Guest Posts

Never Underestimate A 10-Year Idea …

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I’ve known Janci for several years. When I first met her, I had no idea she was a writer, and then when I was informed of the fact by other people around me, I was quite pleased. Not many people top the cool charts the way she does! Like me, Janci writes in several different genres, and what I’ve read of hers so far, I love. She and her husband both do what they love for careers — at home. They are an example to me of following your heart and dreams. Today, I’ve invited Janci here to my blog to talk about her new book, EVERYTHING’S FINE, and how it has stuck around for over 10 years. I know this feeling well, since THE BREAKAWAY was one such similar book for me. Read on! Janci has some great things to say here!

Janci Patterson writes fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary young adult novels. Her first book, CHASING THE SKIP, will be published by Henry Holt in 2012. Janci lives in Orem, Utah, with her husband, Drew Olds. When she’s not writing, she manages Drew’s painting business, and plays geek games of all kinds.

I wrote the first draft of Everything’s Fine in 2004, so this book was ten years in the making. The idea started with this line: “So I stole Haylee’s journal.  We might as well get that out in the open right now.”  As soon as I had that line, I knew it was the beginning of a book. I experimented with it. Why does Kira take Haylee’s journal? What is it that she’s trying to hide?

Across years worth of drafts, a few things stayed the same, but more changed. It got sent out on rounds of submission several times, and always I discovered afterward that the book still wasn’t quite working. Many times I thought about giving up on this book — about just declaring it a trunk novel and leaving it alone. But inevitably as soon as I decided that, I’d have an idea for how to make the book better, and I’d rewrite it again.

Because of its long road to publication, Everything’s Fine is my most re-written novel to date, and anyone who knows me knows I’m not shy about rewriting novels. I started over from scratch at least three times, and heavily revised it dozens of times over. To give you an idea, here are a few of the more recent changes:

  • If you’ve read the book, you know that every other chapter is an in-scene flashback from a different point in Kira and Haylee’s friendship. Those chapters didn’t even make it into the book until January, when I pulled the book out and rewrote it yet again, this time with the intent of sending it to my editor. I was having a hard time getting the reader to connect to Haylee, since she’s already dead when the book begins.  Alaya Dawn Johnson suggested that I take all the flashbacks out of the book and put them in scene, and it turned out to be just what the book needed. So grateful for that critique. Without it, I think the book might have hung out in limbo forever.
  • Kira is now an only child, but from the first draft in 2004 to the first draft that my editor read back in February, she had an older sister who came for Christmas with her college boyfriend. I loved Lainie and Derek. They had a lot of awesome scenes. But in the end, Lainie’s scenes were taking away from the space I had to develop Kira’s relationship with her mother, which was much more important to the arc. So out of the book they went.
  • For a long time, Kira’s secret was that she had an eating disorder. Then I read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, and realized I wasn’t doing any kind of justice to that concept. Then I had to give Kira a new secret … and I did, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is.

I almost gave up on this book dozens of times, but now that it’s finished, I’m so glad I didn’t. I was ready to abandon it, Kira’s voice was never ready to abandon me. I think this is a book that wanted to be written. Who was I to stand in its way? It makes me giddy to see it finally done, and in a form that other people are getting to read. Kira’s character took a long journey with me, and getting to share her story is the best of all possible endings.

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Kira thought she knew everything about her best friend, Haylee. But when Haylee commits suicide immediately after her first date with her longtime crush, Bradley Johansen, Kira is left with nothing but questions, and a gaping hole in her life where Haylee used to be. 

Kira is sure that the answers to her questions must be written in Haylee’s journal, but she’s not the only one searching for it. The more Kira learns about Haylee’s past, the more certain she is that other people grieving for Haylee are keeping secrets—especially Bradley, and Haylee’s attractive older cousin Nick. Kira is desperate to get to Haylee’s journal before anyone else finds it—to discover the truth about what happened to Haylee— 

And to hide the things that Haylee wrote down about her. 

From the author of CHASING THE SKIP comes EVERYTHING’S FINE, a new contemporary YA novel about secrets and loss, and the winner of the 2007 Utah Arts Council award for Best Young Adult Novel.

Add Everything’s Fine to your Goodreads shelf.

Purchase Everything’s Fine on Amazon

Find Janci on jancipatterson.comFacebook, and Twitter.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing, Guest Posts, Writing Process, 8 comments

Your Hero Sucks

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I met Ed online awhile ago, and was excited when he announced that his thriller novel, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, was going to be published by Black Opal Books. I’ve already got the book on my TBR list because if anyone knows me at all, they know I love a good thriller with some depth to it — especially depth that has to do with family relationships. And that’s exactly what Ed’s book sounds like. But Ed says his hero might suck, so read on to find out more of what he’s talking about. Maybe your hero sucks too? Somehow, I have a feeling this might not be the worst thing ever.

E.A. Aymar studied creative writing, earned a Masters degree in Literature and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers and SinC. He and his wife live with a relatively benign animal menagerie just outside of Washington, D.C.

I have a problem with my hero, the protagonist of my debut thriller I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. He’s not very heroic. After his wife is murdered, he decides to seek revenge, and in doing so he places revenge over the importance of raising his daughter. This troubled me when I published the novel and, although the reviews have been largely cheerful, a few readers took issue with that aspect of his character. I understand their concern, even though it seems to me that any number of characters in literature and television choose duty (or perceived duty) over family. Still, though, I thought the critiques were valid, and considered them constructive – maybe the choice he made could have been presented differently, and that’s on me.

But it also touches another topic – heroes, and how they should be depicted. I wrote a thriller and, as a hopeful entrant to that genre, I had to take a long look at the typical hero of these books and what they tend to embody. The following excerpted review of the film Jack Reacher, based on Lee Child’s celebrated series, highlights some of the same issues I have with my genre’s typical protagonists. Note that I don’t share all of the author’s views; these are like my opinions, but on crack: 

Jack Reacher is the embodiment of a certain kind of narrow alpha fantasy. He is the best at all the things: the smartest detective, the best driver, the greatest fighter.… His mind works faster than anyone else’s; he sees patterns no one else sees. He is Batman without the silly costume. He is the entire A-Team rolled up in one, such that he can disappear like a ghost (though he somehow pulls his military pension each month), but will still walk into a room at the most dramatic moment, just after someone has said, “You don’t find this guy unless he wants to be found.

Naturally, being so exceptional isolates him in his noble loneliness…. In particular, he has no time for women, who only exist in his world as victims to save or to manfully mourn. For those who buy into the extremity of his excellence — for those whose suspension of disbelief rivals the suspension system of the Golden Gate Bridge — he’s a potent fantasy. But for everyone else, it can be tiring listening to subsidiary characters go on and on about him, or watching him stand three steps ahead of everyone else, waiting with annoyance for them to catch up.”

Like I said, I don’t agree with everything the author wrote, but she makes some good points. Genre writers rightfully bristle at the notion that their work isn’t comparable to literary fiction, especially with the assumption that plot twists and timing are more valued in thrillers than characterization and prose, but the archetype depicted above, when realized, doesn’t help. Still, though, it’s a bit of a quandary. We like James Bond movies, and find Bond fun, but the character depicted in the movie is decidedly not a complex person. And writing about a character without complexity is describing a corpse.

Happily, there are a number of writers in my field who create great protagonists: Meg Abbott, Chris F. Holm, Lawrence Block, Michael Sears, Lou Berney, Gillian Flynn, Kate Atkinson, and many more. And they don’t sacrifice prose or good storytelling to do it. If you want to learn how to write a good thriller or mystery, check out their work.

In the end, you want to make someone complex and believable without disappointing fans of your chosen genre. And you want to create someone compelling to you. The choices your character makes may trouble you, give you a sleepless night or two, and some readers or reviewers might find their actions disheartening. The trick is to keep the reader invested when that doubt surfaces, to keep them turning pages even faster when their devotion shakes. You know you won’t satisfy every reader, but that’s okay. You want to be a good writer. You want to create a good character. You want readers to believe.

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Tom Starks has spent the three years since his wife’s murder struggling to single-handedly raise their daughter, Julie, while haunted by memories of his dead spouse. When he learns that the man accused of her murder, Chris Taylor, has been released from prison, Tom hires a pair of hit men to get his revenge. But when the hit men botch the assassination of Chris Taylor, Tom is inadvertently pulled into their violent world. 

And now those hit men are after him and his daughter.

Add I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead to your Goodreads shelf.

E.A. Aymar’s debut thriller, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, was just published by Black Opal Books. To learn more about I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, and to watch the animated trailer, visit www.eaymar.com/novel

Purchase I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead on Amazon, B&N, or Black Opal Books.

Find E.A. on eaymar.comFacebook, and Twitter.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Guest Posts, Writing Process, 6 comments
How To Work With A Cover Designer

How To Work With A Cover Designer

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Today I’m excited to welcome my good friend Natalie Whipple here to the blog to talk about working with a cover designer for her upcoming novel, Relax, I’m a Ninja. Since Natalie has worked with traditional publishers in the past — and this new novel is one she will be independently publishing — this was her first experience working on a cover for one of her novels one-on-one with a designer.

Natalie Whipple, sadly, does not have any cool mutations or magical powers like her characters. Unless you count the ability to watch anime and Korean dramas for hours on end. Or her uncanny knack for sushi consumption. 

She grew up in the Bay Area and relocated to Utah for high school, which was quite the culture shock for her anime-loving teen self. But the Rocky Mountains eventually won her over, and she stuck around to earn her degree in English linguistics at BYU, with a minor in editing. Natalie still lives in Utah with her husband and three kids, and keeps the local Asian market in business with all her attempts to cook Thai curry, pho, and bulgogi.

She is the author of TRANSPARENT, BLINDSIDED (January 2, 2014) and HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW (coming April 15, 2014). In addition to that, she is on the writing team for the cRPG Torment: Tides of Numenera that should be out sometime in 2015.

I’m so proud to show off Michelle’s amazing design for the cover of RELAX, I’M A NINJA (designed under the name Melissa Williams Cover Design). She really captured what I was hoping to in a cover for this book—it’s bold yet simple, cool with a hint of intrigue. So with the revealing of this cover, I thought advice about working with a cover designer would be the perfect fit for a guest post on Michelle’s blog today.

1. Learn About Your Market—Accept Your Market

Your book may be a little different than a certain genre or market, but you still need to learn about the market closest to your novel and what it responds to. If you are writing romance, look at the covers, find the similarities. These are not bad things! This is what an audience takes as a cue. They see a certain type of cover and think, “Oh, this is a insert-this-genre-here book.”

You might think that sucks, but that’s how it is. Books DO suffer when they are packaged wrong, and traditional publishers even redo covers that don’t get a good response. So know your market, embrace it, seek a cover that belongs in that market.

2. Decide What Your Cover Needs To DO, Not What You Want It To Look Like

Covers are marketing tools, first and foremost. When working with a designer, it’s more important to convey what you need your cover to DO versus what you want it to look like. Does it need to appeal to boys? Does it need to hit the YA market but stand out from the other YA Paranormals? Does it need to be gender neutral? These are things your designer wants to know and accomplish for you.

Looks come second, and they need to comply with the doing part. If it gets in the way of what your cover needs to do, then you have to edit just like a novel.

3. Collaborate With Your Designer, Don’t Be A Boss

Designers know stuff. They do what they do because they took classes and have experience. Hopefully they have experience in cover design specifically. It is wise to approach cover design, therefore, as a team effort. Not a “You will create what I exactly picture in my head or I will not be happy and it must be this way or it’s wrong.”

Creative collaboration can create some of the most amazing work out there, while stifling a designer can create … less than amazing. Of course you need to be happy with your cover, but it’s a give and take.

4. Let Your Designer Design

I’ve heard a lot of designers say they do their best work when they are given a lot of leeway to just do their job. Remember that designers are creative sorts as well, and just like writers it can be hard to be inspired with someone breathing down your neck. When they are doing their job, it’s important to be respectful of their ability and needs. Just your basic “be professional.”

5. Learn About Design So You Can Give Informed Opinions

If you really want to collaborate with a designer, you might need to learn the lingo a little. Not that you have to get super educated and take classes and get a degree, but if you offer criticism it would be ideal to verbalize it in a way a designer can understand clearly. A lot of times they have to translate what a writer is saying into design terms, and sometimes that’s hard and they miss the mark.

But if you can say there needs to be more leading or perhaps the kerning on that word should be decreased. If you can talk about san serif fonts versus scripts, if you can identify the photo needs more contrast or deeper saturation … that helps.

And those are my tips for working with a cover designer. It can be such a pleasure, and I hope if you’re thinking of self-pubbing a novel that you find a designer who’s right for you. Magic happens then.

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A Clan of ninjas in San Francisco may sound improbable—but as the son of a ninja master, Tosh Ito knows what lurks in the shadows of his city. Or at least he thought he did. When a killer with a poisoned blade starts cutting down teens, Tosh enlists Amy Sato—newest ninja recruit and his best friend’s crush—and sets out to uncover the killer’s identity. What they find is ninjutsu more evil than they could have ever imagined.

As Amy and Tosh grow closer, they discover their connection unleashes a legendary power that could stop the murders. Problem is, that power may be exactly what the killer is looking for, and wielding it could cost them both their souls.

Relax, I’m a Ninja is slated to release June 3, 2014. Find out more about Relax, I’m a Ninja and Natalie Whipple on her blog at betweenfactandfiction.blogspot.com. You can also find her on Twitter @nataliewhipple.

Add Relax, I’m a Ninja to your Goodreads shelf.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing, Guest Posts, Self-Publishing, 2 comments

My Affair with Canada Does Not Stop With the Music

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I’m so excited to welcome Sheryll Caulfield to my blog today! I met Sherryl online just a short while ago, but I’m already impressed with her sweet, caring and attentive personality and her professionalism and enthusiasm for everything writing and publishing. Please welcome her today as she talks about country music and all things Canada (which is awesome because she lives in Australia), including her new novel that is just out.

Sherryl Caulfield is an Australian-born marketer, traveller and writer. After twenty years working for some of the world’s leading technology companies and a stint with Outward Bound, she longed to write about the human experience and the redemptive qualities of nature. Her first novel, Seldom Come By, Book 1 of The Iceberg Trilogy, will be released in December 2013.

Michelle is right. Everybody does love country music – even if they don’t admit it. I thought I wasn’t a fan. But you know I grew up listening to a British-born, Australian songstress singing about a river in America, “The Banks of the Old Ohio”. My mother would hum Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy”, my brother would sing Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” under his breath while I personally favoured “Canadian Dan Hill” and his “Sometimes when we Touch”.

Then came the other Canadians:

Cowboy Junkies (how country is that name?)

Shania Twain Jane Arden and her Insensitive anthem And the incomparable

k.d. lang who covers practically every genre there is

Love, love the music, but like Michelle’s Maggie from Out of Tune, can’t sing to save myself.

My affair with Canada does not stop with the music though. I’m a fan of Canadian literature as well. When I was twenty I read No Fixed Address, An Amorous Journey about a young, sexually-liberated, travelling lingerie salewoman who drove a Black Mercedes. I became enthralled with Arachne and Canada. And then came the idiosyncratic The Shipping News, followed by the Novia Scotian drama, Fall on Your Knees, leading up my recent fascination with the novels of Joseph Boyden.

Yes, I am truly, madly, deeply in love with Canada. I’ve travelled to many parts and still have many more to visit. But it was on my first trip to Canada that I came across a single woman whose image followed me home and into the pages of a series I’ve called The Iceberg Trilogy – epic adventurous love stories about three irrepressible Canadian women and their remarkable men.

They’re epic because each woman has a disastrous experience that defines their life; each one has a breathtaking, heartbreaking hard-won romance that is the love of their life; and each one celebrates the frail mysteries of families in all their beautiful twisted forms. The Icebook Trilogy also takes you across the stunning land and seascapes of Canada with cinematic, signature moments that you will never forget.

My first book, Seldom Come By (Book 1 of The Iceberg Trilogy) is a about teenage girl, called Rebecca, who feels trapped by her surroundings.

This soon-to-be fifteen-year-old lives on a remote Newfoundland island overlooking Iceberg Alley, which to her is the only redeeming feature about the place. Icebergs are the most exciting spectacle in the months of monotony and mediocrity that mark her year. If it weren’t for icebergs Rebecca doesn’t know what she would have to look forward to. Just the thought of climbing on board one of those frozen forms and seeing where it might take her is magnetic.

To Rebecca icebergs represent something magical; a sign of lightness in darkness, a sign of hope and endless possibilities.

And then one spring, this young woman who lives and breathes longing, is looking out to sea, yearning for an iceberg, multiple icebergs, when she discovers a shipwrecked sailor and her world is never the same again.

Nineteen year old Samuel, near death, with his blonde straggly hair and his out-of-this-world Samuel smile and his far-flung experiences and talk of nude sculptures and the teal waters of the Carribean, is like no one Rebecca has ever imagined, let alone met.

One look at her sister, Rachel, and Rebecca knows they both are in the same boat: Samuel’s boat. The summer Samuel stays with them, recovering from his misadventure at sea, ignoring requests from his brother to come home, is the most exciting summer of Rebecca’s life.

And then one day she casually asks him, ‘Have you ever been up close to an iceberg?’

‘No,’ he tells her, ‘but you know it would be something, to be able to get up close and have a look at one, don’t you think?’

‘Yes,’ she sighs, in a way that is more an inhalation than an exhalation.

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Seldom Come By, named after an actual place in Newfoundland, is Rebecca Crowe’s coming of age story and Samuel and Rebecca’s soaring and unforgettable love story. It’s out on now! Come, meet Samuel and Rebecca and the iceberg that started it all. Visit. www.theicebergtrilogy.com. Oh, did I mention, it’s set in 1914? Don’t let that stop you 😉

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Guest Posts, 1 comment

Is Critiquing a Friend’s Novel a Bad Idea?

I am lucky enough to have met Holli Moncrieff a few years ago online. I have yet to meet her in person, but I do hope one day I get the pleasure of doing just that because she is one of the most caring, patient, and hard working people I know. Today, Holli is sharing an experience of hers with critiquing a friend’s novel. What’s funny is I am currently reading one of Holli’s novels to critique, so I read this post of hers with great interest! I do hope you will give Holli some encouragement today and leave a  comment as well as visit her blog. She is sharing some really exciting news that I’ve been waiting for over a month for her to announce (and I didn’t even know what it was!)

It was 2:30 in the morning. I couldn’t sleep.

“Don’t email her again,” my boyfriend protested as I tossed off the covers and lunged for the computer. “It’s like you’re drunk texting her.”

Ignoring his advice, I staggered bleary-eyed to the keyboard. “Please don’t hate me,” I typed.

This may sound familiar if you’ve ever agreed to critique a friend’s work.

Novelists are sensitive souls. That sensitivity is required to create characters who live and breathe. Unfortunately, we also have to be thick-skinned if we want our work to improve. Enter the novel critique.

If you’re a writer, you most likely have writer friends. Who better to commiserate with over each tortured paragraph, each tired adjective? When you need an honest critique of your latest novel, short story, or poem, it makes sense to ask your writer friends, right? Wrong.

Please, I beg of you—for your own sanity—when a friend asks you to edit her work, Just Say No.

Because here’s what’s going to happen. You’ll tell yourself it’s only right to help her. She’s your friend. And besides, you know she writes brilliantly. Critiquing her work should be a snap. A few corrected typos here, an inconsistency there—zip, zap and you’ve done your good deed for the day. What could be easier?

But what if you start reading, only to realize the story has serious issues? What if there are significant problems that will take a lot of time and energy to fix?

In that situation, you have two choices. You could lie to spare your friend’s feelings, thus doing her a great disservice … or you could tell the truth. And risk her hating you forever.

No matter how much we want to hear the truth about our writing, an honest critique can be painful. And there are enough people in the world who will tell you that you suck without having to hear it from a friend.

Your friend may be able to take it. She may welcome your bravery and value your critique as a way to make her story better, even if it doesn’t feel too good at first.

But in the time it takes her to let you know that, you will go through hell. You’re a writer, after all. You’ll imagine the worst. You’ll second-guess yourself. Were you too harsh? Did you remember to tell her the good things about her story? Will she know you were just joking when you scrawled the word “barf”?

By the time your friend gets back to you, you will have lost hours of sleep. Acquired a few gray hairs. Bitten your nails to the quick.

In my case, my friend thankfully didn’t hate me. But I was a complete wreck when I got her email—I must have hit refresh on my browser five million times. She valued my critique and will even implement some of my suggestions.

But we’ve both agreed she’ll never ask me to critique her work again. For my own mental health.

Have you had a similar experience editing a friend’s work, or vice versa? Some friends make great crit partners, especially if they’re used to each others’ editing styles, but for me, it just isn’t worth it. I still support my writing friends—I comment on their blogs, go to their book launches, and give them great reviews—but it’s probably best they find a different critique partner.

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Holli is sharing one of her novels on her blog today (Oct 18) at www.thekickboxingwriter.blogspot.ca. She would love to see you there!
Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Guest Posts, Working With Other Writers, 11 comments