random Funnies

Some smile worthy quotes by writers about writing. Enjoy!

"A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." -Thomas Mann

"If a writer wrote merely for his time, I would have to break my pen and throw it away." -Victor Hugo

"There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." -W. Somerset Maugham

"I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper." -Steve Martin

A quote which is appropriately followed by:

"Writing is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent elimination." -Louise Brooks

"I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter." -Blaise Pascal This one makes me smile. Can't you just tell so much about the writer's personality just by this one line? Love it.

I will end with my favorite : )

"It's none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way." -Ernest Hemingway

Writer Spotlight - Dustin Hansen

I'm so excited to introduce yet another writer-guy, Dustin Hansen.

Welcome Dustin!!!

Dustin's journey from reader to writer all started one extended stay at his in-law's home. The house held magic, peril, loss, love, adventure. It was not a tree-house (my dream home), but a for real book-house. His father-in-law's hand-made book shelves lined so many walls in the house that if those walls behind them crumbled, the house would remain standing. Okay, okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating--but just a little. If you don't believe me go read the full story for yourself on his blog, Dustin writes, that's the name of it, Dustinwrites (dot) com. Simple. Cool right? He also draws, farms, plays video games, but today we're here to find out what Dustin writes, right? 

So . . . read on and you'll find smiles, some soap, and a box (in that order).

Dustin Hansen
Dustin Hansen

1.Dustin, what manuscript do you have out on submission now?
I’m currently showcasing NORTH, my middle grade fantasy novel that weighs in at a dangerously high 84k words. I know, I know – I’m insane, but the first pass weighed in at over 100 so I consider this big progress.

2. Give us the three to four sentence pitch.

Josie Kettle is an unfortunate teen that decides running away is less risky than chancing another transplant to a new foster home. It’s not the first time she’s run, however, it is the first time she’s run home. Armed with just enough clues to make her feel like she has a shot, Josie packs her bag and begins following a mysterious compass that seems to be pulling rather than pointing her NORTH.

Nice!! Running to her home instead of away, cool twist.

Sheesh, I should put that in my query. : ) NORTH is actually a rotating POV novel, Josie is the MC, but the story follows the journey of a collection of teens that find themselves in similar but unique circumstances.

Even better. And yes, that is your query letter right there. Perfect hook (IMHO).

3. Would you care to share the opening line or paragraph?

Josie sprinted through the quiet city, its doors locked tight and its shop windows drawn down like sleeping eyelids. She darted into the setback entry of Lee’s Variety and flipped open the pay-as-you-go cell phone she had purchased earlier that day. Unlike most twelve year olds, Josie was not a texting wizard. Playing the starring role in the Josie-Kettle-Foster-Hop-Tour-of-Middle-America didn’t come with a cell-phone plan, and if her current foster parents, a term Josie hated with passion, found out she had a phone they would have snatched it from her in an instant.

Josie awkwardly thumbed a message using the phone’s cheap numeric pad. The only number in the phone’s memory belonged to a fellow foster-brat, Vandy, and Josie found the number and hit send, not bothering with grammar or caps.

‘i’m on state street. lee’s variety. hurry.’

Love the opening line. Makes me want to read on to know where she's sprinting to. Nice job.

4. How would your main character describe you? If you entered into a scene in your manuscript, how would you be introduced, how would the MC perceive you? Give us a short scene but keep it under 250 words : )

Josie tiptoed up the carpeted stairs that led to the loft. The ghost-blue glow of a laptop cast long shadows on the walls and gave the space a chilly look that seemed all-together too familiar to young girl, as if she had been in the attic before. She knew she hadn’t but shaking the feeling was impossible.

He sat there, tea steeping in a hand-thrown mug, his round shoulders hunch and his fingers pouncing on the keyboard as he pecked away, typing three words, backspacing two, typing four more, deleting the sentence and starting over again. She almost felt bad for him; his progress was so painfully slow it was like watching baboon trying to do Sudoku.

She stepped on a dog toy, hiding in the dark beneath her feet, and he turned, his glasses reflecting the monitor for a flash then going dark again as swiveled in his comfy chair to face her. He appeared startled, then confused. He cleared his throat.

“Josie?” His voice cracked, as if he were the teen in the room, not her.

She stared at him, recognizing him immediately though they had never met. A billion thoughts raced through her brilliant mind, but she had come for a purpose. She had come to ask him to stop.

“Dude. Knock it off? All this conflict. All this jamming from bad situation to worse is really starting to piss me off.”

The worried look on the writer’s face relaxed and a slight smile crept across his stubbly face.

“You can handle it. I believe in you, Josie. I always have.”

Yowza!! What a GREAT scene. LOVE it!! And I imagine that's exactly what most of our characters would say to us were we to meet them face to face. And BTW, his manuscript is reflecting off his glasses for real in the picture above. Me-smiling : ) Thanks.

5. What are you working on while you wait?

I’ve always been a big horror/thriller fan and I find it my duty to give my own kids nightmares from time to time, so I’m working on MG thriller. It’s so much fun I feel like I’m cheating. It might be too dark to ever see the light of day, but that might be okay. Books like this should be read in the dark.

Haha, nice. Like I told Michael last week, I have heard requests out in the cyber-sphere for MG horror. Good luck.

6. What book have you read in the past six mo that’s inspired you and why?

Kind of a tough one here. I read a lot and I think pretty much everything I read influences me, not necessarily inspires me. I think inspiration is harder to find, so I might go back further than 6 months.

I re-read THE HOBBIT recently and that first paragraph is so perfect that I feel like giving up. My book is rotating POV (why did I torture myself so?) so THE HOBBIT and Stephen King’s THE STAND, believe it or not, were very important for me during this book.

I also loved THE SEARCH FOR WONDLA, by DiTerilizzi – such a strong female MC and great MG voice.

WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON – Grace Lin – I love this novel – an amazing MC and meticulous plot development and pace. I learned a ton from this wonderful book.

And, certainly THE PRINCESS ACADEMY, by Shannon Hale (Utah represents!WOOT!). Miri is a wonderful example of grace from a teen MC. Beautiful fairytale book and I think Shannon is a masterful writer. I’m a big fan.

ME too!! I loved this book. In fact, now that you brought it back to my attention I may have to go re-read it.

Those were the biggies. You can see a theme there, lots of research for strong female Middle Grade characters.

7. Do you have a literary-character crush?

This is a tough one. Okay, please indulge me a bit of a soapbox. I’m currently writing MG. If I were a woman, claiming to have a crush on a teen boy would be not only okay(for some odd reason), it would be the cool thing to do. The number of married soccer moms with Team Jacob or Team Edward stickers on the back window of their mini-vans is just shy of lunacy. That being said, I’m going to age up from my genre and go old school. It seems safer. (Although I just read Liar Society by Lisa and Laura Roecker and Kate Lowry is pretty much the coolest thing in pink hair).

I've thought of this myself at times. Point taken. Maybe the question should read: If you were between the ages of ten and eighteen who would your literary crush be? : )

Okay, climbing down from soapbox.

I love Jo March from Little Women. I read this book the first time in the 80’s when the Facts of Life (TV sitcom) was in first run, and I thought there were similarities between Jo Polniaczek and Jo March. If you’re my age you totally know what I’m talking about. She is just so head strong and spunky. Funny thing, I ended up marrying someone equally headstrong and spunky, named Jodi, but I call her Jo all the time. It’s my little secret that I’m nodding to Jo March when I say it – now you know too. Dang, secrets out.

I also love Portia from The Merchant of Venice. She’s the strongest “man” in Italy and I see a lot of her in my MC, Josie.

8. Any random fun-facts you’d like to share about yourself?

Along with my wife Jo(di), I have four beautiful kids (three of them firmly in the MG reading demographic), a hyper border collie and three scared cats. Yeah, it’s a full house.

I’m a closet farmer. I love to drive tractors, take care of my chickens, turkeys and ducks and garden.

I’ve been working in the video game industry for 17 years and my work as an illustrator and writer has shipped in over 20 million video games including Madden, The Sims, Nerf N-Strike, NFL Street and many more.

Very cool!! I'm sure most boys would love to have your job!! I know my son would, the farming and the gamer stuff, both.

An aside here: I was just at the WW SCBWI conference where Holly Black spoke about the benefits of talking plot and discussing your magical world out loud. She recommended doing so with someone in the gamer industry (if possible) because their minds are programmed (ahem) to look for loop holes.  

 Dustin, thank you so much for stepping into the spotlight. It's been a pleasure getting to  know you and I wish you all the best in finding a home for NORTH. Please keep in touch and I'll see you on the book shelves : )