Wednesday, August 24, 2016


I met Kim Culbertson during Barnes and Noble's Teen Book Festival in June, and she gave a great writing workshop that transformed my writing process and how I thought about craft. Her newest book, THE POSSIBILITY OF NOW is out now from Scholastic:

Mara James has always been a perfectionist with a plan. But despite years of overachieving at her elite school, Mara didn't plan on having a total meltdown during her calculus exam. Like a rip-up-the-test-and-walk-out kind of meltdown. And she didn't plan on a video of it going viral. And she definitely didn't plan on never wanting to show her face again.

Mara knows she should go back, but suddenly she doesn't know why she's been overachieving all these years. Impulsively, she tells her mom she wants to go live with her estranged dad in Tahoe. Maybe in a place like Tahoe, where people go to get away from everyday life, and with a dad like Trick McHale, a ski bum avoiding the real world, Mara can figure things out.

Only Tahoe is nothing like she thought. There are awesome new friends and hot boys and a chance to finally get to know Trick, but there is also still massive amounts of schoolwork. Can Mara stopping planning long enough to see the life that's happening right now?

Currently, you are at work on your third novel for Scholastic. What has been your experience juggling different projects and what ways have you found to prioritize your work?

I’m sure it’s the same for many writers but, for me, the biggest “juggle” has been trying to find time for writing while working another job, having a family, being a friend, and generally just fitting life into each week. Recently, I committed to my writing full-time and that has obviously helped with the scheduling, but, before that, I was a high school teacher for eighteen years, some years full-time and some years part-time. I loved my years teaching and therefore had two jobs to which I was deeply committed (which made the juggle more complex than it is now). I’m grateful for my years teaching. Those years deeply informed my writing and they taught me that writing was a priority because I continued to make time for it. Writing time has always been sacred for me and I have attempted to create space for it as much as I could. Sometimes, it meant the laundry didn’t get done or I had to miss out on an evening with friends or I didn’t exercise as much as I probably should, but that’s true for any creative pursuit. You only have so many hours and some of them have to be for the life stuff and some have to be for the creative work. The key for me was actually scheduling the blocks of time during my week and then sticking to them. It’s so easy to say “it’s just writing time” and shove it to the side. I had to treat it as a priority in order for it to become one.

Makes sense. In THE POSSIBILITY OF NOW, you confront perfectionism (something many of us struggle with). What do you hope readers might gain from Mara's story?

It’s funny – I’ve been asked this question a lot and I always sort of freeze up. I worry about not saying the right thing. Ha! Talk about perfectionist issues. I think ultimately I spent many years worrying too much about things being perfect and I watched so many of my teenage students doing that in their lives – trying to have a big, elaborate, perfect vision or plan, and it has caused so much pain and stress. As a young person I was told to “do my best” quite a lot and I certainly said it to students at times, but somewhere along the line, it has morphed culturally into something really damaging because the “best” isn’t always possible. We can’t all be the best at everything. And it’s impacting our kids. As a writer, I was interested in exploring this cultural obsession with “best” but I also really wanted to explore the idea that even when we do our best, we can still fail. And that is fine. It’s good, actually. Failing is good. My daughter’s teacher says fail stands for First Attempt in Learning. I like that. So often, we are afraid to try anything new for fear of not being any good at it, which is a recipe for never trying anything! It’s just a vicious circle. I started skiing in my mid-thirties. I was awful (I’m still pretty awful), but I have so much fun doing it. I used to tell people I didn’t like to ski, but the truth is I didn’t try it for so many years because I was afraid of being bad at it. Thank goodness my daughter told me to just have fun with it. She looked at me with her seven year old eyes and basically told me that being good wasn’t the point. And she was right. This culture is obsessively goal-oriented, which, don’t get me wrong, I think goals are great, but when we get so fierce about them, so competitive, I wonder if that’s taking something away from the daily experience. Wow, that was a really imperfect answer. I’m going to leave it that way.

It was a perfect answer, as far as I'm concerned. I loved that you referred to a story's title as its "North Star." How have you used this tip in your own writing?

I want to give credit to that saying where it’s due: David Levithan, who is the senior editor at Scholastic and a brilliant author himself, is the one who introduced me to the idea that the title is the “North Star” – for a writer but also for your readers. I love that concept – that the title is there in the sky of the writing and reading experience, glowing, lighting the way. I also love that as you write and rewrite a novel, the title can keep shifting and changing shape on you. My titles change a great deal over the course of writing a novel – and that’s a good thing – because as a book evolves, so does its central focus. But the North Star is there, all along, guiding you, and at the end of the process, it truly comes into focus.

A beautiful way of putting it, and yet another reason to love David Levithan! What are some of your current projects?

Scholastic will publish my next novel THE WONDER OF US in May of 2017. The book is the story of two friends, Abby Byrd and Riya Sharma-Collins, who have always been inseparable despite (or maybe because of) their dynamic differences and they spent a childhood thoroughly devoted to each other. But the summer after their sophomore year of high school, everything changes. Riya moves to Berlin, Germany with her parents and Abby is left in their small Northern California town. After a falling out, the girls end the year barely speaking to each other. The novel opens on the cusp of the summer after this ruined year. Abby sits on a plane bound for Florence because Riya has invited her on a “multi-city grand tour” to rebuild their teetering friendship. I love travel and road trips and stories with multiple points of view, so I had a great time writing this one.

Can't wait. Thanks for sharing such wonderful insights with us!

To grab THE POSSIBILITY OF NOW, or Kim's other fabulous books, feel free to click the links below:

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Pitfalls of Overcompensation and the Scraps Left Over

Pacing. Le sigh. It's always been one of my challenges. It's especially hard to master in the beginning of a book, when you have to include enough clarity and detail to keep the reader interested, while not bogging them down with so much detail that they're like this:

I've gotten feedback, time and time again, that my beginnings have too much detail. And it wasn't until this morning that I figured out why.

When I submitted my first novel to query, I got the same feedback over and over--people would say, "I don't know who you character is and I don't know what she wants." So in the time since, I've been fighting to explain this by including ALL THE THINGS on the first page to let the reader know, "SEE?! THIS IS MY CHARACTER, THIS IS HER WORLD, THIS IS WHAT SHE WANTS."

Cue above meme.

So, here's what I've learned. I don't have to overcompensate based on the feedback I receive. It's okay to entice the reader, and let them pull more of the weight.

Someone who does this well is Lindsey Klingele. Her book, THE MARKED GIRL, is not only an amazing read, but the pacing is spot on, especially in the beginning. She gives you just enough detail to want to read on--and the world she creates is amazing.

And, in general, overcompensation is a bad idea anyway. Chances are, things will evolve the way they're meant to, no matter whether you try and contort yourself into a pretzel in the process. And it's too much pain and effort to try to bend yourself that way anyway. All it does is cause exhaustion, and the energy you spent doing it can be much better spent in other places (like karate chopping those book sections you don't need).

It's hard to part with words and sections you've worked hard on, I know. But here's my solution: I have an ordinary Word document that I call my "scrap" file. Any words or turns of phrases that I have to cut go in there.

But here's what surprised me. I only go back to this document 5% of the time. Maybe. And some of these documents are so long they might be considered novels themselves.

So, take heart. Use the feedback that works for you, but don't let it paralyze your process. Keep going. Keep moving forward. Or as Dori says, "Just keep swimming!"

(Image courtesy of fandomloveer on Tumblr)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


I had the fortune of meeting Lisa Manifold at this year's UTOPiAcon. I was immediately intrigued by  HEART OF THE GOBLIN KING, the first in her The Realm Trilogy series, especially the large cardboard cut-out of The Goblin King by her booth! See below for more:

Brennan,the King of the Goblin Realm finds himself facing his greatest challenge he's faced since he came to the throne. A rogue sorcerer is raising an army of Brennan's own subjects against him threatening the peace Brennan has worked so hard to create for his people. Since he's already engaged to a perfectly suitable lady, there's no room or need for love in his life. Which is a good thing, because he has other things to worry about. Love is the farthest thing from his mind.

Iris never expected to be whisked away to the Goblin Realm from a stadium bathroom. All she wants is to get away from the obviously crazy man with the sword. Iris has her own problems and being trapped in a land she still can't believe isn't helping any of them. Her goal is to get back to her family and her potential new boyfriend.

Though Brennan and Iris try to ignore the attraction between them, when they must make a choice will they continue to deny their feelings or will they take the step that will change their lives and the lives of everyone around them?

Lisa also answered some interview questions:

I'm interested your offended cat. What offends the cat most?

EVERYTHING offends Ms. Lolly. She likes to be around you, almost, but not quite, underfoot. Should you dare to move, she meows at you in what sounds like a complaint. If you pass her going through the house, and it's too close for her liking, ComplaintMeow. If the dogs look twice at her, ComplaintMeow. She is always, always annoyed. She follows me through the house, and if I am walking back and forth, she doesn't care for it. She does like to sit up above you--on the back of the chair or couch, and nuzzle your head. But if you pet her too much. she scoots away, ComplaintMeowing all the while.

I love her to pieces, but she is very unwilling to suffer in any fashion, and everyone in the house, even me, offends her sense of space and self. It's funny, I'm her person, but there are limits for me just like everyone else. I do think my limits with her are not as hard and fast as others, but they are there.

Sounds like the limits are relative to her anyway. And you didn't limit this story either! I love how Brennan's and Iris's story is told from dual points-of-view. What about their interplay was most challenging to write? 

Keeping their voices separate. When I would switch from one to the other, I'd have to take the time to get in the head space of the one on stage. I developed a distinct point-of-view for both of them, and had to make sure I was there when I wrote it. As well, I found myself telling Brennan to get over himself, and take the stick out of get the point! He's much more formal than Iris - all the fae are. Iris is pretty comfortable in her own skin, and she likes who she is, so she's not changing for anyone, not even him.

In the end, they both change. They take on aspects of one another, as most couples do when they commit to each other. But her ease and his formality are two of the aspects they love about one another, because they are so different. It's appealing to be with someone who is not like you. Maintaining their differences has been the most challenging aspect. I never want them to sound the same on the page.

He is also stiff in the literal sense--his cardboard cut-out was epic! What sparked the idea for this, and was it expensive to make?

I'm going to blame this on my author friend Lisa Brown Roberts. I saw some of the pictures she posted from the RT Booklover's Convention this year. A couple of them had her posing in cutouts of the 1980's book covers - the ones with women wearing ripped bodices, and lifted skirts, and the men looking like Fabio. I'm a complete nerd, so when I saw that, I thought, What a great idea! I would totally pose with that.

And the idea for the cut out of Brennan and Iris was born. It was about $175.00, because I decided to get the more durable cut-out. Brennan has to be able to travel, and make it through checked luggage! He did, too, along with a lot of bubble wrap. I took him through security on one leg, and the TSA folks had fun cutting open my package. BUT - they were fabulous, because they helped me tape him back up. He's one of the best marketing ideas I've done so far.

Excellent! What are some of your current projects?

Right now, I'm finishing up a short story for my newsletter, and working on Book 2 for both The Realm Trilogy, and the Heart of the Djinn series. Those will be out in the fall, and then I need to get right to work on both of the third books. I have a stand alone I am trying to schedule for around Thanksgiving, and then I have plans for new series after that. I am pretty ambitious with my schedule, but things get in the way. So I give myself a little slack. But not much! I love these books, and am anxious to get them done!

Thanks for the questions! These were great! And thank you, Lisa, for your great answers!

To grab a hold of the Goblin King for yourself (you know you want to!), links are below:

Buy: ~ Barnes & Noble

Monday, August 15, 2016

Book Review: UNRIVALED by Alyson Noel

I didn't know Alyson Noel had a new book out (shame on me) until I saw her at this year's Bay Area Book Festival. I bought it right away, and devoured it immediately. UNRIVALED, the first in the Beautiful Idols series, takes a unique look at the darker side of Hollywood, fame, and partying.

Here's the book cover and blurb:

Everyone wants to be someone.

Layla Harrison wants to leave her beach-bum days for digs behind a reporter’s desk. Aster Amirpour wants to scream at the next casting director who tells her “we need ethnic but not your kind of ethnic.” Tommy Phillips dreams of buying a twelve-string guitar and using it to shred his way back into his famous absentee dad’s life.

But Madison Brooks took destiny and made it her bitch a long time ago.

She’s Hollywood’s hottest starlet, and the things she did to become the name on everyone’s lips are merely a stain on the pavement, ground beneath her Louboutin heel.

That is, until Layla, Aster, and Tommy find themselves with a VIP invite to the glamorous and gritty world of Los Angeles’s nightlife and lured into a high-stakes competition where Madison Brooks is the target. Just as their hopes begin to gleam like stars through the California smog, Madison Brooks goes missing. . . . And all of their hopes are blacked out in the haze of their lies.


As someone who is into pop culture, this title had definite appeal for me, and I can see why it made the New York Times Best Seller List. This multiple-POV story follows Hollywood teens who are diverse, strong-willed in different ways, and hungry for opportunities. They find one in Ira Redman's stiff nightclub competition--where getting "gets" will lead to possibilities none of them anticipated. Awesome page-turning plot aside, the writing in this book is absolutely gorgeous. There were way too many examples of unique turns of phrases, but one of my favorites was, "In a city that feeds off youth and beauty, Hollywood Boulevard more closely resembles a former screen siren who's seen better days." In addition to the wonderful writing, the fully fleshed-out characters were still compelling despite not always being likable. A difficult feat for any author, and Alyson Noel not only ensures that we'll follow them wherever they go, but she seamlessly weaves their stories together into a whirlwind plot--I'm still reeling from the surprise ending! I won't give away any spoilers, but suffice to say this book was beautiful in its unpredictability. I can't wait until the next installment comes out!

To grab a copy of UNRIVALED for yourself, feel free to click the links below:

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


I first met Jadah at UTopYA, and got to know her more at this year's UTOPiAcon. We bonded first over our common last name (even though McCoy is my married name) and I was excited to buy her book, ARTIFICIAL, the first in the Kepler Chronicles, at the Curiosity Quills Press booth. It has an amazing premise:

In 2256, the only remnants of civilization on Earth’s first colonized planet, Kepler, are the plant-covered buildings and the nocturnal, genetically spliced bug-people nesting within them: the Cull. During the day, Syl leaves her home in the sewers beneath Elite City to scavenge for food, but at night the Cull come looking for a meal of their own. Syl thought gene splicing died with the Android War a century ago. She thought the bugs could be exterminated, Elite city rebuilt, and the population replenished. She’s wrong. Now she must find a cure and stop the person responsible before every remaining man, woman, and child on Kepler is transformed into the abomination they fear.

For Bastion, being an android in the sex industry isn’t so bad. Clubbing beneath the streets of New Elite by day and seducing the rich by night isn’t an altogether undesirable occupation. But every day a new android cadaver appears in the slum gutters, and each caved-in metal skull and heap of mangled wires whittles away at him.

Glitches—androids with empathy—are being murdered, their models discontinued and strung up as a warning. Show emotion, you die. Good thing Bastion can keep a secret, or he would be the next body lining the street. Now Bastion must help Syl escape before he becomes victim to his too-human emotions.

What first acquainted you with the UTOPiAcon and what do you love most about it?

I love Utopia!! Actually, my friend Crystal Bryant was telling me I should attend UtopYA 2014 several years ago, but I was working through some social anxiety issues at that point, so I didn’t. But I am SO glad I decided to attend last year’s con! I met so many amazing people. I love that it’s a huge group of people I can just be myself around. I’ve never met a group of people so understanding, welcoming, and nurturing. It feels like home! I definitely recommend the con for all writers, readers, bloggers, and BookTubers!

It is a great con, and I've found so much inspiration there. Speaking of inspiration, I love the Terry Pratchett quote in the beginning of ARTIFICIAL: "Maybe the only significant difference between a really smart simulation and a human being was the noise they made when you punched them." In what ways, if any, did this influence the story as you wrote it?

I think Mr. Pratchett’s quote kind of sums up the deeper theme of ARTIFICIAL. What is the difference between man and machine, especially when the machine itself is so human? The quote basically says to me that maybe there is no difference. Maybe the only difference is the sound of a fist on flesh versus the sound of a fist on metal. And if you’ve reached the point as an abuser where you know the sound of each, does it matter if the thing you’re abusing is human or simulation?

An excellent question, and one your book addresses very well. I also love the cover! How much collaboration was involved in the design?

Thank you! Regina Wamba with Mae I Design did my cover. A lot of collaboration was involved, actually! I filled out a few inspiration sheets, mapping out my thoughts on what I liked, didn’t like, wanted, and envisioned. We came to the final design fairly quickly, because from the first mock up I knew I was going to love it!

I'm so glad you were able to see your vision realized. What are some of your current projects?

Book 2 in the Kepler Chronicles is in the pipeline for May 2017, and Book 3 will be out sometime in 2018! I’m also currently working on a contemporary novel, the first I’ve ever written! It’s a very ambitious project, dealing with depression, suicide, and world travel. But it’s a story I felt I had to write, no matter how difficult it would prove to be. Lots of good things coming!

Can't wait! Thanks, Jadah, for such a great interview!

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Monday, August 8, 2016

I'm not a novel, I'm a short story!

That moment when...your novel tells you it's a short story and that 15,000 word project tells you it's a novel. That happened to me last week, after I finished first-draft edits on the novel, which was, as all first drafts are, a hot mess. I realized that there was nothing holding it together, because there were no underlying themes and my protagonist didn't really have a purpose.

Underlying themes can go a long way within a novel. I touched on this a bit with my post here, but I really figured it out with the messy hand-edits of the dregs of that first draft. So, with that in mind, I tried to find ways to shorten it down, and with those re-writes, something strange happened--the themes started to reveal themselves and I found a way to incorporate them back in. So, with any luck, it will be a novel after all--after a lot of painful surgery. And, I figure, I might as well make it a short story too.

So, a brief but helpful reminder. Just because something doesn't look the way you expected doesn't mean you should give up on it. Sometimes stories are more than what they seem, and as the vessels of those stories, we have a chance to explore them to their depths and see how far down they really go. Remember, it's not the shape of the iceberg that matters, but what direction it's going.

Stay tuned for another author interview on Wednesday and a review next week--I've been reading tons of amazing stuff!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

THE MARKED GIRL by Lindsey Klingele

I was so intrigued by the premise of this book that I had to get it immediately. It even has a great heading at the beginning: "The Night That Started Out Normal." Have a look for yourself:

When Cedric, crowned prince of Caelum, and his fellow royal friends (including his betrothed, Kat) find themselves stranded in modern-day L.A. via a magical portal and an evil traitor named Malquin, all they want to do is get home to Caelum—soon. Then they meet Liv, a filmmaker foster girl who just wants to get out of the system and on with her life. As she and Cedric bond, they’ll discover that she’s more connected to his world than they ever could’ve imagined…and that finding home is no easy task…

On your website bio, you listed The Babysitters Club series as one of the stories that shaped you and keeps you going. As a fellow fan of that series (I wouldn't be a writer without it) what about it do you think spoke most to its readers and fans?

I love that series so much! I think it spoke to a lot of girls like me who grew up in the 90s. There were so many distinct, interesting characters in The Babysitters Club, and I think a lot of readers had favorites that spoke specifically to them – I was a total Mary Anne who aspired to be a Claudia. I also loved how engaged the girls were with each other and with their business. I tried to get my group of friends to form our own babysitter’s club, but we had nowhere near the commitment needed (and no one wanted to step up and be the Kristy). Plus, it turned out I kind of hated babysitting. Whoops. But I also loved that series for just its sheer volume of stories – long-form storytelling is my very favorite, which is why I secretly hope all my favorite TV shows will have twenty seasons.

I'm a total Mary Anne, and I wish the same thing. What I love most about THE MARKED GIRL is its fish-out-of-water elements. How did the story come to you, and what did you love most about writing it?

Thanks! I initially got the idea when my family came out to visit me in LA for the first time. I got to see the city again through their eyes, and started wondering how Los Angeles would look not just to Midwesterners, but to someone really, really far away. Like Westeros far away. Those fish-out-of-water elements were also some of my favorite to write. All of the lighter, comedic elements and banter were the most fun for me.

That level of fun definitely comes through in the story too. You had a few launch events this year, right after the book's release. What did you enjoy most, and what did you learn?

I learned that I can survive them! I was pretty nervous, but the support of people I know and readers who stopped by made it a lot easier. I also learned that having one glass of wine before speaking in public can calm the nerves enough to stop your voice from shaking :)

Good advice! What are some of your current projects?

I’m currently just finishing up the sequel to THE MARKED GIRL. It’s called THE BROKEN WORLD, and it will be out next summer. Liv and Cedric’s story will wrap up with that sequel, and after that I'll be working on a different stand-alone for HarperTeen.

BIO -- Originally from Michigan, Lindsey Klingele moved to Los Angeles and has since worked in the writers' rooms of television shows such as ABC Family's The Lying Game and Twisted. The Marked Girl is her first novel.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound