Monday, October 24, 2016

You Know You Want a Free Book!

Goodreads Giveaway! Enter to win a copy of Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines!

The giveaway runs from 10/24/16 to 11/4/2016. Please mark as To Read! Simply click the colored link below!


Now I must finish up book 3: Evolution Revolution: Simple Lessons. Look For Evolution Revolution: Simple Plans in January!

All the best, and thanks for your support!


Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Science of Fantasy

The best part about writing fantasy is that your brain can envision things that don't (or maybe shouldn't) exist: time travel, zombie apocalypses, aliens, ghosts, etc.

But that doesn't mean you can pull anything out of your tush and throw it on the page. There's a science to writing fantasy. Anything you write needs to sound if not plausible, then possible.

While Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines may seem like a sweet animal adventure story, there's a lot of science and research that went into the creation of this series.

Here's what sparked the idea:

That's my middle son's third grade science homework papers on simple machines. I saw it, and thought, ok, I remember this stuff, but really thought nothing more about it.

Until I saw a BBC special not long after about how squirrels were brilliant puzzle solvers when it came to scoring food. I also learned that female squirrels are smarter (ha ha to my boys who always think they're the smarter ones!), share what they learn, and learn from others. They don't give up until they've solved the puzzle--and get this: they can study a puzzle and figure out a short cut. They think.

Suppose...just suppose they started evolving intellectually...using human things...

Story idea!

But that was the easy part. What kind of squirrel should be in my story? How will he understand simple machines like the inclined plane or lever, and use them? For a 'simple' adventure story, there were a lot of questions that needed to be answered.

Research time.

First I read up on squirrels online and in the library. I had to answer questions like which squirrel species would work best? The answer is the common gray squirrel because they exist in so many countries and in urban, suburban, and rural areas and there was a lot of documentation of interaction with humans. What were they capable of, what physical limitations did they have? While they have dextrous paws with finger-like claws, they don't have a lot of strength so they can't actually manipulate large or difficult things. I collected newspaper stories about their exploits and the mayhem they instigated because my squirrel was going to cause a lot of trouble on his way to growing intellectually.

There are six simple machines- which meant one really long book to explain them all, which wouldn't work for a middle grade reader, or several books. Because there was so much information, I started a note/scrapbook. I collected humorous clippings and pictures of squirrels doing human things: water skiing, cartoons where they think like humans, etc. as fodder to help me write the story of how my main character, Jack, would get into situations and learn.

I almost always incorporate humor into my books, even horror stories. Seeing what squirrels were, and might be capable of doing, helped me to add levity into a story that had a lot of science. Evolution Revolution will teach kids about simple machines and conservation and evolution among other sciences just by reading Jack's story, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun to read. I didn't want it to sound like a textbook.

As any writer will tell you, ideas and problems to be solved in your story pop into your head. One of the big problems was language; how was Jack to understand human language? I made a list of words that Jack needed to learn so the story could be told:

Why does Jack need to know what toilet paper is? It relates to a funny bathroom scene. And while Jack can't speak the human words, he can understand them.

In the second book, Evolution Revolution: Simple Plans, I introduce new characters. One of them is a mynah bird. I needed a vehicle for Jack to communicate with his human friend, Collin, without magic or such. Jack is, and always will be, a normal, common gray squirrel like you find in your own backyard. The one concession I had to make was that different species communicated amongst each other. Fox taunts Jack, Beaver whines, and Owl encourages him. The mynah bird can repeat hundreds of human words. Mina (get it: Mina, mynah moe!) doesn't need to use proper grammar, only repeat words between Collin and Jack. But could such a bird, usually a pet in a cage, survive in the cold north? For that answer I had to reach out to mynah bird specialists. (There is a group devoted especially to them!) I emailed them and got my answer: escaped pet mynahs can survive in the northern US, and had for some time in southern Canada.

There were so many science questions that needed to be answered to write Jack's story. Yes, there is so much imagination in it, like animals working together to save another animal. A hop around the internet brings up stories about a lion saving a baby wildebeest from another lion, or an elephant trying to rescue a man that it thinks is drowning. Think about Koko, the gorilla who uses sign language, or the elephant that paints. Not such a far-fetched story anymore... Maybe animals are a lot smarter than we give them credit for and 'science' has to catch up to my imaginative tale...

Imagine the impossible- because it may be possible...


Look for Evolution Revolution: Simple Plans in January, 2017

Monday, October 10, 2016

Ms. Book Manners Says...

Growing up, my mom read Miss Manners to me. She taught me where the salad, entree, shrimp, and dessert forks go. That knives should be placed with the cutting edge toward the plate. Cover your sneezes. Hold doors open for older people. Wrestle in the backyard. All kinds of manners.

Sadly so many people are lacking in basic manners because they are not taught them (unless you're from a royal or noble house it seems). There are some manners that authors in particular should learn and follow. I've learned these- some the hard way- and some I've added. If you think of any more, kindly let me know and I'll add them to the list.

  1. When you send out a book for review, include a 'thank you' to the person for taking the time to do a review. Thank the blogger for featuring an interview, guest post, or giveaway. They are doing you a favor and deserve the simple courtesy.
  2. If the review is bad, remember that they did not guarantee a good one. Don't comment. Yes, you're hurt, this is your baby. Run a marathon, eat a whole cake, yell at the couch. Commenting will only make the blogger defensive and give you a bad rep. Agents, editors, and any published writer will tell you: Don't do it.
  3. With a giveaway, send a nice note to the winner. Just a simple 'thank you for your interest in my book, congratulations, and I hope you enjoy.' That's it. Don't pressure them to look at other books (but include a bookmark or other promotional items). This is good PR because you're thanking them without knowing their opinion (and don't ask them to get back to you; if they don't like your book, it will create awkwardness). By being pleasant beforehand, it may make them more predisposed to look favorably on your work.
  4. Social media can be a booby trap. Keep it friendly but impersonal. (Hard lesson learned here: people will believe the best of themselves and the worst of everyone else.). Keep mentions to your book, fluffy llamas, wishing people happy birthday, and pictures of clouds that look like your favorite rock star. Even if you have a separate author and personal Facebook page, people hunting simply by your name will come upon both. It's doubtful you'll meet your next best friend or a significant other or agent (although it must have happened, but the odds are against it), so don't feel pressured to engage in politics or issues where people who are looking for an argument can force one.
  5. Politely listen to the professionals: your agent, editor, publicist, illustrator or published mentor whether you have a contract with them, met them at a conference or simply asked their opinion. They got where they are because their opinion and knowledge is respected in the business. You don't have to like or agree with it. Arguing, getting defensive or refusing to consider advice (and yes, I struggle with this- I'm very emotional and strong-minded about my books), won't get you anything but dismissed. The editor for Sirenz (Flux), loved the concept! But only the first five chapters. We were advised to toss the last fifteen. Yup, three fourths of the book went into the garbage. And it was a good thing. We got published. I've made so many changes to my NA sci fi, some which I hated making, but I did them on the advice of my agent and editors- even though I never got offered a contract. It's sitting in a file on my hard drive... But not making the changes would have guaranteed it went nowhere, would have earned me the label of being 'difficult' and really, was rude to the editors and agent who spent so much time reading the book and thinking how to make it better. Take a break from it for a week, a month while you ponder.... Then suck it up.
  6. Don't bash anyone- editor, agent, other author. Complain about how frustrated you are, sure, because the cat or dog will keep your secret. Never say anything about a person in public because while it seems the publishing world is big- word gets around. I know people who are 'blacklisted.' Editors and agents refuse to work with them. You do not want to be this person. Karma, baby, karma. And as Ms. Manners and your mother might have said: Keep your thoughts to yourself.
  7. Distance yourself from other authors' fights/drama. It's different if you show support for someone who's being targeted, shamed, going through an illness, etc. If they're fighting with an agent, editor, publishing house, blogger etc., step away. You don't know all the details and how it will affect you. The same is true for their politics. What's popular today may not be tomorrow, and by taking sides, you alienate some readers.
  8. Please support each other. You don't have to buy every book, or go to every event, but share their good news, tell others about it, and be happy for others' successes. Your turn will come and what goes around, comes around...
  9. Share information. When you help a colleague or a debut author/illustrator, you help the book community, you build good relationships, and become known as a team player. Maybe you'll increase sales or get a school visit. Even if you don't, the good will is priceless.
  10. Be respectful at conferences. Don't shove your manuscript at editors and agents or well-known authors and demand they read it. (I've heard tales of newbie authors shoving their novels under bathroom stall doors or under hotel room doors. Don't.) There should be a process to get a chance to talk to these people and get some feedback or the chance to submit your work via their guidelines, which it behooves you to read up on and follow. 
  11. Always look professional at events. Your Kim K holey jeans, stained shirts, and ratty looking hair are turn offs. Editors and agents might be thinking that if you don't care about looking professional, will you care about how you represent the publishing house? Author events are not for you to show in-your-face style. Colored hair, character clothing, fun things are okay, but know where to draw the line. 
  12. Please know when to. Shut. Up. I've been to events where authors drone on and on and nauseam. Not only do you bore your audience, but you alienate the other authors (really, it's annoying), you risk the moderator telling you to wrap it up in front of everyone embarrassing you, and possibly kill any return invites. Practice your presentation so you know if it needs to be cut. If you're on a panel, keep your answers short. People who are really interested in what you have to say can ask questions afterwards. People not making eye contact, checking their phone (or like me, writing this blog post as I sat bored beyond tears) are clearly not listening anymore. Take the hint and be polite enough to wrap it up.
  13.  No one likes rejections. It feels like being told 'go away, you're not a good writer.' But that's not it at all; it's only a 'sorry, but I'm not interested.' Things will be okay; maybe not today or even this year, so don't do something stupid like criticize the editor (see Rule #6 again). I don't know of any author who didn't get rejected. You don't have to like rejections, but you have to accept them. Move on.
  14. When waiting for a reply from an editor or agent about your manuscript, or trying to book an event, send no more than two followups. If they haven't answered after that, truly they aren't interested. Agents generally send a definitive yes or no, editors only if they're interested. I once got a reply from an editor that he wasn't interested in my manuscript two years after the initial query. Yeah, I got that feeling after 3 months. I submitted it elsewhere and it was published by someone else in the meantime. When sending a follow up, don't issue ultimatums: if you don't answer, I'll send it to Ms. Other Editor.' Be polite, not 'why haven't you responded, it's been a year!'  Send a brief email which references your book by title, a 1-2 sentence synopsis, when you sent the query/chapters/ms, and circumstances where they asked for it, like at the NJ SCBWI annual conference in June, 201X. Wait at least two months for the first follow up, two months for the second. And if you decide to send it out to other editors/agents after the first 30 days, there is no need to throw that at the editor. Don't spend your life waiting for someone to respond.
  15. If you spam your friends and everyone you know with every little tidbit about your writing life, you're going to annoy them. You may even lose followers. Yes, announce when a new contract is signed, when a book will debut, about giveaways. That's sufficient.
  16. If you're in the industry, use the industry standards. Never use a fancy font for the entire manuscript (I've used a different font to make text look like it was handwritten because in the story, the character found a note; that's acceptable).  Use Times New Roman or Courier, 12 pt., double-spaced, new chapters begin halfway down a clean page. Page numbers on the top right corner, title/author on top left corner. The first page should have author's name and info, genre, word count, title.
Treat your writing life as you would if you were working for a business. You may not be in this for money, but you should always act professional because for editors, agents, publicists, other authors, it is their business.

Talk soon,


Monday, October 3, 2016

A New Book, A New Step

My new book went public on September 30th as I had originally planned. A few bumps in the road, but for its first outing at the Collingswood Book Festival, Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines sold more than my other books (Blonde OPS, Beware the Little White Rabbit, Sirenz, Sirenz Back in Fashion) all put together! Kids (especially boys!) seemed very excited about the book.

It's always joyous to have kids excited over your book, but I'm especially ecstatic with the reception this book has gotten for two reasons. The first is that the main character is a boy and as boys tend to be more reluctant readers, I have reached my target audience. Girls, generally, will read across a broader range; they will read stories about boys (a la Harry Potter, Percy Jackson). Also, they will read adventure, magic, science, fashion, mythology, etc. Through my own sons, I see that most boys have a narrower focus. Few read books with girl protagonists, or about subjects like fashion, romance, relationships and subjects they might consider 'girly.' So I grabbed their attention with my premise on mixing science, adventure and animals.

The next reason I feel this book is a success is based on the interior illustration below:

In the original manuscript, I do not describe the boy, Collin, who teaches Jack the squirrel how to use simple machines and vocabulary. I didn't want that restriction because I wanted every boy to see himself as the main character.  However, when my illustrator and I started working together on this project, I asked her to make the boy a person of color. Not that I consider myself an expert on the lives of people of color, but because I'm a qualified 'people person.' I have a broad spectrum of people in my life through my writing, my church, my children, my community. With the increasing awareness to include a more diverse reflection of characters in novels, film, and other areas, I felt it was important to step up to the challenge and out of my routine characterization. 

There are some who might argue that I do not have the qualifications to write about characters from cultures and ethnic backgrounds different than my own. I would disagree in that my friendships and professional associations give me a starting basis. I fully admit I have much to learn, but judging from the wonder on the faces of the boys that thumbed through my book-and the smiles on the faces of the parents who then proceeded to buy the book, I think I have made a good start, but I ask your patience as I move forward. 


Monday, September 26, 2016

The Fight for Independents!

We Americans love our independence.

We love independent realtors.

Independent business owners.

Independent political parties.

Independent thoughts.

Independent bookstores.

Independent farmers.

Independent filmmakers.

But not independent authors.

We are treated like the weird relative at Thanksgiving. Publishing people smile nervously when approached by them- and sit with the 'regular people' at the other end of the table.

As a hybrid author (books published by both traditional publishers and Indie), I'm understanding the struggle of Indie authors so much more clearly.

The disdain.
The rolling of the eyes.
The dismissing of the validity of my work.
The "we don't want your kind here" at stores, events, and festivals.

Never mind that my book (Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines) was honed over ten years and edited by peer and professional. Ignore that I spent money hiring a professional illustrator (Cathy Thole-Daniels). Skip over the four previous books published by traditional publishers (St. Martins/Thomas Dunne, Flux, Leap).

Some Indie published books are awful- I've read them. One book was so bad, I put a Post-It on every mistake (grammar, spelling, POV, etc.) and it looked like a George R.R. Martin Game of Thrones book where people flag when a character gets killed (yes, that many). I used it in a writing what-not-to-do presentation.

But I've read some great ones (I'm going by content, not sales, so Fifty Shades of Grey doesn't meet my qualifications). Sometimes, the author then goes on to a traditional contract, but the publishers didn't see the potential at first- until the public did and the bucks started coming in.

I understand that there are sooo many books out there and the traditional publishers can't print them all. (Hence, Indie pubbing helps with that...) But traditional publishers have also chosen so many I-can't-believe-you-published-this-crap books; like If I Did It by OJ Simpson. What the hell were they thinking- oh yes, celebrities bring in money, even when the book is awful.

So it all comes down to money (except for those coffee table books people publish/buy just to look chic and sophisticated). If an Indie author is trying to sell their book, they want to make money, same as Indie bookstores. (Gotta pay for the illustrator, travel to book events, PR.) It seems to me both sides could work out an arrangement which gives them each profits and happiness.

It's a hard road, but I'm not giving up. I believe in this project too much.

And yes, there are successes, but many more that aren't. It's okay, I'm not discouraged.

And I'm not going away...


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Meet a Real Character...

I'm editing a horror short story that's due by the 26th, waiting to review Evolution Revolution for the last time before it goes to print, trying to book events, working on the next book in the Evolution series, hoping to hear about two books with my agent, and trying to sneak in time for other writing projects all while getting my son into the school routine, ease back into playing bells at church, attending meetings of committees I'm on, and thinking about all the stuff to do to close the pool up.

So I haven't prepared a pithy post. I simply need to ease back this week (I know I didn't do a post for Labor Day weekend either). I'm taking a deep breath before I dive in, head first, into more craziness. In the meantime, here's something that won't be controversial, doesn't challenge any politics or religion or your favorite football team, and is simply meant to give you a sneak peek at the marvelous work of my illustrator Cathy Thole-Daniels and one of the funny characters in Evolution...

Let me introduce you to Beaver (no cutesy names). He's a marvel at engineering and the humans are in for a surprise when he joins the team to Save the Wood. Hopefully you can meet him real soon...

Spread the word- war is coming to the wood... and the animals aren't giving up without a fight. Never underestimate anyone defending their home.


Monday, September 12, 2016

No Emergency if You Prepare

It's that time. I'm not talking about hurricanes, blizzards, flooding, severe cold or wind. I'm talking about NaNoWriMo. (National Novel Writing Month). If you're serious, don't be a twit and wait until the last minute to prepare. Like those who wait until the storm is bashing down their door to do something, it's too late then. Do. The. Prep. Now.


What will your novel be- science fiction? Historical? Contemporary? Paranormal? A combination? Get a good sense. You don't have to have the whole story in your head, but know how it will start, a few things that will happen in the middle, and how it will end. It may change, that's okay. When you have ideas to choose from, you'll be more confident and less likely to be stuck come writing day.


Know where you will work. Choose one or two places that you can retreat to to write. Honestly, you can't write at the kitchen table when people pass through often, or are clamoring for breakfast or lunch or dinner. Or you have to clear up your stuff when they want to eat. Maybe your laptop in your car at a quiet park during the day, on your lunchbreak from work. Maybe the family room when everyone else is at school/work. If you can, prep the space. Have your thesaurus, research papers, notes, large coffee cup, and anything else you may need ready to go. You waste valuable time and effort trying to pull things together.

Research ahead of time. If you're writing a crime thriller, know police procedure. Sci f? Know what happens when you're ejected into space with a hole in your space suit (you can live for about 45 seconds. Really.) Historical? Better have the facts and timeline correct. Keep notes on your laptop or handy in a folder.

Have a NaNoWriMo calendar. November is a bitch of a month with Thanksgiving and for some of us, the start of the Christmas season. Maybe you have events or conferences you're going to and won't be home to work. Note this on the calendar and plan how you will work around this to stay on track. Since I have a family dinner on Thanksgiving, on one day I write double the amount (1,666 words is the general amount) so I have to do at least 3,340 to stay on track. You can also use your calendar to plot out the novel- maybe each day is one chapter, so on day 6 you have to kill someone off. It helps to remind you where to start up again and by looking at it ahead of time, the wheels of imagination can spin while you're cooking dinner or doing other things.

Jot down a rough outline. This will help with the continuity. I sometimes find it hard to stop and go- I just want to keep writing until the book is written. Unfortunately I have to eat, sleep, take care of the family, go to the dentist, etc. A rough outline helps me know where I'm heading. It's just rough, so don't stick to it if you have a better idea.

Commit to a group- whether it's the official group (go here) or a bunch of like minded friends and stick with it! Nothing makes a task easier than having support. If you're stuck, they can help you bounce ideas around, encourage you if you fall behind (not the end of the world, keep going, don't quit) and by encouraging them, you'll benefit from the energy.


It's not about having the perfect novel. Or even a good one. That will come later through editing and revising. It's about getting the novel written and into a routine of making time for your passion. Even if you don't finish the novel, if you're several hundred words away from the end, you're close! So you take a few extra days to finish- that's okay! You aren't breaking any rules. So chill. You can do this.

I'm doing NaNoWriMo and have already done one chapter (was stuck on a long car ride). I jotted down some notes. I need to stretch it to an outline. Gotta finish up some research. I have an office and with kids back in school, I have my routine set.

Let's do this together.