Monday, December 7, 2015

Author Interview: Ryan Dalton and THE YEAR OF LIGHTNING

Hey all! Today I am so happy to have Ryan Dalton, author of the upcoming The Year of Lightning visiting my blog.  When my friend Kayla at Jolly Fish Press reached out and let me know about this book, I knew I definitely wanted to get the word out about it! I hope you guys enjoy the interview as 

Question: How long have you been writing?

Answer: I can't remember a time when I wasn't making up stories. When I realized that actual people wrote books on the shelves, it wasn't even a question -- I knew that would be me someday. At eight years old, I started telling people that I was going to write books, and I remember so clearly being confused about why they laughed. Even as a kid, I meant it very seriously.

(RuthAnne's note: I relate to this so hard.)

When did you get the idea for The Year of Lightning and how long did you spend writing it?

I keep a journal specifically for book ideas, and the concept for THE YEAR OF LIGHTNING sat there for at least a couple years before I wrote it. When the time came to pick a project, I read through every idea in the journal again, looking for something that would reach out and grab me. This idea leapt off the page. Even while I was reading through other iras, the central idea of LIGHTNING just kept coming back to my mind. I kept asking more questions and wanting to find the answers. By the time I'd written the full synopsis, I knew this idea was the winner. I had to see where it went. In all, I spent almost two years writing it before submitting.

The Year of Lightning is the first book in a trilogy -- did you have all three books mapped out when you began submitting The Year of Lightning?

About halfway through the first draft, I realized the characters and the world would have a lot more story to tell. So I started taking little breaks to make notes about books two and three, just enough to have a skeleton of the whole story. It turned out to be very helpful because I could plant subtle seeds in THE YEAR OF LIGHTNING. By the time I started submitting, I knew the major plot points of both sequels. It was so exciting to think about where the characters would go next, and I'm so pleased that I get to tell the whole story. My publisher has been incredibly supportive of the trilogy from the very beginning, which has made this whole experience even better.

Your cover is awesome -- did you get to have any input on it, or were you just pleasantly surprised when you first saw it?

Thanks! I'm so happy with the cover, and all the positive reactions have been awesome to hear. One of the reasons I love Jolly Fish Press is that they're collaborative. They want to work closely with the authors and make publication a shared experience. So before they started with cover design, they asked what I had in mind. There was a general concept that I thought would work, and there were a few things I definitely didn't want. I drew comparisons to some of my favorite books covers (such as SHADOW AND BONE), saying what I liked about them and why. Jolly Fish took my notes, combined them with their own ideas, and came up with something even better than I had hoped for. Just recently we've gone through the same notes/concept process for the sequel, THE BLACK TEMPEST, and I'm equally excited to see how that cover turns out.

Any other big projects on your horizon?

I'll be hard at work on the Time Shift Trilogy for awhile still, so I'm not exactly sure what will come after yet. I have lots of other book ideas and would love to tackle any number of them. Also, I've been working on a sci-fi board game that's about 80% finished, and at some point in the next few years I'd like to produce it through Kickstarter. Beyond that, I feel like the sky's the limit. I just love to write and create, I'm willing to do it for a lot of mediums, and I'm eager to see what other opportunities may come around. 

Thanks for answering my questions, Ryan! For those of you who are interested in finding more information about Ryan or The Year of Lightning online, check out the links and trailer below!

Twitter: @iRyanDalton
IG: @RyanDalton
Changing Hands Bookstore:
Barnes and Noble:

*Praise for The Year of Lightning*

“A rousing mix of science and fantasy that will thrill young and old alike!
Dalton blends wit and emotion and adventure seamlessly in a tale that keeps
your pulse pounding.” –author Ryne Douglas Pearson (Knowing, Simple Simon,

“Exciting plot, smart characters, and engaging prose: Dalton’s writing
jolts straight to your heart.” –Ellie Ann, New York Times bestseller

“With cheeky winks to classic time travel and a mind-bending central
mystery, The Year of Lightning moves at a pace that lives up to its title
and will keep your pulse pounding to the last page.” –Karen Akins, author
of the LOOP series

Thursday, October 29, 2015

favorite Halloween reads

Adult horror: Pet Sematary, The Shining, Firestarter, Cujo ... basically everything but Tommyknockers.

Stephen King is known as the best for a reason. His newer stuff can sometimes veer more toward the philosophical than the out-and-out spooky, so if you want to be scared pants-less, check out older stuff like Pet Sematary.

Just don't watch the movies. (And yes, I am including The Shining in that.) Stephen King short stories and serials make for some killer movies (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me) but for some reason the horror just doesn't seem to translate well.

Young adult horror: The Waking Dark

I read this story last year and I've thought about it, on-and-off, ever since. A small town is shattered by a horrific event--twelve people murdered on the same day, killed by people who then killed themselves. The story is told from the alternative perspectives of five teenagers who were witnesses to the murders that day as the town slowly devolves into paranoia and madness.

Young adult paranormal: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

This one is for those who only like a little bit of scary, mixed with a healthy dash of romance. Set in an alternative America where vampirism is an infection that is quarantined in "cold towns," this book follows teenage Tana as she tries to help get her infected ex-boyfriend to a cold town before he completes his transition and kills her. The only person who is willing and able to help her? Gavriel, a vampire Tana discovers tied up in a farmhouse where most of her friends have just been killed. I've re-read it twice since I've gotten it, and believe me, you want to check it out.

And last but not least, Jezebel's annual "spooky story" selection. For the last 3-4 years, Jezebel has had commenters leave their scariest stories in the comments section and selected a handful of the best for readers to shudder over on Halloween. Scroll through--there are a few years' worth to choose from and I promise you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

it'll be a hard day

Spoiler alert for Mad Max: Fury Road.

(Also, why haven't you seen Fury Road yet? GET ON THAT.)

(In which Max Rockatansky reveals his bonkers survival plan to Imperator Furiosa, who wants the group to ride further into the desert in hopes of finding a safe place to stay before their 160-days' worth of fuel runs out.)

Max: No, I suggest we go back the same way we came. Through the canyon.

Toast: It's open, we know that, right? He brought all his war parties through.

Max: So we take the War Rig and charge it right through the middle of them. We can decouple the tanker at the pass, shut it off behind us.

Keeper of the Seeds: Kaboom!

Furiosa: And how exactly do we take the Citadel, assuming we're still alive by then?

Toast: If we can block the pass, it'll be easy. All that's left are his War Pups, and War Boys too sick to fight.

Capable: And we'll be with Nux. He's a War Boy. He'll be bringing us home, bringing back what's stolen, like he's supposed to.

Nux: Yeah ... feels like hope.

Keeper of the Seeds: I like this plan ... we could start again, just like the old days!

Max, to Furiosa: Look, it'll be a hard day. But I guarantee you that a hundred and sixty days ride that way ... there's nothing but salt.

With writing, as with most things in life, there are moments where you've got to choose between unpleasant and way, way, way more unpleasant. And when you're faced with those moments, the key isn't which option sounds worse. It's which reward sounds better.

Rewriting half your book? Sounds awful, but you'll have something publishable at the end. Continuing to muddle along with something that isn't working? Easier at the time, and may work out, but if your gut is right you aren't going to end up with anything useable at the end.

And really, if Furiosa and Max can drive through THIS and get through it, you can face your hard day, too.

So get on it. And go see Mad Max, for crying out loud.

Monday, August 31, 2015

the long game

Writing for publication is a rough business. There's the indecision and self-doubt while you're drafting and editing. The rejection as you try to first find an agent, then a publisher. And then if you are lucky enough to get published, you just can't control whether your book sells well or not--which may affect your prospects for getting a second book published.

I am in the middle of that long process now. I've got an agent and I'm hoping for the best for The Girls of March. And once upon a time, before I had an agent, I was hoping for the best for Breaking Up, Falling in Love, and Other Chemical Reactions (previously known around here as Jayma Rodgers Goes To College, since I am such a FABULOUS titler). A little-bitty part of me is still hoping for the best for my little New Adult friends, to be honest.

But while I am hoping for the best, I've got to keep going--because publishing is a long game. Because I may not have a lot of control over this process, I can control my next step.

So I'm making new fictional friends and working on new projects and generally keeping busy. Outlining ideas and doing some free writing. Because someday, I might get a chance to submit a second novel--so daydreaming about the first one just won't do.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Writing updates: how I write a book

Deadlines and goals -- they really work! (Who knew, right?)

In the last two weeks, thanks to making a deal with Sarah that we exchange new words every Saturday, I have written more on my WIP than I have all summer.

For me, one of the hardest things about writing is always starting to write. I have major indecision factor. (You should see me at Baskin and Robbins.) I don't know which project to pick. I don't know where it should start. I've usually got an idea about who my main character is and what he or she wants, but their flaws are always harder to find. Wait, what if that other idea was the better choice? Better go back to that project ...

To date, I've written three books and started countless others (I hope to finish you someday, other projects...) And yet somehow, it still seems to take me awhile to remember that the process always ends the same:

You just have to start writing, and then keep writing, and then write some more. Because you probably did start in the wrong place and give your character lame flaws (oooh, she mispronounces words!) but the only way to figure out the right place and better flaws and cleverer twists and lovelier description is to have roughly 50,000 adequate words you can share with a critique partner and say, "So what do you think?"

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dear Future Mentees (sing it like Meghan Trainor, minus the innuendos.)

Hi. 2014 Pitch Wars Mentee here, looking to offer some unsolicited advice.

First thing, you just got some really great news, so take some time to celebrate!

Now, once you've gotten your fill of celebration, you've got to buckle down and get to work. You've got your edit letter and maybe even some writing assignments from your mentor. You might be ditching subplots or characters or even changing your ending. There will be suggested edits both big and small.

So take your mentor's advice and mull it over. You've got time, you don't need to start on Day 2 of the  revision process. It will be hard work but you can do it. And more importantly--you want to do it.

Coach Taylor is your mentor--you should BE so lucky as to have Coach yell at you.
Matt Saracen is you. Spoiler alert: You are awesome.

For almost all of you, there will be edits that make perfect sense the moment you hear them. They'll click so perfectly in your brain that, whether they are big or small, you'll be itching to get started on them.

And there may also be one or two that leave you scratching your head.

So here comes my first piece of advice: Trust the process.

Your mentor picked you because he or she LOVES your story. Your mentor gets your story. And no matter how long you've been writing, your mentor has been further down this whole Path to Publication Thing than you've been.


While you should definitely feel empowered to decline his or her suggestions, always remember--every suggestion your mentor makes, it's because he or she believes it will help your story. So if you don't agree, or if you don't understand, talk to your mentor. Hashing things out is part of the mentor-mentee process.

The mentors are volunteering their time! They were not conscripted into this. They want to help you. And while they also have lives, and jobs, and revisions of their own, they also want to hear from you. So shoot them an email and ask to chat it over, work on the suggested edits that you understand/agree with, and be patient. They will get back to you and they will try to help you see why they suggested A, B, or C.

There will be a few moments that feel like this.
But if you're very lucky, you're going to walk away from Pitch Wars with a partnership like this.
Minus the felonies.
Then, before you know it, the showcase will be here. This brings me to my second piece of advice: Chillax.
Yeah, you're the leader of the free world with the moves of Beyonce and an intergalactic pizza. HATERS TO THE LEFT.
I know that's going to be hard for some of you. But the fact is, the most important part of Pitch Wars JUST HAPPENED -- it was the revision process. By the time my entry went up on the showcase, my manuscript and query were 100% better from the first versions I sent Emily. And yes, it was a little hard to keep hitting refresh on my entry, hoping an agent would bite and realizing that my wildest dreams were not about to come true.

But do you know what happened next for me -- and for dozens of the other 2014 Pitch Wars mentees?

I queried my novel, just like you would without Pitch Wars. Agents started requesting partials, then fulls. And six weeks after I was despondently refreshing my entry, my agent was emailing me to set up a phone call. 

Yes. THAT call.

That can and will happen to soooo many of you! So take the revision seriously and forget about the showcase, as much as you can. Because the biggest prize in Pitch Wars? YOU ALREADY WON IT: the chance to fine tune your manuscript with a more experienced writer who loves the shit out of it.

Final piece of advice: Be gracious.

Be cool to your mentor, they want to help you! Be cool to Brenda and Nikki and the other folks running the contest, it is way harder than it looks (and let's be honest, it looks pretty difficult). And take the time to thank them--they won't get sick of hearing it!

Aw shucks
And finally, be cool to your fellow Mentees. It sounds easy, but trust me. There will be a moment when Molly Mentee, who you REALLY like as a person and admire as a writer, is getting 28 requests in the showcase and 14 agent offers and a book deal like six seconds after you send off your first cold query, when you feel like freaking the eff out because why isn't this happening for you?

RESIST THAT URGE (and never waste pizza). At the end of the day, you know better than that. Comparison is the thief of joy. Your journey is not another person's journey and someone else's success in no way reduces your chances of success.

The 2014 Pitch Wars Facebook Support Group (not its real name) is still going strong a year after Pitch Wars. These people are your people. Celebrate with them!

In short, you are the Dillon Panthers and Griffindor House wrapped into one!
You go, Glenn Coco!
Congrats again! I'm really looking forward to seeing the amazing things that you all do.

For more advice and encouragement from the Pitch Wars Class of 2014, check out:

Monday, August 17, 2015

Works in progress: confession time

Yes, I said "works." I am terrible like that, usually working on more than one thing at once. Typically though, there is a primary project. Lately, I have been completely torn between two. And yes, I know that I can write both ... but it really would be better to work on one to completion and then start the other.

Project 1

Project 2
I have been trying lately to focus on getting myself on a writing schedule. Luckily, my CP Sarah wants to start doing chapter swaps every week and my friend Suze wants to resume having writing parties. Having those kinds of deadlines is definitely going to help me focus.

Impatience has always been one of my worst qualities as a human and a writer in particular. I want to be at the stage in a new project where you're almost done and you're itching to send to CPs, to write up a list of problems that must be revised. Instead I'm at the very beginning, which is always my least favorite place to be. And being at the very beginning on TWO projects instead of one is making me tired whenever I sit down to look at my computer screen.

Luckily, my very cool former Pitch Wars mentor and friend Emily sent me this link, which has really helped me. On some level, I was already doing this when I wrote (finding the scenes I wanted to write most, writing them first, and then linking it all together), but seeing it described so clearly made something click in my brain. As a reformed pantser, I needed to see someone point out that a feeling of dread just means (1) I am psyching myself out of writing before I even begin and/or (2) I haven't found my magic cookie yet.

(Sidenote: This weekend I was sitting down to write my list of "fun scenes" to write, but then Spence wouldn't stop licking his paw, so I stopped to bandage it up with a rubber glove ... and was subsequently distracted for the next few hours by various items on my To Do List. Diego happened to see it and he took a photo that perfectly--and embarrassingly--captured my lack of momentum this summer.)
Diego to Hannah text: "The artist at work."
Yep. Fair enough.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

while I was away: Prague

I mentioned on Twitter that I felt like my trip was the "YA Tour of Europe." For the entire week I was in Scotland, I kept thinking about CODE NAME VERITY. In Prague, it was completely impossible to not be thinking about DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE. 
It was every bit as cool as Laini Taylor said. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

baking adventures

Tomorrow is the 24th of July in Utah, which is a state holiday commemorating the day that Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Tonight the Roommate and I are prepping to bake a series of pies, including blackberry and paprika peach. It's somewhat of an annual tradition -- what summer celebrations have you guys been up to lately?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

While I was away ...

First up, some Scotland pics

Donnottar Castle

On the way up to the highlands

Callanish Standing Stones, Isle of Lewis

Some fancy bay, Isle of Harris

The drive back down to Edinburgh

The view from the top of the Wallace Monument. Over my shoulder is where the Battle of Stirling Bridge took place.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cover Reveal: SWAY by Melanie Stanford!

You guys! Remember my CP Melanie? Well, her book Sway comes out this winter and today is her big cover reveal! I've read two versions of Sway in the course of critiquing for Melanie, and trust me, you guys want to get in on this Jane Austen retelling. Add it on Goodreads so you don't forget!

About Sway:

Ava Elliot never thought she’d become a couch surfer. But with a freshly minted—and worthless—degree from Julliard, and her dad squandering the family fortune, what choice does she have?

Living with her old high school friends, though, has its own drawbacks. Especially when her ex-fiancĂ© Eric Wentworth drops back into her life. Eight years ago, she was too young, too scared of being poor, and too scared of her dad’s disapproval. Dumping him was a big mistake.

In the most ironic of role reversals, Eric is rolling in musical success, and Ava’s starting at the bottom to build her career. Worse, every song Eric sings is an arrow aimed straight for her regrets. 

One encounter, one song too many, and Ava can’t go on like this. It’s time to tell Eric the truth, and make a choice. Finally let go of the past, or risk her heart for a second chance with her first love. If he can forgive her…and she can forgive herself.

Sounds awesome, right? And now for the cover ...








About Melanie:

Melanie Stanford reads too much, plays music too loud, is sometimes dancing, and always daydreaming. She would also like her very own TARDIS, but only to travel to the past. She lives outside Calgary, Alberta, Canada with her husband, four kids, and ridiculous amounts of snow. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

weekend plans

1. Catching up on the Hannibal season 3 premiere. This show is so good, you guys. How many times do smart people have to tell you before you give it a shot?

2. Making mini pavlovas for a family BBQ. Not going to lie, I am going to cheat on the lemon curd and just buy some. My grandmother actually had an amazing lemon curd recipe but it's a PRODUCTION. The next time my dad makes her fruit salad, I'll steal some for myself.

3. Writing.

4. Snuggling with the pets.

5. Buying a backpack for my upcoming Europe trip. Hoping this breakneck tour across four countries inspires my next LDS romantic comedy project (it's percolating in my brain now, but taking a backseat to the YA contemp I am working on.)

This summer has been incredible so far, folks. How has yours been treating you?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

reading roundup

I am in the middle of drafting a new project, and (as is my custom) I've gotten a bit stuck sorting out the stakes for my characters. So I've turned to reading, which usually helps unlock the creative side of my brain. Here's what I've been reading this weekend:

1. The Sky Is Everywhere

From Amazon: Adrift after her sister Bailey's sudden death, Lennie finds herself torn between quiet, seductive Toby—Bailey's boyfriend who shares her grief—and Joe, the new boy in town who bursts with life and musical genius. Each offers Lennie something she desperately needs... though she knows if the two of them collide her whole world will explode.

Join Lennie on this heartbreaking and hilarious journey of profound sorrow and mad love, as she makes colossal mistakes and colossal discoveries, as she traipses through band rooms and forest bedrooms and ultimately right into your heart.

I read this while visiting my friend's cabin at Fish Lake. The others went off to hike at Bryce and I stayed behind to read and write (I love Bryce, but I was in the mood for solitude.) Good thing, too, since there was some light ugly-crying during a particularly poignant scene. Highly recommended.

2. The Duff

From Amazon: Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper may not be the prettiest girl in her high school, but she has a loyal group of friends, a biting wit, and a spot-on BS detector. She's also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush, who calls Bianca the Duff--the designated ugly fat friend--of her crew.

But things aren't so great at home and Bianca, desperate for a distraction, ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out Wesley isn't such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she's falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

I won't lie, I was pretty disappointed by the movie. (It was fine, but don't hype something as the next Mean Girls unless it's actually funnier than Mean Girls -- the nostalgia gives MG the edge every time.) And it took me a few different tries to get into the book. But once I cracked the beginning, I was hooked.

Fair warning: If you loved the movie, just know that the only thing it has in common with the book are characters and premise. The plots are wildly different.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

the best date

Last week, Gentleman Caller came over to make me dinner. We realized, though, that his recipe was going to take an hour and a half, so we put all of his groceries in the fridge and walked up to the Middle Eastern restaurant by my house. It was raining so we crowded under one umbrella.

The restaurant was awesome, as always, and filled with golden light. Luckily we were able to be seated right away, even though we didn't have reservations. Afterward, we tried to stop at the bookstore on the way back to the house, but it was already closed. We decided to come back the next day and buy two books -- one for me, one for him, and then we'd swap once we were both done reading.

We went back to my house and watched World War Z with Spencer on the couch.

Oh, and one other thing.

Between Gentleman Caller coming over to my house, and us realizing we were too hungry for a home cooked dinner?

He proposed.

So that was the best date ever.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

the worst dates: a rundown

1. Root beer barrels

He kept dozens of root beer barrels (you know, those old-timey candies?) in his pockets. He'd finish sucking on one, immediately unwrap the next and pop it into his mouth. He never offered me a single one and kept them tucked into his cheek when we talked he just slurped around his root beer barrel spit.

2. The writer

I thought this one might be promising, because who doesn't want to hang out with fellow writers? As it turns out, though, dating them might be a bridge too far. When I told this guy I'd just finished a college-set romantic comedy, he openly rolled his eyes and said, "Aren't romantic comedies scraping the bottom of the literary barrel?"

3. The guy who bragged about sinking someone else's shot of getting into an MBA program.

4. The guy texted me to let me know he missed me after one date.

5. The special delivery

Once upon a time, I was in a sorority. As you may know from your own sorority days (or watching Legally Blonde), sororities hold dances once a semester. My sorority generally did a formal in the fall and a cocktail party in the spring.

The spring dance of my sophomore year, I found myself without a date so my cousin Alli and I decided to go stag together. On the drive there, my friend Sadie called and asked if her boyfriend (a Sigma Chi) could bring his friend as my date. I said sure.

Alli and I sat down to our dinners. Sadie, her date, and my "date" were nowhere to be found. They finally arrived forty-five minutes late with Sadie in tears. I pulled her into the bathroom and asked what was wrong.

"They stopped under an overpass and sold someone drugs!" she said. "I just had to sit in the car and watch!"

So that's how I ended up stuck at the Provo Country Club with a drug dealer.

6. The guy who I am fairly certain only pantomimed putting money in the bill fold, grabbed my hand, and dragged me out of the restaurant before the waitress came back.

7. The poly guy

This is another online scenario. I went out with this guy 3 or 4 times and he seemed great -- cute, smart, polite. On our first date, a random barista stopped by our table to tell us, "This may be weird, but you guys are an extremely good-looking couple." (Yes, I assume the guy asked the barista to say that when I wasn't around, BUT STILL.)

We were supposed to have dinner at my house one night when he texted me and asked if he could call me. This was worrisome, obviously, because people only call when there's something bad to be said -- and after 3 or 4 dates, there really can't be anything bad.

But it turned out, this guy was just confessing that he "wasn't a player," but he also "wasn't interested in monogamy." It took a few pointed questions to get him to admit that he wasn't merely saying he wanted to keep things casual -- he wanted me to be one of his many, many girlfriends.

Weirdly though, he didn't yet have ONE girlfriend, so talk about putting the cart before the horse.

Friday, May 1, 2015

interview: Patrick Muir and marketing

Next up on the interview series is Patrick Muir! Patrick and I went to college together and I highly recommend his advice. (I usually find myself asking for it every few months!)

Patrick has his MBA and has worked in marketing for several large corporations around the country. Patrick also spent several years in marketing with Shadow Mountain, a small publishing imprint that launches new authors and gets national distribution. James Dashner, Ally Condie, and Brandon Mull all started their careers with Shadow Mountain before getting picked up by larger publishers.

What was the most effective marketing strategy that a publisher could utilize?

Patrick: In my opinion the most effective strategy (whether at a small or large publishing company) is to gain distribution. The more book stores the product is sold in generally means more books will be sold.

What was the most effective marketing strategy that an AUTHOR could utilize?

Patrick: The most effective marketing strategy an author should focus on driving trial of their product. What I mean by driving trial is that the author should focus on tactics that get potential readers to sample the product.Those tactics should vary depending on the target audience and genre.  

For example, the author of The Happiness Project wrote a blog post everyday for a year about happiness. Readers could read sample her writing by reading her blog which translated into book sales. There are a ton of different tactics to drive trial. 

Is there anything you would tell a publisher or author to NOT do? 

Patrick: I would tell them not to schedule a book tour without investing significant resources into driving trial. A book tour is not a trial driving activity. Instead, it is an activity to connect with existing customers and further the relationship. 

If you were going to give an author fifteen minutes of your professional advice, what would you tell them to do?

Patrick: Ask yourself where in Barnes & Noble would my book sit, specifically? The reason to ask this question is to make sure you are creating a story for a niche audience. Don't try to write a book for everyone. It's easier to sell a book to an agent, publisher, and the end reader if the book fits into an existing customer group perfectly. 

If you have any questions for Patrick, leave them in the comments and I'll make sure he sees them! Thanks!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

reading lately: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

What is with me and the "ladies in peril" books lately? I dunno, but I definitely recommend this one as well.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins is a psychological mystery set just outside of London. Rachel, a recovering alcoholic and an unreliable narrator if there ever was one, rides the train to London every day. On the ride, she looks for a Victorian house that's not too far from the one she used to share with her ex-husband. Rachel loves the couple who lives there--she has never met them, but she has mentally dubbed them Jason and Jess and has filled in the imaginary details of their lives.

Then one day Rachel sees "Jess" kiss another man on her back porch. And a few days after that, missing posters start going up. And soon Rachel finds herself obsessed with figuring out what happened the night that Jess/Megan disappeared.

Rachel tells the bulk of the story, but there are also flashbacks from Megan's perspective--the woman who Rachel knows as Jess and who will go missing in roughly a year. Interspersed with these two narratives are chapters narrated by Anna, the woman who broke up Rachel's marriage and who now lives down the street from Megan and her suspected-of-murder husband.

I personally guessed the culprit fairly early on in the book, but there are enough twists and turns that I was never completely sure and definitely didn't know how everything had gone down. There were two or three big shockers that I didn't see coming at all. Definitely recommended for mystery lovers.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Interview: How to Utilize Social Media with Kristen Jolley

Hey y'all! Next up on the blog interview series is the lovely Kristen Jolley. Kristen and I have been friends for over ten years (yikes ... feel old yet, Kristen?) and she is the queen of social media. Kristen majored in Communication and has worked for both advertising firms, in-house, and freelance. Right now Kristen is focusing her efforts on marketing The Fix, a brand new business in Utah, via social media.

Q: What do you think is the most effective social media strategy for someone who doesn't have a lot of time?

Answer: Schedule your posts out over a two week period. Then you're not racking your brain and coming up with irrelevant posts. Be original, especially on Instagram. Your feed does not need to look like anyone else's.

Q: What are the benefits of having someone else handle your social media?

A: Chances are if you're asking for help, it's because you're admitting you're not an expert at something, which is okay. That person can make recommendations for advertising campaigns and "spends" so your money is allocated properly and not blindly.

Q: What do you think is an INEFFECTIVE social media strategy?

A: Unoriginal posts, aggressive posts, defensive posts, failing to proofread, and ignoring when your followers reach out to you.

Q: If you could give someone fifteen free minutes of your time, what would you tell them?

Social media has become necessary and integral to all brands.

One of the hardest parts of a social media manager or social media department is that anyone who has a Facebook account thinks they are an expert at social media, and maybe (just maybe) thinks they can do your job better than you. Some argue there is no wrong way to handle social media, whether professionally or personally, and that is drastically far from the truth. If I had to write a list of basic social media tips, they would be:

1. Find your social voice. Are you snarky? Do you use winks and exclamation points? Do you challenge followers to think or use their imaginations? Your posts are an extension of your brand, follow your brand to find your social media voice and then stick to it.

2. Have good manners. Social media provides real-time voice from you to your followers and vice versa. If they have taken the time to ask you a question, congratulate you, complain, or just say hello--acknowledge them! Whether that's a simple "like" or "favorite" or a comment or reply, it will not go unnoticed.

3. Experiment. While I believe there is a wrong way to effectively manage your social media voice, I don't necessarily think there is a right way. Finding out what works for you will take some experimentation, possibly a few failed posts, and slow growth. One thing I have found that works is not linking all your media accounts. For example, if I post something to an Instagram page, it does not automatically post to Twitter or Facebook as well. Rather, post the follow up on a different forum 6-24 hours later, as it serves as a reminder to read a blog post, enter a contest, etc.

4. Don't get too caught up in followers. New followers are great and we all love them, but what's more important is the interaction among the followers that you do have. I'll often come across an Instagram account with 1,500 followers. They will average 75-100 likes per post and a good dozen-two dozen comments. I will find a similar account with 7,000 followers and the exact same interaction. Did that account purchase followers? Maybe.

4B. To follow up on my 4th point, Make posts that encourage interaction. Ask followers to comment with their favorite top from your new spring collection. Ask them what they thought of last night's episode of the show that everyone's watching. Going out of town? Ask for restaurant recommendations. These posts are far more encouraging than, "Go read my new blog post."

5. Proof. Always, always proof your posts! Thankfully Facebook and Instagram now allow edits to posts now, which saves hassle from that little typo that slipped through. But surprisingly, I see bloggers and news sources make more mistakes than any other groups!

Thanks Kristen!

Guys, if you guys have any questions for Kristen, leave them in the comments and I will pass them along!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Interview: CP Sarah Clift

Hey all! I am trying something new with the old blog lately. I am going to be interviewing folks who might have some interesting perspectives on writing, publishing, editing, and all that good stuff. So to start things off, I'd like to introduce you to Sarah Clift, one of my two awesome critique partners!

(For those of you who don't know, a critique partner is a person who reads your work and gives you feedback before you put it out there in the world. They are invaluable for people who want to improve their writing skills. That being said, everyone has to find a style and group that works for them! I suggest swapping 10-15 pages for critique and then deciding how you feel about the other person's style, and vice versa. That is how I found Melanie and Sarah and they are the beeeeeeeeest.)

So here's Sarah!

1. What do you write?
My first novel was what I termed a YA paranormal, but years later, I still can't exactly say what genre it was. After that, I discovered contemporary, and I've written a YA contemporary and MG contemporary. I'll probably stay in MG for a while because I think inside I'm still a 12-year-old girl.

2. Where you're from, how long you've been writing, etc.
I'm in Northern California, and I finished my first novel in May 2012. I guess that's what I call my writer birthday because it was the day I proved to myself I could string together enough words to make a novel.

3. What is your critiquing style when you are reading for others?
It depends on the stage. In a beginning stage, I like to give a manuscript two reads. One time I read straight through, and the second time I go through and make comments on what I like and what's confusing. If a manuscript is closer to a final draft, I like to do some copyediting and make sure it's coherent. Something I've noticed is that sometimes I'll read something that's not my cup of tea. That doesn't mean it's a bad story, but maybe I'm not the intended audience. So I try to channel whatever that audience will be and make suggestions accordingly.

4. What do you like to get out of critiquing when someone is reading for you?
I like a reader to say what she likes and what is confusing to her. Sometimes it all makes sense in my head but doesn't come out that way on the page. I also like suggestions on how to make the plot better paced because that's something I always struggle with.

5. What do you find unhelpful in critiquing?
I don't respond well to people who try to make me feel dumb. I can deal with harsh criticism if it is dealt kindly.

6. How many CPs do you have? How did you find them?
I've had a few in the past, but you've been the only one I've maintained over the years (you're that awesome!). (Ru's Sidenote: Aw, shucks.) 

We met through GUTGAA, right?

(Ru's Sidenote: OH MY GOSH, I had forgotten how we met! Yup, that was how, haha.)

I think we were matched by Robin. Also, my dad is a writer, and we're always trading pages. I've had a good handful of beta readers too, and they're helpful especially at the end stages when you need a fresh set of eyes to make sure everything makes sense.

7. What do you recommend to writers looking for CPs?

I feel that for a successful critique partnership to work, you have to respect the other writer's talent and opinion. It sounds uppity, but if you feel you are further along in your writing education, you might not trust the opinion of the other partner. I feel beta readers are great regardless of how they match up to you in development, but to be able to trade critiques successfully, you have to have mutual trust and respect. That's why it's a good idea to do a test run of trading pages before you commit to a partnership. It's also helpful to have a partner that writes a similar genre that you write.

Follow Sarah on Twitter here!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Interview: CP Melanie Stanford

Hey all! I am trying something new with the old blog lately. I am going to be interviewing folks who might have some interesting perspectives on writing, publishing, editing, and all that good stuff. So to start things off, I'd like to introduce you to Melanie Stanford, one of my two awesome critique partners!

(For those of you who don't know, a critique partner is a person who reads your work and gives you feedback before you put it out there in the world. They are invaluable for people who want to improve their writing skills. That being said, everyone has to find a style and group that works for them! I suggest swapping 10-15 pages for critique and then deciding how you feel about the other person's style, and vice versa. That is how I found Melanie and Sarah and they are the beeeeeeeeest.)

Take it away, Melanie!

1. Why do you write?
To shut up the voices in my head. Oh, and because I love it.
2. Where you're from, how long you've been writing, etc.
I've moved around a lot- Saskatchewan, Ontario, Connecticut, Utah, and currently Alberta. I've been writing since grade two, when I wrote the 100-page masterpiece, Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Bloody Mary.

2. What is your critiquing style when you are reading for others?
My comments are whatever I'm thinking in the moment. And I nitpick at sentences, I can't help it. I'm slowly getting better at critiquing big picture, but it's been something I've had to learn. (Still learning.)
3.  What do you like to get out of critiquing when someone is reading for you?
Anything and everything. Whatever isn't working, whether it's a sentence, or the entire manuscript. Otherwise, how can it get better?
4. What do you find unhelpful in critiquing?
I don't think there's anything unhelpful (unless someone says, you suck, quit writing now). It can definitely be frustrating when you hear, "this isn't working but I don't know why" because I often don't know why either. But stepping back for a bit and brainstorming usually helps. And I love a critiquer who throws out ideas- whether I take them or not it gets my brain going.
5. How many CPs do you have? How did you find them?
I have three trusted CPs who are invaluable. One is a sister-in-law who is also an editor for a small press, the other two I found online, I don't even remember how. I've also had different beta readers throughout my many manuscripts.
6. What do you recommend to writers looking for CPs?
Put yourself out there online, and most importantly- offer to critique or beta for someone else. Give and you get back, and if you're lucky you'll find people you really connect with. :)

Follow Melanie on Twitter here!

Monday, April 20, 2015

job hunting advice from Ru

If you are an aspiring author, awesome! Go you!

Here's the thing, though. Don't mention it in job interviews.

And if you want to throw it on your resume under "Interests," fantastic!

But no detail. Please, please. No detail.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

unconventional writing tip numero dos: look for the absurdity in life

Yup, that's my next tip. Find the absurdity in the little things.

I've blogged before about how I think writers should go big when they're drafting. This is somewhat related.

Sometimes your story is just chugging along.  Plot Point A led to Twist B led to Revelation C just like you had planned. But even the most tightly plotted story can feel boring if there isn't a little bit of WTF thrown in for good measure.

Take Gone Girl for example. (Spoilers to follow)




What if Gone Girl had just been a story about a wronged woman who set out to frame her husband for her own murder? What if every scheme had been perfectly executed, and then deliciously foiled, with Amy and Nick cleverly outmaneuvering and remaneuvering (not a word and I'm keeping it) each other at every turn?

Would it still be as compelling?

Maybe ...

The thing is, when you ask people what they remember from Gone Girl, I bet they mention a couple of key elements.

1. The Cool Girl Speech

2. Amy's reference to women "cleaning and bleeding" in commercials, and how she thought about that when she was mopping up her own blood

3. The Amazing Amy books and Amy's deluded, enabling parents

4. The oddball relationship between twins Nick and Margo (her licking the rim of his dirty stein in their bar and saying, "Here you are, my prince" will be forever stuck in my brain)

5. The bonkers ending




(End of spoilers)

The twists and turns of Gone Girl are what kept people up at night, turning page after page, but it was the weirdness that made it stick.

Personal story time: A few weeks ago, I went to Aspen for a lawyer conference. As part of this conference, there was an optional service project. This is pretty par for the course with these types of conferences -- after all, who doesn't love to give back? Most of us signed up.

We were going to be cleaning a school and on Saturday morning we loaded up into a few vans and took off. A friend of mine, who had been on the committee organizing the conference, confided that when folks had begun researching potential service projects in Aspen, they quickly discovered that Aspen was pretty well set on that front. (Who knew? When you're a crazy expensive resort town, you tend to not have too many needy residents.)

So we drove to a slightly-less-wealthy town and pulled up to this preschool. And it took about five minutes to realize that, no, this was not a school for lower income kids. This was just ... a nice, private preschool. For middle class and wealthy children.

As the parent organizer handed out rakes and brooms, she explained that the parents really appreciated the help as most of them had two jobs and just didn't have the time to volunteer themselves.

So 20-30 young lawyers and their conference guests dug holes (for what reason?), moved rocks (again, why?), washed windows, and raked a Japanese Zen garden into the sandbox while a few kids zipped around on their trikes and their parents genially supervised our work.

And we grumbled about the fact that these parents probably should have just organized a weekend cleaning party themselves. Or hired one maintenance guy and patted themselves on the back for being "job creators."

And we grumbled about the fact that we'd taken vacation time from our jobs helping wealthy people to ... help different wealthy people, but for free.

As Diego and his boyfriend swept the road from the gate up to the playground (they were asked to sweep the road. really.), a woman came by with a water bottle in her hand and said, "Oh thank you! You have no idea what it's like to walk up this dusty road every day."

Even the woman realized what a ridiculous statement that was because after a beat of awkward silence, she turned around and walked away.

And when we were done, we packed our dusty, slightly sweaty selves back into the van and went back to our hotel to listen to an hour-long panel discussion about motion practice in court.

You know what makes this mildly amusing anecdote worth telling, in my opinion?

Its sheer ridiculousness.

It would be kind of funny if a group of teenagers had to rake leaves at a wealthy kids school for a punishment. It's REALLY FUNNY when lawyers do it because they were under the impression that it was a service project.

It would be a little funny to ask someone to sweep dust off a road--it's REALLY FUNNY when a woman in Hoity Toity, Colorado (pop 13,000 and not a real place) thinks walking on a dusty road is a hardship.

It's kind of funny if a service project was so unnecessary that organizers asked volunteers to dig random holes and move random rocks, but it's REALLY FUNNY when the volunteers have enough time to rake a Japanese Zen garden in a sandbox.

Those moments in life when things have gotten so ridiculous, you just want to laugh?

Remember those moments, and then look for places to put them into your story. It's the weirdness that will make it feel real.