Friday, December 15, 2017

Writing Exercise #21: Winning in 2017

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

Next month, many of us will set goals for 2018. We'll use fancy words like 'resolution' to show our friends and family just how serious we are about losing five pounds or finishing a book or taking down the Christmas lights.

In truth, I'm not overly big on resolutions. I set goals, but I'm kind to myself and I let things slide if life happens and things of higher priority need to be addressed. But something I try to do every December is remember.

When the end of the year rolls around, I like to look back and take stock of where I've been and what I've done. The moments that surprised me. The days that went just as they should have. The weeks that, well, didn't. And though I like to think back on every area of my life--I've found these December reminiscing sessions can be particularly helpful where my writing career is concerned.

It's far too easy to reach the end of the year and despair of all you didn't get done. To wish you'd made it farther down the road. To mourn a rejection or a failed project. The negative feelings about all the things that didn't happen this year can overwhelm the truth of what you DID accomplish. And despair is no way to close one season and open another.



So today, for your final writing exercise of 2017, I want you to make a list. Only this one won't be for Santa. It will be for you. To remind you that you did stuff that mattered this year. You grew yourself and your writing. You filled your head with stories that will forever change your voice. You embarked on adventures and are all the wiser for it. You closeted yourself away when necessary, to think, to be, to write.

Whatever it is you've done that has furthered your writing career/hobby/experiment--add it to the list. Every positive moment. Every win. Jot it down. Use the comments section here, okay? So we can all celebrate with you. And then come back throughout the weekend to cheer on your friends. 2017 was a difficult year for many of us. We need one another. Never forget how important your encouragement is to other writers.

Why don't I start? I'll leave my list here for you all. Perhaps it will remind you of some accomplishment you've forgotten.

Finished and edited and polished a manuscript.
Wrote nearly 50 blog posts.
Taught a ten-week mentoring class for jr high and high school students.
Taught my first teen track at a writing conference.
Took my first solo road trip in over a decade.
Met with my agent in person.
Attended five book signings.
Deepened relationships with my local writer friends.
Explored the Lost Cost.
Got better at writing outside my own office.
Grew my Instagram following.
Recorded my first video blogs for Go Teen Writers.
Go Teen Writers was listed as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writers Digest.
Expanded my podcast listening repertoire.
Coordinated a couple Go Teen Writers Instagram challenges.
Had new headshots taken.
Built a new author website.
Learned that the rights to my second book, Broken Wings, sold in Poland.
Upped my book purchasing game--one way I support authors and the industry.
AND, I read more books this year than I did last year--which is saying something because the first quarter of 2017 was murder on my reading life.

 Now, it's your turn! Make a list and check it twice. It'd be a bummer to leave off a win.

REMEMBER! When you participate in our writing exercises you can enter to win an opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a question for one of our upcoming writing panels. Once you leave your response to the writing prompt in the comments section, use the Rafflecopter below to enter. Next week, Rafflecopter will select one winner and we'll contact you for your question via email. Happy writing, friends!

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The "Meet Cute" aka Boy Meets Girl--My Top Five YA Fiction Moments


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She had a podcast/vlog at www.StoryworldFirst.com. You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

The meet cute. This is a Hollywood term for when a future romantic couple meets for the first time. It can apply to friendships as well, but this is a must-have moment in the romantic comedy genre and in any romance story. My new WIP has a romance thread, so I've spent the last few days working hard on that meet cute moment, trying to get it just right.

The options are pretty much endless for how you can engineer this first encounter. Some common tropes involve:

-A mistaken identity like in the movie Ever After when Danielle thinks the prince is a horse thief and pelts him with apples and a tongue lashing.

-Incorrect assumptions of character like with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

-A bad first impression like in Bringing Up Baby when Katherine Hepburn's character continually annoys and eventually begins to stalk Carey Grant's character until he can't help but love her. Or how Buddy annoys Jovie in Elf. She says, "Go away," and he just keeps talking.

-Making the attraction obvious like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where Toula can't stop staring at Ian. This scene always makes me laugh, so I thought I'd share it with you.



Here are my top five meet cute scenes from the YA books on my shelves:

5. Prince Haegan and Thiel from Ronie Kendig's Embers. After crippled Haegan's sister makes a pact to switch places with him, he flees the castle with working legs. As guards are chasing him through tunnels beneath the castle, he collides with someone. This person helps him up and propels him along with a small group of others, all running from the guards chasing Haegan. This person turns out to be Thiel, the leader of a ragtag group of commoners and a girl and . . . so much more. (But I can't say. Because spoilers.)

4. Princess Alia and Prince Wron from The Piano Girl by Sherri Schoenborn Murray. Princess Alia has been trying to reach the kingdom of her betrothed, but on her journey, she catches the swamp pox, which makes her face hideous. To make matters worse, she gets put into prison for hunting on the king's land. While she is in the dungeon, Prince Wron comes down to question her about her about another prisoner. They have their first conversation, and Prince Wron has no idea that he is speaking to his betrothed.

3. Marty and Abby from Replication. This is my book, but I can't help it. I've always loved this scene. Marty, a clone, has escaped from Jason Farms in the back of one of the doctor's pick-up trucks. This story takes place in Alaska in winter, and it's very cold outside. Marty sneaks into the house and into one of the rooms upstairs. Abby's room. She later comes in and finds him, and starts yelling at him. She thinks he is JD, a boy from her high school, and thinks that JD is playing a joke on her. Until JD calls her on her cell. Marty is not JD, but they do look identical.




2. Eleanor and Park from the book of the same name. Eleanor meets Park when she can't find a seat on school bus and everyone is waiting for her to sit down. The other students are so mean! And Park finally scoots in and tells her to sit with him. At the time, he thinks she's a total loser, but it's an "Awww" moment for Park as his compassion overrides his cool.

1. Katie Parker and Charlie Benson from In Between by Jenny B. Jones. They don't meet until the end of book one (their romance carries through the trilogy), but this is just about the best meet cute ever. Katie has been dragged along on another one of Mad Maxine's crazy adventures. (Mad Maxine is Katie's foster grandmother.) This time, Maxine has Katie up a tree, looking through the window of Trudy Marple's house, trying to find out if her boyfriend Sam is cheating with Trudy. Katie tells her Maxine that she sees Sam dancing . . . with a guy. Before the situation is fully understood, the tree branch Katie is perched on cracks, and she falls into the swimming pool. Maxine vanishes. Sam comes out and rescues Katie, drags her inside, where she finds out that Sam was here getting a dancing lesson from Trudy's grandson Charlie, a boy who attends Katie's high school. Ahh... So fun.

How about you? Do you have a favorite meet cute from a book or a movie? And if you're not into romance stories, how about a best friends meet cute, like how Harry and Ron met on the train or how Achan and Shung met while competing against each other in a short sword and shield match at tournament? Share your favorite in the comments. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Three Rules For Creating Art That Matters



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.


I don't often talk about my personal life on Go Teen Writers. Our focus here is always writing, and yet today is one of those days that I can't deny that my personal life and writing life are woven together. This fall, due to circumstances outside of writing, I've often felt drained and uninspired

Last week, when I confessed to my friend Roseanna that I was struggling to stay focused, she did that lovely thing that good friends do and validated how I was feeling. She told me, "That makes sense, considering..." And then began to list the circumstances that have surrounded me the last few months. My father has an aggressive and rare form of cancer that he's currently battling. I've been deeply disappointed by a close friend of mine. I've had a conflict with extended family that has kept me awake and crying at night. I have a two-year-old who's the size of a one-year-old, which has led to an appointment with a specialist in the next few days. And I have a book that's due to my editor in a few weeks. With all of the above sitting on my shoulders, it's been the hardest book I've ever written.

As Roseanna and I talked about our mutual lack of motivation right now, she said the old adage to both of us. "Butt in chair, and all that."



Rule One: Show up


Yes, I thought when she said that, I'm at least doing that. 

All semester long, when my family has been hit by one stressful situation after another, I have maintained my butt-in-chair discipline that's so crucial to creating. I have shown up.

Even when you don't feel like it. Even when it truly feels like your life is crashing around you, as mine has often felt these last few months, the discipline of just showing up every day will help you, as Shannon so beautiful put it, to create an author and not just a story.

But my bigger issue has come after I put my butt in the chair.

Rule Two: Be Authentic


I recently had the chance to visit  the Georgia O'Keefe museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Georgia O'Keefe is famous for her paintings of large flowers and skullssometimes painted togetherbut I was surprised by many of her other subjects. Skylines of New York City, where she lived for a long time. Mount Fuji. Churches in the southwest. Views from airplanes. The inside of a tent, looking out.

Something struck me as I was there at the museum, and then again as I sat here at my computer thinking, "I'm too run down to put a blog post together." Georgia O'Keefe did not try to divorce her art from her life. Rather, her life informed her art. The art was created from the riches and trials of her life, not separate from it. When she was in the southwest or reminiscing about it, that was reflected in her art. Same as when she was in New York, or anywhere else.

Yet I have tried so hard to keep my messy, stressed-out self off the page, off the blog, and off social media.
I wanted to leave all that stuff outside my office door and create worlds that were independent of what I'm currently going through. Today I wanted to bring you neat, easy-to-follow, pinnable writing advice, but all I feel capable of right now is shrugging at you and saying, "I don't know either."

Last summer, a darling young writer put her copy of The Scorpio Races into my hands. "I would like your signature and your number one piece of writing advice."

I kinda froze, to be honest. Many other Big Deal writers had already signed the book, including Stiefvater herself. I wanted to write something really good, especially because I know and like this young writer, and she'd asked me to put my thoughts on the page there with other YA authors I love and admire. If I remember right, I wrote something about, "Follow your curiosity" which is advice from Elizabeth Gilbert.

I knew it was the wrong choice even as I wrote it, and I've thought about that moment many times since then. "Follow your curiosity" is fine writing advice, but it's not my number one. I mean, I hadn't heard it until this spring, and somehow I had managed to be a happy writer for over a decade, so how could it be number one?

If I could have that moment to do over again, I would write this in her book:

Show up.

Be authentic.

Repeat daily.

That's a recipe for creating art—for creating a lifethat matters. Not just showing up sometimes, or occasionally being authentic. But showing up faithfully, being authentic always, and repeating the process every stinking day.


Friday, December 8, 2017

The Gift of Empathy

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

Writing accomplishes considerably more for authors than simply putting money in their pockets. In truth, for most writers, the money is more sporadic than you'd think and little more than icing on the cake. We write for more reasons that I can enumerate, but it boils down to this: we write because we can't not.

We'd love the hours spent at our computers to be more career and less hobby, but long before storytelling resembles a dependable money-making endeavor, dedicated writers are receiving gifts. Gifts that the writing itself imparts to the author.

No wrappings, no bows, nothing tangible to slip under the tree, but if you're working with any sort of consistency you might notice certain invisible attributes cropping up in your creative soul.

You begin to master things like people-watching, problem solving, impatience, procrastination, working when you don't feel like it, finishing what you start. I could go on and on--the disciplines that develop out of the daily grind are many and, strangely enough, they're treasures you dig out of your own chest.

Of all these hard-earned gems, the one I value most is empathy.



Reading has a way of developing this in us as well, but the act of creating a character, giving her a mind and a will, insecurities and faults, regrets and talents, a family history and a place in the world to inhabit--the time spent poring over and pouring into this creature can grow you.

The trick is to do it honestly.

Give your character dilemmas to solve, unsettled relationships, mountains to climb. In my own writing I've found that once I have the semblance of a character sculpted, certain things make sense for this character to do as she navigates her life and certain actions wouldn't make any sense at all.

On occasion, I'll get an email from a writer pal and it'll look like this (usually with a hint of panic attached):

So. I need my main character to poison her brother. But she loves her brother! Still, it has to happen. Only, why would she do that? Help! I need a reason.

And so we get to work. We begin to develop a motivation. Most likely this reason will change the character in fundamental ways. An adjustment that can be both difficult and helpful to the writer.  The lesson is this: there must be a reason for everything a character does.

Because there is certainly a reason for everything you and I do.

It's not always an intelligent reason or a moral reason. Often it's flawed and desperate. I find that most of my characters do things out of fear. That says a lot about me, I think, but it also helps me slide into the shoes of real-life human beings making decisions because they're afraid. I can empathize because in so many ways my characters are showing me what it's like to go, to do, to act, and to hurt out of a dark, terrified place.

It's a gift, friends. The ability to empathize.

And if you make it a habit to write honestly, the penning of a story will compel you to search out empathy--not just for your characters, but for those around you making choices you don't understand.

And right now, if there's anything this world needs more of, it's empathy. A willingness to climb out of our worn-in, cozy sneakers and into another's. We might be uncomfortable there. We might not like the roads those shoes take us down, but if we practice writing honestly, perhaps we'll remember to live honestly. In that way, the gift of empathy can lead us to build bridges. Not just in our stories. But in this great wide world.

A world that is sometimes very hard to understand.

Can you think of a gift your writing has given to you? We'd love to hear it.
  

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

3 Things I Did in the Name of Book Research


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She had a podcast/vlog at www.StoryworldFirst.com. You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

Authenticity has always been important to me as a writer. In fact, it's a pet peeve of mine when I'm reading a book or watching a program and something happens that I know is wrong or impossible. It bothers me that the authors didn't take the time to research the situation and get the details right. When authors don't bother to do their research, it's lazy. It tells me they don't care about their readers. My opinion, perhaps, but it's partly why I'm so steadfast in doing my own research.

Now, most research is fairly boring. I'm reading books or reading things online. And sometimes I'm interviewing someone on the phone, which is fun, but not really worth tell you all about.

But there have been a few stories of times when my research went into test mode. Times where I felt the need to experience something or get a good visual on something for my story. Today I will share three of those stories with you.






1. Spencer rappels off a cliff, handcuffed to two girls.
In Project Gemini, the second, full-length book in the Mission League series, my spy kid Spencer is in Okinawa, Japan. He was following some bad guys and got caught. But then he and two girls managed to escape. The problems are these: a) Spencer is handcuffed to each girl, b) there is only one one rappelling harness, c) bad guys are chasing them, so they have to act fast, and d) they need to rappel off a hundred-foot cliff to a getaway boat, anchored in the ocean below.

I wrote this scene, and my editor ripped it up. He said it didn't make sense and he couldn't picture how this thing was working. Spencer is six foot four. Both girls in the story were fairly small. And it just so happened that my husband is six foot one and my children, at the time, were fairly small. What a coincidence! I created a reenactment in my living room.

I used handkerchiefs to tie my husband's wrists to my children's wrists, then I made my kids climb on my husband, the way I pictured the girls holding on to Spencer.

Dad got quite squished and beat up, and our kids had a blast. There was much laughter. I didn't take any pictures, but I did manage to see where everyone's hands were and jot down lots of notes. I was able to rewrite the scene, and it turned out much better. Here's part of the scene from the book. It's a long scene, so I'm only sharing a portion of it. This is a first person book, told from Spencer's point of view.
          “You ready for this, Tiger?” [Beth asked.]
          “I was born ready.” Then I met Beth’s gaze—her eyes looked like pools of black through the goggles. “I don’t know what I’m doing, Beth.”
          “You’ll be fine. Stay in a sitting position and use your feet to walk and bounce down the rocks. The boat is directly below us. Keep your brake on, and you can’t fall.”
          “But the girls could.”
          “Nope, they’re tied onto you,” Beth said. “So, unless you forget the brake . . .”
          My head lolled back at the stars. “Fine. Let’s do this.” I crouched and picked up Mary, setting her over my right hip like a mother holding a small child. “Sixty-three, huh?”
          She swatted the back of my head with the hand that was hooked to Grace’s.
          I crouched for Grace, and she jumped onto my back. I resituated her leg over Mary’s on my right but could do nothing to hold Grace on my left as my left hand was attached to Mary’s and holding the main ropes. This wasn’t so bad. I had a pretty good grip on the ropes and Mary. If Grace could hold on—
          “Tiger,” Beth said. “Right hand. You’re not holding the brake.”
          Figs and jam!
          “Mary, you’re going to have to hold on,” I said. “Use your arms and legs.” I let go of Mary and found the brake rope.
          “Got it.” I was thankful for the handcuffs and ropes. Although I didn’t relish the idea of either girl falling, at least they were sort of locked/tied on.
          “Hold on tight, girls,” Beth said.
          They were. I felt like I was in a chokehold at the dojo. And both the girls’ legs around my waist hurt my bruised abs. Too bad I couldn’t tap out.
          I hadn’t bothered to look over the cliff. With a name like Suicide Cliffs, it couldn’t have been an encouraging view. I crept back and felt my heels go off the edge. I kept the ropes braked and leaned back. My toes gripped the rock edge as I let out the rope an inch at a time. A bead of sweat trickled from my forehead down my nose.
          Three lights flickered in the field beyond the mangrove tree. Flashlights. They were coming.

2. Levi shoots his rifle at a transformer to kill the power in the Safe Lands.
For my dystopian novel Captives, I needed to have Levi do something to shut off the power. I know nothing about such things, so I went to my then gun/hunting expert for help. His name is Greg and he taught me how to pull apart a bird (which Sir Caleb showed Achan to do in To Darkness Fled), and Greg also brought me one of his huge daggers and explained what Achan would have to do do kill a bear that was attacking him in From Darkness Won. Greg has done a lot to help the authenticity of my books over the years.

I told Greg all about my story and what I wanted to have done. At the time, my plan was for Levi to make some sort of pipe bomb to blow up the dam and kill the power that way. But I didn't have any logical reason for Levi to know how to make pipe bombs. Greg asked me why he wouldn't just shoot out the transformers at the power station.

Me:

As Greg explained that, yes, my story should have power stations, even if the power came from a dam, I realized this made much more sense, since Levi is a rifleman. This was definitely how he'd get the job done. So Greg brought over his rifle and taught me to use it, let me look through the scope at my neighbors houses across the river, told me what Levi would think and how he'd breathe. Here are some pictures I have of that very fun day.







And here is how the final rifle scene turned out:
          The distant substation was a tangle of gray metal on a field of black maybe three hundred yards out. The four gleaming spotlights that towered over the station didn’t cast their glow far.
          “Nowhere to hide,” Zane said.
          “We won’t be here long enough to need to hide.” Levi jumped down onto the roadway and crossed to the inner wall. It came up to his waist. He lifted the strap of his rifle over his head, set the rifle on the wall, and crouched to look through the scope, turning the zoom until the substation glowed in the lens. After locating the row of transformers, he tried to figure out which way they ran. If he could hit the first transformer in the series, everything else would go out.
          Levi pulled back the bolt and loaded a round into the chamber. “Keep an eye on the studio’s location, and let me know if it goes dark.” He flipped off the safety and took aim at the transformer on the far left. One deep breath, and he pulled the trigger.
          The shot cracked around them, echoing off the concrete walls of the dam. Through the scope, Levi saw no sparks or evidence that he’d hit anything. He glanced up at Zane.
          “Prospector apartments went dark,” Zane said. “All the way to . . . Wow, that’s weird. The power went out in the Highlands all along the edge of the Highland – Midland wall.”
          “It’s an arch.” The first one must be the other end then. Levi chambered another round and aimed for the transformer on the right end. Just as he pulled the trigger, Zane spoke.
          “Someone’s coming.”
          The shot rang out, but Levi knew he’d missed. He cocked the gun and straightened, looking where Zane was pointing. Two sets of headlights were heading their way from the other side of the inner wall. They’d just passed the other Highland substation.
          Levi crouched and aimed for the transformer again. “Don’t talk.” He took in a deep breath and held it, then fired. He straightened to glance toward the city below.
          Zane yelled, “You got it!”
          Levi tucked the rifle strap over his head. “All I needed to hear. Let’s go.”

3. Achan loves wine.
In, From Darkness Won, the final book in my Blood of Kings trilogy, Achan is in a fowl mood, and one of his poorer influences, gives him a bottle of wine to lift his spirits. I wanted Achan to love the wine so much that he ended up drinking the whole bottle. The problem? I pretty much detest the taste of alcohol. But I needed to write this scene, so I asked my husband to buy a bottle of wine. I'm pretty sure he bought the cheapest wine ever made. We poured the wine into the glasses we used at our wedding (for our sparking apple cider), and sat down to try and enjoy it. I took one sip of that stuff and gagged. I ran into the bathroom and spat the stuff into the sink. My husband didn't like it, either. It was nasty. We laughed and laughed, but I was no better off from where I'd started. No WAY could I describe that stuff as tasty. What was I going to do?

I had a friend who loves wine. I recalled her talking about going to a winery, tasting and smelling the different wines and trying to guess what was in them, etc. I emailed her and begged for help. I asked her to please write me a paragraph of what a good glass of wine might taste like to someone who'd never tasted it before but really likes it. She asked me if it was red wine or white wine.

Me:

The conversation went back and forth. She pried out of me the necessary information, then wrote me a paragraph. And I used parts of that paragraph to write the scene. Whew! Thank goodness for friends. Here is the part of the scene from the novel From Darkness Won in which Achan first tastes the quality wine and likes it.
          [Achan] brought the bottle to his mouth, worked the cork free with his teeth, and spat it on the ground. He smelled the contents, expecting the briny smell of mead, but the tangy combination of currants and cedar filled his nostrils.
          Had Kurtz meant to give him wine? Achan had wine with dinner most nights, so it wouldn’t matter to drink some now. He took a sip. Robust sweetness filled his mouth. He swished his tongue around, tasting the flavor as long as it would linger. Blazes, that was good. Much better than what Lord Eli had served in Mirrorstone.
          Yet when the taste faded, the wine left his mouth dryer than before. So he took a longer drink and wished he had some food. The wine seemed to point out just how hungry he was. He should go back to his tent and eat.
          Instead he took another drink.

The moral of these stories is: Go the extra mile and do your own hands-on research. It's an adventure, it's usually fun, and it will in the end, make your story better.


What strange things have you done in the name of book research?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Win a copy of The Lost Girl of Astor Street and A Name Unknown for You AND Your BFF!

Stephanie here! If you didn't already see info about the giveaway on my author blog, I wanted to let you lovely writers know that I have a really fun giveaway going on right now for The Lost Girl of Astor Street and Roseanna M. White's A Name Unknown



Since our books both have strong themes of friendship, we thought it would be really fun to see you and your best friend! Send us a picture or share one on social media tagging both of us, and you’ll get entered to win signed, personalized copies of The Lost Girl of Astor Street and A Name Unknown for you AND your best friend. Here are the details:

  1. Snap a picture of you and your best friend, or get one of your old favorites. (For the purposes of this contest, your best friend must be human.)
  2. Between now and December 11th, share the picture in one or all of the following ways:
    1. Post it on Facebook and tag us. Here are our author pages: Stephanie MorrillRoseanna M. White
    2. Post it on Twitter and tag us. @StephMorrill @RoseannaMWhite
    3. Post it on Instagram and tag us. StephanieMorrill RoseannaMWhite
    4. No social? No problem. Email the photo to us (not as an attachment, but in the email, please) Stephanie(at)StephanieMorrillBooks.com
    5. Do all four to get entered to win FOUR times!
    6. Link to this giveaway in your social post to get entered an additional time PER post.
    7. Please make sure to tag us! If you don’t tag us, we don’t know you’re doing it!
  3. On December 12th, we will email winners to get names and mailing addresses for you and your best friend. Gift wrap is available upon request, and we will even jot a note to your BFF to let them know how much you love them! (Due to the harsh reality of international shipping prices, this giveaway is only available to U.S. residents.)
  4. Have fun!

Learn more about A Name Unknown or The Lost Girl of Astor Street here.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Take Our Survey and Win A Critique

Every year, Jill, Shan, and I get on the phone and do some planning for the next year. Last year, many of you were generous with your time and filled out our survey. That made a huge difference in how we planned posts for 2017, and we would love if you would please do it again.

And if you need some extra incentive, we're giving away thousand-word critiques to three wonderful survey filler-outers.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Why You Need to Step Away from Your Manuscript

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

On a whim, I opened an old manuscript the other day. The writing surprised me. In good ways and in bad. I felt like my sentences were too stunted, but the pacing was good. I'm not entirely sure I love the protagonist as she's written, but the first chapter sucked me in. And I think that's a good thing. Especially since I know the story better than anyone on the planet.

The experience got me thinking about how healthy it is to push a manuscript aside after it's been drafted. Not forever, but for a time. And I thought, today, we could talk about why.

For those of you who completed National Novel Writing Month just hours ago--CONGRATULATIONS!--and for anyone who's ever written their way to THE END, this one's for you.

I'm going to give you five totally LEGIT reasons why you need to step away from your first draft. It's possible that not all five will apply to you, but I'm guessing one or two will. And the honest truth? Any one of them is good enough reason to tuck those words away for a while.



1. You're tired. If you've been deadline writing or manically striving toward that ending, your creativity is exhausted. If you attempt to edit your story now, you'll catch some things, sure, but laziness will inevitably take over. You'll read your manuscript with all the feelings you had as you penned those words still fresh and bright in your mind. The sentences and paragraphs that you worked so hard on won't be doing the heavy lifting. Your already engaged (albeit tuckered out) imagination has expectations and freshly painted images plastered to its walls. You'll see things that aren't really there in your work. To reset, you need distance. You need space. You need to think about other things for a while so that when you come back to the page you can ensure the words really are doing their job.

2. Your story is your new BFF. All those characters you created, those set pieces you fell in love with, those scenes that made your heart flutter as you wrote them? You love them too much to hack them to bits. If you've been on a deadline or working to fill a quota, each word carries some exaggerated sense of value to you. It's true that every image you fought so hard to get on the page was vital for your story making process. But it may not be vital for the reader's story reading process and you're way too close to the creative side of this to be objective. Walk away, find a book to read, a Netflix series to binge. Beta read for someone. Pick up a hobby. Do your homework. If you must write, write something else. Let that be your BFF for a while. The time away will make you a better editor.

3. The well is dry. Sometimes when we finish a story, an influx of adrenaline catapults us forward and we think we can and should start editing immediately. Rarely is this the right course of action. And the reason is simple. You are out of good ideas, friend. If you weren't, you would have already fixed that plot problem you skated over on page 83. But the truth is, you've earned the right to be out of good ideas. You worked yourself empty. You left it all out on the field. Good job, kid. Truly. Now it's time to fill yourself up again.

4. Stories have a way of growing when you're not looking. I finished a new book not long ago and I mean FINISHED finished. Like, oodles of edits and beta readers and feedback from my agent and more edits. In all honesty, I thought the work would never end. But here's the funny thing: Now that it's out of my hands, I have this new layer I think I could add in that would deepen the world building and add richness to the characters. The idea fell into my head one day and I don't think I could have handled it when I was so immersed in tackling edits, but it's an exciting option now. Crazy, right? It's this strange phenomenon. When your brain is engaged elsewhere, when the book stops feeling like WORK, suddenly the details come into focus and it becomes fun again.  

5. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Sometimes. Now that your story is sort of completed (let's be real, first drafts NEVER feel completed), you owe it to yourself to figure out if you want to continue with this project. The truth is, sometimes we draft because the writing is good for us. The discipline is a necessary part of becoming a writer and you worked your tail off to acquire some. I'm proud of you. But now it's time to decide if you want to see this baby through to completion. The best way to figure that out is to put this thing you worked so hard to create in the desk drawer for a while. Neither your exhaustion nor your passion can be trusted at this point. Put the pages away. Set a time frame, say six weeks, and don't come back to it until then. Your own emotions will help you here. I rarely say that, friends, because emotions can lead us astray sometimes, but if you cannot find passion for this project that devoured your writing time for so long, it's okay to move on. If, despite its flaws and its gaping holes, you can't keep yourself away from it, you might have a winner here. At the very least, it would not be a waste of time to dive in again. Now, if you're working on a contract and a publisher has paid you for the book in the drawer, you're going to have to finish regardless. But if you're not there yet, enjoy the freedom that comes with being pre-contracted. It really is okay to move on.

Rumor has it that agents' inboxes industry-wide will spike in the months of December and January. Of all the excited NaNo'ers who've written 50k words in 30 days, a chunk will think their book is ready to be considered for publication. They're wrong. Every book needs to be edited. Yours does too. I promise. Give yourself a nice fat holiday break and jump back in come January. You and your manuscript will be better for it.

Tell me, do you have any experience with this? Did you NaNo this year? What are your editing plans?


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

How to Come Up with Story Ideas


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She had a podcast/vlog at www.StoryworldFirst.com. You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

I'm fond of saying that ideas are everywhere. Well, it's true. They are. It's all how you look at things. Get your imagination running high, then gaze around you and see where your brain goes.

There are more logical ways of coming up with story ideas, of course, and those can be fun too. In this Storyworld Shorts video, I'll share some of the many ways I've come up with story ideas and give examples.

And let me just say . . . the Venus Fly Trap is a plant that offers SO MANY IDEAS!






Here are some more GTW blog posts on coming up with new ideas:
James Scott Bell Shares His Process For Brainstorming A New Story
5 Places Ideas Come From
4 Questions To Ask Before You Write That Story
How To Come Up With A High Concept Pitch
What Is A Logline And How Do You Write One?
10 Story Models That Will Change The Way Your Brainstorm
What Do I Write Next?


Assignment time! Look around you. Find some interesting or strange object in your house and give me a "What if . . . ?" question about it. Let's see if we can come up with some fun ideas today.

Monday, November 27, 2017

When is the best time to go to a writers conference?



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.

I am often asked by writers, "When is the best time to go to a writers conference?"

My answer is always, "Now."

Now is the best time, because no matter where you are in your journey, there are conferences that are a great fit for you.



Writing conferences are all unique from each other, but most offer a combination of teaching, socializing, pitching, and writing time. Some of the larger conventions like Comic Con have writing tracks as well. These days, many conferences even have a teen writing track or are specific for young writers, like the Minneapolis Young Writers Workshop, Teen Author Boot Camp, and OYAN Summer Workshop, for those who have done the curriculum.

If you've been taking writing seriously for a year or two, then I suggest starting with an inexpensive, close-to-you conference. I've gone to smaller conferences twice before and here's what my experience was like:

Conference #1: The first time I went to a writers conference, I was 17. It was hosted by a community college, and I took my dad with me. I didn't know a thing about what to expect, how I should dress, or what I should bring. I paid to go just one day, and that was perfect for my level.

What I got out of it: This was my first exposure to literary agents, editors, and other writers. I don't remember learning a ton in my classes (though I certainly had plenty to learn) but I did leave with this sense of, "This is a real thing. People actually do become professional authors."

Conference #2: At my next conference, I was 22, and it was a few hours away from where I lived in Orlando. This conference was a little bigger, and I was a bit more savvy. I knew I would be pitching to agents and editors, plus I had to turn in chapters ahead of time to be critiqued.

What I got out of it: One of the editors really liked what I wrote and invited me to submit to her publishing house. I was encouraged by many who were there, and I learned A TON about the craft of writing. I had thought I was ready to be published, but after a few hours of a fiction writing class, I knew I wasn't. I also met my first writing friend, Erica Vetsch, who has now published approximately a gazillion books.

After going to a multiple day conference on my own and surviving, I felt like I was ready for one of the national conferences. I wrote Christian fiction at the time, so I joined American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and set my sights on going to Dallas the next year for their annual conference.

Which I did, despite being in my third trimester of pregnancy, and in the middle of a move back to Kansas City.

What I got out of my first BIG conference: I think it's beneficial to know how many other writers are out there, and being at one of the big conferences drives that home. When I wanted to slack off, I would remember how many other people had been in line to pitch to the same agent as me, or how the seats had all been full in the YA class I took.

I also met Roseanna White at my first ACFW conference, who has been my best friend for ten years now. (We were two of the youngest people there, plus we were sporting pregnant bellies and carrying around the exact same red leather bag.) Our friendship began with critiquing and encouraging each other and grew over the years.

I also met my first agent at that conference and signed with her several months later.

So the conference was definitely worth it for me, but unless one of these national conferences happens to be close to you, you should expect to spend at least a thousand dollars to go to one. The cheapest registration at ACFW this year, for example, was $575. That's if you are a member of ACFW, if you signed up four months in advance, and that doesn't include any extras like paid critiques or an early bird session. (Here's a full chart of their pricing.) On top of that, you're paying for hotel and travel, and probably several meals, although most are included.

When I was first starting out, my $99 day at the local community college writing conference was more than adequate for where I was on my journey. ACFW would have overwhelmed me, many of the classes would have been too advanced, and I wouldn't have been able to put to use the appointments with agents and editors, although I'm sure I would have found lots of value.

So if resources are limited for you like they were for me, I think it's best to save the big conferences like SCBWI, RWA, and ACFW until you have been writing several years, and you have a manuscript that you think is ready. Or is at least as ready as you can make it.

To figure out the best conference for you, think about your goals. Are you wanting to make friends with other young writers? Get critiques? Are you there to learn? To sell? To network within your genre?

And then turn to your good friend Google and start running some searches for writing conferences close to you. Or if you have an editor you like, check and see where they're going to be. There's a good chance you can find something close-ish to you that would offer some benefit.

Any questions about conferences that I can try to answer for you?

Friday, November 24, 2017

Creating More Than Just A Story

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

Posting a blog the day after Thanksgiving always falls to me and, in some ways, it feels like a futile effort. Most of you are enjoying your friends and family and a day away from anything resembling work. And, let's be real, writing can definitely resemble work.

I was fighting hard to get a book ready for submission when November rolled around, so I didn't participate in National Novel Writing Month this year, but I know only too well how it feels to be at the end of a long stretch of writing days, counting down the sessions until you can breathe again, wishing with every strike of the keyboard that you could find the passion that burned so brightly when you began, and feeling like every word you put on the page serves only to meet a quota.

At this point, it stops being fun.

I know. I've been there. But I want to encourage you. You're not JUST meeting a quota. You're not JUST fighting to get words on the page. You're enduring. You're pushing through the fatigue. You're working when your body says it's pointless. You're teaching yourself that you can do hard things.

And this truth is something that cannot be gifted by external knowledge. You can't absorb it by osmosis. You have to live it. You have to hit the wall so you can knock it down. You have to face monotony, so you can flex your muscles and turn it into the shimmering diamond of discipline. 

You're in the process of creating an author, not JUST a story.


The daily writers, the deadline writers, the "I couldn't stop if I tried" writers; all of us have to grow our endurance. It takes intention and time in seclusion (which might be the hardest aspect for some of you). But, like any discipline, if you continue on despite hardship, you will grow.

And there's this other truth too. One you must hold in tension with the grinding out of words. If you're doing the other part of your job as a writer--the living--those futile words you feel you're just throwing out there to meet some pre-established word count number? Those words might surprise you. 

Living has a way of planting seeds in our soul. Seeds of truth and experience and philosophy. Seeds of conflict and angst and the kind of confusion that writers puzzle out best on the page. Living has a way of infusing potential into words harvested even in the most barren of writing seasons. Writers who take living seriously fill their souls with so many rich moments that when they're forced to dig deep, they're just as likely to pull up a prize winning cabbage as they are a dreary, miserable weed.   

It may not feel like it at the time, but push through. Fight. Harvest words. Get them on the page. When you return to them, I wonder if you'll be at all impressed with what landed there? Maybe not. Maybe this sentence and that were about producing endurance. But THIS sentence? Maybe this one is worth holding onto. Maybe this one is worth examining more closely.

And you never would have written it if you hadn't flexed those writing muscles, dug deep, and pushed through when phantom voices were telling you to give up.

When you sit down to write, you're not just sculpting a beginning, middle, and end. You're building something much more powerful, my friend. You're creating a storyteller.

And THAT is worth a little hardship.

Because storytellers change the world.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

7 Lessons I Learned in Nashville


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She had a podcast/vlog at www.StoryworldFirst.com. You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

*I posted a similar article over on my author blog in which I also shared my non-writing-related adventures in Nashville and a lot more pictures.

Confession time.

When I heard that my book King's Folly had finaled for this year's Christy Awards, I was tickled, but totally not going Nashville. I really don't like award ceremonies. Don't get me wrong. This isn't about whether or not I'll win. It is a huge honor to be nominated. I'm tickled to have been nominated. But as an introverted person, sitting through a dinner and not knowing whether or not I might have to go up on stage and speak to everyone makes me a lot crazy. Add to that comparing my just-in-case-speech to that of every person who goes up on stage before I *might* have to go up is agonizing. Truly, anxiety possesses my body. So while I might look like I'm holding it together, inside, it's not pretty.

I'm a mess.

The only part of me even tempted to go the Nashville had nothing to do with the awards banquet and everything to do with what might be my only chance to ever meet Beth Moore, whom I absolutely adore. 

But I wasn't going to go.

Until my friend Mindy of the Quirky Faith blog said she'd go with me.

This changed everything. If I had a person with me--someone to remind me it's all good fun--I felt like I could handle it. So I changed my mind.

And I'm so glad I did. 😊

Along with this year's Christy Awards, there was a little half-day writing conference called The Art of Writing. And so today I wanted to share with you some things I learned on this adventure that fear almost made me miss out on.




1. Marketing/Social Media can be fun.
When I got to the airport, Mindy pulled out from her carry on her copy of King's Folly. She thought we could take pictures of the book as we went places.

Yeeah... I hadn't once thought about any of that! So because of Mindy, I took lots of pictures of King's Folly arriving in Nashville, renting a car, eating in various Nashville restaurants, posing with local graffiti . . . Good idea, Mindy. Well done.






2. I can be brave.
Just because I wanted to meet Beth Moore didn't mean I would. I might be scarred from my disastrously embarrassing meeting with Brandon Sanderson . . . Because I had a chance to meet him a second time, and I sort of hid from him . . . And I also had a chance to meet Ted Dekker, whom I love, and I conveniently didn't find the time. This had become a pattern that later, I always regretted. But I had Mindy with me this time, and she wasn't about to let me fail in this task. And of course, Beth is the sweetest lady ever. Not that I was a bit surprised. 😊 





3. A good friend can make hard things easy.
I sat with Mindy at the Christy Awards, and yes, my insides were going a bit crazy and I did mentally rewrite my speech once. But overall, I did so much better than I'd done in years past. I'd call this progress in a big way. It helps not to be alone sometimes. So if you have something hard to do, take a friend along for support. It changes everything.



4. Don't whine.
Carrie Schmidt, blogger from ReadingIsMySuperPower.org shared that our lives are rough drafts. Why whine about circumstances when your life is still working out the plot? What a great reminder for when things don't go our way. No worries. We're still in the middle of the adventure.

5. My job is not my life.
Author Chris Fabry said to "Stay connected to real life rather than the ivory tower." What fabulous advice. For writers, it's really hard not to get all caught up in what everyone else is doing. We compare and fall short and get discouraged. Then we work harder, telling ourselves that this time will be different. Why do we do that? Our writing is important. It's part of our hearts. But it's not the only part of our life. If it is, then we're in trouble. We need to remember that life is going on around us, and we can join in or spend our days dreaming about how we'll reach that ivory tower someday. And we'd be dreaming about a lie, because there is no ivory tower. Even those authors who have found what most would consider the top of success are still striving for more. Success does feel good--I won't lie. But that feeling doesn't last. You always want more. It's a trap. The sooner you learn this lesson as an author, the sooner you can let go of the lie, start treating writing like a job, and start living life.

6. I can write about other races or ethnicities.
Dr. Theon Hill . . . What an interesting person! I liked him very much. I was so glad to meet him and hear his wisdom. I took a few notes on each class, but I took three full pages of notes from Theon's class. He spoke on the topic of diversity in fiction, the obstacles in the way, and how we can help. So much wisdom, but my favorite nugget from him was that "Diverse stories are not just my stories or your stories, but our stories as Americans." He encouraged us all to write stories about other races or ethnicities because those are our stories too, as Americans. And if you live in a country outside the USA, look to your country's history. We need to respect that history. We shouldn't steal from another culture to make money off it, but investigate it by getting to know the people who live through it. Listening objectively to the people living these stories, then writing them truthfully. It's not going to be easy, but it's so important.



7. Tell the truth with beauty.
Theon did this in his entire talk, but the quote came from singer, songwriter, and novelist Andrew Peterson. He said, "Tell the truth as beautifully as you can." I loved that. We all have something to say. So why not find the absolutely best way to share it? Dive in to your craft, whatever it might be, and give it your all.

That's what I came home from Nashville ready to do.



Which of my lessons did you most relate to? Share in the comments.

And if you've learned a lesson of your own lately, feel free to share that too. :-)