Thursday, November 29, 2012

YA Scavenger Hunt!

Welcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! This tri-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive one signed book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours.

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are TWO contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the BLUE TEAM--but there is also a red team for a chance to win a whole different set of twenty-five signed books!

If you'd like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt homepage.

Directions: Below, you'll notice that I've listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the blue team, and then add them up (don't worry, you can use a calculator!).

Entry Form: Once you've added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian's permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by December 2nd, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

I am hosting the fabulous Courtney Allison Moulton for the YA Scavenger Hunt! Courtney lives in Michigan, where she is a photographer and spends all her free time riding and showing horses. She has always loved reading about ancient mythologies, studying dead languages, and telling scary, romantic stories. ANGELFIRE is her debut novel.
Find out more information by checking out her website or find more about her book here:

About A Dance With Darkness:
At the end of the fourteenth century, angelic reapers struggle to defend London against a legion of the demonic who have their sights set on claiming human souls and ancient relics for a dark purpose. Madeleine, a young but powerful warrior, is duty-bound to fight the demonic, and she lives for this pursuit above all else. Then, on a routine night of tracking, she is ambushed by a cadre of reapers and, though she defeats them all, she is left wounded and at the mercy of their lord, the notorious Bastian.
Madeleine is astonished when Bastian lets her live. She goes deeper into the world of the demonic and is shocked to meet him again-this powerful reaper whose touch makes her restless and gives her a thrill unlike anything else. When they fall into a dangerous clandestine affair, her head and her heart must wage their war: can their love overcome his demonic nature? Will her dance with darkness burn her or bring Bastian into the light?
With scorching romance and fantastic action, this original novella is a prequel to Courtney Allison Moulton's gripping and epic Angelfire series.
I felt a sharp, agonizing rip in my body and looked down to see a blade plunged through my gut. The final reaper had recovered more quickly than I anticipated. Fiery pain rolled through my belly like a billowing inferno and I almost fell to the ground. If my knees buckled, then I was dead. I was not ready to die yet. I’d come too far to accept death now. I stepped forward, pulling off his blade, and the pain reignited full force. I turned to him and my eyes took him in. He was bigger than I was, stronger, and older by a century at least.
He kicked me, driving his boot right into my healing belly wound and cracking deeper things, and I doubled over with a gasp of pain. He raised his heavy sword high over his head and brought it down, but I caught it with one of mine. There was no way I would win a battle of brute strength against him like I had against the last reaper. I pushed my sword into his as he forced all of his might into mine. I wouldn’t last more than a heartbeat, but that was all the time I needed. I let up, and he lost his balance as his body carried him forward. My second sword buried itself into his chest with precision, giving me an inch between metal and heart. Skill trumped brute strength any day. I tossed the sword I’d claimed from one of my fallen foes to the wooden floor with a clatter. The reaper I skewered lowered himself to his knees, gritting his teeth in pain; he had accepted death. Pathetic. I leaned over him and grabbed a fistful of his tunic.
“Who are you working for?” I growled into his face. “Why are you in London?”
“I will tell you nothing,” he spat. “Take my fingers, my eyes, whatever you wish. I will not betray my mission.”
My lip curled. If I tortured him, I was certain I could get something useful out of him, but I knew I didn’t have that in me. I may have been built for violence, but I wasn’t built for cruelty. “Then you have no purpose.”
I released his tunic only to twist my sword right into his heart. His head lifted in agony and he opened his mouth to let out a low whine. He fell, crumpling to the ground, and his body shuddered for several long moments as he slowly turned to stone. Six.
I slumped, exhaling and then wincing. One of my ribs was broken. Possibly two. I looked down to examine the wound through my belly. My dress was shredded and I could see the wound struggling to heal. I needed to eat in order for my body to regain the energy it needed to heal my wounds.
“You killed six of my best men,” came a voice behind me, and I spun around. Another reaper stood in the doorway to the chandler’s workshop and I wondered how long he’d been standing there. He was demonic, without a doubt. With the other reapers gone, I could feel the pressure of his dark power shoved into every inch of my body like I was sinking through deep water.
Though my breathing was ragged and I couldn’t quite stand straight, I prepared myself to continue fighting. I lifted my sword and poised it at the final reaper. “I have a seventh heart left to take tonight.”
His smile was slow and wide. He was beautiful—that I had to give him. His eyes were blue like poison, brighter than any jewel—like blue diamonds that did not reflect light, but generated their own from tiny stars burning within. “Very bold,” he said, those eyes flashing. “Very bold, indeed.”
My smile matched his as I hid my pain. “I did just kill six of your best men, did I not?”
He laughed and put his hands on his hips. “Now what? You’re wounded, exhausted, and you still have the master of your fallen opponents to contend with. Still bold?”
I did not falter. “Always.”
He vanished suddenly and reappeared directly in front of me. His hand grabbed my sword wrist and twisted, forcing me to cry out, but I didn’t drop my blade. His other hand grabbed my free arm and held it tight. His strength was unfathomable. Fighting him was hopeless and suffocating, like being buried alive. I ground my teeth together, breathing rapidly.
“Who are you, little angelic reaper?” he crooned, his face close to mine.
I lifted my chin to look right into his poison-blue eyes. “The wolf does not tell the stag her name before she takes his throat.”
He dipped his face closer to mine. “If the wolf asked for the stag’s name, he would gladly give it. Especially when entranced by such an exquisite she-wolf with emerald eyes.”
I would not take his bait and ask him his name, but deep inside, I wanted to know who he was. He was powerful and he had to be important if he was master to others. I knew nothing about him other than that he was demonic and he was older than all of the reapers I’d put down tonight combined. He had both my hands trapped and I was in a vulnerable position, yet I felt no threat. I had survived many battles, defeated many enemies, and I knew what it felt like to face someone who wanted to taste my blood. This demonic reaper had no interest in killing me. I had to know why.
“I am Bastian,” the blue-eyed demon said. “I hope we meet again.”
Then his hands were off of me, and he was gone. I stood there, breathless and alone, and shocked that I was still alive. I had not felt even a shiver of fear lick up my spine until I heard that name, a name feared by every angelic reaper who valued his life, and I realized the full extent of my luck. He couldn’t be the Bastian, one of the most powerful reapers in the known world. He was rumored to be in the Far East and far, far away from England. His presence here could mean nothing good for any of us.
But why had he let me live?

And don't forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of signed books by me, Courtney Moulton, and more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 10. Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the blue team and you'll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!

Also, while you're here don't forget to enter my bonus contest for a signed copy of GLITCH I am running exclusively during the YA Scavenger Hunt. Click here to go to my Rafflecopter giveaway on Facebook!
To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author! Click HERE!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Last year I was at my most expansive in every way. I had health, a circle of friends, energy, and a vitality of personality that seems as foreign to me now as a country across the deep wide sea.
During my time of vitality, I was also making some horrible choices. Instead of being grateful for all the good things that I had, I kept grasping for more, like useless shiny objects in shop window I thought would make me happy. Doing things that hurt the people closest to me and pretending it was free of charge.
And then this year happened. It’s been a very quiet year. From January onward, my health got worse and worse due to my chronic illness and a new condition that cropped up which gives me intense vertigo, until all I could do was lay on a couch with the TV off, the lights off, not moving at all except to drag myself to the bathroom a few times a day. I could manage 2-3 hours of work on my laptop, and the rest was spent just waiting for night to come so I could sleep and get to the next day when I could do my work again. For weeks on end. For months.
Though the storyteller in me is tempted to call this year ‘a severe mercy,’ and create an elaborate narrative about why it had to happen in some fake but satisfying cause-and-effect plotline—aka, I was squandering the good in my life, so then I was humbled by debilitating illness so that then I realized all the blessings surrounding me and could be grateful like Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol— the rest of me hopes that if there is a God, that’s not how he works.
But at the same time, I am grateful now for the many good things I still have, in spite of my ill health. Grateful in a deeply, profound way. I’ve been very alone but not lonely. I am married to the most wonderful, kind, and loving man who I'm not sure I deserve, and we have a beautiful, healthy child together. I have good work to do, a job I can do from home that I love. I’m grateful for what feel like moments of grace, where I expect the worst, and then something better happens instead. These moments have felt more and more frequent lately. I’m rarely mystical but the sense of peace, where in the past I would have felt only anger, seems to come from somewhere outside myself. If there is a God, this is how I hope he works.
After more than a decade of being sick, is this what acceptance really feels like? Finally being okay with tomorrow regardless of if it brings more sickness or more energy? Will writing this post shatter the peace I’ve felt, as if saying it out loud breaks the spell? Or does the wiser me bathed in grace realize that life isn’t so whimsical or dramatic as that, even if it sometimes feels like it.
I hope I’ve learned that fear of tomorrow has nothing to do with today, and that living today is all that matters.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Anatomy of a Second Draft

I’m in the middle of a massive round of edits on SHUTDOWN, Bk 3 of the Glitch trilogy. This is always the biggest round of edits for me – the second draft. My first drafts usually clock in a little over 60 thousand words and are very rough. So the second draft means a lot of re-envisioning and lots of rewriting and lots of fitting together the puzzle pieces of both the plot and the emotional arc of the story . I’ve been working on this revision for a month now, it’s up to 90k words, and think I’ve got about two weeks to go.
So want to know my process on the all important second draft? Here we go!

The Edit Letter
I start out reading and rereading the edit letter from my editor. I print it out, then underline, highlight, write possible fixes in the margin, and generally scribble and mangle the seven pages until they are very well worn. Then for a couple of days I do a lot of sitting and staring off into space. I’ll bust out my pen and notebook and scratch out what I think are the biggest problems, then slowly problem-solve possible solutions. Then I sketch out the emotional map, and how each chapter is slowly building toward the climax at the end.

Because second drafts are so daunting and entail so much work for me, I always want to tackle the biggest and scariest problems first so I can get them out of the way. I break up the book into chunks (this latest book broke neatly into three organic pieces), and then I finally get to the actual writing.

Chunk #1. The Middle
For this draft, I worked on the middle first because it was where a lot of the heavy emotional story was, and I think that’s the heart of any novel. I’d been so focused on fitting together the larger story elements, that the emotional and romantic story had not come off AT ALL in my first draft. So I cut and rewrote my way all through the middle section. All the while, I kept checking each chapter against the map of the emotional arc, tweaking and making sure it had the perfect growing momentum. As daunting as this section was to rewrite, it was also the one I had the most fun with. The emotional and romantic center of any book is always my favorite, both as a reader and a writer. I’d put on moody emotional violin music and absolutely lose myself in the scenes and conversations. I love, that even in such a stressful time as doing intense revisions on a deadline, those magical writing moments can still happen.

Chunk #2. The Ending
Next I tackled the ending, which I was VERY afraid of. Because here’s the thing about this trilogy—I won’t say I bit off more than I could chew, but it has been very difficult dealing with the huge scope I set out for myself when I outlined the series. I thought, oh, by the end of the trilogy I’ll have the fate of the world standing in my MC’s hands. Uh. Yeah. That makes for a lot of moving parts, and throughout the trilogy I’ve learned my strengths and weaknesses. Writing action scenes can be a weakness for me. I have to work twice as hard on those scenes. And the last third of book 3 is action, action, action. But when I actually got to it, it went much quicker than I thought it would. After brainstorming all the fixes to the problems, it wasn’t that daunting at all.

Chunk #3. The Beginning
Then I jumped back to the beginning, and worked till I met up with the middle section. This meant lots more action scenes I had to fix, and lots of work making sure I was both setting up this book as it's own entity, and tying it to the two previous books.

Cohesion Read-through
At this point, I breathe a giant sigh of relief. I’ve done most of the heavy lifting and fixed all the scariest things. Next comes the read-throughs of hundred page chunks, working chronologically this time and smoothing out transitions, language issues, and making sure it’s a cohesive read. I also send out portions to my beta partners at this point to get outside eyes on it.

The Things To-Fix List
But also I end up finding tons of problems as I read that are added to my Things To Fix list, a separate document I always keep open in addition to my manuscript document. The Things to Fix document is vital. These will be weird things ranging from: oh, check the spelling of that name, to, make sure this emotional arc is clear from chapters 10-13, or, in that conversation with all the officials, have them bring up this particular point that is a plant for something that happens at the end.

After I finish the cohesion readthrough, then I start tackling the list. At this point I also sit down again with the edit letter and see if there are problems my editor brought up that I still haven’t sufficiently fixed. That’s where I’m at right now. I try to be brutal with myself and ask myself if I’ve really fixed the problem. My temptation, after straining at this for a month already, is to just burn through the list and slap on some quick fixes that I know will need to be fixed in the next draft.

I’ve done that in the past, but this time around I’m trying to shoulder most of the work in these early drafts. When you’re on a super quick production schedule like I am (books releasing every 5-6 months), I’ve realized there might not always be as much time later as I want to fix things. Now is when I should be taking the time to dig into the guts of this thing, set its broken bones, and make it as solid as I can before turning in the next draft.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Life Imitating Art?

In which I wax philosophical about story structure, TV tropes, and the question of whether my life imitates the stories I tell, or if it's the other way around.

For years and years I proclaimed that if I ever got high cholesterol when I was old, I’d cut meat out of my diet before I’d cut out salt. Salt and I have had a long love affair that began when I was but a wee thing and continued until four months ago. I salted everything. I licked the salt out of the bowl after I finished my popcorn. Then I developed Meniere’s disease even though I'm only thirty, and now can eat only 1/20th of the normal daily allowance now. This is very difficult to do.

But the funny thing is, so many thing seem to happen in my life this way. I’m not a superstitious person, but I’ve noticed this odd pattern. Whenever I declare something out loud or on twitter or facebook, it’s doomed to change the next day. Especially declarations like: I’m feeling better and finally have more energy, or: my writing habit is going great, I think I’ve really gotten the hang of the discipline of meeting a daily word count! Or: wow, my son hasn’t gotten into any trouble at school for two whole weeks!

Then inevitably, what feels like every single time, almost immediately the other shoe drops, and life barges in and negates the statements I so confidently made.

This is exactly what we writers love to do to our characters too. For example, there was this moment in last week’s episode of The Walking Dead where all the characters are standing around, smiling at one another, finally having a good day. The camera lingers as the characters’ eyes meet each other. You get the sense that rifts are being reconciled, that our hard-scrabble favorites are going to be okay after all. And then BOOM!  Zombie attack! The writers and tv crew intentionally gave you that golden moment before hand to make it all the more heart-wrenching when, a few seconds later, all hell breaks loose.

It’s how I build my narratives too. Writing is all about reversals. You know, where a character starts off the chapter stating that they will NEVER do something, then by the end of the chapter circumstances have forced them into doing the thing they swore they never would. For my books, I want a reversal at the end of almost every chapter. Well, either a reversal or a revelation. These are things that make you go OH MY GOD! And then of course you just have to read on to the next chapter to find out how it will resolve itself.

But it’s funny, because growing up, I was always annoyed by reversals in books and tv shows I watched. TV shows are the kings of reversals. Ex: Carrie starts one episode of Sex and the City feeling all happy and glowy about keeping her toothbrush at Big’s place, imagining that it is a sign of real growth in their relationship. And then by the end of the episode, they are broken up. Another perfect example of this is the season 6 Doctor Who episode called “A Good Man Goes To War.” River foretells: “This is the Battle of Demon's Run. The Doctor's darkest hour. He'll rise higher than ever before and then fall so much further.” And then we get to watch exactly that happen.

When I was younger, I assumed these were all superficial, totally made-up conflicts. I thought: life doesn’t work like that. You don’t have some nice opening scene where you expect one thing (and say it out loud), then a hair-brained turn of events brings about it’s opposite. I thought they just did it because it was the expected framework for tv shows.

But now, as I watch the pattern repeat over and over and over in my life, I’m not so sure. Maybe that story structure isn’t just an artificially manufactured conflict for the sake of filling thirty minutes or an hour of tv. Really this structure has been around for a long time. I mean sheesh, take Oedipus. An oracle tells a king his son will kill him, so the king has the baby put out on the rocks to die, only for someone to rescue the child and the son grows up and unknowingly kills his father on the road one day anyway.

These are strange lessons—that the things we want to avoid will so often come to pass in spite of our best efforts. That moments of triumph are so often followed by moments of loss and despair. But even through the disappointments and despair, the fictional characters grow from such moments. They learn and change and hopefully become better and wiser for their hardship. It’s what I hope for my life as well.