Score One for the Plotters!

First of all, I finished the full draft of Crow's Rest yesterday! Cullooh! Callay!

Of course, that doesn't mean it's finished. But it's worth taking a moment to celebrate before diving into revisions. I also wanted to take a sec to talk about the process for this book.

Before even starting on Crow's Rest, I did things a little different from the mostly-pantsing method used to plot my first book: I took the time to do a very detailed outline.

And let me tell you, it paid off big time. Whenever I had writer's block, or had spent some time away from the manuscript, the outline got me back on track. And whenever I had a shiny new plot idea flirt my way, I could look at my original framework and see if it enhanced the story or just cluttered it up. (For the record, most of them would have just cluttered it up. I would have enjoyed writing them immensely, but self-indulgence doesn't always improve the book).

The only drawback was that it was harder for me to get the ending out. When I was pantsing, I was just as eager to find out how the book ended as the reader would be (hopefully!). But since I'd done such a detailed outline, I felt like there weren't any surprises and I was just filling in some blanks.

My bad guy had different ideas on that subject and threw me a few curveballs. So that was fun. I feel like the Big Confrontation is not quite Big enough, but at least now I have something down on the page to play with.

The other place the outline will help me is with charting the story arc (I like Vogler's Hero's Journey and Alderson's Plot Whisperer methods). I certainly kept the arc in mind while preparing the outline, and charting it is a great way to check that I hit all the correct notes in the drafting process.

And interestingly, I had worked on a practice query early on (and it got a request in WriteOnCon, btw) and put the estimated finished length at around 70,000. That estimate was based on the somewhat-spare first draft coming in at 65,000, plus another 5,000 in revisions to flesh out characters, motivations, etc. Well, the first draft clocked in at 64,967 words! Not bad.

If you have a finished draft to play with too, you might be interested in checking out Operation Awesome's NewYear's Revision Conference. It starts with a critique partner matchup on Jan. 3, and then the conference on the 4, 5, and 6. Authors, agents, and bloggers, oh my!

I have a lot of trouble finding gluten-free breads that are vegan (I'm also allergic to dairy and eggs) and which taste good and offer some nutritional value. For example, Mariposa Bakery and Schar offer breads that fit the GF/vegan bill, and taste good, but are mostly refined flours. Okay for an occasional treat (for an even more decadent treat, try Mariposa's Penguinos cupcakes) but not what I want to eat more frequently.

So I developed the following recipe; this bread freezes well and toasts up nicely. Once it's a few days old, it doesn't travel well though so make those sandwiches-to-go on the first day!

Multigrain Bread
(Gluten Free, Dairy Free, with Egg-free Option)

Moist and flavorful, like the honey wheat bread you remember, this take on Bette Hagman's New Formula Yeast bread makes excellent baguettes.  You'll get the best crust by using a perforated French bread pan, but it also makes a great sandwich bread in 7 ½ x 3 ¾ x 2 ¼  loaf pans.  Since the egg-free version doesn't rise quite as high, a good trick for sandwich bread is to slice the loaf horizontally into thirds or fourths, and then cut crosswise to the desired width.

Makes 2 loaves
1 2/3 cup warm water
2 ¼ teaspoons dry yeast granules (double if using an egg substitute)
1 teaspoon sugar

Dry ingredients:
2 1/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend
3/4 cup sorghum flour
7 tablespoons almond meal
2 ½ teaspoons Xanthan gum
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Ener-G Foods  Egg Replacer
1/4 cup amaranth or teff grains, or mixture of the two
Optional: add up to 2 teaspoons inulin powder for added fiber

Wet ingredients:
1 egg + 2 egg whites or 6 tablespoons applesauce (see note on doubling yeast above if using applesauce or other egg substitute)
3 tablespoons melted butter or margarine or olive oil
1 ½  tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon  molasses
2 tablespoons honey

1. In a glass measuring cup, add yeast to the warm water along with the 1 teaspoon sugar.  Let stand until yeast forms a foam on the surface.  Meanwhile, spray your French bread pan with non-stick cooking spray if necessary, or grease and flour your loaf pans.

2. Blend all dry ingredients in a medium bowl or 4-cup measure and set aside.

3.  Mix wet ingredients in bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer (use the flat beater), just until blended.  Pour in yeast mixture.

4.  On low, add flour mixture a little at a time (a pouring shield is helpful) until all has been incorporated.  Consistency should be like cake batter.  Switch mixer to high for 3 ½ minutes.

5.  Spoon batter into prepared pans and even out with a rubber spatula.  Be sure to leave room in French bread pans for the dough to expand.  Let rise about 45 minutes.

7.  Preheat oven 375°.  Bake 35 minutes for French bread pans, and about 40 minutes for loaf pans.  Bread should give a slightly hollow sound when tapped.

Note: Leftover bread makes wonderful French toast, and fantastic stuffing or dressing when dried into cubes.

Note: I have also shared more of my GF recipes here on this blog

Unusual Author Photos

I ranted on Twitter and Facebook a while ago about "the worst agent photo I've ever seen." Now, granted, being a photographer makes me a little pickier, but you should also know that I rarely shoot portraits of people. Lots of pets, but people not so much.

But I do know that using a picture that makes you look uninviting, or dare I say freakish in a not-on-purpose way (I've seen author pics where they've zombified themselves and those are unique and cool), is not a good way to represent yourself professionally.

You don't need to spend a lot of money on author photos, although a professional will usually get you what you want in a shorter time frame. If you put the word out that you're looking, you can often match up with a student needing to increase their portfolio, or a photographer just starting out.

My critique group found a portraitist through the local camera club and we made an afternoon of it--we had time to change outfits, get creative with lighting and a wind machine, and do a kooky group shot. And all for free.

And my latest find is an Old Tyme Photo Studio at Marshall Gold State Historic Park, where you can dress up and get your picture taken for $7. Even if these don't get used for an author photo (although, my first book is set during the Gold Rush years), they make for a memorable profile pic. That's a bargain, for $7!

2013 First Crime Novel Competition

PLEASE NOTE: I will not be posting the winner here--this is strictly a post letting people know about the opportunity to enter the contest.

So many great competitions this season! Minotaur Books and Mystery Writers of America have opened the 2013 First Crime Novel Competition for submissions.

And they've made an important, 21st century change in their guidelines: they're now accepting electronic submissions! They used to make you mail in an application to get the mailing address for your reader, and that just made it unnecessarily complicated.

What else do you need to know?

  • Deadline is December 17
  • Must be at least 18
  • Must be an unpublished author
  • "Murder or another serious crime or crimes is at the heart of the story"
  • You must agree to their standard "boilerplate" contract
Full details are at the links above, and good luck if you enter!

PLEASE NOTE: I will not be posting the winner here--this is strictly a post letting people know about the opportunity to enter the contest.

RTW: Best Book of November '12

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: What's the best book you read in November?

I've been reading in fits and starts this month--we've had guys working on xeriscaping our yard, and after a few disasters while they were unsupervised I surrendered to the fact that I wasn't getting much writing done this month. But that meant I got to read, yay!

My pick for best book is

I actually won this in a giveaway but had been wanting to read it for some time, probably because I'd seen it on other RTWs. It has a thought-provoking concept: everyone in this world is born with two souls, and one will gradually dominate as the other withers away. Except for the main character, Eva, who is trapped with her other half, Addie, controlling their body while she waits for a chance to live again. I recommended it to my niece last weekend, and too bad she lives too far to borrow my copy!

I also wanted to mention that I signed up for alerts from Hundred Zeros, a blog listing free e-books. Along with their huge catalog, you can get a daily email with new additions--some of which are only free that day. There is the usual mixture of great books and "you get what you pay for" stinkers, but I wanted to mention one that I particularly enjoyed

There's some great banter between the MC and her ghostly companion, plus the promise of the rest of the trilogy being just as good. Only the first in the series is free (but the other two are reasonably priced) and I love it when authors do this so we can get a taste of the series. The majority of the time, I'm hooked and go on to read the other books. I'll be doing that with this one! My only pet peeve is that the MC is one of those beautiful girls who doesn't think she's beautiful--but there is some context here, as she doesn't fit in very well with the social circles she travels in as a medium.

Feel free to put a link to your post in the comments if you played along with Road Trip Wednesday. Don't forget to go to the YA Highway post and read all the answers!

4th Annual Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest

Serendipity Literary Agency and Gotham Writers' Workshop are once again offering the opportunity to get the first page of your young adult novel in front of select editors and literary agent Regina Brooks.

For a $15 entry fee, your first page (250 words) and title will be read by Ms. Brooks to find the top 20 entries. From their website: "These submissions will then be read by editors from five prominent publishing houses.  These judges will whittle the 20 semi-finalists down to five finalists, and each of the five winners will be provided commentary on their submissions.

Here is a list of judges for this year's contest:

Navah Wolfe, Simon and Schuster
Tracey Sherrod, Harlequin Kimani
Krista Viola, Random House
Nicole Raymond, Candlewick
Rachel Griffiths, Scholastic
Aubrey Poole, Sourcebooks
Mercedes Fernandez, Kensington
Nataysha Wilson, Harlequin teen
Laura Whitaker, Bloomsbury
Anna Roberts, Feiwel and Friends

And here's what you could win:
The Grand Prize Winner will have the opportunity to submit an entire manuscript to YA literary agent Regina Brooks and receive a free, 10-week writing course, courtesy of Gotham Writers' Workshop, plus a collection of gourmet teas from

The Top Five Entrants (including the Grand Prize winner) will receive a 15-minute, one-on-one pitch session with Regina Brooks, one of New York’s premier literary agents for young adult books. They will also receive commentary on their submissions by editors at five prominent publishing houses and receive a one-year subscription to The Writer magazine.

The First 50 Entrants will receive a copy of Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks. (Shipped only to addresses in US and Canada.)

Deadline is November 30 so what are you waiting for? Here's a chance to bypass the query system and get eyes on your first page!

P.S. Perhaps you want to take advantage of Pitch Wars to help hone your pitch? The details and schedule are here, and then go here to find the coaches current wants.

More Photo Inspiration for Crow's Rest

Whenever we travel, it just makes me love where we live even more. Not because traveling is such a nightmare, but because we live in a place with beautiful vistas: rivers, lakes, mountains, rolling hills, quaint historic towns, and only a few hours from the Pacific coast.

Makes perfect sense that I would choose to set my WIP in a Sierra foothill town, albeit a made-up one. Crow's Rest is a thinly-veiled amalgam of several foothill towns, some of which can be surprisingly urbane. Not urban, mind you, which is part of their charm, but with fabulous restaurants and impressive locally grown wines.

One such town is now a state historic park, and I used to be a docent there about a decade ago. We went back recently and the pictures I took are the perfect subjects for a photo essay (click on each one to see it bigger):

An overview of the town nestled along the American River

Detail of the oak trees with their woolly fall coat of moss

One of the historic churches

A springhouse along the trail

 And my favorite foothill find--historic cemeteries!

Hope you enjoyed this vicarious trip!

My Name is Angelica, and I'm a YA Addict

Author Beth Revis made good use of her event schedule this summer by scoring signed copies of books by some of her favorite fellow YA authors. And what's more, she's opened up a contest to give away an entire library of said books!

I must admit that I'm a fanatical convert to young adult books. I'd always read them here and there, but at this point I rarely even go into the adult fiction section at a library or bookstore. And even my e-book purchases are about 85% YA, and 15% other (nonfiction and adult fiction).

I do love that YA is full of firsts, and this jaded middle-aged woman can experience them all over again. But I think what keeps me going back to YA the most is the pacing. I've always had a low tolerance for literary fiction because I always felt like I was waiting for something to happen.

YA authors definitely do not have that luxury--if it doesn't hook a teen, they put it down. And interestingly, as a teen I was pretty stubborn about always finishing books. I might start skimming, but I would always want to see how it ends.

It's only as an adult, with more demands on my time plus a greater understanding of what I look for in a book, that I will now set books aside without finishing them. And reading YA has helped me with pacing my own books as well, even if they're not intended for a YA audience.

What about you? What makes you keep coming back to YA?

Impractical Halloween Costume

Pippin wanted to go as a Bobcat for Halloween

I told him it wouldn't be practical for trick-or-treating.

He then tricked me with a treat: a dead bird in the house at 5:30 am this morning. Which I took outside, and he promptly brought right back in. Locked the cat flap, but never did get back to sleep!

Winner & RTW: Spookiness

First, let's get to the winner of the signed copy of Behind the Bookcase by Mark Steensland:

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Congratulations, Tricia C.! Thanks to all who entered!

And now on to today's Road Trip Wednesday post. Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: Halloween! What's your favorite scary book or movie?

My idea of a scary movie is probably laughable to a lot of people. Or at least to my husband, who still teases me about the time I ran out of the room during a "gotcha" moment in the movie The Changeling. Or to my childhood friend, who loved to torment me about Gremlins when we were in the POOL. A POOL FULL OF WATER.

But when it comes to books, my own brain knows how much I can handle so it fills in "monster" with something appropriately creepy or frightening, but not enough to give me too many nightmares.

So there are a couple of books that I like to read around Halloween, to help set the mood.

I haven't read any of her other books in ages, but The Witching Hour has the power to immediately transport me to another time and place. It's genuinely startling to look up from the pages of this book and not find myself caught in an intense storm in New Orleans.

Carrie Ryan's zombie series is another great Halloween read, for its dark ambiance and themes. There is one bit of creepiness that's almost unbearable (if you've read it, you'll probably agree which part that is) but so incredibly well-written.

What about you? What are your favorite Halloween reads or movies? Feel free to include the link to your RTW post in your comment if you're participating.

Autumn Postcard

I don't know about you, but it always feels like time compresses towards the end of the year. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's day get closer together, blending into one harried season.

This is also the time of year that I reflect on all the things that were supposed to happen. Like this was supposed to be the year of the agent, the book deal, when fame and fortune came knocking at my door. For me, none of those things happened!

It's easy to get discouraged if you dwell on all the things that should happen, and not acknowledge all the good things that did happen. So if you're looking back, remember to inventory all those serendipitous occasions too.

And if you're already starting to stress for the holidays, here is a video I took up along Carson River, with the autumn colors and quaking aspens:

Happy Autumn Everyone!

And don't forget that the giveaway for the signed copy of Behind the Bookcase by Mark Steensland closes at midnight tonight, so go enter here and here.

Halloween Urban Fantasy Blog Hop Is Here!

So the fabulous Yelena Casale, writer of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, got this idea to do a Halloween Urban Fantasy Blog Hop, and I got on board. My current work-in-progress, Crow's Rest, is my first full-length urban fantasy novel. I've written some UF short stories (which will likely never see the light of day) and I've always been a fan of the genre as a reader, so I figured why not join the blog hop?

All of our posts will go up on our blogs today, October 24, and each site is offering a giveaway! And we're answering some questions (brace yourself, it's going to be a long post) to help you all get to know us better. Here are my answers:

1. What do you love about the urban fantasy genre (reading and writing)?

For urban fantasy, it's the possibilities that hook me. Like magical realism, it's our own, recognizable world, but with the possibility of magic and something extraordinary. That's been my favorite part of writing Crow's Rest.

My first book, Spirits from the Vasty Deep, is historical fiction and I did a ton of research before even starting to write. Historical fiction involves world-building as well, but there's also a lot of pressure to get the details correct.

But with Crow's Rest, I had the freedom to indulge all the possibilities without the restrictions of a historical basis. I've made up words, folklore, spells, traditions, an entire present-day town. Sure, I drew on Celtic and other mythologies, but it was more of a guideline.

And urban fantasy is a great place to get your geek on, both as a writer and a reader. So many esoteric facts and fantasies come together within the genre!

2. Who is the sexiest supernatural creature? Who’s the scariest?

The sexiest supernatural character? That would be Damon Salvatore. Oh wait--you didn't want that specific of an answer? But seriously, I don't actually think that vampires are inherently sexy (necrophilia, anyone?)--I think that comes from some brilliant writers and Ian Somerhalder actors having fun with those characters.

I do think it's curious that you can find examples of the same creature as hero and villain within the paranormal and urban fantasy genres. A demon might stoke one person's fires, but be the worst nightmare for another. Except zombies--for a long time, that was the creature I was most scared of, and I can't imagine anyone thinking an animate rotting corpse would be sexy. Oh wait, I just remembered the movie Fido.

3. If you could make any supernatural creature, what would it look like and what powers would it have?

I created a type of fae called a corbin for Crow's Rest. The corbin usually cross over into our world by inhabiting crows, but in specific circumstances they can take over human bodies. If it's with the host's cooperation, then the human takes a dreamy sojourn into Fairy while the corbin inhabits the body. If it's without the human's cooperation, and both consciousnesses are fighting for the body, it usually ends in madness for the human.

In Crow's Rest, some of the corbin are no longer satisfied with crow bodies. Or even the occasional accommodating human. They want to come here in their natural forms, with their full, terrible powers intact. It’s happened before, leading to the fall of Rome and the Dark Ages.

4. Do you have any Halloween rituals?

I don't! I've gotten kind of lazy about Halloween since we don't have kids, my nieces and nephews are mostly grown, and our isolated house doesn't lend itself to trick-or-treaters.

But last year on Halloween, I was actually radioactive. The radioactive iodine for my thyroid cancer was administered on October 31, and it's a little different from most radiation treatments because you are radioactive yourself for some days. So I spent it locked in a room, alone and watching stuff on the computer--interrupted by phone calls where everyone joked about if I was glowing!

So if I go for a costume this year, I'm thinking glow paint or glow sticks.

5. Walking at midnight in a forest on Halloween – crazy, scary or adventurous?

It would be adventurous for me--I'm kind of a nature girl, and as long as I could stay awake until midnight I'd be up for it!

6. What is your worst fear?

Yeah, I'm not answering this one. I'm just superstitious enough to not want to attract the attention of what scares me most!

7. What is one of your character’s worst fear?

 For Lonan, the corbin who's been sent to stop his scheming kin from invading, it's fear of what happens if he fails. There was an attempted invasion years before, which was stopped--but not without casualties. And see question number three above for the stakes if he fails.

8. What is your favorite Urban Fantasy novel?

I have lots of favorites (all of Charles de Lint's books, the Borderland series, the first few books in Laurell K. Hamilton's Merry Gentry series, and Christopher Moore), but the Charles de Lint book I often recommend is Svaha. I think it has some great concepts, including a dystopian twist, and the story and writing is more accessible for a newbie to the genre. My favorite Christopher Moore book is A Dirty Job.

9. Who is your favorite Urban Fantasy hero/heroine?

There's some definite crossover between paranormal and urban fantasy, so I would have to say Evie from Kiersten White's Paranormalcy series. She's fun and sassy at first, and as she develops as a character, reveals surprising depth.

10. Which hero/heroine would you love to be on Halloween?

I'd love to be able to dress up as Xena, warrior princess, because it's such a combination of badassness and ridiculous campiness. Hmm, I used to be able to manage her ululation--I wonder if I still can?

Okay, if you stuck around for all that, you're probably wondering about the giveaway that was promised at the beginning!

If you comment on this post, you will be entered to win a signed copy of Behind the Bookcase by Mark Steensland! See Monday's interview post for more on the prize, and if you've already entered the giveaway there, you can also comment here for an extra entry. Double the opportunities, double the odds (unless everyone does it, in which case they're still pretty good odds).

You must leave an email address (feel free to disguise it from bots, like emailaddy (at) gmail (dot) com), and only one entry per person please. Winner will be randomly chosen with a random-number generator. Email will be used to contact the winner only; you will not be added to any kind of list.

Entries close at midnight Pacific Standard Time on October 29th (I'll use the time stamp to determine the cutoff) and the winner will be announced on Angelic Muse on October 31, Halloween!

And yes--this giveaway is open internationally!

Good luck, and don't forget to check out the other participants in the Halloween Urban Fantasy Blog Hop through the links below!

Kristie Cook
A.J. Locke
KH LeMoyne  
Yelena Casale

In the spirit of Halloween, today on Angelic Muse we venture into the spooky world created by author Mark Steensland, in his debut middle-grade novel, Behind the Bookcase.

To start us off, here's the short review I posted on
"I received an advance reader's copy of this book from the author for my birthday, and what a great surprise! This is exactly the kind of book I loved as a kid: secret passages into other worlds, mysterious characters (who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?), a sinister setting, and a talking cat. And since I was a scaredy-cat (still am, truth be told), I love that this book is creepy without being nightmare-worthy for kids. A great read-aloud choice, at Halloween or any time!"

And Mark graciously agreed to be interviewed, and to give away a signed copy of his book to one lucky winner (see the end of this interview for how to win a copy for yourself)! But first, a little background:

Author Mark Steensland was born and raised in California. He self-published his first book while in fourth grade, and has been telling stories ever since -- some of them true. He has also written, directed, and produced numerous award-winning films that have played in festivals around the world. He currently lives in Erie, Pennsylvania, with his wife, their three children, a dog, and a cat he is fairly certain is not Balthazat.

You may also want to go check out Mark's radio interview that aired on NPR-affiliate WQLN, hosted by Kim Young. It's especially recommended for writers aspiring to publication, since his manuscript ultimately found a happy home at Random House!

Onward to our interview!  

ARJ: I listened to your radio interview and I laughed when I heard you talk about overuse of the word "just" in your manuscript. That's one of my tics as well. What other kinds of things did you discover about yourself and your writing quirks?

I have a whole list of repeated words. My guess is that it stems mostly from my struggling to emphasize things and choosing the first word that comes to mind. The truth is that I probably don’t need to emphasize so much within the sentence as within the story itself. There are far better ways of making things important than word choice. Pacing and placement come to mind, for instance. But those things take time to develop.

ARJ: So true that it's easy to get caught up in small details like word choice, and lose sight of the overall picture.

What are some of your favorite kids' books, both as a kid and to read to your own children?

I was absolutely hooked on the “Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators” series when I was younger. I’ve been re-reading them since early this past summer and that’s been quite an experience. They are very clearly from a different time, but I still enjoyed them a lot, much more than “The Hardy Boys.” I loved the “Narnia” chronicles when I was young. I also adored “The Hobbit” and I’ve been having great fun re-reading that with my boys. Last October, we read “Something Wicked This Way Comes” together, which never ceases to amaze me.

But I’ve also really enjoyed having them tell me about good books to read. My kids read “Hatchet” and raved about it, so I read it. They were right. It is a great book. My daughter is a sophomore in high school now and she just read “To Kill A Mockingbird.” So I re-read that to be able to help her with all of her assignments around that book. It’s so much fun to think about how all these great books are available to us whenever we want and that they can still speak so clearly across so many generations.

ARJ: I love The Hatchet, and all Gary Paulsen's books. And even though I was a scaredy-kid, I also loved ghost story collections like "Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery".

Can you tell us anything about your next book?

Yes, I can. I’m very excited about it. Many people assume that I’m writing a sequel or follow-up to “Behind the Bookcase,” but that’s not planned at this stage. I suppose we’ll have to see what sort of reaction the book gets, first. But my next book, which I have already sold to my editor at Random House, is a middle-grade called “The Redemption Game.” It’s told by a man to his son about when he was a child and an adventure he had with his father. His father was once the world’s greatest magician and ran a traveling carnival of magicians. An evil magician turned the whole carnival into a deck of cards and the father went into hiding after this because he was accused of their disappearance. But then he told his son that he needed his help to find this evil magician and free his friends from the deck. So they go on a sort of road-trip.

The other element of the book that is very important is that I wanted to do something different with magic. So I’ve envisioned magic as a gift with a limited lifespan.That is, if you have the gift of magic, once you use it, it’s gone. Small or simple tricks use only a little bit of magic, but big tricks use lots of magic. And one of the things this man has been hiding from is the idea that he might not have enough magic to save his friends from this deck of cards. So they must find other magicians to help them. The book itself is designed like a deck of cards. It has 52 chapters and each chapter is another card in the deck--another part of the carnival that has been transformed.

ARJ: That sounds really cool--especially since you've spent time figuring out the visual aspect of the story. Just curious: did you reserve film rights for Behind the Bookcase, or are you content with your role as an author in this case?

I did reserve the performance rights. We went out early with the manuscript and got some interest from a few companies, but nothing firm. We’re going out again with it soon and we’ll see what happens. I think there are lots of ways to make a film out of it that could be really interesting.

ARJ: Good luck with that! In the book, you did a great job with character-building and world-building--does one come easier to you than the other?

I don’t think anything worthwhile is easy. That’s part of what makes it valuable. When I started writing “Behind the Bookcase,” I had been writing mostly screenplays for a very long time. So the early draft was very thin in terms of internal characterization. This was one of the first things the editor pointed out to me. The characters did a lot on the page, but there wasn’t much description of their internal state. That’s because you never write internal states in screenplays.

This also means that the world building part was easier in the sense that I was thinking very visually and so composing those parts of the novel were closer to what I had been doing. I had two editors on the book and both of them were very patient with me as I worked to get back in the groove of getting inside the heads of the characters. The editor with whom I am working on “The Redemption Game” really got me in the right place to approach that story so that the character elements were in the foreground from the very beginning. I’m anxious to see how she thinks I did.

ARJ: I'll be anxious to check out The Redemption Game as well! Thanks so much for giving us some insights into your book and writing process, Mark.

Now you probably all want to know how to enter to win a signed copy of Behind the Bookcase!

No hoops to jump through, no math required to tally your entries--just leave a comment below.

You must leave an email address (feel free to disguise it from bots, like emailaddy (at) gmail (dot) com), and only one entry per person please. Winner will be randomly chosen with a random-number generator. Email will be used to contact the winner only; you will not be added to any kind of list.

Entries close at midnight Pacific Standard Time on October 29th (I'll use the time stamp to determine the cutoff) and the winner will be announced on Angelic Muse on October 31, Halloween!

And yes--this giveaway is open internationally!

Good luck! And don't forget to go here for another entry!

Fangirl Crush: Maggie Stiefvater

I read the Scorpio Races last year and absolutely loved it, so I was excited to read The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater's new book.

And then I found out she was going to be appearing within driving distance (about 2 1/2 hours away) and this fangirl had to go see her! That also meant that I've put off reading The Raven Boys because I wanted to wait for a signed hardcover.

The signing I went to was the last stop on Maggie's tour (excepting some Texas dates) so if you are a fan too and missed out on a signed copy of The Raven Boys, I managed to snag one for the upcoming Pens for Paws Auction in March. Maggie even added a special little doodle, which will be revealed when it goes up for auction.

Thanks, Maggie, for the entertaining reading, and for writing books introducing new readers to myth!

Writer's Digest extended the deadline for their Young Adult Fiction Competition to October 31.

That means you still have time to write and polish your manuscript for submission!

Maximum word count is 4,000 and the fee is $20 per entry.

One First Place Category Winner will receive:
Plus a chance to win the Popular Fiction Awards Grand Prize including $2,500 and a trip to the 2013 Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City.

If you want to try your hand at something other than Young Adult Fiction, they've also extended the deadlines to October 31 in the following categories:

  • Science Fiction
  • Thriller
  • Romance
  • Crime
  • Horror
  • The short story competition has a deadline of November 15.

  • For more info on these, go to their main competitions page.

RTW: Flickering Flames in Fall

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: October!! It is SO fall! How does your writing (place, time, inspiration, etc) change with the seasons?
 I'll answer the place part of the prompt with a photo:

This is where I write longhand and edit year-round, but in the fall we light the pilot for the massive propane heat stove just out of frame. It makes the room so cozy, and during power outages it's our only source of heat. So on those evenings, we play board games by light of the oil lamp and the flickering flames

Sigh. This year we've had record highs for September, but it's finally supposed to drop below 90 tomorrow.
Oh, yeah, we're supposed to tie this back into writing, aren't we? Well, one of the things I've noticed about the change to cooler weather is that I incorporate comfort foods into my books more. In the summer, my characters end up in situations where they can eat ice cream and sip lemonade, but once I'm in my fleece writing uniform it's all about the stews, crusty bread, pies, and pasties.

And rainy days are absolutely writing days! Except when they're reading days, of course. What about you? Does your routine change with the seasons?

Feel free to put a link to your post in the comments if you played along with Road Trip Wednesday. Don't forget to go to the YA Highway post and read all the answers!

Harper Voyager is opening up to unagented submissions, but only for a brief window! From October 1st through October 14th, you can submit your adult or YA adult speculative fiction manuscript for consideration for their digital line.

The completed manuscript must be at least 70,000 words, with 80,000-120,000 listed as their ideal range. And they're looking for these genres:

"We’re seeking all kinds of adult and young adult speculative fiction for digital publication, but particularly epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural. For more idea of the type of books we love to read and publish, check out our authors and their titles at"

They plan to release one title per month, so get polishing if you want to submit during this window!

RTW: Best Books of September 2012

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: What was the best book you read in September?

 I read a few books this month, but the winner is the sequel to my July pick, Girl of Fire and Thorns:

 Definitely one of those sequels that holds up to the first, if not taking it one better. (The other book I felt like that about was Demonglass, the sequel to Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins). Crown of Embers has just enough familiar fantasy elements to make it feel cozy, but it also has such wonderful worldbuilding and characters that it treads new ground.

And I wanted to give a shoutout to a few other books I enjoyed this month:

 I picked this up at a library booksale because it looked like it might be a good comp title for my first book. It is, but it's also just a great book, with eccentric characters and awkward situations abounding.

And the other one is by a local author, Keli Gwyn:

I have a little bit of bias, obviously, because it mentions so many of our local historical landmarks. But truthfully, I was mainly buying this in support and ended up loving it. There is some great banter between the main character and the love interest, and despite this being a "clean" romance, there is plenty of tension. This is one you can recommend as a fun, historical romance without worrying if your grandma will be shocked by the content. (Mine wouldn't have been. She got a red lace thong for her 75th birthday)

So that's what I've been reading!
Feel free to put a link to your post in the comments if you played along with Road Trip Wednesday. Don't forget to go to the YA Highway post and read all the answers!

Spread the Word: Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week is from September 30th through October 6th this year, and once again the organizers are putting out a call for the public to submit videos for a Virtual Read-Out. This year, they've expanded the criteria and you'll now have three options for joining in:

From their site:
1) You can submit a video no more than 3 minutes long of a reading from a banned or challenged book. The video should include information on where and why the book was banned or challenged. You may also add a comment about why you believe the book is important. Please keep your remarks brief.

2) A video of an eyewitness account of local challenges can be submitted. This video should be no longer than three minutes long.

3) Create a promotional video for Banned Books Week like the videos featured. The video should be no longer than five minutes long. The video’s message should focus on celebrating the freedom to read during Banned Books Week.

Follow the links above to find examples of videos, and the celebrity contributions are well worth watching too. And here's the video I posted last year.

If you choose to make a video, I'd love it if you came back and left me a link in the comments!

RTW: Humbaba's Curse

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: In honor of this month's Bookmobile book, Marissa Meyer's CINDER, name a fable or story you'd like to see a retelling of. If you're feeling creative, come up with a premise of your own!

Back in my early college days, I took a Children's Literature course that was divided up into Picture Books, Mythology, and Poetry. At the time, I was starting out as a professional storyteller, so the Mythology section held my interest the most. I must have read hundreds of myths, legends, and folktales that semester, between the class requirements and searching for material to include in my storytelling repertoire.

For our final, we had to retell a myth from an unusual perspective, and I chose the Forest Journey portion of The Epic of Gilgamesh--told from the point of view of Humbaba, the monster. I can still remember the first line:

I emerged into the world through a cleft in the Mountain, slick with the waters that ran there and bearing a caul of moss.

I got an A on the project, but I would certainly do things differently now that I've got so many other skills in my writer's toolbox. But I had intended on picking up different parts of the epic and retelling them from different perspectives (like Gilgamesh's mother). And maybe I still will.

In the meantime, whenever I see books on the Gilgamesh epic, I always pick them up and check out the new translations and insights.

Feel free to put a link to your post in the comments if you played along with Road Trip Wednesday. Don't forget to go to the YA Highway post and read all the answers!

And by the way, I loved Cinder! Urged my niece to read it, but her dad won't let her buy books for her Kindle. I'll have to start giving her Kindle gift cards along with the paper books I give her for Christmas.

And nearly forgot this

Not Another Cat Metaphor!

Those of you who have been following my blog for awhile (Hi Michelle!) may remember that I volunteer at a cat sanctuary, Fat Kitty City. Yes, the same sanctuary that I ran the Pens for Paws Auction for in May, raising some much-needed funds with bidding on critiques and signed books.*

After missing a few weeks of sanctuary visits while I was sick, I've been back to see all my kitty friends once again. And along with all the old favorites, who are mostly permanent residents, we have some newer adoptable cats. Like Gonzo:

And the thing that strikes me the most is, why don't these great cats have homes yet? Gonzo is so desperate to be close to someone that she'll fall asleep draped over my arm (usually because the competition for my lap is too fierce). And another kitty, Thomas, sounds like you've started a wood chipper when you pick him up, his purr is so loud.

All these wonderful, unique cats just waiting to be noticed and matched up to someone who can appreciate them. Sorta like manuscripts, right?

I've lost count of how many times I've read writing samples, or critiqued entire manuscripts, and thought, "Why hasn't an editor or agent snatched this up yet?" Sometimes the agents and editors wise up and sign the writer, but other times that fantastic manuscript continues to languish in slush piles.

Those of us who have been querying projects for awhile, only to get rejection after rejection, continue to write and query in the hopes that someone will come to love our books as much as we do. And in so many "I got an agent!" success stories, that's what seems to be crucial: a series of circumstances that land the manuscript in the right hands at the right time.

Then, that formerly-homeless book becomes a beloved new member of an agency family, appreciated for what it is as much as what it might become. Just like Gonzo and Thomas, and all the other cats waiting for their new people to find them, have the potential to do.

Maybe we need to start an overlooked manuscript sanctuary? And if an agent adopts one, it comes with a cat to watch you while you type.

*I've already gotten a few commitments for the next Pens for Paws Auction, and will be moving it up to March.

If you'd like to do something to help Fat Kitty City right now, you can go to Purina's Rally to Rescue page and vote for our ambassador kitty, Bogey. He is one of four finalists, and the winner's shelter group gets $5,000 worth of food. Our 100+ cats eat a lot of food, and voting doesn't cost anything but your time. Please help us help other cats by casting your vote for Bogey!

Brief post today--just directing your attention to a great contest opportunity.

YAtopia and Entranced Publishing are teaming up for a pitch contest, with a chance at a slot in an online editing workshop and possible e-publication on the line.

On September 7th (UPDATE: they've moved it up to September 1!), you'll need to have the following ready for their pitch contest post:

- Name
- Email
- Title
- Age-range & Genre
- Word-count
- Hook (100 words or fewer)

So head on over and check out the details!

Get away from everything except writing, of course! Most writers dream of getting out of their rut. Somewhere they can be free from the demands of their own household, leaving them open to inspiration in new places.

I came across a couple of residency programs lately that let you do just that:

The Jentel Artist Residency Program is open to four visual artists (this includes you, illustrators!) and two writers for each residency period (four months, in either winter/spring or summer/fall). Selected participants are awarded spacious accommodations on a Wyoming ranch, plus a stipend to cover expenses while there. Opportunities for quiet reflection in nature, or community interaction (both with the other residents and the wider community), abound.

And in an interesting twist, this program is NOT open to students. Quite a few residencies and grants are geared to students, so it's refreshing to find one where you're not competing for academic credit. You will, however, need to be living in the U.S. and be over 25. There is a $20 application fee, plus a requirement for submission of samples.

If you're not able to manage four months away from family and home, the Martha's Vineyard Writers Residency offers periods ranging from two to six weeks. The participants are responsible for more of the financial aspects of their stay ($200.00/WEEK, not including meals, plus a $10 application fee) but there aren't many other circumstances where a writer can stay in an historic inn on Martha's Vineyard for that price. Let alone, have other artists and writers join into a community of peers.

And I've mentioned it before, but the American Antiquarian Society offers a stipend to cover housing and other expenses while you make use of their extensive resources for your historical work. The focus is pre-twentieth century American history, and there is a wide range of works that qualify (plays, costume design, illustrations, documentary films, etc). There is no application fee, and the monthlong residency can be taken any time in 2013. But you must apply by October 5.

So if this is something you'd be interested in, get those application packets going!