Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An interview with Kate Coursey, winner of Scholastic's 2010 PUSH Novel Contest

I'm super excited to introduce you guys to Kate Coursey! Kate won the 2010 PUSH Novel Contest, and her novel is currently undergoing revisions at Scholastic Press. She is represented by Edward Necarsulmer IV of McIntosh & Otis. In addition to having extensive experience as a freelance editor, Kate worked as an intern at Scholastic Press where she read many (agented and unagented) submissions. She is 19 years old and lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In short, Kate is really awesome. And she wasn't scared away by my exuberant emails asking her to please-pretty-please hang out on Go Teen Writers for a day.

Kate, I'm so glad you're here! First, tell us what kind of stories you write.

I write character-driven YA fantasy, with some MG thrown in the mix. Historical fantasy has always been one of my favorite genres. I enjoy exploring non-Western cultures, particularly those not typically featured in fantasy fiction, because there’s such a wealth of rich cultural information that can be used to enhance characters and plot. Currently, I’m working on my first contemporary fantasy set in modern day Islamic Cairo.

Oh, wow. What a great setting. When did you begin writing? And at what age did you realize this was more than just a hobby?

I started writing seriously at the age of eight. My parents are absolutely wonderful, and from the start they encouraged me to pursue whatever career I desired, no matter how obscure or competitive it might’ve been. I honestly can’t remember a time when I considered writing merely a hobby. When we first got dial-up Internet at our house, I’d spend hours Googling publishing companies and reading submission guidelines.

Ah, dial-up. And the wonderful days of AOL spontaneously kicking me off line.

And good for your parents. Mine were similar, and it made a huge difference.

So many of us (me included!) think, "If I could just have all the time I want to write, this story would finally work!" During your internship, you were able to write for 7 hours a day. What did you learn from that experience? What advantages were there and what disadvantages?

Oh my, it was an amazing experience. There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to having so much writing time. I’m a very social person, so spending a month in New York, where I knew absolutely nobody besides my agent, really helped me get down to work and focus on revisions. I got so much writing done, and being able to ask my editor questions whenever I wanted proved invaluable.

I did, however, get incredibly tired of my manuscript. Trying to focus on a single project for seven hours a day is quite draining. By the end of the internship I was ready to move on, and I had to put the book aside for a few months before I could look at it objectively again.

I'm sure. It's wonderful to be able to immerse yourself in a project, but that time away is critical for gaining perspective.

Now that your internship is over, tell us what your writing schedule is like now and how it fits into your day-to-day life.

My writing schedule varies from day to day, but I try to fit in three hours. On weekdays I have class until 11:30 a.m., at which point I go to the gym for an hour and a half, then write from 1:00 until my final class at 4:00. I get back to my dorm room at 5:15, giving me plenty of time to eat dinner, do homework, and hang out with friends. I think the key is self discipline. When it’s writing time, you write. I use Freedom (a computer app you can download online) to turn off my Internet so I don’t get distracted. Do what you have to, but make sure to write!

That self-discipline is the biggest difference I see between people who talk about writing novels and people who actually do it. What has been most surprising to you as your book goes through submissions at Scholastic and you work with an editor?

Revisions. Starting out, I didn’t really understand the true extent of the editorial process. When your agent or editor gives you a letter with suggestions, it’s not as simple as making a checklist, going through the manuscript, and fixing all the errors they point out. Revising is about looking at the manuscript as a whole. Rather than fixing symptoms, you have to get to the cause of the problem.

If, for instance, your agent feels a certain section of the book drags on too long, you may have to rearrange your entire story structure instead of just cutting that particular section. I had to teach myself to view my manuscript in a different light. Remember the ripple effect: changing one thing changes everything else, and seemingly superficial problems may run deeper in the manuscript than you’d like to admit. Your agent and editor will point out issues, but as a writer it’s your job to find the source, and to come up with a solution that fits within your creative vision. 

Kate, that's such a great explanation of revisions. And it's a part of the process that so many writers - published and unpublished alike - want to breeze through.

What advantages do you think you have as a teen writer? What disadvantages?

I think one of the definite advantages to being a teen author is authenticity. I can slip effortlessly into the voice of my teen characters, and it’s easy for me to describe high school parties, slang, etc, because I’ve so recently experienced life at an American public school. Many adult authors struggle with capturing that authentic voice.

On the other hand, I know that with each passing year my perception and insight will deepen. I’ll have a broader, more objective world view, which in turn will inform my writing and make it easier to develop older characters. In writing years, I’m already (somewhat) old. I’m finishing up my ninth manuscript and I’ve been working towards publication for ten years. But the goal, of course, is to get better with each book, so a decade from now I have no doubt my writing will be much stronger than it is today. Not to go all Psych-101 on everyone reading this, but the frontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25. Like all young adults, I’m constantly changing. With each year I gain more wisdom and insight.

Name three authors, dead or alive, whom you would like to have dinner with.

Oh that’s difficult. I’d have to say JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, and Lois Lowry.

Oh, Lois Lowry ... I've been itching to read The Giver again.

Kate, you have a critique business with a friend of yours. Could you please share a bit about that?

Of course! My friend Taryn and I run an editorial business called Teen Eyes, aimed at critiquing YA manuscripts. We’re both agented and have extensive experience doing freelance work. As teenagers, we critique from the point of view of the YA target audience, in an effort to help older authors capture the often-elusive “high school” quality. Taryn and I are also quite knowledgable about slush (I read slush at Scholastic, and Taryn works as a literary agent intern) so we know the qualities agents and publishers are looking for. You can learn more at the Teen Eyes website:

Thank you so much for being here, Kate! I can't wait to read your debut when it hits shelves ... which I have no doubt of it doing.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Contest Update

WOW. The contest closed last night with NINETY entries. That's nine-zero. 90. Ninety entries. I'm blown away.

As you might expect, 90 entries takes some time to filter through, even for the speediest of judges. It might be a couple days before the top 20 are announced.

Tomorrow teen writer Kate Coursey is going to be on the blog talking about her internship with Scholastic. I connected with Kate through the Go Teen Writers Facebook group, and she has a lot of wisdom to share from her time in New York. You won't want to miss it!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Babe Ruth and Bad Books

Just a reminder that writing prompts for the 100 word free write are due this evening!

We're starting a new writing series today designed to help us conquer our writing fears. Maybe just knowing others have the same fears as you will make you feel better. When I was 17, I found great comfort from Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird where she said all writers, even writers I love and respect, write [really bad] first drafts. That gave me such a bump of confidence to hear it wasn't just me.

On the Go Teen Writers Facebook group, I asked what fears people had about their writing and they were gracious enough to answer. If you have fears you'd like to get perspective on either leave a comment or send me an email.

I can't cure your fears and anxieties, but maybe talking about them, getting them out in the open, will keep them from being too crippling.

Today we're talking about this big hairy fear:

My book sucks, and I'm completely wasting my time because I will never get published.

I am 100% sure that all aspiring writers have thought this at least once. And that those who are already published occasionally fear never getting published again.

Let's set a few "being published" myths straight. Being published will not:

  • Make you rich
  • Load you up with confidence
  • Allow you to write (and sell) whatever book is on your heart

Let's take those one by one.

If you're writing for the money then, yes, you are completely wasting your time. It's possible to make a living writing novels, but not likely. A much better plan is to marry rich so your writing income doesn't matter. (That's a joke.)

Confidence. I don't know a single working writer who doesn't continually battle with the question, "Is this book/my idea/my writing any good?" I know it seems like published writers should be over that - they have an agent! They have an editor! They have a whole publishing house who invested money in them and bought their book!

But once you're published, there are other beasts out to devour your confidence. Nasty reviews on Amazon. Or "meh" reviews in industry publications. Or the guy in your small group who insists on telling you repeatedly how much he could not get into your book, how he had to put it down after 10 pages because he was so bored...

And getting published doesn't mean you're going to get to call up your editor and say, "Hey, here's what my next book is going to be about," and receive the response of, "Great! I'll put your check in the mail!" Instead you might get, "Well, that sounds okay, but you know what's really hot right now? Vampires. Could you maybe write a vampire dystopian adventure romance with steampunk elements? And wizards? Set in an Amish community? And make it funny..."

My point with all this semi depressing talk is that you're never going to "arrive." You're never going to reach a place where you always know your book is good and that writing is a good investment. So you have to find your counter-thoughts, your defenses. You won't survive this business without them.

Counter thought #1: I love to write.

Even on my worst writing days, where I feel like I'm wrestling the words to the page, and they're not that great anyway, I still love writing. I love characters and story and zippy dialogue and that feeling you get when you just know that's the best way to describe something. Even if I had never gotten published, spending time writing my stories still wouldn't be a waste of time because I love doing it. If you're pursuing publication, I believe the following should be true for you - you write because you love writing.

Counter thought #2: My book may suck. But...

I can fix it. You'll never write the perfect book, sadly, but the beauty of the editing process is that you can fix what's wrong. Cardboard characters? Fixable. Predictable plot? Fixable. Boring sentence structure and weak verbs? Fixable. It's not easy, of course, but it can be fixed.

Now, it's possible you have written a book that, for whatever reason, will never be good. I know I have. But I don't consider them a waste of time because they were part of my learning process and they helped me grow.

Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs in his Major League career, but he also struck out 1,330 times. He said, "Every strike brings me closer to the next home run." Learn from the Babe.

(Potential) counter thought #3: God called me to write.

This may not be true for you, and you may not even believe in a god, much less one who cares about how you spend your free time. If so, you can just skip over this one.

If you feel writing is a talent God wove into your being, if you feel He impresses stories on your heart, that He expects you to do your best with them ... well, then even if you don't get published, you can feel certain you're not wasting your time because you're doing what God asked of you. In that case it's wasteful to NOT write.

It's helpful if you have a supportive family and writing friends who can encourage you through those times of insecurity, but even if you don't, you can always come back to loving writing and mistakes being fixable.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

More News on Teen Critique Groups

A special announcement worth of a Saturday posting: The teen critique group registration form is up!

In case you missed the original announcement of the teen critique groups, here it is:

Coming in March, NextGenWritersGo Teen Writers, and Teenage Author join forces to build and encourage writers under twenty. Join us as we form small groups designed to hone, encourage, and critique our stories. For more details on what critique groups look like make sure to read Nicole O'Dell's "critique sandwich" on

You have until March 15th to get registered!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Combining Story Ideas

A writer emailed me to ask, "So I have a bunch of 'Novels' started, but I run out of things to write about for that story. So I stop and just start another one. Could I some how combine them or should I just write the rest of the story even though I can't think of anything else good to write? Any tips would be great!"

This is an excellent question, and I think it's something all writers - newbie and seasoned alike - can suffer from. You get a spark of an idea - a premise, a character name, a perfect opening line - and feel invigorated. It's your best idea yet! How much longer until the bell rings, because I have to get out of class and write this story now?!

You write a couple pages or chapters and then your inspiration slowly dries up. Whether it's because the idea that seemed crystal clear in your head is a bit murkier on paper or because you mentioned the idea to your sister and she wrinkled her nose, you begin to distance yourself from the project. Until finally, when the next big idea hits, you shove aside your original manuscript in order to pursue this new story.

While there's tremendous value in writing a novel from beginning to end, and while I think you'll grow more as a writer from writing one complete novel than writing a dozen first chapters, there's certainly a time and place to set projects aside.

When I do it it's because:

  • I realize my idea isn't big enough to sustain a novel.
  • I'm asked to work on another project (by my agent or editor or something)

When it's the first, when I've realized my idea isn't big enough yet, often all I need is time to "find" the rest of the story. Sometimes all that takes is a brainstorming session with my critique partner. Other times I need weeks or months of "composting." Of mulling over the idea while I'm doing those otherwise brainless activities like washing dishes or showering. (I swear, most my good ideas come when I'm doing one of those two activities.)

So, as challenging as this can be, sometimes you just need more time.

But it's certainly not a bad idea to take a look at your list of works-in-progress and see if you can do some combining. This is an exercise I shared months ago in the Go Teen Writers Newsletter. It's adapted from Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. (He has you draw lines, but I like the index cards.)

The original intent is to help you develop unexpected connections in a manuscript, but I think it could be great fun to try it on a couple manuscripts and see what you come up with.

First you get some index cards. Write down 10ish characters from your novel (or a couple from each of your novels if you're hoping to combine some stories.) Also, write down 10ish settings and 10ish plot layers or events from your book(s). You're writing one per card, so one card might read, "Jamie," and another, "the diner," and another, "Rose's 16th birthday party."

Mix them all up, then lay them writing-side-down on the floor/desk/counter, as if you're playing a memory game.

Then pick up two or three cards.

They will likely have very little or possibly nothing to do with each other, but ask yourself if there's a way to connect these things. Can you connect Jamie's old boyfriend to Rose's party somehow? Maybe she meets someone who once dated him. Or maybe when she's there, she finds out he's getting married...

You can keep picking up cards as long as you want. A lot of your ideas will be wacky and too "out there" but whenever I do this exercise, I always walk away with a handful of plot twists I can implement. I think it'd be really fun to give it a whirl with multiple manuscripts.

Hope this helps!

Here are some additional posts you might find helpful:

Gathering Your Ideas
Making Sure Your Idea is Big Enough

As always, if you have writing questions, feel free to email me. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Teen Writer Critique Groups and News Day

Lots of you have asked me about critique groups for teen writers, so I'm really excited to share this bit of news with you:
Coming in March, NextGenWritersGo Teen Writers, and Teenage Author join forces to build and encourage writers under twenty. Join us in March (specific date still to be decided!) as we form small groups designed to hone, encourage, and critique our stories. For more details on what critique groups look like and how to sign up, make sure to read Nicole O'Dell's "critique sandwich" on

Also, this round's contest is still opened, so don't miss your chance to try out the first 100 words of your manuscript on multi-published authors Christa Allan and Betsy St. Amant. Click here for more details on this round's writing contest.

News from our community:

From Alyssa Liljequist: I was the grand prize winner in the first quarterly Euterpe YA Short Story Contest! My e-book, Deadly Delirium, releases on February 24, 2012. I was interviewed on the Euterpe blog here. You can buy a copy of Deadly Delirium here.

If you maintain an active blog and would like to interview me, please leave a comment on my blog: Thanks!

Way to go, Alyssa!

Katelyn Whitley: I'm in the process of re-writing the first 3 chapters of my unfinished novel, Endangered. Once I do that, I plan on writing a few more chapters, then editing those.

Congratulations, Katelyn!

Roseanna M. White just signed her first 3-book deal, with Harvest House Publishers, for the Culper Ring Series. Beginning in the Revolutionary War and going through the War of 1812 and the Civil War, these historical romances follow the nation's first spy ring as they quietly fight for the country they love.

I had the privilege of getting a sneak peek at the first book, and I can't wait for her to write the next two!

If you have news you'd like to share with us - finishing revisions on your novel, finishing your website, sending in your first query letter - email me at Stephanie(at) with "News Day" in the subject line.

Have a great Thursday, everyone!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

7 Tips for Naming Characters

A writer emailed me and asked, "I was wondering if you could write a post about naming characters... I know it seems basic, but often I can't find the "perfect" name for my character! If you have any tips that would be great!"

When I'm naming characters, I spend a lot of time on or flipping through the baby names book on my shelf. And many writers I know keep lists of names they like, which is a great idea. Something I should really do...

As you search for the right names, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Go with your gut. When I was writing the Skylar series, I had someone criticize the name choice of "Eli" saying it sounded too Amish. But I knew this character's name was Eli. And that it was a fabulous name and didn't need to be changed.

Oddly, Sarah Dessen's Along for the Ride came out the same summer as Me, Just Different. Her primary male character's name was Eli. She hit the NYT bestsellers list just fine.

2. If the meaning of the name lines up, great. If not, don't sweat it. I don't have the blessing of loving names that have cool meanings. My son is named Connor, which unfortunately means "wolf lover." Hmm.

On the flip side, during the naming process, my husband fell in love with a boy's name that means Lion for God. Unfortunately, that name is Ariel. Works great if you live in Israel. Otherwise, Ariel is a girl's name. A girl who has a tail and red hair.

Best case scenario, of course, your character would have a name you love with a meaning that fits him or her perfectly. Not always possible, though.

3. Avoid funky spellings. We had friends whose daughter's name was pronounced Shae-Lee but spelled Shaealea. Way too complicated for a character. And don't make Tiffany Tiphanie or Ashley Asschlee. In short - don't make life hard on your readers.

Sci-Fi and fantasy writers get a pass on this (kind of). Even though they have the ability to be more "out there" with their names, I still think it's best to pick names people can at least pronounce. (Frodo, Bilbo, Katniss, Prim, etc.) When your readers are arguing about which "team" they're on, it'd be best if they could agree on how to pronounce it, and if they could spell it without having to double and triple check it. (That being said, I get lots of mail from readers saying how much they loved my characters "Skyler" and "Conner." Sigh.)

4. Pay attention to other books in your genre. If you write YA or paranormal, I'm sorry but the names Bella, Edward, Jacob, Carlisle, Esme, Alice, Rosalie, and Jasper are all off limits.

5. If you write historicals, make sure your names work for the time period and location. A great resource for this is the Social Security site which lists names from as far back as 1880 or so. It's really easy to search, just plug in a year, choose how many you want to see, and both male and female will pop up.

If we're talking years other than this or not American, my historical writer friend Roseanna White suggests doing census searches.

6. Beware of names that are too similar, especially with your main character's friends. They should not only start with different letters, they should be different lengths as well. Amy and Jan don't work. Amy and Jacquelyn would be fine.

7. Last names. The only advice I have for these is to hang onto any lists of those that you receive. When you go to graduations or plays, hang on to the bulletin they give you. I attended a private high school, which means I receive long lists of people who donate to the school each year. I save those.

I try to find something that works well with my character's first name and heritage, and I try to keep it from being anything too distracting or tricky to pronounce.

Anyone have tips they'd like to add? Or name resources they love?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

3 Great Writing Books for Your Shelf

Today I want to highlight 3 more writing books worthy of a permanent spot on my shelf. (We've already discussed On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Writing the Breakout Novel/Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass.)

I'm going with the "Written by James Scott Bell" theme today.

"Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish."

I wish I had read this book sooner. My natural tendency is to write without any kind of outline or set structure. But as a published writer, I've been forced away from that since to sell a book I need the first three chapters and a synopsis. This is a really wonderful resource for:

  • What basic story structure is and why it works
  • Crafting strong beginnings, middles, and ends
  • Brainstorming original plot ideas
  • Correcting common plot problems

"Techniques for transforming your first draft into a finished novel."

It's been a couple years since I've read this one, so I'm due for a reread. My copy is covered with Post-It flags. If you're a first draft junkie or if the revision process really intimidates you, this is a great resource. It makes the editing process feel very manageable.

"Fiction writing strategies, tactics, and exercises"

This book is excellent. It's similar to On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott in that it's more than just "here's how to deepen your characters." While there is great stuff in there that will improve your writing, it also talks about the writing life. The rejection, the bad and good reviews, not settling for mediocre stories, talking to agents, quitting your day job, and so forth. The Art of War for Writers is so encouraging and inspiring. And so difficult to describe in a paragraph. You'll just have to experience it for yourself!

One of the most helpful things I learned from James Scott Bell was the concept of Character Journals. What's a tidbit, technique, or tool you've learned that's improved your writing?

Monday, February 20, 2012

100-word free write contest

This round is a 100-word free write!

Your 100 words should read like the opening of a novel. That means you have just 100 words to hook this round's judges - Christa Allan and Betsy St. Amant - into your story world. It also means you have the opportunity to get feedback from published authors on the opening of your manuscript, which is a pretty awesome.

If you have entered a Go Teen Writers free write contest before, you may NOT resubmit a previous entry.

Your entries are due on Monday, February 27th by 11:59pm Kansas City time. You may email it to me by clicking here or at Stephanie(at) Include your name as you would want it to appear on the website, and no attachments please!

And I always send confirmation emails, so if it's been 48 hours and you haven't heard from me, feel free to check back.

The contest is for those age 21 and under. One entry per person please.

For more details and a sample winning entry, click here.

Can't wait to see your entries!

Christa Allan

A true Southern woman who knows that any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, Christa is a writer of not your usual Christian Fiction. She weaves stories of unscripted grace and redemption with threads of hope, humor, and heart.
Walking on Broken Glass is her debut novel. Her next novel, Edge of Grace will be released by Abingdon Press in August of 2011. Her essays have been published in The Ultimate Teacher, Cup of Comfort,Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Divorced Soul.
Christa is the mother of five adult children, a grandmother of three, and a teacher of high school English. She and her husband Ken live in Abita Springs, Louisiana, where they and their three cats enjoy their time playing golf, dreaming about retirement and dodging hurricanes.

Betsy St. Amant

Betsy St. Amant lives in Louisiana and is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers group. Betsy is multi-published through Steeple Hill and has been published in Christian Communicator magazine and Praise Reports: Inspiring Real Life Stories of How God Answers Prayer. One of her short stories, ‘Kickboxing or Chocolate’, appears in a Tyndale compilation book, and she is also multi-published through The Wild Rose Press. She has a BA in Christian Communications and regularly freelances for her local newspaper. Betsy is a fireman’s wife, a mommy to a busy toddler, a chocolate-loving author and an avid reader who enjoys sharing the wonders of God’s grace through her stories.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Winning Entries from the Alex prompt

Instead of doing a prompt sentence last time, there was a "set up." The guidelines were that it be about a character named Alex who had somewhere to be. Much of the feedback I received from you writers was that this was much more challenging than the prompt sentences. Yet the feedback I received from judges Erica Vetsch and Sarah Holman was that the entries were so good, it was nearly impossible to pick winners.


Sarah told me she spent 2+ hours reading and rereading, trying to determine which was the best.  Erica told me this was the best batch of entries she'd seen yet, and that they could have all be honorable mentions because they were so good.

So way to go, guys! Next Monday morning, the next round will be announced, so make sure you check back.

Here are the winners and their entries:

First Place
Gillian Adams
S. J. Bouquet

Second Place
Gillian Adams (also placed first)
Rachel Crew

Third Place
Rachelle Rea
Faye Oygard

Honorable Mentions
Paulina Czarnecki
Lindsey Bradford
Kaitlyn Evensen
Katie Scheidhauer

By Gillian Adams, first and second place

When a fellow has an appointment with destiny, it’s usually best not to be late.
Still Alex hesitated, crouched behind the monolithic stone lions guarding the Academy entrance.  He eyed the uniformed sentries flanking the door.  No spurs.  Not knights then, mere squires.
A few more minutes couldn’t hurt.
Sweat ran down his face and he longed to swipe it away.  How did the sentries stand so still?  He fumbled with the unwieldy collar of his new page’s uniform.  So constricting.  Like a noose.  He shuddered.  Best not to think about nooses, not with what he was about to do.  

The judges say: A totally delicious opening line and well done grounding me in the setting./I loved this! It was so humorous, so attention grabbing, and is action packed.

By S.J. Bouquet, first place

It was hate at first touch. A rough hand pounded against my chest and sent me flying. My spine shot fire through my body; my head smacked the cool, dark cement. I was out of breath, chest pounding, limbs aching. My brilliant plan of escape just demoted itself to a fantastic way of getting tossed back into the Fortress of Archaeus.
“Alex, going somewhere?” Felix ripped my mask off my head.
The frown on my face flitted upwards for a moment to hear the gasp escape Felix’s lips. My black hair fell to my waste.
“That’s Princess Alexandria to you.”

The judge says: I picked this because the descriptions were wonderful, the word choice was excellent and the story had an unexpected twist, even if it was only 100 words.

By Rachel Crew, second place

It was time for the deed to be done. Alex sprinted through a pile of wet leaves, the bundle pressed to his chest. He dodged an empty swing set and leaped over the short fence. Forty more feet to the statue—thirty—twenty.

“Stop.” A dark form stepped in front of him.

Alex jerked backwards, barely managing to keep his feet. “Out of my way, Dodger.”
He leaped to the side and took a few more steps toward the statue.

Dodger lunged.

As both men crashed to the ground, the bundle rolled away. An infant’s cry punctured the midnight silence.

The judge says: Great action and a twist ending that caught me off guard.

By Rachelle Rea, third place

For a moment, I thought my plan would work.
“Alexandra.” Colwyn hissed my name, his eyes saying he wanted to strangle me.
How many times do I have to tell you? “Alex.”
“Who taught you how to hold a sword, Alexandra?”
I glared at him. He grinned. Taunting me.
“That is none of your concern.”
“You are my concern.”
I blew out a breath. True. “Much to my dismay.”
“By my troth, this promises to be an interesting journey.”
So my escape had been foiled by this belligerent knight. No matter. I would find a way to Aristae somehow.

The judge says: Chosen because there is conflict and tension right away between the characters and so much potential screaming from this entry. A story begs to be written from it.

By Faye Oygard, third place

“Wait, you don’t understand!” I cried, stumbling a few steps after the jailer. “I have to get to him, tonight.”
 “Your father can’t have any visitors, Alex. I won’t go against the king’s order.” The warden dropped his calloused hand onto my shoulder. “I’m sorry, boy.”
I twisted away from his grasp, unwelcome tears coursing down my cheeks. I had only tonight, in the morning it would be over. My father would be beheaded.
A hand clapped over my mouth. I struggled against the iron hold.  “I can take you to your father.”
 I froze.
The hand slipped away. “Come.”

The judge says: This story gripped me; it was so full of emotion.

By Paulina Czarnecki, honorable mention

Alex glanced at her watch again. The meeting was happening, it was happening now, and it was happening whether she was there or not!
Alex was part of an elite group of only the richest, most beautiful seniors at Rushmore High—the Prom Planner Committee. And she was about to be late for the first meeting. Because of Rob. Of course.
She’d only gotten in by pulling a few strings with the chairman—who said money couldn’t buy happiness? But now her boyfriend Rob was late, a-gain. And if they threw her out, she couldn’t do what she was really there for…

The judge says: Great job at telling a story in so few words. You really did a great job setting up the story and told you’re reader a lot about the character in a short time.

By Lindsey Bradford, honorable mention

“I’ll be there by five. Love you.” Alex hung up the phone. Hopefully Sophie would understand his cryptic voicemail and have a car waiting by the time he crossed the border.
  Alex swung the duffel bag over his shoulder and sighed, looking down at the prison. They would soon realize what he had done. The guard in charge of roll call would hear silence after his name. The warden would find an empty cell. He would be gone without a trace.
  Alex pressed speed-dial 2 and walked away.
  The prison exploded behind him.
  He hoped Sophie had that car waiting.
The judge says: Gets an honorable mention for the wow factor. It felt like the opening to a movie.

By Kaitlyn Evensen, honorable mention

“Are you really leaving us Alexander?” I sigh and turn away from the saddle bag I am packing, “For the last time, call me Alex.” My sister crosses her arms, a frown etches itself into her delicate face, “You don’t have to go.” She says as she absent mindedly pets my horse, “Of course I do, this is my chance Esmeralda. I could be the finest knight in Elderdon!” I take her hand in attempt to cheer her up, instead her eyes grow dark, “A storm is coming Alex. And if you go you will be the heart of it.”

The judge says: You did a great job capturing the emotions in this scene with your actions like
crossed arms, hand touch, and dark eyes. Very well done.

By Katie Scheidhauer, honorable mention

Trains sounded in the distance.  Alex pulled his scarf tighter around
his face, trying to hide the unmistakeable scar on his right jaw.  It
would be recognized immediately.  He had to cross through Nazi
territory without arousing their suspicion.
"Halt!  Your papieres, please."  The soldier's voice was impatient.
"Of course Herr.  Just let me find them."  He feigned a search for the
papers that weren't there.  He had left them behind when he had become
one of Hitler's most wanted enemies.  But he couldn't tell the waiting
gaurd that.  And he wasn't about to be taken back.

The judge says: Gets an honorable mention for a unique setting and circumstances.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rachel Coker on Adding Humor to Your Books

Hi, there! Rachel Coker here again.

I was really encouraged by all the kind comments following my post last month. I’m looking forward to contributing to Go Teen Writers regularly! I love the atmosphere here and would love to answer any of your questions and offer as much advice as I can. ;)

Today I want to talk about developing humorous situations based on your life. Imagine your story is a recipe. You have so many little ingredients that give it texture and flavor. Romance, witty comments, suspense, surprise… The list goes on and on! But one of the most overlooked ingredients to potentially great stories is humor.

Every situation, no matter how grave or sad, needs something light thrown in, just to keep things interesting. Think about it—isn’t that how our lives are? Even on those days that we feel very depressed or uninspired, something comes along that makes us smile and feel a little less crummy. Humor is so much a part of everyday life that the two are somewhat inseparable in my mind.

Just about every funny instance in my books was inspired by something that happened to me in real life. Many of the strange little character quirks came from people that I’ve met or even just seen in the grocery store. Several of the awkward conversations were encounters I overheard in movie theaters or waiting in line at the pharmacy. Inspiration is found in everywhere in life.

In my book, Interrupted, Allie’s mother is dying of a brain tumor. Now that is a very serious and tragic thing. She begins to lose her memory and falls out of touch with reality. When I first wrote the scenes where Allie’s mother unravels, everything was very dark. Allie cried all the time and there was little joy in their interactions with each other. Several months later, when I was re-reading what I’d written, I found myself dissatisfied with the tone of those chapters. It didn’t fit the way Allie remembers her mother later on in life. 

That’s when it clicked in my mind: Her mother wasn’t always a morbid, crazy, depressed woman. She was full of life and color. They loved each other and showed it in the way they viewed their life together. So I went back and rewrote the scenes, making her strange behavior more humorous than depressing.

So how did I make something as terrible as memory loss seem almost rosy tinted and happy? I remembered a story my mom had told me about a man who lived next door to us when I was a toddler. He had Alzheimer’s, and was slowly losing his memory. One thing that defined his life was the fact that he thought it was Christmas all the time. He constantly listened to holiday music and made sure the house was decorated. When my mom asked his wife what she thought about that, she just shrugged and said, “If you have to be stuck somewhere, Christmas seems like the happiest place to be."

It made sense. So I made Allie’s mother the same way. She thought it was Christmas, even in the middle of July.

She was as cheerful as that crazy old man who used to live next door to me. It was exactly what her character needed to come across as happy and sad at the same time. And I didn’t even make it up myself. 

Why is stealing ideas from everyday life so wonderful when crafting stories? Because life is funny. Seriously. There are people all around you that do the craziest, funniest things that you might not even notice. Until you take the time to look.

I remember one night I was sitting in church and this crazy red-headed girl walked up to me started talking. I half-listened for a few minutes, before noticing something strange on her arm. She was wearing four different watches. I interrupted her to ask why she felt the need to wear multiple watches. She only shrugged and said, “Well, I’m always sure at least one of them will be off.”

That definitely made me laugh. It made me laugh so much that I came home and wrote it down. I haven’t used it in a story yet, but I just might someday. Another humorous instance was when my mom backed our minivan into a tree the day after Christmas, only after my dad had been up all night with food poisoning. Or the time I was baking an apple pie and the insides bubbled over, catching the oven on fire and setting off every smoke detector in our house.

That is life. These are the things that stories are made of. Every day people doing everyday things with surprising results. There are going to be days when your character is going to catch ovens on fire. Or back cars into trees. That’s not necessarily what’s funny. What makes those types of events and people amusing is the way that you, as the author, depict it.

That old man with Alzheimer’s had a sad life. He didn’t remember events, or friends, or anniversaries. But he also had a happy and humorous life, because of the way he and others viewed it. I dare you do to the same. Throw your characters into funny situations or give them quirky trademarks. Think about the strange things that have happened to you and transfer them to your writing. If you’re a teenager like me, I’m pretty sure you can think of some pretty hilarious, awkward, embarrassing, or confusing things that have happened to you recently. So write that down. I think that you will find it will only strengthen your stories and make them more relatable and enjoyable to read


P.S. Thank you to everyone who posted comments to my blog after my post last month. I enjoyed reading each and every one of them! My book is coming out on February 28th, but you can still preorder your copy from Amazon if you’d like!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Romance Writing Advice from Gilmore Girls

Hope everyone enjoyed their Valentine's festivities! While I've always enjoyed Valentine's Day (since Ben came along, anyway) I think kids have only made it more fun. McKenna helped me make chocolate covered strawberries, we grilled some steaks, and had a nice candlelight dinner as a family.

Today, I'm really excited to be an honorary member of Teens Can Write Too. My age usually prohibits me, but  they were kind enough to let me join the blog chain just this once. If you're your teens (or early 20s) make sure you check them out.

The blog chain topic this month is on romance. Go figure.

What are your thoughts on romance for your typical genre? Do you tend to have a little, a lot, or none at all?

Confession time: I never planned to write books for teens, nor did I intend to write about love as much as I do. I thought I would "outgrow it." At least I hoped I would.

But I'm such a romantic, that I'm 99% sure I couldn't handle writing a book without romance. I'd be bored. And I'm starting to doubt that I could ever write a decent book about adults rather than teens. (Even when I attempt it, my adult character's current problems are heavily rooted in high school experiences.)

Why am I so fascinated by the teen romance? My husband and I met in high school; maybe that has something to do with it? I don't know, but I adore books like This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen and Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.

One tip I have for writing romance threads in your story is actually spun from a advice I read in an interview of Amy Sherman-Palladino (creator and head writer for Gilmore Girls).

She said one of the tricks to TV writing is making small events big, but big events small. The way I apply that to the romance storylines in my books is you're never going to find my character's big romantic moments at big events - school dances, Valentine's Day, weddings.

Like in Out with the In Crowd, Connor remembers their 3-month anniversary when Skylar forgets. He takes her out for a romantic date that involves sitting on bleachers in the dead of winter eating sub sandwiches. But their Valentine's Day - where, in desperation, he goes kinda above-and-beyond - is rather hum-drum.

Obviously it can work to have the big moments at big events (Pretty in Pink has done quite well for itself) but I like the inversion of big and small events that Amy Sherman-Palladino suggests.

Interested in knowing what your fellow teen writers think about romance? Find out here:

February 5– –Novel Journeys
February 6– –Lily’s Notes in the Margins
February 7– –Kirsten Writes!
February 8– — Comfy Sweaters, Writing and Fish
February 9– –A Farewell to Sanity
February 10– –The Word Asylum
February 11– –From My Head
February 12– –Esther Victoria1996
February 13– –Embracing Insanity
February 14– –Red Herring Online
February 15– –Go Teen Writers (Honorary Participant)
February 16– –This Page Intentionally Left Blank
February 17– –Oh Yeah, Write!
February 18– –The Incessant Droning of a Bored Writer
February 19– –Here’s To Us
February 20– –Teens Can Write Too! (We will be announcing the topic for next month’s chain)

Tomorrow Rachel Coker will be here with some fabulous insights into life as a published teen writer. And I hope to have up the winner's from last round's contest soon. Also I'm curious, do your books tend to have a little, a lot, or no romance at all?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tips for Kissing

For kissing characters, that is.

Hope everyone really enjoyed their weekend. I predominately spent mine blowing my nose, napping, and watching Backyardigans with my 4 year old, who was also sick and sacked out on the couch. Fortunately, we're all feeling a lot better.

We'll continue our conversation about writing books that are worthy of our shelves later this week. Today I had promised a writer that I would answer her question, "I have come across a scene where my main character and her (boy)friend have to kiss. Do you have any tips on writing kissing scenes?"

An excellent day-before-Valentine's Day topic!

I certainly have tips for how to not write kissing scenes. I specifically remember a scene I wrote in 8th grade (well before my first kiss) that involved two characters kissing. Leading up to their kiss, I described the "magnetic forces" between them, which led to no end of ridicule from my boyfriend (whom I apparently let read the scene ... very un-Stephanie behavior...) So. Step 1: Avoid the magnetic forces.

I'm assuming we're talking about some sort of Big Kiss (like a first kiss or something), not just a swift peck goodbye before her boyfriend heads to class. For a Big Kiss here are a couple things you should consider:

  • The age of your characters
  • How long they have known each other
  • What this kiss means to them as individuals

I probably don't need to spend much time explaining why you should consider the age of your characters. And how long they've known each other is likely obvious as well. If these are two people who have only met a few months ago (or less), their kiss will be different than two people who have known each other since elementary school.

But once you've considered these two factors, it's important to think about the emotional impact of the kiss. What kind of emotional state is the girl in before the kiss? What does she think of herself? What does she think of him? Same goes for the fella - what does he think about himself? Everybody brings their own unique baggage into emotional situations. If your character was once told she was ugly, she might have different feelings going into a kiss than a girl who has always been chased by boys.

Here are a few additional tips:

Leading up to a Big Kiss (particularly a first kiss) consider having a few almost-kisses. Like a few times where she thinks he's going to kiss her, or whatever. Not only will it help build tension, it'll create more satisfaction when the kiss finally happens.

Don't worry about the kiss happening someplace great or at the"perfect" time. It depends on the book of course, but more than likely you're not going for that "fairy tale, life is absolutely perfect" effect.

Don't linger too long. Seriously - a little goes a long way. The couple should either be interrupted or the scene should end shortly after the liplock. That's not a hard and fast rule, of course, just something I've observed works well.

As with the art of kissing itself, writing a good kiss scene requires some trial and error. Don't expect to write it perfectly the first time. I tend to write any emotional scenes too fast, and during the editing process I have to slow the pacing.

Also, if you write historicals, you'll need to consider what was appropriate conduct for men and women during that time period.

Lastly, every genre is different. If you write fantasy, you'll likely handle kissing differently than if you write romantic suspense. Romantic scenes in a YA novel will possibly be different than romantic scenes in an adult novel. I suggest reading books in your genre and seeing how other authors have handled it.

Alright, let's get in the Valentine's spirit - favorite romantic movie or book? Of course any of Jane Austen's are hard to beat, but I'm particularly fond of The Princess Bride, both the book and the movie.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Top 20 from "Alex has somewhere to be."

Not sure yet if I'll be up to blogging tomorrow. My 4 year old is extremely sick (had to rush her to the doctor yesterday when her temp spiked to 104.5) and now I seem to have some variation of her bug. Blah.

But I do have the top 20 for you. For those whose names are not on the below list, I'll be emailing out the judge's feedback as soon as I can.

Here is the list of those who made the top 20 (in alpha order):

Gillian Adams
S. J. Bouquet
Lindsey Bradford
Rachel Crew
Paulina Czarnecki
Imogen Elvis
Kaitlyn Evensen
Abigail Hartman
Alyssa Liljequist
Cheyenne Lynnae
Jenna Blake Morris
Caroline Niesen
Faye Oygard
Rachelle Rea
Katie Scheidhauer
Melanie G. Schroeder
Olivia Smit
Jessica Staricka
Whitney Stephens
Allison Young

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Writing Books on My Shelf Part 1

Don't forget - today's the last day to get your 100-word writing contest entry turned in!

I've been asked a multiple times about recommendations for books about the craft of writing. I'm not sure I've ever made a list of the ones I keep on my shelf, the ones I continue to find valuable. Major oversight on my part! Here is a picture of the writing books on my shelf:

Pictured left to right: Deep and Wide by Susan May Warren, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, Writing the Breakout Novel, The Career Novelist, and The Fire in Fiction all by Donald Maass, On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Plot & Structure, Revision & Self-Editing, and The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell, The Story Template by Amy Deardon, and Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

That's obviously way too many to talk about in one post, so today I'll just cover four of them:

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is the first writing book I ever owned. It was required reading in my AP English class, and even though I was the only one in the class longing to be a novelist, everyone seemed to enjoy it. Probably because it's funny.

I reread portions of this book every year, and even now as I'm glancing over the chapters list (False starts, The Moral Point of View, Index Cards, Finding Your Voice) I'm itching to pause blogging and read Bird by Bird instead.

Now ... there's some language. Quite a bit, really. Even still, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

On Writing by Stephen King is the second writing book I acquired. My parents gave it to me for Christmas my senior year of high school. The first part of it is Stephen King's journey to publication, which is fascinating. The second part is advice on writing well. On the editing process, description, language, grammar, everything. And it's all in that wonderfully funny voice of his.

Again, there's a decent amount of language in this book. Again, I can't recommend it highly enough. This is another one that I come back to time and time again.

Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass were the first two writing books I bought for myself. They have remained some of my favorites. Donald Maass is a legendary literary agent, and after 20ish years of watching the publishing industry, he studied "breakout" novels. Those novels that for no apparent reason took off in the market. He says in the introduction that committing to writing a breakout novel is to "say 'no' to merely being good enough to be published."

And the workbook is the advice given in Writing the Breakout Novel but applied to your novel. It's full of hands-on exercises to enrich your story. It gives you space inside the book to write your answers, but I always do the writing on a separate sheet of paper. I will, however, make notes beside the exercises, like which manuscript I used them on.

I think both the regular book and the workbook have tremendous value. I remember sitting on my porch in Florida (where I had a lovely view of our apartment complex parking lot) and highlighting the heck out of Writing the Breakout Novel feeling like maybe, someday, I really could do this.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

An Ezine Opportunity for you

From the creators of Teens Can Write Too comes a new kind of ezine, and they are accepting submissions! This is a great way to meet other young writers are start building your platform.

The Trivial Typewriter is made up of original and odd fiction by young people—anything with that crazy, unexpected, humorous, or macabre twist that makes a story unforgettable. Although the zine comprises work by people in their teens and early twenties, it’s designed to be enjoyed by all, young and old.

In addition to fiction, we’re accepting artwork for our cover contest and proposals for articles pertinent to teen writing.

Submissions are now open and will be for the rest of the year.  We’re unable to offer payment at this time, but the zine is free, and your work might be showcased along with other great young talent. Don’t be afraid to submit work: even a rejection is another step closer to an acceptance.

For more details, you can check out The Trivial Typewriter's website.

Also, don't forget your entries for this round's writing contest are due tomorrow night! Details here.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A checklist for self-editing

I'm really excited to have Amanda Barratt here today. Amanda is a teen writer whom I "met" on Seekerville. When I saw this self-editing checklist on her blog, I immediately shot her an email and said, "I know you don't know me, but please come share this on Go Teen Writers!"

Okay, I tried to be a bit more professional than that, but that was the gist of our conversation.

Amanda Barratt is a Historical Romance author who has just finished her fifth novel. She has won several awards for her fiction and enjoys writing about eras such as the Gilded Age and Regency England. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Faith Writers. She lives in northern Michigan with her family where she enjoys attending writers conferences, reading, researching history, and of course writing.
To learn more about Amanda and her writing visit

And here is Amanda's wonderful list for self-editing:

She’s making a list and checking it twice. Gonna find verbs that are naughty or nice. Okay, well maybe I’m going off the deep end here. :)

But on a serious note when I’m editing I do make a list and check it twice. This is a list I’ve compiled using various writing books, other sources and things I’ve developed myself. I generally use this for every chapter, usually when I’m on my second or third draft. It’s a great tool for analyzing each chapter to see if all the necessary components are there. It also might be a good tool to use when critiquing or analyzing another piece of fiction.

So without further ado, my self-editing checklist.

1) Is there a good beginning hook? Does it drop the reader into the fictional dream? If not, what changes need to be made

2) Is there well-defined conflict and a feasible problem for the protagonist to solve? If not, what problem/event can be added or heightened?

3) Is there a brief description of the setting/time and place? Does it inform the reader without boring them? What changes can be made to improve this?

4) Does each chapter “begin with a bang”? Or does it start slowly, with unnecessary details or backstory? Where does the chapter really begin? Do I need to eliminate things that dull the beginning?

5) Was the chapter compelling? Will it keep readers turning pages? Or was it filler? What can be done to fix this?

6) Did the chapter move the plot forward? What is this chapter’s purpose?

7) Will the ending of the chapter hook the reader? Will they want to read more? Can you end the chapter a page earlier and gain more tension?

8) Are there any flashbacks? Are they necessary? Do they slow the plot down? How can they be shortened or made more dramatic?

9) Were there enough sensory descriptions? Do they seem too wordy? Would the reader skip over them or do they add to the fictional dream?

10 )Was the dialog consistent with each character’s age, education, and view on life? Was it full of tension? Did the character’s “pass the time of day” in any parts? Delete those and reword.

11) Are the character’s actions consistent with their personalities? If not, is there a genuine reason why they acted out of character? Is this reason revealed to the reader?

12) Are there unnecessary dialog tags that can be omitted, such as when only two characters are conversing? Is it clear which character is speaking?

13) Is there any “head hopping” or unclear POV’s? Is the POV consistent? Make changes accordingly.

14) Are there any continuity errors, such as character descriptions, etc.?

15) Are the historical details conveyed accurately? Double check sources. (Note. This only applies to novels set not in the present era)

16) Any clich├ęs that can be replaced? Replace these with fresh intriguing phrases.

17) Is the inspirational element present in a way that is not preachy? Is the character’s faith journey displayed at all?

18) Is there continual romantic tension? (Note. This only applies to romances or novels with romantic subplots)

19) Is the chapter a suitable length? Is it too long or too short?

20) Is all grammar and punctuation correct?

**Lastly, when ending the book and that last chapter, consider:

21) How is the ending of the book? Were all subplots wrapped up? Was it a dramatic “leave the reader pondering ending”, along with a lasting impression. Can it be improved?

There you have it. My self-editing checklist. Feel free to use this for your own novels, and may it help you as much as it has me.

Happy Writing!


Amanda, thank you so much for being here and sharing such a great resource with us! 

Anyone have something they'd like to add to the list? Something on my self-editing checklist is to run a search for all my "pet words," like just, was, something, it, really, and quirked.