Top 5 Finalist in YARN Halloween Contest

Happy Samhain-All-Hallow’s-Eve-Halloween! Costumes ready? tBpaYak3

The family is taking it to Oz tonight: I’ll be Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz, the hubs the Tin Woodman, daughter Glinda the Good, and son Cowardly Lion (though it sounds more like curfew lion the way he says it).

Last week YA Review Network announced their Top 5 finalists for their 2017 Halloween contest. Horror-writer Rin Chupeco, author of the Bone Witch series, (which is on my TBR list as it looks like the only book of hers that I can read without losing sleep for a week) judged. Adoring Halloween, I submitted my short story “The Séance” and did a happy dance for a full five minutes with my four-year-old when I got the email saying I was a finalist and won a super insightful critique from Ms. Chupeco. YARN published the winning entry, “The Survey” here so be sure to check it out if you dare. Super creepy and I definitely won’t be accepting cookies from anyone anytime soon.

As I had a few people ask to read my entry, I thought I’d share it here. It’s a short story from my YA novel that’s being shopped around now, THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL. Feedback urged for more mystery and less magical realism, so this chapter was cut out and reformed around the jaggedy edges to make it a stand-alone. Well, a bit more stand-alone-ish as the rough loose ends were mentioned in my critique-prize.

Hope you enjoy!

 

"The Seance" By Candice Marley Conner

 

The Séance

“Brought the stuff for tonight,” Honey says as she drags her bag closer to me
I perch on a stool, watching a yellow jacket discover a blot of dried sweet tea on the counter of the concession stand. Its tiny body hums with pleasure, even when I put a clear cup over it. It doesn’t notice, as if the cup doesn’t exist to it.
“Brown candles, for finding lost things and illumination. We’ll need to pick some flowers right before—fresh is best. And,” she pulls sheets of computer paper from the bag and waves them at me. “Instructions so we don’t mess up and let loose demons upon the earth.”

I can’t help but smile at her dramatics. I can always count on her to bring me out of whatever funk I’m in, however deep, and since my brother’s sudden disappearance and my parents’ refusal to acknowledge it, she’s definitely earned her best friend status. The trench in my head is sometimes as unscalable as the Mariana and just as full of deep sea freaks like goblin sharks and anglerfish. “Or evil ghosts.”
“Or the undead.” Honey shudders. “Eww, what if we had a zombie following us around? Fall Break would suck.”
“Nah, it’d suck if we invoked vampires.”
She laughs, almost rocking herself off the stool.
It’s Honey’s idea to have a séance on All Hallow’s Eve. Because it’s probably nothing but my overactive imagination reacting to closed off parents and fear for whatever happened to Jim. But what if the darkness in my head never leaves? With the end of the year fast approaching, my summer has disappeared, and with it, myself. I know I’m not crazy, but maybe I’m going there and I want at least one person to know where I’m headed.
Of course, with Honey planning a séance, she might be headed to Crazy with me. Which is fine because I like her company. Maybe we can get discounts on travel arrangements if we bring a buddy. Or more likely, she simply sees it as something exciting to do on a quiet night in a small town in lower Alabama. We’re too old to trick-or-treat, have too strict of parents to party like trolls under the bridge with the seniors.
Jim’s bedroom door stays closed though I’ve seen my mom rub the door handle like it might be a genie lamp and all three of her wishes would be: let me open that door and my son be asleep, or open sesame so my son comes out to eat one last meal with us (it would be fried pickles on top of bbq-smothered hotdogs, Jim’s fave), or even, why Jim? Why not take Bea Pearl? Yeah, I’ve heard her whisper that when she didn’t know I was on the other side of the door, movements frozen in an irrational fear of being caught. Caught at what? Being a tiny bit closer to Jim in a room of still unmade sheets and a rubbery smell of basketballs, looking for anything that could tell me where he is now.
We’re waiting for the dock to clear out, for night to fall heavy around us. A moth chases off the yellow jacket, as hungry for our light as the wasp was for our sugar. Bats chase the birds that ruled the day, slurping up their mosquito snacks midair. I turn off the lights, leaving only the faint glow from a streetlight. We walk down to the lake.
“Why the dock?” I whisper. It feels right to whisper as our feet leave land and echo hollowly on the weathered boards.
“Water. It’s an in-between place, from what I read on the ten million websites I found. That’s important to spirits, so I figured we’d have better luck.”
The moon is almost full. With it shining down, and its reflection on the water shining up, it’s easy enough to see.
Honey smoothes out a website print-out, reading it over again before lighting the candle. She hands me an orangey-pink rose and pulls petals off her own to throw into the water. “Water spirits are attracted to beauty. Toss these in the lake so they know we’re friendly.”
Silliness and nervousness run circles in my stomach, causing goose bumps to pop up on my arms. This is a game, but it’s not. Especially if it works. The seriousness of the occasion combined with sweet smelling, freshly torn rose petals makes me peer expectantly into the dark, still water.
Honey sits down on the dock and places the candle between us so we are facing each other. “We’re supposed to put our legs in the water to communicate better.”
“Fat chance,” I say. “There might be water sprites in here but there are without a doubt alligators that are accustomed to being fed from this dock.”
She smiles, looking relieved. “That’s what I was thinking too. Ready?” She holds my hands, one each side of the flame and closes her eyes. I’m too tense to shut mine, so I watch the flame flicker. “Water Sprites, please accept our gift of rose petals. We ask for your help in return. Since water travels in rain and fog, from lakes to creeks to rivers to oceans, in all your travels, have you seen Bea Pearl’s brother?”
“His name is Jim,” I whisper to whatever is listening.
“Please give us a sign you hear us.” Honey opens one eye. “Please give us a sign you’ve seen Jim.”
We hold our breath. Cicadas saw away in the pines, canoes bob gently against the dock. I strain to hear anything out of place in the night. Then, a fish splashes.
“Was that a sign?” I ask.
“I don’t know. Maybe? Look, there are rings around the petals.”
“That’s what water does,” I remind her.
“A website says the rings are water spirits.”
I roll my eyes. “More like surface tension.”
She sticks out her tongue. Then: “Did it just get darker?” she whispers.
I look up. “There’s a cloud covering the moon.”
The candle’s flame sputters and goes out.
“Why’d you blow it out?” she asks sharply.
“I didn’t.”
The cicada’s buzzing grows louder. Another fish splashes and it sounds closer, bigger. “I’m not so sure this was a good idea,” I whisper, goose bumps now on my legs. I want to itch them, but I’m not letting go of Honey’s hands.
“Me neither. What if some evil thing has Jim? And now it’s coming for us. Olive Mangled Ghouls, did we open a gateway to Hell?”
“You had to say that out loud?” I tighten my grip, her ring cutting into my fingers. Way back when we were in elementary school, we swore we’d never be one of those O.M.G girls: the annoying ones with beads crocheted on the socks, white Ked’s that never got dirty, the gum-smackers, the ones who laughed the loudest when you came back from the bathroom with your skirt tucked into your panties or toilet paper stuck to your shoe. So instead we used the acronym to inspire the randomest words on the tip of our brains. Back then we thought we were progressive. Now the habit’s ingrained into our friendship, probably for forever.
Something moves in the water.
We lean toward it, unaware ‘til after the fact that we’re mimicking each other, a mirror and a reflection, still clenching each other’s hands.
Something huge and dark rises and we shriek loud enough to wake the dead. We don’t wait around to see what happens next. Honey lets go and grabs her bag. I snatch up the hot candle and in that second of looking down, I hear a low snarling, snicking noise I can’t place, Honey’s cutoff scream, and a splash.
The dock is empty except for me and the dark candle in my hand. I blow my bangs out of my eyes but they’re stuck to my forehead with cold sweat. Again! my brain screeches at me, you’re letting this happen again! “Honey?” My voice is hoarse as if I screamed, but the only sound that reaches my ears is a whisper. No, no, no. She’s the only friend I have left.
I can’t let her disappear too.
Then moonlight reflects off churning water and a hand shoots out of the darkness, followed by Honey’s head. I drop to my stomach onto the dock, the air whooshing out painfully, and reach out to her. “Grab my hand. What’s got you?”
“My leg!” Honey finds my hand and I pull her toward me. She spits out water. “Something’s got my foot.” Her voice is pinched with panic. She belly crawls onto the dock but in the cloud-covered light, I can’t make out what covers Honey’s leg. “What is it? Get it off!”
I fumble for matches or a lighter in Honey’s bag that she somehow never let go of. I find a flashlight instead and switch it on, my hands trembling. A hysteric sort of giggle bubbles up through my insides. I startle both of us as I let out a sharp laugh.
“What’s wrong with you?” Honey demands, and then gives her ankle a closer look. “Oh snap. Is that a fish net?”
I nod, laughing too hard to answer.
“Get it off!” She shakes her leg at me. “It’s probably covered in fish poop.”
I kneel down and untangle her. “We must not have noticed it when we came down here. You know, thinking we’d see water spirits, not get caught in fish nets.”
“Whatever, make fun. Is my flip flop in there?”
“Nope.” I hold up a sun-dried bluegill. “Just this guy.”
She grimaces. “So this is a bust.”
“Did you really think it would work?” My voice wobbles. I get to my feet and help her up. I don’t know what I think, or what I expected. “You didn’t happen to see anything while you were down there?” I’m kidding, I know we wouldn’t see Jim’s ghost because he’s not dead. But a little spiritual help finding him would’ve been nice.
She shivers. I’m sure the October air is chillier to her wet skin than mine. My goose bumps borne of fear have pretty much disappeared. “I think he drowned.”
My head jerks at the sharpness of her words. They hang in the moonlit air like a watchful spirit. It is Halloween. The veil that I don’t know for sure if it exists might be thin enough that demons dangle from hateful words. “Because you tripped over a cast net and fell into a pond?”
At her widened eyes, that scathing demon might dangle from my mouth instead. I think she’s going to respond, but instead she shakes her head the tiniest bit. “I need a shower.”
She walks off. I don’t stop her. There’s no way Jim drowned. There’s no way she had that little epiphany in the seconds she was underwater. She knows something and won’t tell me.
***
I go back after my own shower, too worked up to sleep, and realize what we saw was probably a canoe bobbing. But we were both sure the thing in the water rose level with the dock and Lake George doesn’t get swells. So even if it was just a canoe, someone or something would have had to lift it. A ghost? A demonic water sprite? An alligator? More believable, but just as scary. The goblin I think I see hunkered in a black corner of the little bait lean-to at the beginning of the dock is more likely a bag of catfish food. But I don’t know for sure. Ghosts and water sprites and goblins haven’t been proven to not exist.
I sit, my back against the dock step and watch fog raise up from the warm water to the cooler air. A light breeze pushes it along so ghostly bodies waltz along the slick, black surface, disappearing when the moonlight touches them.
Why is everyone so adamant that my brother never existed? What happened to him?
With anglerfish, the male is absorbed into the body of the much larger female. She’s the one with the light.
He’s only a mouth, a toothy maw that bites, latches,
and then disappears.

So what do y’all think? Unsettling without being in-your-face-scary? Does it make you want to read more?

Enjoy your treating and tricking tonight!

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Susanna Hill’s 7th Annual Halloweensie Contest

Have I mentioned yet that Halloween is my favorite holiday? The weather’s sometimes cooler, you don’t have to clean cobwebs out of ceiling corners, and if you don’t feel like brushing your hair, a green wig is perfectly acceptable.

And the candy…peanut butter cups are a balanced breakfast, right?

I also love contests. So when I heard about children’s author Susanna Hill and her Halloweensie Contest, I couldn’t wait to write my entry.

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The rules: Entry must have a 100 word count or less, and contain the words candy corn (counts as one word here), monster, and shadow. And be for little ghouls and goblins.

Here’s my entry at exactly one hundred words (that’s harder than it sounds, people!):

The Candy Corn Craft Monster

Bean’s best friend Jilly said he was a monster when it came to crafts. A complete mess. He’d get glitter up his nose. He’d glue his fingers together.

So Bean hid in the shadowiest corner.

Miss Ann found him. “Halloween’s tonight! Come make spooky art.”

“I’ll just make a mess.” Bean hung his head.

Miss Ann led him next to Jilly. “That’s okay. Messes mean you’re being creative and learning.”

Bean looked at the candy corn and had an idea. He got to work.

Jilly squealed, then giggled. “It’s Bean the Candy Corn Monster!”

He grinned as he gnashed his candy corn fangs.

 

A Stroller-Ride, a Squirrel, & a Story

Around five years ago, my daughter (then about a year old) and I took a stroller-ride around our neighborhood. We sang our ABCs, hearty renditions of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, and mainly just enjoyed the shade of oak trees over the road, the distant, muted swishing of traffic, birdsong, and each others’ company.

Then a squirrel scampered down, looked at us, grabbed an acorn with its tiny paws, and scampered back up the nearest tree.

“Did you see it’s tail? I’ve never seen one so scrawny!”

“Gggggh-mmftph” (Because she’s one and probably chewing on something)

Looking at things with a different perspective is a value I’ve tried to instill in my children since birth, so the rest of the stroll was all about that little squirrel with the bristly tail:

  • Squirrels use their tails to communicate, so do other squirrels have a hard time reading the tail-flicks?
  • They use their tails for balance, so does this one fall a lot?
  • Do squirrels even care? Is it a thing? Do they spend extra time grooming their tails?
  • How many toes do squirrels have?
  • mmmmffftpphhh (probably imagining what a squirrel tail tastes like)

By the time we got back home, an entire story about a squirrel with a tail as bristly as a chewed-up pine cone was born.

But like all things that are born, it has to grow. Learn new things like formatting picture book manuscripts, brevity (picture books are notoriously low on the word count), and because of this: which words paint the clearest picture, which is the most concise way to get this info across in a way both children and the parents that read this to them will enjoy, when to show and when to tell.

And so, it’s with great delight that I can now announce that the picture book manuscript tentatively titled Sassafras and Her Teeny, Tiny Tail is now under contract with MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing.

Here’s her potential Back of Book content:

Sometimes your differences make you a hero.

With her stubby, bristly tail, Sassafras is the laughingstock of the oak tree. But when danger strikes, the thing that makes her different might just save the day.

She still has some growing to do once I receive edits from my new editor, but one day this little squirrel will have her story.

(And squirrels have four toes on their front paws, and five on their hind legs, for those curious.)

The Blogger Recognition Award

blogger-recognition-award

Middle grade writer and recommender-extraordinaire of books, Laura tagged me in this fun blogging event. Here are the rules:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  2. Write a post to show your award.
  3. Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  5. Select other bloggers you want to give this award to.
  6. Comment on each blog and let them know you have nominated them & provide the link to the post you created.

Now onto the fun stuff!

The story of how I started my blog.

I’m pretty new to the blogging world. My first post was written on May 26th, 2016, so I’m just a smidge over a year old.

1st blog post announcement

I started the blog because I wanted another way to connect–not only writing and mothering and magically things–but to connect those things with other folks. I had a writing buddy ask how I balanced writing a novel and mothering a newborn, (that post is here) and an illustrator friend requested a post on creativity (click on my Melusine-caricature widget on the right for that). I thought, maybe I do have something important to say. Maybe I can help inspire someone, and wouldn’t that be the most magical thing ever??

Advice for newbie bloggers.

Since I feel like I am a newbie blogger, I think the best thing for me to do is give advice on writing in general (because a blog must have content, right?) I adore this Nelson Mandela quote a writer friend recently reminded me of when she posted it to her facebook author page:

Nelson Mandela quote

We are born to create and be creative. Our greatest fear is the limitlessness of our potential

So my advice? Let your light shine.

My other bit of advice is to study Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. If you aren’t familiar with this, I highly recommend it–it’s what finally tore down my mental blocks and allowed me the courage to write my first novel.

The Artist's Way

My pretty much illegible morning papers

My nominations for this fun tag:

I can’t wait to read what inspired these ladies to start blogging. If you’d like to play along too, tag me in yours so I can discovers what inspired you as well!

 

Mysteries vs. Thrillers vs. Whatever the Heck I’m Writing

I wrote a YA novel I thought was a sort of coming-of-age mystery. The protagonist, Bea Pearl, has lost her brother, her memory, and subsequently, a good bit of herself. The small Southern town she lives in thinks her brother is dead, and her crazy for thinking he’s not. The mystery unravels as Bea Pearl sets out to find out what happened that day her brother disappeared. Though with no memory, she has a hard time trusting what’s real.

Query Hook for my YA mystery now out on a R&R | How to Write A YA Mystery

This was my query hook that initially intrigued my agent and a New York editor. It has come a loooong way since then!

Or that’s what I thought I was doing. Turns out it was leaning a bit too much on the magical realism side and not enough on the mystery. I thought, well, everything is super mysterious (I didn’t even know what happened to the brother in the first draft) so that makes it a mystery, right?

Nope and nope. The super-helpful editor who requested a revise & resubmit suggested my magical realistic beginning needed to have a similar tone to my more thriller-ish ending. I didn’t even know what the difference between a mystery and a thriller was. Up ’til now it was just something I read and knew, but I didn’t know the differences–what made each genre unique.

For those at home curious (which I assume is why you’re here), I went to Nathan Bransford’s always-helpful blog. He wrote a great post here on the differences and includes a link to BookEnds Literary’s more in-depth breakdown.

I wondered if there were any specific rules to writing mysteries for a young adult and stumbled across this Writer’s Digest post on Writing Tenacious Teen Sleuths (anything that refers to Veronica Mars is sound advice). The eight tips they mention helped me streamline my thought process AND my plot.

My agent kept pushing me to further get out of my protag’s head and into the action, so I thought reading YA mysteries would help me in a leading-by-example sense. I could unravel how their mystery plots unfold organically and see if mine following the tips did as well. (This took a few read-throughs as it was hard not to just fall into the story.)

Reading example novels of YA mysteries & thrillers to better my own manuscript.

Reading is my favorite kind of research

The books I studied were:

Carol Goodman’s BYLTHEWOOD because it’s considered a mystery but has a lot of supernatural aspects, like mine has the magical realism.

Kimberly Giarratano’s GRUNDGE GODS AND GRAVEYARDS, the Writer’s Digest suggestion from the above post. And another mystery with supernatural aspects, this time ghosts.

Kristen Lippert-Martin’s TABULA RASA, a YA Thriller so I could better understand my pacing further into my own manuscript.

So this is how I worked through it, what has helped you define your story’s genre? And if you have any tips on writing mysteries, or suggestions to further my library, please leave a comment!

 

Second Annual Miss Bookshelf USA

I realize y’all have been waiting all year for this pageantry of books that follows Miss USA. I did better this time around, woke up from my celebratory Mother’s Day nap just in time to watch Miss District of Columbia straighten her wobbly tiara.

The books eligible for this prestigious award (yes, it’s fine, go ahead and snort at that)  are the twenty-two books I reviewed last year on Goodreads. You can find the complete list here.

In a book slump and need some recommedations on what to read next? Check out my spoofy Miss Bookshelf USA lieterary pagent to see some of my favorites, from middle grade to adult!

After much deliberation and only three hardbacks falling off my bookshelf onto me (they were immediately disqualified for unruly behavior), here are my Top Ten Delegates in no particular order:

Ronald Smith’s HOODOO

Karen Russell’s SWAMPLANDIA!

Marissa Meyer’s CRESS

Kristen Lippert-Martin’s TABULA RASA

Angela Quarles’ MUST LOVE CHAINMAIL

David Mitchell’s THE BONE CLOCKS

Melanie Benjamin’s THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE

Sarah Glenn Marsh’s FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP

Shannon Hale’s THE GOOSE GIRL

Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett’s GOOD OMENS

Once again, a nice, eclectic mix. Be sure to check out my Goodreads reviews to see why they made it on such an awesome list.

Without further ado… Miss Amity goes to GOOSE GIRL

ggIsi is such an amazing and brave character for believing in herself and her aunt’s stories when others refused to.

Mr Photogenic goes to MUST LOVE CHAINMAIL

thThere are no mipples that Ms. Quarles is fond of, but the cover is electric all the same, and in my head, Robert is indeed photogenic *swoon*

And Miss Style was a no brainer one–this book positively oozed with style… THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE!

I must say, we were quite stylish too at the 50’s Cocktail Party.

Second Runner-Up is THE BONE CLOCKS!

and it didn’t hurt its chances one bit when David Mitchell actually responded to me on twitter. Total fan-girl moment!

First Runner-Up goes to GOOD OMENS

go (which I cannot wait ’til it hits the screens. Loving what I’ve seen so far of American Gods)

And now… the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

Miss Bookshelf USA is FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP!

Nt5KvertThe Isle of Man and it’s folkloric inhabitants have always been fascinating to me.

So what do y’all think? I’d love to know who you would have crowned from your list of read books. And if you’d like to see which books made it into last year’s pageant, check out that blog post here.

The Magic of Mardi Gras

Dinner is a rushed affair of sloppy joes and not enough vegetables. Shoes are sensible and closed-toed for the streets will get messy. Downtown is more packed than the kids have ever seen but we manage to squeeze into a parking spot not far from Royal Street. As soon as we get out of the truck, jazz music swells up in our toes and it’s impossible not to walk in rhythm to the horns.

We find a spot against a barricade and the crowd swells. Both kids gasp. My three year old grabs my hand in his.

Always try to see things a little differently--that's real magic. Check out this blog post to experience a tiny but of #mobilemardigras

The magic of Mardi Gras

A train, the Conde Express, massive, gloriously green, purple, and gold steams toward us.

“Hands in the air!” I instruct the kids as beads and stuffed animals and moonpies rain down.

“Hey Mister! Throw something to me!” My daughter, at six, is a pro at this now.

A mermaid, as tall as the oaks, swims by shortly. Then Darth Vader. Gorgon Medusa. By the end of Carnival season, the kids will see a smoke-billowing dragon slither down streets that look normal in the daytime. But at night, and on Fat Tuesday, something magical happens that allows one to see the world a little differently. The fantastical comes to life. mardigrase7fda6b782fc781940e46900ceca9174

Mobile, AL is the birthplace of Mardi Gras. New Orleans may do it louder, bigger, and raunchier, but the magical event that is Mardi Gras was born right here in 1703 when Mobile was the first capital of French Louisiana.

Even just being present, being part of a tradition that’s been around for centuries is magic unto itself though, for the most part, the two-tiered, gilded floats have come a long way from the very first parade: sixteen men of the Boeuf Gras Society pushing a cart with a papier-mâché cow head.

1923316_506931169223_353_n The secrecy of the masks and mystic societies make ordinary people seem larger than themselves. An anything-is-possible thrum in the air that connects us, that makes adults beg for plastic beads and cups, but then hand everything over once the parade passes to little children with wide-eyes and chocolate-smeared mouths.

15439702_10101325313189053_7928266597404588128_nAnd all that will remain once Lent arrives are beads draped like Spanish moss from the live oaks. A tiny reminder to see the world on different terms.

Have you had a chance to experience the magic of a Mardi Gras celebration? I’d love to know how it helped change your perspective of things.

 

Autograph Your Book

As a writer, you’ve worked on a glorious assemblage of words that can tower up to 200,000 in the case of one of my critique partners (it’ll probably end up as a trilogy, don’t worry). The longest amount of words I’ve strung together so far is 70,000. Then, once you have every word exactly how you want it, deeply imbued with meaning, and loadbearing-ness, and imagery, you have to summarize it into a one page synopsis, then a paragraph in a query letter, then a two sentence hook, and maybe a 140 character tweet if you participate in twitter contests such as #pitmad.

I thought of something else while I was in the shower–too early for my right brain to be awake and tell my left brain and me how silly we are–what about the authors who summarize their grand literary conglomeration into an autograph?

A couple well-known author autographs in my collection, like Maggie Stiefvater and Rick Riordan, are just their names–and I feel honored to have them on my bookshelves. Many that I have say something along the lines of “good luck with your writing”, which is awesome because it means I had a chance to talk with them in person about the craft of writing.autograph

But some authors take their book itself and connect it to the readers.

I imagine JK Rowling’s is pretty easy. All she would need to write is “Always.”

Here are some of my favorites:2qdeqfyx

“Here’s to finding our edge but never going over it!” -Lena Roy, author of Edges.

This one is great because, as the title implies, there are so many edges in this book: the literal ones of the canyons in the Moab desert, and the figurative ones the main characters must find-Luke with grieving for his dead mom and alcoholic dad, and Ava with tiptoeing the edge of sobriety as she tries to regain control of her life.

autograph2“What’s the one thing you want most?” -Stephanie Lawton, author of Want.

The main theme centers around what the characters, Juli and Isaac, want whether it be a prestigious music career, or something off-limits, juxtaposed with society’s (especially Old Mobile) traditions and familial responsibilities.

autograph1

“Stay true to yourself” -Joyce Sterling Scarbrough, author of True Blue Forever.

This novel (and now a trilogy!) is about the ever-changing friendship and rivalry between Jeana, Mickey, Billy Joe, and Wade and staying true to each other.

autograph3“Never give up on your dreams.” -Robin Bridges, author of The Gathering Storm.

Her protagonist, Katiya, holds fast to her dream of becoming a doctor in 1888 Russian royal society which gets her through all the craziness that being a necromancer brings, namely, zombies and vampires.

What would mine be?

Yes, I know it’s way too early to be thinking about this though I thought it would be a fun exercise and maybe help me with query hooks. One of my manuscripts is a YA mystery about a girl who’s brother is missing. My main character, Bea Pearl, copes with memory loss, questioning reality and wondering if her dreams might actually be memories. So my autograph message for her book might be something along the lines of Mrs. Scarbrough’s and Mrs. Bridges’ with “believe in your dreams”.

Another manuscript I have out on submission is an upper middle grade fairytale retelling of Melusine, the two-tailed water spirit on your Starbucks cup. It’s about a girl, Mellie, who is banished and cursed by her mother. It has an ecological theme so I’d want to incorporate that, maybe something along the lines of “It’s not easy being green (-tailed!)” Haha, that’s horrible but I have time to come up with something better.

I’d love to know what your autograph message is (or will be), how you connect your story to your readers. You’re welcome to leave a link in comments if you have a book out, or share what you’ll write once your writing dreams come true.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Faith, Trust, & Pollen Dust

The kiddos and I are eating breakfast one morning when my daughter sighs deeply into her Cheerios. “Magic’s not real, is it, Mommy?”

I drop my biscuit. Gosh, that hope rests so tremulous in her little girl voice. I’ve worked hard at instilling wonder and believing in possibilities that I have no idea where this is stemming from; did someone in her preschool class tell her Santa didn’t exist? This innocence is so important to me that I don’t want to say the wrong thing. So I take a big swig of coffee. Choke a little bit. Realize I need more information (Something I recently discovered to do when I don’t know how to respond, like when they asked where babies come from. Never answer a kid’s question at face value, I’ve learned.)

“What do you mean?”

She shifts in her booster seat. “Well, princesses aren’t real.”

Nervous, I launch into a monologue about the differences between our democracy and a monarchy, and by the time her eyes glaze over, something catches my attention out the window behind her. A Gulf fritillary deposits eggs on the passionflower vines that climb up the posts on our back patio.

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I point it out to her. “That’s kind of magical, isn’t it? That butterfly is laying a teeny, tiny egg, and we’ll get to watch the caterpillars hatch and grow, then harden into chrysalises that look like dried leaves curled into question marks. And then a butterfly comes out!”

She looks doubtful, but nods. “What about pixie dust? There’s nothing like that in this world.”

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By now, I know how to answer her, how to answer this question of faith, and believing, and growing up but holding onto possibility. “Look at the patio table outside. What’s on it?”

My son yells, “Pollen!” He’s happy to be able to contribute to such a serious discussion. And poor thing, he knows all about pollen because every time something new blooms he gets congested.

I nod. “And what does pollen do?”

“Turns your car yellow!”

“Gets in my nose and makes boogers!”

I laugh. “What do bees and butterflies do with pollen?”

“Takes it to all the flowers. Bees make honey, too.”

“And isn’t that what Tinker Bell and all her friends do with pixie dust? Use it to help things grow? It turns seeds into flowers, and acorns into oak trees?”

She nods, the smile on her face showing me she’s satisfied with my explanation. We’re both happy that she can see the magic now. Because really, it’s all at how you look at things. As Roald Dahl wrote:

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This breakfast exchange got me thinking of how nice it would be to have these little reminders of all the magic constantly around us, though maybe we’re too tired, or too busy, or too in ‘our world’ as my daughter called it, to see. So I’m going to start a hashtag on my author page and twitter called #everydaymagic.

And I’d really love it if you’d play along too. Seeing from someone else’s perspective is a magic unto itself.

Writing Contests & Tahiti Tours

This past weekend forty-five finalists culled from over 400 entrants had their queries and first three pages of their manuscript presented to twenty-six agents. Much better odds than a slush pile, right?! So today I want to focus on writerly things and talk about contests and what they can do for authors.

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In a nutshell: mentoring, networking, and getting your work in front of agents are the three most important things you can get out of participating. And that’s for everyone, not solely contest winners.

As a team mentor for the new writing contest, FicFest, I’ve now been on both sides. I first began entering writing contests in 2013. My manuscripts did well in them without winning (yes, that’s possible, haha) and the mentoring I received is what helped me connect with my agent. You can read that story here on QueryKombat co-founder and twitter contest-extraordinaire Michelle Hauck’s blog.

And so I wanted to pass my appreciation along to a writer I could help, deciding to mentor in the contest. It’s helped me too as I’ve met a lot of other writers, some of who in turn have beta read for me. The writing community truly is the best. My team leader, UK author Laura Noakes, feels the same way:

When I was querying, I entered a tonne of competitions similar to #FicFest. I met so many writer friends, learnt loads about publishing and writing, and had so much fun in those contests—querying is sometimes really hard, but contests made it fun. I suppose I wanted to be a mentor because I wanted to help someone else feel that way.

There are lots of writing contests and the best place to find them (and other writers) is on twitter. They mainly fall into two categories, merit and mentor. Merit contests are based on how well your entry already is, while a mentor-based contest focuses on an individual working with a chosen entrant to make their work the best it can be. It seems like a no-brainer to go for the mentor-based contests, but I was surprised at how polished some of the entries were–I didn’t know how I could help improve it. So they would be better suited for merit-based contests.

Maryland author Tiffany Hofmann, founder of FicFest, says she set out

to create a contest were all books were given equal opportunity, and equal representation. I believe we accomplished just that.

All genres are represented in #FicFest: Children’s Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, and Adult. Each genre has three teams and each team is made up of three mentors who choose a mentee each and an alternate to share. What’s not to love about a contest that could potentially have forty-five winners?!

Being a mentor on Middle Grade’s Team Tahiti is awesome! (This year’s theme for FicFest is World Tour so each team chose a country.) In my pick, I fell in love with the voice and world building immediately, and after emailing the contestant, was excited that we could work together so well.

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Team Tahiti mentor Laura says:

I don’t think I realised how cool it would be to read revisions on a MS I already loved and think ‘WOW!’. The difference from the first time I read Devon’s MS to her revised MS is amazing, and shows how much hard work she put in. It was such an honour to see that journey!

Mentee Tennessee writer Erica Waters says:

I was surprised by how well [my mentor] understood my characters—sometimes it seemed like she knew them better than I did. She pointed out when they were acting out of character or speaking in inauthentic ways. None of my beta readers/CPs were quite able to do that.

The mentees had two months to work with their mentors. Hearing (and giving!)constructive criticism isn’t always easy (and sometimes overwhelming) when a manuscript has gone through so many revisions, especially in the all important first pages. But Erica has some comments she didn’t mind reading:

“Oooh, total Gollum-vibe. Excellent job setting this up since I felt the same horror as Vaya and Jada even though I eat fish lol.” I love this comment because it showed me how immersed she was in my story and let me know that I was accomplishing what I meant to in conveying an unfamiliar worldview. (The LOTR reference doesn’t hurt either!)

Curious to read Team Tahiti’s entries and see if they’ve gotten any agent-love? Check them out here! Only show your support by liking; commenting is reserved for agents.

I’d love to see your thoughts on writing contests! How have they worked for you? If you haven’t entered before, I hope this post inspires you to change that. It might be the push your manuscript needs.