Wednesday, July 31, 2013


I'm excited to feature author/agent Ammi-Joan Paquette's latest releases: PARADOX, a post-apocalyptic story with a twist, and RULES FOR GHOSTING, a middle-grade ghost mystery.

Ana only knows her name because of the tag she finds pinned to her jumpsuit. Waking in the featureless compartment of a rocket ship, she opens the hatch to discover that she has landed on a barren alien world. Instructions in her pocket tell her to observe and to survive, no doubt with help from the wicked-looking knives she carries on her belt. But to what purpose?

Meeting up with three other teens--one boy seems strangely familiar--Ana treks across the inhospitable landscape, occasionally encountering odd twists of light that carry glimpses of people back on Earth. They're working on some sort of problem, and the situation is critical. What is the connection between Ana's mission on this planet and the crisis back on Earth, and how is she supposed to figure out the answer when she can't remember anything?

Twelve-year-old Dahlia has always lived at Silverton Manor-having spent fifty years as its resident ghost. When Oliver Day and his family show up as house-sitters the day Mrs. Tibbs, a Liberator sent by the Spectral Investigative Council, arrives to teach Dahlia the proper rules for ghosting, Dahlia can't wait to make new friends. But the unscrupulous ghost hunter, Rank Wiley, and the crooked town councilman, Jock Rutabartle, plan to rid Silverton Manor of its ghosts and sell it to the highest bidder. With her home and friendships at stake Dahlia may have to break the rules of ghosting as quickly as she learns them to solve the mystery of her death and save the manor. Equal parts charming and eerie, this ghostly caper hits all the right notes for the middle-grade audience.

Your website states that you are an agent as well as an author. What led to this, and what advice do you have for people balancing more than one career?

I think most of us balance a variety of careers or “hats” as I like to call them—whether as with a day job, full-time or otherwise, as a parent, or even in the ever-consuming task of promoting one’s book(s) as they are released. For my part, I was an author first and foremost, and came into agenting in early 2009. This was a career that I had long desired to get involved with, and I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to be able to make that desire a reality. For me it’s been the perfect complement to my writing career—I remain immersed in the world of books, but without having to exercise that creative side of my nature all the time. What could be better?
Sounds like a nice variety! I love the premise of PARADOX. Where did the idea come from, and what do you want readers to take away from the story when they're finished?

In this case, the character came first—the flash of an image of a girl waking up in a rocket, on an alien planet, with no memory of who she was or why she was there. This was the starting point for me, and everything from that point on became a process of uncovering the mystery of Ana's past, and what exactly she was sent to that planet to do. As far as takeaway value—first and foremost I hope they will find this a fast-paced, exciting read. But beyond this, I think there are a lot of big questions about facing fears head-on and how far you would go to rid yourself of the past… how this would shape your life and, ultimately, would you be better off for it in the end?
Fascinating that Ana revealed herself as you wrote her--and I love the themes you explored.You write both picture books and novels. How does the writing and editing process differ between these two types of projects?
The great thing about picture books is their ability to fit into the smaller cracks of time, which are certainly more readily available in my everyday work life. A picture book is certainly not any easier to write than a novel, but it doesn’t have as much need for great swaths of uninterrupted time in the way a novel does. A picture book text can simmer in the background of a writer’s consciousness until that perfect word, line, or plot twists suddenly pops out of the seeming blue. With that said, I greatly enjoy working on both shorter and longer projects—again, it gives balance to my writing self, providing what creative outlet I feel is needed at any particular given time.
Excellent view on picture book writing--and one I hadn't yet heard. You have another book, RULES FOR GHOSTING, that came out this month. What sort of promotion is involved when multiple books release back-to-back?

There are pros and cons, I suppose. The worry in having several releases close together is that of overwhelming friends and acquaintances, of coming on too strong with the “look at my book!” The advantage, though, is being able to combine promotional efforts—having an event geared toward more than one book, etc. Also, for those of us who are weaker on the promotional side, having several books out at once is a definite motivator, moving book promotion from a “nice thing to do” to a genuine necessity!

Great tips--especially for those who might be nervous about promoting their work. When looking at submissions as an agent, what kinds of manuscripts would you like to see more of? What kinds of manuscripts are you tired of seeing?

Well, unfortunately the Erin Murphy Literary Agency has a closed submissions policy. But you can find a list of conferences I will be attending up ahead on the agency website, as I welcome submissions from attendees of events at which I’ve spoken. As far as tired manuscripts, my answer to this question is always the firm conviction that every author should write to his or her own passion. Forget trends. Forget what’s overdone. Forget what’s selling. Find the story that is lodged immovably within your own soul, the story only you can tell. That’s what you should be writing.
Excellent, and reassuring, advice! Thanks so much for a wonderful interview.
To purchase PARADOX or RULES FOR GHOSTING for yourself, click on the links below:

Thursday, July 25, 2013

DEADLY BONDS by Anne Marie Becker

I'm excited to announce that the third book in Anne Marie Becker's Mindhunters series, DEADLY BONDS just released! You can also get the first book in the series, ONLY FEAR, for 99 cents through July 31!

Holt Patterson, widower and single father, is a mindhunter, a profiler of criminals, at SSAM. Sara Burns, dedicated director of The Hills Boys’ Academy, has secretly loved Holt for years, but she refuses to pine for the husband of her dead best friend. When a vigilante serial killer known as Toxin insists on righting injustices, Holt and Sara will be forced to work together, and will learn that second chances and happy endings are possible.

The book is now available on Amazon.

And if you want in on the 99 cent deal for ONLY FEAR, click on the below link before July 31!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Making Connections

We’ve heard it before, from agents or editors who’ve read our submissions. At least I have. “The content didn’t excite me very much.” Or, “This didn’t quite click with me.” And even, “I found it really difficult to connect to [insert character name here].”

Our initial reaction is usually along the lines of, “What?! My characters are fantastic. I wrote them to be relatable. And my story pops right off the page. What the hell are you talking about?”

But then I stop. And think. And realize that maybe—just maybe—I haven’t communicated my characters and story as well as I thought. A posting from WriterUnboxed, dated September 13 of last year, proves how common this is:

“…the Heath brothers point to a fascinating experiment done by Elizabeth Newton in 1990 at Stanford. She separated people into two groups: tappers and listeners. The tappers were asked to tap out simple songs, for instance, “Happy Birthday to You,” for the listeners. They were then asked to gauge how many of the songs they were tapping out the listeners would recognize. The tappers estimated that the listeners would get it half the time. In fact, out of 120 songs, listeners only got 3; in other words, they were right 2.5% of the time, instead of the 50% that the tappers estimated. Why the wide discrepancy? Since the tappers could “hear” the song in their head as they tapped it out, it didn’t occur to them that what the listeners heard sounded a lot like random tapping.”

Genres as gluttoned as YA fantasy or contemporary romance, where agents and editors see hundreds of similar stories, make for a lot of random tapping. This might explain the above reactions. What we’re really hearing is, “Oh. It’s another one of these.”

So, how do we make our books stand out? 

First, character. Take a look at the dialogue and mannerisms of your protagonist or heroine. Is she doing things that anyone else would do (Furrowing eyebrows? Gulping? Shaking her head?). Now change them to things that only she would do (Twining her unruly hair, scowling at her geometry homework). Do the same for your secondary characters (or your hero, if you’re writing romance).

Then, a compelling story. The challenge here is to rise above common tropes that have already been used. A romance in the Old West? Good. What makes it different? A girl who travels to another world? Fine. Why is her story important? Ask yourself: Is there anything that can be summarized instead of played out? Can you offer plot solutions that aren’t usually seen in stories similar to yours? Don’t think about how your characters get to various places. Ask why.

Rejections will still come (unfortunately). But the more high impact we make our fiction, the more it’s likely to resonate with readers (and agents, and editors). And that’s what counts.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Plotting Don'ts Courtesy of Iron Man 3 (Spoiler Alerts, etc.)

If you haven't seen Iron Man 3 yet, and are awaiting the DVD release, beware the spoiler alerts below. And, more importantly, good job for not spending the money at the theater.

A lot of people liked it, based on its high rating on Rotten TomatoesOthers didn't. While watching the movie (in the theater), it felt like I was looking at an Iron Man suit with nothing underneath--rife with plotting "don'ts" that all writers should avoid.

Inciting event--when?

All good plotters know that an inciting event (the thing that puts the rest of the plot in motion) needs to happen within the first 25-50 pages of a novel (or first 15-20 minutes of a movie). Iron Man 3's inciting event happens all the way back in 1999, for reasons that aren't quite clear, other than a "scientific advancement" that could have just as easily been developed during the course of the movie. Instead, we have to believe that Tony was never contacted about it until 14 years after the fact. Uh. Yeah.

Inciting events that happen in flashback almost never work--and are difficult to do well. Avoid them, if possible, unless it's completely necessary to the story.

A plot more stranded than Tony is.

After landing in the middle of nowhere, Tony Stark meets a small boy who has no visible family (seriously--they never appear on camera). The kid is introduced with no plausible backstory, and then Tony just leaves him when he gets what he needs, including a watch and some other equipment. The watch is probably the most annoying thing of all. It's a Dora the Explorer stopwatch that the kid took (stole?) from his little sister, who also never appears on camera--all for the audience satisfaction of watching Tony Stark wear it on his wrist. Hilarious. A woman even stops Tony outside a bar and proceeds to ask about the pink, girly thing. In a twist, she's been tasked to kill him--but waits to jump him until he's had a full meal inside the bar.

Wait, what? Why didn't she just attack him on the sidewalk? Because the writers needed Tony to get some "necessary information" in the bar, information that could have easily been introduced beforehand.

The moral of this: be sure any plot elements you use are directly in line with the story and characters.


It's one thing to take your reader by surprise--and as writers, we're encouraged to. It's entirely another to build a really great premise for a villain--and then drop it completely. There was so much online vitriol about The Mandarin that the director had to publicly explain the decision--and not just for the purists. The precedent built in the preview was completely turned on its head for no apparent reason other than a few laughs.

Be sure your villain has as clear of a motivation as your protagonist. You can still surprise your audience--but don't disappoint them by not delivering on what was promised.

Seriously, Tony Stark is not this dumb.

Tony's house gets attacked because he discloses his home address on national television. I know he's cocky, but what would actually compel him to do that? Sure, it advances the plot and creates a really cool action scene where his house is ransacked. But Tony would know enough to keep his address a secret, wouldn't he?

If that weren't enough, it's revealed toward the end that Tony has a whole army of Iron Man suits in the basement that he could have pulled out at any time to save his house and protect Pepper. But instead, he waits to bring them out until the final battle, when they're completely unnecessary--so much so that he has to destroy them all.

Your protagonist has to have clear motivations for what he does--and they have to be consistent. If Tony Stark can do "Shakespeare in the Park" with Thor, he would definitely know to call out his army of Iron Man suits before his house falls into the ocean.

If you liked this movie, I sincerely apologize. But I see these same plotting mistakes addressed on author and agent blogs all the time--and I hate when they ruin franchises I like.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

When Edits Collide...

Edits—they can be a drag. Sometimes, you work for hours only to improve a few pages. Other times, you do line-edits until you’re blue in the face—and you’re not even sure if they made the story better or not.
So, what do you do if you end up in what I like to call the “Never-ending Editing Vortex”? Here are some solutions that have worked for me:

·         Develop your own process
One of the biggest mistakes I made as a beginning writer was concentrating too hard on line edits instead of the overall story. Story fixes need to happen  first—and line edits can wait until the final pass-through. But everyone’s process is different—make sure you choose what works best for you. For example, I need to put a time limit on my edits—otherwise I’ll edit myself into terrible places, and, six hours later (no exaggeration), I’ll be clawing my eyes out.

·         Let your characters and story drive your edits
On the most recent pass through one of my novels, I realized I had a secondary character who disappeared after a few scenes. Solution? I ended up killing him off—and it made the story inter-connect a lot more effectively. If your edits are dragging you down, look at your characters and story—and get inspiration from them.

·         Figure out which feedback to take, and which to leave
There are two breeds of writers: the ones who can’t take criticism (don’t edit enough), and the ones that take it too far (edit way too much). And then there’s a third breed—the ones who know which criticism to take, and which to leave. Be that third breed—your edits will be much more likely to make a positive difference.

·         Don’t be afraid to trunk your novel for a little while
Sometimes, no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, the novel still might not work the way you want. So, trunk it for a bit and work on something else. Just because it’s in the trunk now, doesn’t mean it always will be. Revisit it later, with some time and distance.

            Granted—these strategies won’t work all the time, and you’ll sometimes have to adjust your editing process based on the book you’re working on. But hopefully, they will make things less daunting, and the writing more fun. Because having fun is what writing is all about.