Paralyzed by Perfection

(Post inspired by a #Pitchwars and @tammy_oja convo)

How do you know when to hit send?

It’s impossible.

Here’s the thing: You can literally spend 20 years polishing the same thing, getting better with every revision, pushing more with each turn.

Every published author I’ve known sees things a year later, two, five, ten..whatever. Things that once the book/story is published, they’d change. This applies to even luminaries like Tamora Pierce and Neil Gaiman.

The first short story I ever submitted for publication was picked up at the first place I sent it to. Knowing what I know now about the publishing industry, I recognize that 1. That project was limited in market. 2. It worked because the narrative arc was very personal, and 3. I used what I knew at that time about what that specific market was looking for, and what works well for the audience, to try to push that project into where I thought it had the best chance to succeed.

After that?

I had perfection paralysis.

I justified it in a million ways. I wasn’t ready to dive into a publishing career. I wasn’t going to put out less than my best. I wasn’t. I wasn’t. And then I blinked, and a decade passed without my putting out another thing.

If I query, I want to query my strongest project to the best agents. I’m talking those who rep people like Maggie Stiefvater, Victoria Schwab, Cat Valente, Seanan Mcguire, etc. And when I eventually do so, I will have easily 6-10 projects where, with some good editing, can line up for the market.

But if I don’t get past the perfection paralysis, they will never see the light of day.

There’s a point at which perfect becomes the enemy of the Done.

My boyfriend and I have been cleaning out the excess stuff in our apartment. Do we really need 350 pens/pencils? Probably not. That shirt that doesn’t quite fit right, I can send that to the local thrift shop.

He’s been working on the same box for over a month, breaking down various office supplies into specific categories. Ball point pens. Novelty pens. Fountain pens. Quill pens. Mechanical pencils, 2 pt. Mechanical pencils, 0.5 pt. etc ad nauseum. I wanted him to just count how many pens/pencils there were so the next time we’re tempted to pick up more when school supplies go on sale, I can avoid it!

There’s a point where being perfect is counterproductive. Where you’re further polishing something that is already golden.

The hardest thing?

Recognizing when you’re nearing that point.

We all want to put our best foot forward. But you’ll never be perfect. The hardest thing to do is to put yourself out there. Yes, they may reject it. But they may not. You’ll never know until you find the courage to hit submit.

So how do you figure out when it’s good enough, and silence the doubt that whispers that it’s awful?

  1. Great crit partners. Critique partners are rather different from beta readers in one key way: Beta readers should focus on how the story makes them feel. Their job is to make sure the story resonates on the emotional level. Does it feel like the pieces come together into a coherent whole, and if they react the way they’re supposed to? Then you’ve done a good job. Crit partners go further than that.   This is a fine art, not everyone can do it. Make sure your crit partner understands your vision for the story. If you mean it to be a thriller, but they think it’s supposed to be a romance with a suspense subplot, their feedback isn’t going to be as useful for you. They’re using the wrong lens for it. Great crit partners will help you find not only what’s wrong with a story, but how you might fix it.
  2. Alternately, an editor may be used for the same purpose, and a good one comes with the advantage of understanding the market you’re targeting. This is especially useful if you’re looking to self publish, or if you’re working in a really tight genre, like SF/F where a LOT of writers are writing, and few places are buying. Sometimes, they may even suggest you change major things about your novel, like adding a subplot or removing a character. They should also be able to explain why that would help the novel. Any editor who doesn’t explain the why something works or doesn’t isn’t objectively working on the material, but subjectively. That can work, but often leads to projects that drift into someone else’s vision, or don’t fit with their market. Editing is 40% gut, 60% knowledge, and the head needs to guide the heart.
  3. If you don’t understand WHY someone’s giving you that feedback, ask them for more clarification. Sometimes a suggestion won’t resonate with you, but it reveals an underlying issue that needs addressed. It’s always acceptable to ask for clarification. Most good editors/critique partners will explain why when they’re doing it, but sometimes it needs more digging to get to the actual issue, so don’t be afraid to talk it out further with them. Bouncing off each other often results in the BEST ideas!
  4. Most of all, know what you want your story to be, and how it fits into the market. If you can’t define the genre of it, at least in a broad stroke, and you don’t know what the core of your story is, you won’t be able to revise to create it. Keep that vision in mind as you revise, and use it as a target ONLY. It’s the goal, the dream, but you will never get it EXACTLY like it. Just make sure it aligns. The best novel, shined perfectly, won’t get picked up if the agents or editors can’t figure out how the hell to sell it. Better to put it out as strong as you, your betas/crit partners/editor can make it, test the query waters, and evaluate. Try it on your mid level agent list, the agents you’d love to  sign with but aren’t dream level, and see what kind of responses you get. If you get a lot of requests, aim it towards your dream agents, you’ve got this!

Why do you write?

A tweet @Nikki_Roberti said the other day, combined with some recent editing, made me think about this question.

Why did you start writing?

For me, it was when I was in 5th grade. I’d just moved to Texas from Ohio, and my entire world had been turned upside down over the past year. Between the move, my mom getting remarried, my grandfather’s death, and my best friend moving away (in reverse chronological order!) I was in a position where I had no real ties. I mean, yeah, I had my mom, but she was the only semiconstant, and frankly, she had other things she was focused on. We’d read A Wrinkle in Time for my 5th grade class, and I wrote this really Mary Sue story where Not!me (totally me) went back in time and saved her twin sister from falling down the stairs, using the tesseract machine. Very much based on my own life (I had a fraternal twin sister who fell down stairs when we were 2 and died. If you say sorry in the comments it will be deleted, I hate when people do that!! Unless you pushed her, you don’t need to apologize for it! I grew up knowing about her, and her death, the way others might grow up knowing the sky is blue. It’s fact. It’s not something that needs sympathy.)

But my teacher called a parent teacher conference, and I was CERTAIN I was in trouble. Maybe kids here weren’t allowed to talk about death, or maybe I had done such a bad job that I was going to be told never to write a story again!!

Instead, a woman who, to that point was an inscrutable rock who I thought hated me, revealed that she cried reading my story. Not because it was somehow an amazing piece of prose, but because she finally related to me, the stubborn, pain in the ass kid that I was at that point.

I realized, sitting in that stiff plastic chair, that words had power.

I realized, in that moment, that if I honed my words, I could not only reach outside of myself, but find others like me, who might feel just as lonely, alone, and lost.

Everyone starts writing because of something. Be it as a kid, as a parent, or as a grandparent… There’s something we want to capture. For me, as a 10 year old, it was that feeling of being half of something more. Every time I sit down to write a story, I am reaching into some part of my emotion, and finding where a squishy part needs to expand and grow through it.

A friend of mine recently saw another friend of hers lose a child. As an adult on the outside of the situation, my thoughts immediately went to that child’s young sibling. The kind of adoration that is heaped on the child who is no longer there. The idealization that people invoke the lost child with. And part of me felt worse for the sibling than for the deceased child, because they will always live in the shadow of the might have been. And yet, having been in that position, I wouldn’t change it. I started writing because I was emotionally processing a lot of that as I grew old enough to understand it. To a certain point, I think write what you know is right… not so much in, I know BBQ so I must write characters cooking it. But on an emotional level.

If you’ve never known loss, you’re only going to have that outsider’s view. If you’ve never known a deep faith (I haven’t!), your depiction of it is going to be inheritedly limited. There’s an old expression that those who read live a thousand lives in one. It’s true. Reading a good book lets us feel things we’ve never experienced, and put things we have into the context of what others have felt, making it easier to bear.

We all start writing for a reason. There’s an incredibly long journey past that. It discourages at every turn (the first writing convention I went to, the writers of a TV show I adored told the audience “Stop writing. If you can do anything else other than this shit, stop now and save yourself the heartache”. All it did was piss me off and make me determined to show them how wrong they were!).  My job, as an editor, is often to tell people where they need to work on specific aspects of craft. I deliberately don’t try to tell people how to change anything about that core concept. Because I know and understand that concept comes from their experiences. That’s the heart of the story. Everything else should work to grow/support THAT, never the other way around.

Scheduling, Deadlines, and Accountability

So @Jamie_Adams22 and I were talking on Twitter about scheduling tools and accountability, right after I’d had a client run late on an editing project (Her reasons were entirely valid, so I didn’t hold it against her).

I’ll be the first to admit, I hold myself more accountable to deadlines than I often do my clients. My parents were military, so I was raised with the philosophy of “Hurry up and wait”. AKA it’s better to be ready early and have to wait for your time than to be late. On time is late, to that mindset.

So the usual caveats apply here. Not all of this may work for you, or may work all the time. I’ve grown into some of these methods over time, and jumping headfirst into it doesn’t usually work out well. If you’re perpetually late, like my friend who always shows up to events half an hour late, this isn’t going to make you early. But over time, it might help.

  1. Figure out what you need to do. This might seem obvious, but one of the reasons people often run late is because they forget about all the steps in the process. For purposes of examples, I’m going to outline the process I generally suggest for those self publishing. You need to plot the novel, write the novel, revise the novel, send it to betas, revise based on their feedback, then send to your editor, revise, organize your cover, send to your copy editor, revise, plan a promotion campaign, send to your formatter, upload to various book sellers for preorders, do your promotion, and keep doing it, have a launch party, more promotion. Break out each step as much as you need to get a handle on what all is involved.
  2. Figure out how much time you need for each step in an ideal world, then add 25%. Why 25%? Scotty’s Principle. No matter what you think you CAN do, other stuff is ALWAYS going to get in your way. Technology fails, people don’t get back to you as fast as you’d like, illness, family emergencies, etc… Life never happens the way it’s planned. Plan accordingly. I can get most of my full MS crits done in 4-5 days. I allow 7, because if I’m early, I look like a miracle worker. Far better than being late. (Of course, now you KNOW I can work miracles. Just never expect them!)
  3. Set both final and interim deadlines-Many of the items above overlap in actuality. I use a few different tools to sort deadlines when that happens. I use Habitica for a running list of what I need to do, and their ultimate deadlines. I also keep a wall dry erase calendar for each month so I can quickly glance and figure out what I need to be working on (Along with a google calendar so it’s on my phone. Yes, it’s redundant, but convenient). Like, with MS editing, I get the books on Wednesday, try to have it read by the end of Friday most times, write it up on Saturday/Sunday, and then I have Monday/Tuesday for a quick look over/refining notes before I send them back.

    When it comes to my own writing, I frequently set a finished deadline, and markers at 10%, 25%, 50%, and 75%. This lets me know about when I should, based on my schedule and the word count, hit those goals. If it takes me a day or two more than anticipated to hit 10%, I know I should put a bit more effort to hit 25% on time, etc. I also track my writing in an excel sheet with a column of goal word count for each day beside the actual word count for the day. Like this:sample WC excel 90k

    I use formulas where all I have to adjust to set the goal is the total word count goal and the amount of time, and the rest of the numbers sort themselves out. (Maxa function handles the words to go so I don’t even have to mess with that. What can I say, I was bored in my high school computer class.)

  4. Once all that is set up, I keep myself accountable. I turn days red on the excel if I don’t make my goal word count that day. If I know I’m going to have a busy day where I won’t write, I will make sure before that day comes that I’m ahead enough to skip, and then any bonus words are just icing. I also know that in the first week or two of a new project, I’m more enthusiastic about it, and I write more on weekends than during the week. So I adjust my spreadsheet to reflect that. This usually results in my theoretically finishing about 5-7 days ahead of where I ostensibly want to for my buffer. This ends up looking something like this:
    sample WC excel 90k_after adjustments

    That repeat of 16000? Is where I’m out of town for 3 days and know if I get anything done, it’ll be amazing. But you’ll note 60k ends up earlier in May this way, because I add extra words before that and on the following weekend.

    Questions? Shout! I try to only update this thing when there’s something worth saying,so if you have things you’re curious about, feel free to ask, I’ll probably make a post about it! 😀

 

#Pitchmadness crits part 2-Advanced techniques

Now we’re getting into the more advanced techniques.

  1. Concept- You might wonder why this isn’t a basic thing, but it’s deceptively hard. Some concepts just obviously don’t fit with their age range. If the concept sounds too young or too old for the age group, it’s going to have a harder time selling. The line between MG and YA is especially tough, as upper MG and lower YA overlap. The best way to figure that out? If the story’s emotional arc is focused on the character finding themselves within a stable structure, like in relation to family or school, it’s probably MG. If the story’s emotional arc is focused on finding their place in an unstable world, and creating their own identity/what they want, it’s probably YA. (Obviously there are exceptions!) This is where being super familiar with the age/genre/subgenre you’re working in is so critical. If no one’s ever written an adult novel about a purple unicorn princess saving the Death Star, well, there’s probably a very good reason for that. Push the edges of your tropes, flip them and swirl them together, yes. But if you go too far outside your target area, agents and editors won’t know how to frame it, and so they won’t know how to sell it. (I blame this for why some agents tend to get a lot of clients but end up selling few books.) It’s a HARD skill to say a book is like X and Y but fresh because Z, and have them all be marketable comps. Harder still, doing that across multiple ages/genres. The tighter you focus, at first, the better you’ll be able to see where the already existing stories fit, and how yours belongs within that.
  2. Grounding in a scene- This one needed an example, but I didn’t think ungrounding something someone else published would be as useful as seeing something fresh. So I’m going to show you two different versions of a piece of a scene. One is the rough draft with no grounding, one is the edited version. I write very slim and then add texture/setting in editing, for the most part.

    Neither, of course, is a finished version. This was my nano in 2016, so I’m still finishing the story itself off. (I’d wanted to use a more edited scene from another project, but I couldn’t find  the original version anymore! Backups are important, guys!) This just happened to be a section with a chunk of dialogue, which I find is often the hardest thing to ground.

    For context-This conversation happens about a chapter before the first midpoint twist. The POV character, Alynia, was raised in the human world after her royal parents were killed. Cenyia is her best friend/body guard (and if I pull it off right, love interest), and they’ve just recently returned to the alternate dimension where she is the niece of the current queen. Her cousin, the Crown Princess Elleth, is gravely ill with a magic disease that they hope Alynia’s magic can solve. Bucaen is the man Alynia was betrothed to as a baby, in a political match.

    Version 1:

    Bucaen is waiting in the hall just outside the Court chamber. The cobalt blue sash over the silver suit looks fabulous on him. For the briefest moment, I want him to fall in actual love with me. When he sees me, he swoops into an instantaneous bow, as if he’d primed the whole time for just that moment.

    I nod, but the last thing I want to do right now is talk to him, no matter how nice he’s looking all polished up. It’s not even personal, but I feel like crap and I still want to try to practice working with my magic. There’s something about him I just don’t like, on a gut level.

    “I heard you were working out some of your details for our Betrothal, and I thought I might impose on a moment of your time. It’s rather important about the ceremony.”

    I glance at Cenyia, who shrugs slightly. “I have something I need to be doing, but we can walk and talk.”

    “Something more important than the ceremony?”

    I weigh my words carefully. What I want to say is too blunt, and I know myself well enough to know that impulse. “My first goal here is to save the Crown Princess. Everything else is secondary to that. Not only is she the rightful heir to the throne, and from everything I’ve seen, eminently well suited to the role, but she’s a delightful girl. I’m sure we’ll get to know each other in time, and I’m sure you’re a nice guy, but her condition is serious. I need to work on that, more than any of this other stuff.”

    “Your sacrifice and honor are noted, Your Highness. There are many who believe she won’t recover, however, and they need this ceremony to ensure the stability of the throne. You don’t understand the workings of the court yet, nor would any expect you to. But I assure you, this is just as much a potential matter of life and death as your attempts to save the Crown Princess.””

    Major issues here, right? There’s telling, the dialogue is a bit too on the nose, and it doesn’t give you much of a sense of this POV character. It has attitude, but not much of it is focused.

    So I gave it a quick polish.

    Version 2:

    A flash of silver suit and cobalt sash against the far wall catches my attention as I emerge from the Court Chamber. Bucaen’s bow is swift, and when he looks up, the amused glimmer in his dark eyes almost makes me want him to fall in love with me.  There’s no doubt he’s handsome, but the flutter dies down almost as soon as he walks towards me.

    I nod, letting the smile stay on my face. The competing demands of Elleth’s illness and my magic training pull my steps automatically towards that end of the castle, so hopefully he can make this short.

    His smile is shark like, all teeth and flash. It sends chills down my spine. “I heard you were working out some of your details for our betrothal, and I thought I might impose for a moment. It’s rather important about the ceremony.”

    A quick glance at Cenyia leaves me with no better answer. He’s no threat, at least, but that doesn’t help much.“We can walk and talk. I’m afraid my day is quite busy.” I try to keep the tone light, but I can tell from my bodyguard’s wince that I’ve failed.

    “Something more important than the ceremony?”

    A deep breath centers me and lets me resist my sharper impulsive words. I lick my lips hesitantly, then pause and look him in the eyes. I see no malice there, but his calculating gaze seems to weigh my every movement.  “My first goal here is to save the Crown Princess. Everything else is secondary to that.” I glance down the hall leading towards her rooms, making sure the door was safely closed. “Not only is she the rightful heir to the throne, and from everything I’ve seen, eminently well suited to the role, but I’m growing fond of her.”

    At that, he scowls. Feeling guilty, I hastily dig for something kind to say about him. “I’m sure we’ll get to know each other in time. Once her condition stabilizes, I promise I will devote an equal balance of time to our betrothal and getting to know you.”

    “Your sacrifice and honor are noted, Your Highness.” He bows slightly, the sly smile on the edge of his mouth, making me wonder which part he views as a sacrifice. “There are many who believe she won’t recover, however, and they need this ceremony to ensure the stability of the throne. You don’t understand the workings of the court yet, nor would any expect you to. But I assure you, this is just as much a potential matter of life and death as your attempts to save the Crown Princess.”

    His words sting, but I can’t argue the truth behind his spiked words, even if it was classic mansplaining. “Noted. I appreciate your advice and will take it into consideration. You’ll excuse me.”

    Not perfect, obviously, there’s a lot of I still going on, but it gives you a better idea.. This also has rather long sentences still, which brings me to…

  3. Varying sentence structures- It’s easy to write long sentences, especially in rough drafts. I tend to err on the side of adding a bit more detail on a section while initially editing, then I go through and pare the spare words out after. I’ll also have better luck telling where a one or two worth plithy remarks will land well once I have an idea of the flow of the rest of the scene. Like, in the case of the above scene, the next piece gets more interactive as she’s fighting against a problem with her magic, so I didn’t want to get  too into the physical details here. The next section more than has it covered. Short, precise sentences balanced against longer, fluid sentences act almost like music. You need the slow bits to make the fast bits stand out, and the fast bits to make the slow bits get a move on.

Any questions,or other areas you’d wanted covered but I didn’t get to?

If you got picked for Pitchmadness, congratulations! If not, don’t give up. There were easily 300 I could have picked based on the overall writing, and easily 100 I could see as completely polished and ready to go based on their entry. You didn’t make it easy for the judges, and I can’t wait to see where you take your stories from here. Keep growing, keep pushing yourself to improve with every setback. Rejection is everywhere in this industry. Even once you get an agent, you’ll get rejections from editors. Even once you have a book deal, you’ll have readers/reviewers who reject it, or give it bad reviews. It’s subjective, every bit of it. Sometimes you will have to compromise to get your work out there, sometimes you will have to stand alone and shout into the void for what feels like forever. But don’t give up. You’ve got this. And I’ll be cheering you all on!

#Pitchmadness General crits

*NOTE BEFORE WE BEGIN

Keep in mind, this is my opinion only, and this is an incredibly subjective process-Much like the rest of publishing. And NONE of this is meant to call anyone out (I’m deliberately NOT mentioning anything only one person did.). Remember: All the good stuff is about YOUR MS. The bad stuff is about someone you don’t like’s.

I’m not answering comments  that seem to relate to individual entries. (It’s happened in the past on these posts, so I’m just throwing it out there ahead of time)

***

I look at the pitch last thing. For me, the writing is making 5/6th of the decision for me. The pitch is just to see what the overall concept is, I don’t care if the pitch is well written as long as the concept is there/workable. Then I glance at the age/word count to make sure if they’re compatible together with the writing. The ones that hit all the right areas? Highest marks. There were some common writing aspects that worked against you, and while I tried to get as many of you as possible who’d asked personal feedback, there’s just not enough hours in the day with the dayjob in the way. So I’ve rounded up the following for you, if you have questions, shout in the comments. I won’t be able to see your entries now, the teams are in there making their choices and the key was handed over, so I can’t give you personal feedback. If you still want personal feedback, check out Chimera, we’ll work something out.

  1. Let’s start with the easiest: Things that were way outside the rules-Coloring books, picture books, nonfiction, things that would get an X rating, and combinations thereof. Dude, this is a fiction contest limited to specific genres/ages, come on! Also some people entered more than one story. We noticed, accepted their first entry only, and disqualified the rest. (There were duplicates of the same entry, the duplicates were deleted as irrelevant).
  2. Some projects were way outside their age/genre’s word count range (This is my usual reference). A little off isn’t a big deal, but when you’re far off, it usually indicates other issues.
  3. If  it’s too low, either there’s not enough plot to support the story, or there’s not enough description/sensory information/internal monologue. I draft very light myself, hitting the main events, tying them lightly together, and mainly focusing on emotional twists and dialogue. Then I fix the plot first, and add in all the rest.
  4. Opposite, cutting, look first for scenes you don’t need. Do you REALLY need 3+ POVs? Probably not. Also make sure you’re not dragging on too far after the climax, or starting too soon before the inciting incident. Then check for redundant words and passive phrasings. Had, was, possibly was going to.. Anything where there’s a more active, succinct way to phrase it, go with the active way. This post from pitchwars might help on that, and while you’re at it, there’s a lot of other advice from this past Pitchwars on this tag.
  5. Speaking of passive voice-Especially if your character is sitting, waiting, or engaged in an ongoing action that doesn’t require their focus, watch their internal monologue for passive phrasings. Waking up, births, planes taking off/landing, they’re common starts, and all very prone to this problem.
  6. Then there’s the opposite-Throw the characters into a really intense situation. They’re running, they’re panicking, they’re hurt or being attacked. Well, there’s only one problem. We don’t know your character enough yet to CARE that this is going on. The idea of starting in the middle of action, in media res, is to hook the reader. Problem being? If your hook doesn’t give the reader a piece to empathize with, we’re desensitized, and the action alone isn’t going to get readers turning the page.
  7. If your character doesn’t notice something, and we’re in their POV, don’t mention it. Think of it like a camera. It can only focus on what’s in front of it, and you can control where it moves/what it centers on. Use that to your advantage. Center on what’s going to create the strongest effect.
  8. Onomatopoeia, while fun, are often distracting in an opening. Especially when capitalized/repeated. Use with extreme caution (MG can get away with it more.)

    MORE TO COME: I have a couple advanced techniques I want to show  you guys examples for, but I don’t have the right file with me. I’ll get that up ASAP, keep an eye out.

Writing is hard on the ego. It really is. But developing a thick skin will be important. Finding the agent is only a one step on the journey. You will still have rejection-from editors, from reviewers, from the marketing people, etc. If you ever want to make yourself feel better, go read the one star reviews of a popular/successful author. It’s a marathon, and there will always be obstacles and negatives. The authors who make it? Persevere.

Questions so far? Shout in the comments. 🙂 I love helping you all, it’s what drives me to do these contests and dedicate extra time to it. It’s fun, and I love how excited everyone is.

Happy Book Birthday @BrendaDrake and Guardian of Secrets!!

Guardian of Secrets by Brenda Drake | Release Day Launch | JenHalliganPR.com

We’re celebrating the release of Brenda Drake’s GUARDIAN OF SECRETS (Library Jumpers #2), today! Check out the teaser excerpt, and be sure to enter the giveaway via Rafflecopter below! I really can’t emphasize how much I love this series. Gia is smart, tough, and the world of Library Jumpers pulls out the best of her. The stakes just keep going up! When I finished reading this, I almost screamed, I wanted the next one SO BADLY! (It hadn’t even been written yet at that point!! Your wait shouldn’t be nearly so torturous!)

 

GUARDIAN OF SECRETSGuardian of Secrets by Brenda Drake | JenHalliganPR.com
(Library Jumpers #2)
by Brenda Drake
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication Date: February 7, 2017

Being a Sentinel isn’t all fairytales and secret gardens.

Sure, jumping through books into the world’s most beautiful libraries to protect humans from mystical creatures is awesome. No one knows that better than Gia Kearns, but she could do without the part where people are always trying to kill her. Oh, and the fact that Pop and her had to move away from her friends and life as she knew it.

And if that isn’t enough, her boyfriend, Arik, is acting strangely. Like, maybe she should be calling him “ex,” since he’s so into another girl. But she doesn’t have time to be mad or even jealous, because someone has to save the world from the upcoming apocalypse, and it looks like that’s going to be Gia.

Maybe. If she survives.

Thief of Lies (Library Jumpers #1):

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Guardian of Secrets (Library Jumpers #2):

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes

Excerpt from GUARDIAN OF SECRETS

She did a U-turn and drove off. I sprinted to the area where I spotted the lightning. A shadowed figure sat on a white bench near the water. Another flash of light kissed the sky and illuminated Nick.

Since discovering he was a wizard, Nick struggled with his new magic. And he was careless. Anyone could spot him out here. How would he explain it to someone who was human and not from the Mystik realm? I couldn’t imagine how it felt to have that much power. Unlike him, I was a Sentinel. I had little magic and relied on my battle training to best wizards and other-world creatures. He only needed to shock or electrocute his adversaries.

“What exactly are you doing?” I asked, approaching.

He almost fell off the bench. “Shit, Gia. Don’t sneak up on a person like that.”

“Seriously, Nick? What are you doing? Someone might see you, and then we’d be discovered.”

“Just leave me alone.”

“I’m not going to just leave you alone.” I sat down on the bench beside him. A light breeze swept loose strands of my hair across my face. The briny smell of the ocean filled my nose. “Talk to me. You’re my best friend, Nick. I’m here for you.”

He formed an electric charge on his palm. I created my pink globe and tossed it on his hand, snuffing out the charge.

He made another electric ball and I cast another globe at it.

“Quit doing that.”

“You stop it.”

“I get it. Your globe is badass. It can counter magic and shield people, but it makes you weak. I can do this all night and wear you out.”

“You’re not nice.”

He buried his face in his hands. The knuckles on his right one were torn, with blood coagulating around the wounds. “I don’t know what’s happening to me. I can’t stop myself. I know I’m being mean to Deidre, to my parents…to everyone.”

“You haven’t been that mean to me, yet. That has to say something. I’m the most annoying one of the bunch.”

He snorted. “Did you just snort?”

“No.” He looked startled. “It was a sneeze.”

“I think you snorted.”

His face brightened. “I know what you’re trying to do. And it’s working.”

“I’m not trying to do anything. That was a full-on snort.” I wrapped my arm over his back and watched the water lap against the retaining wall in front of us. “I know you can’t see a therapist for this, ’cause what would you say? That you just found out you’re the son of the most evil wizard of the Mystik world and the curers recently released your magic?”

He gave me a half smile. “Yeah, that might not go over too well.”

“Or maybe you could. They’d think you were delusional, and you’d score some drugs.”

“Drugs make me nauseous.”

He stared at his hands, and I stared at the water, searching for the right words to say. “This has to be tough for you. I get it. I’ve been there. It’ll take time to adjust. How about I be your counselor? Anytime you feel anxious or angry, you call me and we’ll punch some bags or whatever. It always helps me to relax. Plus, my services are cheap.”

“Violence would make you relax.” He was pleased with his retort and laughed, which was followed by another snort.

Be sure to add GUARDIAN OF SECRETS to your Goodreads to-read list,
and grab your copy today!

Guardian of Secrets by Brenda Drake | JenHalliganPR.com

Brenda DrakeAbout Brenda Drake

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest | Instagram

Brenda Drake is a New York Times bestselling author of Thief of Lies (Library Jumpers #1), Guardian of Secrets (Library Jumpers #2), Touching Fate (Fated Series #1), and Cursing Fate (Fated Series #2). She grew up the youngest of three children, an Air Force brat, and the continual new kid at school. She hosts workshops and contests for writers such as Pitch Wars and Pitch Madness on her blog, and holds Twitter pitch parties on the hashtag, #PitMad. When she’s not writing or hanging out with her family, she haunts libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops, or reads someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment). Look for her upcoming novels, Thunderstruck, Seeking Fate (Fated Series #3), and Assassin of Truths (Library Jumpers #3) coming soon from Entangled Teen.

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Happy book birthday @HLVanFleet & Reckless Hearts!

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Today we have the release blitz for Reckless Hearts by #pitchwars mentor Heather Van Fleet! Check out the release day festivities and grab your copy today!! 

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About RECKLESS HEARTS:

Between boot camp and two TOD’s in Iraq, my buddies Max, Gavin and me have been through some serious hell. So the last thing I ever expected was to find the biggest challenge of my life back home.

My girlfriend died. I couldn’t even attend her funeral, let alone tell her goodbye or that I’m sorry I wasn’t there like I should’ve been.

But she left me a gift. The best and scariest one I could’ve ever asked for. One I didn’t think I could handle…until the day I saw her tiny blues looking up at me in that airport. Chloe.

Now here I am, raising my baby girl—with the help of my two best friends. Things couldn’t be better. Until she walked into my life.

All I wanted was a nanny. Someone to take care of my girl when I couldn’t. What I didn’t count on was Addison, the brown-eyed temptress with a body of sin, and everything I didn’t need, but suddenly wanted.

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Exclusive Excerpt:

He answered on the third ring. “Hey, Gav. You busy?”

“Not Gav.”

My face warmed at the sound of Collin’s voice.

“You there?”

“Um, yes. But I need to speak with Gavin, please.” Keep breathing, keep calm. You’ve got this.

“But I need to talk to you first.”

I clenched my teeth. “May I talk to him, please?”

“Nope.”

I threw my head back against the couch and groaned. “Why not?” If he was going to be short with his answers, I would be short with my questions.

“Need to talk to you about something first. Told you that.”

Could’ve sworn I heard the words Needs to eat your pussy is more like it in the background, but my mind was scrambling like the eggs I’d cooked for breakfast.

“Shut up, asshole,” Collin barked.

I spun a loose string around my finger. “What did you just say to me?”

Total déjà vu.

The wind slapped against his speaker. “Are you driving?” I unraveled the string from my finger and bounced my knee. “Because in the State of Illinois, it’s illegal to drive and talk on a cell phone unless it’s hands free.”

“Damn it, no. She’s putting that shit in her mouth.” He grumbled something else, and the sound of baby giggles tugged on my already floppy heartstrings.

I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about Chloe. I’d only been around her twice, but I kind of missed the little thing.

“Not driving. Just playin’ at the park.”

Playing at the park. Why did the image make me grin? Collin pushing Chloe in her swing, her little baby legs bouncing up and down as he did.

“Why are you calling Gavin anyway?”

“None of your business.” My smile fell. “Can you just put him on?”

“I told you I needed to talk first.”

I rolled my eyes. “Fine. Then talk.”

“Gonna take you out tonight.”

Shock pulled me into an upright position, and I stood so fast that a pile of clean towels fell to the floor. “Um, take me out?” I scrambled to pick them up.

“Gonna apologize. Again. Buy you food, return your sweater too. If you have plans, then cancel them.”

“Uh, no. Don’t think so.” At the simple thought of seeing him again, my stomach clenched in both excitement and unease. “You’re not going to pull that in-charge bullshit on me. And besides, what makes you think I want to see you anyway?”

“You don’t wanna see me, sweetheart?”

I slapped my hand over my eyes. Sweetheart? Seriously? “No. I don’t want to see you, pumpkin. Not when you got me fired from my job the other night with your ultimate-fight-club thing.” I blew out a quick breath. “Besides, I just…can’t.”

“I need a better reason.”

“Are you serious right now?” What was with this guy and his incessant need to be an asshole?

“Dead serious.” He laughed. “I’ll be by your apartment at six to pick you up. Dress casual. Gonna take you to dinner, and then we’re gonna talk. You’re going to get a free meal and an apology. Can’t get much better than that, am I right?”

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About Heather Van Fleet:

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Heather Van Fleet is stay-at-home-mom turned book boyfriend connoisseur. She’s a wife to her high school sweetheart, a mom to three little girls, and in her spare time you can find her with her head buried in her Kindle, guzzling down copious amounts of coffee.

Heather graduated from Black Hawk College in 2003 with an associate degree and has been working in the publishing industry for over five years. She is represented by Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary.

 

Connect with Heather:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/authorheathervanfleet

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/HLVanFleet

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hvfwrites/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/heath1005/

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HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY: Some Kind of Magic, by @Maryannmarlow

Some Kind of Magic by Mary Ann Marlowe I’m thrilled to be taking part in Mary Ann Marlowe’s Release Blitz for her debut, SOME KIND OF MAGIC! Check out the teaser excerpt, and be sure to enter the giveaway below. This looks so fun, a bit of escapism amidst the clusterfuck that is the world currently. (Also, any typo errors below are mine, the damn HTML the blitz service provided converted some elements wrong, and it was late when I was formatting this.)

SOME KIND OF MAGICSome Kind of Magic by Mary Ann Marlowe | JenHalliganPR.com by Mary Ann Marlowe Publisher: Kensington Publication Date: January 31, 2017

“An amazing first novel.” —Sydney Landon, New York Times bestselling author In this sparkling debut novel, Mary Ann Marlowe introduces a hapless scientist who’s swept off her feet by a rock star—but is it love or just a chemical reaction?… Biochemist Eden Sinclair has no idea that the scent she spritzed on herself before leaving the lab is designed to enhance pheromones. Or that the cute, grungy-looking guy she meets at a gig that evening is Adam Copeland. As in the Adam Copeland international rock god and object of lust for a million women. Make that a million and one. By the time she learns the truth, she s already spent the (amazing, incredible) night in his bed. Suddenly Eden, who’s more accustomed to being set up on disastrous dates by her mom, is going out with a gorgeous celebrity who loves how down-to-earth and honest she is. But for once, Eden isn’t being honest. She can’t bear to reveal that this overpowering attraction could be nothing more than seduction by science. And the only way to know how Adam truly feels is to ditch the perfume—and risk being ditched in turn. Smart, witty, and sexy, Some Kind of Magic is an irresistibly engaging look at modern relationships why we fall, how we connect, and the courage it takes to trust in something as mysterious and unpredictable as love.

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Excerpt from SOME KIND OF MAGIC

I scanned the rest of the room. I wasn’t surprised to see he had a turntable. Micah had been buying vinyl for years. An entertainment unit held a wide-screen TV and a stack of DVDs. I walked over to check out his movie collection. A Netflix envelope sat on top, and I read the address. The name rang a bell.
Adam Copeland?
Then I remembered. Stacy and Kelly had crushed on a rock singer with the same name for a few weeks last summer, another impossibly hot guy with red hair. No, wait, that was a different band. I could never keep their celebrity crushes straight. My eyes went wide. What if this was that same guy? They would die. He was a musician, after all. A wave of nausea crested as I took in my surroundings. The guy certainly had money. Adam glanced up from a stack of records and caught me staring at him. “What?”
“Your name is Adam Copeland?” My mind raced. The apartment was his parents’, so the money was probably his parents’, too. If he was a rock star, wouldn’t he have some lavish penthouse overlooking Central Park? He went back to flipping through albums, nonplussed. “Oh, yeah.”I narrowed my eyes. If I asked him straight up, he’d think I was crazy, so I casually sauntered over to the side of his bed and leaned back, facing him. I picked at the hem of my shirt, and then, as though I was teasing, I tested the waters.
“So, does everyone ask you if you’re any relation to that guy from that band?”
“Huh?” He pulled out a Van Morrison album and then dropped it back down, still on the search for whatever he was looking for. Then it hit me.
“Oh, God. I’m sorry. It must be an incredibly common name.” He froze in place like a deer caught in the headlights, like he had no idea what I was talking about. This was embarrassing. Awkwardly, I fumbled for an explanation, rambling.
“You know that band? They have a song that gets played about a million times an hour.” On the spot, I couldn’t even remember the band’s name. I scraped my brain, tapping my fingers on the bed post. It came to me out of nowhere.
“Walking Disaster!”
Adam rolled his eyes.
Riiiight.” He settled on an album and slid the vinyl record from the sleeve. I hoped I hadn’t offended him somehow. Maybe it was an irritating comparison. If someone famous had my name, I’d find it annoying. What was I thinking? As if some famous musician would just hang out at a club and buy me beers. And flirt. He’d definitely been flirting with me. Guys within my limited reach rarely bought me beers and flirted. How much chance would I have with a freaking rock star? I laughed at myself for losing my head temporarily. Unfazed, Adam dropped an album onto the turntable. I smiled as a dead sexy Arctic Monkeys song started.
“I love this song!” He sidled up next to me and bumped me with his shoulder.
“So you like that band, Walking Disaster?” Was this a litmus-test question? Like asking someone if they like Nickelback? What if he had a checklist, too? What if he only liked girls who listened to the “right” music and immediately disdained girls who listened to whatever he found uncool? And why did I suddenly care what kind of girls he might like? I shrugged, reaching for a safe nonchalant answer. “I don’t normally listen to them unless they come on the radio. I don’t intentionally listen to much current rock music, except for Micah’s. But my coworkers gush about that band. They tried to drag me out to see them just recently.”
“But you didn’t want to go?”
“No, I would’ve gone. But it was at the Meadowlands, and it was a weeknight. I had to get up early the next day.”
“To make perfume, right?” He leaned closer and breathed in. “What’s the name of this one?
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Mmm. You should call it Irresistible. It smells nice.” He lifted my hand and laid a kiss against my wrist. My brain told me I should leave. I barely knew him. But I didn’t want to leave. Adam’s lips felt so good against my skin. His dark eyes sought mine, looking for permission, maybe. The naked desire etched on his face sent a tingle through me. I wanted to feel his lips on mine, but he held back, so I bent toward him. He kissed me soft, and I tasted the hint of Jamaican spiced rum.
He broke away and drew back, so close but too far away. His eyes pierced mine, and his breathing hitched, but he hesitated. I felt tethered there, unable to move back, wanting to move forward. I reached up to touch the stubble on his cheek, then that cord on his neck I’d wanted to touch earlier. Without another thought, I twisted my fingers in his hair and pulled him back to me.

Be sure to add SOME KIND OF MAGIC to your Goodreads to-read list, and grab your copy today!

Some Kind of Magic by Mary Ann Marlowe | JenHalliganPR.com

Mary Ann MarloweAbout Mary Ann Marlowe

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Some Kind of Magic is Mary Ann Marloweǯs first novel. When not writing, she works by day as a computer programmer/DBA. She spent ten years as a university-level French professor, and her resume includes stints as an au pair in Calais, a hotel intern in Paris, a German tutor, a college radio disc jockey, and a webmaster for several online musician fandoms, plus she has a second-degree black belt. She has lived in twelve states and three countries and loves to travel. She now lives in central Virginia where she is hard at work on her second novel. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at http://www.maryannmarlowe.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Happy New Year!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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Sorry for the radio silence. I didn’t have the emotional or mental energy to blog, and figured you’d manage. Nothing bad going on in my microcosm, I’ve just been reading and listening to a lot of stuff about politics, and I kept meaning to write up a post on how to use those for world building in your novels. But it’s proving more challenging than expected, so it’ll be up when it comes together. Meanwhile, if there’s any writing related topics you’d like my opinion on, feel free to suggest them! Otherwise, posts will be up when they’re up.

 

2016 achievements:

*Had my first back to back fully booked months with client work.

*Had some absolutely fabulous projects to work on this year with amazing authors.

*Finished a novel of my own-Starboard- and wrote most of another.

*Read 53 published novels and 1 anthology in full.  All but one of those novels were written by women (or nonbinary, in one series’ case). Oddly, this wasn’t deliberate. I always have a LOT of books in my TBR pile, as I buy them when they come out and then get to them when I’m in the mood.

*Didn’t quit my dayjob in frustration or get fired for something stupid. Both were possibilities this year, and I pushed myself past them.

*Saw 3 Broadway shows-Spring Awakening, Allegiance, and The Great Comet.

 

2017 goals:

*Try not to die.

*Be a light where I can, helping and signal boosting good things. Do not allow hate, in any form, to make me afraid.

*Market my editing services more, with a goal that by this time next year, I want at least 10 new clients and at least 2 more repeat clients (Clients who come back for work on more projects. The more repeat clients I end up with, the more stable my editing work will be, which makes it MUCH easier to leave the security of my dayjob). Right now, my Romance clients are booking me far more than SF/Fs, which makes sense given their release schedules.

*Edit Starboard and, if I’m happy with how it turns out, query it.

*Finish my nano novel, or another WIP, and begin edits on it.

*Start another novel.

*Do something fun for my 10th anniversary with Owen.

 

What are your goals? Focus on things you can control. Getting a book deal is beyond your control, but editing a book and querying it are things you can do. Same with politics, stay engaged and aware, and do what you can on your level. Life isn’t a dystopian novel, even if it feels like it sometimes. I’m just hoping 2017 doesn’t get the idea to try and one up  2016.

Here’s hoping it’s amazing!

 

A Rose by any other name…

Especially if you write fantasy or scifi, you know the struggle: Finding names that both fit the kind of story and the kind of person you want your character to be.

In real life, picking names seems simple. If you ask people why they named their kids what they did, you tend to get one of these responses:

*It’s a family name

*I liked the way it sounded

*I liked what it meant

*It was an impulse.

See also names like ABCDE (pronounced Ab-si-dee) and Jack Daniels for why the last option isn’t a good approach.

Aside from that, what you really want in names is things that make sense within the culture or subculture they come from. Apple is an awful name for someone from Sweden in the 1980s, but fits if they’re a celebrity’s kid in the 2000s.

So how to do this?

My approach-Figure out three levels of names for a culture. Their common names, which all have similar phonetical aspects. This is where most names are generated. Your Jessica, Jennifers, etc have a soft consonant, a vowel, repeating soft consonant, another vowel, a harder consonant, vowel.  Pick out the pattern, and stick with it for the names. Alynnia,  Elissia, et.  Or come up with letter combinations that are popular. I took a page out of the Japanese book and used honorific endings to indicate gender, for example, on my latest WIP. So if, say, a character transitioned, they could just change the honorific on their name, and everyone’s cool with that. As opposed to the struggle many trans folks go through when trying to figure out what they want called (Owen was his middle name, he’s going by it but debating 2+ years into transitioning if he wants his first name to start with an E like his birth name so he can keep the same initials.).

Once you have the common names, figure out the names that would be ridiculous but within acceptable for your culture. That’s where your super religious (Ezekiel for example) and pop culture names fit. This is also where you can fit in cross-culture names.  Ones that will make people go “Oh, and where are you from?”.

Last, define what won’t fly in your culture. Xlikhreo would not work in our culture. Why? Because based on the phonetics of English, it doesn’t go together. Could you figure out a way to pronounce it? Sure, but why bother? Same applies in fiction. Fit it to your culture, and to the culture you’re working from, and asze’asdt’twe might become Asies Asidut Twi.

Obviously, don’t appropriate cultures you don’t understand. But play with the sounds, and see what variants that opens up for you.