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

JUST A DROP OF WATER through September 20th

FALLS THE SHADOW through September 20th

TUT through September 27th

JOSHUA DAVID BELLIN GUEST POST AND SURVIVAL COLONY 9 GUEST POST

Hi Everyone! I’m super excited to have debut author Joshua David Bellin here to share about his YA sci-fi story SURVIVAL COLONY 9, which releases September 23, 2014. It sounds like a fantastic story. And Joshua is a long time follower so it makes it sweeter to help him celebrate his debut. Details of the giveaway will be at the end of the post.

Here’s Joshua to share his advice on creating a new sci-fi world.

When we think about science fiction world-building, the first thing that comes to mind is the physical world: climate, topography, and so on. Next, we might think about human (or quasi-human) social organization: technology, government, relations with other races/species.

All of these things are important. A physically incoherent world will sink a sci-fi novel like nothing else. Vague or illogical social arrangements will make readers roll their eyes (or throw the book aside). When I wrote my debut novel, Survival Colony 9, I paid close attention to both physical and social characteristics of my future world.

But effective world-building doesn’t include only tangible aspects of the invented world. It also embraces intangibles: things like knowledge, and belief, and the gap between the two. Those intangibles are a huge part of our world, and they need to be a part of any fictional world too.

In our world, there are certain things we know, and other things we believe. Sometimes our beliefs are confirmed; other times they aren’t. For a long time, most people believed the world was flat. They were wrong.

But before we feel too superior to those poor, benighted flat-worlders, let’s recall that even now, with all our science and technology, there are things we don’t know about our world. Some of these things we’ll learn in time. Others we might never know. That won’t stop us from believing, though. In fact, some beliefs will persist even in the face of knowledge that disproves them.

To give one example, we know that bee populations are declining worldwide. But we don’t know why. The leading culprit is neonicotinoid pesticides, perhaps in conjunction with parasites. But that’s still disputed, and it may remain disputed, perhaps even after the bees are gone.

In Survival Colony 9, small groups of people who have survived devastating wars travel a desert waste, searching for food while trying to evade the predatory creatures, the Skaldi, that mysteriously appeared on the planet at wars’ end. And it’s the word “mysteriously” I want to focus on. Here’s my narrator, fourteen-year-old Querry Genn, talking about the Skaldi:

No one knows how they do what they do. You’d think after a half-century of being hunted by them we’d have a better idea of what we’re up against, but the sad truth is, we’re no closer than we ever were. No one knows how many of them there are, why they tend to attack singly, why their attacks have always come from the west. I’ve heard that the cities, what’s left of them, are overrun by Skaldi, and that’s why the colonies fled to the desert fifty years ago. But it’s all rumor. No one’s ever seen Skaldi outside the bodies they steal, or at least no one’s ever lived to tell the tale. No one even knows how they got their name. They’ve always been called Skaldi, and I don’t think anyone’s ever figured out where the word came from.

And no one knows where they came from either. Everyone has a theory of Skaldi origins. Radiation, evolution, outer space. But no one knows.

All anyone knows is that they’re here.

In the case of my novel, this dearth of knowledge can be explained partly by social collapse: much of
modern technology (and memory) has been erased, and the survival colonies lack the means to understand their own world. But even without this history, it was important to me that the Skaldi not be well understood. They’re a part of the world no one can escape, but at the same time a part no one can fully grasp. That makes them more scary, and it also makes the world they haunt more real.

As author, you have to know your world from top to bottom. But leaving your characters—and readers—partly in the dark can be one of the keys to building a complete and effective world.

Thanks for sharing your advice, Joshua. You can find Joshua at:

Website: http://www.joshuadavidbellin.com
Blog: http://theyaguy.blogspot.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/TheYAGuy
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/joshuadavidbellin
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7393959.Joshua_David_Bellin
Survival Colony 9: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18457362-survival-colony-nine
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Survival-Colony-Joshua-David-Bellin/dp/1481403540/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393982949&sr=1-1&keywords=survival+colony+9

Here’s a blurb about SURVIVAL COLONY 9 from Goodreads:

In a future world of dust and ruin, fourteen-year-old Querry Genn struggles to recover the lost memory that might save the human race.

Querry is a member of Survival Colony Nine, one of the small, roving groups of people who outlived the wars and environmental catastrophes that destroyed the old world. The commander of Survival Colony Nine is his father, Laman Genn, who runs the camp with an iron will. He has to--because heat, dust, and starvation aren't the only threats in this ruined world.

There are also the Skaldi.

Monsters with the ability to infect and mimic human hosts, the Skaldi appeared on the planet shortly after the wars of destruction. No one knows where they came from or what they are. But if they're not stopped, it might mean the end of humanity.

Six months ago, Querry had an encounter with the Skaldi--and now he can't remember anything that happened before then. If he can recall his past, he might be able to find the key to defeat the Skaldi.

If he can't, he's their next victim.

Joshua generously offered a copy of SURVIVAL COLONY 9 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 October 4th. I’ll announce the winner on October 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. You must be 13 or older to enter. International entries are welcome.

Here’s what’s coming up:

Tomorrow I'm doing a Stuck in a Good Book Giveaway Hop. I'll have lots of great book choices to choose from and will continue offering a $10 Amazon Gift Card if you don't like my choices. Look for this to post Thursday afternoon.

Next Monday I have an interview with debut author Kendall Kulper and a giveaway of her YA historical fantasy SALT AND STORM. I really liked the 19th century setting and Avery is a great heroine.

The Monday after that I’ll be interviewing debut author Elissa Sussman with a giveaway of STRAY, her YA fairytale retelling. I really enjoyed her unique spin of fairy godmothers.

Wednesday that week I have a guest post by debut author Andrea Pyros and a giveaway of her MG contemporary MY YEAR OF EPIC ROCK

And don’t forget Casey’s Thursday Agent Spotlights.

Hope to see you tomorrow!




P.J. HOOVER GUEST POST AND TUT: THE STORY OF MY IMMORTAL LIFE GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone!

FOLLOWER NEWS

A huge congrats to long time follower Jessica Lawson has sold two new books to Simon & Schuster. Here's the PW announcement:
Kristin Ostby at Simon & Schuster has acquired the next two middle-grade novels by Jessica Lawson, author of The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher and the forthcoming Nooks & Crannies. The first novel, Waiting for Augusta, follows an 11-year-old runaway as he travels from Alabama to Georgia in an attempt to make peace with his dead father. It is slated for summer 2016; Tina Wexler at ICM negotiated the deal for world English rights.

And I have a winner to announce. The winner of FERAL is Brittersweet!

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 thrilled to have P.J. Hoover here to share about her new MG mythological novel TUT: THE STORY OF MY IMMORTAL LIFE that releases tomorrow. P.J. was one of the first bloggers I started following and I’ve loved watching her branch out from a middle grade author to a YA author. And with her agent’s support, she self-published her first YA mythological novel SOLSTICE later sold to Starscape/Macmillan along with her new book.

Details on the giveaway will be at the end of the post. So here’s P.J. to share about how to figure out how much of your research to include in your story.

Hi, P. J. Hoover here, and I’m thrilled to be guest blogging here on Literary Rambles about my brand new novel, TUT: THE STORY OF MY IMMORTAL LIFE (Starscape/Macmillan, September 16, 2014). It’s been a long road getting this novel published, and though it is now my fifth book published, it may be the one I am the most excited about.

TUT follows the adventures of an immortal King Tut who is stuck at the age of thirteen and has to repeat eighth grade over and over again (talk about perpetual puberty!). The first couple chapters are set in the past, in ancient Egypt, as we find out how and why Tut is immortal, but after that we switch to present day Washington, D.C. where the remainder of the book takes place.

With the settings of ancient Egypt and modern-day Washington, D.C. (two really awesome settings that I love), and the subject matter of Egyptian mythology, I did a ton of research for the book. I visited all sorts of cool places around D.C. (which is where I grew up) like the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the Washington Monument, Meridian Hill Park, the Library of Congress, and Chinatown. I drove to Philadelphia to see the King Tut treasures (because, yeah, I saw them back in 1976, but mostly I just remember the shiny gold). I studied mummies at the Field Museum in Chicago. I read murder conspiracy theories about the boy king. I drew out family trees of the Egyptian gods. I bought the King Tut jigsaw puzzle!

Research is great. As we fall in love with our projects, the research helps inspire us. It makes us feel like we are moving forward. We are accomplishing. Everything we learn has value. But then it comes time for the finished book, and as an author it’s always hard to determine what of this research should actually stay in the book, and what needs to be cut. All that research we did . . . much of it turns into those “darlings” that we know we need to kill.

I tend to write my first drafts putting in every bit of research I can. In the book, Tut visits the King Tut treasures? Great! Let’s talk about each and every artifact that he sees (because this was his stuff back in the day; he’s bound to have a reaction to it). Let’s mention how the sarcophagus is no longer with the main tour here in the US and why. Let’s recount other cities where the tour has been. Yeah, but no. I’m writing a novel, not a non-fiction book on the King Tut treasures. Sticking all this information into the actual book isn’t going to keep any kid’s interest. The trick is to find the right balance. To intrigue people enough while they are reading my novel such that they want to learn more about King Tut or ancient Egypt. They want to do research of their own. And then, when they do their research, they’ll be able to appreciate the small details I have dribbled into my story.

It’s a hard balance. I admit it. And killing every single research darling is a tough job. This is where
critique partners and agents come in super handy. I have a few of the very best critique partners ever, and my agents, Laura Rennert and Lara Perkins of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, are fantastic at helping with my manuscripts. Also, as I revise, here are a few questions I ask myself when I stumble upon a research patch.

1) Does this information contribute to the story, or is it just cool? If it does contribute, then how?
2) Does this information evoke sentimental emotions inside me, maybe because I’ve visited the place myself? If so, it may need to go.
3) Does this information take up more than one sentence? If so, can it be trimmed to one? Can that one sentence be blended in to action itself instead of being dedicated solely to info-dump?

I’ve found, as I revise, highlighting these research sections can be useful. It’s hard to change them on the very first draft, and often times better to keep them, but if they’re highlighted, by the third draft (or maybe the tenth), they’ll be much easier to trim and remove as needed.

I’m totally not trying to say that research isn’t needed. It adds depth and beauty to our stories, and can breathe immortal life into them. The secret is to be the sprinkler, not the dumper. Do your research, and then blend it into your stories until it is seamless.
***
Bio:
After a fifteen year bout as an electrical engineer, P. J. Hoover started writing books for kids and teens. When not writing, P. J. spends time with her husband and two kids and enjoys practicing kung fu, solving Rubik's cubes, and watching Star Trek. Her middle grade novel, Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Starscape/Macmillan, September 2014), tells the story of a young immortal King Tut, who's been stuck in middle school for over 3,000 years and must defeat an ancient enemy with the help of a dorky kid from school, a mysterious Egyptian princess, and a one-eyed cat. Her first novel for teens, Solstice (Tor Teen/Macmillan, June 2013), takes place in a global warming future and explores the parallel world of mythology beside our own. For more information about P. J. (Tricia) Hoover, please visit her website www.pjhoover.com.

About TUT: THE STORY OF MY IMMORTAL LIFE:

You’d think it would be great being an Egyptian demigod, but if King Tut has to sit through eighth grade one more time, he’ll mummify himself.

Granted the gift of immortality by the gods—or is it a curse?—Tut has been stuck in middle school for ages. Even worse, evil General Horemheb, the man who killed Tut’s father and whom Tut imprisoned in a tomb for three thousand years, is out and after him. The general is in league with the Cult of Set, a bunch of guys who worship one of the scariest gods of the Egyptian pantheon—Set, the god of Chaos.
The General and the Cult of Set have plans for Tut… and if Tut doesn’t find a way to keep out of their clutches, he’ll never make it to the afterworld alive.

P.J. and her publisher Starscape/Macmillan generously offered a copy of TUT: THE STORY OF MY IMMORTAL LIFE 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 September 27th. I’ll announce the winner on September 29th. 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. You must be 13 or older to enter. This is for US only.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Messenger. You can find all the participating blogs at Shannon’s blog.

Here’s what’s coming up:

On Wednesday I have a guest post by long time follower and debut author Joshua Bellin with a giveaway of SURVIVAL COLONY NINE, a YA sci-fi story.

On Thursday I'm doing a Stuck in a Good Book Giveaway Hop. I'll have lots of great book choices to choose from and will continue offering a $10 Amazon Gift Card if you don't like my choices. Look for this to post Thursday afternoon.

Next Monday I have an interview with debut author Kendall Kulper and a giveaway of her YA historical fantasy SALT AND STORM. I really liked the 19th century setting and Avery is a great heroine.

The Monday after that I’ll be interviewing debut author Elissa Sussman with a giveaway of STRAY, her YA fairytale retelling. I really enjoyed her unique spin of fairy godmothers.

And don’t forget Casey’s Thursday Agent Spotlights.

Hope to see you on Wednesday!



STEFANIE GAITHER INTERVIEW AND FALLS THE SHADOW GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone! Hope everyone is adjusting well to the start of school. We had a good first week. It's weird that I just went through my last first day of school with Anna Li since she'll be at college next year at this time. There's going to be a lot of lasts this year.

FOLLOWER NEWS

PK Hrezo's new YA time travel INDUCTION DAY recently was released. Here's a blurb:
What if saving 1500 lives from the past meant losing the one person you love in the present?
And here's a few links:
 
Today I’m excited to have debut author Stefanie Gaither here to share about her YA sci-fi thriller FALLS THE SHADOW that releases on September 16, 2014. I was immediately hooked from the first few pages where we learn about Cate and her replacement sister Violet. I found the whole concept of creating a replacement in case the first child dies very intriguing and I kept turning the pages wanting to learn more about Cate’s world.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

When Cate Benson was a kid, her sister, Violet, died. Two hours after the funeral, Cate’s family picked up Violet’s replacement. Like nothing had happened. Because Cate’s parents are among those who decided to give their children a sort of immortality—by cloning them at birth—which means this new Violet has the same smile. The same perfect face. Thanks to advancements in mind-uploading technology, she even has all of the same memories as the girl she replaced.

She also might have murdered the most popular girl in school.

At least, that’s what the paparazzi and the anti-cloning protestors want everyone to think: that clones are violent, unpredictable monsters. Cate is used to hearing all that. She’s used to defending her sister, too. But Violet has vanished, and when Cate sets out to find her, she ends up in the line of fire instead. Because Cate is getting dangerously close to secrets that will rock the foundation of everything she thought was true.

In a thrilling debut, Stefanie Gaither takes readers on a nail-biting ride through a future that looks frighteningly similar to our own time and asks: how far are you willing to go to keep your family together?

Hi Stefanie! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Hmm, let’s see…I’m a twenty something former small-business owner who, when a sophomore in college, decided she could become a published author. And I’m also very, very stubborn. So, a lot of bad poetry, four novels and 100+ rejections later, here I am!

But seriously, I’ve been filling notebooks with words since I was a teen, and devouring books since long before that. And running a business was fun, but writing is really the only thing I’ve ever consistently thought I could be happy doing for the rest of my life. So it’s what I kept doing, even on the bad days, until I got here.

2. Sounds like you’ve done a lot already in your life. Where did you get the idea for your story and the whole idea of replacement children?

I think it’s hard to pinpoint an exact place of origin for any idea. At least for me, it’s usually a collection of quotes and songs and other stories I’ve seen. And in the case of FALLS, I’ve always been interested in stories that center around family and loss (true story: almost everything I’ve ever written begins with a death). So I decided to combine these themes with my love of sci-fi, and then this book just…happened.

3. That’s cool how you combined the themes you love focusing on. Share about your world building and the considerations that went into creating your futuristic society.

Worldbuilding with this book was tough, because I knew I wanted it to be set in the near-future, and not in
a complete dystopian setting; I had to really work to keep the atmosphere balanced. I wanted it to remain eerily similar to our own world and grounded with things the reader could relate to, while at the same time having lots of neat sci-fish twists. So, Cate still goes to a normal school, still deals with bullies, still lives in a normal house on a normal street. But there are small things—the transportation, the weapons, the remnants of a war that’s taken place in the decades between now and then—that make it more futuristic, in addition to the cloning technology. I tried to keep even those futuristic touches from being too far-fetched, though, by basing almost all of them on technology that already exists in some form or fashion. Of course I took some liberties with it all, but it’s all grounded in actual theories and research I did while writing.

4. I did enjoy the combination of what felt normal with the new technology you created. Cate is a great character and very loyal to her sister Violet, even the replacement one. What was her character development like for you? Share a bit about her.

Kind of an interesting fact: when I first started thinking about writing a “clone book”, the main character was going to be a clone. That seemed like the natural choice, but when I started to brainstorm, I kept getting flashes of the story from an outside character’s perspective instead, and I began to wonder how a person (Cate) would deal with having this new replacement sister thrown into their life.

And I guess it was easier for me to relate to—and therefore write— Cate, since I experienced the loss of several family members at around the same age she did, and I also gained step-family members when I was a teen, who I guess you could say were would-be “replacements” for things I lost. Though none of them were possibly-murderous clones, as far as I know. But I’d definitely say my own experiences shaped Cate’s development probably more than any character I’ve written, even though I didn’t really set out to write a character like me at all.

5. I’ve had a lot of losses of family members too, so very sorry for your losses. It’s great you could turn the experience into your great story here. I know this wasn’t the first book you wrote. What had you learned from the prior manuscripts about the craft of writing that helping you in drafting FALLS THE SHADOW? Was the drafting process easier for FALLS THE SHADOW?

I’ve learned that I’m not a super fast drafter, and that’s okay. I move slowly and I edit as I go, which I hear so often is the “wrong way” to do it, because “all first drafts should be crap”. But I don’t like writing crap if I can help it, lol. I’m a perfectionist, and I’m more productive when working on a scene if I feel like everything that came before it is at least *close* to being decent. That way, there’s less work to do when I type “The End” for the first time. This is also part of the reason that I started working from an outline with FALLS, which I hadn’t done previously—less work on the backend; it makes getting that initial draft down a slower and more grueling process, but for me it’s less daunting than having to do ten rounds of edits once I “finish”.

6. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only really slow drafter. Sara Megibow is your agent. How awesome! Share how she became your agent and your road to publication.

Nelson Literary was the first place I queried with every book I wrote, including FALLS THE SHADOW; it had become a sort of tradition—a rejection from Nelson meant I was officially in the querying trenches again :) So when I received a response to FALLS’ query within a couple days, I was shocked to see it was a partial request, and then even more shocked when Sara wrote back the next day asking for a full. A week or two later, I got “the call”. I ended up with four offers of rep from some seriously amazing agents, but in the end, Sara was the one I personally connected with the most, so she’s who I went with. But yeah, I was a cold query—no references, no prior publishing credentials, none of that. I just wrote the best query and book that I could and let fate handle the rest.

7. What an awesome way to get an agent that gives us all hope. What’s something that’s surprised you about the year leading up to your debut book’s release?

There haven’t been too many surprises, since I’ve been trying to break into the publishing world for a few years and so I’ve read A LOT of books and blogs about how things work, and also because I’m fortunate enough to have an agent who is very communicative and good about letting me know what to expect in each part of this crazy journey. But it’s still surprising when my book shows up on someone’s blog as a featured title in say, a Waiting on Wednesday post. Or on a blog post about “Most Anticipated YA books”. It’s still weird to realize that complete strangers are excited about reading my book. And there’s no way they’re all my mom in disguise like I thought at first, because there is no way she has that many blogs and Goodreads accounts.

8. Those are cool surprises. I’ve read your advice to use the social media avenues you feel most comfortable with, not ones just because they were successful for someone else. What’re your favorite social media networks and what ways are you most excited about using to spread the word about your book release?

I have sort of a love/hate relationship with social media. I go through fits where I love Twitter and Tumblr, but a lot of the time they wear the introvert in me out; I admire authors who manage to both write books and write several witty tweets a day—and I love following them! But the social avenue I probably use most regularly is Pinterest; I loved creating visual inspiration boards for books like FALLS, and I’m looking forward to creating a board to pin photographs of it “in the wild” in different places, as I’ve seen some other authors do.

9. What are you working on now?

Lots of different stuff! Nothing real definite to talk about at the moment, though. (boo for boring answers like this, I know)

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

Website: www.stefaniegaither.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorstefaniegaither
Twitter: https://twitter.com/stefaniegaither
Tumblr: http://definitely-stefanie.tumblr.com/
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/stefaniegaither/

Stefanie generously offered a copy of FALLS THE SHADOW 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 September 20th. I’ll announce the winner on September 22nd. 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. You must be 13 or older to enter. International entries are welcome.

Here’s what’s coming up:

On Monday I have a guest post by PJ Hoover and a giveaway of TUT, her MG story with mythological themes. I’m a huge fan of PJ’s and am excited to see how her books have been both traditionally published and self-published.

Next Wednesday I have a guest post by long time follower and debut author Joshua Bellin with a giveaway of SURVIVAL COLONY NINE, a YA sci-fi story.

And next Thursday I'm doing a Stuck in a Good Book Giveaway  Hop. I'll have lots of great book choices to choose from and will continue offering a $10 Amazon Gift Card if you don't like my choices. Look for this to post Thursday afternoon.

The following Monday I have an interview with debut author Kendall Kulper and a giveaway of her YA historical fantasy SALT AND STORM. I really liked the 19th century setting and Avery is a great heroine.

The Monday after that I’ll be interviewing debut author Elissa Sussman with a giveaway of STRAY, her YA fairytale retelling. I really enjoyed her unique spin of fairy godmothers.

And don’t forget Casey’s Thursday Agent Spotlights.

Hope to see you on Monday!

KERRY O'MALLEY CERRA GUEST POST AND JUST A DROP OF WATER GIVEAWAY

Happy Wednesday! Hope you had a great Labor Day weekend. We had a really fun day Sunday at the lake with friends. And it was so needed after Saturday where we worked concessions ALL day at a University of Michigan football game. Not my idea of fun to put together hot dog and brat sandwiches for 7 hours. (I'm a vegetarian.) But it's done and we also had an awesome 8 team relay meet we hosted and a sleepover for the girls last week. So happy the busy August month is done. I'm writing this on Monday and I'm still so tired.

FOLLOWER NEWS

Stina Lindenblatt's second NA romance, LET ME KNOW, released on Monday. Here's a blurb:

Amber Scott thought her screaming nightmares would end now that her stalker is locked up and awaiting trial. But they return when her slam-dunk case starts to fall apart.
And here's a few links to where you can find Stina and more info on her book: 


Today I'm excited to have Kerry O'Malley Cerra here to share a guest post on how she uses visuals in writing with a giveaway of her new contemporary middle grade novel JUST A DROP OF WATER. Details of the giveaway are at the end of the post.

So here's Kerry.


The Visual Writer

I wish I’d realized (like way back in elementary, middle, or even high school) what a visual learner I am. I
think I would have been a lot more successful academically. From early on, when someone would tell my dad directions, or describe a place as they told a story, I was creating maps and drawings in my head. I could totally picture it. It wasn’t till college that I realized I seemed to breeze through courses with maps, charts, storyboards, etc. but found myself dozing in lecture classes.

You’d think I’d have remembered this when I began writing and could have found a way to incorporate some visual strategies from the get go. Instead, I floundered for a long time—pantsing my way through plots, characterizations, and settings, with the end result being a pretty awful first manuscript. This meant, if I wanted to make it as a writer and actually publish that piece of garbage, I would have to *gasp tragically here* revise the whole darn thing. (I should probably note that during my years in school I never once reread an essay before handing it in. Not even long answers on tests. I’d written what I needed to say, it was already perfect, and I was done. Revision was for amateurs! My poor literature grades showed otherwise, but that’s a story for another post!)

So, even though I had this piece of junk manuscript that I thought was totally ready to be submitted to the most elite agents out there, my writing group disagreed. Thank the Lord Baby Jesus because they were right, and, for the first time ever, I would have to willingly reread my whole manuscript and figure out what was wrong with it. Luckily, one of my early mentors showed our critique group this awesome thing called a plot clock. Though my main character’s arc was pretty solid, the order of events weren’t flowing, nor were they helping to move my character forward. A big no-no for novels. With the plot clock, I was able to see there is sort of a formula for writing.

Start by drawing a big fat circle. In the middle draw a short line. Above the line, write what your character wants. You have to dig super deep for this. In JUST A DROP OF WATER, Jake wants a lot of things on the surface, but his deepest desire is to be a hero. This is his internal goal. Below the line, write your characters biggest flaw.

What kind of a visual writer would I be if I didn’t include visuals here? This is what your plot clock should look like in the beginning.



From 12:00 (the beginning of your book) to around 7:00, your character must be acting one way and not advance toward his/her goal. This behavior is defined by your character’s flaw. Basically, he/she has to screw up a lot. In Jake’s case, he’s a hot-head, a reactor, an eye-for-an-eye kind of kid. He sees the world as totally black and white. So, all his actions from the beginning till about 7:00 on that clock have to show him making poor, quick, reactive decisions. Figure out what main points you’ll use to illustrate these character traits and list them on the clock in the order they’ll happen.

Slowly your MC has to lose everything because of these actions and choices, which brings us to our “all-is-lost” moment at 7:00. Here your character is seriously struggling. They are in so much pain that readers will wonder how the character will ever get out of this. Somehow, your MC must evaluate the choices they’ve made thus far and figure out how to still get what they want (remember that deep desire you wrote in the top, center of the clock?) but find a new way to proceed—opposite of the flaw you wrote on the bottom, center of the clock.

From 7:00 till 11:00, your now enlightened character should be behaving in a new way as you escalate to the climax scene, which occurs at 11:00. Usually this time also involves the character making amends with others—even with themself if the story warrants. But 11:00 is juicy. The big bang! The time when your character will finally achieve a goal by having acted in new ways. (Note: this doesn’t mean the outcome is always favorable. Middle grade novels tend to have happier endings by nature, but, even if your character doesn’t get what they want, their actions should show the characters growth.)

Then, from 11:00 till 12:00 you get the see the character celebrate that accomplishment. Of course, these timeframes can vary depending on the type of story you’re creating, but I’ve found this to work wonders with all 3 middle-grade books I’ve written.



My visual writing didn’t end there, though. That was just the beginning. Once I figured out what my events would be and where they were to go on my clock, I went scene by scene through my clunky manuscript and wrote what was happening in each one on a pink index card. I went a step further using skinny, colored Post-it tags to color code each person in the scene and at the top of the card I wrote the mood—to make sure my manuscript varied in emotions. Then I taped every single one of those index cards up on my dining room wall, in order of how the scenes appeared in the current draft of the book. I compared them to my newly created plot clock and realized I needed to move entire scenes to other places in the book. Early on, I had Jake conflicting with multiple characters but he was making up with them too quickly. I didn’t have an all-is-lost moment and my readers didn’t care or invest much in Jake. Likewise, I didn’t have enough scenes in the beginning showing Jake’s fiery disposition. I knew I needed to add in at least 3 solid incidents to flesh his character out fully. When I figured out what they were, I penciled them in on the plot clock and then lifted the index card from my wall and replanted it where it needed to go. When I had to create a new scene entirely, I added it on a purple index card and taped it where it needed to go. And…ya’ know what? I freaking loved this whole process. It was like solving a giant puzzle, and puzzles are for visual people, right? Everything was clicking for me. The story felt right and clear in my head. I seriously couldn’t wait to get started on my revision. Can you believe it? Me, looking forward to rewriting, fixing, polishing something that I thought at one point was totally done. Even though there was still hard work ahead—looking at those cards on the wall with a definite map to guide me—the revision didn’t seem so tough any longer.



That’s when I decided to take it a step further. In my head, I’d had a sense of what my characters looked like, but I wanted actual pictures to guide me in my revision. Sure I cold have just told myself this stuff in my head, but the visual me wanted clarity to ensure continuity throughout the whole book. And, because I LOVE maps, I made one of the town. I’d always sort of had one in my head, but when I realized Jake and his dad ran towards Mullins Park by going left out of their neighborhood, but Jake also got there by going left out of the school, that couldn’t happen. It’s really hard for me to keep mundane details straight in my brain, especially when writing the book over a series of months or years, but, once I drew that map, the book had fewer mistakes—which meant fewer revisions later. YAY!!!

If I can help another visual writer by passing on these glorious, eye-opening tips—preferably before they create a mixed-up, messy, jumbled manuscript—then I’m super happy. And, though I’ve embraced the revision process without whining too much, I love that my first drafts don’t suck as much as they used to, before the brilliant plot clock entered my world. Happy writing—and revising—y’all!

Thanks for sharing your great advice, Kerry. You can find Kerry at :

www.kerryomalleycerra.com
Twitter: KerryOCerra

Here's a blurb of JUST A DROP OF WATER from Goodreads:


Ever since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart—and outrun—the rival cross country team, the Palmetto Bugs. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.

According to Jake’s personal code of conduct, anyone who beats up your best friend is due for a butt kicking, and so Jake goes after Bobby. But soon after, Sam’s father is detained by the FBI and Jake’s mom doubts the innocence of Sam’s family, forcing Jake to choose between his best friend and his parents. When Jake finds out that Sam’s been keeping secrets, too, he doesn’t know who his allies are anymore. But the final blow comes when his grandpa’s real past is revealed to Jake. Suddenly, everything he ever knew to be true feels like one big lie. In the end, he must decide: either walk away from Sam and the revenge that Bobby has planned, or become the hero he’s always aspired to be.

A gripping and intensely touching debut middle grade novel by Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Just a Drop of Water brings the events of September 11, which shook the world, into the lens of a young boy who is desperately trying to understand the ramifications of this life-altering event.


Kerry's publisher Sky Pony Press generously offered a copy of JUST A DROP OF WATER 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 September 20th. I’ll announce the winner on September 22nd. 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. You must be 13 or older to enter. This is for US only.

Here’s what’s coming up:

On Monday I have an interview with debut author Stephanie Gaither and a giveaway of FALLS THE SHADOW, a YA futurist story about cloning replacement kids. I was hooked in the first few pages.

The following Monday I have a guest post by PJ Hoover and a giveaway of TUT, her MG story with mythological themes. I’m a huge fan of PJ’s and am excited to see how her books have been both traditionally published and self-published.

Wednesday that week I have a guest post by long time follower and debut author Joshua Bellin with a giveaway of SURVIVAL COLONY NINE, a YA sci-fi story.

And Thursday that week I'm doing a  Stuck in a Good Book Giveaway Hop. I'll have lots of great book choices to choose from and will continue offering a $10 Amazon Gift Card if you don't like my choices. Look for this to post Thursday afternoon.

And don’t forget Casey’s Thursday Agent Spotlights.

Hope to see you on Monday!