Words with Friends

WorkshopLeaders

A few of my critique partners: Val, Kim, me, Gwen

One of the questions people often ask me is how to find or form a good critique group. My answer: it’s really hard. In some ways it’s like dating, and God knows I never want to go through that again!

Not so long ago I was part of an amazing critique group with some ridiculously talented women in Santa Barbara. Some of us were published, some weren’t. But every person in that group was a gifted writer, a supportive person, and all-around wonder woman.

I started the group years ago with Gwen Dandridge. Both of us had been in other critique groups that left us less than satisfied, so we came into the partnership knowing exactly what we didn’t want to happen with our group. We met during a six week writing class, liked each others writing, and decided to form a group even though we lived fifty miles apart. We each recruited other members, and before too long, the five of us were meeting monthly to eat, talk, share books and review manuscripts.

Every critique group works differently, but what worked for us was to email each other a chapter or two several days before meeting. We’d each make notes using MS Word’s track changes function, then when we’d meet, we would discuss our notes. Sometimes we’d all agree, sometimes we’d vehemently disagree, and on really good days, we’d brainstorm various paths and how those changes could benefit the overall story. The synergy we had together was incredible. Their critiques made me a stronger writer, a better beta reader, and gave me confidence in my abilities.

So what are the elements to look for in critique partners?

  1. Like the person and their writing. That may seem obvious, but I’ve seen the pain that can come from trying to critique writing that you don’t like from someone that you do like. If your goal is to be able to give a useful, honest critique, do everyone a favor and make sure that you like both the person and the writing before you agree to critique each other.
  2. Honesty. You don’t want a critique partner who is just going to tell you how great you are. That’s what mom’s are for. A good critique will highlight your strengths, but also point out your flaws: repetitive words, clichés, weak motivations, questionable story lines, lack of plot, lack of emotion, too much emotion, stilted dialogue. The list is endless. If someone reads your work and tells you it’s perfect, thank them politely and find someone else to critique with.
  3. The same, but different. One of my critique partners loved historicals and fantasy. Another liked romance. One person loved contemporary YA. Still another preferred realistic middle grade or women’s fiction. We intersected at middle grade, but because each of us read different genres, we brought different perceptions to the table. It might seem like a clash, but I think it made our critique skills that much better, more well rounded.

It’s entirely possible that I will never find another group of women like the ones I left behind, but I hope I do. Writing is so much more fun when you have a great group of people to do it with.

Curious about the writing of some of my critique partners? Here are a few of their books.

Gwen Dandridge

Kimberley Troutte

Valerie Hobbs

Robin Yardi

 

A Different Point of View

Kayak-Spirit

Kayaking with my daughter in our backyard. I love this view!

It’s been so long since I’ve blogged here that it almost feels awkward starting up again. Almost.

But just because I haven’t been here, doesn’t mean I’ve been hiding under a rock. In fact, I’ve been quite busy in real life. We decided to sell our house in California in July. That took all of 48 hours. I’m still amazed. We bought a house in Northern Idaho in August and moved into it in September. I’m still blown away with how perfectly the timing worked out for everything with school, home sale/purchase and all the other little details that make moving so much fun!

It didn’t leave a lot of time for writing or blogging. But that’s about to change. I can only go so long without writing. It’s in my blood. I took some time during NaNo to work on a secret project and I’m so glad I pushed through. It was a lot of fun and got the creative juices flowing again. Sometimes writing something completely different does that for me. Plus it’s just fun to experiment with different styles and genres.

With the new year, I’ve made a new commitment to writing, specifically, finishing the stories I’ve been working on. What are you hoping to accomplish this year??

 

P.S. If you’re curious about what I’ve been doing for the past six months, I’ve blogged a little bit about it at mynorthidahome.com. It’s more of a journaling/recipe sharing type of site that I started for fun.

 

I Want His Job

TomsPlanetHeadline news can be depressing. Which is why it makes me happy to find news stories like this one: This Teenager Discovered a New Planet on his Third Day of Work. Seriously.

At 15, this kid shows up for day three of his “work experience” project, they’ve assigned him the task of wading through all this backlogged data, and he discovers a planet that has never been catalogued before. What took him three days to discover, they have spent two years verifying. Because, y’ know, he’s a teenager. With three days on the job. But his planet is legit, and now officially named WASP-142b. (They need to come up with something more catchy than that!)

How do you top discovering a new planet? At 15?!

My news seems small in comparison, but here it is. I was recently featured on the fun blog, The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow. They reviewed Wish You Weren’t and then two days later, interviewed me. You can read the review here, and read the interview here. And if you’ve never read Wish You Weren’t for yourself, definitely go to the interview because they’re giving away two e-books and there are only a few days left to win your copy.

But that’s not all. Book Country, a writing community hosted by Penguin, recently invited me to write a guest post about why I changed the cover of Wish You Weren’t. I included rough samples from the fabulous artist I worked with, Fabián Cobos, and explained our work process. If you’d like to learn more, you can read the post over at the Book Country blog.

Or, you could go back to fantasizing about discovering your own planet. Hopefully, you’ll give yours a better name!

When Good Things Happen to Good People

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 6.38.59 PMSeveral years ago I attended the SCBWI summer conference and one of the wonderful people I met was Rachel Marks. Super talented as both a writer and an artist, she had an incredible joy for life, due in part to being a cancer survivor.

Rachel was rooming with Paige Britt and both of them had gotten special recognition for the manuscripts they had submitted. Our foursome was rounded out by Cindy who, like me, was a teacher when she wasn’t writing. The four of us hung out together and read each others stories. I don’t think I have ever laughed as much as I did that weekend. I hated to go home because we all lived in different places and I seriously wished I could have these amazing people in my life, face to face, on a daily basis. We’ve stayed in contact over the years, but nothing will ever match the synergy of the four of us together that weekend. It was magic.

So imagine how thrilled I was on Saturday, when casually looking over the Amazon Top 100, to see Rachel’s debut at #4!! The book hasn’t even released yet and it’s already hitting the top of the charts! Sweet!!

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 8.31.40 AMPaige has also had a great year. She went on to sign with the agent we all longed for and her novel, The Lost Track of Time, debuted earlier this year, receiving a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly! So cool!!

I LOVE seeing things like this happen for people I know. These are not overnight success stories. It took years of writing and disappointment, rewriting and tears. Which makes their success even sweeter.

Congratulations to my awesome writer friends Paige and Rachel! I’m SO excited for both of you!!

 

Summer at Last!

shortcake

Everybody liked when I baked lemon pound cake for strawberry shortcake and topped it with freshly whipped cream. Yum!

I don’t know if it’s the longer days, or the fact that I’m forever on a school schedule, but I definitely have more energy in the summer. And for me, more energy means more writing, more cooking and baking and more exercise. I’ve never been a fan of the gym, but point me in the direction of a kayak, a easy to moderate hiking trail, or a tennis or racquetball court, and suddenly I’m willing to flex a muscle or two. Since school ended, my family has enjoyed home-cooked meals every day but one, and both my daughter and I are working on new stories.

Yes, my 12-year-old has joined the Wattpad revolution and started posting a story. BUT she has been posting with an anonymous name, even though she reads me the chapters and asks for input before she uploads them. I totally understand the desire for anonymity. It’s a protective instinct: if people don’t like the story, she can ditch it and never claim responsibility. Plus, there’s a freedom to writing when nobody knows who you really are. It allows you to be completely honest and tell the true story of your heart. So yeah, I’m totally encouraging this writing venture. Who knows where it will lead?

We’ve also decided to try writing a story together, based on a project she did in language arts during the spring. It’s going to be a very writerly, bakerly summer. I can hardly wait 🙂

What are your summer plans?

Guest Post from Michelle Isenhoff

It’s almost summer!

chairs

I live in Michigan, so during the few months when the sky is blue, the grass is green, and clouds are fluffy, I pack away my winter projects and hit the outdoors—preferably with a book in hand. Those days are just around the corner, so I’m stocking up my Kindle now.

If you’re looking to do the same, this new book might be just for you. Escape to the beauty and grandeur of the American South where one determined young woman is battling for independence in a world where girls are never free to dream.

Ella Wood new cover11

Though she left Charleston a spoiled daughter of the South, Emily returns from her stay in the North a changed young woman. Her assumptions about slavery have been shattered, and her secret dream of attending university has blossomed into fierce ambition. As the passions sweeping North and South toward war threaten to envelop the city she loves, Emily must battle her father’s traditional expectations in her own bid for freedom. Meanwhile, the real fight may lie within her heart, which stubbornly refuses to accept that a choice for independence must be a choice against love.

With romance, complexity of character, and a solid grounding in history, Ella Wood delivers hours of quality deck chair lounging. And isn’t that what summer’s all about? Grab a copy now so when summer hits, all you need to worry about is the lemonade.

Find Ella Wood on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Kobo.

my blog picWhen Michelle Isenhoff is not writing imaginary adventures, she’s probably off on one. She loves roller coasters, big dogs, high school football games, cycling, swimming in big waves, old graveyards, and wearing flip-flops all winter. Her dream vacation would include lots of castle ruins, but so far she’s had to settle for pictures on Pinterest. Once an elementary teacher, Michelle now homeschools two of her three kids and looks forward to summer adventures as much as they do. Find her at www.michelleisenhoff.com.

*Beach chair image courtesy of Horton Web Design.

Celebrating the Festival of Books

BillyIdol

Billy Idol looked closer in person than he does in this photo!

Where do I even begin?!

The L.A. Times Festival of Books is a sprawling, two-day event showcasing every type of book you can imagine. Thousands of people go, but as an attendee, you sort of need to map out your day because there’s no way to see everything. There are stages with interviews, music, cooking, painting, dancing, puppets – yeah, kinda overwhelming, but totally fun. Here is just a sampling:

    • Just before my book signing began, Billy Idol took to the nearby stage to promote his memoir. He was interviewed by a female moderator and after years in the spotlight, he knew how to be engaging. There were at least 500 people surrounding his stage, many of them young enough to be his grandkids. Before he left, he pulled out a guitar and sang “Rebel Yell.” It was cool.
    • Obviously, I did not attract as many people to my area as Billy Idol. He wasn’t the only celebrity author on hand. Levar Burton and Octavia Spencer also drew good crowds. I may need to work on upping my celebrity quotient before I go next year ;P
AmyDavidLevithan

Amy with David Levithan.

SherrieSarahDessen

Me with Sarah Dessen.

  • My librarian friend Amy went with me to the festival and we totally fangirled David Levithan and Sarah Dessen. We were shocked that neither of these incredible authors had lines, but we were happy to take advantage of the lull. I got to talk to Dessen about the Carolinas (she lives there, I want to someday) and Amy chatted with Levithan about what his books mean to her and her high school readers. Time well spent for both of us.
  • The Jane Austen Society was there in vintage clothing, showcasing the many books that have built on characters first introduced two hundred years ago. Amy was in heaven 🙂
LATFOBsigning

Signing my own books 🙂

It was fun being at the SCBWI booth with other authors and as always, I enjoyed being able to talk to the kids that came by, parents too. And just in case there was any doubt, kids definitely liked the new cover. Win!

I can’t wait to do it again next year!

Hello, My Pretty

Last year when Wish You Weren’t came out, I was happy with the cover and hopeful that it represented the story well. I still love the cover, but I also started to realize that the static image implied a “quiet” type of story. If you’ve read Wish You Weren’t, you know that’s not the case. It’s a time-travel adventure filled with magic and out-of-this-world fun.

Fortunately, the very talented Fabián Cobos was able to capture that excitement in his artwork and create a cover that absolutely takes my breath away. I am so excited to finally share this gorgeous new cover with the world!

2015WYW-WebCover

Don’t you love it? This scene with Tör, Marten and Paul takes place at the beginning of chapter six and Fabián got it absolutely perfect. If you happen to get the print version of the book, you also get to see what the pesky little brother Aldrin looks like. And yes, that is the headless Han Solo action figure in his fist 🙂

2015-BackCover-Web

I still get excited every time I look at this new cover! I’m hopeful that it will excite young readers looking for a book to read as well.

FESTIVAL-cube-300x250If you’d like to see the new covers up close and in person, I’m going to be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books next month – April 18 from 4 to 6 p.m., signing books at the SCBWI booth #834. SO EXCITED!! This festival attracts more than 150,000 readers every year. I can’t believe I get to be part of the fun this year as an author. Woo-hoo! Some of the authors who will be there include Sarah Dessen, Gayle Forman, Andrew Smith, Ransom Riggs, Neal Schusterman, Rachel Hawkins, Dav Pilkey, Jon Scieszka, Jandy Nelson and Marie Lu. I’m already fangirling!!

To learn more about the SCBWI authors who will be at the booth, visit this link. To learn more about the LA Times Festival of Books, visit this link. You can see the full list of this year’s authors at this link. Hope to see you there!

By the way, if you don’t already subscribe to my newsletter, now would be a good time to sign up. You’ll be the first to hear about specials, you can win subscriber-only prizes and don’t worry – I won’t spam you. Only good stuff in this newsletter! Sign up at MailChimp.

The Audiobook is Live!!

WYW-AudiobookCover-SmallishI’m so excited to tell you that the audiobook of WISH YOU WEREN’T is live! I didn’t realize after approving the final version that it would take Audible nearly two weeks to listen to it to make sure the quality was up to par, but I’m glad they did. Because that ensures that anyone who buys it is getting a good quality product.

The book is narrated by Edward Zebrowski. My daughter and I had so much fun listening to all the auditions to determine who had the right voice for Marten. Of course, he narrates the other characters as well, but since Marten really carries the book, his voice had to be right. People who couldn’t even get the title right were rejected immediately. And not to be ageist, but since Marten is almost 12, the voice couldn’t sound like a 40-year-old man, either! So people who sounded too old were rejected as well. When we heard Ted’s audition, we knew we’d found the right person.

Check it out for yourself! The sample covers the first five minutes of the audiobook.

One other thing I learned from this process: authors don’t set the price of their audiobooks. That surprised me, especially since they’ve listed the audiobook at $13.08 on Amazon. Yikes! But if you look in the sidebar, you’ll find a link to Audible that allows you to download TWO audiobooks for free. So you could get WISH YOU WEREN’T along with another book you’ve been wanting to listen to. FOR FREE! Smokin’ deal if you ask me 🙂 This promotion runs through February 2017.

I hope you’ll take a chance on this audiobook, and if you like it, leave a review. Reviews are like gold for authors because people often read them before purchasing a book or audiobook, especially when they aren’t familiar with the author. So go check it out and I hope you like what you hear! You’ll find it on Audible, Amazon and iTunes. Woo-hoo!

The Sound of Things to Come

SantaClaritaLast week at the book festival was so much fun. The venue was gorgeous – one of the best libraries I’ve ever visited – and the organizers were so thoughtful and generous. It was definitely my favorite festival so far. Plus, I got to meet some awesome authors who’ve written some great books. Thanks to the people who came out, who stopped by to say hi, who bought books. I hope you had just as great a time as I did!

The last few weeks have been busy. Big things have been happening!

  1. I’ve been working with an incredibly talented artist to design a new cover. I loved the original cover, but I think the new one will give a better taste of the adventure inside. (I can hardly wait to post a sneak peek!) 
  2. Tonight I’m listening to the final draft of the audiobook for Wish You Weren’t. So exciting! Edward Zebrowski did the reading and hopefully next week I’ll be able to upload a sample.
  3. And last but not least, I’m almost done with my first draft of the sequel to Wish You Weren’t. The official title is Borrowed Time and before too long, I’ll be able to share a sample from that as well. Squee!!

Yep, big things going on! And just in case you’re curious, here are books from three of the authors I got to hang out with at the festival last week. Check ’em out – they’re great writers and cool people, as well!

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 11.04.41 PMBrutal Youth by Anthony Breznican
Don’t you just love this cover? I’ve wanted to read this book
ever since I saw the cover. Hearing him talk about the story
made me even more excited to start on it – especially now
that I have a signed copy 🙂

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 11.04.27 PMBruised by Sarah Skilton
Sarah is literally one of the nicest people I have ever met.
She was friendly to everyone and made every person who
came near her feel welcome. I’m excited to read this story.
It has a strong female character and a great premise.

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 11.07.00 PMCryptic Spaces by Deen Ferell
Like me, Deen writes sci-fi, time travel stories and had
a wealth of writerly knowledge to share. This is the first
book in a planned series of seven books and the first two
are out now. Looking forward to reading this one, too!