Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: LUCKY IN LOVE by Kasie West

It’s no secret I love Kasie West’s books. They’ve consistently been among my favorite reads in previous years. I haven’t really thought about my list for 2017 yet (although I should start!), but there’s a good chance this latest book will be included. LUCKY IN LOVE is a complete delight. Without any further ado, here’s the cover and description.

Lucky in Love by Kasie WestMaddie’s not impulsive. She’s all about hard work and planning ahead. But one night, on a whim, she buys a lottery ticket. And then, to her astonishment—

She wins!

In a flash, Maddie’s life is unrecognizable. No more stressing about college scholarships. Suddenly, she’s talking about renting a yacht. And being in the spotlight at school is fun…until rumors start flying, and random people ask her for loans. Now Maddie isn’t sure who she can trust.

Except for Seth Nguyen, her funny, charming coworker at the local zoo. Seth doesn’t seem aware of Maddie’s big news. And, for some reason, she doesn’t want to tell him. But what will happen if he learns her secret?

And here are the five things I loved most.

1. The dialogue – I love the interaction between Maddie and Seth. It’s so adorable I had to re-read it sometimes. Here’s an example.

Seth put his arms out to either side. “Hold the phone, Maddie.”

“Hold the phone? Did you really just say that?”

“I did, and I’m owning it.”

“You can have it. It’s up for grabs from where it was left in nineteen seventy.”

“People have used it more recently than nineteen seventy.”

“I’d like recorded proof of that.”

2. The premise – I mean, what would you do if you won the lottery? I really liked how Kasie West handled it. There’s a range of reactions from those around Maddie, from those who who are clearly just after her money to those who seem unphased by her improved financial situation. I thought it was all very realistic.

3. Maddie’s family – I thought the portrayal of Maddie’s family was also quite authentic. I’m biting my tongue here because there’s something I really want to say about how the lottery affects the family, but I’ll just let you all read it, and I’m sure it will be obvious to you.

4. Maddie’s facts – I love how Maddie collects facts. It’s such a cute trait that singles her out. Maybe it also has to do with me liking interesting facts …

5. Maddie’s growth – I liked how Maddie figured herself out in the course of the story. She started out very influenced by everyone around her and had to discover who she was and what she wanted.

So, basically, another fantastic Kasie West novel. Go grab it!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: NIGHTFALL by Shannon Messenger

It’s been a while since I’ve written a review on the blog. My life has been a little consumed by Pitch Wars, and I now have my manuscript out in agents’ hands, awaiting their verdicts. But I did pre-order the Barnes & Noble special edition of Shannon Messenger’s NIGHTFALL, the latest installment in her Keeper of the Lost Cities series, so I thought that would be the perfect book to jump back in with a review.

If you haven’t read the first five books in this series, you should stop reading now! Even the description for this book includes spoilers for the previous books, as will my review.

Okay, if you’re still here, on to the description.

Nightfall by Shannon MessengerSophie Foster is struggling. Grieving. Scrambling. But she knows one thing: she will not be defeated.

The Neverseen have had their victories—but the battle is far from over. It’s time to change tactics. Make sacrifices. Reexamine everything. Maybe even time for Sophie to trust her enemies.

All paths lead to Nightfall—an ominous door to an even more ominous place—and Sophie and her friends strike a dangerous bargain to get there. But nothing can prepare them for what they discover. The problems they’re facing stretch deep into their history. And with time running out, and mistakes catching up with them, Sophie and her allies must join forces in ways they never have before.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The crushes – Okay, so I am way too involved in the love lives of these fifteen and sixteen-year-olds. In fact, my nine-year-old and I got into an argument about which team we were on. (Yes, there are teams.) But that being said, I love how well Shannon Messenger portrays the confusing emotions Sophie feels toward the boys and how she sorts through them. It’s so authentic and how I remember feeling at that age. And if you’re wondering, yes, even though the characters have gotten older, the romance part still sits firmly in middle grade.

2. The twists – NIGHTFALL is the sixth book in this series and so you’d think Ms. Messenger wouldn’t be able to keep surprising readers, but she continues to come up with new twists in every installment. I was pleased with the new turns in this latest book, and I can’t wait to see what she does in book seven and (maybe?) eight.

3. The special bonus – I ordered the Barnes & Noble special edition in order to get the bonus section from Keefe’s point of view, and it was so worth it! Granted, Keefe is basically my favorite character aside from Sophie, but I loved how it showed a different side of him.

4. Amy – I loved that Sophie’s human sister was a part of this book and how Sophie’s relationship with her added another layer to her character. It was fun seeing the elvin world through her eyes.

5. Ro – The ogre princess is an awesome addition to the cast of characters. She’s hilarious and also brings a new dimension of understanding to a species the elves have only seen a certain way up to now. Love her!

Every year I’m dying for the next book, and then as soon as I finish it I wish I could somehow force myself to wait longer so I wouldn’t be anxious for the next one as soon as I finish. Because, of course, this book ended with another cliffhanger. Although it wasn’t as bad as the end of NEVERSEEN. I might never forgive Shannon Messenger for that one :). Okay, I do forgive her since she fixed it in LODESTAR, but still. I have a total love-hate relationship with cliffhangers.

What about you? Have you read NIGHTFALL yet? What did you think?

Giveaways, PitchWars

Pitch Wars Mentee Giveaway–THUNDERSTRUCK by Brenda Drake!

 

In honor of the conclusion of the Pitch Wars showcase and the upcoming season of gratitude, the 2017 Pitch Wars mentee class would like to thank our mentors and the Pitch Wars staff team for creating this incredible opportunity.

I am so grateful to my mentors, Kristin Smith and Beth Ellyn Summer. If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember I featured their books and gave away copies in September. So while these giveaways are no longer live, I encourage you to read about them again and grab a copy of their books!

AT FIRST BLUSH by Beth Ellyn Summer

CATALYST and FORGOTTEN by Kristin Smith

Now that you’ve seen the fabulousness of Beth and Kristin, I have another giveaway! I don’t think I can express how thankful we all are to Pitch Wars founder Brenda Drake. Others have giveaways to thank Brenda as well. I’m giving away her latest book, THUNDERSTRUCK (paperback or Kindle, whichever the winner prefers).

Thunderstruck by Brenda Drake

Stevie Moon is famous…at least to the subscribers on her comic review vlog. At school, she’s as plain as the gray painted walls in the cafeteria. So when Blake, the hot new guy at school, shows an interest in her, she knows trouble when she sees it. Been there. And never doing it again.

As the son of the god Thor, Blake Foster’s been given an important mission—to recover the Norse god Heimdall’s sacred and powerful horn before someone uses it to herald in the destruction of the entire universe. But while Blake is great in a fight, the battlefield that is a high school’s social scene is another matter.

Blake knows his only choice is to team up with the adorable Stevie, but she’s not willing to give him even the time of day. He’ll need to woo the girl and find the horn if he hopes to win this war. Who better to tackle Stevie’s defenses than the demi-god of thunder?

To enter the giveaway, click on the Rafflecopter here: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a20/?

And go enter as many of the other giveaways as you’d like. You can find them all at: http://bit.ly/pw17gives There are books, gift cards, and even query critiques up for grabs.

GOOD LUCK!!

PitchWars, Writing

YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME Aesthetics

In the days leading up to Pitch Wars, mentees posted various novel aesthetics on Twitter, and I thought it would be fun to compile them all here on my blog.

I’ve mentioned this before, but my idea for this manuscript started with the setting in the middle of the novel. We were on our annual family vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks last summer (2016), and I looked over and spotted this abandoned house. My writer brain started asking all these questions about it, and of course I took pictures. That was my first novel aesthetic for what would become YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME.

I knew I wanted my characters to be siblings, a sister and brother. I had come up with a somewhat sketchy plot, and then in September 2016 I attended a daylong Girl Scout event with my daughter, who was a Daisy at the time. Now, I should mention that I am not a fan of the outdoors, and this event involved all sorts of outdoor activities. So when the next event was canoeing and they said they needed a parent volunteer to stay in the knife safety pavilion while troops came through for the demonstration, I jumped at it. There were two teen Girl Scouts leading the demonstration. I helped out for an hour and was privileged to listen to these girls, both of whom were Girl Scout Ambassadors. I asked them questions in between troops, learning about what it meant to be a teen Girl Scout and how rare it is for girls to stick with it.

My main character, Dora, is modeled after one of these girls, although of course I didn’t take any pictures of her. Instead I searched the internet for a photo to stick in my character file. Then I searched out pictures of the other characters who feature prominently: Dora’s brother, Sam; the love interest, Jay; Dora’s best friend, Wren; and, of course, the babysitter, Marie. I love how her picture looks like a mug shot–or maybe a passport photo since they won’t let you smile anymore.

Dora
Sam
Jay
Wren
Marie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I originally made a novel aesthetic ages ago, I thought about the images that are most associated with YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME, and the two objects that are always mentioned in my pitch are Dora’s fishing knife (the murder weapon) and the downstairs freezer (where they stuff Marie’s body in a panic), so it’s appropriate to include those in any photo representation of my manuscript. But even before those two objects come into play, there’s the matter of an ill-advised text Dora sends.

There was a prompt during the Pitch Wars countdown to show your opening scene. My novel opens with Dora working as a roller-skating carhop at the Cosmic Diner, which is loosely modeled after Sonic. She has an encounter with her ex that involves a blue raspberry slushy and his lap …

 

 

 

 

 

There was also a call for the final scene, but considering my novel has quite a few twists, I’m not willing to give that away :).

Do you have any stories behind your novel aesthetics? I love looking through them. It’s so wonderful to get a glimpse inside everyone’s story world.

Contests, Writing

It’s Pitch Wars Time!

The adult/new adult and middle grade Pitch Wars entries are already live, and the young adult entries are scheduled to post tomorrow, although the others have gone up the night before, so it’s very possible my entry for YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME will go live tonight.

My mentors asked me if I was excited or nervous. Yes, bits of both emotions are swirling around inside me, but I’m actually pretty calm today. Maybe that will change once my entry’s actually up (I’ll update this post with a link once it is), but I doubt it. Because even though my ultimate goal is an agent and I’m pinning all sorts of hope on this manuscript, I’ve been on this querying hamster wheel enough to learn a few things. (If you want the full details, start with my What I’ve Learned in Six Years of Querying post, and there are links to the five previous years.)

Update: Here’s my post, but if you are not an agent, please don’t comment!

PW #311: Young Adult Humorous Suspense: YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME

So, I have a few words for my fellow mentees, whether you are getting many or few requests. And maybe it’s also a reminder for me :).

1.We did it!

I mean, this is the most important point! We made it through the revisions, and it feels like a sort of graduation. I am so grateful to my mentors, Kristin Smith and Beth Ellyn Summer, for the time they devoted to my manuscript, as well as both the public and behind-the-scenes cheerleading. No matter what happens with the agent round, my manuscript is so much stronger and, most importantly, I know it’s READY. I’m excited to send it out into agent-land, much like Elle ready to take on the world :).

2. Don’t let the number of requests you receive discourage you from querying and putting your work before agents.

Some entries will not have many requests, and there could be various reasons for that. Maybe you should’ve gone with a different pitch. Maybe the agents who participated weren’t the right fit, or maybe the agents who are the right fit didn’t get to it. Maybe your first page isn’t the best fit for a blog contest–which doesn’t necessarily mean that your first page isn’t what it should be. Maybe your manuscript will do better when you send a full query and sample. Sometimes a pitch and first page just aren’t the best way to showcase a particular manuscript, and that’s okay. I’ve had agents skip over my entry in a pitch contest before and then request from a full query and sample. It happens! So much of this journey is about timing, and there’s nothing you can do about that :). You might start querying and experience just as much success as that entry with twenty requests.

3. If you have a ton of requests, don’t assume you should blast out queries to your entire list.

Well, that sounds like a downer, so first of all, you should celebrate! Because it’s awesome you got a ton of a requests! But still, I’m a realist. I’ve been in a contest with a previous manuscript where I had agents fighting over my entry. It’s heady. It feels like THIS IS IT! But all it really means it that your pitch and first page are working. You still need to make sure everything that comes after works. And maybe it does. Maybe agents will be scrambling to offer on your manuscript. Based on the history of this particular contest, that will happen for some, which is so awesome! I will so be cheering for all of those success stories! Pitch Wars is unique in that you’ve been working with a mentor (or maybe two) who have helped you whip your manuscript into a fine shine. But publishing is a subjective business, which means the edits don’t end once you start querying. Agents–and later editors–will have more revisions for you. Unfortunately there’s no magic formula to knowing how many agents you should query once you send out to non-Pitch Wars showcase agents. It’s really a matter of how confident you feel. I would say that if PW agents request partials and quickly upgrade to fulls, you are probably in good shape.

Update: Since this is my first time in Pitch Wars, I had no idea thirty or forty requests were even a possibility. If you’re one of those mentees, you can probably send whatever queries you want! This point was more aimed at the ten to twenty request club. But still, congrats!!

4. Cling to your new writer friends.

The very best thing about contests is the connections you make. My first major contest was five years ago. One of those teammates is one of my closest CPs, and I stay in regular contact with several others. I even got to finally meet one of them in person last month when she came through town for her book tour. These writers are your best support system when rejections come through, your sounding board when you need to revise, and your cheerleaders when you have good news. So stay in touch and don’t be afraid to reach out when you need them!

I think that’s it. Remember, you’ve already done all the hard work of revising the manuscript. I know waiting for those agent requests is nerve-wracking, but it’s not the end game. It’s just the next step in the journey. So, I leave you with this:

 

Character, Writing

What I Learned Re-Reading the First Manuscript I Queried

I’m going to be completely honest here. I’m not really referring to the first manuscript I ever queried. Because that one was ten years ago, and it was this crazy adult time-travel Christian romance that I didn’t even let anyone read before I queried it (I know! Rookie move!). I had no idea what I was doing, and so I don’t consider that for real. What I’m talking about here is one you can see here on my blog–THE MODERN CAVEBOY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING BATS, BULLIES AND BILLIONAIRES.

I wrote this book like seven (or eight?) years ago now, and I started querying it on July 11, 2011. So when you see those milestone posts on my blog about how many years I’ve been querying, it’s this manuscript that started it all. The reason I’m re-reading it is because I’ve decided to self-publish a copy as a Christmas gift for my nine-year-old. I mean, it’s officially shelved for any real publishing purposes, but my son will love it.

I thought it would be interesting to share what I learned about my growth as a writer while reading this old manuscript. Overall, I still thought the story was fun, and I got a lot of things right, but the issues I spotted are issues many new writers encounter, even with the help of critique partners and beta readers. For most writers, it just takes time to learn the craft and trust your gut enough do what’s right for your manuscript (you’ll understand what I mean by that second part when you get to point number four). And for the lucky few who get published on that first manuscript, I salute you!

1. I hardly used any interiority.

There are action beats and dialogue tags, but if I really wanted to whip this manuscript into shape, I’d add a lot more thought from my main character. There’s some interiority (and if you don’t understand what I mean by that, check out Mary Kole’s post here), but I wanted so much more emotion and explanation from him.

2. So many questions!

When my main character does have interiority, he’s constantly asking questions. It’s okay to use questions sometimes, but in general it’s better to rephrase them into statements. They’re stronger and more active.

3. The story is so plot-focused there’s not much depth to the characters.

This goes along with the first point but also applies to the supporting characters. I gave each of the characters one or two things. The main character has an anger management problem. His sister is brainy. His best friend is bubbly and supportive. But other than that? There’s not much. I could’ve done so much more with it.

4. The early chapters are rushed.

I did some minor edits to the manuscript as I read through it–nothing major, just cleaning it up as I went. When I got to chapter six, I felt like the story had skipped way ahead. And I know why. I was new to working with readers for this manuscript, and the critique I received was to ruthlessly cut five chapters.

So, here’s the thing about that critique. I was new to critiques, and it sounded like good advice. In all actuality, the sentiment behind it–that I was starting in the wrong place and my pacing in the early chapters was too slow–was valid. However, in retrospect, just all-out cutting those chapters was not the right thing to do. As a more experienced writer, I’ve learned how to accept a critique, examine what the actual problem is, and find the right solution for my manuscript. Sometimes it’s exactly what the other writer has suggested, but often it’s an entirely different solution that I come up with–because I know my manuscript better than anyone. But as a new writer I didn’t understand that, and this manuscript suffered as a result. It wasn’t that other writer’s fault. She spotted the problem. I just didn’t apply the critique correctly.

My point with this is not to ignore critiques, just to incorporate them in a way that’s right for your manuscript. Because when it comes to pacing and story structure, you need to ensure your story makes sense and the reader feels grounded. As for my son? I’m sure he’ll just go with it :).

5. There’s too much summarizing.

There are a lot of passages where I summarize what happens instead of actively showing it, and that takes away from the experience. It still gets the point across, but I know it can be so much better. I think this is another area where as a more experienced writer I can tell the difference between when I should tell vs. when I should show.

6. Who’s talking??

This manuscript features three kids on an adventure, and in an effort to avoid too many saids, I apparently just deleted a bunch of dialogue tags. But as I was reading through, there were several times I wondered which character was supposed to be talking. If there are more than two characters, you need something, whether it’s a dialogue tag, an action beat, or an internal thought to signify who’s speaking. Even when I did have beats or tags, they were often after the dialogue when they should have been before. I did a lot of shifting for those. There’s not a set formula for this, but it does need to be clear who’s talking. I just try to find a good balance of tags, beats, and thoughts in a conversation.

Could I go back and fix these issues if I really wanted to? Sure. But as fun as it was to go back and read this manuscript, I don’t have any passion for it anymore, and that’s a necessary ingredient to whip a project into shape. So for now, I will just anticipate the joy on my son’s face when he opens his present.

Have you ever gone back and read your first project? If so, what did you learn about how your writing has improved?

Writing, Young Adult

YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME Watch List

Writers are always talking about play lists for their manuscripts, but with one exception, that’s never been my thing. (That exception would be my violin story, which totally has a play list, but it’s mainly classical music :)). I just find music too distracting while I’m writing. However, I’m a major movie buff, and so I often find inspiration from movies. As I was thinking about my current manuscript, YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME, it occurred to me there are quite a lot of movie references included in it. So I thought it would be fun to put together a watch list.

1. Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

I mean, it’s just the obvious one. I use it as a comp title for the manuscript, but if you read my Pitch Wars interview, you’ll know my inspiration actually came from the setting featured in the middle of the book rather than this movie. Still, I enjoyed re-watching it as I was drafting. Yes, it’s a campy movie, and you have to suspend belief, but that’s the vibe I’m going for :).

Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead

2. Star Trek

Really you can choose with any Star Trek since my main character’s best friend is an all-out Trekkie and has brought her along for the ride. I think every one of my previous manuscripts has included a Star Wars reference, but I also grew up watching all of the Star Treks, and we own all of the new versions (love how they rebooted them!). I thought it was time I gave another corner of the sci-fi world some love!

3. I Know What You Did Last Summer

Confession: I’ve only seen this movie once, and it was when it first came out, but I remember the gist of it. Anyway, there’s a text that goes around in my manuscript that was inspired by the girls watching that movie. See, the main character’s best friend’s mom has all of these old movies from the eighties and nineties sitting around, so they’ve watched them all :).

4. Annie

Random, right? But my main character feels a close affinity for Annie once she meets the babysitter, who shares many evil personality traits with Miss Hannigan.

5. Adventures in Babysitting

There’s such a quick reference to it anyone who hasn’t seen it will miss it, but there actually was a reboot on the Disney channel (with Sofia Carson of Descendants fame), so maybe younger readers will still get it :). Basically the main character’s friends are teasing her about her parents hiring a babysitter and bringing up every babysitter reference they can think of, from the Baby-Sitters Club book series to movies.

6. Looney Tunes (Okay, it’s not a movie, but still …)

In particular, I describe the babysitter’s smile as a Sylvester-eating-Tweety smile. Don’t worry. He always escapes :).

7. The Bourne Identity

My MC feels like a spy when she goes to buy a burner phone while they’re hiding out–not that she racks up a body count like Bourne (OR DOES SHE??). Just kidding.

8. The Princess Bride

There’s a point where the MC and her brother yell out “Inconceivable!” together, but it’s actually in regard to a plot point even more pertinent to a storyline in “The Princess Bride.” I’m not going to say what it is because it would give away a twist :). Also, when giving examples of perfect couples similar to her parents, my MC lists Westley and Buttercup.

   

9. Star Wars

Did I say I was letting Star Trek have this manuscript? Well, despite the work of the reboot, which has added multiple romance storylines, it doesn’t have anything epic yet. So the other epic romance my MC brings up is Han and Leia. But hey, if there are any Trekkies out there who disagree and want to give me a Star Trek pairing people will recognize, I’m game!

I feel like I should have some specific horror movie in here with a cabin in the woods, but while my MC’s brother makes several references to feeling like he’s in a horror movie, he doesn’t say anything about a particular one.

So that’s my watch list for YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME. Do you have a watch list for your manuscript?

As I was scanning through my manuscript, I realized I also have a lot of food in there. Maybe I should make a menu next! Although it would heavily feature Girl Scout cookies :).