Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Healing Wars Trilogy by Janice Hardy, and Happy Halloween!

Last post, I mentioned my upcoming "What Keeps You Going" post to supplement my post on "What Stands in Your Way." But it will probably have wait until next week, so please stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, I'm super excited to feature one of my favorite authors on Halloween.

Janice Hardy, as well as being the author of the awesome Healing Wars Trilogy, also writes a blog called The Other Side of the Story, which is necessary reading for aspiring authors. I wish I'd found Janice's blog sooner--it gave me a much better idea on how to construct my first novel. Seriously, if you haven't put this blog into your RSS feed yet, do it. You'll thank yourself later.

I also read THE SHIFTER, which is the first in the Healing Wars series, and it's the most exciting YA fantasy I've read in a while. I had it finished in no time. See for yourself:

Nya is an orphan struggling for survival in a city crippled by war. She is also a Taker—with her touch, she can heal injuries, pulling pain from another person into her own body. But unlike her sister, Tali, and the other Takers who become Healers' League apprentices, Nya's skill is flawed: She can't push that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it into another person, a dangerous skill that she must keep hidden from forces occupying her city. If discovered, she'd be used as a human weapon against her own people.

Rumors of another war make Nya's life harder, forcing her to take desperate risks just to find work and food. She pushes her luck too far and exposes her secret to a pain merchant eager to use her shifting ability for his own sinister purposes. At first Nya refuses, but when Tali and other League Healers mysteriously disappear, she's faced with some difficult choices. As her father used to say, principles are a bargain at any price; but how many will Nya have to sell to get Tali back alive?

Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.

Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.

War has come.

Nya’s the one who brought it. And the people love her for it.

With Baseer in shambles and Geveg now an impenetrable military stronghold, Nya and the Underground have fled to a safer location—without Tali. Nya is guilt-ridden over leaving her sister behind and vows to find her, but with the rebellion in full swing and refugees flooding the Three Territories, she fears she never will.

The Duke, desperate to reclaim the throne as his own, has rallied his powerful army. And they are on the move, destroying anyone who gets in the way.

To save her sister, her family, and her people, Nya needs to stay ahead of the Duke’s army and find a way to build one of her own. Past hurts must be healed, past wrongs must be righted, and Nya must decide: Is she merely a pawn in the rebellion, a symbol of hope—or is she ready to be a hero?

And finally, Janice was extremely kind to answer some questions:

On your website, you mention "the difficult transition from writer to author." What was this transition like for you, and what advice do you have for those working through the same process?

When I was just writing, it was all about the fun and the excitement of the story and the dream of one day getting published. I set personal goals, but if I missed one it didn't matter. But once I sold a novel, I had editors and deadlines and readers and all kinds of pressures and expectations. I was a writing professional, with all those professional responsibilities. It's hard to juggle at times.

What helps me get through it is prioritizing.  I know when I write best and I set aside that time for writing. I also carve out time for promotional and marketing tasks, answering emails, keeping up my blog, etc. All of the non-writing things can take over your life and you discover you're doing more social media and blogging than actual writing. It's important to remind yourself it's the books that matter and they get priority. (after family of course) Setting aside specific times to do certain tasks is a lifesaver. I actually get more done because I'm not pulled in so many different directions, or constantly interrupted throughout the day.

Excellent time-saving advice--definitely worth trying! The Healing Wars trilogy has an excellent premise. Where did the idea for the series come from, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished reading it?

Thanks! The idea hit me at a time when I was playing around with common fantasy tropes. I went to see the first X-Men movie, which includes a character named Rogue (my favorite superhero). Her superpower is that she accidentally steals your powers if she touches you. I left the movie wondering what would happen if someone could heal like that. They'd bump into a random stranger and heal them. That mixed well with my trope playing, and I realized that you rarely saw a downside to healing magic. I wondered how I could make something so inherently good used for evil. Could healing have terrible consequences? The pain shifting developed from there.

I hope readers take away a sense of satisfaction at reading a great story. That's my goal as a writer--to tell a compelling story and entertain my reader while they're in my world. Anything beyond that is a bonus. That said, I do love playing with moral gray areas, so I hope readers wonder what they'd do in the same situation.

You've definitely managed to tell a great story with a compelling premise. Both THE SHIFTER and its sequel, BLUE FIRE, have superb openings. What advice do you have for aspiring writers trying to tweak their beginnings? Is there a good way to tell when an opening resonates the way it's supposed to?

I spent a long time on those openings, so thanks! The opening line for THE SHIFTER took me a month to get right. (I'm weird in that I can't start a book until I have a great first line) Openings are all about grabbing the reader. If they like what they read they keep reading. That's usually a character they care about and a situation that makes them curious to see how it turns out, but you can hook them with a great voice and character as well.

What hooks a reader will vary by genre, which makes it that much harder. A thriller, for example, might open with a scene setting up the major problem the hero has to solve and pique reader curiosity. A young adult romance might start with the main character in a rough situation that gains reader sympathy. However it starts, something is happening. It's not just setup to explain why what's going on matters.

That's probably a good test for a beginning. Are you explaining things to the reader or showing a dramatic scene? And by dramatic I mean things happening, not "drama." If you find a lot of description or backstory or any type of explanation, odds are you're setting it up and you're not to your story yet. That's probably going to bore your reader. But if things are moving and there's a character in the process of doing something, you probably have a decent opening.  It's not quite that simple, but it's a good start.

Great tips, especially for those challenging beginnings! You write an awesome blog, "The Other Side of the Story," which provides excellent writing tips and examples. Is it difficult to keep the content new and fresh? How do you balance the blog with other writerly tasks?

With over 1000 posts now, it can be hard to come up with things to blog about. Writing is a finite topic and there's only so much out there. To keep it fresh, I pay attention to what I do when I write and look for tips and techniques that might help other writers. How I do something, why I do it, a trick I use to get around a common snag. I also get inspiration from my Real Life Diagnostics column (where writers submit snippets of their own work for me to critique on the blog). These show me the things folks are struggling with. I've discovered the more specific a topic is, the better the chance that I haven't written about it before, and there aren't already a dozen blogs posts out there on the same topic.

It's tough to balance the blog and the writing. The blog is immediate, so I feel like I've accomplished something when I work on it (which makes me want to work on it). The writing can feel like it takes forever if a scene isn't going well or a book takes longer than expected. What finally worked for me was to designate when I work on each. Weekday mornings (7-11am) are for novels, and Saturday mornings are for the blog. I also make notes or write down ideas for the blog during the week so I'm not staring at a blank page come Saturday. I have times of the day set aside for certain tasks as well (like reading other blogs and scheduling my writing link tweets).

Thank you for the Real Life Diagnostics column--it really helped me with internalization. Your website bio also states that your favorite holiday is Halloween (Happy Halloween!). What makes it your favorite, and has it influenced your writing in any way?

I've always loved monsters and scary things. Creature Feature was my favorite show when I was a kid. Halloween is about fun and embracing the things that scare us, and it's the one night of the year when we can be anything we want. I guess embracing the darkness shows up in my writing. I'm not afraid to do terrible things to my characters (that's my favorite part). The things that scare us also thrill us, and that thrill makes a great story. If I can make a reader feel that, I've done my job.

A big thank you to Janice for a wonderful interview! To buy her wonderful series for yourself, click on the links below:

Friday, October 26, 2012

365 Days of the Query: What Stands in Your Way?

 I've had trouble keeping my momentum going lately, mostly because I feel pulled in a lot of directions at once, especially when it comes to my writing. So I thought it might be helpful to explore some of the things that are standing in my way, to examine what they're doing there, and why.

What stands in my way:
  • Myself.
I am my most formidable foe. I am always the first to say I'm not good enough or that I can't do something, especially when it comes to my writing. I've been knee-deep in edits lately, and it wasn't until I gave myself a break from hyper-analyzing the text that I actually started to make some headway. To be more satisfied with my work.

A great quote in this blog post from Mike Martin also helped: “Your job is not to get the book perfect. Your job is to get the book done.” Fellow perfectionists, take note.

  • Time.
Time management, mostly. I'll be the first to admit that I don't use my time in the best way that I could. There's a great book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. Have I read it yet? Of course not. It's on my laptop, waiting on my Kindle App. Have I made time to break out my laptop? Of course not. The barrier here? See above.

Facebook is also a very large time-suck. It's one of those things that holds a great amount of novelty, so I find myself clicking into there much more often than I should. The ironic part is this novelty usually wears out in the space of 5-10 minutes. And then I'm left, staring at the screen, drool hanging out of my mouth, and wondering why I'm so dissatisfied. I cancelled my cable to focus more on my writing. But I need a way to cancel my internet too. There's a great program for the Mac called Freedom, that turns off your internet temporarily, offering more chances for productivity. But I have a PC--does anyone know of similar programs that are PC friendly? Until I find something, will-power and determination will have to win out.

  • Stress.
By nature, writers are empathetic people. Librarians can be too. I'm both, which can make for a heap of anxietywhen those inevitable daily stressors come my way. Imagine a raft whipping in the ocean breeze during a storm. It's like I don't have a filter--no way to diffuse the heaps of crap as they fall down on my head.

Consciously, I know that everyone carries crap. All the time. And I know there are many that carry even more than I do. But even with this knowledge, my body still reacts when external factors upset my center of calm. I even got a skin rash this past week because of it.

Am I going to have to get over this to be a successful writer? Absolutely--and I've heard that the process of getting published is one of the most stressful things there is. So I'm looking for ways to deal--and finding them wherever I can.

  • Not saying no.
A friend recently told me, "For every yes there should be a no." This is very wise advice, and something I haven't yet consciously thought of when agreeing to things.

Saying yes too often turns into a prioritization problem. What commitment to do first, and who will be let down if you don't do something right away? What matters, and what doesn't?

Saying yes to everyone doesn't do you a service, and if anything, it makes you more likely to let down the people you're trying to please in the first place. But still, for some odd reason, it's hard to say no. I know, because I still struggle with it.

Ultimately, it's a lesson in putting yourself first. Try saying yes to yourself more often than saying yes to others. And I'll try, too.

What about you? What are some things that stand in your way? Feel free to post below. And stay tuned for, "What keeps you going?"

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Blogging Once a Week, Paying it Forward, and the Benefits of an Online Presence

So you've probably noticed my posts have gotten a lot less frequent of late. Belated apologies--I know how frustrating it can be to follow a blog that doesn't update all that often.

But my reasons are sound:
  •  Librarian duties are compounded during fall semester, particularly at my institution--leaving much less time and energy in the evenings to blog. But, my efforts haven't been in vain--I got the following feedback from a faculty member yesterday (from an email sent to my supervisor that I was copied on):
 "Karen's presentation not only clarified a few steps students could take on their own, but her approach to a diverse set of majors (the course is interdisciplinary) set an expectation that my students are now responding to. Karen's enthusiasm and focus has persuaded students to give research an earnest try." 
  • Secondly, after some tremendous feedback from some lovely beta readers (you know who you are), I've been spending evenings that I usually reserve for blogging revising two of my manuscripts to make them top-notch--and the developments have been really exciting. I got the following feedback from a beta reader earlier this week:
"Marnie is definitely likable, and her story is compelling. And I especially like how quickly you get to the "meat" of the story. I read a different version of this opening last year, and in this version Marnie really 'pops.'  I like it."
 To sum up, things are busy, and I'm pretty tired--but I'm still trying to pay it forward in any way I can, particularly when it comes to my beta readers--those who helped me get Marnie to where she needed to be. I even sent a couple of them thank you cards this week. (To find out more about Marnie, you can visit my website to read a blurb and excerpt:
I am also trying to get in enough author interviews to fit in with my schedule--because the best way to help promote great books is to talk about them with readers. If you'd like to be interviewed, please email me at (info (at) kbmccoy (dot) com).
Some people (including published authors) have told me that if a blog doesn't help promote you and your writing, or if it takes too much time away from your writing, or if it doesn't make money, then it isn't worth putting a lot of blood, sweat and tears into. And there is some truth to this--which is why, at least for the remainder of the fall and through the holidays, I'll probably limit my blogging to once a week at most. This way I can keep my novel writing at the high priority it needs to be.

I thought about going dark completely over the next few months, particularly while I'm honing my skills and my craft--but I'd still like to put out updates as often as I can, especially if they might prove helpful to others. Janice Hardy does this best on her blog--and I'll be featuring her in an interview in coming weeks. Her entry on internalization also helped me in my most recent revisions. Another good post, "The Biggest Mistake Writers Make"  helped me a ton and can be found here.

So if you're a blogger, even if you aren't yet published, keep at it, particularly if you have content that's interesting and helpful to your readers. Just don't do it at the expense of your writing. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Book Review: KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE by Marina Adair

I recently had the immense privilege of reading Marina Adair’s upcoming novel, KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE. It takes place in the small town where I grew up, and Marina was interested in my take on the story. So here goes:


After six years of fall-out from a misguided affair with a married man named Richard, Regan Martin wants a fresh start in the Napa Valley and a perfect Christmas for her daughter Holly. But Gabe DeLuca, her new boss, will stop at nothing to drive her out of town to protect his sister, Abigail, who also happens to be Richard’s ex-wife. But the more time Gabe spends with Regan and her daughter, the more he starts to assess his familial priorities—and his growing attraction to Regan. But Regan has to decide how much she’s going to put on the line for Holly—and if a relationship with Gabe is really worth the trouble.

I was immediately drawn into the warm, small-town holiday setting that Marina created (especially since it was based on my home town). Her details were exquisite, and they even inspired me to purchase plane tickets home for Thanksgiving.

As a writer, I like to study how characters are presented, and Marina did a great job of creating three-dimensional people that jumped right off the page—especially Regan, who was an extremely relatable heroine. Another favorite of mine was ChiChi, a quirky grandmotherly type with a lot of spunk. Writers looking to buck up on character development should definitely take note to see what Marina is doing in her books.
Because it was an uncorrected proof, some parts may need to be revised upon publication. But the  story is a unique one, and it develops well. Marina definitely included enough intrigue to keep me turning pages.

Overall, readers looking for a feel-good holiday story with an erotic, romantic spice will love this book. Thanks, Marina, for letting me read!

For those looking to purchase KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE, feel free to click on the button below.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

And the winner of THE NIGHT BEAT is....

...Kelly Anderson! Woo hoo!

The question was: How would you enforce Prosaic City's night beat?

Here was Kelly's answer:
I don't know that I would be any good at protecting either world. I would probably run screaming into the night if something nasty came 'sliding' over to my side. Unless he was incredibly hot, then I might run screaming at him...haha.

I liked this answer a lot because it incorporated the suspense and romance that are always so prevalent in Gini's books. Here are a few runners up (weapons seemed to be a recurring theme):

"With all the weapons I could carry."

"With a whole lot of snark and helpful friends on speed dial. In addition to a smart partner (any species) and weapons :)"

"Don't know if I would be able to juggle both , but if I did I would be very tired and get lack of sleep am pretty sure people would think am crazy. Hopefully I'll have a kick ass team to help me out. :)"

Thanks, everyone for participating! If you want to snag your own copy of Gini Koch's THE NIGHT BEAT, click on the link below: