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

TRACKED through May 23rd

BETWEEN THE NOTES through May 23rd

Lauren MacLeod Query Critique and 5 TO 1 Giveaway through May 30th

AGENT LAUREN MACLEOD AND HOLLY BODGER GUEST POST AND QUERY CRITIQUE AND 5 TO 1 GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone!

I have a few winners to announce.

The winner of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING is Joanne Fritz!

The winner of JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD is Liz Brooks!

The winner of Brent Taylor's Query Critique is Jenny C.!

And the winner of the May I Suggest Giveaway Hop is Anne May who picked the Amazon Gift Card!

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 debut author Holly Bodger and her agent Lauren MacLeod from The Strothman Agency to share about raising your stakes in your novel.

Holly's novel is a YA multicultural, futuristic story that sounds fantastic. I just reserved it at the library for my summer fun reading. And it just came in. Yay!

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

In the year 2054, after decades of gender selection, India now has a ratio of five boys for every girl, making women an incredibly valuable commodity. Tired of marrying off their daughters to the highest bidder and determined to finally make marriage fair, the women who form the country of Koyanagar have instituted a series of tests so that every boy has the chance to win a wife.

Sudasa, though, doesn't want to be a wife, and Kiran, a boy forced to compete in the test to become her husband, has other plans as well. As the tests advance, Sudasa and Kiran thwart each other at every turn until they slowly realize that they just might want the same thing.

This beautiful, unique novel is told from alternating points of view-Sudasa's in verse and Kiran's in prose-allowing readers to experience both characters' pain and their brave struggle for hope.


So here's Holly and Lauren!

Stake it Up

HB: One of the things Lauren often reminds me is to increase the stakes in my novel. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a character’s stakes are what he has to lose if he doesn’t meet his goal. For example, if Harry Potter doesn’t defeat Voldemort, he will die, so his stakes are death. In the case of my own book, 5 TO 1, Sudasa’s stakes are a life of misery married to a boy she hates. Kiran’s are death.

LM: I just searched through my sent email for the phrase “the stakes” and it does, indeed, seem to be one of those things I’m constantly talking about with you guys. But without high stakes, what is the point? Why should a reader invest themselves in this story or character? 

HB: You are so right, Lauren. The stakes are what keeps the reader reading. In fact, according to James a character’s stakes must always be death. Don’t get too excited. He defines death in three ways: 1) actual physical death, 2) professional death (in YA this might be called death in stature, ie, a place on the basketball team), and 3) emotional death. This last one can be hard to pull off as it requires that you convince the reader that it will really occur. When I used this this last one for Sudasa, I had to make sure that it was REALLY clear that a life married to a boy she hates would be emotional death.
Scott Bell,

LM: That is such an interesting way of framing that! I feel like there should be some sort of category for interpersonal relationship death (not necessarily romantic, but frequently), but maybe that all falls under the umbrella of emotional death? (For some reason ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS popped into my head and I was trying to figure out where I’d slot those stakes.) Holly?

HB: Yes, I think loss of love/friendship would be an emotional death as long as the relationship is important to the main character. That’s what stakes must be personal. The main character must be facing his or her own death (or in this case, loss). If the stakes belong to another character, then they must relate back to the main character through an emotional death. For example, Katniss risks her life initially to save her sister and while she wants to win the games so she can continue to support her mother and sister, the stakes (of actual death) are hers because she is the one who might die. Had the games been different and Katniss had been playing for Prim’s life, we would have believed Katniss was facing emotional death only if we also believed Prim was so important to Katniss that she could not possibly go on living without her.

LM: Sort of like the emotional death Katniss would be facing re: Peeta Mellark? (Oh Peeta!) Katniss is facing her own death, but the reader also thinks she may be facing an emotional death if she loses Peeta. So she has personal stakes on two sides and, thanks to the winner takes all nature of the Hunger Games, she is put in this really fascinating place where it seems like she can’t win. The more stakes you can raise, and the more you can set those in conflict with each other, the higher the tension, the more I care as a reader.

HB: Yeah, Hunger Games was full of stakes. Katniss was facing the loss of her sister and Peeta, in addition to her own life. This really helped build engagement with Katniss because the stakes were specific. This is really important. I have lost count of the number of loglines I’ve seen where the only stakes are the end of the world . How does a reader know what this means? Will the Earth actually implode if the main character does not succeed or is this just an exaggeration? 

LM: Oh I agree with your requirement, but I think there is a place for *dramatic music* THE END OF THE WORLD, as long as there are some personal stakes tied up in there, too. I think there is some pretty fertile ground here, especially when you set it up so the stakes for the world conflict [am I beginning to sound like a broken record? I clearly like my stakes with a side of major conflict] with the main characters personal stakes. It demands a sacrifice or some sort of moral reckoning, which is also inherently interesting. 


HB: So Lauren likes her stakes with a side of more stakes. Do you see a pattern here? 



The final thing to remember with stakes is that they must be believable. This touches on a whole other topic about powerful antagonists, but the point here is that we must believe the stakes will absolutely come true if the main character loses. We rooted for Katniss because we actually believed she would die in the Hunger Games. If she’d gone into the arena to fight to the death and her opponents were all toothless gerbils, we would not have believed the stakes.

LM: Agreed. I’d add that the best books also really build the case for it being unlikely for the main character to get what they want. In the case of escaping physical death, for example, most writers (especially of YA) probably aren’t really going to George R. R. Martin a character and readers know that, so the burden falls on the writer to really make us fear/worry for our characters. 


I think this is probably easiest in something like the Hunger Games and hardest in YA or MG when your stakes are more of the “professional death” variety. We see “so-and-so will die” or “the world will end” so frequently because those stakes register on a visceral human level. 


Thanks for sharing all your great advice, Lauren and Holly.

You can find Lauren at  @Lauren_MacLeod.

You can find Holly at  www.hollybodger.com.

Lauren has generously offered a query critique and Holly is offering a copy of 5 TO 1for a giveaway.
To enter, you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through May 30. I’ll announce the winner on June 8th. If you are interested in the query critique, please let me know in the comments. You must let me know this to enter. 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 an International giveaway.

Here's what's coming up:

I'll be off next Monday for Memorial Day. Have a great holiday!

Next Wednesday I have a guest post by Elizabeth Varden and a giveaway of her new MG mystery IMOGENE AND THE CASE OF THE MISSING PEARLS.

I'll be off on Monday June 1st to get ready for my daughter's graduation and will be offline all week because I'm having family visiting to help celebrate our happy event.

Monday, June 8th, I'll have an interview with debut author Sarah McGuire and a giveaway of her MG fantasy VALIANT.

Hope to see you next Wednesday!



SHARON HUSS ROAT GUEST POST AND BETWEEN THE NOTES GIVEAWAY

 Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I'm excited to have debut author Sharon Huss Roat here with a guest post and a giveaway of her YA contemporary BETWEEN THE NOTES.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

When Ivy Emerson’s family loses their house—complete with her beloved piano—the fear of what’s to come seizes her like a bad case of stage fright. Only this isn’t one of her single, terrifying performances. It’s her life.

And it isn’t pretty.

Ivy is forced to move with her family out of their affluent neighborhood to Lakeside, also known as “the wrong side of the tracks.” Hiding the truth from her friends—and the cute new guy in school, who may have secrets of his own—seems like a good idea at first. But when a bad boy next door threatens to ruin everything, Ivy’s carefully crafted lies begin to unravel . . . and there is no way to stop them.

As things get to the breaking point, Ivy turns to her music, some unlikely new friends, and the trusting heart of her disabled little brother. She may be surprised that not everyone is who she thought they were . . . including herself.

Debut author Sharon Huss Roat crafts a charming and timely story of what happens when life as you know it flips completely upside down.


So here's Sharon!

My Editor Made Me Do It: Three Character-Building Revision Tips

I’m thrilled to be guest-posting on Literary Rambles today! Since Natalie invited me to write about the editorial process, I thought I’d share a few of the actual revisions my editor asked me to make. (A peak behind the curtain!) These aren’t necessarily the most significant changes I made, but they all helped me write deeper, more developed characters.

1) Turning Two Characters Into One

It happened during my second round of developmental edits with my editor, Karen Chaplin, at HarperCollins. She asked me to do the unthinkable: turn two beloved characters into a single person.

Whaaaat? My initial reaction was one of strong resistance. These two characters—new friends of
protagonist Ivy—were so different. One was quirky, awkward and shy. The other was wry, snarky, badass. I couldn’t imagine merging them into one person! But Karen convinced me to try. On their own, the two characters had needed a lot more development. It would’ve been difficult to devote the extra scene time necessary to accomplish that with both of them. But combined? They became a more complex character with greater depth and a more important role in the story.

2) Throwing a Pity Party

I was so worried about making Ivy likable, I hesitated to let her react fully to her circumstances. I didn’t want her to seem bratty or whiny. What I didn’t realize, though, was that Ivy (and her story) needed this authentic and relatable teen moment. Her world had just turned upside down. My editor encouraged me to let her throw a fit, to feel her “poor me” moment.

Will some readers think Ivy’s a brat because of it? Perhaps. And that’s okay, because it’s true. She isn’t perfect, and she reacted to a crappy situation as any teen might: badly. The scene ultimately became an important turning point for Ivy, as she recognizes how her circumstances are affecting everyone in her family—not just herself. She had to have that bratty moment to move beyond it!

3) Avoiding Caricatures

Every school has its mean girls, and my manuscript did, too. Karen encouraged me to give them more depth and development, so they wouldn’t feel like caricatures. I did so by looking beyond their shallow and materialistic behavior to what made them so. I explored their relationships with their parents. They were spoiled, for sure. But also somewhat neglected. One was essentially raised by her “Nanny du jour” and the other was a product of her mother’s obsession with appearances. Weaving in these little bits of backstory along with a few moments of vulnerability helped turn my two stereotypical mean girls into something a little bit more.

Thanks for the great tips, Sharon. You can find Sharon at:




Sharon has generous offered a copy of BETWEEN THE NOTES for a giveaway. To enter, you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through May 23rd. I’ll announce the winner on May 27th. 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 Holly Bodger and her agent Lauren MacLeod and a query critique giveaway and a giveaway of Holly's YA futurist, multicultural story 5 to 1.

I'll be off the following Monday for Memorial Day.

Wednesday that week I have a guest post by Elizabeth Varden and a giveaway of her new MG mystery IMOGENE AND THE CASE OF THE MISSING PEARLS.

I'll be off on Monday June 1st to get ready for my daughter's graduation.

Monday, June 8th, I'll have an interview with debut author Sarah McGuire and a giveaway of her MG fairytale retelling VALIANT.

Hope to see you on Monday!


JENNY MARTIN INTERVIEW AND TRACKED GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone! Hope all you mothers had a great Mother's Day! Anna Li and I went out to dinner at a restaurant we really like and she got me some lovely flowers.

Follower News

Erin Fanning's new adult urban fantasy novella, BLOOD STITCHES,  is being released tomorrow. Here's a blurb: Blood Stitches is about a family who can knit magic, creating tapestries capable of apocalyptic disasters, and what happens when the younger sister must destroy the tapestries. It touches on the classic themes of good vs. evil, family relationships, and why some people seem to be attracted to darkness. And here are a few links:www.erinfanning.com, http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Stitches-Erin-Fanning-ebook/dp/B00ONTR8I6 , https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23450191-blood-stitches 

Also, Lee Wind has started a series with in-depth agent interviews on diversity in books for #WeNeedDiverseBooks. The interviews are on the first Monday of the month. The last one was with Sarah Davies.

I have a winner to announce.

The winner of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is Laine Cunningham!

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 Jenny Martin here to share about her new YA science fiction book, TRACKED. It sounds like a fantastic story about a girl who is a racer and turns into a revolutionary. How cool is that?

Here’s a description from Goodreads:

On corporately controlled Castra, rally racing is a high-stakes game that seventeen-year-old Phoebe Van Zant knows all too well. Phee’s legendary racer father disappeared mysteriously, but that hasn't stopped her from speeding headlong into trouble. When she and her best friend, Bear, attract the attention of Charles Benroyal, they are blackmailed into racing for Benroyal Corp, a company that represents everything Phee detests. Worse, Phee risks losing Bear as she falls for Cash, her daring new teammate. But when she discovers that Benroyal is controlling more than a corporation, Phee realizes she has a much bigger role in Castra’s future than she could ever have imagined. It's up to Phee to take Benroyal down. But even with the help of her team, can a street-rat destroy an empire?

Hi Jenny! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

My twitter bio reads...Author, Librarian, Beatle-maniac, and that's a pretty fitting description. By night, I'm a novelist, and by day, I'm a school librarian in Northwest ISD, in the Dallas Fort-Worth area. And when I'm not reading, writing or recommending books, I'm either binge-watching science fiction, superhero or fantasy movies/tv shows, or I'm listening to music...usually rock. And yes, I really do love the Beatles.

How did I become a writer? I think it was always in the cards, because I've always, always been a voracious reader. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in the Children's section, in the basement of the Woodward Public Library, reading and daydreaming. As a kid, and even as a teen, I wrote short stories and (bad) poetry. But somewhere along way to adulthood, I got it in my head that I'd never be a real writer. And it wasn't until I was finishing up my Masters' Degree, in Library Science, that I had the courage to reclaim the dream. I realized I was tired of only writing academic papers. I wanted to write fiction...something for me. So I did!

2. That's awesome you came to writing form your love of reading. I'd love to work at a library. Where did you get the idea for TRACKED?

The short answer is that I was inspired after watching a documentary called Hot Coffee and an action movie called Death Race: 2000, the remake starring Jason Statham. The long(ish) answer is that Tracked was probably sleeping in my subconscious for much, much longer. I've spent a lifetime loving adventure novels and science fiction epics like Star Wars. Growing up, I always wanted to be the rogue, like Han Solo or the smart-mouthed hero, like Princess Leia. For me, Phee is a little bit of both, and she's the character I've always wanted to write...I just didn’t know it, until she popped into my head. ;)

3. I think many of us have fantasies of being characters in movies or books we love. Phoebe is a racer. Did you already know a lot about racing or did you have to research it for your story?

When I first got the idea for Tracked, I knew very little about racing, and I’m way too much of a scaredy
cat to race in real life. I did a lot research, and read up a lot on Nascar, Formula One, street and rally racing. I checked out books and devoured articles in extreme sports magazines like Red Bulletin (So interesting and so much inspiration...I highly recommend a subscription, if you're a novelist.). I even interviewed an amateur stock car racer! But at the end of the day, I had to create my own sport, and use my imagination. Circuit racing isn't NASCAR, and it's not traditional endurance racing, either. It's a combination of the two, with a little twist of its own.

4. Wow! You did a lot of research. Share about your world building process and the corporate controlled world of Castra. Do youhave any tips for other authors needing to create a new world?

I think the most important thing is to get under the skin of your character (or narrator) and see everything their eyes, and sense everything through the lens of his or her experience. When world-building doesn't work...when there's too much of it, or it's too generic...it's usually because the author failed to do that. In Tracked, you only see what Phee notices, the way she notices it. The planet's climate, history, politics, architecture and government...it's all filtered through her, in her own voice.

I will say that throughout the process of drafting and revising, I thought about the world of Tracked a LOT. I wrote a complete Intersteller Geo-political Timeline, a series of interoffice memos from Benroyal Corp. and don't laugh...even a Circuit Racing Manual for Corporate Cup Professionals. But all of that was just for me, to help me have a deeper understanding. The more I know about the world, the better prepared I am to access it through my character's perspective.

5. That's amazing how you wrote those memos and manual. It shows true dedication. Share about a writing challenge you faced working with your editor or something you learned from working with your editor.

I've had the pleasure of working with two editors at Penguin. My first editor was Heather Alexander, and she taught me how to revise. Before working with her, I only knew how to tinker with a draft and cheat with band-aid fixes. She taught me how to really dig deep and take my drafts apart, and analyze them, in order to tell the best story possible. I really learned a lot from her. After Heather left to become an agent, I began working with Stacey Friedberg, who is equally amazing! I've learned so much from her about writing within my genre; she has such a great eye for science fiction, and has great instincts, too. In addition, Stacey's really helped me to evolve and add dimension and depth to my drafts.

I think this just shows how important editors are. It's great to love writing, and to have a story to tell, but everyone needs someone to be an advocate for the reader. We authors have blind spots. We can't always see what's not on the page, because it's all in our head. We need great editors to help us to realize our vision and spur us on, to grow in our craft.

6. That's so cool that you got to work with two editors although it may have been stressful when you first found out your first editor was leaving. Sara Crowe is your agent. Tell us how she became your agent and your road to publication.

Sara is simply the best. I really mean that; I've never known such a dedicated, tireless, understanding agent. I simply would not be here, still writing, without her. Originally, I'd signed with another agent, but we parted ways, because I just wasn't mature enough yet. It wasn't her fault; I just wasn't ready to level up as a writer. There's also something to be said for finding the perfect fit. You don't want to work with any agent. You don't even want to work with any good agent. You want the right agent, who can help you build a career. And for me, Sara Crowe is that ideal partner. I had a long road to publication, with plenty of obstacles and setbacks, but Sara never gave up. She always had faith in me, and always knew just what to say or do, no mattered what was happening behind the scenes.

And how did I sign with this amazing lady? I reached out to her the old fashioned way, with an unsolicited, no referral, cold query. ;)

7. Good to know querying works. You’re also a librarian. Has that helped you at all in letting other librarians know about your book? Do you have any advice for other authors on how to effectively connect with librarians regarding their books?

I count myself incredibly luck to have so many friends and supportive colleagues in the Texas book community. I do think being a librarian has helped me understand how to put my best foot forward. I've been on the other side of the desk, reading review journals, and booking authors for visits.

With that in mind, I'd say the best way is to connect with librarians to be kind, genuine and above all, professional. Visit your local library. Get to know the librarians, book sellers and book lovers in your community. Volunteer your time and share your enthusiasm for great books! The best connections are the most sincere connections--the relationships you've cultivated over time, not in order to get ahead, but in order to help and show support for each other. Cherish those relationships…it’s a lot more fun to celebrate with a group of great friends.

8. That's great advice. How are you planning to market your book?

*cue the desperate laughter*

But seriously. For me, this is one of the most difficult and daunting parts about being published. I know how to write a book. I know how to cheer for someone, and talk up her book, when it’s first out in the world. But do I know the magic formula for selling my own novel? Nope. So thank goodness, I get to work with the world's best publicist. Jennifer is amazing, and has already helped me brainstorm a million promotional ideas, plan a tour, pitch essays and schedule appearances.

And yet...at the end of the day, there's only so much I can control. I can't control whether or not my book is a lead title. I can't control how prominently my novel is listed in the sales catalog. I can't control the cover, or the publishers' marketing strategies, or which media outlets will agree to feature my debut. (Pssst...if you figure out a surefire way to get a book reviewed in my favorite, EW, let me know?) You just can't beat yourself up about these things. You have to accept that some thing are out of your hands.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things you can do. You can work your tail off, with enthusiasm, and treat every single person who has a hand in bringing your book into the world, with the utmost respect. You can work hard for them, and for yourself. You can make every effort to put yourself out there, in a positive way, and cultivate every opportunity that’s available to you. But remember, it’s important to know your limits. Do what you can, but don’t lose focus on what really matters...the words on the page. Finding the right balance between marketing and writing is really hard, but I'm trying. ;)


9. What are you working on now?

I'm currently working on edits for book two, and honestly, I could not be more excited about it. Phee still has a quite a journey ahead, and can't wait for readers to see what happens next! No spoilers, but I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Sequel aside, I'm also working on a dark, twisty, heartbreaking, horror-slash-love story. I love this main character so much, and I hope to share him with readers' someday.

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


Jenny has generous offered a copy of TRACKED for a giveaway. To enter, you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through May 23rd. I’ll announce the winner on May 27th. 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 only.


Here's what's coming up:

On Wednesday, I have a guest post by debut author Sharon Huss Roat and a giveaway of her YA contemporary, BETWEEN THE NOTES.

Next Monday, I have a guest post by debut author Holly Bodger and her agent Lauren MacLeod and a query critique giveaway and a giveaway of Holly's YA futurist, multicultural story 5 to 1.

I'll be off the following Monday for Memorial Day.

Wednesday that week I have a guest post by Elizabeth Varden and a giveaway of her new MG mystery IMOGENE AND THE CASE OF THE MISSING PEARLS.

I'll be off on Monday June 1st to get ready for my daughter's graduation.

Monday, June 8th, I'll have an interview with debut author Sarah McGuire and a giveaway of her MG fantasy,

Hope to see you on Wednesday!

DONNA GALANTI GUEST POST AND JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD GIVEAWAY

Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I'm thrilled to have author Donna Gallanti here with a guest post  on getting past the agent gatekeeper. She was an intern at Jennifer De Chiatra Literary Agency so has excellent advice on this. And she's giving away a copy of her MG fantasy, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD. Details of the giveaway will be at the end of the post. I love fantasies and this one sounds fantastic.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

Stay away from the window, don’t go outside when it’s storming and whatever you do, do not touch the orb.

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper’s grandpa has always warned him about the dangers of lightning. But Joshua never put much stock in his grandpa’s rumblings as anything more than the ravings of an old man with a vast imagination. Then one night, when Joshua and his best friend are home alone during a frightful storm, Joshua learns his grandpa was right. A bolt of lightning strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever.

To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark place that steals children for energy. But getting back home and saving his friend won’t be easy, as Joshua must face the terrifying Child Collector and fend off ferocious and unnatural beasts intent on destroying him.

In this world, Joshua possesses powers he never knew he had, and soon, Joshua’s mission becomes more than a search for his friend. He means to send all the stolen children home—and doing so becomes the battle of his life.

GET YOUR MANUSCRIPT PAST THE GATEKEEPER!


Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and in the hands of the agent.

Was it a good story? Did it hold my attention? What are the most common stop-reading mistakes I experienced as a first-reader that led me to recommend the manuscript to an agent – or pass?

Here’s eight problems that could be plaguing your manuscript and keeping you from getting an agent.

1. WORLD BUILDING ISSUES

My First Reader Notes:
“The writer began with wonderful descriptive details drawing on all five senses and then she just stopped – and I stopped reading. She stopped grounding us in the story.”

Is there is a richness missing in your manuscript?
Answer questions like these:
Where are we? Another planet? Another town? A different world? Are these worlds like ours, but different? How? What are the differences? Lack of sun? Is the air the same? Different?

We need to ground the reader in the story, otherwise they are lost. Where are your characters in the

scene?
EXAMPLES:
Are they outside? “The earth was all gravel beneath my feet.”
Are they in a tunnel? “The stale air threatened to choke me.”

Through dialogue you can show time and distance.
EXAMPLES:
“Tom’s house was just two miles away…takes a day’s walk to get there…I hadn’t been back since last summer.”

TIPS:
• Write out a timeline of story.
• Draw a map of your setting/world/town. (see mine here)
• Show us the world through the character’s eyes.

 



2. UNEVEN NARRATIVE FLOW

My First Reader Notes:
“The writer needs to vary sentence type. The manuscript is filled with chunks of short sentences and long sentences.”

Is your prose “jabby?” Do you notice that you have too many punchy sentences in a row? Look to intermix with longer sentences to give the reader a chance to breathe.

Is your manuscript bogged down with adverbs? Could dialogue or action could be used instead of multiple adverbs? Does your writing feel cumbersome with lots of –ing words?

TIPS:
• Look to remove unnecessary internal dialogue that slows the pace down.
• Make a list of repetitive words then go back and search and replace.
• Do not report on every physical response. This can weigh the story down. Trust the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imagination.
• Use one word that has the most meaning instead of several to describe something.
• Do a global search for adverbs and point-of-view filter words (realized, noticed, saw, etc.)

3. TELLING NOT SHOWING

My First Reader Notes:
“The writer tells more than she shows, especially with emotion. For much of the book we continually
read that Jill’s heart or chest is bursting, it’s heavy, it’s light, sobs are being torn from it, it’s pumping, guilt nibbled at her heart, it’s hammering, it’s aching, it’s thumping or she can’t breathe. There’s too much reliance on histrionics.”

TIP:
Go thru your manuscript to see where to break up long sections of dialogue that contain little setting, action, or reactions. We can’t create an emotional connection through a telling narrative. We need interactive dialogue with reactions to want to care about the characters and the story. We need to convey true emotion in a unique way

4. INFO DUMP & REPETITION

My First Reader Notes:
“The story wanders for four chapters until we get to the inciting incident that launches us into the story and sets the main character on his journey.”

TIP: Thrust us right into the story and reveal the main character’s desires and motivations right up front. The reader will catch up later.

When it comes to repetitiveness, say it once in the right place. Say it twice or three times and the reader feels stupid. It can reveal an emerging writer not confident in their writing.

TIP:
Start with an info dump? Move it. Cut it up. Blend in later. Ask yourself, what is the incident that starts the character on his journey? YOU know it all – but the reader doesn’t need to know it all. Be selective in what you reveal and when you reveal it.


5. STOPPED THE STORY TO EXPLAIN

Do you have “You See Bob” moments in your story where you feel the need to stop and explain? Well…don’t.

My First Reader Notes:
“We are constantly taken out of the story as the author stops to narrate about Sally: Sally was five ten. She had deep green eyes and blonde hair that was thick and mid-shoulder length. She played flute in the orchestra and three days a week worked at the hospital gift shop…etc. etc. etc.”

TIPS:
• Rewrite this section in the character’s voice to see how much stronger this scene can be told, or show us the main character from another character’s point of view.
• Incorporating dialogue and body language can provide another character’s point of view without breaking away from the voice the scene is written in.

6. UNNECESSARY DIALOGUE

My First Reader Notes:
“The dialogue feels flat and not necessary to move the story forward or reveal something about the characters. Instead, it’s used as backstory and false world building facilitators, telling readers what the author wants them to know through long passages.”

How to beef up your dialogue?
• Check for blocks of dialogue and cut up.
• Incorporate dialogue in creative ways such as through journal entries, character quizzing, or action scenes.

Are you writing in the first person? It’s hard to avoid using “I this” or “I that” in first-person narrative but you must find alternate sentence structures to reduce those “I” sentences. It will bring your readers closer to your character.

AN EXAMPLE from edits with my middle grade book Joshua and the Lightning Road:
Before: “I searched for Charlie in the dark but I couldn’t make out the heads on other bunks.”
After: “In the dark it was hard to make out the heads on the other bunks. Where was Charlie?”

Try this throughout the novel. Your readers will thank you for it.

Too many exclamations in your dialogue? A character that is always hollering is not a fully dimensional character. How else can you write that sentence/scene to convey urgency? You don’t want your main character to be remembered as one who yells a lot.

7. HAS A GREAT HOOK THEN DOESN’T FOLLOW THROUGH

Is your story more than a good idea? It must be a great story that is executed on.

TIP: Outline the purpose of each scene/chapter and connect it to the story arc and character arc to strengthen the story and move it along. Everything your characters do must have purpose and consequences.
Write out:
Outer turning point: in each scene which things change that everyone can understand.
Inner turning point: in each scene which the point-of-view character also changes as a result.

Do your characters have a special condition? Are they a burn victim, blind, or an amputee? If so this must play a role in the story. Don’t offer it to us as a promise to be part of the story and not deliver on it.


8. TOO MUCH ACTION OR TOO LITTLE

Could your action be bogged down?

My First Reader Notes:
“In action scenes I was slowed down by long, descriptive sentences such as ‘I slipped over the excessively waxed floors as my toes took on the wrinkled texture of raisins; squishing together like slimy slices of sautéed mushrooms.’ Descriptive sentences like these forced me to pause during chase scenes to create this complex visual before moving on.”

Can there be too much action in your story?
Is your story too active, too reactive, and over-dense with words, concepts and emotions? This makes for a frantic tale. It comes at you from every angle and is exhausting. The desire should be to invite readers to turn the pages, not run for cover.

Deciding HOW and WHEN to reveal information is crucial. Decide on your method used to make a big reveal to increase pacing and tension. HINT: Don’t bury it in the middle of a paragraph!

TIPS:
• Move story along by cutting out extra, unnecessary details in action moments.
• Don’t have your character waffle back and forth! Chart their growth as they grow in the story.
• Incorporate the setting to add a richer layer to the story instead of using biological emotion. Take a break from the action, let it explode all around, then let it settle and give your character time to digest and reflect on all that has happened. They need to breathe (and so does the reader).
• Weave in only the necessary information throughout the story to keep the reader’s interest, keep tension high, keep the reader wondering, and keep it dramatic – no matter the genre.


If you revise your manuscript with these issues in mind, you could strengthen your story with enough power to get it past that agent gatekeeper. As a first-reader intern I recognized many of the same issues in my own work and this helped me improve my own story, leading to an agent and a two-book deal.

Literary agents are overwhelmed with submissions from writers of all levels and their time is limited – allowing them to be choosier than ever with the titles they represent. Help them choose yours!

**GIVEAWAY** Donna is offering one copy of her debut middle grade fantasy novel Joshua and the Lightning Road to a random commenter. E-book or print. U.S. only.

About Donna:
Donna Galanti attended an English school housed in a magical castle, where her wild imagination was held back only by her itchy uniform (bowler hat and tie included!). There she fell in love with the worlds of C.S. Lewis and Roald Dahl, and wrote her first fantasy about Dodo birds, wizards, and a flying ship. She’s lived in other exotic locations, including Hawaii where she served as a U.S. Navy photographer. She now lives with her family and two crazy cats in an old farmhouse, and dreams of returning one day to a castle. Donna is the author of the Joshua and The Lightning Road series (Month9Books) and blogs at Project Mayhem. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com or on Amazon.

Praise for Joshua and The Lightning Road:
"Vividly imagined characters in a gripping action fantasy that never lets you go until the very last page." —Jenny Nimmo, New York Times bestselling author of the Charlie Bone series


Joshua and the Lightning Road is available for pre-order now from these book sellers:
Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Iu6ETw
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1DBVtc9

 
Donna has generously offered a e-book or print  copy of JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD 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 May 16th. I’ll announce the winner on May 18th. 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 giveaway is for US only.

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 an interview with debut author Jenny Martin and a giveaway of her YA science fiction TRACKED.

Next Wednesday I have a guest post by debut author Sharon Huss Roat and a giveaway of her YA contemporary, BETWEEN THE NOTES. 

The following Monday I have a guest post by debut author Holly Bodger and her agent, Lauren MacLeod, with a query critique giveaway and a giveaway of 5 to 1, Holly's futuristic, multicultural story.

Hope to see you on Monday!



KRISTA VAN DOLZER INTERVIEW AND THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone! Hope you had as lovely weather as we did here in Ann Arbor this weekend.

I have a winner to announce.

The winner of GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL is Emily Endrizzi!

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 debut author Krista Van Dolzer here to share about her MG historical fiction book, THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING. It’s set in a really interesting time— in the wake of World War II—and I’m hoping to read it soon.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Ella Mae Higbee is a sensible girl. She eats her vegetables and wants to be just like Sergeant Friday, her favorite character on Dragnet. So when her auntie Mildred starts spouting nonsense about a scientist who can bring her cousin back to life from blood on his dog tags, Ella Mae is skeptical—until he steps out of a bio-pod right before her eyes.

But the boy is not her cousin—he’s Japanese. And in California in the wake of World War II, the Japanese are still feared and despised. When her aunt refuses to take responsibility, Ella Mae and her Mama take him home instead. Determined to do what’s right by her new friend, Ella Mae teaches Takuma English and defends him from the reverend’s talk of H-E-double-toothpicks. But when his memories start to resurface, Ella Mae learns some shocking truths about her own family and more importantly, what it means to love.

Hi Krista! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

I like to say I’m a stay-at-home mom by day and a children’s author by bedtime. That pretty much sums up my life, but it also explains how I got into writing (or back into writing, as the case may be). I was one of those kids who was always writing stories (and usually full-fledged novels), but I didn’t get serious about publishing for a national audience until after my first son was born. Once we got past those first few months, he slept like a champ, so I found myself at home with a lot of downtime on my hands. When a shiny new idea, my first in years, popped into my head, I decided to write it down, and six years and several manuscripts later, I (finally) sold a book.

2. That's awesome that you got inspired to write again when you had your son. Where did you get the idea for THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING?

This story started with one sentence: “Mama said it was plum foolishness to keep my cousin’s dog tags like that, with his blood still stuck between the ridges of his name.” It’s changed a little since then, but the sentiment remains. I wondered what kind of character would say that line--and what kind of story she would tell--and THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING was born.

(Yes, that’s a direct quote from the Author’s Note. I like to be consistent.)

3. That's so cool how your one sentence turned into a novel-length story. Your book is set in such an interesting (and embarrassing time in some ways) for our country. What research, if any, did you have to do to be certain you got the historical references right?

I read several books over the course of my writing and revising, including James D. Watson’s memoir on
the discovery of the chemical structure of DNA, THE DOUBLE HELIX; Richard Wheeler’s eyewitness account of the Battle of Iwo Jima, THE BLOODY BATTLE FOR SURIBACHI; and Karal Ann Marling’s AS SEEN ON TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s.

I also read numerous articles on Japanese life and culture in the early twentieth century so I could give Takuma’s character more believability. And last but not least, I’ve seen more episodes of I Love Lucy than I care to admit, so I drew on those memories for some of the smaller details in the book (like what a housewife in the 1950s might have worn).

4. I'll confess. I used to love I Love Lucy as a kid.  Your book tackles discrimination against the Japanese. Was it hard showing how people reacted to Takuma and do you have any advice to other writers tackling a sensitive topic like this, especially when writing it for a middle grade audience?

The hardest thing about tackling this particular topic was deciding which characters should use the racial slur that Japanese people were referred to and when they should use it. On the one hand, my husband’s grandparents informed me that everyone, even generally good people, used that racial slur back then, so it seemed inauthentic to ignore it. But on the other, I didn’t want young readers to think it was okay to use that slur or any slur to talk about another human being. In the end, we decided that Ella Mae and her strongest allies shouldn’t use it, but it still appears several times throughout the book.

My best piece of advice is to be honest but not sensational. Kid readers are going to see through attempts to water down the story, but that doesn’t mean we have to draw undue attention to those less positive elements.

5. That's good you were sensitive to the balancing act and got the right balance in yours.  It sounds like your story came pretty easily for you. Did you have any struggles in developing Ella Mae’s character or her voice?

The story did come pretty easily for me, in large measure because Ella Mae’s voice was always just there. I understood her from the very beginning. Does that mean that, deep down, I’m really a spunky twelve-year-old who grew up in the 1950s? Maybe.

6. Your agent is Kate Schafer Testerman. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING (formerly titled THE REGENERATED MAN AND ME) was the third of my manuscripts that Kate had requested. The first two were young adult, but when I made the switch to middle grade, everything just clicked. She offered on the manuscript after several months, and though I ended up with another offer from a dynamite agent, I ended up going with Kate because she'd already shown me that my stories intrigued her.

As for my road to publication, it was a long and winding one. Several of the agents who passed on the manuscript said they loved the writing but were concerned about the genre mashup, and we found that several editors felt the same way. But then Shauna Rossano got a hold of the manuscript, and after I worked with her on a non-contracted revision, she made an offer almost a year to the day after THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING first went on submission.

7. That's great that you'd already connected with Kate on two other manuscripts. You still have a blog and interview agents—sometimes with the authors they represent. Share a bit about your blog and how you try to help authors with your agent series.

I started blogging back in 2009, when blogging was the Thing to Do if you were an unagented writer trying to build some street cred, but I quickly realized that no one would read my blog if I didn’t write something worth reading. I knew I could never be as hilarious as Kiersten White, but I thought I could be helpful, so I decided to start interviewing agents, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As my blogging time has shrunk and my perspective has shifted, I’ve pulled back a bit on my agent-related content, but I love “Agent-Author Chat” too much to completely give it up. My latest chat featured agent Renee Nyen and author Laurie Litwin, who happened to connect during one of my last rounds of “An Agent’s Inbox.” Though that’s one of the series I’ve had to sacrifice, I plan to do another round of “The Writer’s Voice” this May with fellow coaches Liz Briggs, Brenda Drake, and Mónica Bustamante Wagner.

8. Yes, I think we're all readjusting our blogging schedule. It can be more challenging to market a middle grade book than a young adult one. Are you finding this to be true and how are you planning to help promote your book?

I’ve heard people say that young adult is an explosion while middle grade is a slow burn, and the more I’ve learned about the business, the more I’ve found that to be true. Luckily, I’ve also found that there are often other avenues for middle grade authors to reach readers. In addition to book signings, I’m also scheduling school visits and Skype sessions with local teachers and librarians. I’ve always liked chatting with people about books, so the thought of chatting with kids about my books is doubly exciting.

9. I like that description of middle grade. What are you working on now?

I’ve got a few projects up my sleeve at the moment, the most developed of which is a companion novel to DON’T VOTE FOR ME (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, August 2015), which comes out a few months after THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING. (This is what happens when your first book takes a year to sell—you have time to write another!) Suffice it to say it’s a murder mystery set at a math camp, and I hope everyone gets a chance to read it.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Krista. You can find Krista at www.kristavandolzer.com, on Twitter, and on Goodreads.

Krista has generously offered a copy of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING 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 May 16th. I’ll announce the winner on May 18th. 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 giveaway is International as long as you live where the Book Depository ships for free.

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:

On Wednesday I have a guest post by Donna Galanti and a giveaway of her MG fantasy, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTENING ROAD. Donna was an intern with an agent and has lots of great advice to share on querying.

Next Monday I have an interview with debut author Jenny Martin and a giveaway of her YA science fiction TRACKED.

Next Wednesday I have a guest post by debut author Sharon Huss Roat and a giveaway of her YA contemporary, BETWEEN THE NOTES. 

The following Monday I have a guest post by debut author Holly Bodger and her agent, Lauren MacLeod, with a query critique giveaway and a giveaway of 5 to 1, Holly's futuristic, multicultural story.

Hope to see you on Wednesday!