Category Archives: Inspiration

At this time last year I was…

Agenda 3 (c) Dragan Rusov

For some reason it hit me yesterday that a year has passed.

“Well, of course it has,” you say. “Technically a year has passed every single day.”

True, but it’s more significant this month, at least to me. This is National Novel Writing Month and this is the month where everything started changing for the better very quickly in my life.

Quickly is a relative word, especially when we’re talking about writing and the publication process, but looking back I have to admit that everything did happen very fast. “How so?” you ask. To illustrate, here’s a recap of my year from November 2011 to November 2012:

November 2011: Begin writing novel version of Sing, Sweet Nightingale for NaNoWriMo
December 2011: Go back through SSN and make significant changes because, you know, first drafts and all.
January 2012: Frantically try to polish first 30 pages to submit to writing contests; squeeze in under the deadline of said contests and then try to forget I entered them
February 2012: Begin planning trip to BEA in NYC
March 2012: Find out SSN is a finalist in one of the previously mentioned contests
April 2012: Finalize plans for BEA 2012
May 2012: My birthday! Also, I find out SSN won the Marlene Award!
June 2012: Attend BEA. Crash a party at Lani Woodland’s insistence. Meet Danielle and Patricia. Send Danielle and Patricia my book. Have first Skype call with Danielle and Patricia about possible revisions.
July 2012: SSN officially becomes a future publication from Spencer Hill Press!
August 2012: Get so-called preliminary edit instructions that somehow turn into a rewrite project. Spend month stressing.
September 2012: See August
October 2012: Send SSN revision off to betas and CPs. Breathe sigh of relief. Later this month, spend ten hours in one week on Skype with Lani plotting books 2 and 3. Even later this month, do more tweaks on SSN and send book plus new outlines plus notes plus other random goodies to Danielle and Patricia
November 2012: Send EVEN MORE goodies to Danielle and Patricia. Wait with barely concealed anticipation/eagerness/terror/etc. for scheduled editorial Skype chat. Also, begin NaNo, this time working on three projects at once including the as yet untitled Dream War Saga Book 2.

That has been my writing-related year. I did other things too–finish first drafts of two different contemporary YA projects I really love, write a short story in TDWS universe, connect with the amazing Twitterverse of writerly people, and other things I can’t even think of right now–but the timeline above are my big moments and why realizing a year has passed since last November is a nostalgic moment for me. November is also the home of Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday!), so I wanted to take this time to have a gratefulness moment. Sometimes it may feel like the ultimate goal (holding a physical copy of my book) is so far away, but at least the end is finally in sight. I’m working with editors I adore and I have a support network who is amazing. All-in-all, this past year has been very good for me. I’m even on track to knock out most of my New Years Resolutions! 2012 was great, 2013 will be even better, and I have high hopes that 2014 will be a banner year!

Don’t forget to enjoy the moment you’re in. You never know when you’ll suddenly be standing a year in the future going, “Wow. Remember when…?”

If you vanished tomorrow, would anyone miss you?

Brighton People (c) Justin Eveleigh

A friend posted this on Facebook yesterday and I think this story scares me more than anything else I’ve read in a long time. Mostly because it could happen so easily to so many people.

On 25 January 2006, officials from a north London housing association repossessing a bedsit in Wood Green owing to rent arrears made a grim discovery. Lying on the sofa was the skeleton of a 38-year-old woman who had been dead for almost three years. In a corner of the room the television set was still on, tuned to BBC1, and a small pile of unopened Christmas presents lay on the floor. Washing up was heaped in the kitchen sink and a mountain of post lay behind the front door. Food in the refrigerator was marked with 2003 expiry dates. The dead woman’s body was so badly decomposed it could only be identified by comparing dental records with an old holiday photograph of her smiling. Her name was revealed to be Joyce Carol Vincent.

 Carol Morley, a filmmaker and London resident, found a short article about the strange circumstances surrounding Joyce’s death in a newspaper someone left on the tube. The article contained very little information and didn’t even include a photo of the woman, but the article stuck with Carol. She wanted to know more.

Now, years later, Carol has produced a documentary called Dreams of a Life about Joyce Carol Vincent. She spent years tracking down people who knew Joyce and interviewing them. She collected photographs and anecdotes and bound them together into a beautiful piece on the isolation still possible in a world that’s constantly connected.

THIS is what I mean when I recommend finding inspiration in the world around you. No matter how outlandish a fictional situation seems, chances are you can find a real life moment with even more impossible circumstances. Finding the spark that sends you on a quest for answers is only a matter of time. And having your eyes open wide enough to see it.

To read more about Carol’s quest to tell Joyce’s story, read this article. You can also watch the movie trailer here or play it below.

Why I won’t finish every book I start writing.

Old Road (c) greenchild

I had a realization this weekend. One that beautifully illustrated just how little I understand the workings of my own mind. I should be used to moments like this by now, but I’m not. It’s still weird.

At this moment, I have 31 standalone novels or series in progress. Yes, seriously. 31. I just counted. It’d be higher if I counted the books in a series individually. That seems like a lot, but what I realized this weekend is that at least 20 of those will never, ever, be published. They probably won’t even be finished. The purpose of this post is for me to try to explain why. Hopefully I can phrase it in a way that makes sense.

My subconscious works in strange ways and I’ve noticed that several stories will spring into my mind that all focus on a different angle of the same idea. I’ll start writing–usually getting between 5,000 to 20,000 words in–and then stop because either I don’t know where to go from there or another idea hits me and I start working on that one instead. This may seem like a waste of time to some people, but it’s not to me. What I didn’t realize until now is that this is how I explore different variations and angles of a core idea. Sometimes the idea isn’t even what I thought I was concentrating on. One of my newest projects, for example, pulls in an idea I’ve had floating around in my head for over a year with another idea I’ve tried to focus a story on a couple of times already. Only now that I’ve combined the two am I seeing the whole plot laid out in front of me and the possibilities for an entire world blooming around it. Only now do I have a story that might actually see the light of day in a few years.

The same thing happened with The Dream War Saga, as well. I realized when I constructed the world outside of Sing, Sweet Nightingale and looked at the way their universe works that I’d mirrored it on the world I’d dreamed up for my first failed series. The similarities were almost disconcerting until I saw that first series as a way to work out the kinks in an incredibly complex idea.

I’m trying to make a couple of points by poorly explaining this “Aha!” moment of mine.

1) Don’t let anyone tell you the way you work is wrong. Should you try other methods to see if they work better? Sure. Should you give up on yours just because it doesn’t make sense to someone else? NO. A lot of people would look at my folder of forgotten stories and shake their head over all the “wasted words,” but anything that gets you a step closer to having a finished, polished, beautiful book isn’t wasted.

2) It’s okay if you don’t finish everything. Sometimes you have an idea that’s just the beginning of something better. If you find yourself slogging through the first draft and hating it, consider putting it aside. Maybe you’ll find the inspiration you need to go back to it or maybe it was never meant to be finished. Maybe it was just a way for you to work out the answer to a question you didn’t know needed to be asked.

Edited to add: Just noticed this is my 300th post! Woohoo! Somehow I haven’t let this drop by the wayside yet! I’m very proud of myself. 😀

Are you surrounded by useless clutter?

An Interesting Mess – (c) Anna Simpson

A friend of mine posted an article on Facebook called Clear the Clutter; Get Rid of Unneeded Toys. The author Carlo Rotella talks about paring down the collection of toys in most homes and since this is something that has been on my mind lately (though not specifically with toys since I don’t own any), I thought I would share both his thoughts and mine here.

In the article, Carlo says:

…the United States has 3.1 percent of the world’s children but buys 40 percent of all toys sold worldwide. Obviously, American kids can’t possibly extract all the play-value out of that many toys, most of which end up piled somewhere.

That got me thinking about how drastically a family could cut back on its toys. So, an exercise: You’re marooned indefinitely on a desert island with your kids, who are under 12. (If you don’t have kids, mentally borrow some that you know well; if your kids are older than 12, think back to when they weren’t.) You can bring five toys. There are trees to climb, waves to swim in, and animals to hunt and evade, so there’s no need for specialized sports equipment. You get to bring a separate box of books and musical instruments, so just concentrate on the toys — and nothing that requires electricity, since there won’t be any.

Personally, I know quite a few of the toys my parents bought for me during my childhood ended up ignored and the one I held onto into my teens (and would have held onto longer if I didn’t stupidly lose him) was my teddy bear. This bear didn’t do anything special and, in fact, didn’t even look much like a bear, but I loved that thing more than any of my other toys. I was seventeen when I lost him and I cried. Bawled. Like the three-year-old I’d suddenly become again.

Why, then, do we fill our houses with things that, if push came to shove, we wouldn’t miss? We waste time, money, energy, and space collecting useless pieces of plastic in the hopes that, what? I don’t know.

While living in Tallahassee for school, I was guilty of the same thing. I had a two bedroom townhouse that I lived in for eight years and over eight years you collect a lot of crap if you’re not paying attention. When I finally left Tally, 90% of that stuff ended up being donated to Good Will, given away to friends, or straight-up trashed. And you know what? I don’t miss any of it. Two years later, I can’t even tell you what most of it was because I don’t remember.

This week I switched bedrooms within the same house and did it again. I got rid of some things that were pretty, but useless and also a lot of things I was holding onto for sentimental reasons, yet could barely remember what those reasons were. Now, literally everything I own and care about can fit into one decent-sized bedroom and it might be a good way for everyone to think. I read once about someone in New York City who lived in a great, but tiny, apartment. She loved clothes, but she knew she didn’t have the space to store them so every time she bought a new pair of shoes or a new dress, she had to think: am I willing to get rid of something I already own to make room for this?

With the advent of the digital age, music, book, and movie collections can grow to astronomical sizes without taking up an insane amount of space (a major bonus). Look around your room/apartment/house and take stock. Do you need everything you have? How many of the things you own would you honestly carry with you onto a desert island? If you don’t need it but you want it, why do you want it? What physical or emotional purpose does it serve? Sometimes, in some ways, wants can be just as important as needs, but you also have to be able to recognize when those wants change and the things you’ve gathered no longer serve the same purpose.

Letting go is necessary and sometimes, it feels fantastic.

And, because I can’t seem to compose a single post without mentioning writing at least once, this theory is also a good way to look at your novels when editing. Get rid of the clutter and let the true story shine through. 😀

Writing: Just Go With It

Recently I read a blog post somewhere by an author (wish I could remember who so I could link it for you) talking about how each time she approached a book, the process is completely different. I know I’ve talked about this in the past, but the whole idea was reinforced this week and I thought it deserved a second look.

Inspiration and ideas can come quite literally from anywhere. There’s no wrong way to be inspired (unless, of course, you’re literally ripping your plot and characters from another author’s work and trying to publish it. That’s just plain mean). Just as an example, here is a list of where some of my recent ideas have come from:

  1. Witnessing an almost-accident
  2. Hearing a song for the first time
  3. Seeing an ambulance outside a hotel
  4. A conversation with my mom
  5. Reading a book
  6. Eavesdropping on another conversation
  7. Coming up with a band name and wishing I could use it in a story

My most recent idea is perhaps the most inexplicable. Sometime during the course of the morning, an image popped into my head. I held onto it (I was driving, so I couldn’t write it down) and the image started evolving into a scene and then I started writing and the scene started evolving into a story. Three days into the project I’m over the 16,000 word mark, have a whole group of characters I really like, a story I think might be something good, and no clue how any of it happened. It might have been a dream, but I never remember my dreams in any detail so I can’t be sure. It might have been something rolling around in my subconscious for a while that just decided it was ready to show up. There’s no way to know.

The point I’m trying to make is this: read about ways to “cure” writers block all you want, but the best advice I’ve ever heard is to write, read, and live. Even fantasy stories are based on things that happen in the real world.

Once you have that idea, the same “anything goes” theory applies to writing the story, believe it or not. Outlining and research first or scrambling to write scenes whenever they pop into your head? Progressing linearly or jumping between sections of the story and filling in the holes later? Honestly, this is one of those situations where the end justifies pretty much any means short of torture and murder. Do you write best while standing on your head and dictating to your pet rabbit? Go for it! But do you need to use the same process for every single book? Absolutely not! I definitely haven’t.

Stories: To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

I don’t know why Shakespeare popped into my head this morning, but it did. So, I went with it. And the story below is where it took me. A note. This is a first draft written straight into site. I tried to check for typos, but probably missed some. It’s a little darker than the other short stories I’ve posted here, but I hope you like it anyway. 

[to see the beautiful picture by DanMorgan1 originally posted on this page, click here.]

Stepping on the stones got me across the river’s icy flow, but once I stood on the opposite bank I didn’t know where to go. This is where my instructions ended. Walk West out of town until you hit a fork in the road. Leave the road and walk north into the woods. When you get to the river, cross using the nearest stepping stones. You’ll know what you’re looking for when you find it.

The message had been intriguingly cryptic, but now I doubted my sanity. Who follows a note they found in their locker? Seriously. Only crazy people. And me, apparently. Casting one last glance over my shoulder, I wonder how long it will take someone to realize I’m missing. Not long, but I couldn’t even see the road anymore, so the chances of anyone finding me were miniscule.

“If you’re going to get in trouble anyway, you might as well make it worth the hassle,” my older brother Jim always said. Maybe his dubious words of wisdom sunk deeper than I’d realized. It was a little disheartening to realize, especially since I’d spent so many years trying to fly well under the radar.

This late in the year, it got dark early. The gray sky is darkening fast and I knew that pretty soon I’d have a hard time finding my way home again, but I’d brought a flashlight and my phone had GPS. If worse came to worse, I should be okay. I hoped. The more cautious side of my mind wanted to bring out the flashlight immediately, but something stopped me. It’s not time. If I use it now, I might not find what I’m looking for.

I started forward again, walking straight ahead because the directions hadn’t told me to turn. My gaze swung left to right and back again with each step, but I didn’t see anything out of place. The dead leaves and dried twigs crackled under my feet, the sound impossibly loud in the silence of the forest. Whether I found anything worth looking for or not, there would be hell to pay at home when I finally got back. If I ever made it out of this forest alive, anyway.

My ribs burned with each breath as my lungs pressed against the bruised bones. One of them might have been broken, but I didn’t care. I’d dealt with broken bones before. What made this trek almost impossible though was the pain in my knee that sharpened with every step. I think my mother had been trying to break my leg this time, but I’d moved out of the way in time to escape with only a glancing blow. Still, I might need to thank her. The injuries she gave me helped me escape the far more painful attention my father would have bestowed at night.

Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath and tried to let the icy air numb everything. I knew why Jim had to escape this life, but every night I wished he hadn’t escaped without me.

With my eyes closed, I didn’t see the exposed root that brought me crashing to my knees. My gloves saved the palms of my hands from being skinned raw, but my already injured knee protested strongly to the impact. I hissed in pain and shifted until I could lean against the trunk of the tree.

Taking one more look around, the truth finally sunk in. There wasn’t anything out here. I was chasing phantoms and only getting myself in more trouble at home. This was probably someone’s idea of a practical joke. Let’s get the weird rich girl lost in the woods. Well, it worked.

Maybe I should stay here and let the cold numb the pain forever. I wondered how long that would take, to die of exposure. Even if it took days, it would still be better than dying inch by inch as the people who were supposed to love me stole little bits of my soul every day. Maybe I could go back to the river and let the icy flow swallow me whole. I’d be the town’s golden child as everyone mourned the tragic loss of my life in the flower of my youth. My parents would be the center of attention as they coped with their grief in the most public ways possible and everyone offered their support in this trying time.

I wondered if Jim would come back for my funeral or if he would know why I couldn’t go on anymore and stay away, hiding from the truth in whatever way he’d found to dull the pain. I wondered if maybe he’d taken the permanent way out too. Four years and not a word from him. I had to fear the worst even if I hoped he’d finally built a life for himself somewhere else. Without me.

The tears started falling before I even realized I was crying. I hate crying. It’s a weakness that only got me more punishment. After all these years I still couldn’t tell if my parents liked my tears or hated them, all I knew was that the pain was worse when I cried.

I pushed to my feet, giving up on chasing ghosts and determined to become one instead. Each step toward the rushing river lightened my heart. I’d never have to see my mother smiling at her friends and pretending that she loved me. I’d never see my father in the front row at my piano recitals pretending that he cared. I’d never lie awake at night listening for the sounds that meant I wasn’t alone. I’d never stand outside my front door too terrified to step inside. I’d never fear for my life again.

The water was in sight when I heard something behind me. Steps, quick steps crunching through underbrush. Ignoring the pain in my chest and my knee, I picked up the pace. Maybe my mother had come looking for me. Maybe it was someone else entirely, but it didn’t matter. They’d only return me to hell and this time I refused to go. Whoever it was must have seen where I was headed because they cursed and started running, their feet pounding against the dried earth.

“No, Janie! Stop!”

It couldn’t be. I skidded to a halt, but couldn’t bring myself to turn around and prove myself wrong. What was he doing here? But then he was standing before me, older and more beautiful than I remembered, but enough the same that there was no mistaking him for anyone else.


Without another word, my brother dragged me into his arms and held me tight. I wanted to press myself against his chest and breathe in the scent of hope, of life, but I couldn’t stop the gasp of pain as his grip hit the bruised bones in my chest. He loosened his hold instantly, not needing to be told what was wrong. His brown eyes were dark with fury and his eyebrows pulled together as his gaze scanned my face. I watched him carefully, too scared this wasn’t real to even breathe.

“I’m so sorry it took me so long to come get you,” he finally whispered. “I wanted to get in touch with you, but I knew they’d be watching everything.”

I nod. My parents have full access to my cell phone, my email accounts, and every website I have an account on. For my safety, they said. For their safety, they meant.

“Where were you going, Jane?” he asked. His hands still rested on my shoulders, but I glance past him to the edge of the river. I didn’t know what to say. It had seemed like a good plan at the time. Jim followed my glance and shuddered when he realized my intention.

“Give me your jacket, your backpack, and your phone.”

I quickly handed over the requested items, not even minding the additional bite of the wind. Jim had a plan and I was willing to do anything if it meant leaving this place with him today.

“Give me your hand.” I placed my hand in his and met his eyes as he took off my glove. “This will hurt.”

In the next instant, he dragged a penknife along my palm. I didn’t even flinch. We smear my blood on the backpack and the jacket, place the phone in one of the jacket pockets and arrange the whole thing to look like I’d been injured and tumbled headlong into the river.

“Will it be enough?” I asked him as he gave me his jacket and turned me toward the woods.

“Probably not, but it’ll lead them in the wrong direction,” he said. He’s learned a lot in the past few years and carefully hides our trail as we walk away from the river along a different path than the one we’d taken toward it. Eventually, long after the light has faded, we come across an old pickup truck hidden in the trees. He opened the passenger door and helped me in before walking around to the other side.

“Is there anything from their house you have to have?” he asked. He hoped the answer is no, I can tell, but he’d go back there if I asked him to. For the first time I let myself believe this might be real.

“I don’t want a thing from them. They’re dead to me now.”

My brother smiled, cranked the engine, and started driving us into our new life. “That’s my girl.”

Interviews: Welcome, Courtney Vail

For the first time ever on this blog, I’m pleased to welcome author Courtney Vail! Her book Kings & Queens just released this year and the sequel, Sapphire Reign, is in the works. Courtney graciously stopped by long enough to answer some questions about her book, her writing style, and advice all would-be authors need to hear.

Thank you, Courtney!

Seventeen-year-old Majesty Alistair wants police to look further into her father’s fatal car wreck, hopes the baseball team she manages can reclaim the state crown, aches for Derek…or, no…maybe Alec…maybe. And she mostly wishes to retract the hateful words she said to her dad right before slamming the door in his face, only to never see him again.

All her desires get sidelined, though, when she overhears two fellow students planning a church massacre. She doubts cops will follow up on her tip since they’re sick of her coming around with notions of possible crimes-in-the-works. And it’s not like she cries wolf. Not really. They’d be freaked too, but they’re not the ones suffering from bloody dreams that hint at disaster like some crazy, street guy forecasting the Apocalypse.

So, she does what any habitual winner with zero cred would do…try to I.D. the nutjobs before they act. But, when their agenda turns out to be far bigger than she ever assumed, and even friends start looking suspect, the truth and her actions threaten to haunt her forever, especially since she’s left with blood on her hands, the blood of someone she loves.

1)    Can you tell us how you got the idea for Kings & Queens? You mention a dream on your website, but was that the moment where it all came together or did the story fall into place in bits and pieces?
I had this idea for a love triangle of sorts but no plot to plunk it into. All I knew was this girl named Majesty was the manager for her high school’s baseball team, on which her two guy best friends played. Then one night I dreamed I overheard a plot for mass murder and escaped the conspirators in this little town. I knew as soon as I woke up that that was the seed I needed to bring my book to fruition. However, I had no idea at all that it would end up so complex, twisted and dark.
The deeper part of the conspiracy totally took me by surprise. If you haven’t read it, I’ll just say it involves Derek and leave it at that. That whole thing was not planned. It emerged as I wrote it. He’s way more than some guy who’s curt with his friends and out for a quick lay. I knew when I finished it, that the complexity would make K&Q one of those love-it or hate-it type of reads because not everyone likes that much depth and intricacy. YA tends to be more linear and straightforward and Kings & Queens is one shocking twist after another and it doesn’t let up until the epilogue.

2) What was your favorite part of writing this particular book? A character, someone you met doing research, or something else entirely?
My favorite part was meeting my characters. That’s always my favorite thing with every book I work on. And my books always have one or two characters that people absolutely love. Most people I’ve heard from say they like all my characters, but especially Warren and Derek. I get the most feedback about them. The research was fun too. Although, because I had to research explosions and gun firing skills, I’m sure I’m now on a watch list of some sort. I interviewed a Richmond cop on police procedure and learned they don’t need parental consent to interrogate a minor, which I wouldn’t have thought. I made it optional. And I spoke with a bike expert about sabotage. Fun, fun, fun trying to explain that one. Maybe when I earn enough cash, I’ll get to travel around for my research.

3) When approaching a new project, do you outline or let the story develop as it will? Why do you think that technique works for you?
I am what’s called a pantser, but  I’m not crazy about that word. Instead I call myself a Just-Wing-It Girl. I usually have an initial concept, and I create character sketches, maybe I’ll jot down some bullet points for the beginning or along the arch, but it’s loose, just an idea about direction really. This is usually done with pen and paper. And then I get on the keyboard, and just wing it and fly to wherever my characters and story take me. I love when I end up surprised and affected, where I’m shouting at the screen–yeah, I’ve done that. I’ve also cracked up at some of the things I’ve written and I’ve broken down and cried. This free-flying style works for me because my story’s always grow and expand beyond my wildest dreams, and I can never predict which way they’ll go until I’m writing, so it’s hard to plot out for that.

4) How well do you know your characters? Do you decide before you start writing every detail of their lives down to the type of snack foods they prefer or do you let the details come into play as the story develops?
It depends on the story. For Kings & Queens, yes, I knew most of this intricate stuff before I ever started. I don’t info dump at all, but backstory plays a big part in how my characters think and act within the story’s present time.
Like, Majesty is a very strong character, and she’s quick witted and likes to verbally spar, and all that was originally spawned from her having to grow up with a weird name.  Some people would cave and sink into themselves, but Majesty turned it into a positive thing and turned herself into a victor instead of a victim. She lives life as though she has a scepter in hand and always strives to win. Authors sometimes give their characters weird names, and there are no ramifications for that. But that’s not me. In my book, I take every little thing into consideration.
Another example , Derek grew up without a mom for most of his life and he has a crap relationship with his dad, so he doesn’t eat right, have any fashion sense or moral center. He’s all over the map along the debauchery path since he’s had no one to look up to and no one to live for except himself. His actions are birthed out of a need for self-preservation rather than outright rudeness. He’s not a jerk, just an insensitive, wounded, guarded teen.
All that thought that I put in to character psychology is how my characters end up feeling real, like they’re jumping off the pages.

5) What’s better, in your opinion: writing a first draft or going back and rewriting it?
Definitely writing the first draft. It’s so much fun. I’ve done a ton of editing, but I’ve never really completely rewritten anything.  I ended up blessed with great critters who helped me get my novel into publishable shape. I’m a tweaker, so the editing process can be a tedious pain.

6) What can you tell us about the editorial process after you turn in your first draft? Any advice for hope-to-be-debut authors?
I definitely seek out the opinions of multiple people because you can never spot the holes and glaring mistakes in your own work, beyond grammar and such. I caught two big mistakes on my own, but it was during the editing process after I’d given myself some time away from the work. For one, I had a major mistake in my timeline and ended up with 6 school days in a week. And in chapter 4 I forgot to have Derek give Majesty money before she headed off to buy flowers for him. Those issues were in there even after at least ten pairs of eyes had combed through it. So definitely, finding some distance and then going back to it helps immensely. And reading books on craft is very important. When you know your stuff and what’s best for your story, then you can have the confidence to know what advice to apply and what to discard. Writing and reading is subjective and not everyone is going to have the same opinion, not everyone is going to like your work, and not every piece of advice you get is right for your work. You need to know what’s story-enhancing and you can only do that by listening to your gut and knowing what’s correct. Listening to too many people can have you over-editing, and I made that mistake and stripped out too much voice and some of the rawness. I had to go back and reshape the narrative so it held my quirkiness again. Not everyone likes or gets quirky. So I learned to not care and to just be myself with a pen, regardless of the outcome. Voice is everything. And mine happens to be weird. And I’m proud to own that.

7) You chose a company in between self-publication and an independent press to produce Kings & Queens. Can you tell us anything about your experience with Little Prince Publishing so far?
LPP is an indie publishing company, it’s just very small right now. It does things differently than other companies though. For instance, I get all my royalties. Usually a publisher pays for everything up front, and only gives you 4-15%, maybe 20% of the royalties. A small press usually won’t pay an advance, and I really needed the flexibility of a small press in order to be able to publish my split-market series.  I knew I’d make the most money with Little Prince and have options no other publisher could give me. I paid for the Lightning Source set up fee and an LPP ISBN and did my own formatting and cover, so $152. (I am one of the book formatters and designers for LPP now as well as another small publishing company.) Because bookstores can buy directly from the Publisher’s Bookstore with a sliding-scale, short sale discount that starts at 40% off the listing price, I can set my own wholesale discount as low as 20% at Lightning Source, which I did. So I make $6.15 per book for paperback sales anywhere online or when customers order it in brick-and-mortar stores. With any other publisher, I’d earn change. I’ve long since earned back my set up fee but am just waiting for the check, since it’s paid out quarterly.
Originally, I was shopping Kings & Queens and had every intention of going traditional. I was getting some helpful feedback from agents, though no bites, but I ended up pulling myself out of the hunt because of the sequel I had written for fun. Early readers kept asking me how my characters were doing and I wanted to know too, so I opened the story ten years after the events in Kings & Queens. In Sapphire Reign I have an 11-year-old POV, a 15-year-old, and 3 people in their 20’s. It’s weird to have ages across the spectrum like that but it is what it is. However, my early readers fell in love with it and my characters, especially the young girl, Crystal. All this feedback made me fall in love with it too and see its potential, and my vision changed. I didn’t want to risk the sequel getting shut out because series just don’t do that. They don’t split markets. If you get a 2 or 3 book deal from a bigger house, it’s for one market. That’s a fan base building strategy. It makes sense. But I just don’t care about categories. It’s my series. I figure if people like my writing and my characters, they won’t care that the series has shelving confusion. Now, I can put out both books out and have them look congruent. Sapphire Reign is a twisted, weird, dark book, so not everyone will like it, but I can’t wait to hear from those who LOVE it because there’s absolutely nothing like it. It is a wild, wild ride.
The Kings & Queens paperback just came out in January, but I’ve loved my experience with LPP so far because I’ve gotten to make my own decisions. I also get to collect ALL my own royalties, not just a small portion,  the same as if I’d gone solo, but I have a group of authors and a little house to support me in my endeavors. I can even write a third book in the series, or not, it’s my call. I love the flexibility I have.

8) What’s the hardest part for you to write? Beginning, middle, or end?
I sometimes write out of sequence. For Kings & Queens, I wrote the first two chapters and then the last two so I’d have my end game.  It’s such a twisty plot and I needed to keep focus on how it would end. But all the middle guts in getting there totally surprised me. The hardest part for me was the climax, the rest of it was easy.  I really had to wrestle to get everyone to be where I wanted them to be and to act like they needed to act within the scene. I love the way it came out. But I would say endings usually give me the most trouble, just because I want everything to end on the perfect note. I not only want to give readers a satisfactory conclusion, I want to leave them with some resonation.

9) Do you listen to music as you write? Have TV on in the background? Require absolute silence and solitude?
I like music in the beginning stages, when I’m constructing my ideas, I find it inspirational actually. The song Field of Innocence by Evanescence, for instance, really captures the story, feel and tone of Sapphire Reign. I wish I could use it for my book trailer, but since it was on a limited release album and the band is split, it would likely be impossible to pay for the rights, which I would because it is just that awesome. I’m not even sure if the publisher/producer is in existence anymore.
But I don’t like music or any major noise once I get deeply into my story. I used to, but I’m easily distracted, so this has changed. And I definitely prefer to be alone. I can’t write at all if someone is too close or staring over my shoulder.

10) Last, but definitely not least, what advice do you believe is crucial for anyone who wants to have a career as a writer to hear?
To take the time to develop your characters fully, to know the different narrative options backwards and forwards so that you can just fly with your plot idea and know how to execute it properly, to understand the importance of a story question and to always write with passion, putting forth your best effort. If you take care in all these areas, you will be on the path to success. Someone, somewhere, is going to be moved and hooked by what you’ve written.

COURTNEY VAIL writes totally twisted YA and adult suspense. She enjoys braiding mystery, suspense & romance with some kind of weirdness. Her addictions to crazy coffee concoctions, Funny Bones, Ben & Jerry’s, and bacon keep her running and writing. She currently lives in New England with a comedian stud and a wild gang of kidlets.

If you like weird books, you can follow Courtney Vail at:
Twitter @cvwriter

Interested in reading more? Find the book on: 
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound

Surprise!: Random Acts of Kindness

A smile. An encouraging word. A thoughtful gesture. Each day people interact with us, help, and make our day a bit brighter and full. This is especially true in the Writing Community. 

Take a second to think about writers you know, like the critique partner who works with you to improve your manuscript. The writing friend who listens, supports and keeps you strong when times are tough. The author who generously offers council, advice and inspiration when asked.

So many people take the time to make us feel special, don’t they? They comment on our blogs, re-tweet our posts, chat with us on forums and wish us Happy Birthday on Facebook.

Kindness ROCKS!

To commemorate the release of their book The Emotion Thesaurus, Becca and Angela at The Bookshelf Muse are hosting a TITANIC Random Act Of Kindness BLITZ. And because I think KINDNESS is contagious, I’m participating too!

Today I am thanking Lani Woodland for being a constant source of inspiration, determination, joy, and laughter. I absolutely cannot be on the phone with Lani without smiling, even when I’m having a bad day, and her energy is infectious. She pushes me to write more, to write better, and I adore her for it. 
I would offer her my writerly services as a thank you, but she knows she already has those! So, instead, I’m promising a really first-rate dinner while we’re both in Manhattan for BEA. On top of the ones I already owe you. You may not end up paying for food at all on the trip, Lani! 😉
Love you!!! 

Do you know someone special that you’d like to randomly acknowledge? Don’t be shy–come join us and celebrate! Send them an email, give them a shout out, or show your appreciation in another way. Kindness makes the world go round. 🙂

Becca and Angela have a special RAOK gift waiting for you as well, so hop on over to The Bookshelf Muse to pick it up.

Have you ever participated in or been the recipient of a Random Act Of Kindness?  Let me know in the comments!

Inspiration: The Fictional Real World

I’ve mentioned more than a few times over the years that one of the best ways to find inspiration for stories is to pay attention to the world around you. Sometimes it’s coming across a biography or a report that reads like fiction and sometimes it’s something you witness. Today I’m going to give you examples of both.

To start, yesterday I almost saw someone die. The woman in the car behind me didn’t notice a blockage in the road ahead and almost didn’t switch lanes in time to avoid hitting a guy at about thirty-five miles an hour. Considering he was standing in front of a solid object, the impact would probably have killed him. For the rest of the drive home, my mind spun out disaster scenario after disaster scenario. Partially this happened because the whole incident totally freaked me out, but it also happened because I’ve trained my brain to respond this way to sparks. This is how I process, by hashing out what could have been. I have a chapter and a half of a story that may or may not ever see daylight and it all came out of a almost-accident that lasted about thirty seconds.

Second, I recently found two different stories (both, coincidentally, on, which I have to reference for work sometimes). The first one explains the rise of billionaire Sara Blakely, the inventor of the undergarment line Spanx. The author goes all the way back to the early days of Sara’s career and chronicles the invention of the now globally recognized Spanx products. Honestly, when I read it I immediately thought it sounded like something out of a movie. Sometimes reality has better fiction than some fiction does.

The other article I found on Forbes popped up today. Apparently Vogue Magazine is finally taking a stance on two incredibly important issues within the fashion industry: underage workers and eating disorders. According to the Forbes article and a statement released by Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, Vogue plans to follow these six guidelines:

“1. We will not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder. We will work with models who, in our view, are healthy and help to promote a healthy body image.
“2. We will ask agents not to knowingly send us underage girls and casting directors to check IDs when casting shoots, shows and campaigns.
“3. We will help to structure mentoring programs where more mature models are able to give advice and guidance to younger girls, and we will help to raise industry-wide awareness through education, as has been integral to the Council of Fashion Designers of America Health Initiative.
“4. We will encourage producers to create healthy backstage working conditions, including healthy food options and a respect for privacy. We will encourage casting agents not to keep models unreasonably late.
“5. We encourage designers to consider the consequences of unrealistically small sample sizes of their clothing, which limits the range of women who can be photographed in their clothes, and encourages the use of extremely thin models.
“6. We will be ambassadors for the message of healthy body image.”

Yay, Vogue! I think this is awesome, but, honestly, doesn’t it sound like something that would come at the end of a YA book centered around a teenage model battling anorexia?

So go forth and see the world, writers! There are so many little sparks of inspiration out there just waiting to light your fire.

Imagination: The Best Part Is It’s Limitless

As medical and psychological science has advanced, our species has convinced ourselves that we understand our own bodies and the working of our own minds. This is a huge lie. We understand nothing. We have theories–some of which are almost plausible–but in the end that’s all they are. Theories. Creativity, inspiration, and imagination are just a few of the aspects of our thought processes that scientists study without ever understanding.

Take this story, for example. What do you see when you look at a pile of cardboard boxes? Cardboard boxes, right? Maybe the makings of a playhouse or a cheap sled. Do you see an arcade? Probably not. I wouldn’t either, but Caine did.

Caine is a little boy who lives in Southern California. He took empty boxes from his dad’s auto repair shop and built his own arcade complete with prize wall. For $1 you can get two turns. For $2 you get a Fun Pass with 500 turns. Most people buy the Fun Pass. One visitor to this inventive playland writes:

Caine dreamed of the day he would have lots of customers visit his arcade, and he spent months preparing everything, perfecting the game design, making displays for the prizes, designing elaborate security systems, and hand labeling paper-lunch-gift-bags. However, his dad’s autoparts store (located in an industrial part of East LA) gets almost zero foot traffic, so Caine’s chances of getting a customer were very small, and the few walk in customers that came through were always in too much of a hurry to get their auto part to play Caine’s Arcade. But Caine never gave up.

 I’m showing this off for a few reasons:

A) This kid is so adorable! And what a story! His determination and obvious intelligence has inspired a lot of people and earned him a college scholarship before he’s even left elementary school. The world needs more kids like Caine.

B) This is a perfect example of unexpected ideas taking hold and the amazing ways creativity can manifest itself. It also goes to show you that even ideas that seem improbable and outlandish can make for terrific stories. If you ever have one of those ideas for part of your story, hold onto it. Even if it doesn’t fit in the project you’re working on, it might work somewhere and be exactly what you need.

C) Caine had a dream and he went after it with everything he had. Not only did he reach his goal, he went further than he ever could have imagined. Everyone reaching for the dream of publication can learn from his example. All it takes is finding the right person at the right time to help make your dream come true.

D) Just because. 😉

One of Caine’s supporters made this video about his arcade. Watch it and if you have the extra money, donate to Caine’s college fund!

Caine’s Arcade from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.