Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I hope all of you are enjoying a joyous Christmas. In lieu of a post today, I'm going to reference a post I recently saw on Rick Riordan's blog. It has the best writing advice I've seen in awhile. Here's the link. Also, for those who haven't yet read THE LIGHTNING THIEF, it's excellent. I'm in the middle of it now, and can't wait to see what happens next.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Earlier this year, I featured Eliza Green's debut novel, BECOMING HUMAN, the first in the Exilon 5 trilogy. The sequel, ALTERED REALITY, just came out December 15!

Being different is accepted. Being special could get you killed.

The Indigene Stephen is forced to leave Earth without Anton, who is captured by the military. On his journey back to Exilon 5, he’s haunted by a series of disturbing dreams. Are they a manifestation of his fear for his friend’s safety, or a psychological link to Anton? 
Back on Earth, Bill Taggart focuses on two things: the search for Anton, and deciphering the coded letters from his wife. What he learns forces him to change his focus. He must find a way to warn the Indigenes.
The programme to transfer people from Earth to Exilon 5 becomes much more ‘selective’. Under orders from Earth’s World Government, a clinical biologist studies the imprisoned Anton’s genetic code in detail. But when a colleague turns up on the table in her medical facility, her curiosity about the Indigene soon shifts to fear for her own safety.

In a recent blog post, you talked about how it took four years before you were satisfied with BECOMING HUMAN. How do you know when a book is truly finished, and how have you honed your writing process since BECOMING HUMAN? 

You don’t! It’s almost impossible to stop tinkering with a book, but if you get to a point where you’ve addressed the issues with your writing so that readers can appreciate the story for what it is, then you’re done. After that, it’s down to personal taste if they choose to stick with you through the second and third book.

I would never change a story because of a reader’s personal taste. I would, however, consider changing a story if I felt I wasn’t doing it justice with the way it was presented. When I re-read BECOMING HUMAN after finishing ALTERED REALITY I realised my writing style had moved on, so I made the easy decision to update Book 1 to bring it in line with Book 2. It’s the right thing to do for the trilogy as a whole. That version will be available on the 22nd of December. It’s being edited at the moment.

That's a good policy to have! What were the main challenges you had in tackling a sequel, and what advice do you have for authors writing a series?

The main challenge was definitely getting the timelines in the story right. One of the problems you can also face is figuring out a cool way for the story to go, but realising it too late to add it in. If you’ve already published the first book, you may have to forget it.

My advice to other writers would be to get book 1 and 2 down on paper before you think about releasing Book 1. That way, any interesting quirks that develop naturally can be added to the first book for a smoother continuity. While I edited Book 2, I had already written Book 3, so I could see how the story would develop and changed what was necessary for the story to flow correctly.  For trilogies, I feel it’s essential to know where the story is going before you publish the first book.

Excellent advice. How have your characters, particularly Stephen and Bill Taggart, changed throughout both books? What do you like most about each character?

Bill Taggart, my human protagonist, was a loner in BECOMING HUMAN. He was looking for answers as to what happened to his wife. That question is still unresolved as we move into Book 2. How he has changed is that he sees value in accepting help where it is offered. Bill is strong and humble. I like that he is deeply hurt by people who betray him but fiercely loyal to those who don’t.

Stephen, a member of the Indigene race, thought his reasons for hating the human race were clear, but when he discovers something new about himself, he is catapulted into a different state of mind that alters his perception of the world. I like that Stephen is willing to admit he doesn’t have all the answers and is just trying to do what’s right for the Indigene race.

I look forward to finding out more about them both! What are some current projects you're working on?

Currently, I’m working on Book 3 in the Exilon 5 trilogy, title still to be confirmed. I also have some ideas for other science fiction stories, possibly connected to the trilogy. This year, I signed a three book audio deal with Podium Publishing. They will be turning the trilogy into audio books and was the main reason why I decided to update BECOMING HUMAN to reflect my current writing style. I’ve learned a lot over the last year and now is the time to put my best foot forward with the best books I can write.

To snag a copy of BECOMING HUMAN (Book 1) or ALTERED REALITY (Book 2) you can click on the giveaway link below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Or, you can purchase them from Amazon: 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why a 12-Hour Editing Bender is a Bad Idea

Ok, so I know linking "12-hour editing bender" and "bad idea" is a bit obvious. But this actually happened to me. Last Saturday I worked on 20 pages of editing from about 10am-10pm. I took a small lunch break, but no dinner break. Keep in mind, I'm not working on an official deadline. Just one of my own making. Definitely looney bin territory.

Here's what I learned (and what I'm still grappling with):

1. It is possible to overthink until there's nothing left.

Afterward, when I got my sanity back, I checked the older version in my Kindle and found the paragraphs I'd sliced weren't all that bad. I may have to flesh things back up again. Lesson: Breaks are necessary. When you start editing yourself into corners, stop!

2. I should just set a timer.

Ha! Timer, you say. I ignored said timer, determined (very irrationally) to finish. I need to find a more compelling reason to stop when I need to. Lesson: I can't do everything all at once, and sometimes make things worse when trying. Space allows for necessary problem-solving.

3. But what if I forget to make space in the thick of it all?

If my mind won't tell me, my body will. My stomach growled at me for the last hour, and my eyes were so tired they were about to fall out. Lesson: Even if you're in the middle of a sentence, it's necessary to stop when your body is breaking. See #1.

4.  My body and mind are linked. In the worst possible way.

Not only was my body in serious need of food, I was near the point of tears. My hyperfocused state wound me up like an overused guitar string. Lesson: Being emotionally frayed will not help your story. Or sentences. Or anything.

5. Rinse before repeating.

One of the main reasons I'm writing this post is I'm due for another editing bender this evening. Here's hoping I can remember all this before my mind gets into the zone of ignoring everything except the words on the page. Lesson: Remind yourself of what's important before you actually sit down to write.

So--is this an affliction shared by recovering perfectionists only? (I crossed out "recovering." This post is proof I've offically fallen off the wagon.) Or, do you have a set editing process? Feel free to leave comments below.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


K.C. Klein's new novel, HUSTLIN' TEXAS, just released today! It's the follow-up to TEXAS WIDE OPEN, which I featured here along with her book DARK FUTURE, which won a Prism award. Here's more about HUSTLIN' TEXAS:

Only one person in Oak Groves is happy to see bad girl Nikki Logan back in town...Oak Groves' most beloved bachelor, Jett Avery, lives by a simple set of rules. Getting involved with a complicated woman isn't one of them. He learned that the hard way two years ago when he spent one of the most incredible nights of his life with Nikki Logan. But then she hightailed it out of town, never to be seen again-until now. It might be time to break one of those rules...

Picking up the pieces of her life, Nikki is back in Oak Groves, face to face with the one man she's done her best to forget. But she has her reasons for being here-and they don't include winding up in bed with Jett. Especially since he'll never forgive her once he finds out the truth about why she's back...

I also did a follow-up interview with K.C. Here are her answers to my questions:

Your mentioned your debut novel, DARK FUTURE, in our last interview. What about the book makes you must proud? 

A few years ago DARK FUTURE placed in the FF&P Prism contest, and I was thrilled. Every time someone says they like my books it’s as good as my first trip to the backseat of my boyfriend’s car. Well, actually better, but that’s a whole other blog post.

DARK FUTURE was a labor of love for me. I started writing it when my, now 11 year old, daughter was still a baby. I found myself isolated from friends and family while I was stuck at home caring for a colicky infant. I still remember finding spare moments where I could lose myself in a world of hot to-die-for heroes and snarky, exciting heroines. I feel like those moments saved my sanity.

Your upcoming book, HUSTLIN' TEXAS, is the second in the Texas Fever series. I read the excerpt on your website and loved the voice in it. How did you develop Katie's character, and what do you love most about her?

Katie and Cole’s story came to me in one of those funny writer’s dreams that everyone wishes they had. I had just finished up DARK FUTURE and there were literally no prospects for the manuscript to get published. I really needed a break from the grit and intensity of DARK FUTURE, and I dreamt up a little cute story about a girl, a horse, and this desperate love between her and the older cowboy next door. The book turned into much more, as books often do, with a lot of comments from people saying how surprised they were at the intensity between Katie and Cole.

I think Katie was loosely based on a much, much older version of my daughter. It was fun writing from a young person’s point of view. They are so fearless with nothing to hide. It was very freeing and easy to fall into Katie’s character.

 It definitely shows! I've heard writing sequels can be difficult. What advice to you have for authors plotting out a series?

My only advice is, don’t take my advice. Right now, I am about ready to slit my wrists writing the next book in the series. As far as plotting goes maybe some of your viewers can give me some tips. I would love to plot. I admire authors who can plot and have the whole thing laid out in some beautiful written synopsis somewhere. I am not that writer. Unfortunately, my story depends on the characters, and when they aren’t talking I am so screwed.

I think stories really jump off the page when characters drive the plot--so your method sounds good to me! What other projects are you currently working on?

The next book in the Texas Fever series. But when that is done I have plans to go back and write the second book to DARK FUTURE. That book has been burning a hole in my brain, and I think its time has come.

Looking forward to it! If you were stranded on an island with five books, which ones would you choose?

Gone With the Wind
Whatever book I left off on in the Diana Gabaldon series. ( Once you start writing, you have less and less time to spend on in-depth series.) I think I barely made it through The Fiery Cross and it looks like there are two more.
The next two books in the Game of Thrones series. I think I left off on A Feast For Crows (see reason above)

Two plus two plus one makes five, so I think I’m good. That should at least get me through a few weeks stranded in paradise.

Thanks for the fun questions, Karen! And thanks for an excellent interview, K.C.!

To snag K.C. Klein's books for yourself, be sure to click the links below:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

MY SORT OF FAIRY TALE ENDING by Anna Staniszewski: the Final Installment of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life Series

I'm seriously bummed that the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series by Anna Staniszewski is coming to an end. For a recap of the previous books, I posted about them here and here.


Happily ever after? Yeah, right.

Jenny's search for her parents leads her to Fairyland, a rundown amusement park filled with creepily happy fairies and disgruntled leprechauns. Despite the fairies' kindness, she knows they are keeping her parents from her. If only they would stop being so happy all the time-it's starting to weird her out! With the help of a fairy-boy and some rebellious leprechauns, Jenny finds a way to rescue her parents, but at the expense of putting all magical worlds in danger. Now Jenny must decide how far she is willing to go to put her family back together.

You can also read the first chapter here. Or, have a look at the trailer:

Below are Anna's answers to my questions: 

MY SORT OF FAIRY TALE ENDING wraps up the last of the My Very Unfairy Tale Life series. What has been the hardest part about writing the ending, and how difficult is it to tie up loose plot ends when writing a series?

There were two main challenges I faced when writing the final UnFairy Tale installment. First, I wanted to make sure that Jenny’s story was wrapped up in a satisfying way that tied together her emotional journey over the three books. Second, I wanted to give the book its own beginning, middle, and end, so that it felt like a smaller story within the larger one. It took a lot of work to get both of these elements to a place where I was happy with them. Hopefully, Jenny agrees with my choices!

I'm sure she does! In our last interview, you discussed a new project, DIRT DIARY. Where did the idea for the story come from, and how has it developed as you've written it?

I was listening to a story on NPR about teen mortification that mentioned a girl working for her mom’s cleaning business and having to clean the houses of some of her popular classmates. When I heard that, a bell started clanging in my head. As I sat down to play with the idea, Rachel’s voice jumped off the page. She told me about the other problems going on in her life (her parents getting divorced, the guy she liked dating her nemesis, etc.) There were a lot of plot threads that were woven in as I continued to work on the story, but the overall idea has stayed the same from that first spark of inspiration.

In addition to writing, you teach in the MFA program at Simmons College. How do you balance teaching and writing, and what advice do you have for writers juggling more than one career?

I love teaching because it gets me out of the house and talking to like-minded people who aren’t imaginary. I teach part-time which gives me more time to write, though sometimes it’s still difficult to balance the two. I find that I need to set aside writing time, even if it’s just an hour that I take away from grading papers, etc. No matter what, writing needs to come first.

Indeed. I love that you insert humor into your books--you do it really well. Do you have any tips for writers wanting to incorporate comedy into their stories?

Be your wacky self! Seriously. I think sometimes we try to do what other people think is funny without considering our own personal sense of humor. We all have offbeat and unique ways of looking at the world. Work those sensibilities into your stories, think about your characters’ offbeat traits and viewpoints, and have fun with them.

So true. If you were stuck on a desert island with five books, what would they be?

Oh boy! I think I need to go by author on this one. I’d choose a book by each of the following:
1.    Jane Austen
2.    Douglas Adams
3.    Shannon Hale
4.    MT Anderson
5.    John Green

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston with her husband and their black Labrador, Emma.

When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series, published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Look for the first book in Anna’s next tween series, The Dirt Diary, in January 2014, and visit her at

To snag Anna's books for yourself, click on the links below:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

BUTTER and DEAD ENDS by Erin Jade Lange

I met Erin Lange at a recent conference and bought her books immediately. She has one of the strongest voices I've ever read. Her debut BUTTER just made YALSA's 2013 Teens' Top Ten List and she has a new release entitled DEAD ENDS.

A lonely obese boy everyone calls "Butter" is about to make history. He is going to eat himself to death-live on the Internet-and everyone is invited to watch. When he first makes the announcement online to his classmates, Butter expects pity, insults, and possibly sheer indifference. What he gets are morbid cheerleaders rallying around his deadly plan. Yet as their dark encouragement grows, it begins to feel a lot like popularity. And that feels good. But what happens when Butter reaches his suicide deadline? Can he live with the fallout if he doesn't go through with his plans?

With a deft hand, Lange allows readers to identify with both the bullies and the bullied in this all-consuming look at one teen's battle with himself.

Dane Washington is one suspension away from expulsion. In a high school full of “haves,” being a “have not” makes Dane feel like life is hurtling toward one big dead end. Billy D. spends his high school days in Special Ed and he’s not exactly a “have” himself. The biggest thing Billy’s missing? His dad. Billy is sure the riddles his father left in an atlas are really clues to finding him again and through a bizarre turn of events, he talks Dane into joining him on the search. 

A bully and a boy with Down syndrome makes for an unlikely friendship, but together, they work through the clues, leading to unmarked towns and secrets of the past. But they’re all dead ends. Until the final clue . . . and a secret Billy shouldn’t have been keeping.

Erin also answered some interview questions:

As a journalist, you get to explore real-world issues. How do you connect this to your writing, and can you tell us more about your journey toward writing fiction?

I spend up to 50 hours every week writing the news. During those hours, I can rarely spare even a second to think about fiction, but I am constantly absorbing. Some stories, like your daily armed robbery, can be brushed off. But some stories can't be so easily purged. They sit and fester somewhere in my subconscious until I have to release them, and they tend to come out in my fiction - accidentally, if I'm being honest. But usually when I have a light bulb moment in my books, I can trace it back my newsroom. It can be as obvious as the internet bullying and teen suicide included in BUTTER or as subtle as the economic recession in DEAD ENDS.

I have always written fiction for fun, but it took ten years of writing facts for me to be truly inspired enough to write fiction professionally.

Further proof that a lot of fiction can be based in fact! I love the character of Butter--he jumps right off the page. How did he come to you, and do you have recommendations to writers having trouble with character development?

Thank you! My stories always start with characters. I've tossed out many a good plot idea because the characters just weren't coming to life, and I've rewritten a good chunk of a book to give my characters a better plot. 

Butter's story came to me in a bit of a flash, but in the beginning, he was more of a stereotypical "angry fat kid." Once I started writing him, he let me know he was so much more than that. He was also witty and talented and lonely and loving. I let my characters evolve on the page, and if necessary, I change the story around them. I will always bend a plot to make it more realistic for my characters, but I will never force a character into an unnatural plot situation. I would encourage writers to be flexible with their outlining and plotting and try not make characters do things out of - well, character.

Great strategy. No wonder your characters' voices are so distinct! In DEAD ENDS, you tell the story from the bully's point-of-view. How did the story develop, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished reading?

DEAD ENDS started with voices in my head. Haha! That is to say, I would get these rushes of dialog that came to mind so fast and furious, I couldn't remember them long enough to get to a computer and type them out. I would actually dictate the dialog into a voice recorder and then transcribe my recordings later. This went on for months, because I had no idea what the story was - only that I had two boys with a lot of personality who were a bit of a mismatched pair. I kept trying to write other things, but these voices just would not go away, so I finally sat down and found them a story. It only took one month to write that first draft, because I loved hanging out with those two!

I always say, I never set out to send a message with any of my books. If a reader walks away with something personal, that is wonderful, but the best I can ask for is that they feel like they've been told a good story.

Indeed! What are some of the current projects you're working on?

I am currently working on my 3rd book, REBEL BULLY GEEK PARIAH, which is due out Fall 2015. I'm aiming for a modern day breakfast club with a side of thrills. As always, I just hope my readers love the characters!

I'm sure we will! Thanks, Erin, for a great interview!

To grab Erin's books for yourself, click on the links below:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

THE BEST LAID PLANS by Tamara Mataya

From last week's interview with Kelly Barnhill, her short story, "The Insect and the Astronomer," is now available for free! 

This week, we switch to romance. I found Tamara Mataya on Twitter when I saw her posts on Janet Reid's blog. Not only is she a super cool writer librarian, her new book, THE BEST LAID PLANS, came out November 4.

Jayne Griffin isn’t looking for Mr. Right. She’s looking for Mr. RTFN and a toe-curling good time. She’s got the brains, the powerful job as a futures broker, and thanks to a makeover and a thin book of dating advice, the confidence to turn any man’s head.

Malcolm Black notices his high school crush, Jayne, from the stage of her company’s work party. His adolescent feelings for her died beneath months of abuse at the hands of bullies. Abuse that was Jayne’s fault. Though this scorching hot studio musician is unrecognizable as the band geek he used to be, the hurt still lives inside him, and he hatches a plan: Seduce Jayne into falling in love with him, and then shatter her heart.

The white-hot chemistry between them is a pleasant surprise. It all goes so smoothly until Feelings start to develop... and that invitation to their ten year high school reunion lands in their inboxes.

Jayne wants the perfect lover. Malcolm wants revenge. But you know what they say about The Best Laid Plans...

Here are Tamara's answers to some of my questions:

 As a fellow librarian, you must have a healthy love of books! Did that draw you toward writing, or did the writing happen first?

I've ALWAYS been a reader. I ended up sucking at math in the fifth grade, because we had reading period before math, and I sat at the back of the room. EVERY DAY I'd sort of emerge from my book haze and realize that the rest of the class had moved on to math, and I'd still been reading, and had missed half the lesson! So I've ALWAYS lost myself in books. As for writing, my first real writerly experience, was in the sixth grade, when my short story was chosen as a winner, and I got to go to the Young Author's Conference, and have my story published in an anthology. The story was about a jack-o-lantern that came to life, found love, had seventeen children, then was left a widower and single father! I still have the anthology :)

That's awesome! I had a similar math experience. I always pulled a C average, and was called a "daydreamer"  by one of my elementary school teachers.
I love the premise of THE BEST LAID PLANS. What inspired the idea, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished?

I was thinking about the stories we all carry with us beneath our skin. People are shocked when I tell them I was picked on in school, and wasn't popular by any means. I wondered if two seemingly perfect people could get past the scars of their pasts and see something amazing right in front of them... even if they share a less than stellar past.

As for what people take away from it, I hope it helps them let go of something weighing them down. Maybe letting go of some hurt from their pasts too. :)

Very well put. I love your Twitter handle, Feaky Snucker. How did it come about?

A conversation with my dad and older brother! My brother was talking about what he'd name a spy/ detective agency, and my dad called him Sneaky Fu..... I promptly commandeered it from my brother, made a tweak, and I've been Feaky Snucker ever since!

You just signed a 3 book deal with Swoon Romance--congratulations! Will your books all be part of the same series? What other projects are you currently working on?

 Thank you!!! I feel like Malcolm and Jayne (MC's from THE BEST LAID PLANS)'s story has been told, and at this moment in time, I can't think of anything I want to add. There could be books featuring other characters in TBLP, which would include a peek at Malcolm and Jayne in the future!

As for WIP's, how much time have you got?! I have WAY too many ideas. I'm currently writing two main WIP's, and have about 7 ideas for others vying for my attention! I've got contemporary NA romance, NA Action/ adventure, YA Sci-fi, NA Urban Fantasy! I'm set for a while and am SO fortunate to have found an agency that lets me write more than one Category/ Genre! 

To get a hold of THE BEST LAID PLANS for yourself, click on the link below:


Wednesday, November 6, 2013


When I read this blog post by author Kelly Barhill, I knew I wanted to interview her immediately. In addition to her novels, she also has a new short story called, "The Insect and the Astronomer" in Lightspeed Magazine. Be sure to check it out!

Enter a world where magic bubbles just below the surface. . . .

When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his strange aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for quite a long time.

When he arrives, three astonishing things happen: First, he makes friends -- not imaginary friends but actual friends. Second, he is beaten up by the town bully; the bullies at home always ignored him. Third, the richest man in town begins to plot Jack's imminent, and hopefully painful, demise. It's up to Jack to figure out why suddenly everyone cares so much about him. Back home he was practically, well, invisible.

The Mostly True Story of Jack is an eerie tale of magic, friendship, and sacrifice. It's about things broken and things put back together. Above all, it's about finding a place to belong.

The end of their world begins with a story.
This one.

In most fairy tales, princesses are beautiful, dragons are terrifying, and stories are harmless. This isn’t most fairy tales.

Princess Violet is plain, reckless, and quite possibly too clever for her own good. Particularly when it comes to telling stories. One day she and her best friend, Demetrius, stumble upon a hidden room and find a peculiar book. A forbidden book. It tells a story of an evil being—called the Nybbas—imprisoned in their world. The story cannot be true—not really. But then the whispers start. Violet and Demetrius, along with an ancient, scarred dragon, may hold the key to the Nybbas’s triumph . . . or its demise. It all depends on how they tell the story. After all, stories make their own rules.

Iron Hearted Violet is a story of a princess unlike any other. It is a story of the last dragon in existence, deathly afraid of its own reflection. Above all, it is a story about the power of stories, our belief in them, and how one enchanted tale changed the course of an entire kingdom.

Here are Kelly's answers to some of my questions:

Your website bio mentions that you "have a bunch of short stories in various publications." What do you like most about short story writing?

I really enjoy writing short stories a lot, and it's something that I let slip in my regular writing practice for a couple years, due to an over-focus on the novels. Not to trash-talk novel-writing, mind you, but it is good to keep the different creative muscles flexing. I have two short stories coming out soon - one called "The Insect and the Astronomer" which will be in Lightspeed Magazine and another which will be in an anthology of feminist science fiction sometime next year. As well as a number of others currently out on submission. For me, writing short stories has more in common with the construction of a poem than the long journey of a novel. Both require a focus on sound and a precision of language that is not quite as true in novel-writing. Both are designed to be consumed in a single sitting, which means that both are built on an intricate web of harmonics and reverberation - each moment carries an echo of every other moment in the story, and every word, every comma, every break, every beat, matters. And that's a fun way to write. Stressful, yes. But fun.

I've heard writers should write outside their usual genre--to challenge themselves and grow. And, short stories sometimes offer extra income, so it's valuable from a business standpoint, too.
I love the premise of IRON HEARTED VIOLET! Where did the story concept originate, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished reading?

The story started a number of years ago. We have a little cabin that my family goes to from time to time - just a shack in the woods, no electricity, no running water, no phones. Even our cell phones don't work up there. Just eleven acres of scrubby forest and running creeks and sometimes a cougar or bear or wolverine sighting. It's awesome. Anyway, I was snuggled up with my daughters and was getting ready to tell them a story. They wanted me to tell them the story of a princess. "But not a pretty princess," they said. "Pretty princesses are boring." And so I started telling them about Violet. And then I couldn't stop.

Pretty princesses are boring! And Violet really seems to break the mold. You also wrote THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK. Great premise here, too. Did Jack come fully formed or did you develop him while writing his story?

Jack arrived fully formed. I am a runner, and do quite a bit of writing while running. Normally, I will start with a sentence that pleases me, and will just string it further and further, looping back to the beginning and adding word after word, like beads on a string. I am primarily an aural thinker, and not a visual thinker at all, so when images pop into my head....well, it's rare. So I pay attention. I was out for a run, and I had a sudden image of a boy sitting in the back seat of a rental car, barreling through Iowa, with the landscape stretching away in every direction like a broad, green quilt. And this kid in the car? He was such a singular fellow. And desperately lonely. I could feel his loneliness hit me like a truck. And I wanted nothing more than to write him a place to be - a place to belong. I had so much compassion for that loneliness, and I wanted to write him home.

It's wonderful when inspiration comes at unexpected times! Your website bio also mentions that you teach and freelance. What strategies have you found while juggling various tasks? Do you have any recommendations for writers balancing more than one career?

Man. I'll tell you, it's hard. Both my husband and I are independently employed, and we have three kids, so we have essentially built our lives together out of duct tape, cast-off lumber, cardboard and gum. And sweat, of course. And tremendous love for the work. Mostly, I have a pretty good sense of when to work like mad, and when to give myself a break. When I'm teaching, for example, I absolutely cannot write. Teaching requires such a tremendous rush of energy going out, that I'm completely depleted by the end of the day. Happy, yes. Satisfied, most definitely. But too exhausted to write. So I schedule things far in advance, I let my editors know where my teaching gigs are, and they are wonderfully flexible and forgiving. And I do my best.

What that means, of course, is that sometimes projects don't happen in exactly the way I think they will. And that can be frustrating - particularly because it is easy for us to be hard on ourselves, and to assume that any deviation of the original plan must constitute failure. The fear of failure is huge with artisty-types, and it's not helpful. Being able to bring what I can to the page, to trust the work when it happens, and not to judge myself - well that was a hard one to learn. But worth it.

Excellent advice. Especially the part about how crippling "fear of failure" can be. What are some current projects that you're working on?

Well! I have a new book coming out next year called The Witch's Boy, which will be published by Algonquin Books for Young Readers. And I am terribly excited about it. And I have two books that will be heading to my agent shortly - and I'll let him decide which one comes next. One is called The Boy Who Loved Birds, and it is about a girl who goes to live with her estranged grandmother when her father is deployed to Afghanistan, and the boy she meets who may or may not be able to speak to birds. The other is called The Sugar House, which is about a boy who is out of the good graces of pretty much everyone on earth after he accidentally almost blows up the school. He also has Type 1 Diabetes, which means that he's the only kid in the neighborhood who hasn't fallen under the spell of a gingerbread-house-witch who is wreaking all kinds of havok on the block. And no one believes him. Why would they? He already almost blew up the school. Accidentally. Mostly. I'm also finishing up a short-story-turned-novella called The Unlicensed Magician. And a couple more stories. It's good to have a bunch of logs in the fire. Very good indeed.

Indeed! Thanks, Kelly, for an excellent interview! 

To snag Kelly's books for yourself, click on the links below.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Once Upon a LORD OF THE RINGS Panel...

One of the perks of my day job is working with faculty who teach really interesting subject content. This semester I had the privilege of doing a library session for a class studying Tolkien and LORD OF THE RINGS. Even better, I've been invited to a panel discussion on Halloween to talk about Tolkien's impact on literarture and culture. And, I'll be able to dress up.

To prepare, I'm reading the THE HOBBIT to refamiliarize myself with Tolkien's language. I love how he inserts the real within the fantastical, much how Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling do. That they're all British is probably no coincidence--British humor has a way of depicting very straight, narrow, and normal characters in absurd situations, and making it all engaging and amusing. Something I strive for in my writing all the time.

But what really got me thinking is how Bilbo decided to embark on his adventure in the first place. His mother was a Took, known for welcoming the unexpected, whereas his father, a Baggins, was very accustomed to routine.

It's the classic head vs. heart scenario. The Baggins part of Bilbo doesn't want the adventure, but the Took part of him craves it. Much like my writer/librarian divide. The librarian in me loves the routine of my job, the security of it. The writer in me (more at some times than others) yearns to break free. And then the librarian remembers how scary that is (and reminds me that I get to do cool things like be on LOTR panels).

As writers, we are all embarking on our own adventure. Even the published among us are carried on various roller coasters.

So we have to find a way to sync our heads and hearts. Marry our Tooks with our Bagginses. And the best way to do that is to focus on the writing--which remains constant, no matter where our rollercoaster adventures take us.

So, go, and be free. Write what you love. Listen to your Baggins. But don't deny your Took.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Interactive Book Trailer: Jonathan Stroud's THE SCREAMING STAIRCASE

The book trailer for Jonathan Stroud's THE SCREAMING STAIRCASE (the first in the Lockwood and Co. series) is probably one of the best I've seen--because it's interactive. And, it's perfect for Halloween.

Go ahead and give it a try:

And here's more information about the book itself:

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood and Co. step in . . .

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again . . .

Happy early Halloween, everyone!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Let's Start a Mutual Admiration Society

This morning, I ran into a coworker who goes to the same place I do for physical therapy and massage. Apparently, my physical therapist told her that I was one of the bright spots in her day. I was completely flabbergasted! It was excellent to hear, especially because her impact on my life (my stress, and my physical pains resulting from said stress) has been life-changing.

I told my coworker that she was also filled with 100% awesome, because she is. And because she is, she told me of something that I can only give her credit for. She mentioned that she and a friend established a "mutual admiration society." And, as a result, she and I established one right then and there. I suppose I have one, of sorts, with my physical therapist too.

In addition, a student contacted me to let me know that I had reignited his passion for school and research. And I realized how people can touch one another in small ways, every day, sometimes without even knowing it.

I started thinking about friends I really admire. And authors I admire. Especially those who reignite my passion for life, writing, and other things.

So here's a list of a few. I will also be tagging them on this post, in case they want to pass the baton to others (and keep the admiration going!):

Angelica R. Jackson - An excellent writer and critique partner. She also runs an annual auction, Pens for Paws, to raise money for Fat Kitty City, a no-kill animal shelter. How cool is that?

Alison Kemper - Like Angelica, as a crit partner, Alison really helped me hone my craft. And, she's also a librarian! Her debut novel, DONNA OF THE DEAD, is forthcoming.

Erin Kellison - Erin gave an excellent workshop at a local writers' meeting. She's super nice, and really knows her stuff. Her most recent novel, SOUL KISSED, is now available for purchase on Kindle, Nook and Kobo. And, she also has a book in the Dark and Dangerous Box Set, which releases tomorrow, October 17!

Gini Koch - A whirlwind of greatness--and also gives excellent workshops. She writes everything--including supermodel aliens and ghosts in retirement homes. Her newest book, ALIEN RESEARCH, will debut in December.

Eliza Green - An author kind enough to let me in on some knowledge of Irish culture! Her debut novel, BECOMING HUMAN, can be found here.

FeakySnucker - Another fellow writer/librarian who makes me laugh hysterically. She also agreed to be interviewed on my blog (forthcoming).

Jennifer Baker - An excellent writer and friend--and one of the sweetest people I know. She also writes flash fiction at Femme Fatale.

T. Michael Martin - Wrote THE END GAMES. Excellent writer and vlogger with an awesome YouTube channel.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. I'll likely do a follow-up post with other names. So, happy Wednesday, all, and be sure to spread some love.

Who do you admire and why? Who helps you reignite your passion? Feel free to comment.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Conserving Brain Energy...Odds are, We'll be All Right

There's nothing like the common cold to help with perspective. When I perused my new novel pages written pre- and post-illness, I found something surprising. Post-illness--they were (at least from a line-edit standpoint) relatively flawless. But pre-illness, when my brain was tired and stretched to its maximum capacity--it was like Forrest Gump wrote my pages.

This got me thinking. As writers, we are constantly encouraged to keep our butts in those seats and write often as humanly possible. And for the most part, this is correct.

But there is a breaking point. Things constantly pick at our brain every day--work, job, kids, family, traffic, government shutdowns, lions, tigers, bears, oh my. The Internet (and Facebook) are particularly good at this. Each thing takes a piece and doesn't give back. So by the end of the day, your brain is only running on about 15% capacity--because the other 85% got left behind with all the other stuff.

This post from Kathleen McCleary on Writer Unboxed says it best, and epitomizes the importance of taking long breaks. She had to take three months off from writing before inspiration struck again. Even when she was asked to produce another book right away.

*Gasps* I hear from some of you. "Missed opportunities," you whisper. I know. Because it wasn't all that long ago that I would have said exactly the same thing.

But not chasing after every little thing doesn't equate to lost opportunity. In reality, it's the opposite. Constantly running around is what really breeds those missed chances--because you're so worn out and so ragged that you can't function enough to capitalize on the opportunities that do come your way.

So, relax. Conserve that brain energy. Take that break, especially if your mind and body urge you to. Rest. Play. Live. Experience. Nothing will fall apart. Nothing will blow up. Odds are, things will be all right, as this song from the Barenaked Ladies states so well:

Sure things go wrong, but I’ll take my chances
Odds are long, so why not play?

(full lyrics are found here)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Elysium: The Dangers of Relying on World-Building Alone (Beware of Spoilers)

I'll have to admit, I was excited when I saw the trailer for Elysium. Very cool premise. A select group of rich people live on a utopian, heaven-like space station called Elysium, while the rest are stuck on Earth, with high pollution, sickness, overpopulation, and poverty.

But when I saw the movie, I realized that's all it was. A premise. NPR movie reviewer, Linda Holmes, says it best: "One of the great threats to any film is that the people who are making it live too much inside it. Just as you learn to navigate a city without looking at signs, they learn to navigate the world they've built so well that they forget to make it comprehensible and important for people who have just arrived."

Because building a world is not the same as building a story. Elysium establishes a set of rules, and then forgets about them in order to flesh out the plot. About three storylines are running at any given time--and they get so tangled that they often negate one another. Such as (beware of spoilers):
  • The citizens of Elysium seem to have no compassion for those on Earth. Wouldn't some assist the people that come through looking for help? Certainly not every one of them are rich, self-centered bastards.
  • Why give Matt Damon's character radiation poisoning when his would-be girlfriend also has a sick daughter? Only one of these is needed to establish the objective of trying to get to Elysium and get healed.
  • And then there's a guy with a samurai sword set to kill everyone and everything. He's probably the most two-dimensional guy in the whole movie, and he's the one they decide to keep around (even after they explode his face off and bring him back to life so he can kill the more plausible, more layered villain).

This is something I have to be very careful of in my writing. It's not enough to create a fantastical world with really unique things in it. It's more important to give the story cohesion, realistic motivations for the characters, and real obstacles for them to face. There has to be a reason for everything to fit together the way it does.

So, when you're looking at the stories you've written, be sure that:
  • Your protagonist's motivation is related to the setting you've created--and the protagonist is affected by it in a realistic and plausible way.
  • You've deleted story layers that don't belong (even if you love them really a lot).
  • Your world "rules" maintain consistent throughout the story.
  • Your secondary characters have a bigger role than just standing in the world they've been created in. What are their motivations? How do they affect your protagonist?
As Linda Holmes says, "However important the point you want to make, you rise or fall on what happens on the stage you've built, not on how immersive an experience that stage creates."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


This week, in lieu of a post, I'm doing a bit of housekeeping to make the blog a bit more user-friendly. More than one person has told me they're unable to leave comments, and I'm also looking to install some better, more sustainable share buttons (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.).

Comments on this post (assuming they show up) may be used for testing purposes until I can figure out a way to get things working.

If you have suggestions on things to try, please send them to my email: writerlibrarian (at) gmail (dot) com. I may also consider a switch from Blogger at some point (recommendations?).

For funsies, here's a little ditty from Kurt Vonnegut:

Have a great week, everyone!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Don't Be Afraid to Bomb

Right now, among the fiction I'm reading (ENDER'S GAME, which I love, plus a Baby-sitters Club prequel called THE SUMMER BEFORE), I'm also reading a great nonfiction book by Teri Hatcher (of Desperate Housewives fame) called BURNT TOAST. The title comes from how her mother always ate burnt toast instead of throwing it away, and it offers a metaphor for how so many women settle for leftovers.

I eat "burnt toast" all the time, and have for most of my life. But I'm learning that not only does it hold me back, it gives me a paralyzing fear of failing. I anticipate failure, sometimes before I even begin.

As writers, we know this all too well. Especially when rejections come in. But later on in Hatcher's book, a surprising revelation: failure is a good thing. Probably the best of things. Because it leads us toward greatness.

Recently, Billy Crystal was interviewed on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He told a beautiful story that illustrates the importance of not being afraid to bomb.

I love what Jon Stewart says. "Enjoy the silence." (I guess Depeche Mode was onto something.) Because here's the secret. Sometimes, when I think I've bombed, it's all in my head--an interpretation of what I think happened, based solely on my past experiences.

So the next time you "bomb," ask yourself if the consequences are really as bad as you think they are. Some of the rejections I've gotten have given me the best feedback. They offer stepping stones toward where I want to be.

Don't let burnt toast charr your path. Acknowledge its presence and don't let it intimidate you. As Hatcher says, "It's about weathering the small challenges that we encounter every day." See it as a way to somewhere else rather than a measurement of your perceived limitations.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

THE MURDER COMPLEX, by Lindsay Cummings

Lindsay Cummings' book THE MURDER COMPLEX doesn't come out until next year, but the premise was so intriguing that I couldn't wait to feature it. See below:

Your mind is not your own...

Meadow Woodson, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been trained by her father to fight, to kill, and to survive in any situation, lives with her family on a houseboat in Florida. The state is controlled by The Murder Complex, an organization that tracks the population with precision.

The plot starts to thicken when Meadow meets Zephyr James, who is—although he doesn’t know it—one of the MC’s programmed assassins. Is their meeting a coincidence? Destiny? Or part of a terrifying strategy? And will Zephyr keep Meadow from discovering the haunting truth about her family?

Lindsay also answered a few of my questions:

Your website bio states that you started writing due to some medical issues. How many years did you devote to honing your craft, and can you tell us more about your journey toward publication?

I've always been a writer, since I was little. It wasn't until I graduated high school in 2009 that I really took it seriously. I got really sick with Chronic Fatigue issues. I had lots of surgeries in a row, and I ended up laying in bed almost all day every day, because I lost all my energy and health. My dad, a double amputee, was 19 when he lost his legs. He turned to writing in a journal. I went back and looked at that journal, and I saw how much writing helped him. I ended up doing the same thing he did....and suddenly, I felt like I was free from the depression and stuff that came with my health issues. Ever since then, writing became my dream. I studied it, went to conferences, and worked my butt off until I got an agent, and it went on from there. It's still a lot of work...but so worth it.

Such an inspiring story--and I'm glad writing provided a good outlet to help you heal. I love the premise of THE MURDER COMPLEX. Where did the idea originate, and what do you want your readers to take away when they're finished with it?

I want readers to feel fearless when they're done reading it. The idea came from me being sick, and feeling trapped in a world where I couldn't escape. The murdering part came from a newspaper article!

You've also written an MG book called THE BALANCE KEEPERS. Great premise in this one too. I'd like to know more about the 11-year-old protagonist--did he come to you fully formed or did you flesh him out while writing the book?

The Balance Keepers is SO much fun! Albert Flynn, the main character, sort of came half-formed. While writing the book, he developed little quirks and favorite phrases, and I really started to love him!

It definitely looks like fun, and it's great when characters flesh themselves out that way! I love the design on your website. What do you recommend to aspiring writers wanting to build an online platform?

Hafsah at Icey Designs made it. She's a rockstar designer!!! Be yourself online...people are drawn to authenticity.

Good advice! What are some of your current projects? Will THE MURDER COMPLEX have a sequel?

The Murder Complex is a 2-book series. It also has a novella that goes with it....a prequel story! :)

Be sure to get a copy of THE MURDER COMPLEX for yourself by clicking below! To find out more about Lindsay, click here.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


I had the privilege of seeing A.S. King's keynote during Backspace last May. Her speech was inspirational, truthful, and it brought me to tears. This post from the Backspace Forum gives a sample of her sly wit and keen observations.

If you haven't read her books yet, they're amazing. Next on my TBR list is ASK THE PASSENGERS. It's about a girl who asks her most personal questions to the passengers in planes flying overhead. King also wrote EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, a 2012 ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults, the 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ. Her newest book, REALITY BOY, doesn't come out until October, but Little, Brown is offering an early large sample to download, available Sept 10th. 

Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.

Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.

In this fearless portrayal of a boy on the edge, highly acclaimed Printz Honor author A.S. King explores the desperate reality of a former child “star” who finally breaks free of his anger by creating possibilities he never knew he deserved.

You wrote your first book in 1994. What was the first book about, and how has your writing evolved since then?

My first book was about top secret things because I plan on stealing the main idea from it in the future some time. But for the most part, it was awful. I liked to think that my writing has evolved by becoming not-as-awful.

No doubt it has! Your website bio states that you took 15 years and seven novels to get published. What kept you motivated throughout this process?

I’m stubborn. Also, I wasn’t thinking about getting published. I was thinking of writing books and creating stuff. So, it wasn’t like the ultimate goal was really relevant. Or maybe the ultimate goal isn’t publishing. Maybe the goal is just writing a good book. I still have to motivate myself daily in order to do that. Some days I snack more than write.

An excellent point. Some aspiring writers focus so much on publishing, the writing sometimes gets lost. And snacking is definitely universal.
I love that the protagonist in REALITY BOY, Gerald Faust, is a former child “star.” What inspired this, and what kinds of strategies do you use for character development?

I am not a TV watcher, so TV things interest me in a kind of innocent way. I am ignorant, I guess. What interests me is human beings, so in the case of Gerald Faust—not a star, but a reluctant and infamous accidental reality TV celebrity at age 5—I wanted to know what it was like to be him at sixteen and how he’d adapted. What is it like for a kid who acted out on a TV show [that he never wanted to come and film him] to grow up as “that kid?” When I write, I don’t really have any strategies. I write a first draft as it comes to me never knowing where my characters will take me. Then, I revise until all of the wrong stuff is cut out and the right stuff is added in.

Sounds like a good process. You wrote a touching personal essay called "The Boy Who Won't Leave Me Alone" for the anthology DEAR BULLY. If given the chance, what would you tell girls going through what you did?

This goes for girls and boys. (I don’t think people know how often this happens to boys. It happens a lot.)

I would tell any victim of physical sexual harassment that what’s been done to them has nothing to do with sexuality, but only to do with power. I would tell them that the term “sexual harassment” isn’t something to be ashamed of or scared of, no matter how many people don’t take it seriously. When it leaves bruises on your skin or involves uninvited touching, it is abuse. Deal with it accordingly. Tell people who can help make it stop. I know this is difficult in a society where judges often punish victims of sexual harassment. I know this is difficult in a society that is happy to rattle “boys being boys.” (Why don’t they say that when guys do something awesome instead?) But if you speak, your voice will be a brave voice and it will, eventually, if you continue to speak, stop the harassment.

I will also add, for the future you: if this affects your self-esteem, self-worth or confidence, look around for places where you can help. Joining forces with V-Day really made me feel empowered and it allows me to help others and spread a message of intolerance toward sexual violence.

It's a shame our culture doesn't often support victims of sexual abuse and that it isn't always recognized in both genders. I just joined the SARV Taskforce, an organization devoted to helping prevent sexual violence, in the hope that I can help spread that same message.
Of all of your novels, which is your favorite, and why?

I never felt I was allowed to pick a favorite and I’m not sure I can. I think the stock answer is: The book I am working on is always my favorite book. I have favorite lines, though. “The world is full of assholes. What are doing to make sure you’re not one of them?” from EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS or “I'm sorry, but I don't get it. If we're supposed to ignore everything that's wrong with our lives, then I can't see how we'll ever make things right.” from PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ. REALITY BOY has a line about nature that I love, but I’ll make you find it rather than tell you. Hint: It’s during the waterfall scene.

Excellent lines, and an excellent interview! Thanks so much.

Be sure to snag A.S. King's books for yourself:

Get the free preview:
Or, pre-order the full book:
Or, choose from her other amazing titles:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dust Bunnies and Revelations

I'm sitting in the library where I grew up, where my love of books first developed. It's the same--and yet different. Bright, airy and quiet. Full of possibilities.

I've been able to revisit a lot of my past this week in my hometown, particularly in cleaning out boxes of old things (the main purpose of my trip). I happened upon a short story I'd written my sophomore year--that I'd completely forgotten about. About a girl who goes to the country and has to choose between two brothers--one, attractive and suave, the other, a bit uglier and kinder. The moral of the story, of course, was the kinder brother was the correct choice. If only I'd taken my own advice sooner.

I also happened upon a pay stub from the town's newspaper for my very first published article (also from my sophomore year). I remembered that one--but forgotten I was paid $25.00 for it. Another paper, a certificate, revealed I wrote an essay that put me in the top 2 percent in a state-wide exam.

These puzzle pieces pointed to something I didn't realize until I was in my late twenties: that writing was something I was always meant to do. It was there, lying dormant, waiting to be picked up. It just took me a long time to realize it.

So--be sure you clean out those dust bunnies (both external and internal) once in a while. You'll never know what you might find.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

SOUL KISSED, by Erin Kellison

I'm super excited about Erin Kellison's newest release, SOUL KISSED, the second in the Shadow Kissed series. The first one, FIRE KISSED, was amazing--I couldn't put it down. And, if you go on Amazon today, you can get the first book in the Shadow series, SHADOW BOUND, for free!

While the world slumbers in Shadow, a fatal plague has swept through magekind. No one is immune to its ravages, and now that her father is dead, Cari Dolan must wield the fearful magic of her House to save innocent lives.

At the mage Council's bidding, dangerous outsider Mason Stray joins forces with Cari to hunt down the fiend responsible. But can he trust the daughter of wealth and privilege, especially when his own son is at risk?

The princess will always welcome to her bed the warrior, even if one must pay the ultimate price...

Some people will do anything to avoid it. Even trade their immortal souls for endless existence.

Secretly, inexorably, they are infiltrating our world, sucking the essence out of unsuspecting victims with their hideous parody of a kiss.

Adam Thorne founded the Institute to study and destroy his monster of a brother, but the key to its success is held in the pale, slender hand of a woman on the run. There is something hauntingly different about Talia O’Brien, her unknowing sensuality, her uncanny way of slipping into Shadow.

This is the place between life and what comes after—a dark forest of fantasy, filled with beauty, peril, mystery. And Talia is about to open the door.

To purchase these beauties for yourself, click on the links below: 


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Character Development Don'ts, Courtesy of Burt Wonderstone

Technical note: Something may be wrong with the comment function. Will be investigating. If you try commenting on this post, and are unable, please email me at writerlibrarian (at) gmail (dot) com.

Spoiler note: There are lots of them below, so beware.

So, okay. I like Steve Carell. A lot. But when he does movies like Burt Wonderstone, it leaves me scratching my head. Steve Carell is way too smart for this. At least I hope he is. (Well, I guess there was Evan Almighty. And Despicable Me 2. And then he's doing Anchorman 2 this summer. Um.)

When I saw Burt Wonderstone, I finally understood the perils of poor character development--the consequences that occur when the protagonist doesn't develop along with the plot, and in Burt's case, sometimes regresses. It reminded me of some good advice I'd gotten recently at a conference--to examine my characters at each important plot point to see how they've developed with the story.

I'll be showing you Burt at various stages, using Janice Hardy's plot points in my example: Opening scene - Inciting event - Act one crisis - Act two revelation - Midpoint reversal - Act three disaster - Climax -Wrap up

Opening Scene

This part is pretty endearing, and probably my favorite part of the movie. It starts out in 1982, when Burt is growing up. He's bullied, and latch-key kid. He even has to make his own birthday cake when his mom has to stay late at work. His birthday present is a magic set from the great Rance Holloway--and here his love of magic begins. He brings the kit to school and develops a friendship with his future magic partner and friend, Anton Marvelton. So far, so good.

Inciting Event

I wasn't really clear when this occurred, if it actually did--and this is why starting in flashback isn't always a good idea. They had to flash forward through Burt and Anton's "big break" at Bally's in Las Vegas, and the hiring of a new assistant named Nicole. And then it flashed forward yet another ten years to show their act growing stale. A lot of exposition, here.

Act One Crisis

Burt and Anton take a back seat to a David Blaine-like street magician named Steve Gray, and Doug, the owner of Bally's, kicks them to the curb after an unsuccessful stunt. Anton quits and goes abroad to Cambodia, and Burt tries to do the two-man act by himself--without changing a single thing. This Burt is completely different from his 11-year-old counterpart. It seems doing magic all these years has regressed him into an 8-year-old. He refuses to change his act, even though the plot elements insist he should.

Act Two Revelation

This never happened. We spend the next 30 or so minutes seeing Burt waffling, refusing to budge, ignoring others who try to help him--until he ends up bankrupt. I know it's customary for some characters to be stubborn, but here, he's just clueless. When Nicole offers to put him up for the night, he leaves his dinner dishes outside the front door because he's so used to room service. What happened to the self-sufficient kid who baked his own cake in the oven?

Midpoint Reversal

When Burt ends up performing magic in a retirement home, he meets his idol, Rance Holloway--who started his love of magic in the first place. At last, the movie becomes watchable again. Burt checks his stupidity and ego at the door, and decides to team up with Rance to do a magic show for Doug's kid's birthday party. He's now more humble, and more willing to try new things in his act. But it took meeting his idol to shake him out of his stupor.

Act Three Disaster

This never really happened either, unless you count Burt's humiliation at the kid's birthday party, when Steve Gray takes over his show. But this makes Steve look worse than Burt. At the party, Burt finds out about a competition for the upcoming main act at Doug's new hotel (redundantly called "Doug"), and decides to enter. Everything is on the up and up. Anton returns, and he and Burt collaborate on the one act they couldn't do as kids--the disappearing audience.


This is still the same Burt we saw at the midpoint reversal, so not much growth has happened since. The character who develops the most here is Rance--who decides to take part in a public magic show for the first time in years. Burt flawlessly executes his disappearing audience trick by using a drug Anton discovered in Cambodia to make everyone pass out. There's no suspense here at all--Steve Gray takes himself out of the running early on by drilling a hole into his head.

Wrap Up

This is just a montage of Burt, Anton, and Nicole shuffling around audience bodies to the point of breaking them to demonstrate the back-end of their disappearing audience trick. No further growth here, either.

So there you have it. And hopefully Steve Carell will stop accepting these crappy scripts.

Now it's your turn--take a snapshot of your character at each plot development and see if they're different or not.