Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Gini Koch's books are amazing. I've featured some here and others here. Her newest is ALIEN RESEARCH, #8 in the Katherine "Kitty" Kat/Alien series.

When rumors of a new super-drug surface, the FBI comes to Jeff and Kitty Katt-Martini for help. It becomes quickly apparent that the drug is merely the tip of a deadly iceberg and a much more insidious plan is underway involving Titan Security, Gaultier Enterprises, and YatesCorp.

As newly discovered A-Cs and hybrids begin to surface, each with expanded and deadly talents, more and more signs point to a new evil genius who’s using the A-Cs and their enemies both as guinea pigs. Then Area 51 and the Dulce Science Center go silent while Alpha Team, Airborne, and most of the worldwide A-C Security team are there for training. And if that’s not bad enough, Centaurion Division is hit with more bad, and deadly, news: Chernobog the Ultimate, isn’t a hacker myth, he’s a real person -- and he’s on the bad guys’ side.

Now Kitty and company must find the real Dr. Feelgood and stop him or her before the latest version of Surcenthumain hits the streets and more people they love are harmed, or worse. But when the inconceivable happens, Kitty’s focused on two things only: reviving the ACE entity before their enemies realize Earth’s best protection isn’t actually active…and revenge.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


I first discovered Valerie (and her books) after reading this fabulous guest post about writer happiness. She also writes amazing pieces for the Huffington Post, and her book HAPPINESS AS A SECOND LANGUAGE is currently available on Amazon.

If you didn't grow up speaking Greek, you wouldn't expect to leave home and instantly be fluent in it, would you? So why is it that we expect to suddenly be "fluent" in Happiness if Happiness wasn't practiced in our homes? 

Happiness as a Second Language teaches happiness step-by-step, in the same manner as one would learn a new language. Each chapter builds on the concepts and exercises in the previous one, starting with the most basic lessons, progressing through the intermediate stages, and finally graduating to the more advanced concepts. Readers will learn how to introduce themselves as happy; how to count; how to use the days of the week, months of the year, and all the colors in the rainbow to be happy. Readers learn the verbs, nouns and adjectives of Happiness; Happiness in the present, past, future and "future uncertain" tense; how to overcome the influence of those who actively try to negate their happiness, and how to avoid the setbacks that happen when learning anything new.

Here are some questions I asked Valerie in December:

I love the concept for your book HAPPINESS AS A SECOND LANGUAGE. Where did the idea come from and how are readers responding to it?

My husband and I were going through a very difficult time.  We were struggling with fertility issues (including a successful IVF round that didn't carry to term) and some other big losses and at one point he turned to me and asked how I could possible remain so happy.  Yes, there were days when I was balled up in bed, overcome by grief, but at my core I remained happy.  I had to.  What is the point of having all of that happen and be miserable all the time?  Anyhow, when he asked, my reply was, "I don't know.  I'm just happy.  And it's strange, it's not even my native language."  That sparked the idea that Happiness might be a foreign language that we need to learn, like Greek or French, and that sparked the idea for the book.  I'd never read a book on happiness (still haven't), so to write this one, I studied language textbooks extensively.  I wanted to include all of the steps required to learn a whole new language.

That's a fantastic way to look at it, especially after all you went through. I really enjoyed your recent post, "Writer Happiness". Aside from what was already mentioned, what other challenges do you think writers have in achieving happiness? 

There is a great line about comparing ourselves to others that says, "You're looking at someone else's highlight reel and comparing it to your behind-the-scenes documentary."  In other words, as writers, we see what everyone else is doing to succeed and beat ourselves up for not doing that, even when we're successful.  The best thing we can do is set goals for ourselves (reasonable goals) and make a plan to reach those goals and follow it.  What anyone else is doing is irrelevant.  The other big frustration in writing is that sometimes success blesses people who maybe aren't as talented as we'd expect them to be.  I'm being polite, but you get the point.  We all have to let that go.  Life's not fair.  Some people will be luckier than you and others will be less lucky (in fact, if you're reading this right now, I'd say there are at least 6 billion people on the planet less lucky than you), so just find five things every day to be happy about, and write on.

Very well put! You also have a lot of screenwriting experience. What do you like most about screenwriting as a medium, and what do you recommend to people wanting to try it?

What I like most about screenwriting is that it requires very few words.  I'm being totally serious.  I'm probably the only screenwriter who consistently has producers ask for more description.  The blanker the page, the happier I am.  If people want to be screenwriters, they need to read scripts.  Hundreds of them.  Read amazing scripts and red crappy scripts.  It's easier now than ever to get your hands on them.  The former can be found on the Internet and for the latter, volunteer to judge a screenwriting contest.  You'll be amazed at how many mistakes you will learn how to avoid simply by seeing them in script after script.  Don't try to write your first screenplay until you've read at least 15 others first.  Also, there is a good chance (like 99.5%) that your first script will be crap.  I know mine was.  In fact, my first three scripts were complete garbage, but that's fine.  Does anyone think the first building an architect designs is the Getty, or that the first song a composer writes is Fur Elise?  Get the crappy ones out of your system, don't fall in love with them, and move on.  

Excellent advice. I also enjoyed your recent  article, "Four Ways to Have Happier Holidays." If there was a fifth to add to your already awesome list, what would it be?

I don't put this out there too much because everyone's feelings are different, but for me personally, the best way to enjoy the holidays is to get outside myself and do something for someone else.  I love to bake and make treat packages for friends.  I also try to be a little more generous during this time of year, especially since so many people are struggling.  I try to keep ten singles in my purse and make sure that I give them away each week in December.  There's always a bell ringer or a person in need in front of a store, or sometimes it's just paying the toll for the person behind me, or buying their coffee.  I am in a much better mood the whole month because of this.

Such a great idea. What are some current projects you're working on?

Working on the next books in the "…as a Second Language" series (Success, Parenting and Marriage) and planning to get all of those out this year.  Working on two screenplays that hopefully will get put into production soon, and two television shows in development, one with a major star attached, so we'll see what happens with those.  I read a Facebook post today that included this quote: "If you chase two rabbits at once, you will not catch either," so this year is also going to be about narrowing my focus and making the things I really want happen.  As a writer, it's so tough to let things go that could be good for some aspect of the career or might generate income, but without clear, directed movement towards the main goal, I might find myself chasing too many rabbits and catching none.  Instead, I plan to feast regularly, just one bunny at a time.

To snag a copy of HAPPINESS AS A SECOND LANGUAGE, click the link below. And to find out more about Valerie, visit her website.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why Shortcuts Aren't a Good Idea

When I first started writing, I was looking for a way to stand out of the massive crowd of people doing the same thing I was--trying to get their work in front of the right people. And while my intents were good, they weren't coming from the right place. I wasn't focusing on the work itself--but what the work would do for me once I found a way to stand out. A shortcut to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, if you will.

Here's a real-life demonstration of why this doesn't work. Yesterday, I was about to direct my car into a turn lane. But then I saw a car coming the other direction, migrating over the double-line and using the turn lane to pass cars on the other side of the road.

He probably thought this might get him to his destination faster. But, not only did it make the road more dangerous for other drivers (including himself), it made him look like a jack-ass. This is what happens when you try to take shortcuts--more often that not, it puts you at unnecessary risk, looking silly in front of the people that matter.

It's why pitching at conferences without a ready manuscript (ready as in revised, spit on, shined, revised again, rewritten, revised, spit on, shined, and revised yet again) is akin to blowing your wad. There's even evidence that pitch sessions may not be all they're cracked up to be.

Similarly, when people ask "shortcut" or "magic bullet" or "Dumbo feather" questions at conferences, it drives me a bit batty. Even though I used to be that person. Because. There. Is No. Magic. Bullet. Period. You have to love the writing itself--not what you think it can do for you (aside from the immediate gratification of creating something beautiful). The below video from author John Green further demonstrates this:

So. It's the work that needs to stand out. Just keep writing. And reading. And spitting on those manuscripts until they shine. And when things don't go as planned, you can always refer back to this.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

SICK, by Tom Leveen

In 2012, I interviewed the amazing Tom Leveen about ZERO (selected as an ALA/YALSA Best Book of 2013) and his book PARTY. Since then, he's written the awesome MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRL, and his newest novel, SICK, really is (sick as in cool--per the urban dictionary).

Brian and his friends are not part of the cool crowd. They’re the misfits and the troublemakers—the ones who jump their high school’s fence to skip class regularly. So when a deadly virus breaks out, they’re the only ones with a chance of surviving. The virus turns Brian’s classmates and teachers into bloodthirsty attackers who don’t die easily. The whole school goes on lockdown, but Brian and his best friend, Chad, are safe (and stuck) in the theater department—far from Brian’s sister, Kenzie, and his ex-girlfriend with a panic attack problem, Laura. Brian and Chad, along with some of the theater kids Brian had never given the time of day before, decide to find the girls and bring them to the safety of the theater. But it won’t be easy, and it will test everything they thought they knew about themselves and their classmates.

Here's Tom's answers to some more questions:

I love that your newest novel, SICK, involves misfits and troublemakers. What inspired the story idea, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished reading?

I'll come a little more clean here than I have in previous interviews - SICK is in some ways the most honest book I've published so far, because the characters are really me and people I knew in high school. That's not to say we didn't all grow up and become productive members of society (we did, most of us). The book is billed as YA horror, but really, it's just another contemporary YA like ZERO or MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRL, except there happens to be a horrific element of a virus turning friends and enemies allike into deadly adversaries. So when asking about what inspired the story, partly it is based on conversations I've had with friends about imaginary zombie apocalypses (apocalpsi?) - if we were in high school, what would we do, etc. But it is also partly inspired by taking a more honest look back and realizing I wasn't the cool guy I once thought. I said, thought, and did some terrible things as a kid, and some terrible things were thought, said, and done to me. SICK is a study on those ideas, about "The Other" and how we treat one another. What I hope people take away is that discussion, that introspection. And if not . . . well, there's lots of action!

The best fiction makes for honest discussion--I've been impressed with your ability to execute that in SICK, as well as in other books. 
ZERO was selected as an ALA/YALSA Best Book of 2013. Congratulations! What about the book do you think draws readers in most, and what aspect of the book makes you proudest?

Thank you! It was an honor to make that list.
 I'd hazard to say that Zero's self-deprecation is a big selling point; her self-esteem has been ravaged when the book begins, and I think we call relate to that regardless of age or ambition. Secondly I think her relationship with the punk drummer Mike is a nice change of pace from other books in the genre; he's caring and sensitive without being syrupy about it, and he's just as human and flawed as Zero is. The part that makes me most proud, though, is the ending and the choices the characters made -- which I know some people get pretty upset over. Despite many revisions and drafts, the conclusion of ZERO has stayed the same from day one, way back in 1993, and I'll defend Zero's actions to my dying day.

Maybe that's better than a neutral reaction--love or hate it, readers still remember it. In our last interview, you discussed your revision process. Has it changed as you've written and edited more books? If so, how?

I don't think my revision has changed so much, per se, but my drafting has, and not always for the better. For the first few books, I was really writing whatever flowed at the moment, then would go back and fix problems after I'd finished the first draft. With a novel like PARTY and all those POVs running around, that got pretty difficult; with ZERO, it was matter of finding the real voice and POV, who owned the story (turns out to be Zero herself. Who knew.). Then I started working with Joseph Campbell's idea of the Hero's Journey and doing more outlines, especially for the more supernatural books like SICK. What I've learned, though, is that I was better off winging it and doing the hard revision work at the back end. I thought by outlining I was saving myself time and effort in revision, but I wasn't; I was just sucking the fun out of my first draft. Readers (and editors!) can sense that; you can tell on the page if a writer is having fun or not, just like you can tell if actors and musicians are enjoying themselves on screen or stage. So I'm transitioning back to freewriting first drafts and spending a long time afterward patching holes, shifting scenes, cutting characters out, refining dialogue...all that "fun" stuff. For me, outlining was too confining, I found myself saying "No" to characters and ideas that would crop up, and who knows what kind of great stories I lost as a result? I'm not recommending "No outlines" for other writers; I'm just saying what seems to work for me.

A really good lesson, and a reminder not to get too bogged down. And you're right--it definitely shows on the page. 
I love your website--it's excellently designed and well put together. What advice, if any, do you have for writers interested in building an online platform?

Thank you! My advice is: Get someone to do it who knows what they are doing. If that really is a college student who'll do it for peanuts, great. But I've learned that asking for favors (i.e. freebies) is a risky bet. When you engage someone to do work for you, like I did with my site, you have recourse if things go wrong. Asking your best friend from Poetry Workshop who "knows a little web design" isn't always the best way to go.

Secondly, you'll see I don't necessarily spend a lot of time on content. I plan on changing that one day, soon, in theory, maybe, we'll see, possibly . . . because I have a job to do, and that job is to WRITE BOOKS. First and foremost. I don't deny the value of online content, particularly if it's good, funny, useful, or just interesting. I really should do more of it. However, right now, I'm working on three different genres of fiction at the same time, and until I'm able to actually sell it to publishers, writing a blog every day just isn't a priority. So my advice is, books don't write themselves. A website dedicated to all your characters is fun and may be useful someday, but not without a book on the shelves first. Pay decent money to get a decent website, don't worry about bells and whistles, do your job.

So true. Having an online platform without the writing to back it up is like having an empty circus tent. 
What are some of your current projects?

I've got two new YA contemporary novels coming out from Simon Pulse: RANDOM in Summer 2014, and SHACKLED, which I think is Summer 2015. I've got a middle grade fantasy project I can't talk about yet; come back in a year and ask again...

Then I'm working on quite a few different YA novels. I just finished one a week or so ago I was super excited about, but have since decided it should never see the light of day. Depressing, that. And I've got a couple of contemporaries I'm working on, but right now my focus is on getting another solid supernatural or horror YA in the pipeline. You'll know as soon as I do!

I'm sure we will! Thanks, Tom, for an excellent interview. 

To snag Tom's books for yourselves, click the links below:

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Year!

I've been in a writing/editing cave for the past few days, so enjoy this meme.

Happy 2014, everyone! Make it a good one!