Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Different Kind of Cover Reveal: DRATS, FOILED AGAIN!

After six years of sitting on this manuscript, I've decided--with plenty of encouragement from those closest to me--to self-publish DRATS, FOILED AGAIN! and let it find its readers!!

The book and I are really excited about this.

So yesterday I sat down with some paintbrushes and a lot of yellow and green paint, and made my own cover art. Right now, I have some dear friends and family reviewing the latest revisions of the manuscript for readability and consistency. Early next month, I'm having a freelance editor copyedit it, and we have a tentative release date of April 20, 2018!! This has been a long time in coming.

Without further ado, I give you the cover art for DRATS, FOILED AGAIN!

Robert Gilbrinkle is blind in one eye, which makes dodging punches in his Anti-Hero Maneuvers class especially difficult, but his lack of depth perception is the least of his troubles. Nox Academy’s senior project deadline is fast approaching, he's failing three classes, and, naturally, his evil twin Rupert keeps trying to kill him every chance he gets. 

But the real trouble begins when Robert’s pathetic superpower--a very unwicked superwink that fixes anything broken--starts to evolve. The kids at Nox used to laugh and call him "Rob Repairman" but nobody is laughing now. His wink threatens anyone who threatens him. 

Robert has always known where he stands - on the other side of the hall from Rupert. What haunts him the most is the revelation that maybe he and Rupert aren't as different as he thought. Battling a common enemy brings them closer than either twin can handle, but the lives of their friends are at stake and the thirst for revenge is strong. Maybe even stronger than their disdain for each other.

With the playful cartoonish style and broad crossover appeal of Disney’s SKY HIGH, and the coming of age heroic drama of Matthew Cody’s POWERLESS, Robert’s story will resonate with kids from 8 to 14 who love to escape to that comic book world of good vs. evil and often wonder where in the midst of that universe they fit in.

What was the clincher? And why six years later? Well, here's the exciting and perilous story behind the non-publishing and eventual self-publishing of DRATS, FOILED AGAIN!

First, the reason I finally decided, the CLINCHER for my self-publishing decision, was my eight-year-old son, Layne James. Oh, he's adorable, and he loves comic books more than life itself. He is often found with a stack of white paper and a pen, drafting his own hero-vs.-villain stories. I wrote DRATS, FOILED AGAIN! when he was only two years old, and his big brother was five. I had always intended to share it with them, but they were a little young for a readaloud this thick at the time. Trust me, I tried reading WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS with Sam, the big brother, and all it did was put him to sleep (which is in itself its own kind of win!). But somehow it came up this year and I started reading it with Layne James. That fun bonding experience led me to pick up the old manuscript and finally see what it needed. The rest is history, and here's that story for those who desperately want to know:

DRATS, FOILED AGAIN! got the most attention from literary agents, out of all of my work. One agent optimistically referred me to another agent she thought might really dig it, and the feedback was flatteringly positive, except for one thing: THEY DIDN'T KNOW WHERE IT FIT IN THE MARKET. I was advised to rewrite the whole story to make it so the characters weren't in high school, but in some sort of junior academy for villains instead. And I did!

It was painful to go through and make the changes, and at the end, the story felt like an empty shell of its former self. I couldn't understand why changing the age made such a difference until I thought a good, long while about it. The answer was obvious, and I don't know why I didn't see it before. DRATS, FOILED AGAIN! is primarily a coming of age story. While there are great coming of age stories written with an MG-age protagonist (A WRINKLE IN TIME and THE GIVER, to name a few of my favorites), this particular coming of age story is about that scary, exciting, and confusing year between senior year of high school and the big wide world that awaits after graduation. That inner conflict of "Where will I live, and how will I make my mark on the world?" is absolutely central to Robert's struggle between good and evil (and Rupert's, in the companion novel coming soon).

Given this disconnect between my story and the traditional publishing scene, I guess the question really is, why did I wait so long to go it alone? The answer is that I have a lot of faith in the traditional publishing route. It's what I know, having worked with literary agents, authors, and editors on writing conferences and pitch contests at Operation Awesome. I have become very comfortable with my vision for my own success story, and it always involved, in my mind 1) get represented by awesome agent, 2) shop my novel to awesome editors at awesome publishing houses, 3) get picked up for a huge advance, and 4) celebrate!

My faith was strong in the traditional publishing route, and honestly, I still think it's a good idea to go that route in a lot of cases. It provides you with a team of people, some marketing resources, and often a nice little chunk of change in advance. But, and it took me a long time to accept this, DRATS, FOILED AGAIN! is just the type of story that agents and editors are hesitant to take on because of what they see as a marketing challenge. If it isn't straight-up middle grade and it isn't straight-up young adult, then what is it?

The characters are all teenagers. Some of them are middle grade age (Star and Shepherd, for instance), but the main characters are young adult age, almost adults. And unlike the very distinct differences between contemporary MG and YA, where young adults are dealing with very adult stuff and middle graders are dealing with bullying and fitting in, DRATS, FOILED AGAIN! has characters of all ages all dealing with the same big thing: the ongoing battle between good and evil. Because of its very playful MG tone and plot, and characters with a YA age, DRATS, FOILED AGAIN! actually has a broad crossover appeal. In fact, like Disney's Sky High, it could appeal to all the kids in the family as a readaloud (that's how we roll at my house), or kids 8-14 years old reading alone. When I queried it, I categorized it as middle grade, and that's still where I'd place it in the market.

BUT WHAT I'M REALLY EXCITED ABOUT with self-publishing is that you, the readers, get to decide! There isn't a big hullabaloo about which shelf to put it on, or just what type of cover art will express both the high stakes and the playful tone. And all that's left is just to read the story and, with any luck, fall deeply in love with its characters.

I hope you'll enjoy the twins, Robert and Rupert, their goofy insatiable dad, Famine Mouth, the mischievous tech genius Patsy Spendlove, and the heroes on the other side of the forest: Everest, Morphea, Star, and Trueblue. I hope you'll relate, whatever your age, to Robert's struggle to find where he belongs on that spectrum between good and evil, and to choose for himself where he wants to be.


(It will be available on Amazon Kindle and as a paperback.)

More pictures from the cover art process:

Thursday, October 19, 2017

How To Cyber Stalk Literary Agents

Okay, don’t actually cyber stalk anybody. That’s creepy. I mean, don’t try to find somebody’s home address or birthday or the names of family members. Seriously, just don’t do that.

Psh! Why am I worried? You guys are normal. Right?


No, this article isn’t about actual stalking, but about literary agent research. Far less creepy and infinitely more important to your writing career.

You’ve written the next Twilight. Or Hunger Games. Or Paranormalcy. Or The Inquisitor's Tale.

All you need is a literary agent to get those big publishers to take notice of you. But there are hundreds of them listed on sites like querytracker and agentquery!! How the heck are you gonna find the right one for you?

This is why the agent hunt is likened unto dating. Because there isn’t just one right agent out there for you. There are lots of right ones, lots of agents who could fall in love with your work and be effective, tireless champions for you in the face of publishers who rarely take direct, unagented submissions.

Unlike dating, though, one party is at a distinct disadvantage in the agent hunt.

You. The writer.

It’s not, “Hey, let’s have dinner.” It’s, “I have something here you might like, but I know you get a thousand of these letters every week, but still, would you please look at mine for a second?”

It doesn’t have to go down like that.

Agents have said in interview after interview that a professional query letter personalized to them rises to the top, while Dear Agent varieties get automatic deletes. How important is the personalization?

To some, it’s more important than others, but all agents agree they want to feel like you’ve done your research and you’re not just taking a shot in the dark, hoping something will stick.

I’m not a querying professional, but I am a writer of professional queries. I’ve written a lot of them. And I’ve had some positive responses, mainly from agents who knew I’d specifically sought them out for what they represent.

One agent agreed to read my book after a query workshop on her blog. Two kind souls on the querytracker forum invited me to query their agents because we wrote in similar genres. Another awesome agented writer gave me a referral to her agent after she read my pitch. Mentioning that query workshop and those client names got my foot in a door that was sometimes barely ajar, sometimes completely closed.

But it’s not because this business is all about connections. No. It’s because agents get slammed with queries from all sorts of writers in all different stages of their writing careers. Some are just starting out. Maybe, like me, you sent out one of those newbie queries to an agent who didn’t rep what you were selling just because you liked his blog (*cough* Nathan Bransford *cough*). Even if you didn’t, you probably know agents get those kinds of queries all the time. It’s a breath of fresh air when they get a client referral or a query from someone they recognize as a regular blog reader/commenter (in the right genre for what they rep).

Finally! I imagine them saying, as they sip their mysterious dark-tinged beverage. Finally, somebody who actually wants to be represented by me and not just any old agent!
See, for them it might be just as frustrating as for you. They want clients who take writing seriously enough to care who represents them. They want clients who want to be their clients. Makes sense, right?

So here’s how to cyber stalk them (again, not actual stalking):
  • Read any interviews linked there. Visit their websites. Take actual notes on your favorites. If they give submission guidelines, follow their instructions.
  • Keep up on the market. Read the genre you write in. If you read an awesome book that’s similar in tone to yours, check the acknowledgements or “[author name] represented by” in your favorite web search engine.
  • Read books represented by the agents on your list. (When I first started my agent hunt, I thought this was going the extra mile, but it really, really helps you to personalize a query if you can say your book has similar elements to [published book by client name] and actually know what you’re talking about. And besides, the reading doubles as writing research, as well.)
  • Search their name at forums and forums. If they’ve done a Q&A or just been talked about by other authors, this info is priceless. 
What about you guys? Any cyber stalking tips for newbies?

Originally published on Operation Awesome, January 2011, links updated.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Pot Holes and Aha Moments in Your Writing Career

A writing career, just like any other kind, starts at the bottom and works its way to the top. It's a journey, filled with pot holes (hee hee, plot holes), and Eureka moments. 

My first Aha moment as a writer came after I penned my very first novel. It took me from 2003 to 2008 to finish it. Yeah. No, I wasn't working on it the whole time. I belonged to the someday-I'll-write-a-book club. My pot hole was that I didn't have any discipline. From August to October, I finally finished it.

In 2008, my Aha moment said, Writing on a daily schedule yields faster, better results.

Duh, right?

When you write every single day, or close to it, your story simply has more cohesiveness, more natural flow, than it will when you put months between each chapter. Not to mention how your writing style will change over time, even if you're not writing regularly. If you want to see what it looks like when 19-year-old me writes Chapter 1 and 23-year-old me writes Chapter 27, I've got a manuscript that can demonstrate it palpably. An unpublished manuscript. A terminally unpublishable manuscript. I will never do that again.

Another pot hole I faced as a writer was my essay training from high school, which told me to seek out the fanciest word to drive home my point. Never, ever use was or said, my teachers said. If you try to take every was and is/were/are out of a paper or manuscript, you will end up with some funky variations on sentence structure and some even funkier word combinations. Or maybe it's just me.

(e.g. It was proven that the chicken pox are contagious.
becomes-- The researchers found that chicken pox bore communicable properties.)

Stilted much? Yeah, this won't sound good in your YA novel. Thus, my next Aha moment came after my third book (we'll skip right over the sequel I wrote to the first book which had all the same problems as the first, but with a catchier ending).

It said, Stop trying to sound smart.

I am smart. You are, too. But we don't have to prove that to our readers by using words like ruminated where it would sound more natural for the character to say thought or pondered. Sure, if you've got a narrator or character who would use that word, like John Green's child prodigy in An Abundance of Katherines, then by all means, say ruminated all you like. But not because you're too good for boring words.
A Pot Hole 
A meandering hell of word-vomit at the end of that book taught me this:

A rough outline is better than no outline at all.

Which leads me to today's Aha moment. Two books later, I am still learning the importance of story structure and planning in creating the elusive perfect novel. Meandering? Still happens to me, unfortunately. I'm finally frustrated enough to do something about it. Enter Larry Brooks of

"In essence, story development separates into two sequential realms: the search for story… [followed] by the rendering of story."

otherwise realized as...

If it took you half the book to figure out your plot and character arcs, the reader has no hope.

Smart guy, that Larry Brooks.

What Aha moments have you had lately? What road blocks or pot holes have you hit?

If you're about due for another epiphany, check out Larry's article: A Mindset Shift That Can Get You Published, which inspired this post.

Originally published on Operation Awesome, January 2011.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Finding the Strength in Your Writing Weakness

Are you a storyteller or a wordsmith? 

I've noticed lately in my reading that some people truly excel at story, like Frank Baum of Wizard of Oz fame, or Rick Riordan of the Percy Jackson series; and others weave words like master artisans in the households of kings, like Libba Bray of Going Bovine and A Great and Terrible Beauty, or Gayle Forman of If I Stay, or my critique partners. ;)

Of course, it would be nice to have it all, but nobody starts out that way. That's why we call writing our craft.

So which part of our craft is your strong suit? Storytelling, with its plot structure, twists, and revelations? Or wordsmithing (how can that not be a real word?), with its heart-piercing phraseology and dew-from-heaven gloriousness?

It's an important question because the answer can tell you where you need to focus your practice. 

Me, for instance. I've got wordplay down to an art. Okay not really, but I became a writer because people told me I write well, not because people said I come up with the most air-tight plots ever. So I fall in with the wordsmith lot. For me, this means my current focus has to be plot. And not just plot. Storytelling includes characterization and setting, so you can see I have my work cut out for me.

My 3-year-old is a wordsmith already. Aw!

Knowing where my strengths lie as a writer gives me focus, but it also reminds me to allow myself a little failure in my weak areas. 

It's okay if my first draft is filled with plot holes. For me, revision is less about crafting perfect sentences and more about re-imagining the story... over and over again, until it all fits. And, of course, since this is my cross to bear I think storytelling is much harder than spinning beautiful phrases. Which is more difficult for you?

Now you know what to work on this weekend.

Originally published on Operation Awesome in December, 2010.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Finding Your Voice in the Literary Industry Cacophony

When I first started devoting serious time to becoming (my romantic notion of) a writer, my biggest worry was that I had no voice.

Yeah, you read that right.

I'd read something online about Finding Your Voice and I worried I needed to develop my voice. It's actually kind of silly if you think about it, because just about everybody is born with a voice. You don't question it or think about it. You just speak and words come out in your own unique voice. Sure, you have to coo or babble when you're a baby (not to mention all that bawling). You have to listen to your parents and siblings speak, and you mimic them to some extent. But in the end, the only way to develop your voice is to practice speaking.

Writing is the same way, but I didn't know that. I thought I needed a special guide to teach me how to be myself.  This stems from a fear that's haunted me my whole life, and I'm probably not alone.

Is being myself good enough?

It turns out that the only way NOT to have a personal writing voice is to try too hard to be like somebody else. Don't do that.

Finding my voice in an all-women's choir
that performed in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle!! Woot!
While the guide I linked above has good ideas, like reading a lot of different books or practicing writing like your favorite authors, or writing to prompts--all this is effectively the baby listening to conversation before she tries to make words on her own, and then awkwardly copying words like "No" and "Don't" and "Stop that" (this might just be my babies).

Writing in someone else's style is fine, but don't try to be Meg Cabot. Yes, she is awesome. Yes, she is witty. Be awesome and witty in your own way.

How do I propose you do that?


For writers, blogging is like a warm bubble bath. It's the fun and relaxation of writing without the cold shower of pass-or-fail judgment. Especially when you're first starting out. For a long time, I had 33 followers on my personal writing blog, and only about 8 hits a day from different viewers. Reaching more people is awesome, but starting small is good, too. I got into my own writing groove whenever I blogged, and even though I never turned my internal editor off (is that even possible??), I did allow myself some indulgences you simply can't do in printed fiction...

:) SQUEE!! LOL. ;) ROFL b/c That is made of awesome. OMGoodness! :p

...and the result in my novels has been palpable: I actually have a personality. Letting my hair down on my blog has freed up that personality more than copying Shakespeare or Mark Twain ever could. Not that I SQUEE in my books (though a character might at some point). They are definitely different formats, unless you're writing one of those MG books in chat format, which I think has been done to death, people.

The greatest key to finding your writing voice is to be yourself. 

Let that snark, incurable optimism, or witty cynicism seep into your novel. That's what people will relate to. Learn from others, try out new ways of expressing your themes and your characters. But don't bend over backward trying to achieve the oh-so-marketable and ever-elusive VOICE agents are always talking about. When they say that, they're really saying THAT BOOK connected with them on a personal level. Across the publishing universe, voice is as subjective as romantic chemistry. You can't fake it.

Be yourself, let your voice shine through the printed page, and trust that someone, somewhere will like you.

Originally published on Operation Awesome in December, 2010.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

China's Past and Future in 2 Book Reviews

There is so much to love about this book! It's appealing to young and old alike. It was lent to me by sisters, ages 14 and 12. They were effusive in their praise. As a work of historical fiction, it gave them context for our class reading of Red Scarf Girl, which is memoir, China's own version of Diary of Anne Frank. Letters in the Jade Dragon Box is how I washed down Red Scarf Girl, which has an overall oppressive feeling because of the weight of oppression Jiang Ji-li truly felt. Reading this one next helped me to feel more hope for China. It is an LDS author who weaves a story of conversion and re-conversion throughout, using actual missionary history in Hong Kong to give it life. At first, the historical footnotes caught me off guard, but I came to appreciate the depth these post-chapter explanations provided. They make this book an excellent study tool for those interested in China's past and present, particularly from a religious freedom perspective. I feel this book gave me more of a connection to China, celebrating its beauty, art, and culture, while telling the very sad story of the 1960's Cultural Revolution which tore so many families apart. I highly recommend this to both adults and young people. Reading it in the same semester with Red Scarf Girl is even better.

I was moved to tears by Ji-li Jiang's story many times. I came away from this book feeling strongly that if everyone read it, the world would be a less oppressive, less ignorant, more sympathetic place. This book is a plea for compassion and law. In her epilogue Jiang says, "This is the most frightening lesson of the Cultural Revolution: Without a sound legal system, a small group or even a single person can take control of an entire country. This is as true now as it was then."
I now have a deeper respect for the United States Constitution and the rule of law, as well as the importance of kindness and generosity in building and maintaining community life. Good books entertain you. Great books make you ask yourself questions about things that matter. The best books change you in the reading. You come out a better person. Red Scarf Girl is one of these.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Typing 100wpm to Save the World

Guess what!

My story is kinda funny, actually. I was that geeky kid who thought PC-Fastype was a game, and I used to hurry home after school just so I could hop on the computer and try to beat my previous time and accuracy. PC-Fastype was this super basic typing program with a blue screen and possibly yellow or white font, and it made this sound when you took too long to type something: bump, bump, bump, bump. Only imagine the sound as a nasally, pixelated alarm, and then you'd have what was chasing me across the screen every day. Man, I loved that game. What? Game? I mean, Typing Efficiency Improvement Program. Anyhow, by the time I was off to BYU for college, I could pass any typing test above 104wpm with 96%+ accuracy, depending on the day.

Little did I know how useless this skill would prove as my life progressed.

Still, I always enjoyed being able to type quickly and accurately. In fact, one time during NaNoWriMo, [cue daydreamy stare] I sat down to write, and ended up with 11,000 words of pure brilliance in one stupendous night of compulsive ice-water-drinking and urgent bathroom visits. What a rush!

So anyways, now that I'm on Fiverr, you can take advantage of my insanely nerdy typing skills. Just pick your package through Fiverr, and it will prompt you to send me an audio file, scanned doc, or even a cell-phone pic of your messy, hand-written pages. I'll have that whipped into a shiny, beautiful, and fully editable GoogleDoc for you faster than you can recite The Declaration of Independence by memory. Or 2 days. Whichever comes first. I can, of course, do it faster, but it's gonna cost ya extra!

Try me out for $5.