Wednesday, July 20, 2016

So You've Lost the Spark? BUILD IT A NEST

Now, more than ever as writers, we all have to show up.

I know it's harder than ever to focus on the words that need to get down on the page in the middle of Facebook arguments with distant family members, and violence on autoplay on our Twitter feeds. But right now and more than ever, the world needs your voice.

Don't put it off. Don't sit back and wait, hoping the muse will find you.

Go out and get it. Sit down and make it come to you. Build a nest on your head, if that's what it takes.

--

A while ago I tweeted some trivial things into the empty vastness of Twitter and one of them was, What do you do when writing stops being sexy?

I was burned out. I'm ghostwriting blog copy during the day and tearing open my fiction projects at night. It's just writing, writing, writing from the time I wake up until the time I let myself slide back into bed.

I'm with my writing all day, every day. And eventually, like any long-term relationship, the magic starts to wear out.

I don't mean to say that magic doesn't still happen. It absolutely does for me. I get lost in new stories, new characters, new landscapes. I get whisked away by a new world. I lose myself in it and come up hours later, confused about where I was, how I got there, or what time it is now.

What I do mean is that it won't always be that way.

Magic doesn't happen every single time I sit down to write. There are deadlines to meet and word count quotas to fill, and sometimes it just has to get done, muse or not. Genius or not.

Do you read Dear Abby?

"Relationships are work," she's always telling readers. Sure, love is a rollercoaster ride at first. We fall down the elevator shaft the first time. It's falling and flying all at once. It's blowing the hair out of your face like you're on a book cover.

After a while, you return to level. The wind dies down.

Of course, Abby tries to phrase it a bit nicer than the word "work." "Learn how to give and take," she'll say, or "listen, then talk." Or: "Find things to like."

But the moral of the story is pretty clear: even our most worthwhile long-term relationships eventually stop being all magic, all the time. It takes time and concerted effort to keep it alive, and nourish the spark simmering inside.

--

So back to the nest on your head.

Fill it with some soft sticks. Layer on some leaves, and a bit of moss, too, just to really entice that genius to land its cute little butt there.

1. Have a space.

Like having a roaming pet cat, a place where the genius knows where to find you is a really good way to make sure it comes when you call it.

You don't always have to use this place to do your writing, but at the very least, it's a good idea to have made a connection with it as your "writing place" for when you do find yourself in the rut.

And why not put a big beacon on your head, as it were?

2. Wear writing stuff. Bring your writing mug. Put on that writing music.

Build around yourself the things that make your writing easier. Whatever your brain has started to associate with WRITE MODE, that's what I want you to surround yourself with. These are the soft leaves and fluffy mosses in your cute little genius nest.

Nice and cozy. There you go. That's great. Now blow a tad on that spark, just a gentle foosh if you don't mind, and watch your spark grow up into a quaint little fire.

3. Get there. Show up.

Without your behind in a chair and your fingers somewhere near a keyboard, how can you possibly get any writing done?

I know. It's not always easy to stay in the chair when it seems like nothing magical is happening. I've become accustomed to this way of life:

"What about the first five chapters, when I felt so fiery about this? Where is that version of me now? Is she gone forever :((("

Hey, chill, it's okay. She's probably lounging on the couch stuffing her face with chips. Look, that's not my bag to judge. But you have to give up on her, because she's not coming back right now. Maybe not even until the end of this manuscript.

That's okay. It will still get done. You'll still have a great time.

Because the writing isn't happening on the couch, it's happening here. It's your fingers on the keyboard typing out whatever silly drivel happens to pop into your head. It's making sure that nest is all pretty and prepared for when someone does decide to show up and fill you with divine intervention, or genius, or inspiration, whatever you want to call it. Whatever makes you feel better about the fact that it isn't divine intervention.

It's you.

4. Stop being so tough on yourself.

I like you and I want you to stop being so harsh.

Not every word is perfect, and gosh damn darn it, they don't have to be. That genius is never gonna land in that nice little nest we built if it feels intimidated by you—if it feels judged before it can even speak.

Remember: nourish. Coax that little spark out of there, don't crush it. Make your nest a safe place for the genius to hang out, and it will keep coming back to you.

5. Work.

It's not always magic. It's not always thrill and pounding hearts, because damn, that would be tiring.

It's diligence. It's patience. It's coming to work every day and doing the thing you set out to do.

And, shoot. It's also eventually finishing it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

5 Reasons I Acquired THE SOUND OF US

5 Reasons I Acquired THE SOUND OF US

When THE SOUND OF US came to me in my submissions pile and I started reading, it grabbed me by the heart. I just had to be the one to acquire it and publish it, and here's why:


  1. Voice. As soon as I read the opening page, I could feel Kiki's personality. Sarcastic, full of pop culture references, a little insecure with confidence occasionally bubbling over. Julie Hammerle so clearly showed the reality of coming of age--caught between so many opposites, having strong opinions but second-guessing, being a little jaded but also wildly optimistic. I felt like I was inside the mind of a real person and watching her personality unfold with every page.
  2. Nerdy girls! Kiki loves her Twitter. And if you follow me on Twitter, you know I love that. Kiki also is a wonderfully passionate and analytical fangirl, throwing herself into TV shows and movies that she loves regardless of whether it's cool (which it totally is). I love characters who love something passionately because it says so much about who they are, and Kiki isn't afraid to love what she loves, and learns to embrace it with balance and pride throughout the story.
  3. Romance. I love compelling romance, but YA doesn't have to all be romance, and not everyone finds true love in high school. Sometimes there are multiple people we might be interested in, and sometimes it's difficult to sort out why we like someone, or we struggle with liking someone we shouldn't. Falling in love is messy, and real, and sometimes terrible, but also wonderful and hilarious. And without telling spoilers, Kiki's experience with dating and relationship in this book grabbed me with its realism and heart. 
  4. Music. Writing about music can be so difficult because we can't actually hear the performances and what's happening. So much of the appeal of Pitch Perfect is the talent-- hearing the music and performances. And in The Sound of Us, I could hear it on the page. Julie Hammerle knows opera, and she knows music camps, having sung classical music from a young age, and it shows!
  5. Friendship. Friendships are such a influential and important part of any age, but especially so in our young adult years. And core to this book is female friendship-- the scars, the acceptance, the support and community and identity that friendships always bring. And again, Julie shows this so well it feels real. I became friends with Kiki and her friends, and I think you will, too.

So what's The Sound of Us about?

 Kiki Nichols might not survive music camp.

She's put her TV-loving, nerdy self aside for one summer to prove she's got what it takes: she can be cool enough to make friends, she can earn that music scholarship, and she can get into Krause University's music program.

Except camp has rigid conduct rules—which means her thrilling late-night jam session with the hot drummer can't happen again, even though they love all the same TV shows, and fifteen minutes making music with him meant more than every aria she's ever sung.

But when someone starts snitching on rule breakers and getting them kicked out, music camp turns into survival of the fittest. If Kiki's going to get that scholarship, her chance to make true friends—and her chance with the drummer guy—might cost her the future she wants more than anything.



Author Bio: 
Julie Hammerle is the author of The Sound of Us, which will be published by Entangled Teen on June 7, 2016. Before settling down to write "for real," she studied opera, taught Latin, and held her real estate license for one hot minute. Currently, she writes about TV on her blog Hammervision, ropes people into conversations about Game of Thrones, and makes excuses to avoid the gym. Her favorite YA-centric TV shows include 90210 (original spice), Felicity, and Freaks and Geeks. Her music playlist reads like a 1997 Lilith Fair set list. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two kids, and a dog. They named the dog Indiana. You can find her on her website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or her newsletter, which you can sign up for on her website.


Giveaway Info:  $25 Amazon Gift Card

Rafflecopter Widget:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Dubsmash Contest Grand Prize: 
  • A paperback copy of The Sound of Us by debut author Julie Hammerle
  • A box of Nutty Bars, which are prominently featured in the novel
  • A DVD of High School Musical, so you can watch the movie repeatedly to perfect your dubsmash abilities


How to enter the Dubsmash Contest? Create a dubsmash video on the Dubsmash app, the Musical.ly app, or upload it to your YouTube Channel of any song from Camp Rock, High School Musical, or Pitch Perfect. 

Email in your video to publicity@entangledpublishing.com between May 30, 2016 and June 29, 2016 @ 11: 59 pm EDT for the first, mandatory entry into the contest, and then add one of several other ways to enter via the Rafflecopter widget below to increase your odds of winning! While we welcome all videos, only US residents are able to win the Grand Prize. 



Rafflecopter Widget for Dubsmash Contest: 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Buy Diverse Books, Win A Critique/Free Book

In January, to support inclusive and #ownvoices books, I ran a query critique deal on Twitter where I (and a few friends) critiqued a query letter for every writer who tweeted me a proof of purchase of a diverse book from that day. It became much bigger than I expected, prompting the sale of 54 diverse books. This time, I'd like to take it up a notch to spread these books even wider.

For Pride Month and Immigration Heritage Month, and in response to the Orlando Pulse shooting, to boost TLGBQIAP+, POC, #ownvoices, and inclusive books, I'm opening this offer again, with incredible support from many more authors and publishing professionals.

The basics: buy a diverse book, receive a query critique, first page(s) critique, or a free book (plus many other great items). This deal is open to published and unpublished authors, book bloggers, readers, teachers, and anyone else. (You do not have to have a completed manuscript/query for the critiques- a rough draft is fine, though polished material will help you get the most out of your critique. Materials must be submitted on or before 6-19-2016.)

This is open internationally for all items, except for hardcopy books, which are available continental U.S. only unless otherwise stated.


Keep reading for details.


Why #ownvoices/inclusive books?

Diverse and #ownvoices books featuring positive representations of diverse characters foster empathy and awareness, and also provide community, identity, and support for people sharing those identities. Buying and reading these books can change lives, support lives, and save lives.

I refer you to this thread from Hillary Monahan, NYT-bestselling author.




I also refer you to these tweets from author Tehlor Kinney:






What else can you do?



Read, share and act on the items in Ana Mardoll's Storify of specific ways to support queer, Latinx, and Muslim people in the wake of this tragedy. In fact, please stop reading this post until you read this Storify. It's that necessary.

How this giveaway works:

  1. Purchase a book (any format) from the diverse book lists at the very bottom of this post during the hours of this offer-- from time of posting until 11:59 pm central time, Wednesday June 15, 2016. If the book is not featured on one of the lists below, it will not be considered eligible for the deal.
  2. Tweet a link to this post on the #buydiversebooks hashtag and tell us which book you bought! If your tweet does not show up on the correct hashtag with the name of the book you bought and a link to this post, it will not be considered eligible for the deal.
  3. Email buydiversebooks(at)gmail(dot)com. Please a) attach a photo/screencap of your proof of purchase/receipt (any personal info except name blanked out) with the date of purchase and book title clear in the image, b) tell us which prize pool you're entering--writer or reader (if reader, please list whether your mailing address is continental US or not), and c) link to the diverse books list you found your diverse book through (lists at end of this post.) We'll reply with details for receiving your prize. That's it! Buy, tweet, email.
Please note: All gift items are assigned randomly. You may pick "reader" or "writer" gift, or more than one if you purchase more than one diverse book, but due to the sheer volume, no specific requests for items within either gift pool can be accommodated. Exceptions are the specialty items, gifted first-come, first-served. Thank you!

What will you receive?

*items are grouped by donor. If a donor lists 5 items, that is 5 individual gifts for 5 purchasers, not 1 gift for 1 purchaser.


In the pool for readers, we are offering one item below per eligible purchase of each diverse book. 

These are gifted randomly to readers who request a "reader pool" gift. No requests for specific books can be accepted. All hard-copy books are continental U.S. only, unless otherwise stated. Ebooks are international.

We Were Here (ebook) by Matt de la Pena, 1 copy. Donated by Jennifer Hawkins.

Control or Catalyst (paperback) by Lydia Kang, reader's choice, 2 copies. Donated by Lydia Kang, author of Control, Catalyst, The November Girl, and Quackery.

The Progeny by Tosca Lee (hardcover), 1. Donated by Kate Brauning.

Without Benefits (ebook) by Nicole Tone, 1 copy. Donated by Nicole Tone.

If I Was Your Girl (hardcopy) by Meredith Russo, donated by Ashley Herring Blake. 1 copy. Available in any country Book Depository delivers to.

How We Fall by Kate Brauning (signed paperbacks), 2. Donated by Kate Brauning.

Signs of Attraction (ebook) by Laura Brown, 2 copies. Donated by Laura Brown.

ARC of It Started With Goodbye by Christina June, 1 copy (mailed in July). Donated by Christina June.

The May Queen Murders (signed hardcover) by Sarah Jude, 1 copy. Donated by Sarah Jude.

How We Fall by Kate Brauning (signed hardcovers), 2. Donated by Kate Brauning.

Kasey Screws Up The World (ebook), 5 copies. Donated by Rachel Shane.

ARC of The Far Empty by J Todd Scott, 1. Donated by Kate Brauning.

Alice in Wonderland High (signed hardcover) by Rachel Shane, 1 copy. Donated by Rachel Shane.

Every Ugly Word (paperback) by Aimee Salter, 2. Donated by Aimee Salter.

Bundle of 4 queer books and fun extras, readers choice from provided selection. Donated by Julia Ember, available US/Canada/EU.

Dark Touch (ebook) by Aimee Salter. Donated by Aimee Salter.

Untamed (ebook) by Madeline Dyer. Donated by Madeline Dyer.

A Crow of His Own (picture book, Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor) by Megan Dowd Lambert. Donated by author.

Blood and Water (ebook) by Briana Morgan. 3 copies. Donated by author.

Gates of Thread and Stone (paperback) by Lori Lee. 1 copy. Donated by author.

Real Sisters Pretend (picture book) by Megan Dowd Lambert. Donated by author.

Polychrone Ink Volume 3, (literary magazine devoted to celebrating diversity), 2 copies. Donated by Em Salgado.

Future Shock (signed hardcover) by Elizabeth Briggs. Donated by author.

ARCs of Last in a Long Line of Rebels, Everything Everything, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Great Greene Heist, and a copy of Serpentine by Cindy Pon, and donated by Lyla Lawless. Each an individual gift.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and I'll Give You the Sun, donated by Tammy Subia.

"2016 debut diverse book bundle" available as one gift! Copies of The Girl From Everywhere, Symptoms of Being Human, and Unicorn Tracks. Ebooks internationally or paperbacks for continental US. Donated by Carrie Ann Dirisio, YA writer and creator of @broodingYAhero

Serpentine by Cindy Pon (paperback), 1 copy. Donated by author.

George by Alex Gino (ebook) and When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (ebook) donated by I.W. Gregorio.

2-book bundle of Dating Sarah Cooper and On the Outside by Siera Maley (ebooks), donated by Ashlyn, who lives in the DC area where she writes f/f fantasy and sci-fi stories.

3-book bundle of I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Everything Leads To You by Nina LaCour, and Kindred by Octavia E. Butler (print copies), donated by Cassie Fox.


In the pool for writers, we are offering one item below per eligible purchase of each diverse book:

These are gifted randomly to readers who request a "writer pool" gift. No requests for specific items can be accepted-- you might receive a query critique, or even a phone consultation with a publishing professional! You may purchase more than one book to raise your chances of being gifted a specific item, since you'd then receive that many gifts.

10-page critique, 1. Carrie is a literary agent with Prospect Agency, and has a wide range of interests.  She is particularly on the lookout for for diverse MG/YA, high concept commercial fiction, romance, and memoir. Some of recent projects include Nicole Trilivas' commercial fiction GIRLS WHO TRAVEL (Berkley, December 2015), Brianna DuMont's  upcoming WEIRD BUT TRUE, EXTRA CREDIT: US PRESIDENTS (National Geographic, June 2017), Beth Ellyn Summer's upcoming YA AT FIRST BLUSH (Bloomsbury Spark, September 2016) and Shana Figueroa's upcoming urban romance RED RAVEN (Forever Yours, September 2016). She is not the best agent for picture books that are not nonfiction or educational or for adult high fantasy.  Learn more about her by visiting Prospect's website or checking out her Twitter and blog.

Query critiques, 3: Ava Jae is a YA author, an assistant editor at Entangled Publishing, and a freelance editor. Her YA Sci-Fi debut, BEYOND THE RED, released in March 2016 from Sky Pony Press. When she’s not writing about kissing, superpowers, explosions, and aliens, you can find her with her nose buried in a book, nerding out over the latest X-Men news, or hanging out on her blogTwitterFacebooktumblrGoodreadsInstagram, or YouTube channel.

Query critiques, 2: Julie Hammerle is the YA author of THE SOUND OF US and is represented by Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency.

Query critiques for MG or YA, 5. (YA or MG only) - Gabrielle Prendergast is the author of the award winning novels in verse AUDACIOUS and CAPRICIOUS. Her upcoming books include the middle grade novel PANDAS ON THE EAST SIDE (Orca, October 2016) and the YA sci-fi ZERO REPEAT FOREVER (Simon & Schuster 2017). Gabrielle has taught writing and screenwriting at UBC, SFSU and Sydney University in Australia.

Query critique, 1: Kim Graff is a publishing minion working in NYC, former literary intern at D4EO Literary Agency, Red Sofa Literary Agency, and P.S. Literary, and an author represented by Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency, She’s a graduate of the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute, and a full-time freelance editor at Wild Things Editing.

Query critique, 1: Brent Taylor is an associate agent at TriadaUS, where he represents a wide range of fiction for kids, teens, and adults. You can find him online at www.triadaus.com and on Twitter @NaughtyBrent.

Query critique, 2: Sarah J. Schmitt is a K-8 school librarian and Youth Service Professional for teens at a public library. She lives outside of Indianapolis with her husband, two kidlets and a cat who might actually be a secret agent. Her debut novel, IT'S A WONDERFUL DEATH, came out in October 2015 from Sky Pony Press.

Query critiques, 3: Rachel Lynn Solomon is the author of two forthcoming contemporary YA novels from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse. You can find her online at http://rachelsolomonbooks.com  and on Twitter @rlynn_solomon.

Query critiques, 5: Maria Vicente is an associate literary agent at P.S. Literary Agency, providing support to her clients through all stages of the writing and publication process. She is also the Wicked Witch of the East Coast. You can find her on Twitter (@msmariavicente) or online at http://www.mariavicente.com.

Query critiques, 5: Beth Phelan is a literary agent at The Bent Agency and the creator of #DVpit.

Query critique, 1: Jennifer Hawkins is a YA writer and editor for Author Accelerator. She has short works published in various magazines, including The Decameron Journal, and she's a 2016 YARWA Rosemary Award double-finalist. She lives in Houston with her husband, two sons, and lap dog Great Dane. You can find her on her website: http://www.authorjenniferhawkins.com  and on Twitter: @jennymarieh

Query critiques, 5: Joy McCullough is a freelance editor, PitchWars mentor, and MG/YA author represented by Jim McCarthy. You can see more about her here.

Query critique, 1: David Arnold lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with his (lovely) wife and (boisterous) son. He is the author of MOSQUITOLAND and KIDS OF APPETITE (9.20.16). Previous jobs include freelance musician/producer, stay-at-home dad, and preschool teacher. You can learn more at davidarnoldbooks.com and follow him on Twitter @roofbeam.

Query critique, 1:  Tamara Mataya is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, a librarian, and a musician with synesthesia. Armed with a name tag and a thin veneer of credibility, she takes great delight in recommending books and shushing people. She puts the 'she' in TWSS and the B in LGBTQIA+. She’s the co-creator of Pitchmas, a bi-annual pitch contest for writers, a Pitchwars mentor, and as a freelance editor, has worked with NYT Bestselling authors.

Query critique, 1: Ashley Herring Blake lives in Nashville, TN with her family. She is the author of SUFFER LOVE and the forthcoming HOW TO MAKE A WISH.

Query critiques, 5. Michael Mammay is a science fiction and fantasy writer represented by JABerwocky Literary, and a Pitchwars mentor.

Query critique, 1. Christina June is a voracious reader, loves to travel, eats too many cupcakes, and hopes to one day be bicoastal – the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland.  She lives just outside Washington DC with her husband and the world’s most rambunctious five-year-old.  Her debut novel, IT STARTED WITH GOOD-BYE, will be published by Blink/HarperCollins in 2017.

Query critique plus a follow-up edit, 1. Rebecca Donnelly was born in England and has lived in California, Florida, and New Mexico. These days she writes and runs a small rural library in upstate New York. Her debut middle-grade novel, HOW TO STAGE A CATASTROPHE, will be published by Capstone Young Readers in Spring 2017.

Query critiques, 3. Tamar Rydzinski worked at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates prior to joining the Laura Dail Literary Agency. She graduated from Yeshiva University in 2003 with a major in literature and a minor in business. Tamar is interested in anything that is well-written and has great characters.

Query critiques, 2. Tehlor Kinney is a poet, YA author, and freelance editor living in the wilds of Southern Oregon. You can usually find her wandering the woods, falling head-over-heels for fictional characters, or trying to perfect her tortilla recipe. She is represented by Jim McCarthy of DGLM.

Query critiques, 5.  Kayla Whaley is a senior editor at Disability in Kidlit, a graduate of the Clarion Writers' Workshop, and is represented by Beth Phelan. Her work has appeared in The Toast, Uncanny Magazine, and The Eatablishment, among other venues.

Query critique, 1. Amanda Heger is a writer, attorney, and bookworm. She strongly believes Amy Poehler is her soul mate, and one of her life goals is to adopt a pig and name it Ron Swineson. Find her online at http://amandaheger.com.

Query critiques, 2. Meredith Tate is a St. Louis based social-worker-turned-speculative-fiction-writer originally from Concord, New Hampshire. Her NA dystopian romance, MISSING PIECES, is available now through Omnific / Simon & Schuster. She is represented by Leon Husock of the L. Perkins Agency.

Query critique, 1. J. R. Yates is a writer of sexy, contemporary romances with a cerebral twist and a slice of humor. She is represented by Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group. She is also a Pitchwars Mentor.

Query critique, 1. Lori Lee is the author of YA fantasy series Gates of Thread and Stone, and is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary.

Query critique, 1. Kaitlyn Sage Patterson writes books. Before settling in Memphis, where she lives with her husband and dogbeast, she spent time in East Tennessee, Boston, Scotland, and South Korea. When she's not writing or reading, Kaitlyn can be found riding horses, cooking elaborate meals, or learning how to garden. THE DIMINISHED (Harlequin TEEN, 2018) is her debut novel.

Query critiques, 23. Adult/YA/MG fiction only. Lindsay Warren has treasure-hunted through queries at Browne & Miller Literary Associates and Talcott Notch Literary Services. After studying novels, human behavior, and Russian at the University of Chicago, she enjoys the promise of perpetual new reads, whether sassy or emotionally gripping. Somehow, she functions without caffeine, unless presented with high tea or a draft latte.

Query critique, 1. A Suiter Clarke has an MFA in Creative Writing with Publishing and writers commercial adult fiction. Her short stories have appeared in several journals and magazines. She is represented by Sharon Pelletier of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. 

First 250 words critique, 10. Bethany Robison is an assistant editor with Entangled and a YA author of speculative historical fiction.

First 500 words critique, 1. J. R. Yates is a writer of sexy, contemporary romances with a cerebral twist and a slice of humor. She is represented by Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group. She is also a Pitchwars Mentor.

First 500 words critique, 1. Kaitlyn Sage Patterson writes books. Before settling in Memphis, where she lives with her husband and dogbeast, she spent time in East Tennessee, Boston, Scotland, and South Korea. When she's not writing or reading, Kaitlyn can be found riding horses, cooking elaborate meals, or learning how to garden. THE DIMINISHED (Harlequin TEEN, 2018) is her debut novel.

First 500 words critique, 1: Ashley Herring Blake lives in Nashville, TN with her family. She is the author of SUFFER LOVE and the forthcoming HOW TO MAKE A WISH.

First 500 words critiques, 5: Molli Moran is a Southern author who doesn't consider her day complete if she hasn't written. She is the author of the Walker Boys series, romances following a trio of brothers. Molli loves spending time with her family, her girlfriend, and championing the push for more marginalized voices within YA and adult literature. She can be found on Twitter as @MissMolliWrites.

First 500 words critique, 1: Jennifer Hawkins is a YA writer and editor for Author Accelerator. She has short works published in various magazines, including The Decameron Journal, and she's a 2016 YARWA Rosemary Award double-finalist. She lives in Houston with her husband, two sons, and lap dog Great Dane. You can find her on her website: http://www.authorjenniferhawkins.com  and on Twitter: @jennymarieh

First 500 words critique, 5. Michael Mammay is a science fiction and fantasy writer represented by JABerwocky Literary, and a Pitchwars mentor.

First 500 words critique, 1: Nicole Tone is an editor, novelist and freelance writer with bylines in Hello Giggles and xoJane. She has her B.A. in Creative Writing and Literature from Southern New Hampshire University and is pursing her MFA in Writing at Savannah College of Art and Design. Nicole is the Publishing Director for REUTS Publications and runs her own freelance editing business, Tone Editorial.

First 500 words critiques, 5.  Kayla Whaley is a senior editor at Disability in Kidlit, a graduate of the Clarion Writers' Workshop, and is represented by Beth Phelan. Her work has appeared in The Toast, Uncanny Magazine, and The Eatablishment, among other venues.

First 500 words critiques, 3: Genevieve Powell is a romance writer represented by Beth Phelan of the Bent Agency. She's a Marine veteran currently working on her M.A. in Writing at Johns Hopkins University. She can be found on Twitter at @EviePowell84 and at http://genevievepowell.com.

First 500 words critique, 1. Helene Dunbar is the author of THESE GENTLE WOUNDS (Flux, 2014), WHAT REMAINS (Flux, 2015) and BOOMERANG (Sky Pony 2017). Over the years, she's worked as a drama critic, journalist, and marketing manager, and has written on topics as diverse as Irish music, court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She lives in Nashville with her husband and daughter, and exists on a steady diet of readers' tears.

First 500 words critique, 1. Though Diana Gallagher be but little, she is fierce. She’s also a gymnastics coach and judge, former collegiate gymnast, and writing professor.  She holds an MFA from Stony Brook University and is represented by Tina Wexler of ICM Partners. Her contemporary YA novel, Lessons in Falling, lands on 2/7/2017.

First 500 words critiques, 10. Alex Yuschick is a freelance editor and writer represented by Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary.

First 500 words critiques, 2. Lauren E. Abramo is Vice President and Subsidiary Rights Director at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, where she maintains a small and carefully cultivated client list ranging from middle grade to adult, commercial to literary. Her middle grade and YA list is primarily fiction, while her adult list is split evenly between fiction and non-fiction, with a heavy emphasis on interdisciplinary, accessible approaches to important issues in contemporary culture. In all categories she is especially interested in underrepresented voices. You can find her at www.dystel.com and on Twitter at @laurenabramo.

First 3 pages critique, 1: Sarah J. Schmitt is a K-8 school librarian and Youth Service Professional for teens at a public library. She lives outside of Indianapolis with her husband, two kidlets and a cat who might actually be a secret agent. Her debut novel, IT'S A WONDERFUL DEATH, came out in October 2015 from Sky Pony Press.

First 5 pages critique, 1: Hillary Monahan is a New York Times bestselling author also writing as Eva Darrows.

First chapter critique, 1: Tehlor Kinney is a poet, YA author, and freelance editor living in the wilds of Southern Oregon. You can usually find her wandering the woods, falling head-over-heels for fictional characters, or trying to perfect her tortilla recipe. She is represented by Jim McCarthy of DGLM.

First chapter critique, 1. Sarah Jude is a horror and thriller author from Missouri. Her YA novel THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) published in May 2016. She can be found on Twitter as @SarahEJude.

First five pages critiques, 2. Meredith Tate is a St. Louis based social-worker-turned-speculative-fiction-writer originally from Concord, New Hampshire. Her NA dystopian romance, MISSING PIECES, is available now through Omnific / Simon & Schuster. She is represented by Leon Husock of the L. Perkins Agency.

"Ash me anything" consultation over email, 1. Madeline Dyer lives in the southwest of England, and has a strong love for anything dystopian, ghostly, or paranormal. She can frequently be found exploring wild places, and at least one notebook is known to follow her wherever she goes. Her debut novel, UNTAMED (Prizm Books, May 2015), examines a world in which anyone who has negative emotions is hunted down, and a culture where addiction is encouraged.

30-minute phone consultation, 1: Brent Taylor is an associate agent at TriadaUS, where he represents a wide range of fiction for kids, teens, and adults. You can find him online at www.triadaus.com and on Twitter @NaughtyBrent.

Query critique + 1st page (up to 250 words), 5. Beth Phelan is a literary agent at The Bent Agency and the creator of #DVpit.

Query critique + 1st page (up to 250 words), 2. Karen McManus writes YA contemporary and fantasy fiction. Her debut novel, ONE OF US IS LYING, will be released by Delacorte Press/Random House in Summer 2017, with a second book to follow in 2018. Karen is represented by Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio and can be found on Twitter at @writerkmc.

Query + 1st page (up to 250 words) critique, 2. Laura Brown lives in Massachusetts with her quirky abnormal family. Her husband’s put up with her since high school, her young son keeps her on her toes, and her three cats think they deserve more scratches. Hearing loss is a big part of who she is, from her own Hard of Hearing ears, to the characters she creates.

Query + 500 word critique, 10.  Adult/YA/MG fiction only. Lindsay Warren has treasure-hunted through queries at Browne & Miller Literary Associates and Talcott Notch Literary Services. After studying novels, human behavior, and Russian at the University of Chicago, she enjoys the promise of perpetual new reads, whether sassy or emotionally gripping. Somehow, she functions without caffeine, unless presented with high tea or a draft latte.

Specialty items- may be requested specifically by item.

*if you would like this item below, please mention this in your email. First come, first serve. If you request an item below and it has already been gifted, you will be gifted another item from the writer or reader gift pool.

Sensitivity reads of full manuscripts (any category) for food allergies, autoimmune diseases, and/or chronic health conditions. Jessica Reino is a kid lit writer of fiction and nonfiction and the author of Food Allergies the Ultimate Teen Guide (Rowman & Littlefield 2015).  When she is not writing, she works as a freelance editor with Pandamoon Publishing.

30-minute plotting consult calls or "ask me anything" calls with multipublished YA author Erica Cameron, 4. Erica is the author of the Dream War Saga, Laguna Tides, the Assassins series, and upcoming Island of Exiles (Entangled 2017). Calls can be used any time within six months of this offer. (Note from Kate Brauning: Erica's worldbuilding and plotting skills are unparalleled-- you want her mind on your book.)

Reading Picture Books with Children (nonfiction) by Megan Dowd Lambert. Donated by author.

Sensitivity reads of short stories or novellas, 3. Em Salgado is a genderqueer bisexual person of Salvadorian and German decent. Professionally, Em is the Executive Editor and head Poetry Editor for Polychrome Ink literary magazine. When not editing, Em is writing, reading, or playing MMORPGs. For breakdown of elements available for the sensitivity read, see Em's bio.

30-minute phone consultation about self-publishing or becoming a hybrid author, 1. Elizabeth Briggs is the author of the young adult time travel thriller Future Shock and the sequel Future Threat, along with the Chasing The Dream adult romance series. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in Sociology, currently mentors teens in writing, and volunteers with a dog rescue group.

Special purchase deal! If writers/readers purchase their diverse books through Flyleaf Books (Chapel Hill, NC) as a bookseller there Johanna Albrecht will include a free tote bag and any relevant/related swag she can fit into the package. She'll make the choice on what swag to include, but everyone will get a tote. Anyone making purchases should mention Johanna's name/Twitter handle, or this diverse books program in the comments section at checkout.

She'd also like to offer that if anyone would like to order a book to be donated to a group in Orlando, she will cover the shipping costs personally. Contact her for details.

Buyer's choice of original art prints from Curious Kumquat shop owner, Myra Fiacco. 10 copies available. Myra is a tattoo artist turned illustrator with a passion for discovering the world through literature. Shipped free within the continental U.S., nominal shipping fee outside continental U.S.






Which books do I buy to get one of these awesome deals?

Any book listed on any of the lists below is eligible for a gift. If the book is not listed on one of these lists, it will not be eligible and no gift will be sent. If more than one book is purchased, you will receive more than one gift!




Disability in Kidlit's reviews (any book positively reviewed will qualify)

SLJ's recommended list of titles from "Islam in the Classroom"



Latinxs in Kid Lit (click the children's, MG, and YA tabs at the top)

and if you want more lists (especially for adult fiction), head over to the "Where To Find Diverse Books" listing at We Need Diverse Books. 

Still not sure?

I think you'll love:

Juliet Takes a Breath


If I Was Your Girl
*Should purchases exceed gifts, Kate Brauning will offer at minimum one query critique per book purchased.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Consequences of a Lack of Sexual Imagination


Brock Turner and his mother, May 23, 2016
source here


I am upset, like everyone else, about the Stanford rape case. You know the one? Where the victim wrote this eloquent letter and a dumbass judge named Aaron Persky STILL only gave the rapist, a 20-year-old star swimmer named Brock Turner, 6 months in jail? Where his mother heard the verdict and "stamped her foot" in frustration? Where his father wondered where their happy-go-lucky son who loved grilled steak went?

I see in this, among other terrible things, a great lack of imagination. The only person in this situation who offers a vision of how this horrible evening went is the victim, and her recall is incomplete due to being unconscious when most of it happened. However, the parents of Brock Turner show a great ignorance to their child and his sexual life as an adult. As did Judge Aaron Persky: he only saw a "talented swimmer," not someone so entitled that he'd sexually touch a woman who was passed out behind a dumpster.

But we know that lots of male star athletes are sexually-entitled beings. We see it in case after case after case after case. We can imagine this, because we see how the rules are bent for men in general, and bent for men involved in prestigious sports, and further bent for men who have "everything going for them." We can imagine this, but apparently only after the fact. Only after the woman has been put through hell to tell the story of what really happened. Then we endure the gaslighting of a society that won't believe her.

Why can't we imagine how this might come to pass earlier? Why can't we imagine that a boy like Brock Turner would have sexual desires and motivations? And that all the messages he's being given in his short life might also bleed into those desires and motivations, making him someone who's so distressed and desperate and entitled and dehumanizing of the objects of his sexual desires that he goes and treats one of them like an actual object. Pumping away at her unresponsive body behind a dumpster--that was what he was caught doing, what he ran away from, when accosted by two Swedish men who happened to be cycling by.

(Incidentally, in Sweden, they have sex education that is comprehensive and stresses consent. I can easily imagine men educated like this being horrified by seeing a woman violated in this way. However, I imagine if they'd been American guys cycling past, they'd probably not have stopped. Or worse, I imagine them watching. Even cheering. This says a lot about American sexual education, doesn't it?)

Let's imagine what made Brock Turner run away. Was it shame at being caught doing something to a half-naked person?  Or was it shame at being caught doing something to an unresponsive half-naked person? I would guess the former. But let's take a minute to imagine. Let's really imagine this. Because how do you get to be the kind of person who behaves this way? What's involved in making a Brock Turner? What's involved in making those Swedish cyclists, who chased after Brock Turner and held him down until the police came, one of whom started crying when he recalled what he'd witnessed to the cops?

We don't consider the sexual lives of people unless something goes wrong. And that, to my mind, is a major reason why things go wrong. We don't talk about how every person has a different sexual blueprint laid over the other layers of their character: their biology, their spirituality, their emotional nature, their cultural history, their family backstory, their psychological make-up. As people mature into their bodies, they bring all those other layers into their sexual conceptions of themselves and other people. Their own sexual imagination, if you will, is built from everything else that's ever happened to them. This sexual blueprint comes to life, whether we know about it or can imagine it or not, though. And for some people, that blueprint involves sexual domination of and violence toward other people against their will.

Statistically, it looks like "some people" is actually "a lot of people."

This is why I am dismayed that people don't want to talk about sex. This is why I'm depressed that authors don't want to see their fictional characters as sexual beings. This is why I'm bored with books that create a vivid character and when it's time for kissing or anything beyond that, the story devolves into stock romance novel language and imagery.

That we lack imagination about sex, that we lack willingness to think about it as an aspect of the lives of all people, real or created, is a terrible loss. It's like closing your eyes and thinking you're invisible. The parents of Brock Turner never imagined him as a sexual being. Sure, they probably hoped he'd find love and marry and maybe have a family. But I'd wager they never considered his sexual aspect, and that's why they're outraged and stamping their feet about binge-drinking women and "20 minutes of action." They never imagined that their son would have desires and questions and motivations in that realm and so it was a total shock to them that he'd take all the bolstering encouragement the world gave him and roll it up with some white male privilege and turn it into tragedy behind a dumpster.

So. Here is what I'm asking you to do, to honor the sexual aspect of all people and to perhaps imagine the horror of rape out of existence. 

Don't wait to talk about sex with people until something horrible happens.

Don't act like all people don't have sexual backstories and thoughts and motivations and desires.

Don't fade-to-black in your story-telling when what happens between two naked people could help show how real sex might look.

Don't laugh off discussions about sexual problems or desires or fantasies, saying that romance novels are trash or women are idiotic readers, or scenes involving sex and bodies are "smut." Look again. And again. Why do these things exist? What rings false to you? What rings true? What does all of this mean for real people?

Don't walk around like you're not just as naked as everyone else under your clothes.

Don't say, "I can't write sex stuff" when you're capable of creating worlds full of so many other fantastical fictional concepts.

Don't be an author who can more easily write about rape and sexual violence and abuse but stops when it comes to positive portrayals of sexual behavior. Figure out how to bring your characters together sexually and romantically in a way that's true to them and their experiences; show what inexperienced sex might look like for these people. It need not be perfect; it just has be genuine.

Don't swerve into romance novel language when you're thinking about your own sex life or your characters' sex lives. Give yourself and your characters some credit and honor and individuality.

Don't be afraid to talk to young people about sex. Or old people, for that matter.

Don't look at sex as disgusting and obscene; look at rape and sexual violence as disgusting and obscene.

Don't be scared to write and talk about sex with people; they could be thinking and wondering the same things you are. Open the door for conversation. Make sex normal.

Don't close your eyes and think you're invisible.







Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Good Night's Sleep

So, we’re thirty days from the release of THE FAR EMPTY, and some nights I sleep better than others.


Some nights I don’t sleep at all.

It’s an interesting and nerve-wracking experience. And for all the daydreams I’ve had about my first book’s release, none of them included the anxiety I’m struggling with. Of course, in some ways, it’s silly. The book is written, it is what is, and even if I could go back and change it, I wouldn’t.

I’ve been lucky to have met some tremendously supportive author friends over the last eighteen months, and my publisher and publishing teams have been fantastic every step of the way. I know they’re doing everything they can to make the book a success, and no matter what happens, I can’t say I didn’t get plenty of exposure or a helluva of a push. I’m going out a on book tour! What more could any debut author want?

The best way I’ve found to deal with the nerves, is to throw myself into some other books. Here are a few things I’m reading now:











Like every other time in my life, I've found my greatest escape in books. Even though my own novel is coming out soon, there's nothing I'd rather be doing than reading someone else's words.

There are tremendous authors, amazing writers, putting out great books each and every day. I'm fortunate that I've gotten to know a few. 

The publishing business is a strange one, unlike anything I’ve experienced in my twenty+ years of federal law enforcement. It’s both incredibly satisfying and frustrating (and that’s saying a lot from someone with the job I have), but right now, I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything.

Not even a good night’s sleep...

Monday, May 9, 2016

Are You Listening to The Oral History?

Hello, readers! It's Kate here. Today I want to let you know of one of my new favorite things. It's a podcast-- The Oral History from authors Christa Desir and Carrie Mesrobian.

If you've read Carrie and Christa's books, you already know you'll love a podcast about them discussing sex and books. And if you haven't read their books, you'll want to listen to this podcast anyway. Carrie and Christa's discussions are hilarious, honest, and insightful. Each episode tackles a tough topic, like first times, cheating, body image, illicit relationships, and sex without romance. The podcast offers book recommendations on that theme, asks tough questions, and works through the content from frank, sex-positive, feminist perspectives. Plus, it's sponsored by The Booklist Reader, a book blog from the American Library Association's Booklist Publications.

I've started listening to the podcast while I do dishes or laundry (it gets me through both of those tasks), and I've added tons of books to my TBR because of it. It's also making me a better writer to hear other writers talk through these issues so thoroughly, and helping me analyze how I both present and address these things in my books.

And guess what? Now there's a TinyLetter for the podcast, going deeper into each episode. You can get it here: Going Deeper.

So if you're looking for a way into some of these tough topics, The Oral History is your new best friend.

And while we're at it, since I"m new to podcasts, any other great ones you recommend for writers? Let me know in the comments here.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Pragmatist: Fighting Nature

My kids were on spring break this past week. Like many of our friends, we did the staycation thing: mini-adventures around town, a day trip to Washington D.C., a free ride on the city bus and some time exploring the secret gardens on the UVa grounds, lunch with friends. And we went to see Zootopia.

In case you haven't seen the movie--well, I won't attempt to summarize the whole story, and I don't want to give anything away--but what you need to know for the purposes of this post is that the movie spends some time exploring the natures of predators and prey. The creatures who live in the city of Zootopia believe they have evolved past their animal instincts; in fact, many of them aren't even aware that they once had such instincts. And then something happens and predatory animals begin to revert back to their natural state.

There's a lot to think about as you watch the movie: diversity, tolerance, social justice. But as I sat there in the semi-dark, I wasn't thinking about those things. I was thinking about writing.

This month I've been participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, the April version of the annual writing frenzy that takes place in November. I set a goal based on a daily word count and I joined a virtual cabin and I filled out my profile, and on April 1st I started adding words to my work-in-progress. Here's the thing: writing a certain number of words every day is one hundred percent against my nature as a writer. Every other time I've set a daily word count, I have quickly fallen behind or found myself writing total nonsense just to get to the number that would allow me stop. I start to resent the project, the characters, myself. I convince myself that this is not how I'm meant to work.

Has this time been different? Well, sort of.

There have been days that I haven't hit my goal. There have been scenes I've written that sounds terrible even as I'm putting the words on paper. There have been dark moments where I've looked at the daily word counts of my cabinmates and gone into a spiral of total despair.

But...I'm adding words. My WIP is growing. I'm discovering things I didn't know about my characters and their plotlines. I'm getting better at blocking out the overly logical inner voice that tells me I'm not being careful enough, that I'll have to cut a lot of this new material, that I'm following too many rabbit trails. This isn't my usual method. This isn't my nature.

Maybe I'm evolving. Maybe it won't last. But it's working for now.

What's your writing nature?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Secrets of Success: Eight Writing Contest Finalists Share How They Make Time To Write


The Secrets of Success: Eight Writing Contest Finalists Share How They Make Time To Write

by Martina Boone

One of the biggest problems that aspiring authors face is finding the time to write. When I was starting out, I kept scouring blogs and books and interviews with my favorite authors for the secret to the perfect writing routine. But as I’ve gained new insight working under deadline on my series these past years, I’ve come to realize that the truth in this, as in most things that relate to writing, is that there is no right answer to the perfect routine. There is, though, always inspiration in seeing how other people make it work. 

The finalists in our recent Red Light, Green Light WIP contest at AdventuresInYAPublishing.com
show how diverse the processes are for people who are on the cusp of success. Sandra Held, Sarah Glenn Marsh, and I asked some of them to share their thoughts, so read on to see how they squeeze in time for creativity and butt-in-chair. 

Interested in test-driving the opening and pitch for your own WIP? The next agent-judged Red Light, Green Light contest opens for entries on 4/7/16. 


Eight Finalists Tell Us How They Do It

Joan Albright: I have writing days and off days, depending on my other commitments. On writing days, I start with 60 minutes of 'brainstorming', which is basically aerobics. I try to play music that fits the story, but having a good range of emotions represented in the mix always helps me move forward. On my off days, I'll slip in whatever writing I have the energy for, but I've learned not to push it. I do try to have a second, lighter project in the works for when I get burned out or stuck. That way I never feel like I've wasted a writing day.

Laurine Bruder: My writing routine is thus: write whenever possible. Monday evenings are set aside for write-ins with my friend Ashley Hearn, but there are times when I can't make it, so instead I'll write sporadically during the week. I'm old-school and I like writing my rough draft in a notebook first before I transcribe it into a Word document. For me, a notebook allows me to make mistakes. I can tell that little critic over my shoulder, “It's a notebook, it doesn't have to be perfect” and that silences it long enough to where I can get through the first draft/word vomit. Writing in a notebook is also more flexible. It increases my writing because I can take it anywhere. Nifty idea? Write it down. Perfect dialogue crops up? Get the notebook and get it on paper. Even if it's not for my current manuscript, I find that having a notebook with me at all times helps tremendously in getting down ideas and making progress.

Holly Campbell: My writing routine? Hmm...well, to be honest, I don't really have one. I work full time and have two kids. It's not easy fitting a writing routine into my schedule. But I carry a notebook with me wherever I go, and also write on my phone. This way, I manage to write at least a little bit almost everyday.

Dan Lollis: When I'm drafting something new, I set the timer on my phone and write for 30 minutes a day. I usually write around 500-600 words, but I don't worry if I write less. And I don't worry if I miss a day. Writing is like running to me. It's not important how far or how fast I run -- it's the daily routine that produces results.

Patti Nielson: Since I work four days a week, I don’t have a definitive writing routine. I do try to spend at least an hour a day on my projects whether it be writing, editing, researching, or plotting. I find that writing is a lot like exercising. The first ten minutes are difficult, but if I push through then I get into a rhythm and can go for hours.

Lana Pattinson: Routine? What’s that? ☺ Seriously, it changes day by day. I’m juggling my Marketing consulting & teaching work, volunteering, writing, and social media. Oh, and family life! Being a mommy is round-the-clock. I try to set aside blocks of time (2-3 hours), because it takes a while for my brain to get into writing mode. I lay out goals for the week: write X number of words, or revise X number of pages. Daily goals don’t always work for me, because life. I like to use the Pomodoro method – setting my iPhone for 25 minutes and trying to concentrate on just one thing for that block of time. Taking a 5 minute break, and then back into it. I’m a deadline-driven person, so I use NaNoWriMo (and NaNo camps) as a motivator to get words on a page, and contest deadlines to drive my revisions.

Ellie Sullivan: I usually write at night. After dinner, I'll shut myself in my room and open up my word document. Sometimes I'll write to songs, sometimes I'll set a timer, but I'll always limit myself to a sprint of 5-30 minutes, at the end of which I take a short break, and then start that process again. Sometimes, if I'm really struggling, I like to use the online version of Write or Die to make sure I'm getting words down. I find it easier to focus in bursts like that. Sometimes I try to write during downtime at work, but honestly, I find it hard to focus in public places.

Cassidy Taylor: I have a full-time job and two kids, so I write at night for at least an hour while everyone is sleeping. I power through the first draft in about a month with little to no editing, and then dedicate another couple of months to editing.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Lessons in Captivating Storytelling from Vince Gilligan


I'm sure many of you have seen some or all of the Vince Gilligan TV show, Breaking Bad. And I'm sure even a few of you have started watching the spin-off series, Better Call Saul.

It's pretty riveting stuff, right? If you're like me, you binge-watch as much as you can on weekends. You let Netflix go automatically to the next episode more times than you can count, until it runs out.

Vince Gilligan, writer and creator, knows his stuff when it comes to addictive TV. I couldn't put my finger on why until a friend of mine pointed out that Vince is a master of compelling storytelling, and you can see it in every single episode.

Since then, I've listened to all of Vince's interviews and talked with my geeky, plotty friends about his techniques, and how to extrapolate them to writing fiction. I try to glean as much as I can from Vince's boundary-pushing style of storytelling to use in my own work.

After tweeting about some of this the other day, I decided to compile my favorite lessons from Vince into something long form. These methods have helped me to grow as a writer immensely over the last few years. In my latest novel, it also helped me discover the story that was hiding inside me—the one I didn't even know was there.

Lesson #1: Let your heart, or your gut, guide you. (Whichever you prefer.)

Don't be afraid of the story taking you places you didn't expect it to go—that's when some of the most magical plot twists and character developments happen. Your instincts are right more often than you think.

I understand that it can be scary, especially for the outliners and plotters out there, to hand over control and let characters dictate their own trajectories, instead of obeying the ones we've laid out for them. Especially when it flies in the face of what we've planned, or when it could alter the carefully manicured ending we'd been imagining. We worked so hard on that outline, on those beats, on that powerful, final image!

But as Vince would say, sometimes it's good to second-guess yourself; to leave the door open to something better, smarter, and cleverer than what you originally imagined. When something—or someone—speaks to you, why ignore it? When a character reaches out to you for a bigger role in the story, maybe that person has something of value to say.

Sure, we created them. But characters still have the power to become their own people on paper. They're great at surprising us and amusing us, and often, they take our stories to better, or darker, or more complex places when we let them show us what they can do.

Vince talks about how the character of "Gus" in Breaking Bad was originally only a minor character. But when extenuating casting circumstances placed Gus at center-stage, some serious fireworks came out. Most people who have seen the show all the way through will agree that it wouldn't be the masterpiece it eventually became without Gus, and it's a good thing Vince took the chance on him.

Lesson #2: Don't be afraid to dig deeper.

So you've created a monster. Now it's time to get to know it.

Vince tells another story about the character of Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad. He'd originally intended to kill off Jesse (played by Aaron Paul) at the end of Season 1. But Vince couldn't ignore the on-screen chemistry between Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston, who plays Walter White—so he kept Aaron on, and didn't kill him.

Jesse—a character who'd originally had very little importance to the story—demonstrated that, just maybe, he had a lot to contribute to the show's future. So Vince ran with it. He delved deeper than ever into Jesse, pushing him into corners to reveal more about his past, and stretching him to his limits to see how he'd react. Over the seasons, Jesse grew increasingly complicated and nuanced, and by extension, we became more invested in what happened to him.

It was a huge success, and Jesse is one of the defining poles of conflict and power play later on in the series.

The marvelous thing about this choice was how accepting Jesse's new role not only allowed Vince to get to know Jesse better himself, but his gamble on Jesse created some unexpected, fantastic plot forces. Jesse raised the stakes for Walter White, and by extension, for the whole show.

There's a lot to be said here for the power of letting characters slowly reveal themselves, for digging deeper into characters and plot elements that speak to us. Vince never shies away from peeling off more layers, or allowing a character he likes a greater share of screen time. He even created an entire series called Better Call Saul that's a spin-off dedicated to this purpose—to exploring a character that Vince created on a whim, but found interesting and compelling enough to warrant his own series.


(Spoiler: it's an awesome series.)

And this leads me into the next great piece of writing wisdom we can all gain from Vince Gilligan:

Lesson #3: On the importance of following a thread through to its conclusion, but never predictably. 

One of my favorite things about watching Vince's TV shows is how they never, ever leave a stone unturned. Even minor details can come back swinging later—and sometimes, how minor they are contributes a lot to how delightful the plot twist feels on the audience when it does land.

But Vince's plot twists and turns aren't just surprising (an essential ingredient in today's media-saturated climate, he often says). What makes them really stand out is the way each twist and turn is seen out to the very, very end, and never in a way that you expect.

Nobody in Vince's TV shows are ever let off easy, unless they're dead. (And even then...) Whenever he ruptures the status quo and sends a character spiraling off in another direction, Vince always resists the urge to pan the camera away. Instead, we get to watch that character go farther and farther, down and down, into the hole they've dug for themselves. The intensity naturally ratchets up to nearly volcanic; and still, the camera never pans away.

Major characters aside, there are also dozens of minor characters and set features that Vince clutches and explores and makes an integral part of the texture of the show. No stone left unturned.

Go back to the image above of Saul with his ugly yellow beater car. That car isn't just a part of the background; it's loved by Saul, and regularly plays the part of symbol. It's not the prettiest car, or the newest, but some to-do is made over it being comfortable and suitable. Keeping with his style, Vince sees the car out to the very end, when Saul sends it to the junkyard, then graduates to something else—only to discover that his beloved coffee mug no longer fits in the slick new car's coffee holder. Maybe that old piece of junk had some intrinsic value, after all.

The result of all this exploration? We become even more invested in the characters' outcomes. And if you read my posts often, there's one thing I can't harp on enough: characters are the key to hooking readers and keeping them.

When you show that you'll not just give readers texture and depth in your protagonists, but you'll see those protagonists to their inevitable destination? Readers will stick with you as far as the road goes.