Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Characters We Can Root For

This week on Operation Awesome, I talked about writing characters that readers can root for. You can read more about it here. 

And here's a .gif to go along with the overall theme:

From Tumblr: "A Girl Worth Fighting For" http://i-wont-say-im-in-loveee.tumblr.com/
Stay tuned for next week, where I'll be re-featuring author Anna Staniszewski and her new book, POWER DOWN, ROBOT!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

RODIN'S LOVER, by Heather Webb

Last year, I interviewed Heather Webb about Becoming Josephine, a historical romance about Rose Tascher and her suitor--a man that would become Napolean Bonaparte.

Heather's newest book, RODIN'S LOVER, also takes place in historic France. The voice and tone of the book are exquisite, and put me right into the story. Have a look for yourself:

As a woman, aspiring sculptor Camille Claudel has plenty of critics, especially her ultra-traditional mother. But when Auguste Rodin makes Camille his apprentice—and his muse—their passion inspires groundbreaking works. Yet, Camille’s success is overshadowed by her lover’s rising star, and her obsessions cross the line into madness.

Rodin’s Lover brings to life the volatile love affair between one of the era’s greatest artists and a woman entwined in a tragic dilemma she cannot escape.

Heather also answered some follow-up interview questions:

In our last interview, you said you grew significantly as a writer while you penned RODIN'S LOVER. Can you elaborate on what changed for you, and how your writing process developed?

I think, if writers are truly growing, they push themselves with each new book. That was certainly the case for me with Rodin's Lover. I learned so much about both my research process as well as how I construct the overall structure of the novel. I've learned to be more efficient in shorter periods of time and I had far fewer drafts this time as all of the plotting I did saved a lot of time in edits.

It's comforting to know that efficiency can be gained with practice! RODIN'S LOVER takes place about one hundred years after BECOMING JOSEPHINE. What drove the decision to set the novel there, and what sorts of elements (besides mental illness) did you get to play with?

The first time I had ever heard of Camille Claudel was in my French film class in college. There's a fabulous 1988 movie that won all kinds of awards about her life and love affair with Rodin. It doesn't go nearly as in depth as my book (but that's almost always the case with movies anyway, isn't it?), but still worth seeing. While finishing Becoming Josephine, I started thinking about a new topic. I kept running into renditions of Rodin's The Thinker everywhere and I took that as a sign! I re-watched the film and fell in love with their story all over again. 

Beyond mental illness, I spent a lot of time learning about sculpture and the art of sculpting itself. That was utterly fascinating! After all of that research, I still marvel at the way people envision some gorgeous, emotionally gripping piece in a block of stone. And then there was all of that historical research about artists of the day and the scandals they caused. Good, juicy stuff!

I love that you've included some of the sculptures in the book too! On January 27, RODIN'S LOVER had a Facebook party and giveaway. What other ways have you spread word about your books? Do you feel blog tours are effective? 

This is a question more for writers than readers. It's hard to say what works, honestly, outside of good ol' fashioned word of mouth and writing more good books. Other than that, maybe ads and publicity coverage, which writers can't really control. That's in the hands of our publishers, mixed with some serendipity and much homage to the gods. Ha!

Speaking of writing more good books, what are some of your current projects? 

I'm currently working on a short story for an anthology called A FALL OF POPPIES that centers on the first and controversial Armistice Day during WWI along with 8 other authors. That will be released from HarperCollins next year. I'm also working on a full length novel that's shaping up to be a Gothic thriller set during Belle Epoque Paris once again. It's a retelling of a popular story that I can't talk too much about just yet. After that, I'm headed to New World!  

And we can't wait to go there with you! Thanks, Heather, for another wonderful interview!

To grab RODIN'S LOVER and/or BECOMING JOSEPHINE for yourself, feel free to click the Amazon icons below:



Heather Webb is the author of historical novels BECOMING JOSEPHINE and RODIN’S LOVER.  A freelance editor and blogger, she spends oodles of time helping writers hone their skills—something she adores. Find her twittering @msheatherwebb or contributing to her favorite award-winning sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

NEVERLAND, by Shari Arnold

When I saw the cover and premise for NEVERLAND by Shari Arnold, I knew I had to feature it. And as luck has it, the book released yesterday! Have a look:

It’s been four months since seventeen-year-old Livy Cloud lost her younger sister, but she isn’t quite ready to move on with her life — not even close. She’d rather spend her time at the Seattle Children’s hospital, reading to the patients and holding onto memories of the sister who was everything to her and more.

But when she meets the mysterious and illusive Meyer she is drawn into a world of adventure, a world where questions abound.

Is she ready to live life without her sister? Or more importantly, is she brave enough to love again? In this modern reimagining of Peter Pan, will Livy lose herself to Neverland or will she find what she’s been searching for?

Shari was also kind enough to answer some interview questions!

According to your blog, Daily Distractions, when the idea for NEVERLAND came to you, it wouldn't leave. How did you gauge this new idea with the deadline you had, and can you tell us more about juggling multiple projects?

I try to stay on one project at a time but occasionally something will creep in. I keep an idea journal for those occasions. I write ideas down ALL THE TIME. If I don't they disappear completely. Texting myself in the middle of the night also works if I'm feeling lazy.

Yep, that's why I leave my phone by the bed. Sometimes ideas will come and I can't go back to sleep until I record them. 
Meyer, NEVERLAND's male protagonist, is really compelling. What about Meyer do you think readers will love the most?

Meyer has that boyish-charm thing going for him and his air of mystery completely drives Livy crazy. He approaches life as though it is an adventure and helps her break free of her sorrow. His accent doesn't hurt either. =)

Ooh, I love a good accent. You also wrote a YA Paranormal novel called KATE TRIUMPH. How did the idea come to you, and what do you want readers to take away when they've finished the story?

KATE came to me one night when I was trying to sleep. Her name was the very first thing to arrive. I knew immediately she was going to be a strong, determined character with amazing possibilities. She continues to change and grow into something I never could have predicted at the time. I hope readers can relate to my characters, but mostly I want them to take the journey with me. I love setting my books in reality with just a hint of magic. One should always believe in magic.

So true. And speaking of magic, I love the design of your Daily Distractions blog. What advice, if any, do you have for authors wanting to build an online platform?

I do my best to read about the authors I love (I think I'm not alone in that) so I think it's important to have a website. I've always had a blog because before I was published I read and reviewed books like crazy. It's also important to have a presence on Twitter and Facebook. The best thing I ever did was join a group of YA authors on Facebook. Those women are my support team.

Supportive online communities are definitely worth keeping! What are some of your current projects?

I am currently working on the sequel to KATE TRIUMPH and getting my third YA novel, MYSTIQUE, ready for its release in Fall/2015. Oops. I guess I do work on more than one project at a time...

And we appreciate it! Thanks, Shari, for a great interview!

To snag Shari's books for yourself, click the pictures below:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

WISH GIRL, by Nikki Loftin

So, it's no secret that I love Nikki Loftin's books. I've featured them previously, as well as over on Operation Awesome. And I was lucky enough to get an ARC of her newest book, WISH GIRL, in the mail. WISH GIRL is completely un-put-down-able; the writing is superb, and the characters are beautifully unique. See for yourself:

A dying girl gives a boy the strength to live in this lyrical novel that will break your heart and lift your spirit. 

Peter Stone’s parents and siblings are extroverts, musicians, and yellers—and the louder they get, the less Peter talks, or even moves, until he practically fits his last name. When his family moves to the Texas Hill Country, though, Peter finds a tranquil, natural valley where he can, at last, hear himself think.

There, he meets a girl his age: Annie Blythe. Annie tells Peter she’s a “wish girl.” But Annie isn’t just any wish girl; she’s a “Make-A-Wish Girl.” And in two weeks she will begin a dangerous treatment to try and stop her cancer from spreading. Left alone, the disease will kill her.

But the treatment may cause serious, lasting damage to her brain.

Annie and Peter hatch a plan to escape into the valley, which they begin to think is magical. But the pair soon discovers that the valley—and life—may have other plans for them. And sometimes wishes come true in ways they would never expect.

Since two of Nikki's books, NIGHTINGALE'S NESTand WISH GIRLhave both been labelled as magical realism (which is sort of an oddity in MG literature), here’s a list of five authors Nikki recommends for readers who pick up WISH GIRL and like it (I'm sure many people will!). Take it away, Nikki!

1. Pam Munoz Ryan. Her book Esperanza Rising is a classic, and uses magical realism in such a subtle way. The book deals with immigration, so it's an important book for kids to read… and the magical realism gives it a feeling I don’t get from a lot of straight contemporary fiction. Magic, hope, a sense of deeper currents.

2. Kimberley Griffiths Little. Her books, like The Healing Spell, are set in Louisiana, and Little uses the creole magic of the bayou to create stories about families and friendships that stay with the reader.

3. Anne Ursu. Breadcrumbs, a wonderful blend of fairy tale re-telling and magical realism.

4. Laurel Snyder. Both Seven Stories Up and Bigger than a Breadbox are wonderful!

5. David Almond. His Skellig is still one of my favorite magical realism stories ever.

Thanks, Nikki! To grab a copy of WISH GIRL for yourself, click the link below.

And here are Nikki's other books:

And here are the books Nikki recommended:

Happy reading, everyone!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

#Nestpitch2015: Is Your Manuscript Ready to Rumble?

I'm excited to take part in this year's Nestpitch Contest, debuting April 1. I'll be a "slushie," which means I'll review entries as they come in.

In celebration of Nestpitch, I posted some contest tips on Operation Awesome, which I've reproduced below:

If you plan to enter a contest:

  • Make sure you have something ready and polished. Nothing like getting a request for half-done manuscript!
  • Make sure your pitch includes your protagonist, what they want/need more than anything, and what gets in their way
  • Make sure you follow all the contest specifications, especially submission guidelines, which can vary greatly

If you plan to be a contest judge:

  • Make sure you know the full extent of what's expected
  • Make sure the timetable fits into your schedule, and that you are clear on what is supposed to happen when
  • Make sure that you can glean/learn something from the experience

Here's the skinny for those interested in entering Nestpitch (you can also see the full list in the post linked above).


How does Nestpitch work?

This year we have changed things a bit, therefore even if you participated in Nestpitch 2014 you will still need to read the below.

This year we are NOT accepting Picture Books. We are accepting MG, YA, NA and Adult FICTION ONLY. I had someone ask if we are accepting memoirs or similar- the short answer is NO. This is a FICTION ONLY pitch + 1st 300 for manuscript length fiction only. We are accepting all genres within these categories. If your novel is either Erotica or Christian, please state this. For example: Adult Romance (Erotica) or YA Historical Romance (Christian).

We support diversity and strongly encourage authors with GLBT, geographic, cultural and/or social diversity within their manuscripts to submit. Having said this, we DO NOT support sexual violence, violence against children, bigotry and racism, paedophilia and/or animal cruelty. While it is true that violence and cruelty features within some genres, horror for example, or racism in a historical fiction set in the time of slavery, we will not accept manuscripts that support or promote, directly or indirectly, racism, misogyny, rape, sexual, physical or emotional violence.

One submission per author only please.

Teams: This year there are nine Teams made up of one Mentor & two Slushies. The Teams are listed here: https://nestpitch.wordpress.com/2015/03/12/nestpitch-2015-teams-simply-smawesome/


The Pitch window will be open for 48 hours, thereby allowing everyone, regardless of where you live in the world, to prepare and submit a pitch.

The Pitch will be made up of three parts.

(i)                 a 35-word pitch

(ii)               answer to a question (in your main character’s voice)*

(iii)             the first 300-words of their manuscript

*QUESTION: If your MC was an Easter Egg, what flavour would s/he be?  Keep your answer to NO MORE than 15-words.

happy easter animated gif funny Easter Bunny photo graphics Happy Easter ecards animations eaggs Easter fun hot cross bunny animations gif e-cardsHow to submit your Pitch:

On April 1st the submission window will open. Please follow the guidelines as set out below. Last year some people put their first 300 words at the top or mixed up the order. Please do not do this. There is a reason for the order and failure to follow the below will likely mean your submission will not pass Round#1 (refer below).

Send the following in your email:

In the Subject line: Nestpitch2015 Sub and your name/author name

In the body of the email type these words:

By submitting this pitch + first 300 words I agree to allow the Nestpitch blog and/or any other affiliated blogs to post my submission on an open forum for the purposes of critique and feedback.  I understand this can be for the life of the blog(s).


Category/ Genre:

Word Count:

35-word Pitch:

QU (in your MC’s voice), if your MC was an Easter Egg, what flavour would s/he be?:

*First 300-words of your MS:

*1st 300 = if your MS has a prologue, then your 1st 300 starts from your prologue. Also, finish at the end of a sentence. This is 300-word MAX, so your last word is 300-words. If your sentence finishes on 292-words, submit that. If your sentences run into 30 or more words, then you might want to rethink the length of your sentence(s). Broken sentences do no one favours.

Example of a Submission:

Subject line: Nestpitch2015 Sub – Nikola Vukoja

By submitting this pitch + first 300 words I agree to allow the Nestpitch blog and/or any other affiliated blogs to post my submission on an open forum for the purposes of critique and feedback.  I understand this can be for the life of the blog(s).

Manuscript Title:      Easter Bunny goes to Vegas

Category/ Genre:      MG/ Fantasy

Word Count:             26,000

35-word Pitch:        After losing all his eggs in a card game to March Hare, the Easter Bunny heads for Las Vegas where he plans to win enough money to buy back the world’s Easter Eggs.

If your MC was an Easter Egg, what flavour would s/he be?  I’d be every flavour, colour, shape and size imaginable; I’m the Easter Bunny… geez!

First 300-words of your MS:

Easer Bunny Blah Blah…

Send your submission to: Nestpitch@outlook.com (please note the submission window below, submissions sent prior or post those times/dates will not be accepted)

Formatting: Either Times Roman or Arial (we are aware that there may be issues with some email account regarding font, please do your best to use either Times Roman or Arial, or something as close as possible to these two)

No indentions. Single spacing. One space between each Paragraph.

Prologues: Your prologue is where your first 300 words begin.

Word Count: Rounded to nearest 1000. For example, 86,000 not 85,798

Process: Last year we contacted all submissions that had made a mistake or left something out (listing only category or genre for example). This year we will not be so lenient. Aside from formatting issues, authors will be expected to follow the above. All submissions will be read by me (Nikola) first to ensure each submission has followed the above rules/guidelines.

There will be three rounds before final selection.

a.       Round #1: To get past #1 the authors must be able to follow guidelines.

b.      Round #2: This year each Team will select an initial 5-8 submissions and then request more pages/material. Based on the additional pages/material, each Team will drill their selection down to between 4-5 to go to the next round. Note: authors may receive more than one request from more than one Team.

c.       Round #3: On having picked their final 4-5, each Team will then critique the first 2,500-words and ‘get to know’ the author(s). This is a 3-fold process. Being selected does not necessarily mean being featured. Teams will want to know the author(s) are willing to accept feedback etc.  The Teams will work with their authors for 3 weeks, offering feedback, sharpening pitches, & suggesting improvements. After this, the authors have a full week to re-read their MS in full & make any final changes; before the agent round.

From the Slush-pile Picks. My Team #Team2Beat, will be hunting through the slush-pile and the reserves, looking for gems that have been missed. We will have the option of selecting between 1-5 pitches (at our discretion) to feature. This is basically a bonus-pick so, you may just get an email after the date, but if you do, you’ll be expected to work twice as hard as the other author’s as you’ll have less time – so be ready!

Additional Rules:

a.       Only manuscripts which HAVE NOT been featured in another online competition are eligible to enter. This DOES NOT include workshops, critique groups or similar. It also DOES NOT include twitter or any other tag-line style pitches either. Please feel free to ask if you’re in any doubt.

            (i)      If you have submitted the same manuscript to #Pitchslam, due to the time-line cross-over, we are accepting these submissions. However, if your submission goes to the final stage of either or both competitions, please advice us and the host of #Pitchslam.

b.      Submissions MUST follow the submission format. We accept that sometimes emails de-format fonts and tabs, what we don’t want is people forgetting to put CATEGORY & GENRE (for example) or not answering the question; that sort of thing.

All pitches that have followed the rules (round#1) will then be forwarded to each Team. After the internal cat-fight, erh discussions will take place and each Team will select their top 4-5 author submissions (round#3). Expect to also see teasers and cryptic clues via Twitter & Facebook (*don’t forget to follow the Mentors and Slushies, lots of fun to be had!)

My Team #Team2Beat will be the Bandit Team. I bet all of you have a brother or sister who always stole your favourite Easter Eggs – well that’s what we’ll be doing – sort of. We will be looking for hidden or missed gems. They could be from the slush-pile or from #round2 & we’ll feature them. #Team2Beatmay have as few as one submission featured or as many as five – it all depends on how many diamonds in the rough we believe have been missed.

This year there will again be an Amazon Gift voucher Prize for the submission with the highest number of requests and another for matching the Agents with their Masks (more on that at agent reveal).

15 Dates:

Agent Reveal: 27th March

Submission Window Opens April Fools Day (Wednesday 1st April 2015)

10pm Aust. Eastern Standard Time

7am USA New York Time

12 noon London UK Time

Submission Window Closes Good Friday (Friday 3rd April 2015)

10pm Aust. Eastern Standard Time

7am USA New York Time

12 noon London UK Time

Secret Agent Bunny Mask Reveal: April 9th

Teams send out requests for 1st 2,500 words Sunday 12th April

Authors reply by Tuesday 14th April

Final Selection Sunday 10th May (Mother’s Day)

Agent Request open Monday 11th May to Tuesday 12th May 2015

Unmask the Agent: Wednesday 13th May 2015 (Amazon Voucher)

Agent Request(s) sent out to authors Wednesday 13th May 2015

Authors to send requested pages to Agents by Friday 15th May 2015

Winner of Most Requests: 20th or 21st May

Stats: 28th or 29th May

Nestpitch2015 Close: 31st May (follow up blog with success stories as they come)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


While writing with other authors in last month's Winter Writing Festival run by the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood, I was lucky enough to do some writing sprints with Liz Talley. When I found out more about her books, I couldn't wait to feature them. Her next book, SWEET TALKING MAN, sounds exquisite:

Leif Lively is the hottest thing to happen to Magnolia Bend. But single mother Abigail Orgeron figures he's another heartbreaker and does her best to ignore the steamy glances he tosses her way. When he speaks, though, her resistance crumbles! His sweet words, humor and laid-back ways captivate buttoned-up Abigail.

For once, losing control feels so good, and this no-strings arrangement is getting serious. What will she do when Leif solves the family mystery that brought him to town and decides to leave? Because she's learning that the biggest love means taking the biggest risk.

Liz also answered some interview questions:

According to your website bio, The Thornbirds was the first romance you read. What, if any, influence did it have on you, and can you tell us more about your journey toward writing and publication?

 As a preteen I found solace in reading. Something about being in those middling years either pushes a girl away from books or toward them. They were a magnet for me, and romance was a whole new world. I picked up The Thornbirds after seeing an episode on TV and that was it. The angst, the passion, the YEARNING. Oh, I loved every word of it. So romance became my go-to genre.

I agree--I read some of The Thornbirds in high school and loved it (and the TV series was amazing too). I love the premise of SWEET TALKING MAN. Where did the idea come from, and what do you want readers to take away after reading the story? 

SWEET TALKING MAN is the second in my Superromance series, “Home in Magnolia Bend”. The first book, The Sweetest September (Aug ‘14) was born with the idea to do a secret baby book…but a baby that was not so secret. I borrowed a character from another series (Shelby Mackey) and reprised her for the role of my heroine. I loved her character so much and was glad to give her a happily ever after. SWEET TALKING MAN is the story of Abigail, one of the Beauchamp family siblings. The theme for this story was easy for me. Abigail had to learn to let go a little and Leif had to learn how to hold on for once. “Hotter in Atlanta” was a short story I did in early 2014. I also had His Forever Girl following (Feb ‘14)  and Cowboys for Christmas (November ’14). Until this moment, I hadn’t realized that in a 13 month period I had three books out and two novellas release. Huh. No wonder I’m fighting all those white hairs in my head.

And you've had a good reason to be busy! As part of the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood group of bloggers, you help with and participate in the Winter Writing Festival. How did the festival come about, and what, in your opinion, is the best thing it offers writers? 

The festival was birthed from a comment about NaNoWriMo. So many of us are busy mothers and the timing for that wonderful event is tough for most women. Because our blog focused on helping writers on their journey to publication, we hit on the idea to do something similar but at the beginning of the year when everyone was rearing to put pen to paper and accomplish those resolutions. Thus the festival was born. We wanted it to be flexible so that it wasn’t just about writing new word, but rather fitting for each author’s individual journey. Best thing to me is the encouragement and the chat room sprints. Nothing makes you more productive like people who are timing you and expecting you to actually work.

Indeed. I got a ton of word counts and editing done, all while being a part of a great community of writers. Finally, what are some of your current projects? 

Currently I’m writing a 2-in-1 book with the talented Kimberly Van Meter which will come out for Harlequin Blaze in Nov/Dec 2015. I’m also working on a new book for the Blaze line, a new direction for me but one I’m very excited about. My final Superromance (for the time being) Sweet Southern Nights comes out in August 2015. And I’m also working on a new anthology with Kim Law and Terri Osburn and a two book contract with Amazon Montlake which I’m VERY excited about. All in all, I’m a busy gal and I like it that way.

To snag SWEET TALKING MAN for yourself, feel free to click the link below:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Dangers of Quantification

This week on Operation Awesome, I posted about how quantification-only thinking impacts writers, and how it can sometimes limit possibilities.

And, because it rocked my world, I have to share this great Neil Gaiman video (it's long, but worth it).

Next week, stay tuned for an interview with romance author Liz Talley!