Sunday, October 31, 2010

True Fright

Robert Frost once said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader."

As a writer of YA supernatural fiction and ghost stories, I am frequently asked, "Do you ever scare yourself?"

While I cannot pretend to be Robert Frost, I believe his maxim applies here, as well: No fright in the writer, no fright in the reader.

Truth be told, yes, I do frighten myself with my writing. Some things are more frightening than others, but when I am trying to write a scary story, I am usually dealing with my own personal nightmares. And I have a lot of them.

I grew up in a haunted house. I know that makes me sound like a complete flake, but it's the truth and I would dare anyone to spend some quality time in that house and come away with a different conclusion! What it means to me as a writer, though, is that when I am working with certain scenes and events, I will also be looking over my shoulder as I type. That may sound absurd, but it's the truth.

Case in point: some years ago I wrote a weekly column and articles for a small, local paper. One of my assignments was collecting and writing up true ghost stories submitted by our readers for the Halloween issue. Now, I make it a point to write this sort of thing only during broad daylight. I'm not crazy! And so there I was, sitting at my typewriter (yes, this was some years ago) writing up a particularly nasty ghost story while the kids were away at school and the autumn sun was shining warmly on my plant stand. And while I was typing I was distracted by a very loud crash! that resonated throughout the first floor of our townhouse. I went running, thinking that one of our shelves had collapsed and that I would find a pile of broken dishes or glasses. But there was nothing. I investigated the kitchen, the basement, and the garage, all of which lay in the vicinity of that very loud noise, and found no evidence of anything. Being the sort of writer I am, I stopped writing and got myself some lunch.

I would say that cowardly behavior on my part might seem ridiculous, but I remember reading an interview with Stephen King some years back where he stated that he never sleeps with his feet uncovered, no matter how hot the night is, for fear that the thing under his bed will grab him. I'd say I'm in pretty good company!

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Hook

One of the most important components of a short story is the Hook. In a story, the hook serves the same purpose as it does on a fishing pole. It’s where you put a mental worm to entice the reader and get them to bite, hopefully reeling them all the way in so they will go ahead and read the story.

In short stories, the Hook can be found normally in the first or second line, definitely somewhere in the first paragraph. It’s just enough of a tidbit that it will entice the reader’s mind and make it hungry to find out what this is about. Just like many components of writing, it can be its own art form. And sometimes can be difficult as heck to come up with.

With the changing times and faster pace brought on by TV, music videos, cell phones, PDA’s, IM’s, PC games, game consoles (basically springing up concepts of instant gratification or fulfillment) short/quick/fast hooks are becoming more and more of a necessity in novels as well.

Think of the Hook in the same vein as what we’re taught out in the business world when seeking employment. Most people have an attention span of 30 to 60 seconds to get grabbed by something and make an impression before the rest of what’s being said becomes so much background noise. So when preparing to go out there and seek a job, you’re encouraged to come up with a 30 second blurb about yourself to make an impact on the prospective employer, give them useful information, and hopefully make a good lasting impression. (As they say in the field, no matter what the truth is, if you make a bad impression in those first few seconds, regardless of all that happens after, that first impression will stick around forever.)

So what makes a good Hook?

Hooks can be composed of text or description, what matters is the reaction they bring out of the reader.

Here’s the first line of my upcoming novel called “Price of Mercy”. The first line reads:

He was a fool.

BOOM - right off the bat, our fertile imaginations explode with questions and assumptions. This hints of someone possibly being in trouble and regretting a decision. Depending on what the next sentence says, it could be an opinion on someone else. Our minds instantly grow curious as the scent of trouble beckons us in for a closer look.

Of course this tiny piece of worm wouldn’t be enough to get the reader to bite, but you’ve poked at their curiosity just enough to hopefully get them to move on to the next paragraph.

Jarrin sat inside his rented coach, which waited in line to enter the gate. The Emperor’s ballroom glowed softly in the night.Behind it, much farther off, was the palace proper. Nestled in the center of the city, the Emperor’s domain was like a small kingdom onto itself. The ballroom was at the farthest edge, a mere drop of all that was kept there.

Now you’ve met the protagonist, and from the first sentence of the new paragraph comes the suspicion Jarrin was indeed talking about himself in the very first line -- doubting his chosen course as he waits in line for the Emperor’s Ball. More of the worm has been exposed, though not enough. Hints of where, when and what. Then the hopeful full clincher:

Over three-fourths of the funds the Baroness gave him were already spent. His reward for services rendered before he was summarily dismissed. Between the coach and his elaborate costume, he was about to make his life very difficult if he didn’t succeed tonight. The Baroness’s second gift had been an invitation to the ball and if he dared use it, the possibility of gaining other employment. The problem was he wasn’t even sure he wanted to succeed, but hadn’t been able to think of another course which didn’t involve shame, poverty, or starvation.

Now the reader knows Jarrin is using almost all he has on a gamble. That his luck has not been good since he was dismissed from service. There’s also the question of what kind of employment could you possibly be expecting to find at a costumed ball. And the doubt Jarrin even wants to succeed adds to the mystery unfolding. Hopefully all enough to Hook the reader into going further.(You can check out how well I do or do not do this in the (not final) sample chapters at (Price of Mercy should be coming out in 2011 under Zumaya Publications Fantasy Imprint.)

One of the best Hooks I’ve ever come across came from Martha Wells awesome book The Wizard Hunters (The Fall of Ile-Rein Book 1)

It was nine o’clock at night and Tremaine was trying to find a way to kill herself that would bring a verdict of natural causes in court when someone banged on the door.

Instantly the reader springs with several questions at once. Why would Tremaine want to kill herself? Why does she need it to look like natural causes? What has driven this person to this course? (CHOMP) The reader has bit the Hook. The curiosity has been enflamed and they must now proceed or never get answers. They’re hooked!

Grab the nearest book at hand and check out those first few lines. See what beautiful worms they dangled before your eyes on the Hook to get you to bite. Come back here and share those great hooks and let’s be enticed together.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Writing who you know

The idea for this blog came when I learned The Henge Betrayed -- Refuge was released yesterday by Mundania. The characters in the book are one I know -- my grandchildren. But this was not my first foray into basing a character on someone I knew. Years ago when I was writing "sweet nurse romances" I needed a very fussy character who drove ten miles below the speed limit. My much loved aunt fit the description and so I used some of her endearing characteristics. When the book was released I really worried that she would recognize herself and be upset. She never did and I was thankful for that. Actually she thought the character was amusing and one of her favorites.

Have you ever based a character on someone you know only to have them never recognize what you have done?

Now my grandchildren know they're in the Henge books but they know not all that makes up the characters is them. They understand fiction and how a writer changes things. My youngest grandson will be so psyched to know before long he will be receiving a copy of Refuge. He will take it to school and tell everyone he's in a book that his grandmother wrote.

The young people in this series, Ashlea -- Air, Brandien- Water, Jaydren - Earth and Kylandra - Fire. Their elements in the book point to their Astrological signs and fit the way I often form my characters. A fifth grandchild - Sydli will find her way into the third book in the series, the way she found her way into our lives. She's Air and so is her birthday.

If you've used someone and they know you have, how do they react?

Now for a bit of promo about the new release.


Jane Lane Walters

The Henge Betrayed Book 2




Trade Paperback



256 pages

The adventure begun in Flight continues. Ash, Bran, Ky, and Jay, led
by the mysterious birds they believe are their parents, find refuge
with a doma while they await the arrival of their friend, Zand.

The doma plans to take them to safety in the highlands but news of the
capture of two friends by "He who walks with evil" sends them on a
rescue mission.

They soon realize their powers are not strong enough to defeat the
evil dom, but they must find a way to succeed, or risk seeing their
friends corrupted forever.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Twilight Zone

A few days ago I'd been to Wichita Falls and was now on my way home, a twenty minute drive. I pulled onto the freeway from the exit ramp and entered the Twilight Zone. It was so weird. Of course I entered on the right hand lane. And as far ahead of me as I could see were motorcycles. As far behind me as I could see were motorcycles. A parade of them. They were traveling in one lane at a steady pace, not too fast, not too slow.

 Now to take my turn off of I-44 to 287, I needed to be in one of the two left lanes. So, I looked back to see if there was an opening. After all, I couldn't run down a motorcylist. That's when it got really bizarre.

No other cars were visible in any lane, in either direction. Nothing but guys and gals on motorcycles. I was spooked. The music theme from the old TV show Twilight Zone, echoed in my ears. I was the lone car. I wanted to go home.

Close to panic, I zipped between two motorcycles.  The guys probably were yelling "You silly old lady. What are you doing?" (Maybe not in exactly those words, but something similar.)

I took the 287 exit and soon was safely home.

My writing is a lot like this experience, which I laughed about later and tried to find out what they were doing. Anyway, when I start a new story, I have a good idea of where I'm going. Not all the details, necessarily, but a road map of sorts guiding me in the right direction to my end destination.

Like the parade of motorcycles, however, surprises sometimes await me and I have to adjust my thinking and my actions. Characters are notorious at popping up and telling me to do this or that. They delight in changing my direction. They often have other plans and want to do things their way. So I go along with them, even though I may question their reasons and ask them why they're interferring with my plans.

It turns out, most of the time my characters are right.

How about you? Do your stories ever go in totally opposite directions than you originally thought?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ten things to do while waiting to hear back from editors and agents

You've hit the send button on that submission package, or dropped it into the mail. You can't take it back. It's gone and you just have to deal with the consequences.

Congratulations - you're a real author! Now comes the Dreaded Waiting.

Publishing is a slow business. I think that's partially due to the fact that it's one of the few remaining industries run completely by human beings. Sure, with the help of electronic submissions, they get there faster, but so do everyone else's. And people still have to read each one and make a decision. That takes time. (I've had a full manuscript out with an agent since late June, which is not even a long time. I'm totally unconcerned.)

So what do you do with all that nerve-wracking, nail chewing time between your submission and the rejection notice (or hopefully, better news)?

10. Learn a new skill. Crocheting, knitting, and underwater basket weaving are sure ways of sucking up all that extra time that you spent writing, polishing, and perfecting that manuscript.
9. Clean your refrigerator. After all, if you're thinking about identifying that mystery gunk on the bottom shelf or wondering how long it takes before Chinese take-out spoils, your not thinking about how the agent or editor could be reading your submission THIS VERY MINUTE.
8. Clean the house. Once the refrigerator is clean, you might as well move on to the rest of the house. I mean, the cats always need vacuuming, right? Imagine each dust bunny you suck up as getting yourself one step closer to that big publishing contract.
7. Play Farmville. Chasing down that last nail for your next barn is very productive.
6. Update your Facebook status every hour with the following : "Still no news..."
5. Rearrange your Netflix queue and catch up on all your DVR'd TV.
4. Stalk the editor or agent. Become their friend on Facebook and double-check their Twitter feeds and blog, hoping to see some inkling that they've read your manuscript and LOVED IT SO MUCH that they want it NOW. (I actually have editor and agent FB and Twitter friends. I am not stalking them, I promise.)
3.Impulsively and obsessively check your email. From the minute you send the submission. Every five minutes.
2.Impulsively and obsessively run to the mail box. From the day after you send the submission. Peer out of your curtains, waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting mailman, then wail and ask him WHY he hasn't brought you a letter TODAY.

What you SHOULD do the minute that submission leaves your hands:
1. Write the next book. Seriously.

Well, I mean what happens if that agent or editor really DOES want your book RIGHT NOW?? You have to be ready to tell him or her what else you have? Even if it's just ideas, write them down, flesh them out. And if, as happens so often, that manuscript ends up on the Island of Forgotten Toys, you will have already moved on with an even better idea.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Give Yourself Permission to Fail

For many writers, rejections are a bit like a trips to the dentist. They’d do almost anything to avoid them rather than risk getting bad news.  

You can understand someone being afraid of dentists (I know I am), but why fear rejection? What’s so terrible about someone passing up the chance to publish your work?

I think it’s partly because, no matter how much we like to pretend we don’t care, it hurts to have a story turned down. And so it should. If you don’t care if your story gets accepted, why submit it there in the first place? But I believe there’s more to it than worrying about the sting of being told ‘No thank you’ by someone you’ve probably never met.

A rejection, especially when we’re starting out, is a hammer blow to our self-confidence. The bad news for would-be writers is that you’re going to get rejected, probably quite a lot. If getting published is important to you, those rejections are going to hurt.

The good news is that it gets easier. The more knocks you take, the tougher you’ll get, and if you make the effort to improve your craft, if you’re willing to recognize your mistakes and learn from them there’s a good chance that you will get published.

So go on, give yourself permission to fail. Take a deep breath and pitch that story.

One day, your dream will thank you.


Born in England, Jon Gibbs, now lives in New Jersey, where he’s a member of several writers' groups, including SCBWI and The Garden State Horror Writers. He is the founder of The New Jersey Authors’ Network and

Jon's debut novel,
Fur-Face (a Middle Grade fantasy about unusual friendships, unlikely alliances, and wanting to fit in), was published in eBook form by Echelon Press in 2010 (click here to see the trailer).

His presentation/workshop,
The Fine Art of Self Promotion
is based on entries from his popular online journal,
An Englishman in New Jersey.

Jon can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Do You Believe?

I have long had a fascination with things paranormal and extraterrestrial. I remember reading Lucky Starr books when I was a kid. I was a Star Trek junkie. Movies like ET drew me in. I didn't particularly care for frightening movies about aliens. I never really thought that aliens would be like that. Still, I found shows such as The Invaders and The Outer Limits to be creepy and chilling.

Now technology is allowing mankind to do things that used to be only dreamed about or found in the pages of a science fiction book. I just watched a fascinating video about holograms. A building looked as if it were changing shapes, with balls rolling down the front facade. Some speculate that mankind can project images into the sky. Perhaps we will see God, or a host of spaceships floating above our cities.

There are so many unexplained things on this world and in the space surrounding it. I have never written science fiction because, truthfully, by the time I finished penning a book, technology might have surpassed what I had just written. It would be passe, old hat, the stuff of archaeology.

The Mayan calendar predicts a huge change in our world in 2012. Jokesters say to max out the credit card, have fun, enjoy what time you have left. Others are more profound, wondering, watching, waiting. Will it be a time of enlightenment? Or will it be something so devastating it throws the earth into another ice age? Will it come and go with nary a worry?

What are your thoughts on the future? Do you look at the heavens and wonder? Do you ponder crop circles and their meanings, their origins? Have you ever seen a UFO? Do they exist? Do we have intergalactic neighbors or are we alone in the cold, dark vastness of space? What is science fiction and what is science fact?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Revising and Rewriting

Writing is revising.

Sure that first draft is exhilarating and breathtaking and full of creative leaps and jumps.

But where the true magic happens is in the revisions. And I should know. The story I'm working on now had it's beginning back when I was a freshman in high school. I still remember it. It was a crisp afternoon in October. My friend had been over for awhile and we'd been hanging out outside. When she went home I curled into the corner of the orange sofa, my clip board and paper on my lap. I think The Brady Bunch was on TV. And I wrote the first sentence.

"The limousine pulled up to the brick building."

At this point there have probably been over 30 revisions/versions of that story. A spin-off of that story was published last year: When Mike Kissed Emma.

Is my current WIP really still the same story I started so many years ago. No. At this point, of course not. The only similarities are the main character's last name and that she has wealthy parents and attends a boarding school - beyond that not the same (even the main character's first name has undergone several changes.)

Over the years I've submitted various versions of the story to agents or publishers. I've gotten close a couple of times. And each time I get a good rejection on it I rethink what I'm doing. And each "re-thinking" lands me a stronger story. So, I'm not willing to give up on this project yet.

Though when it does get published I kind of dread the question "How long did it take you to write?"

Mumblty-mumble years seems like kind of an embarrassing answer. Maybe I'll stick with how long it took to write the successful version.

But then again, maybe my trek through revision-land will be inspiring to people.

Ultimately what I've learned is to not be afraid to change things for the good of the story. And I think that's a worthwhile lesson.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Setting as character

Setting is important in a story.  In my novel CROSSED OUT I use a world I'm familar with: Sacramento, Ca.   Sacramento is rich with history. I grew up in South Sacramento and thought I’d use the city as the setting for my paranormal CROSSED OUT. My one side of the family came over to Sacramento in the later part of the 1800s from Italy. My great-grandfather Francisco Baccellia had a number of saloons around the end of the 19th century. I loved the stories my grandfather would tell me about Old Town Sacramento. One story involved these sisters who would walk up and down the American River dressed all in black.

Here's a photo my younger sister Autumn sent me on the flood in Old Town Sacramento, 1861.  This happened almost every year until the damn was built.

In keeping with the stories of Grandpa Baccellia, I thought I’d share some haunted spots:

1. Sacramento Historical Cemetery

My great-grandfather Baccellia was originally buried here but was relocated in the 1950s due to city relocation. Most of the founding fathers were buried here. Rumor has it that the cemetery is haunted. If your body was moved, wouldn’t you be kind of restless? The cemetery has annual events including a Halloween one.

2. Underground Sacramento Tunnels

Rumor has it that these forgotten tunnels were used to help transport things as the city used to flood every year before the Orville Damn was built. Lots of history here. They should be offering tours sometime soon!

3. Sacramento City Library

Rumor has it that the California Section is haunted. There have been sightings of an old man with glasses looking over old books. Even better they say that the underground tunnels were connected to the library.

4. The American River

This river has taken many including those who thought they could handle the currents Some say the ghost of a man who drowned in the river is said to haunt the banks.

5. And we can’t forget one of the famous ghosts: May Woolsey

May died of encephalitis September 2, 1870, just a few months before her thirteenth birthday. Some 100 years later, a trunk was found in a hidden wall that contained some of her belongings. It contained a letter, with part of the bottom of the page missing. Some feel that May was trying to contact her mother from beyond the grave. Many people say they still feel May’s presence at her gravestone.

In CROSSED OUT, Stephanie encounters a couple of haunted places. One is a coffee house that isn’t all it seems. And another takes place on a deserted part of the McClellan Airbase.  The base was closed in the early 90s and now has a museum and some other businesses though my stepfather says there's still deserted places there.

Stephanie is used to going to the sites of murdered girls. Find out more in my book available now at Amazon!

Dreams and Writing

“…Her view of enchanters had changed a lot in the past few days. …She sighed and, gently putting down the sleeping gryphon, returned to her room.

Just as she drifted toward sleep she thought if Harone got what he wished, in time he would be like them. He too would have that presence she felt more than saw, which Kataro had named the Semblance. It would surround him like a mantle, an aura that could disconcert, even terrify. She felt an inexplicable sense of loss.

Reflected light from the column of flame gleamed like copper on the polished-stone walls about her. Golden flashes sparkled on the pebbled floor like trapped seeds of lightning. Tongues of flame licked across the ceiling, searching for cracks in the hewn stone and obscuring it from view. She drew a step nearer and the column seemed to turn, as though aware of her approach. Threads of golden fire forked from the center of the shimmering inferno and approached her in turn. She lifted her hands, holding them out as if to clasp the exploring tendrils…

Cara awoke with a gasp, and sat up. She stared frantically at her hands, and was amazed to find they were not ash and scorched bone, but her own flesh. A presence within her seemed to flee, as though shy of her conscious thoughts. She felt its retreat and then its absence with regret and a piercing longing.

It was cool in the room, peacefully quiet. Empty. Drawing the coverlet about her, Cara lay back down.”

---- extract from SEABIRD: “Many Meetings”(chapter title, about 2/3 of the way through the book)


Have you ever inserted dreams, visions, fragmented words from newspaper clippings or tattered billboard signs, sacred messages, half-forgotten memories, the words of seers, etc when writing stories?

Dreams and vague memories in particular can deepen the richness of character portrayal, by introducing us to aspects of the character with which she may have only a tenuous connection during most of each day. However, dreams (etc) can serve other functions—for example, setting the mood of a scene, delicately inserting back story and even furthering the plot in some cases.

In SEABIRD, teenager Cara Marshall (the protagonist) dreams so frequently that the people of Narenta come to the conclusion that she is a seer. Cara has a little trouble coming to terms with this pronouncement since she has never encountered a true seer on Earth and the Narentans themselves admit that seers are uncommon in their world. Their conflicting views on the importance of dreams add to the story’s tension, while the content of her dreams help us to learn more about Cara and about her role in the book’s plot. Cara reacts to some of her dreams with delight, others with horror or mystification, which helps strengthen the mood of various scenes and was a great tool for introducing foreshadowing.

But why so many dreams in SEABIRD? I just told you—Cara is a seer. Okay, you got me. Which came first: the idea of Cara being a seer or the compulsive insertion of dreams higgly-piggly into the first few chapters of Seabird? Yes, the latter.

SEABIRD and Cara are gifted with dreams because I think dreams are cool. In real life—whatever that is—I’ve always felt that dreams are kind of a bonus to our existence. A little bit of story that we get free of charge just by dint of sleeping. Oh, and making a tiny effort to remember the details when we wake up. Many people, of course, believe that they rarely dream but the fact is that we all do.

HOW TO REMEMBER YOUR DREAMS: The trick is taking a few minutes on awakening to try to recall what we dreamed. If you have never done this and decide to make the effort, I suggest attempting to be as non-verbal as you can be while you passively wait for impressions, visual images and sounds to return to you now that you’re awake.

What not to do? Thinking something like, “I think I dreamed about the pool guy. Now what happened after I dived into the water? Was there really a school of miniature dolphins?’ etc will only serve to obliterate the actual dream. Keep your mind blank. This part is actually fairly easy before coffee if you think of about it.

If the dream contents seem to be worth it, be sure to write them down at once! Otherwise they will fade on you, very possibly before you’ve finished measuring the coffee grounds.

What do I mean by a dream being “worth it”? Why go to all this trouble? Well, you never know where the next idea for a story may come from. Alternatively, a fragment of a dream may tell you something about a character that you hadn’t realized, or get you out of that plot hole in chapter five. If appropriate—sometimes even if not appropriate—you can try plugging part of a dream whole cloth right into one of your scenes. You always planned for that character to have hallucinations, right?

For one of the weirdest dreams I’ve ever experienced, may I suggest the following link:

Sherry Thompson, author of SEABIRD: The Narentan Tumults #1 and EARTHBOW: The Narentan Tumults #2.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Writing What You Know

I've heard a lot about the debate of "writing what you know" vs. "writing what you can imagine" and I fall firmly into the camp of writing what I can imagine.


Well, primarily because I write fantasy and some of it is pretty frightening, as you will see in my next book - Summer's End. Do I want to be whisked into another world via a carnival where an evil magician is in control and creepy twins try to kill me? Let me think ... uh, yeah - I don't think so. I would lose what little control I am currently able to maintain over my bladder and that's not something anyone wants or needs to see.

What this boils down to is that writing only that which I had personally lived would be pretty limiting for me. Does that mean I object to this method for others? Of course not. What ever works, dude - as Nike is fond of saying: Just do it. Nothing annoys me more than being told what or how to do something, so I try to refrain from issuing edicts on methodology for others, although I do reserve the right to boss my kids around. Not only will society thank me later when my spawn have become productive members of society, it helps me manage stress; just sitting here and thinking about ordering one of them to clean the bathroom makes me feel better.

I'm always interested to hear how other writers feel about this issue, so chime in. I promise not to ask you to clean anything, but that'll be mostly because my kids have probably already taken care of it, under duress.



Thursday, October 14, 2010

I’ve Got a Little List…

I read a lot of YA fantasy and science fiction. And because I read a lot of YA, I’m usually on panels about YA at sf and fantasy conventions. And, because I’m a librarian in my day job, I have a habit of creating lists of new YA, which turns into handouts that I can pass out at panels (which people tend to like because that way they don’t have to scramble to write titles down). Anyway …

Since I have a list, I’ve noticed a few trends over the past year. Mythology is a big one. Greek/Roman mythology-based tales are still being released, probably because of the popularity of the Percy Jackson series. But the mythologies of other cultures are starting to appear. One example is Christine Norris’ The Ankh of Isis, out before Rick Riordan’s new Egyptian series beginning with The Red Pyramid.

Princesses are popular (I’ve found at least seven this year), as are fairies.

Fairy tale-based stories are another trend. These can be set in the past as well as magical preserves in present day. Michael Buckley’s Sisters Grimm series is still going. Roberta Olsen Major has a fun take on her fairy-tales (the series is called Royal Pains, which should give one a hint). Polly Shulman's The Grimm Legacy is a bit different, as it has a lending library of magical artifacts.

Magic schools have branched out to include schools for monsters and schools for witches and vampires. I have a particular fondness for Jennifer St. Clair’s series, where wizards, vampires, dragons and members of the Wild Hunt can all take classes together without trying to kill each other. And, although it’s older than last year, Gloria Oliver’s Cross-Eyed Dragon Troubles is a great magic school/dragon-riding academy tale.

Psi powers are another popular theme – complicating high school life with the added angst of having to hide from your classmates the fact that you can read people’s minds or hear interfering ghosts needing help. Some of those have the added adrenaline dash of hiding from secret organizations looking for those with psi powers.

I'm still looking for good YA science fiction stories. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Saltation is a great example. More on the science fantasy side, Nina Kiriki Hoffman's Thresholds is a delightful 'aliens living next door' tale that reminds me of another of my favorites, Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, which also has a new book out, A Wizard of Mars.

What trends have you noticed this year? And what are your favorites of those?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Skate Away

There is nothing more visual to me than something that is purely audio- Music. All my life I have lost myself in the Amazing Dolby Technicolor Dream Coat of music and allowed the movies - tragedies, romance, adventure tales, spy fliks- whatever- to unfold within my mind. For those of you who read my first novel, Milky Way Marmalade you will know that music- especially Rock in all its forms- is my religion.

Dire Straits even wrote a song about my practice:

"And the music is whatever was the story and the story is whatever was the song."

Making music on location. I cannot write without creating a sound track. I-tunes has really become a great aid in my writing since creating a playlist is so easy. And what I love about this creative tool is that I can wander down a Manhattan street or stroll in Central Park and have scenes, ideas, characters, personality traits, etc- forming in my subconscious. The story continually unfolds and fleshes out. It gains emotional depth.

My current novel - a YA story that takes place in the 1980s- has formed itself almost entirely from music. It's not that I am using lyrics to come up with plot points but rather- the emotional tone of the songs is feeding my creative juices. Scenes unfold. Characters act as if in a movie with the soundtrack playing. I sit in the theatre of my mind- surround sound stereo blasting out.

And the soundtrack grows along with the book or screenplay. I currently have sixty-nine songs in the soundtrack of my current project and I am only in chapter two!

I will also try to arrange the song list in an order that outlines the story. A true soundtrack. I am constantly tweaking it- trying to build an audio narrative. Since an author lives with their story throughout the creative process- this adds a wonderful element while I am not actually writing. It keeps it alive and evolving.

This may or may not work for every writer. I know some writers must work in total silence. I MUST have music playing when I write. It may work for you during the outline or note making stage. Try it. Dig though your LPs, 45s, CDs or mp3s and create an aural representation of your story. Then sit back, close your eyes and watch your tale unfold!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why I Joined the Ebook Revolution

Well. Actually. The truth is, I’ve always been part of the ebook revolution.

In 1999, I published Rumors of War, a novel of politics and suspense, in ebook on Fatbrain which later morphed into Mighty Words. I published the print version in 2000. My middle grade mystery anthology The Road to Weird (Zumaya Publications) was published in ebook and POD in 2003.

In 2011, Rumors of War will be re-released in ebook by Binary Press Publications (BPP).

As I mentioned in my previous post, Letters to Juniper, my middle grade novel, will be released for the first time in ebook in November.

Two more YA novels are waiting in the wings for their exclusive ebook debuts. PFC Liberty Stryker will be released in 2010. Hurricane Katrina will be released early next year.

That’s right. I signed a contract for all my un-contracted works to an ebook publisher, Binary Press Publications.

Perhaps it’s more like I'm surrendering to the ebook revolution. I had a fabulous agent who worked really hard to find traditional publishers for my unpublished works. She said publishers were interested in my work, “But they just aren’t buying.” She added, “The market is crap. The publishing industry in general is in a holding pattern. Not taking any risks.”

When my friend, author Natalie Collins told me Binary Press Publications wanted to see my manuscripts, I jumped at the chance. I released my agent. True to her fabulous self, she was understanding and supportive. She asked me to keep in touch. Then I decided to follow Oprah's advice: “I believe that one of life's greatest risks is never daring to risk.” I took the risk.

In a recent Business article, Steven Johnson outlined "10 Reasons Why the Ebook Download Market Keeps Growing". His Number 3 caught my eye:
3. Exclusivity – Books on subjects unlikely to appeal to a wide enough audience to justify publication costs can now often be found available in ebook format on the numerous websites dedicated to the promotion of, and trading in, digital books. Furthermore, several well-known authors including Stephen King, have written books that have been published solely as digital editions.
Letters to Juniper, PFC Liberty Stryker, and Hurricane Katrina, are all based on actual historical events. They are edgy – sometimes humorous – sometimes graphic – and deal honestly with young people in dangerous situations. Although I have to admit all too often editors have responded to these manuscripts with the words, “Doesn’t appeal to a wide enough audience.” Yet agents and readers – and me – believe these books will definitely find an audience.

However nothing – or no one – is really ever an overnite success and so it is with ebooks. Everybody knows ebooks have been around for more than a decade. Which came first? The computer? Or the ebook? Hmm …

So what makes this a revolution? Ebooks are selling. In fact they are currently outselling other formats. In July 2010, trade ebook sales were $40,800,000, a 250% increase over July 2009. Mind boggling numbers. What changed was the availability and price of ebook readers. I can read ebooks on my Kindle, my computer, and my iPhone and I can sync em all up. It’s just too irresistible. Books are techno – with gadgets and stuff – which makes reading way more fun.

I don’t even pretend to know what it all means. I do know this the most exciting time in publishing in my lifetime and I want to be in the thick of it.

Peggy Tibbetts

My books

My blogs:
Advice from a Caterpillar
From the Styx

Sunday, October 10, 2010

To Group or Not To Group

When I first started writing, I thought there were two kinds of writers in this world: published and not. I was in the "not" category for what seemed like a lifetime, and during that entire period, that binary categorization worked for me.

Then I lucked out and got published and after joining a few organizations and groups, I discovered a new kind of binary category: those who are in writers' groups and those who are not. And I am curious to know, whenever I meet a new writer, which option that writer follows.

I know quite a few authors who swear by their groups, whether the group goes by the name of critique, writers', or support group. They tell me that going to regular meetings keeps them on a schedule, gives them the discipline to write the installments that must be presented to the other group members, and sets up a natural framework for feedback and information sharing. It all sounds ideal. What could be healthier than a bunch of like-minded people helping each other with the lonely and difficult task of writing?

On the other hand, I am not in a writers' group and am not likely to join one in either the near or distant future. While I admit that writing is a solitary, sometimes lonely activity and that feedback is a good thing, I just do not have it in me to meet regularly with other folks to share and discuss my latest project. Call me crazy: I feel that if I tell the story before its time, I will take the wind out of its sails and destroy the magic. I tend to feel that my stories are not ready to stand on their own under scrutiny of any kind until they are at least at the completed first-draft stage. Until then, letting other people poke at them and analyze them makes me feel like I am putting bits and pieces of my children under a microscope.

I am a fan of quite a few best-selling writers who swear by writers' groups and encourage authors at all levels to find a good one. I read Lawrence Block's advice on it back in the 1980's. James Rollins routinely credits his group, and Douglas Preston talks about being an active member in a Santa Fe group for nearly 10 years.

On the other hand, Stephen King says he will not discuss anything he is still working on, even with his wife. Anne Tyler is horrified at the thought of talking any story she is still completing, and equally horrified hearing others talk about their ongoing work in front of her. Maybe it's a form of Emily Dickinson syndrome, I don't know. I just know I don't have the writers' group mentality.

Currently, I am in the yin of yet another double-sided category and trying to cross the barrier into the yang of it. Uh, anyone else out there still on the search for an agent?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Character vs Writer's Plot Clash!

Years ago a friend lent me a book and told me I just had to read it. What was funny at the time was how he also told me the first three books were great, but the ones after weren't worth it. Didn't sound like something I wanted to get into, but since he went to the trouble to bring me one of them, I figured I’d give it a shot.
Within the first few pages I hit something that just about made me think there was no point in reading the rest of it, regardless of the good prose and likeable characters. It was a bad case of where Character Motivation/Smarts and the Author's Plot COLLIDED. (This is not just a book issue. It’s a lot more prevalent on TV.)

In this particular book, a man who lives in a non-magical land and is very well versed about nature, comes across a plant he’s never seen before. He cuts the plant, and it hits him with a thorn in retaliation. When the hero tries to remove the thorn, the latter embeds itself deeper into his hand. The hero has no knife, so does what he can, but the darn thorn acts in unnatural ways and evades his attempts to remove it by totally disappearing into his flesh. He mucks with it for another moment but can’t get rid of it, and then for all intents and purposes, shrugs his shoulder and goes on his way as if this thing that’s invaded his body is of no consequence.

Now, hold the phone!

Anyone who had a thorn in their hand and saw it dig itself deeper like some stubborn animal would be screaming bloody murder and trying to get themselves to the nearest doctor to get the sucker out. (I know I would!) Yet this man forgets all about the invader, except for noticing occasionally how the hand turns red and hurts (like that wouldn't be sending panic signals to anyone else), and goes on his way getting into the meat of the adventure and so on. In my opinion, there was a definite clash in what the writer wanted to set up as a later problem, and what the character would have really done about the problem when it happened. Personally, I would have fallen for the state of things as written if the guy had a least panicked a little, did try to go home to get help, even if on the way he got distracted for a short while by other events going on around him. So this clash between the author and his character could have been averted or minimized for the reader and made that much more believable.
As a writer, you’ll often try to stick to a mental road map of where the story needs to go. And that’s not a bad idea. But it’s also important to absolutely stay true to the motivations and characteristics of the characters you’re portraying or you will be doing the whole novel/story and your readers a huge disservice.

Listen to what the characters tell you, even if it's not part of the map! Would they really go into that dark room alone especially when they hear the growling noises coming from inside? Probably not. Yet there are ways to have it happen where despite their common sense, they’d still go in there.

If you just have to have something happen in the story, but it clashes with your character's motivation/personality find a way to shift the situation so they will do what you want anyway. If you can’t find a way, it wasn’t mean to be – so ditch it. Don't force it! Here's an example: An old saying is that Tonto (The Lone Ranger's Sidekick) never goes into town. "Tonto no go to town." For him, going to town is a stupid thing to do because he knows that due to his race and the prejudices of some of the people there, he will not be welcomed and bad things are likely to happen. But in order for your plot to progress in the story you’re writing, you absolutely must have him in town because it’s the only way he’ll meet the beauty from Boston and fall in love.

So what do you do? You can't just suddenly have Tonto say he wants to go to town. That's totally against his usual motivation/personality. But if he absolutely needs to be in town, be smart, burn some brain cells and then arrange matters in a believable way that while still being true to his personality and choices, Tonto still goes into town.

Making this happen for Tonto is easy.

If the Lone Ranger went to town and hadn’t been heard from in too long and Tonto knew his friend was going into a possibly dangerous situation to begin with, Tonto would eventually go to town to look for his friend and make sure he was alright.

If Tonto received a message that the Lone Ranger was in trouble and needed him, this would also drive him to go to town--his need to be there for his friend would overrule his hesitation about going to a place where there could be unpleasantness or even danger for him.

Both options above keep Tonto true to his character yet it still gets him to where you need him to be to progress the story you want to tell. Know your characters’ personalities and motivations and remain faithful to them. Don't let the planned plot put you in a Character vs. Writer's Plot Clash. The more believable and reasonable you can make the choices your characters make due to the factors you've thrown at them, the more fun and believable the story will be.

Let’s make our work a No Clash Zone~!

Gloria Oliver
Unveiling the Fantastic

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Galleys and other things The Henge Betrayed Refuge

On Tuesday the galley of Refuge arrived for a read through. Such an exciting feeling, and though I've published a number of books, seeing another child into the world brings sort of chills. But that's not what I want to talk about.

During the read throughs I found some typos, not the real ones where the fingers mix up the letters of a word and because all the letters are there, you see the word you think was there, but the kind the eye flows over. Form instead of from. A letter in the character's name Bram instead of Bran. Fortunately there weren't too many but it meant a line by line read of the novel and took an entire day to read the entire manuscript. My way of doing this is to print out the pages and use a ruler to isolate each line. Hopefully this keeps me from becoming too involved in reading the story. Several times there were places where I wanted to change the wording. I wonder if other writers think about their works and see places where the writing could be improved.

Perfection in writing can't be obtained. There's always something one would change.

The arrival of the galleys brought another reward. My grandson has been waiting for two plus years for this book. He's read the first one in the series twice. He wants to see all the books because he wants to create a computer game using the characters and story as the basis.

How do you feel when you receive the galley of a book? I think mine are mixed. Excitement plus a bit of stress because I need to finish the fourth one in the series.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Conferences and Contests

This seems to be the season for contests. I'd been thinking about them when Kim posted about the Cybils. So I'd like to add a few more, for those who are interested.

Of course, there are the "biggies."

1. Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards
First awarded in 1967, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards recognize and reward excellence in literature for children and young adults. Submissions guidelines.

2. Golden Kite Awards.
To be eligible to submit your book(s) to the Golden Kite Award, you must be a current member of the SCBWI with your membership current through April 1st 2011.

3. ForeWord Reviews Magazine's Book of the Year Awards. There is a fee for this one. Submissions

4. The National Best Books Awards, sponsored by USA Book News based in Los Angeles, California. This one also has a fee. Submissions. Deadline has passed.

5. Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
The 2011 Indie Book Awards is open to all indie book authors and publishers including independent publishers (small, medium or otherwisd), university presses, self-published authors, e-book authors, seasoned authors and even first time authors in the U. S., Canada or internationally who have a book written in English and published in 2010 or 2011. There is a fee here too.

Each state has contests.

Now I'm not much for contests, but you never know. Even if you don't win, who sees your book? Other writers. Editors. Agents. Publishers. It's a way to get your book out there.

Conferences are fun too. Because of my husband's health, I can't leave home, but some great conferences are Online. In August I atttended Write On Con. They had a little of everything: critiques, speakers, agents, editors. Now they're having monthly meetings with editors and agents as guests. Check them out. Write On. (Free too, though you can donate.)

The Muse Online Conference starts next week and runs from Oct. 11 - 17. If you didn't sign up this year, try next year. Workshops, pitches to publishers and agents, chats, and lots of fun. Kim will be there. So will I.

Do you have other contests or conferences to share?

Have a great day.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


It's that time of year again!  Vote for your favorite children and YA books!

What are the Cybils?  They are the Children and YA Blogger Literary Awards.  These are books chosen by...YOU!  I've been a panelist for the last few years and totally love this contest.
Here's the rules:

•One book per genre per person. Have two young adult books you love? Get a best friend, co-worker or random stranger to nominate the other one.

•Anyone may nominate. Anyone! This means you. And me. And that person over there, and the guy who cut you off in traffic. Or that kid you won't sit next to at lunch. Anyone!

•The book must have been published between the last contest and this close of this one. In other words, between Oct. 16, 2009 and Oct. 15th 2010.

•The book can be bilingual, but one of the languages must be English.

•As long as a book has a nomination, it'll be considered. You don't need to try and nominate it over and over. The nomination form will kick it back to you anyway.

Important change! Read below!

We've divided Graphic Novels and Fantasy & Science Fiction into two groups by age. Similarly, Easy Readers is now distinct from Early Chapter Books. So you get TWO nominations in each of those genres -- so long as it's one in each age group.

Nominations remain open until October 15th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time!  Here's the link to go to for nominating your favorite books!

Monday, October 4, 2010

There's a Plot!

Those three weeks flew by, didn't they? Things have calmed down just a teensy bit, so I can actually squeeze in a real post this month!

Last time, when I left a real post, I talked about Character Building. There's a process to it, obviously, but everyone uses a different process. This time I promised a bit about plotting. There are two major schools of thought on this: the planners and and the pantsers. Planners, as the name indications, do some kind of outline that gives them a roadmap to the story before they start writing. Pantsers just sit down and write, and hammer out the story as they go along. Each has its merit, and often there are terrible arguments over which is the better method.

Whatever works for you IS the better method. End of argument.

But, in the interest of science (or whatever), I will tell you how I work out the story. I am a plotter.

I used to be a complete pantser. And it was SO FRUSTRATING. I'd hit a wall, or go off on some story tangent that was pretty well useless. When I ended up cutting 20,000 words (yes, you read that correctly) from the last Library of Athena book I finished, I decided I had enough. There had to be a better way for me to get through without getting off track. The point of those 20,000 words was all the way at the end, and I didn't NEED about 18,000 of them. I had spent hours working them out, and nearly cried when I had to cut them. I did save them, and I may just put them up on my website, as a kind of what ended up on the cutting room floor item.

I found the nine-block plot, and it saved my sanity. I cannot take credit for this, I found it on Verla Kay's blue board, and it made sense. Here's how it works. You divide up a sheet of paper into nine blocks, like a tic-tac-toe board. I use my white board, because it's so easy to erase and change around, and I can just look at it whenever I want. I can also color code it to main plot, sub plot, and connect plot elements.

Starting at the first block, top left, I put one label in each block, in this order:
Inciting Incident           Characterization               1st Major Turning Point
Exposition                   Connect the Dots              Negative Turning Point
Antagonist Wins          Revelation                         Protagonist Wins

Then I fill in the blocks with the elements from my story. This way, you can SEE how the Exposition connects to both the Inciting Incident and the Antagonist Wins elements AND the Connect the Dots. Like a big puzzle, all of the elements fit together and play off of the block above, below, and next to them. This also fits with the often used Three Act format of writing - the end of the First Act is the First Major Turning Point, as it should be.

Obviously block five- Connect the Dots - is the most complicated and complex. It is the heart of the story, taking elements from Characterization, Exposition, and foreshadowing the Negative Turning point and Revelation, indirectly influenced by the four corner blocks.

Don't think these three rows carry equal weight, either. The first row, up to the end of Act I, and the last row, which is Act III, are usually shorter than Act II, the middle row, which is the bulk of the story. This is something I took from screenplay writing, but it goes along with the natural pacing of most stories.

This looks amazingly complicated, but really it's not. It totally keeps me on track, with none of those giant tangents. It looks kind of like this:

The sticky notes are things I want to remember later. I used this system to write SMOKE & MIRRORS, my YA Historical Fantasy that is out on submission now, and it was SO HELPFUL. I finished that book so quickly, and all the pieces just fell into place. I was so relaxed and happy with the way it went together, I don't think I will ever go back to pantsing again.

This is not to say there weren't any surprises, or that if you plot you've destroyed creativity. I still have things happen that I didn't expect, little twists and turns. But the BIG moments are all here, like a road map for me to follow. And I can concentrate on the characters and the setting and all the other things that go into a good story.

Think about the stories you've read and see if you can't find some of these elements and fit them into a chart like this!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Critiquee’s Charter

No matter how many times it happens, I’m always surprised when someone gets upset by feedback from his/her fellow writers. I imagine we’ve all had (or seen) our share of unpleasantness resulting from both verbal and written critiques we’ve given.

It got me thinking. Maybe we ought to have a universal charter that people should read before submitting their work for feedback.

It would go something like this:
The Critiquee’s Charter 

1.      As the person submitting my work for critique, I understand that people have taken time away from doing other things to provide me with feedback, something which will undoubtedly help me more than it will them. Though I may feel hurt by their comments, and may not agree with their observations, or decide not to implement the changes they recommend, I will keep that to myself.   I will remember that I am grateful, and take the time to thank them for their input.


2.      I recognize that not everyone has the same critique style. Therefore, unless we’ve agreed on a specific method beforehand, I will accept feedback in whatever form the critiquer cares to provide it.


3.      I want people’s honest opinions. If they give them in a way that upsets me, I will recognize that one person’s ‘rude git’ is another person’s ‘straight-talker’, and re-read item #1 until I feel better.


4.      If all I want is applause and a pat on the back for a job well done, I will not waste my critiquers’ time asking for feedback. If I do, I understand that it serves me bloomin’ well right if I don’t get the glowing praise I expected.


5.      If I think the critiquer just didn’t ‘get it’, I will re-read #1 until the urge to say so has passed.


6.      If I think the critiquer doesn’t know what he/she is talking about, I will re-read #1 until the urge to say so has passed.


7.      If I want to disagree with a critique, I will re-read #1 until the urge to do so has passed.


8.      If several people make similar observations, I will at least consider the possibility that, despite my undoubted genius, I may have missed something important.


9.      If someone gives me a harsh critique, I promise to remember that I am (in years at least) a grown-up, and will resist any temptation to ‘repay’ them when I review their work.


10. I understand that some people actually set out to critique in a spiteful, hurtful, manner. They like to show off at the expense of others, and have little or no interest in helping others improve their work. On those rare occasions when I come across these people, I will remind myself that idiots like this are the exception rather than the rule. I will learn to recognize and ignore them, and remember that (as a certain old gran used to say), ‘It’s better to be upset by people like that, than to be people like that.’


11. At all times, I will try to remember that critiques are just opinions which, like spouses and children, can be embraced or ignored however one sees fit. 


12. ________________________________________________

I left #12 blank. What would you put in there?
Has someone you critiqued ever got upset at you?


Born in England, Jon Gibbs, now lives in New Jersey, where he’s a member of several writers' groups, including SCBWI and The Garden State Horror Writers. He is the founder of The New Jersey Authors’ Network and

Jon's debut novel,
Fur-Face (a Middle Grade fantasy about unusual friendships, unlikely alliances, and wanting to fit in), was published in eBook form by Echelon Press in 2010 (click here to see the trailer).

His presentation/workshop, The Fine Art of Self Promotion is based on entries from his popular online journal, An Englishman in New Jersey.

Jon can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Spider Dance

Come on. We've all done it. That strange little dance when you run into a spider web and think the crawly might, just might, still be on your body somewhere.

I witnessed my first spider dance yesterday. A young girl, walking along, suddenly begins to jerk and gyrate and scrutinize her body, looking for that crawly. She lifted one arm, then bent her leg, twisted her body, rubbed at her pants and shirt, then shuddered, glanced up, grinned to see others watching her, and walked on. Hopefully, the crawly was hastening it back to a shrub, where it could collect itself and begin a new web.

I don't like spiders. At all. I can tolerate them now, at my advanced age, if they are outside, in the woods, away from me. I've even taken to "relocating" them, alive, if I find them on the side of my house, near a doorway or window. I mean, really, I have over an acre of woods here. I think they can find someplace far better to build their sticky little condo than on the side of my house.

What I can't tolerate is having spiders inside my house. If I can see them. I once read that we are never more than 5 feet from a spider. That gives me the creeps. If they stay out of sight, I'm fine with it. But if I see them, inside my house, all bets are off. Not that I can stand getting close enough to actually kill them outright. I use something very long and rush them outside as quickly as possible. But occasionally, they take that big ride on the toilet waterslide. I'm sure the thrill of swirling around and around with a gallon of water doesn't have the outcome they might think.

I get worried, though, when I kill a small spider. I mean, what if it's a baby? What if its mother is like, a hundred times bigger? What if that HUGE mother spider is out for revenge? What then? So, if it's a tiny spider, I let it alone. I don't need that sort of anxiety. (See why I'm a writer? A very vivid imagination)

I am always amazed when I watch shows on the telly, or a movie, and they are dashing helter skelter through the woods. Remember the scenes from Star Wars? On those little flying scooters when Skywalker is zipping through the woods? Or on LOTR when Arwen was racing her horse through the misty forests? Even while they are running for their lives, I'm thinking, "why aren't they running into spider webs out there?" I guess it would take some of the suspense and excitement out of it were Luke or Arwen to suddenly stop and start doing the Spider Dance. But it would sure add a lot of realism to me!