Welcome to Literary Rambles! While you’re rambling around and exploring the site enter for a chance to win:

FLUNKED FAIRY TALE REFORM SCHOOL through March 30th

BLACKBIRD FLY through April 4th

BLUE BIRDS through April 11th

Fools for Books Giveaway Hop through April 7th

FOOLS FOR BOOKS GIVEAWAY HOP



Today I’m thrilled to be part of the Fools for Books Giveaway Hop sponsored by I Am a Reader Not a Writer and BookHounds. I always love this giveaway hop. I’ve got lots of newly released YA books that I've read or want to read. Several I just reserved at the library. And if you’re reading a different book in the series listed or want a different book by one of the authors listed, I’m glad to get you that book instead as long as it doesn't cost more than the book I've chosen.

Don’t see a book you like? You can win a $10.00 Amazon Gift Card instead. I hope you'll all enter to win a book or gift card for yourself or as a gift for someone.

So here are your choices. Click on the title to read a blurb from Goodreads.

 
 

 

 
 
AN EMBER IN THE ASHES (Pre-order)

A WICKED THING
ALL FALL DOWN
FAIREST
RED QUEEN
SALT & STONE
SHADOW SCALE
THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST
THE GLASS ARROW
THE ORPHAN QUEEN
THE SIN EATER'S DAUGHTER
VANISHING GIRLS

If you haven't found a book you want, you can win a $10 Amazon Gift Card.



To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through April 7th telling me the book you want to win or if you want to win the Gift Card instead. I’ll announce the winner on April 13th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. International entries are welcome as long as The Book Depository ships to you for free.

Here's what's coming up:

Tomorrow I'll have a guest post by publicist Samantha Lien and a 15 minute marketing consultation contest.

Next Monday I'll have an interview with debut author Fonda Lee and a giveaway of ZEROBOXER, her YA science-fiction book.

And the Monday after that, Alex Cavanaugh will be here to share about his new adult science fiction book, DRAGON OF THE STARS, and to give advice about social media and blogging. 

The following Monday I have a guest post by Megan Morrison and a giveaway of GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL, her YA fairytale retelling.

Hope to see you tomorrow!

And here's all the other blogs participating in this Giveaway Hop:







CAROLINE ROSE STARR GUEST POST AND BLUE BIRDS GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone!

Follower News

Krysten Lindsay Hager's book Best Friends…Forever? just released. It’s part of the Landry’s True
Colors Series, a clean reads series about friendship, self-esteem, fitting in, frenemies, and self-image. In this book, Landry, an eighth grader, deals her fear of failure and having her best friends getting excited about beginning high school next year—something she finds terrifying.
Buy links:
Itunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/krysten-lindsay-hager/id890673226?mt=11

And I have a few winners to announce.

The winner of Kristin Nelson's Query Critique is Danielle H!

And the winner of UNDER THE PAINTED SKY is Natasha D!

Congrats! E-mail me your address for the book giveaway. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I'm thrilled to have Caroline Rose Starr here to share about her time management tips and about BLUE BIRDS, her new historical MG story told in verse. Details about the giveaway will be at the end of the post.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

It’s 1587 and twelve-year-old Alis has made the long journey with her parents from England to help settle the New World, the land christened Virginia in honor of the Queen. And Alis couldn’t be happier. While the streets of London were crowded and dirty, this new land, with its trees and birds and sky, calls to Alis. Here she feels free. But the land, the island Roanoke, is also inhabited by the Roanoke tribe and tensions between them and the English are running high, soon turning deadly.

Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don’t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind.

A beautiful, tender story of friendship and the meaning of family, Caroline Starr Rose delivers another historical gem.
 

So here's Caroline!

In 1998 I showed my sixth graders at Southwest Middle School (Orlando, FL) a video about Roald Dahl. In it he discussed his writing habits -- how he always used a yellow legal pad, stopped when the writing was strong (so it would be easier to pick up the next day), and wrote two hours a day, whether he had
something to say or not.

For years I'd talked about writing a book. After watching the video, and with summer just a few weeks away, I decided to give it a try. I checked out a dozen or so books on the Oregon Trail, researched for two weeks,* and started writing.** Dahl's advice to write for two hours a day felt doable. It's been a pattern I've kept up ever since.

Except when I haven't, which is most of the time.

It's far too easy for me to get distracted by the computer, life responsibilities, and the like. Last spring,I needed to be better about using my time well. The idea of juggling two novels at once was an overwhelming one. I needed a plan, something straightforward, like Dahl's two-hour approach.
while researching my second book for Putnam, I realized

I started by simply writing down the amount of time I was researching each day. It was frustrating at first to see exactly how much work I was (and was not) doing. But it was a good, honest start.

Later, when working on editorial revisions for BLUE BIRDS, I had the luxury of ten weeks to get my first round done. I aimed for three to five hours a day, five days a week. When the amount of work necessary to pull the book up to what it needed felt insurmountable, would lead I tried to remember the small, daily work to something better in two months' time. Hour by hour I was moving forward, or as Anne Lamott might say, bird by bird.

The act of writing down my hours pushed me to keep going. On days where writing was cut to just a few hours or squeezed out entirely, it was also good to refer to my calendar. I had meetings, a boy with a broken wrist, and a retreat to pull together and facilitate in August and September. Seeing those full days helped me chill out a little. I wasn't eating bon bons or wasting my time. I was busy living life.

What strategies do you use to meet writing goals?

* do not try this at home
** terrible manuscript but great learning experience!

Caroline Starr Rose spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. As a girl she danced ballet, raced through books, composed poetry on an ancient typewriter, and put on magic shows in a homemade cape. She’s taught both social studies and English in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana. Caroline’s the author of the ALA Notable book, May B. (2012), Over in the Wetlands, (2015), and Blue Birds (2015). Visit her at www.carolinestarrrose.com

Caroline  generously offered an ARC of BLUE BIRDS for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through April 11th. I’ll announce the winner on April 13th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is for US and Canada.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Messenger. Find all the other middle grade bloggers on her blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Tomorrow I'll be participating in the Fools for Books Giveaway Hop. I'll have lots of great book choices for you.

On Wednesday I'll have a guest post by publicist Samantha Lien and a 15 minute marketing consultation contest.

Next Monday I'll have an interview with debut author Fonda Lee and a giveaway of ZEROBOXER, her YA science-fiction book.

And the Monday after that, Alex Cavanaugh will be here to share about his new adult science fiction book, DRAGON OF THE STARS, and to give advice about social media and blogging.

Hope to see you tomorrow!

ERIN ENTRADA KELLY INTERVIEW AND BLACKBIRD FLY GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone!

Follower News

Paul Greci's debut middle grade SURVIVING BEAR ISLAND is being released on Wednesday. Here's a
blurb: “Surviving Bear Island” is a heart-pounding adventure that both kids and adults will enjoy. Though harsh and realistic, it follows its hero through a brilliant coming-of-age the likes of which are unlikely to be found anywhere outside Alaska.--- And here are some links:
amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0985481099/sr=8-1/qid=1423785870/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=&qid=1423785870&sr=8-1
blog: https://paulgreci.wordpress.com/

And I have winners to announce.

The winner of DUPLICITY is Kelly Steel!
The winner of the Alex Slater Query Critique is Danielle H!
And the winner of the Lucky is Reading Giveaway Hop is CindyWindy who picked the Amazon Gift Card!

Congrats! E-mail me your address for the book and contact information for the critique. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I’m thrilled to have debut author Erin Entrada Kelly here to share about her MG contemporary BLACKBIRD FLY that releases tomorrow. I don’t usually read contemporary but I really wanted to read Erin’s book because it also deals with Apple learning to embrace her ethnicity. It's a great story about Apple, who has to grapple with being the only Filipino in her middle school, and with her embarrassment at being from the Philippines. I really enjoyed it.


Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:


Future rock star, or friendless misfit? That’s no choice at all. In this debut tween novel, twelve-year-old Apple grapples with being different; with friends and backstabbers and following her dreams. For fans of Wendy Mass and Wendelin Van Draanen.

Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. She and her mother moved to Louisiana from the Philippines when she was little, and her mother still cooks Filipino foods, makes mistakes with her English, and chastises Apple for becoming “too American.” It becomes unbearable in middle school, when the boys—the stupid, stupid boys—in Apple’s class put her name on the Dog Log, the list of the most unpopular girls in school. When Apple’s friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show how special she really is. Erin Entrada Kelly deftly brings Apple’s conflicted emotions to the page in her debut novel about family, friendship, popularity, and going your own way.


Hi Erin! Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t thinking about writing. It started when I was very young. I’m proud to say that both of my parents encouraged a love of reading and writing. My mother read to me at bedtime—Cat in the Hat was one of our favorites—and when I started writing stories in second or third grade, my father bound them together with cardboard to make them into “real books.”

2. That's great that your parents were so supportive. Where did you get the idea for BLACKBIRD FLY?


Well, it didn’t exactly begin as BLACKBIRD FLY. It was originally about a girl who couldn’t stop singing. The fact that she was Filipino was more of a subplot. But as the writing evolved, a cultural conflict emerged between the mother and daughter and it quickly became the heart of the story.

3. I'm glad that your subplot became more of the plot because it really is the heart of your story. I know you’re half-Filipino and your main character, Apple, is Filipino. Share how you drew on your own experiences in showing us Apple’s struggles with her ethnicity. And what advice do you have for other authors who want to write about multicultural characters.

Like Apple, I struggled with being “the other” in school, where I was the only Filipino. The area where I grew up has very few Asians—something like 0.9 percent overall. No one ever knew what ethnicity I was, so people constantly asked: “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” I’d say, “I’m from here.” And they’d say, “But where are you really from?” People usually assumed I was Chinese. As a kid, I was embarrassed of my ethnicity. I wanted to be like everyone else. Today, I’m proud of my background.
Apple and I have a lot in common, but our mothers are different in many ways. Apple’s mother discourages her from pursuing her dreams. My mother was always my biggest cheerleader.
As for advice, it’s simple: Just write.

4. I think your feelings growing up are common for kids who don't go to school where there are a lot of minorities. We actually moved to school district that was more diverse because my daughter is Chinese and we didn't want her to be the only one at her school. What was the biggest challenge craft-wise in writing BLACKBIRD FLY? How did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was working with a character who was a lot like me. She infuriated me at times. I
wanted to shake her and say, “Don’t pay attention to what other people think!” But really, it wasn’t Apple I wanted to shake. It was 12-year-old Erin. Luckily, Erin of Today doesn’t care as much.
I overcame it by taking my own advice: I just wrote.

5. That's funny that you had to relive your younger self. Not sure I could do that. Share a bit about how you developed Apple’s middle grade voice. And voice is so important in writing middle grade stories. Do you have any advice for the rest of us on getting our characters’ voices right?

Every writer has their own unique voice. The trick is to find the right story for it. It’s been a long time since I was in middle school, but the feelings are still very palpable to me—probably because it was a terrible period of my life. I put those feelings into the work. I also read a lot of middle-grade fiction. I read a lot of adult literary fiction too, but I don’t think I could write an adult novel. My voice isn’t right for it, and I have no interest in writing about grown-ups.

You have to be able to hear your characters, and your personal writing style has to lend itself to what they have to say.

6. You also write short stories and flash fiction. Did writing them help you when you started writing novels and BLACKBIRD FLY? How?

Any time you write something, you become a better writer. (In my opinion, at least). That’s especially true when it comes to short stories and flash fiction. They’re fantastic ways to hone writing skills, expand creative horizons, and learn how to handle acceptance and rejection. It also keeps the creative train moving when other projects stall. I’ve also met a lot of excellent writers through the flash fiction and short story circuit.

7. I so agree that we grow as we write. Your agent is Sara Crowe. Share how she became your agent and your road to publication.

My first agent was with a boutique agency, and I found her through the usual query. She had no revisions, so we went on submission right away. The rejections came quickly, but they were invaluable to the process. Many of the editors included detailed information on why they passed and what could make the book better. So I rewrote and revised, and we went on submission again. A few months later, an offer came from Greenwillow. It was surreal.

Not long after that, I realized that my agent and I had different POVs on how to move forward with my career. I ultimately decided that I needed an agent with a solid background in MG/YA. And if anyone knows the market, it’s Sara Crowe. After I parted ways with my agent, I sent Sara a query letter and she responded within minutes. In less than 24 hours, I’d signed with her. And I’m thrilled to this day.

8. Wow! That's an amazing agent story. What are your marketing plans for your book?

Right now, my marketing plans involve the usual book signings and readings. But I’d really love to use BLACKBIRD FLY as a platform to promote causes that I care about. I’d love to partner with a school or independent bookstore to launch a creative writing club for elementary school students. I’d also love to partner with an anti-bullying organization—not necessarily to promote BLACKBIRD FLY, but to promote the greater message that the book is trying to send.

9. Those are great marketing ideas. What are you working on now?

Soon I’ll start edits on my second book, THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS, which comes out in 2016. I’m also halfway through my third novel. Stay tuned!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Erin. You can find Erin at

Twitter: @erinkellytweets

Erin and her publisher Greenwillow Press generously offered an ARC for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through April 4th. I’ll announce the winner on April 6th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is for US and Canada.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Messenger. Find all the other middle grade bloggers on her blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Next Monday I have a guest post by Caroline Rose Starr and a giveaway of  BLUE BIRDS, her new MG historical novel.

Next Tuesday I'll be participating in the Fools for Books Giveaway Hop. I'll have lots of great book choices for you.

Wednesday that week I'll have a guest post by publicist Samantha Lien and a 15 minute marketing consultation contest.

The following Monday I'll have an interview with debut author Fonda Lee and a giveaway of ZEROBOXER, her YA science-fiction book.

And the Monday after that, Alex Cavanaugh will be here to share about his new adult science fiction book, DRAGON OF THE STARS, and to give advice about social media and blogging.

Hope to see you on Monday!





FLUNKED: FAIRY TALE REFORM SCHOOL BLOG TOUR AND BOOK GIVEAWAY





Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I'm excited to be a part of the FLUNKED: FAIRY TALE REFORM SCHOOL Blog Tour. This middle grade fantasy sounds fantastic and it just released on March 34d.

Here's a blurb of FLUNKED: FAIRY TALE REFORM SCHOOL: 


OUR MISSION:


To turn WICKED DELINQUENTS and FORMER VILLAINS into FUTURE HEROES


Gilly wouldn’t call herself wicked exactly…but when you have five little brothers and sisters and live in a run- down boot, you have to get creative to make ends meet. Gilly’s a pretty good thief (if she does say so herself).

Until she gets caught.

Gilly’s sentenced to three months at Fairy Tale Reform School- where all of the teachers are former (super-scary) villains like the Big Bad Wolf, the Evil Queen, and Cinderella’s Wicked Stepmother. Harsh. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there’s more to this school than its heroic mission. There’s a battle brewing and Gilly has to wonder: can a villain really change?

Amazon | B&N | BAM |!ndigo | IndieBound 


Jen Calonita is the author of the Secrets of My Hollywood Life series and other books like Sleepaway Girls and Summer State of Mind, but Fairy Tale Reform School is her first middle grade series. She rules Long Island, New York with husband Mike, princes Tyler and Dylan, and Chihuahua Captain Jack Sparrow, but the only castle she’d ever want to live in is Cinderella’s at Disney World. She’d love for you to drop her a line at jencalonitaonline.com or keep the fairy tale going at http://books.sourcebooks.com/enchantasia/
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
 
And here's an excerpt from Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School-

There’s a boy up there, standing on the crystal chandelier! He has slightly curly blond hair and is wearing a uniform—­a navy sweater vest over a white shirt with khaki pants—­but his boots are muddy. He’s stepping on priceless crystals with cruddy boots? Is he insane?

“Jax! What are you doing up there?” Kayla whispers heatedly.

“I’m cleaning the crystal for Flora,” Jax says and rolls his eyes. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m making

a break for it.”

Kayla applauds. “Yay! This time I know you can do it.”

I shade my eyes from the light bursting through the stained-­glass window next to the chandelier Jax is perched on. “Busting out? Why?” I ask Kayla. “I thought you said this place was cool.”

Jax laughs loudly and looks at me. I feel slightly stunned. I’ve never seen violet eyes before. “FTRS was fun for a while, but strange things have started happening and I don’t want to be here when something bad goes down.”

Strange things? What kind of strange things? Why does Kayla suddenly look pale?

“He’s exaggerating,” Kayla tells me, but she doesn’t sound convincing.

Drip. Whatever Jax is holding is leaking. Kayla and I move out of the way so we don’t get wet. “Grease,”

Jax explains to me. “It lubes the window.” He swings the chandelier, and as it nears the window, he uses a fork to try to pry the window open. “A few more tries and I’ll have it.”

“Then what are you going to do, genius?” I ask. “You’re two stories up.”

Jax’s eyes gleam. “I’ve jumped from higher spots before.”

“It’s true,” Kayla says to me. “Jax once jumped from the gym to the dining hall turret. That was three stories up. We call him the Escape Artist. One time he even managed to break into Azalea and Dahlia’s rooms and borrowed their keys to the indoor pool so the whole dorm could take a midnight swim.”

“Impressive,” I tell him. “And I thought I was good at tricking obnoxious royals.”

“She stole a dragon’s tooth clip from one this morning,” Kayla fills him in.

“Nice,” Jax says. “Your first pull?”

“No, I’ve been doing it for a while,” I brag.

“Me too,” Jax says. “My father is a farmer. You can only get so far trading vegetables. I needed to kick things up a notch.”

For some reason, I don’t think any of us are going to make the transformation Headmistress Flora is looking for. “Why do you want to break out so bad?”

“I’ve got places to see, and Enchantasia isn’t one of them.” Jax swings the chandelier so hard the crystals clang together. The window latch pops open, and I watch Jax leap from the chandelier to the tiny window ledge. I’m in awe. Jax looks down at us smugly before pushing open the window. “Are you sure you two don’t want to join me?”

“There’s no time for us,” Kayla says. “Get out of here. Wait!” Her eyes widen. “You deactivated the alarm on the window, right?”

“There isn’t one,” Jax insists. “If there was, I wouldn’t be able to do this.” But when Jax lifts the window, we hear:

EEEEEE! EEEE! EEEE! Unauthorized exit! Unauthorized exit!

The shrieking sound is so intense that Kayla and I cover our ears. Within seconds, Flora is out of her office and running toward us.

Swoosh!

I feel something brush past me and I whirl around. When I look up at Jax again, a large, muscular man with a long mane of hair is hanging on to the window ledge, his furry hands pulling Jax back by his shirt. How did the man get up there without a ladder?

“Mr. Jax,” the man says in a low growl, “we really must stop meeting like this.”




Fairy Tale Reform School Quiz Link: Fairy Tale Reform School Quiz
If you get sentenced to Fairy Tale Reform School, it will help to have an ally. Take the quiz and find out who your mentor would be.

Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway to win a copy of this book:
a Rafflecopter giveaway


Here's what's coming up:

Next Monday I have an interview with debut author Erin Entrada Kelly and a giveaway of BLACKBIRD FLY, her multicultural contemporary MG  novel.

The following Monday I have a guest post by Caroline Rose Starr and a giveaway of  BLUE BIRDS, her new MG historical novel.

Tuesday that week I'll be participating in the Fools for Books Giveaway Hop. I'll have lots of great book choices for you.

And on Wednesday, April 1st, I'll have a guest post by publicist Samantha Lien and a 15 minute marketing consultation contest.

Hope to see you on Monday!



KRISTIN NELSON & STACEY LEE GUEST POST AND QUERY CRITQUE AND UNDER THE PAINTED SKY GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone! Hope you're enjoying some of the warmer weather. I'm loving getting out to walk my dog more.

Before we get to our fantastic post today, I have a winner to announce.

The winner of MY NEAR DEATH ADVENTURES is Paul Greci!

Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

 I've got a special treat for you today. Debut author Stacey Lee and her awesome agent Kristin Nelson are here to share on how you can make your query stand out. And I've got a fantastic giveaway for you that includes a query critique by Kristin! Kristin is one of my dream agents so I wish I could enter too.

I loved Stacey's YA historical novel, UNDER A PAINTED SKY., that releases tomorrow. I don't usually read historical fiction but I loved the 1800's Western United States setting. And Samantha, a Chinese girl on the run, and her friend, Andy, a runaway slave, are such great, memorable characters.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

A powerful story of friendship and sacrifice, for fans of Code Name Verity

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.


So here's Stacey and Kristin!

Stacey: Today my agent Kristin Nelson and I are giving you the Dope on Trope.
Kristin: Otherwise known as Concept Trends in the Query Inbox!

Stacey: Authors don't like to hear the word ‘trope’ in the same sentence as their manuscripts, but here's the thing: tropes are not necessarily bad. In the broad sense, a trope is simply the use of figurative language in literature. However, it is also used in the more specific sense to mean a common pattern in a story or a recognizable attribute in a character that conveys information to the audience. Some examples include the character trope of a jilted lover, which can convey s/he has revenge on her mind; the character trope of a man with the chest full of medals, which might tell you that the character thinks he's a badass; the plot trope of a love triangle, which may tell us that complications will ensue. Tropes are the tortilla chips of the banquet, designed to get the guacamole to the mouth faster.

While there are some character tropes that should be retired forever, like those that perpetuate offensive stereotypes (e.g., Asian speaking broken English and making a dum luk pun), or those that have been so overused as to be cliché ('it was all just a dream' endings), many are unavoidable (the mean girl, the protective father), and some, we even seek out (admit it, you wanted more vampire-boy-can't-have-girl books after TWILIGHT).

The problem is, if you do have tropes in your manuscript (and who doesn’t?), how do you present them as fresh? Here are three tips.

1) Make sure your trope contains unique elements. In the case of UNDER A PAINTED SKY, I used the trope of girls disguising themselves as boys, something you see most often in historical fiction (e.g. SCARLET by A.G. Gaughen, BLOODY JACK by L.A. Smith, and LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld), when girls had to defy the roles assigned to their gender in order to do the things they wanted to do. In the case of UNDER A PAINTED SKY, the setting is 1849 American frontier, and the main characters are a Chinese girl, and a runaway slave. With enough unique elements, the trope becomes fresh again.

You might also consider flipping the trope. In Rae Carson’s GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, the main character is a ‘girl of prophecy’ trope, but the author flips it on its head by making the girl overweight and lazy.

Kristin: I have to echo Stacey on this point. Whenever I see queries that say “so and so led a normal life until her twelfth birthday when she receives a magical gift, then is transported to a fantastical world where she must over come dark forces,” it’s going to be a pass. I receive dozens of queries a day with that same, general description. The real question is why this particular girl? What will make the reader want to read about her? The second catch is to capture your unique voice in the query pitch itself. A distinctive voice will shine a spotlight even if your story has all the known tropes: receipt of magical object on definitive birthday, forces of darkness, etc.

Great writing trumps all. Agents, awed by good writing in a query letter, will always request sample pages.

Stacey: 2) In the case of character tropes, go deep. The deeper you dig into a character's psyche, the less
of a cliche they become. Give them quirks, vulnerabilities, fears, insecurities. In the case of my villain, an 'evil landlord' trope, I gave him a gambling addiction not only to make him memorable, but to make his motivations believable.

Kristin: Real details can be essential to help your story jump off the page. Every character is unique/individual and if we have sense of that person, that can add interest to the pitch.

Stacey: 3) Make the trope a source of tension. Don’t just have a bad boy because bad boys are hot, but use the badness as a source of conflict. In Simone Elkeles’ PERFECT CHEMISTRY, when the girl finds that the bad boy who loves her once made a bet that he could lure her into his life, his ‘reputation’ as a gangster makes it unlikely that she’ll ever believe/forgive him.

In UNDER A PAINTED SKY, the girls’ cross-dressing is constantly a source of tension, as if they are discovered as girls, they will be unmasked as wanted criminals.

Kristin: Even as a reader of approximately 50-75 queries a day, I’m still surprised when something hits the cultural zeitgeist and becomes a trend in the query inbox. How does that happen? How can 10 people have the same story idea in the same week and send me a query about it? I wish I knew! I started a tracking list just to keep readers who follow me on Twitter and Facebook apprised of what was showing up in the inbox. And so folks understand, I’m not making a judgment of any kind on the trend. Just stating a fact of what I’m seeing.

When a trope or topic starts trending in the inbox, do agents become more immune to the concept in general? Yes and no. I’m certainly going to be more on my guard in terms of requesting to see sample pages if it feels too familiar but on the other hand, an amazing, well-written, intriguing query will always get a request—even if I saw the same type of concept in a dozen email queries previous to reading this one. A writer’s unique voice can be everything when bringing a story to life.

And because I know Lit Ramble readers will be thinking, “what are the trends currently happening, tell me please!” Here is what I’ve seen “trend” just in the last three weeks.

* Heirloom of incredible power. Or some physical object of magic or power lands in a character’s hands
* Characters who must journey to hell, through hell, to save a friend or family member.
* Dreams! Haunted by dreams when the narrator goes to bed at night. Characters living another life in their dreams. Nightmares experienced that turn out to be real. Dreams as gateway to another world.
* Fantasies where the narrator hails from an all-women, matriarchal society (Not sure why that is popular at the moment but I’m seeing a lot of this trope!)
* Magicians or characters learning to be master illusionists.
* Characters having to time travel to solve an issue in the now.
* Fantasy stories where Chinese culture is the cornerstone of the world building
* Stories with monks, monasteries, stolen artifacts

Stacey: There goes my monks in space idea.

Kristin: But even if your story has one of the above elements, press on! It doesn’t mean your novel isn’t “good” or can’t find a home. As the old adage states, there are no new stories under the sun, just new ways of telling them. So find that unique angle within your own novel and shine the spotlight of great writing there. It will make the difference between a pass or a request!

Stacey: Hope these tips help. And thank you Natalie for having us on Literary Rambles!

Thanks for all the incredible advice, Stacey and Kristin. And Stacey is one of the founders of We Need Diverse Books. More diversity in books is such a critical issue right now. I asked Stacey to tell us a bit about this group and what we can do to help get more books with multicultural characters published.

Thanks for asking about We Need Diverse Books! We're a nonprofit
organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority
narratives in children’s literature. We believe that our books should
reflect the world in which we live. In 2013, the Cooperative
Children's Book Council found that of the 3000 books published, only
7.5% had any diversity at all, this despite our country being almost
40% diverse. The numbers are slowly improving thanks to increased
awareness on this issue, but we still have a long way to go.

You can help by buying diverse books and/or requesting them at your
library, as well as recommending the diverse books you've liked to
others. You can let publishers know when you've enjoyed one of their
titles - write the author a letter via their publishers. If you are a
publisher, agent, editor, librarian, or bookseller, take a stand and
make sure diverse titles are a priority. If you are a teacher or
educator, create a diverse reading program. If you are an event
organizer, commit to diversifying your panels.

You can find Stacey at:
 www.staceyhlee.com
@staceyleeauthor
https://www.facebook.com/staceylee.author
https://www.pinterest.com/staceyleeauthor/
https://www.tumblr.com/blog/staceyleeauthor

And you can find Kristin at:

Please visit our website www.nelsonagency.com for submission guidelines and also check out Kristin’s Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/agentkristin and popular blog

Stacey and her publisher G.P. Putman's Sons Books for Young Readers has generous provided an ARC of UNDER A PAINTED SKY for a giveaway. And Kristin Nelson kindly offered a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through March 28th. If you want to me entered for the query critique as well as the book giveaway, you must let me know in the comments. I’ll announce the winner on  March 30th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. The book giveaway is for US and Canada. The query critique is international.

Here's what's coming up:
 
On Wednesday I have a giveaway of FLUNKED FAIRY TALE REFORM SCHOOL, a new MG fantasy.

And next Monday I have an interview with debut author Erin Entrada Kelly and a giveaway of BLACKBIRD FLY, her multicultural contemporary MG  novel.

The following Monday I have a guest post by Caroline Rose Starr and a giveaway of  BLUE BIRDS, her new MG historical novel.

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


N.K. TRAVER INTERVIEW AND DUPLICITY GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone!

FOLLOWER NEWS

Dennis Staginnus is releasing his new contemporary fantasy novel, THE EYE OF ODIN, the first in his
RAIDERS OF FOLKLORE series, on March 15. Here's a blurb: Two fifteen-year-olds, one a thief and the other a witch-for-hire, must find hidden markers describing the whereabouts of the Eye of Odin before the Viking goddess of death uses it to destroy mankind. And here's a few links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dstaginnus

And I have a winner to announce.

The winner of DOVE ARISING is Liz Brooks!

Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I’m excited to have debut author N.K. Traver here to share about her YA cyber thriller DUPLICITY that releases on March 17, 2015. It sounds like a fantastic can’t put down book. And it’s got great blurbs including one from Kendare Blake, the author of ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD, who said "An intriguing, fast-paced read. It's the dark, malevolent-mirror-filled soul baby of Tron and The Matrix that I never knew I wanted. Don't miss it!"

And here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

A computer-hacking teen. The girl who wants to save him. And a rogue mirror reflection that might be the death of them both.
 
In private, seventeen-year-old Brandon hacks bank accounts just for the thrill of it. In public, he looks like any other tattooed bad boy with a fast car and devil-may-care attitude. He should know: he’s worked hard to maintain that façade. With inattentive parents who move constantly from city to city, he’s learned not to get tangled up in things like friends and relationships. So he’ll just keep living like a machine, all gears and wires.

Then two things shatter his carefully-built image: Emma, the kind, stubborn girl who insists on looking beneath the surface – and the small matter of a mirror reflection that starts moving by itself. Not only does Brandon’s reflection have a mind of its own, but it seems to be grooming him for something—washing the dye from his hair, yanking out his piercings, swapping his black shirts for … pastels. Then it tells him: it thinks it can live his life better, and it’s preparing to trade places.

And when it pulls Brandon through the looking-glass, not only will he need all his ill-gotten hacking skills to escape, but he’s going to have to face some hard truths about who he’s become. Otherwise he’ll be stuck in a digital hell until he’s old and gray, and no one will even know he's gone.

Huffington Post lists N.K. Traver's Duplicity as part of one of the great YA book trends to look for in 2015!


Hi N.K.! Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

Thanks for having me! I grew up in Colorado, and love all things outdoors—horseback riding, backpacking, Jungle Ball (croquet in an unmowed lawn)—and would do unspeakable things for dark chocolate. I became an author accidentally. Writing has always been a part of my life, from the picture books my elementary school “published” to the dozens of stories I started but never finished, to writing with friends throughout high school and college. But it didn’t occur to me that I could turn all those words into a book until a few years ago. I think I was watching some terrible reality TV thing and thinking about everything I’ve written, and how it couldn’t possibly be that hard to get published if this was on TV. Hahahahaha…

2. That's funny! I read that your book was inspired by a video game series. Tell us about it and how else your story idea developed.

Yes! The greatest series ever – Tomb Raider. In one of the games, there’s a room where the main character, Lara Croft, has to beat an evil twin of herself in order to progress. The twin moves with Lara like a mirror. I was thinking about that scene a few years later when it sparked the question, “What if your mirror reflection started moving on its own?” I then matched the premise with a character who had invested a lot into his visual appearance and began tearing it down, as you do. From there the story took off on its own.

3. You've given us all permission not to feel guilty for watching bad TV and playing video games. You were a computer programmer, though you never hacked any computer system. Did your computer experiences help you with that aspect of the story and what advice do you have to other authors who may not have your computer experience who want to incorporate computers into their stories?

Oh yes, my day job helped greatly in visualizing this book. Programming gives me an inside look at how computers interpret code and how different systems work together. Not all programmers are hackers, but all hackers are programmers, if that makes sense. So, combined with some online research, I could make a pretty good guess at what you’d be able to steal if you gained access to someone else’s website. For authors who want to incorporate computers in their story but don’t have such experience, I would suggest taking a basic programming course to get an idea of what goes into making a program work.

4. What was your process of developing Brandon as a character? Did you face any challenges and how did you overcome them?

Brandon came to me very naturally. There’s a little more of me in him than I like to admit, which made it easy to figure out how he’d react in different situations. I really didn’t have any problems developing him. But when I’ve run into issues with other characters, I usually find it’s because I don’t know enough of their backstory and what’s shaped them. Once I figure that out, it’s smooth sailing.

5. I think that's a common reason why people struggle with their characters. Your agent is Brianne Johnson. And I read that you won two online contests in one month that resulted in eleven requests. Wow! Share how that resulted in you getting your agent and what the process was of getting a publisher contract.

It was a crazy month! I’m still floating on clouds. It had been years of silence or “no’s” and when I saw my book had made it into that first contest, I yelled in American Eagle and almost forgot to pay for the shirt I was buying. (The clerk soon knew why I was so distracted. My entire life story of why. #sorrynotsorry) Brianne requested pages from DUPLICITY from one of the contests, and that partial soon turned to a full. Then I got an offer of rep from another contest agent, and Bri quickly finished reading and offered as well. I knew she was the right agent for me after we geeked out about the same favorite parts of the book.

Getting the book deal for DUPLICITY went mercifully quick. Bri sent the book off to a handful of editors, and I settled in to wait (read: I panic-binged cookies and watched How I Met Your Mother reruns). We got a couple of “no’s” off the bat, but two months in, I got an excited email that an editor at St. Martin’s Press was taking the book to an acquisitions meeting. Two days later, I was at lunch with my co-workers when I got a very excited call that we had an offer.

6. Wow! That's an awesome road to agent to publication story. One piece of advice you’ve given to aspiring authors is to “join Twitter immediately.” Share why you think that’s so important and how you use it to develop relationships with other authors and readers.

Aside from being a great source of information on upcoming contests and writing craft, Twitter has an incredible network of writers who are constantly lifting each other up. It’s where I found my critique partners, countless writing friends, and how I knew about the contests that led me to my agent. Agents often tweet helpful hints about queries or common writing mistakes. I use it to stay sane, honestly. Writing is such a solitary thing, and it’s great to have a place to turn when you need someone who understands just what kind of hell it is to smash an 80,000-word novel into a two sentence pitch.

7. You're making me want to get on Twitter more. Besides Twitter, how are you planning to market your book?

My publisher is doing a lot of the heavy lifting in that arena, ensuring the book is available in all major bookstores and libraries. My piece of the plan involves Twitter, my blog, and a few strategically spaced Goodreads giveaways. Starting in January, I’ve been posting about once a week on my blog with little teasers from the book and even a sample of the first two chapters. There’s also a wicked-fun “Are You the Good or Evil Twin” personality quiz I’ll be flaunting like a kid with the last piece of cake.

8. What are you working on now?

That’s a very good question. I just finished revisions on a weird little YA horror that I hope to sell this year (part of it is literally about destroying the season of winter, if you were wondering how I feel about cold and darkness), so I’ve been bouncing back and forth between other ideas, trying to figure out which one I want to get serious with. I guess you’d say I’m working on getting something to work on.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, N.K. You can find N.K. on http://www.nktraver.com, on Twitter (http://twitter.com/NKTraver), and on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7501918.N_K_Traver).

N.K. and her publisher Thomas Dunne Books has generously offered an ARC of DUPLICITY for a giveaway.  To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through March 21st. I’ll announce the winner on March 23rd. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is for US and Canada.

Here's what's coming up:

On Monday I have a guest post by debut author Stacey Lee and agent Kristin Nelson with  a query critique giveaway by Kristin Nelson and an ARC giveaway of UNDER A PAINTED SKY, Stacey's YA historical fiction novel.

Next Wednesday I have a giveaway of FLUNKED FAIRY TALE REFORM SCHOOL, a MG fantasy.

And the Monday after that I have an interview with debut author Erin Entrada Kelly and a giveaway of BLACKBIRD FLY, her multicultural contemporary MG  novel.

The following Monday I have a guest post by Caroline Rose Starr and a giveaway of  BLUE BIRDS, her new MG historical novel.

Hope to see you on Monday!

LUCKY IS READING GIVEAWAY HOP


Happy Friday Everyone! I hope you have a great weekend planned.

I want to mention to any of you who are also writers that I have a query critique contest with Agent Alex Slater right now and one coming up soon with agent Kristin Nelson. The winner is picked by random org and this is a great opportunity to get some feedback on those hard to get right query critique letters. And you might even get a request for more pages. Details are at the top of the blog. And check regularly because I plan to have more through June and then again in the Fall.

Today I’m thrilled to be part of the Lucky Is Reading Giveaway Hop sponsored by Stuck in Books. I always love this giveaway hop. I’ve got lots of newly released YA books that I've read or want to read. Several I just reserved at the library. And if you’re reading a different book in the series listed or want a different book by one of the authors listed, I’m glad to get you that book instead as long as it doesn't cost more than the book I've chosen.

Don’t see a book you like? You can win a $10.00 Amazon Gift Card instead. I hope you'll all enter to win a book or gift card for yourself or as a gift for someone.

So here are your choices. Click on the title to read a blurb from Goodreads.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 














AN EMBER IN THE ASHES (Pre-order)
THE CONSPIRACY OF US
A WICKED THING
ALL FALL DOWN
FAIREST
RED QUEEN
SALT & STONE
SHADOW STUDY
THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST
THE GLASS ARROW
THE ORPHAN QUEEN
THE SIN EATER'S DAUGHTER
THIS SHATTERED WORLD

If you haven't found a book you want, you can win a $10 Amazon Gift Card.


To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through March 21st telling me the book you want to win or if you want to win the Gift Card instead. I’ll announce the winner on March 23rd. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. International entries are welcome as long as The Book Depository ships to you for free.

Here's what's coming up:

On Monday, I'm interviewing debut author N.A. Traver and giving away DUPLICITY, her YA cyber thriller.

The following Monday I have a guest post by debut author Stacey Lee and agent Kristin Nelson with  a query critique giveaway by Kristin Nelson and an ARC giveaway of UNDER A PAINTED SKY, Stacey's YA historical fiction novel.

Wednesday that week I have a giveaway of FLUNKED FAIRY TALE REFORM SCHOOL, a MG fantasy.

And the Monday after that I have an interview with debut author Erin Entrada Kelly and a giveaway of BLACKBIRD FLY, her multicultural contemporary MG  novel.

Hope to see you on Monday!

And here's all the other blogs participating in this Giveaway Hop: