Friday, September 30, 2011

Firsts Fridays: Debut Novelist, Michael Barclay


UPDATE: We have a winner for Michael's E-book!

DAMYANTI

Congrats to you! Enjoy the read!
I’m pretty excited to step out of the box with my next Firsts Fridays author. Michael Barclay doesn’t write young adult or any kid-lit for that matter. He has written an action packed espionage thriller! How cool is that? And lucky me, I am one of his virtual tour stops and he's going to tell us how it's been writing his first novel. Ready to hear more? Well, he is doing a pretty massive giveaway on his site HERE and I am doing a Hill 170 e-book giveaway on my site. As usual, comment below and I will random.org a pick. Sound good? Cool. Now read on to get to know Michael Barclay.

DB: Hi Michael! Thanks for stopping by during your blog tour.

MB: Hi Deana, thanks so much for hosting my book tour today.

DB: First off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your book, Hill 170?

MB: Well, since I am so right-brained that I answered this question last (some of the answer is scattered below) I'll start off by saying I'm nowhere near as interesting as my stories. I'm the sort that, in a nearly empty room, I can disappear. But when I start to tell a story I become highly animated. The first storyteller I ever saw was a large, crinkle-faced man whose grand gestures and vivid expressions took me out of myself and threw me into a dream world that has been with me since. When I hear my 6 year old daughter tell a story, I recognize that she has been infected as well.

My goal for Hill 170 was to get readers to care about the characters, get drawn into the escalating action and to be satisfied with the ending (that 'well, that was good; I could read more of that' feeling). I've had comments about crying over certain bits (read the book!), finishing in one sitting (that's always a bit weird; it took most of a year to write!) and wanting a sequel. So, I'm pretty pleased with how it's worked.

Now I'd like to get more readers aware of the novel. Hopefully this tour will do just that.

DB: It sounds like you are well on your way to doing just that.
This is your first novel, but you have written many tech articles. Do you feel that experience has helped or hindered your dabbling in the fiction side of writing?

MB: The main advantage of having been through the publication process before was I knew bringing my first novel to fruition was going to be a lengthy, multi-stage process. Past experience kept me from worrying (too much) when my initial 'deadline' kept moving forward.

DB: That patience I’m sure was helpful.

I read on your website that you served in the USAF (United States Air Force) Intelligence and your book is about Sergeant Dodge Bryce who also serves with the USAF. How much would you say your experience helped you write this book? Are any of the characters in the book written after yourself or those you served with?

MB: As my afterword mentions, this all came about from that Navy ad from years back - "If someone wrote a book about your life, would anyone want to read it?" Initially Hill 170 was planned as a sort of collection of anecdotes broken into short chapters. Right about the time I began putting ideas to paper I was also re-reading Nobel House by Clavell. In his novel he takes bits from a corporate 'feud' over a 100 year period and crams them into one week. Following his lead I took three years and likewise squeezed them down to one week. It made the events really hum. Suddenly I was looking at an actual thriller. Of course, there are many purely fictional bits sprinkled in but I'll never divulge which is which.

DB: Oh, now that is cool!
MB: Most of the characters - with the exception of Dodge, Han and Lin - are based on people I knew and worked with while in the USAF. Mixed and matched to make them larger than life (a little from column A here, a bit from column B there...). I think if you take any 'normal' person and place them in those circumstances (read chapter 15 to see what I mean), a believable character is what you will end up with.

Interestingly, some former 6903rd members have commented that they recognize Moon. They're right.

DB: I’ll bet those you served with really love your book.

Most of my readers are writers too, so it is always an interesting topic around here to know how other writers write. Are you an extensive outliner (plotter) or do you take your experiences and your story and roll with it (pantster)?

MB: I laughed when I read this Q. Writing Hill 170 taught me one huge lesson (among many) - 'Know where you're going!' As I mentioned, I did not plan a thriller initially. I had a good 50k+ words down when the idea struck me. Out of those 50k I probably kept only 1 or 2 pages. For my current work - Sellebrity (working title) - I've spent all summer plotting it out, testing the characters, cutting to remove any fat and tweaking to make things gripping. By now I know the story inside and out. I’m sure things will change as I write the story (isn’t it interesting when the characters tell you what comes next?) but I won't start page 1 until it's as perfect as I can get it.

DB: I do love it when the characters take on a mind of their ownJ
Have you self published or traditionally published Hill 170? And how have you liked the process of the route you chose?

Self - and I'm very happy with it to this point. I know military espionage thrillers are not leading at the bookstores (What's left of them that is. Huh, there's an interesting correlation that just came to mind; a dearth of Crichton and [good] Clancy concurrent with a dearth of bookstores. Hey, I'm just sayin'.) and there are no agents going to take a chance on such a debut. With traditional (aka legacy) pubbing, Hill 170 might never have seen the light of day. And while many readers would rather be bitten in the neck than pick up anything with the word military attached to it there are a great deal of target (i.e. - military) and non-target readers who are really enjoying Hill 170. It's very gratifying that I was able to get the novel to them, pretty much on my own - or should I say, following the lead of other self-pubbers like Amanda Hocking and J.A. Konrath.

DB: You’re a funny guy MichaelJ I’ve got to say, you’ve intrigued me. I can’t wait to read your book!

What do you see the future holding for you as far as your writing goes? More novels, more tech articles?

MB: Novels all the way. Once the cork was popped there was no replacing it. I have a bookshelf in my library that is dedicated to my future novels. To help keep the ideas distinct I'll buy a book, turn its cover inside out, write my future title on the blank spine and set it with the others. Notes for each book go into a large filing cabinet. The shelf currently has 14 books on it. I've got a lot of work to do.

DB: Isn’t it crazy how writing one does that?
Last question and this is just for fun…

In your bio you have a hard time expounding on the person that is Michael Barclay beyond the military and writing. So I am going to challenge you here and ask you to tell us something about yourself that doesn’t have to do with those things that readers would love to know about you?

MB: That is a challenge. I'm going to cheat and give two answers right off the top of my head. First, and this is why this is such a challenge to me, I don't think I fit in with people. Not by choice; it's just that I seem to see things very differently than most people (okay, everybody) I come across. Maybe I am naive. For example, when I once watched Survivor I quickly decided that if I went I would say 'Let me win and we can all divvy up the prize evenly. This way we all get a nice, 'back to nature' vacation and a fat payday afterward.' When not one person even came near suggesting that, I turned it off.

Second, which ties in perfectly (and maybe helps explain the first), I have always gotten along unusually well with animals. Deer, cats, squirrels... all walk up to me like they know me. One of the coolest things is what happens with butterflies - they love to flutter around me and use me as a landing pad. I have no idea why, but this has been going on my whole life. No, I did not mention this on either my USAF questionnaire or my college entrance papers.

When my wife and I saw the scene in Avatar where the floaty white things cover the MC, she leaned over and said 'That's you!’

DB: I can’t believe it! I am interviewing the male version of Snow White. I think this has to be the most chuckle-worthy interviews I’ve ever done.

Michael you’re awesome! Thanks so much for being here today. Best of luck with your book and future endeavors!

DB: Thanks very much for having me. It's been fun.
If you all thought Michael was as great as I did, go check out his website HERE, and buy his book HERE.

And as always, don’t forget to sign up for the Killer Characters Blogfest. I’ll be fun!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are You Query Ready?

For those of you who frequent my blog, you probably know I just attended my first writer's conference and that I absolutely loved agent Tina Wexler. Not just because she is a fireball in this tiny Brooklyn package, but because she had some EXCELLENT advice!

Now it is my turn to share the love...

Here are some things Tina Wexler says you need to do before you are ready to query:

-Finish your manuscript: This should be a no brainer, but man do we want that feedback. She suggests you get that from others and query when you're done. I mean, what if they request a full and you can't deliver? Whoops.

- Manuscript is revised: And she means in a BIG way, around 30-50% big. And by revised, she means chunks taken out, chunks added, scenes moved around, characters added, altered or deleted. You get the picture. Revise your butt off.

- Read out loud: Preferably by another person while you listen. This makes total sense to me because she said we read our MS the way we want it to be read. If someone reads it out loud we may find one character we loved sounds needy and annoying when read by someone else.

- Chapter by chapter outline: As boring as it is, this will lay it all out there. You can really see what is cohesive and what isn't.

- Timeline: For the same reasons above. You may find some big gaps in time or snafus you hadn't realized before.

- Have a conversation with your protagonist: She suggests at every pivotal point in your MS, stop and ask the protag what would happen if he/she chose a different route. We as writers might try to make it easier on our characters in order to essentially make it easier on us, the writers, but is it what's best for your manuscript?

- READ: And not just beta reads, but read three books in the genre you are writing in that have been published in the last year.

- Get some betas: And if they tell you that your MS is fabulous, get another. They aren't really helping. Also make sure they are in the know about the genre and age group you are writing.

- Take some time off: 2 weeks, no touching the darn thing!

- Edit for voice: Once all of the above is done, go back and edit for voice. Tina says writers can grow attached to the words that get us to the end, but by going back and adding in some voice, it can really enhance our MS.

and last...

-Query because you think you are ready: Not because you are sick of looking at your manuscript and you want some feedback.

Good advice eh? What do you think? Are you ready to query? Do you do some or any of these things before hitting the query craze?

And just a reminder, if you haven't signed up for the Killer Characters Blogfest yet...you should! It'll be a scream:)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Firsts Fridays: Debut Author, Jenn Johansson!

Don't forget to have some fun with Emily Rittel and I in the Killer Characters Blogfest. It'll be a scream!


Today’s Firsts Friday’s guest is not only celebrating her first book to be published. She’s doing it European style. That’s right, Jenn Johansson will be debuting her novel Insomnia Italy and Germany, but you don’t want to hear it from me. Let’s get to know Jenn and have her tell us:)
DB: Jenn, you are a doll for doing this interview. I know you must be crazy busy in the middle of edits so I thank you so much for being hereJ

JJ: Thanks for having me, Deana! I’m happy you asked me.

DB: Your debut novel Insomnia is going to be published in Italy and Germany. Can you tell the unknowing writers how that kind of deal happens and if and when it will make its way to the US?

JJ: I was one of those “unknowing writers” until this all happened to me, so of course! Basically it all comes back to literary scouts. I’d heard of them, but really had no clue what they did until one of them found my manuscript and loved it. Here is an in-depth version of the process, but the quick and dirty is: 1 -Most manuscripts on submission have been in the hands of a scout at one point or another. 2 - Scouts work for foreign publishers and recommend books they love to them. 3 - Within one week of a scout getting her (as she put it) “sticky scout fingers” on my MS, we were going to auction in Germany. 4 – Ahem, they can help…a lot.
Normally a book will sell in the U.S. first, and then whoever holds the foreign rights, will take it out and start submitting it in other countries. Going the opposite direction (as I have) is pretty rare (because I’m backwards like that), and it’s been a really wild ride, but I’ve loved every moment of it.

As far as a US deal goes, let’s just say that umm…things are in the works and I hope to have more news for you soon? I promise that as soon as I’m allowed to talk about things I will let you know on twitter and my blog.
DB: Oooo it all sounds so exciting. I think I will definitely stay tuned!

What has your journey been like from writing Insomnia until now and what more do you have left to do until the release date?
DB: Like many writers, my journey has been quite the roller-coaster ride and I don’t really see that changing any time soon. I am very excited for the new challenges as I move closer to the release dates and to the fun/daunting new task of working on a sequel that is actually under contract. Sometimes this whole ride is more than a little bumpy and sometimes makes me feel a little ill, to be honest, but I’d never have forgiven myself if I’d gotten off before I’d reached this point. The call, the contract, the offer—every step forward is worth a hundred steps back. Don’t give up. *fist pump*

DB: I’ll join in on that fist pumpJ
Another question for writers not in the know: word is, marketing is largely up to debut authors themselves. Are you finding that to be the case? And if so what are you doing to market yourself silly?

JJ: You know, I’m not really close enough yet to know what will be done in the way of marketing. My German publisher seems very willing to do marketing…but I plan to do everything I can think of to help. My degree/background is in marketing and I’m really looking forward to brainstorming all the ideas I can to help make this a success for me and my publishers. They are investing in me, and I feel like if I don’t give it my all, regardless of what they’re doing, then I’m failing both of us.
DB: I have a feeling you are going to do great!

Speaking of marketing, I’m sure telling us about the book can’t hurt; can you tell us about Insomnia?
JJ: I’d love to! Thanks for asking. INSOMNIA is a YA supernatural psychological thriller. It’d probably be clearest if I just show you the query. Besides, when I was querying, I was always intrigued to see queries and pitches that worked. So here it is:
Sixteen-year-old Parker spends every night trapped in the dreams of the last person he made eye contact with, and it’s killing him. He misses soccer practice, falls asleep at the wheel, and his mom thinks he has a drug problem. His exhaustion from never reaching the deeper levels of sleep is getting worse every day, and he knows his time is running out. Until he meets Mia.
 Mia’s dreams are the first Parker’s encountered where he can finally get real sleep. A good night of rest after so long is addictive. He has to have it. But getting it means he must follow Mia and find a way to make eye contact every day. Mia is increasingly freaked out, even turning Parker’s best friends against him.

When Mia starts to receive threatening e-mails, her wonderful dreams become scenes of a horror movie—and Parker is cast as the villain. He must discover who is truly tormenting her, and clear his name, before she turns him in for a crime he hasn’t committed–or worse, the true stalker makes good on his threats to end her dreams forever.

DB: No way! This makes me want to run out and get it right away! I’m seriously jealous of the European readers:) And thanks so much for sharing your query. I find reading them invaluable

What about your agent, Kathleen Rushall? She helped out with a blogfest of mine and I found her just wonderful! What kind of agent is she and how did you snag such a gem?


JJ: I think mostly, I was ridiculously freakin’ lucky. Kathleen is amazing and wonderful. She’s a cheerleader when I need one, and the guru who answers all my questions. My manuscript is so much better with all her recommendations. She’s a great communicator and really keeps me in the loop on everything that is happening…on top of all that, she’s hilarious.  To be honest, she is everything I never knew that I really wanted in an agent. If you haven’t queried her and you are querying, she should be at the top of your list. Seriously—the top. Go ahead. Move her to the top now. I can wait. *cue elevator music here*
DB: Good call Jenn, good call.
Last question…
I’m going to leave it open to you. Please tell us anything. Whether it be something fun, about your book, something silly. We want to get to know Jenn better. So what can you spill?
JJ: Wow, the freedom is kind of…intoxicating. Anything… I sing when I probably shouldn’t, dance when I definitely shouldn’t, and read at the most inconvenient of times--but not when I’m driving, despite what I’ve been accused of. My hair is quite twisted, some call it curly, but I often question if what goes on in my head somehow makes it come out all messed up. I am a very positive, happy person, but my books trend towards the dark and twisty. I’m a little scared of where I’d find an outlet for that side of me if I ever stopped writing, so for the sake of our society, I don’t plan to. That’s right people, I’m writing for your own safety. Don’t question it. Just read. :P
DB: In that case, Jenn, thanks so much for writing! I think I speak for everyone when I say it has been a blast getting to know you better.
Again, thanks so much! You are awesomeJ
JJ: Thank you, Deana! This was so fun. I loved your questions!
Okay, admit it people, you all are dying to get to know Jenn more. Well, what are you waiting for, go check her out HERE.
Until next time...
Keep learning. Keep writing.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Am I bad?

So yesterday was my nine year anniversary. Yay for us! Well, we decided to go low key because we want to do something awesome for our ten year, so dinner and a movie seemed to be the ticket.
We drop the kids off at my husbands parents and head downtown to a very cool vintagy type theatre called the Kentucky Theatre. I love it, it is decorated like an old-timey playhouse and just the whole vibe is my type of thing.
They usually play films that don't make it to the big theatres and yesterday they were showing this movie called Sarah's Key, about a lady who discovers she is about to buy an apartment once owned by a Jewish famiy who abandoned it in the 40's. Due to her journalistic nature and some personal issues she tries to find out what happened to the family.
Well, ***SPOILERS*** I had no idea I was about to sit down to a two hour movie on a happy day about the French deportation of the Jewish to concentration camps and one particular families story.
Based on the French novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, Sarah's Key starts out with two ADORABLE little kids tickling each other under the sheets. They are laughing just like my two kids. They are the same age as my two kids...the same kids I just dropped off with the mom-in-law 30 mins earlier. They also look scarily similar to my two kids.
So these two kids hear a knock on the door and Sarah (older sister), fearing for her brother locks him in the closet to keep him safe only to have her and her whole family ripped away and eventually taken to a concentration camp.
Can I tell you I am already bawling my eyes out at this point in the movie because it is devastating. Not to mention it shoots a scene of an empty apt, the closet door and this tinny voice whispering Sarah's name.
Many times through the movie she tried to get back to him. She loses her parents, gets sick, runs from the camp with a little girl who eventually dies and finally makes it back to her old apt with the help of two lovely people.
She runs in, anticipation clear on her face, stomps past the new occupants (who happen to be the family of the lady trying to find out about the little girl) and unlocks the door. The moment she opens it she screams a gut wrenching child's scream because her brother is still in the closet dead.
I am getting choked up just writing this because the little girl should win an Emmy or an Oscar or something. My heart fell to my feet at this moment because all I could envision were my kids in that situation. Oh gosh and that poor boy, how he was so scared and must have felt abandoned and then this little Sarah whose guilt must have been insurmountable. Can you imagine the burden she had to bear? Well she didn't bear forever because she ended up driving her car in front of a mac truck and killing herself as an adult.
I have never in all my life cried so hard...I mean shoulders shaking mouth open so I don't sob out loud crying through the WHOLE movie. It was so bad that I went to the bathroom afterward and cried some more in the stall just because it was so devastatingly heartbreaking. To think that so many stories like that happened during WWII and crazy things like that happen still...I can't find words.
Anyway, what an anniversary huh? The movie was beautiful, because it was so real and innocent and scary but on my anniversary? I can't imagine how hauntingly great the book is and I don't know if I ever want to know now because I have a permanent scar on my heart from the movie.
Here is the question I pose to you all...
Afterward, we went to dinner at this very cool little place downtown and my husband wanted to order the rabbit. I kindly (with continued watery eyes) asked him if he would order something else because my emotional state couldn't handle, on top of the vivid images in my head from the movie, a dead little bunny on the table. Is that bad? Could you handle Thumper being chowed on after a movie experience like that? What is the worst anniversary experience you've ever had?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Conference Updates

This weekend I was able to attend my first ever writer's conference. It was the SCBWI conference in Nashville, TN and wow is all I've got to say! Okay, it isn't even close to all I have to say. If you haven't been to one you REALLY should try to go. It was not only a wonderful learning experience, but being around writers...and not just any writers, but writers that write for the same age and genre, is almost zen-like:)
Not only did I leave feeling I learned more, but I left with a sense of, I can do this! No, it isn't always easy but it is possible.

Some highlights that I constantly want to sqee over:

-I did a class with agent Tina Wexler (I love her by the way!) called First Pages where a person randomly reads submissions of first pages and then Tina crits them. Well I got there late and had to sit in the very front so I got a great view of what she was pulling out of the box and wouldn't you know, the first one was mine! Yep, I literally felt like I was in a scene from a novel. My heart was thumping so hard it was in my mouth. I've never had my work read out loud before so this was just crazy! What was even crazier was her response. She was smiling as she took the microphone and said something along the lines of, "I guess you can tell when I like something from my smile." Nuh uh! She liked it! Then she said my descriptions were evocative and so on and I don't remember because I was about to explode from the inside out:) She did have a crit about the grammar in one sentence and stupid me was so freaked out by the whole experience that I don't ever remember what it was. Oh well. I'll figure it out.

- Another class just like that but with queries, done by the fab Erin Murphy, had my query at the end of the stack. Not nearly as mind boggling that way just so you know. Well, low and behold, she had great feedback too! Said it was an ambitious story and my personality showed through and it was a good personality and that's a plus and that she would request more pages. Woot!

- For lunch Erin Murphy came and sat at our lunch table. She is just cool people how laid back she is. One tip I learned from her at lunch. Don't EVER slide a manuscript under the bathroom stall of an agent when their doing their biz:)

- I took part in my first face-to-face crit group and got amazing feed back and some things I know I have to work on.

-I made awesome connections and gave out loads of business cards for beta reader hook-ups.

The whole weekend was made of cool. And guess what? I didn't puke once:)

I can't wait to go to another one!

Until next time...
Keep writing. Keep learning.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Conference Here I Come

I swear I feel like this is the first day of a brand new school. It's a school I want to go to but I have these visions of no one liking me or everyone being way better at the craft than I am. I know. Stupid. I need to quit.
I also keep trying to go over a conversation...or elevator pitch just in case some awesome lady like, say, oh I don't know, Erin Murphy wants to know what I'm writing about. Everything I keep coming up with sucks. Maybe because I keep stumbling over my words like I stutter. Maybe.
Anyways, wish me luck! I can't wait, but I may puke. Good times.

Before I leave a big what's up to my 401 followers! Very cool:)

And don't forget to sign up for the fantastic blogfest E.R. King and I have planned for you. Killer Characters Blogfest be the name, fun be the game. Elana Johnson is helping us out with the prizes so you really, I mean really don't want to miss out!

Until next time...
Keep writing. Keep learning.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Writers Butt

Don't forget to sign up for the Killer Characters Blogfest while you're here. It'll be a scream muahahahah!

How would I have known four years ago when I started writing that it would consume me? I didn't. Or that I would actually crank out novel sized manuscripts? Not that either. What about getting little to no exercise as I sit my tail in a chair day after day slowly packing on the pounds? I sure hoped not. But alas, as I was complaining to a friend the other day about how I have got to get all these extra LBs off my body I realized...holy crap! These evil things have snuck up on me since I've been writing!
Now, don't get me wrong, I have never been a stick thin gal, but man, I have never been so large and in charge before either.
So this past week as my butt lands in its usual spot and I am procrastinating with my writing by visiting blogs I realized...I'm not alone!  Elana Johnson talked about it in her August New Year's Resolutions. Kristin Creative noticed this awhile back and is now on week 4 of her get in shape challenge, and Angela Cothran cracked me up yesterday when she said in reference to her being a teenage beauty queen...yes she was(Angela hope you don't mind if I'm sharing:), "I'm not a beauty queen any more, now I'm just a tired mother of three who should be exercising, but would rather work on her WIP and eat chocolate--not nearly as glamorous. Oh, to be seventeen again."
No doubt Angela! And no way! Could it be so many of us have the sad affects of...dun dun dun...WRITERS BUTT?
So as I prepare myself for my first conference this weekend I realize, My 'About Me' photo is pre-writers butt. I'm going to be meeting people who probably won't even recognize me (Juliana, Marcie...can't wait to meet you:) so here we go. Meet writers butt me. Sorry...not brave enough to post a full shot yet so please cut a poor girl some slack.

When I come back from the conference me and my tail are going head to head people. So get ready for some writers butt updates.

Now tell me, do you have writers butt? Have you ever? And if you have and got rid of it, what did you do? And yea I know eat less, move more is the key, but WHAT do you do when you move? I need all the help I can get so sound off if you will and let's get rid of writers butt together:) 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Killer Characters Blogfest with Prizes...and a Somber Note

I know, I know. I said I was changing my blogging days to Tuesdays and Fridays.

I also said I would post when I felt the need. Well, I feel the need because....

I am lucky enough to be co-hosting a most freakishly awesome blogfest with my blogging buddy Emily Rittel. So if you can't wait to dress up as your favorite character for Halloween why not join us and write about them first...and while you're at it you may just win a KILLER prize!

Here are the rules:


Photobucket

The theme is, you guessed it, Killer Characters! Is there a hero who's haunted your dreams? How about a lower-than-dirt bad guy who's made your skin crawl? Or a spunky sidekick who's stolen your heart? Tell us about them!

Join us in three challenges:
1) Oct 24 post about your favorite literary supporting character
2) Oct 26 post about your favorite literary protagonist
3) Oct 28 post about your favorite literary antagonist
All entires should be 250 words maximum, but you may use all the pictures you'd like.

Choose characters you feel strongly about. They don't all have to be evil—though seeing how it's Halloween, malevolent characters are welcome—but they should be killer (AKA awesome, incredible, terrifying, formidable, etc.). Note: The characters you choose should be famous literary characters. For instance, the Ugly Stepsisters (supporting), Batman (protagonist), and the Wicked Witch of the West (antagonist).
Then write concise, clear, and convincing entries for a chance to win win win. Explain why your characters are the best!

To encourage you to join, we have three killer prizes. We're giving away Elana Johnson's book, POSSESSION, to the third prize winner. The runner-up will receive a 5-page critique from Elana herself, and the winner will receive a 10-page critique from Elana!

Emily and I will judge the contest. The winners will be announced on October 31.

To participate you must be a follower of my blog and Emily's blog. Sign-up in the linky below and e-mail address in a comment below. Then grab the button in the sidebar and post it on your blog to identify yourself. The week of the challenges, blog-hop to read and comment on the other entries. Killer Characters Blogfest is going to be a scream! Hopr to see you there mwuahahaha!
***
Now, not meaning to change gears so quickly but feeling I must acknowledge the elephant in the room. Yesterday was 9/11. I know major turn here but every year on 9/11 I submerse myself in documentaries, photos and recaps of that fateful day--now ten years ago. I can't help it. Every year it seems a new story I haven't heard comes up and brings me to tears as fresh as the ones shed in 2001.
I read Robin Week's remembrance which turned me toward Meg Cabot's gut wrenching story and a point I can't help but agree with. It is important to remember.
 I wasn't in any of the devastated places and the closest I came to knowing anyone directly affected by the events was my cousin who was on the second floor of the World Trade Center when the plane hit (she got out safely and very soon after moved to Texas), but I am an American and I am human and would be lying to myself if I said it doesn't affect me in a tremendous way.
With a seven year old daughter and an almost 4 year old son, now I can no longer mourn with my husband in the private way we used to. My daughter is full of questions and concerns and I don't hide what happened from her. But answering my daughter's questions about where I was and what I felt that day forces me to not only relive the tragic events through the eyes of another, but through my own eyes. It reminds me of the worldwide threat we all felt that day--and still continue to feel on some level.
I worked on the 22nd floor of an insurance brokerage in Atlanta, GA and we were told to leave because no one had any idea where a plane might hit next. I remember driving home on 400 in bumper to bumper traffic as we all stared up at the sky, our ears glued to the car radio.
No matter the city or state we lived in we all felt the impact those terrorists drove into each of our hearts, and today, ten years later, I choose to still remember.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Firsts Fridays: Multi-talented, Lisa Cottrell-Bentley

Today’s Firsts Fridays guest is the definition of go-getter…and man do I love go-getters. Read on to find out more about the multi-talented Lisa Cottrell-Bentley.

Lisa M. Cottrell-Bentley has been writing since she was a child, winning her first writing contest at age 9. She’s been writing professionally since 2002. Lisa is an active member of RWA and SCBWI.

Lisa and her daughters spent many hours searching for children’s books about homeschoolers, but found very few. So, they decided to create their own. As they discussed their dream storylines, the Wright on Time series took shape. While they haven’t found any mysterious devices yet, they have done lots of field research trying out many of the activities described in these books.

Lisa lives and learns while writing in southern Arizona with her husband Greg, two happy always homeschooled daughters Zoƫ and Teagan, and three cats. Her desire is for all people to live their own personal dreams, now and for always.

DB: You started writing when you were a child. Have you always known this was the route you wanted to take?
LB: Deep down, I always dreamed of being a published author, but the practicalities of “adult life” led me to follow my more scientific interests through college and my early years as an adult. I received a degree in Mathematics and became a computer engineer for several years. Once I had my first child, my passion for writing was unleashed again—I haven’t stopped since.

DB: I’m glad you found it your passion again!
With all the writing you do, does it come easy for you? For example do you go about writing all your books in the same amount of time, the same way, etc?

LB: This is an interesting question. I don’t have a process for writing. Sometimes I’m so inspired that a story comes out faster than I can type. Sometimes I have to struggle a bit—usually because of a deadline. Those can either freak me out, or give me a “forced” inspirational all-nighter. J
I prefer to keep several writing projects going at once, so that there is always something I can work on.

DB: I would think the dead lines would either force inspiration or insanityJ
You have created the Wright on Time Series which are books where a homeschooled family takes many adventurous trips throughout the US. What else can you tell us about these books?

LB: The Wright family, originally from Arizona, decided as a family to live on the road for a few years in order to facilitate a really fun homeschooling adventure for the children. The kids, Nadia and Aidan, start out as 11 and 7 year olds in Wright on Time: Arizona. The family plans to stay one month in each of the 50 U.S. states and explore as much as possible (corresponding to all of the Wright on Time books). Each book shows one day in a particular state, taking the family on an adventure as well as a unique educational theme.
The parents, Harrison and Stephanie, are very active in the books. Harrison works as a freelance writer and Stephanie telecommutes as a software engineer. Their pet turtle, Prince Pumpkin III, is along for the ride.

As well as being fun individual books, there is an overall science fiction story arc to the Wright on Time books involving a mysterious device that the family finds on their first adventure in Arizona.
I’ve received a lot of fan mail from both homeschooled kids (who like reading about other kids like them) and school kids (who also enjoy them and find them packed with facts to use in book reports).

DB: You had me hooked at sci-fi. What a cool way to experience the world for kids!
Are these the first books you have had published and could you tell us about that journey?

LB: The Wright on Time series are my first published books. The first was Wright on Time: Arizona, Book 1 and was published in August 2009.
I started trying to get published about eight years before I became published. I joined writers’ groups and critique groups and went to conferences. I specifically started writing children’s books since my older daughter (then around seven or so) begged me to after she had gotten fed up with everything she’d been reading.

I followed all the traditional advice: boned up on query letters, learned how to pitch, and was told the same advice over and over… “Get rid of the parents, send the kids to school, make the siblings not like each other, and then we’ll talk because your writing style is very good.”
Since the sole reason I started writing children’s books about homeschoolers was to appeal to the millions of homeschoolers (and their families) who have no role models in fiction, getting rid of those details wasn’t going to happen in my books. (See the next question for the rest of the story.)

DB: Tell us about your publishing company Do Life Right, Inc. and why you decided to start your own?
LB: After spending over eight years trying the “traditional” route to publication, I decided to turn my consulting company into a publishing company. I wrote up a business plan and a marketing plan, figured out expenses, and found an angel investor who loved my vision as much as I do.

DB: So you kept the family values in your books and the brother and sister like each other? That is cutting edge! Good for you to stay true to your vision!
I read on the Do Life Right Inc., site that you recently published a book a child had written. I have to say that is the neatest thing I have heard. Can you tell me how and why that happened?

LB: At Do Life Right, Inc., we are open to publishing books by people of any age. We’re about to publish two collaborative books, actually: one by a group of teens, and one by a Girl Scout troop.
Our choosing what to publish next process is fairly straightforward:

(1)   Write a book that has a realistic homeschooler of today as the main character. Have your critique group help you make it the best book possible.

(2)   Submit a query letter to query@doliferightinc.com

(3)   I currently personally read every submission. If I love it, I ask for a partial or full manuscript (depending on the length and my personal interest level).

(4)   I read those. If I love them and/or think kids or teens will love them, I pass it along to my group of readers. These readers are pre-teens and teens who love fiction. If they love it and DLR has the funding available, we start talking publishing details.
I don’t give potential DLR author names out to my readers, just the story. This helps them choose what they like based solely on what they read. Once a manuscript has met all of this, and the author (and possibly the parents of the author) have signed a contract, then we go through the professional publishing process with them. While small, Do Life Right, Inc. is steadily growing and we publish in a very similar way as traditional publishers (just faster and with only print on demand and electronic formats).

DB: Very cool!
Where do you see things going from here with your writing and publishing company?

LB: Growing! It’s my plan to have Do Life Right, Inc. publish at least four more books this year, and at least a couple dozen next year. We’re on a steadily growing path, putting all our proceeds directly into new books, and marketing endeavors.
I personally have several more books in the Wright on Time series written, waiting for illustrations, and I plan to have them published as soon as possible (after DLR has at least 12 books in our catalog). I also have many new ideas that I’ve been working on in draft form, especially picking up new ideas from my travels and conferences that I’ve attended. J

DB: It sounds like you are on a road straight up.
Thanks so much for the wonderful interview Lisa. Do you have any parting words for us?

LB: Follow your dreams! They might seem big and impossible, but they aren’t. Every day we can do something to help us get where we want to be. Those tiny steps really work!
If you would like to learn more about Lisa’s publishing company, Do Life Right, Inc. go HERE and if you would like to learn more about Lisa and her books go HERE.

Until next time…
Keep writing. Keep learning.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Odds and Ends and the First Campaigner Challenge

I'm feeling pretty Savvy this morning because Saturday I was interviewed on Laura Barnes' blog and given the Savvy Sensations Award! You can check out the interview HERE.

AND

Last week over at Deirdra's blog, AStory Book World, she gave me the Brilliant Writer Blog Award.

I know. Very cool.

In other news, as some of you may know I am going to my first writer's conference next weekend! I can hardly wait. Because of said conference I will not be doing Firsts Fridays for the next two weeks so I can get some prep time in. When FF's returns on the 23rd you will so want to be here because I've got Jenn Johannson and she just signed her debut novel, Insomnia, with a publisher. Woot! I'm sure you don't want to miss her helpful advice.

Now it's time for the First Campaigner Challenge. For those of you who have no clue what I'm talking about, Rach Harrie is throwing a HUGE, and I do mean huge, platform building campaign. It is too late to sign up but you can check it out HERE because she will do more in the future.

For the first campaign, this is what we are supposed to do...

Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. Begin the story with the words, “The door swung open” These four words will be included in the word count.

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), use the same beginning words and end with the words: "the door swung shut." (also included in the word count)


For those who want an even greater challenge, make your story 200 words EXACTLY!

AND here is mine:

Jewels

            The door swung open and he stepped inside. He’d aged as I waited, frozen in time. That mattered little as I saw the shiny chain dangling from his bent fingers.

A tear trickled down my still cheek as I remembered our parting.

“This is for the best,” he’d said as he kissed my already still lips. And it was, if we were to live an eternity together in our youth. “I will be back my love.”

He’d come to fulfill his promise; wake me from my spell and break the bonds of his aged prison. All would be right once more.

His cloudy eyes fell upon me and he smiled as his decrepit body hobbled the final steps toward me.

He opened his palm to reveal the jewel matching the one hugging my neck. It danced in his trembling hand as he slid it down my throat toward the other. The moment they touched his youth was restored and he smiled in relish.

The smile triggered a memory, snatching my hope. He had done this before; leaving me waiting, forgetting. “I will be back my love,” he whispered, twirling the jewel between youthful fingers as the door swung shut.

And that is that. If you like it and want to show some love I'm #167. You can 'like it' HERE. If you’d like to join in on this, you don’t have to be part of the campaign, just go HERE and sign up. You have until Friday. I look forward to reading yours!

Until next time…

Keep writing. Keep learning.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Firsts Fridays: Author Liz Schulte + a Giveaway!


Guess what people? We have a winner for Liz's book Dark Corners!!!!
Congrats Mary Belle! I am going to go out on a limb and say you will love this book:)

I was sent a book a few weeks back to review. DARK CORNERS, written by Liz Schulte. Here is what it’s about:

Ella Reynolds knew from the first moment she walked into the old house someone or something was watching her. Waiting. Her husband's violent murder sent her spiraling into a world of grief and isolation, but Ella isn't alone. Who or what is responsible for her husband's death is still with her. Darkness has engulfed the past year of Ella's life. Everyday reality slips a little more between her fingers as she struggles to break free from her memories.

She must look deeper into her past as well as the present to discover truth of her husband's homicide. A string of uncanny events takes place and practical explanations run thin as Ella follows the terrifying road to closure. As the past and present come to a head, Ella must decipher who or what the murderer is before it takes her as well.
Here is what I loved about the book:  

-Once I started reading I couldn’t put the book down. Ella is raw and hurt and sensitive but there is a part of her that causes the reader to wonder about her. I love a flawed MC. She pulled flawed off to a tee.
-The creep factor. Let’s just say I moved into an old house recently and there were a couple nights that I lay awake biting my nails. Can we say night light anyone?

-Real life mixed in with craziness. For me I need a book to feel real, but if it’s too real I’m not pulled out of my own life enough. I was very nicely wrapped in this world until the end.
-The guessing. It is a fun guessing game until the very end. Who doesn’t love games?

Would I recommend this book? A big resounding YES! And you will have a chance to win a copy here by commenting about Liz or her killer (no pun intended) book. I will announce the winner next Friday. Good luck!
WAIT…do you want more chances to win? Go here to get details. Winner will receive a Signed copy of Dark Corners, a Signed Copy of Secrets - Guardian Trilogy Book one (Coming out in Nov), a $20 Amazon Gift card, AND a $20 Barnes and Noble Gift card.

With that being said, Liz wrote a pretty fabulous book and it’s her first to be published. So guess who our Firsts Fridays victim is today? Yep. Liz.
While putting this interview together I found that she is just as mysterious as her book. This is what I can give you from her blog, BAT COUNTRY, about her: The True Story of an Average Everyday Sane Psycho.
Now let us here from the sane psycho herselfJ

DB: Hi Liz! Thanks so much for letting me be a part of your book tour! I also have to tell you, you’ve visited my blog on a special day called Firsts Fridays. So while we learn a bit about your book, hopefully we can also learn about you as a writer, your experience as a first time published author and basically, what makes Liz Schulte tick.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer?

LS: I am just a girl with a wild imagination really. I have always enjoyed making things up and telling stories, but writing wasn’t something I ever seriously considered doing. I was pretty focused on being a lawyer through junior high, high school, and college. I used to read constantly. My mom would take me to the library and I would check out the maximum allowed and devour the books in two weeks—I think I read every YA book our library had. In junior high I wrote short stories very much influenced by RL Stine’s series, Fear Street, but those were mainly just for fun. It wasn’t until I graduated college that law no longer seemed as appealing. My mom encouraged me to write so I thought I would take a shot and Dark Corners was born.  
DB: I am noticing a common thread to writers and lawyers. You aren’t the first. Very interestingJ

What would you like those who haven’t read Dark Corners to know about it?
LS: Dark Corners is the sort of story that I have to be very careful when answering questions that I do not give too much away. Writing the blurb was harder than writing the entire book. It is a mystery about a woman who is being pushed towards the edge of sanity after her husband’s murder where everyone is a suspect and reader has to determine what is real and who to believe. I also like to warn people that Ella, the main character, is a tad grumpy and self-involved at the beginning.

DB: You aren’t kidding…on all points.
What is something you have learned through the publishing process that may help new writers and up and coming authors?

LS: I think the major lesson I learned with Dark Corners is that you don’t have to do this alone. I did Dark Corners completely alone and always saw writing as a solitary endeavor. I didn’t realize that there was such a tremendous and helpful writing community out there. Had I found them sooner, I would have published two years ago.
DB: That is so true. When I found the community it was like looking through glasses. I saw so much more!

 I love hearing about the journey. Can you tell us about yours from the start of writing Dark Corners to the moment you held the actual book in your hands?
LS: Dark Corners began with the first line of chapter one. I had decided I would try to write a book and then it was about finding story. I mulled over several options and made a list of possible story lines. I decided I would stick to my comfort zone which is mystery horror (my favorite type of movies). Then one day the first line popped into my head. I went to write it down and the next thing I knew I had a first scene then a chapter then a book. It really happened that fast. Once I opened the gates the story poured out. Of course the story that poured out isn’t exactly the story you read. Dark Corners had scenes added and cut and moved around for the end result, but that is pretty much how it got there.

Once I had this completed MS I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it. I entered into a contest and didn’t win. I queried about ten agents because I read somewhere I was supposed to query. I flat out disliked the querying process. It seemed ridiculous that people would judge my work without ever having read a word of it. So I shelved the story and began writing another book. That was when I started exploring other publishing options. I became very interested in self-publishing and I found a self-published author I liked and Facebook messaged her. She gave me the rundown of the process and a few weeks later she started a writers group. It was joining the writers group and getting involved in the community that gave me the confidence to seriously pursue publication. I hired an editor and started a publishing company with five other writer friends and we are currently publishing our own work and someday we want to be able to fairly help authors in the same position we were in.
 DB: So you are one of the founders of 4 Corners Press. Very neat!

Can you tell us a little about what 4 Corners Press is all about for others interested in this route?
LS: We are a small company that is interested in helping to encourage and nurture new authors with unique stories to tell. The Guardian Trilogy will also be published through 4 Corners Press.

DB: Dark Corners is a spooky, keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of book. How do you come up with these creepy ideas?
LS: They are in part imagination and real life experiences. I find with any writing I do, part of me and my experiences always seem to make it into the story. No one character I write is completely me, but they are all a little bit me. And sometimes reality can be much scarier than imagination. I would say Dark Corners is a healthy mix of both. I will leave it up to you to determine what is based in reality or imagination.

DB: Where do you go from here? With your writing, your books, etc.
LS: That is an excellent question. My plan is to write in two genres. I will publish the Guardian Trilogy, which are urban fantasy novels, in pretty quick succession (November, February, and May) and then by late summer early fall I should publish another mystery horror novel. Those will be my main two focal points though there is a fictional drama period piece that has a start and will be completed someday. 

DB: Sound like you are one buys lady!
Last question...

Can you give us any parting words, be it advice, teasers about Dark Corners, fun facts about you? The ball is in your court for this one.
LS: Hmmm I will give you a teaser for Dark Corners because they are so much fun. Thank you for having me on the blog. I loved your questions and I hope my answers did them justice.

***
I sat up, drenched in sweat and tangled in the sheets, tears filling my eyes. Why did that dream still hurt so damn much? The pain hadn't eased over the last year; it was still a knife, twisting away at my soul. My entire body ached for Danny, for just a moment of once more feeling the safety and security I had with him—

My fresh mourning was cut short. A shadow blocked out the light beneath my bedroom door as something moved passed. My insides went cold and my eyes dried. Mustering up all my courage, I climbed out of bed.

There was no noise from the hallway when I pressed my ear to the door. I opened it just a crack so I could see if anything was immediately on the other side. There appeared to be nothing. I opened the door far enough to stick my head out to look down both sides of the hallway.  Again, I saw nothing. Taking a deep breath, I opened the door all the way and tiptoed in the direction the shadow moved. There was only one room that direction, the master bedroom.  I had not been able to go into our bedroom since the morning I found Danny. The door was shut, just as it always was.  I put my shaking hand on the doorknob. There was definitely something on the other side. I listened more intently, but couldn’t tell what it was: perhaps some sort of scratching or sliding.

Fear locked my legs and choked out any sound I would make. I couldn’t move.  I could only listen to whatever was in the room. My heart thudded so loudly in my ears that I worried whatever was there would hear it. Whatever was on the other side moved closer; a whimper escaped me. Everything went very quiet. I could hear what sounded like someone breathing on the opposite side of the door. I knew I should open it and see it once and for all. The handle rattled beneath my hand unfreezing my body and mind.
DB: Oooo, pick it up and read it folks!

Liz, thanks so much and good luck with every thing!