Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You

I wanted to hate this book. When it arrived, I read the acknowledgements first and the author thanked her agent for having the patience and belief in her to wait six years for the book to be completed. As a writer myself, this is the kind of thing that drives me wild with jealousy. But I'm here to tell you: her agent was right. This book is fantastic.

In Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng follows the Lee family as they deal with the repercussions of their eldest daughter's mysterious death. It's the 1970s and the Lees are the only mixed race family in their community. When high school junior Lydia is found dead, it's unclear how much the isolation of being the only "Oriental" played a part. What does become clear is that her family didn't know her as well as they thought. With an omniscient narrator, the author is able to explore the thoughts and memories of each character so the reader understands everything they knew and everything they never told each other.

Ng's debut is a beautiful exploration of family dynamics and the struggle to know and be known in spite of miscommunication, secrets and silence.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

That time of year again

I do my best to avoid sweat shops. I don't buy clothing very often and when I do, I either spend more money for something made in America or I hit a thrift shop. My favorite new find is ThredUp.com. I recently spent around $50 for ten brand name items in good condition - including a pair of American made jeans.

Holiday shopping can be incredibly difficult. I've stumbled across a few gift guides, but their suggestions are often very specific and pricey. ABC News says that if  each of us spent just $64 on American made goods during our holiday shopping, the result would be 200,000 new jobs. I think that's a challenge worth taking and this is my fourth year of doing my part.

I've always had good luck with the American made section of FatBrainToys, which has reasonably priced, educational toys and games.

When I'm looking for US made kids clothes, I usually go straight to etsy.com, but I have also found deals at CDWKids.

When you buy this LifeStraw water filter, a year of clean drinking water is provided to a child in a developing country.

For several years now, my family has decided to donate to charity in lieu of gifts to each other. We have given to UnicefHeiferCharityWater, and OxFam to name a few. Helping someone on the other side of the world to become self-reliant feels better to me than receiving a bunch of things I really don't need. (And it saves on standing in the exchange line on December 26th.) It's much more consistent with the Christmas spirit.

Before selecting a charity, I always check them out at Charitynavigator.org to find out how much of donations go to services and how much they pay the CEO. (I can't stand charity CEOs who make millions.) I recommend checking out your charity here before donating. You can even look at their list of top-rated charities if you need ideas.

I'm always looking for new shopping sources. Please share your favorites in the comments section.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fan letter to Ani Difranco

In Austin Kleon's book Steal Like an Artist, he suggests writing a public fan letter to one of your artistic heroes. I actually have several and I like the idea of creating blog posts for each one eventually. I'm starting with one of my earliest.

I discovered Ani Difranco when I was in high school. Her self-titled debut album was acoustic singer-songwriter perfection. Her music challenges sexism and war and the status quo as well as tackling love and heartbreak. I'm grateful to have found such a powerful role model in those years when many girls are making do with female pop stars who conform to some pretty gross social standards.

Over the years, she has experimented with different musical styles but her lyrics continue to knock me out. As a writer myself, I am so impressed by her ability to capture a feeling in a few words, to convey the most complicated emotion in a three minute song.

This month, I've been struggling with my current WIP as I participate in NaNoWriMo. I have five characters whose narrated chapters overlap as the story moves forward. Last week, I was feeling a bit stuck when I thought of a lyric from one of my favorite Ani songs, Overlap:

i search your profile for a translation
i study the conversation like a map
'cause i know there is strength in the differences between us
and i know there is comfort where we overlap
I felt these familiar lyrics in a new way, more like confirmation than inspiration. I felt like: oh yeah, that's what I'm doing. As if part of me had known it all along.

As I kept listening to the song, I heard something else that resonated:

i build each one of my songs out of glass
so you can see me inside them, i suppose
or you could just leave the image of me in the background, i guess
and watch your own reflection superimposed.

Switch out the word "song" for "book" and you've got me. Although I write fiction, people who know me well will find pieces of me throughout my stories. And, hopefully, readers discover something meaningful about themselves, too.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Book Review: Steal Like an Artist

I hate how-to writing books. It's not that I don't think writing skills can be learned, I just think that writing is too individual for the one-size-fits-all sort of advice typical of these books.

But the title of this book intrigued me. I am always saying that I "steal" the things I write about. And the opening pages sold me: "First, you figure out what's worth stealing, then you move onto the next thing," Austin Kleon writes. "When you look at the world this way, you stop worrying about what's 'good' and what's 'bad' - there's only stuff worth stealing and stuff that's not worth stealing."

When I got the book, I was a little disappointed at first. The emphasis is on "stealing" from other artistic influences (drawing a clear line at plagiarism) rather than from your own life experience. Kleon even goes so far as to challenge the "write what you know" advice often given to writers. Instead, he suggests you should "write what you like." This resonated with me, though I'd say I do both.

The second half of the book talks a bit more about how to stay inspired, how to seek out the right kinds of influences and keep working at your art. One thing he recommends is writing public fan letters. I plan to do this in my next blog post. Until then, consider this post a little fan letter for Austin Kleon, writer of the only book about writing that I've ever truly enjoyed.
"In the beginning, obscurity is good.. There's no pressure when you're unknown. You can do what you want. Experiment. Do things just for the fun of it. When you're unknown, there's nothing to distract you from getting better."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

World Building - On writing fiction

"World building" is term I've heard used mostly in the context of science fiction or fantasy writing. It refers to the way these writers create an imaginary place and all the elements within that place conform to a certain set of rules: the character's histories, the basic physics of the environment, what's at stake in the storyline.

In a way, all writers of fiction are world builders. The imaginary world that I constructed for my first novel, Monsoon Season, is the same world that exists in A Long Thaw and Finding Charlie. Characters overlap because they're inhabiting the same space.

The forest fire that was central to Riley and Ben in 2003 is remembered by Charlie in 2016. This same event had different meanings to the different cast of characters, as is true in real life. What was symbolic of the end of a relationship in one book is a reminder of maternal abandonment in the other.  In the parallel universe I created, these stories were going on simultaneously, unbeknownst to the characters involved.

Practically speaking, this can be a lot of work. I don't just need to maintain a timeline for each book; I need to be sure each one works in relation to all the
others. I've started keeping spreadsheets.

The stories in these books exist on their own and can be read in any order, independently from each other. I don't write sequels, but because all of my characters live in the same world, there's an opportunity to revisit the past. Readers of Monsoon Season will find a familiar face in Finding Charlie, a partial answer to the "where are they now?" question I've gotten since the first book came out.

Friday, November 6, 2015


Finding Charlie has been selected for publication by KindleScout and I'm over the moon. The journey toward publication can get grueling at times and this feels like the culmination of a lot of hard work - and not just the last 30 days with the campaign.

I am so grateful to everyone for their support - their votes and facebook shares and retweets and thread bumps and good vibes!  I am lucky to have amazing people in my real life and a writing community that means so much to me. Through this process, I really felt like ya'all had my back. Thank you so much.

In the coming days, I'll be writing an article about what I learned from the KindleScout process for my fellow writer friends eager to give it a try.

For the fans: Thanks for the votes! I'll let everyone know when the book is out and for those of you who get advanced, free copies, I hope you'll leave a review on Amazon. It's the best way to spread the word.

At some point, I'll get back to my NaNoWriMo project. I'm about a third of the way through and feeling a new burst of energy from this win. Finding Charlie was a Nano project from 2013, so it's proof that it works.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015!

This is the third year I'm participating, and like the other two, I'll be a "nanorebel". I'm less focused on meeting the 50,000 word goal and more on setting aside writing time every day. I've started with a project that already has 18,000 words and I added 1,000 words today. If I keep up this pace, I should finish with a solid first draft.

My last novel, Finding Charlie, was my nano project in 2013, so I know it works.

Looking back over previous blogs, I found these helpful tips for time management:
  • Skipping the news: I'm kind of obsessive about this, so it is going to free up a lot of my time, but it's also going to be really hard. I'm alerting all those close to me that I'm going to need an email or phone call if some huge news event happens. I already don't have cable so I got all my news off the internet.
  • Pajamas all day: Okay, not every day, but some days. I'm kicking off day one in my yoga pants... that I slept in.
  • Easy dinners: I don't pretend to be a fancy cook, but this month I'm going even more bare bones. No cutting meat or chopping veggies. If the recipe requires more than 20 minutes of prep, I'll save it for December. 
  • No more reading: I finished a book yesterday that I may blog about, but that's it. 
That's a good list to start. I just reactivated my account at nanowrimo.org and may have to limit the time I spend there. They have forums and twitter links and pep talks and notices for local events. It's like Facebook for writing nerds. You can connect with me there- I'm Katie78.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Finding Charlie - Rationalizations

Before Olivia leaves Carmen, she finds one more piece of information about her sister's disappearance:
            I rubbed my palms against the top of my thighs. They were so clammy. I was worried for nothing, I told myself. She was nineteen and I hadn’t heard from her in a day. A day was nothing. “If you hear from her, tell her to call home, okay?” I stood up.
            Carmen nodded.
            Before I left, I tried the door to the car, but it was locked. I cupped my hands around my eyes and peered through the window. There, sitting in one of the cup holders, was Charlie’s cell phone. 
If you'd like to read more, check out the full excerpt on my KindleScout campaign:  https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1ZEZ9K2DLCYOB

Monday, October 26, 2015

Finding Charlie - "This isn't like her"

When Olivia goes to Carmen's house, she gets a few clues about Charlie's disappearance. For one thing Charlie has left her car in the driveway. Carmen tells Olivia that Charlie was at her house the night before and had been up talking with her new boyfriend, Isaac, when Carmen went to bed. Olivia didn't know Charlie had a boyfriend, so this is news.
            I looked at my watch. My father would have gotten home by now. No phone call. “This isn’t like her.” I said it like a statement, but I was looking for reassurance.
            “I know.” Carmen wrapped her bare arms tightly around herself. “She always texts me back. Even if I text her in the middle of the night. She always keeps her phone with her while she sleeps and she will just text me back a smiley face so I know she’s listening.”
            Among a group of framed photographs on the surface of a dresser, there was a shot of the two girls with their faces pressed together, grinning. They were both missing their front teeth, which would make them, what, six or seven? Their faces were painted like butterflies, caterpillar middles along the bridge of their noses, antennae on their foreheads. It had been taken at the 4th Avenue Street Fair; there was a copy of that photograph at my dad’s house.
            I turned back to Carmen. “How well do you know this Isaac?”
If you'd like to read more, check out the full excerpt on my KindleScout campaign:  https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1ZEZ9K2DLCYOB

Monday, October 19, 2015

Finding Charlie - What does Carmen know?

Are you getting worried about Charlie? Here's the end of what I posted last time:
            It was Carmen who came to the door. I could just make her out through the mesh of the security screen: dark hair flat on one side, wild on the other. She was wearing baggy shorts that hung low on her tiny hips and a red tank top.
            “Olivia,” she whispered. She reached to unlock the security door and I pulled it open. Her face crumpled and she stepped back. “Oh, god.”
And here's more:
            It was not the welcome I had expected. I tried to hold my voice steady. “Where’s Charlie?”
            Carmen blinked and her face smoothed. “You don’t know?”
            “No, I don’t know!” I was yelling. Suddenly, I felt like I wanted to hit her, this girl I’d known forever who was nearly as much a sister as my sister was. She knew something; she was hiding something, taunting me.
            Carmen put a hand to her chest. “Oh, you scared me. I thought you were coming to tell me something had happened.”
            “Something like what?”
            “I don’t know. I’ve been texting her all day and she hasn’t texted back. I’m worried.”
            “Her car’s in your driveway.”
            “I know. She was here last night.” And then, finally: “Come in.” She shut the door behind me and led me into the living room.
            “My dad was calling the house all day,” I said.
            She sat in the oversized recliner in the corner and pulled her feet under her, making herself even smaller than she already was. “My parents are away. I don’t answer the house phone. It’s never for me.”
            I sat down on the couch across from her. “Carmen, if you were worried about her, why didn’t you try to get a hold of me or my dad?”
            She looked startled by this suggestion. “I didn’t want to get her in trouble.”
            I sighed. Kids. “So she was here last night?”
            Carmen nodded, warily.
            “Did she sleep here?” 
            “Well, I thought she did. But, I’m not sure.”
If you'd like to read more, check out the full excerpt on my KindleScout campaign:  https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1ZEZ9K2DLCYOB

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Finding Charlie - Who saw her last?

In the previous excerpt, Olivia poo-pooed her father's worry and to further placate him, she's gone to see Charlie's best friend:
            Carmen lived in one of those developments with three different housing plans repeated a few dozen times and painted in HOA approved pastels. It would be easy to get lost if I didn’t know the neighborhood by heart, having spent all the years since I got my license picking up or dropping off. I took the corner onto her street and was awash with relief: there, in the stubby driveway, was Charlie’s yellow Volkswagen bug.
            By the time I rang the doorbell, my relief had already turned to anger. What was she thinking? How could she let us worry like that- especially my poor father. He’d missed a day at work, something he never did, indicative of just how scared he’d been.
            I banged on the door, righteous adrenaline behind every thud.
            It was Carmen who came to the door. I could just make her out through the mesh of the security screen: dark hair flat on one side, wild on the other. She was wearing baggy shorts that hung low on her tiny hips and a red tank top.
            “Olivia,” she whispered. She reached to unlock the security door and I pulled it open. Her face crumpled and she stepped back. “Oh, god.”
 To read the full excerpt and vote for my book on KindleScout, please go here:  https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1ZEZ9K2DLCYOB

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Finding Charlie - She's Missing!

As part of my KindleScout run, I'm sharing excepts from the beginning of my new novel, Finding Charlie. Olivia continues with her normal day, going to the office where she works as a physical therapist. It isn't until she leaves that she learns that this may not be a normal day after all:
            My father was in the waiting room when I left for the day. He looked so out of place- my big, strong dad in a room of broken, old people- and I realized he’d never visited me at work before. As I got closer, I saw he hadn’t shaved, which was abnormal for a week day.  And, come to think of it, he was not dressed for work, wearing jeans and a T-shirt that promoted a political candidate who had run and lost years ago.
            He looked up as though he’d forgotten where he was, lost in the pattern of the carpet. “Olivia.”
            He wasn’t smiling to see me. I touched his arm. “What’s wrong?” I felt like I was bending over him, a little boy cowering over a broken toy. But he was taller than me.
            And then he stood up straighter and put his arm around me and was in charge again. I was relieved to be ushered out the woosh of the automatic door and into the warm evening air under his direction.
            Once outside, in relative privacy, he stood me in front of him and gripped my upper arms. “Charlie’s missing,” he said, getting right to the point.
            “She’s what?”
            “She didn’t come home last night. I can’t reach her on her cell.”
            I let out the breath I’d been holding, smiled warmly, condescendingly. “Daddy. She’s nineteen. I’m sure she just stayed out with a friend. Maybe she turned off her phone.”
            He let go of my arms then. “That’s what the police said.”   
            “The police?”          
            “They aren’t taking it seriously because, legally, she’s an adult.” He said “legally” like it was a made up word. Clearly, she wasn’t really an adult. Unfortunately, I tended to agree.
And so it begins. I'll share more on in the coming days as Olivia begins to lose her cocky certainty that Charlie's fine. To read the full excerpt and vote for me in the competition, go here: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1ZEZ9K2DLCYOB

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Finding Charlie Excerpt

Part One - Olivia

Tuesday, April 22nd 2016:

It was the neighbor’s dog that woke me.

The curtained window was outlined in sunlight. The thick fabric had been advertised as “black-out curtains”, but there are some things that are simply too much to ask for. Even this early, there was no keeping the day outside.

Rick’s arm was heavy across my chest, trapping me in the bed like a stupid metaphor for this relationship. As if I needed it underlined. Officially, we’d broken up three months ago. But, in that time, I’d managed to wake up this way more times than I wanted to count.

And so begins the day Olivia discovers her little sister is missing. It starts like any other day, the self-centered worries that will seem irrelevant in just a few hours. She doesn’t know yet.

Read more on my profile page for the KindleScout campaign:


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Finding Charlie on KindleScout

In September, Finding Charlie won a crowd sourcing contest at Authonomy.com. I've had dozens of positive responses from literary agents who ultimately passed on representation. Before I go the self-publication route, I've decided to do a KindleScout run.

As a hybrid author, I've seen both sides of publishing and know there are advantages and disadvantages to either path you choose. I think KindleScout is somewhere in the middle and I'm excited to give it a shot.

Finding Charlie is commercial women's fiction, told with alternating narrators. When Olivia's younger sister goes missing, Olivia is forced to consider that she may not have known her as well as she thought. Charlie's disappearance feels a lot like their mother's disappearance all those years ago and it opens old wounds, pushing family members to reexamine the past.  

This is a family drama that deals with the repercussions of maternal abandonment.  It takes place during the summer in Tucson, Arizona - the longest season of the year. Readers of Jodi Picoult, Sue Miller, and J. Courtney Sullivan would appreciate this story.

My campaign has just launched on the KindleScout site. I'd appreciate if you coiuld take a moment to give your support: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1ZEZ9K2DLCYOB

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Spotlight on Cass McMain

Cass McMain is someone I refer to as one of my "writer friends". We've never met in person but we've exchanged critiques of our books - I got to read Sunflower and Watch before they were available to the general public!

We met on Authonomy.com, a writer's website, years ago. Cass goes by the name Helianthus. She's known there as one of the few members who'd read a book straight to the end. And if you wanted feedback, you had to beg for it and sign a thick skin waiver because she is determined never to crush a writer's spirit.

Authonomy is shutting down at the end of the month and for those of us who spent years there, it's a tough goodbye. Cass and I had a similar experience - both of us were "discovered" by our publishers because we posted our books there. She was one of the main participants in my favorite forum thread ever - The Alphabet Thread - a totally silly experiment that went on for a year or so and might only have been funny to those of us who contributed. We've been members for close to the same amount of time and have become attached to the place and the people we met there. Here are some of her thoughts as the site gets ready to close:

I'm going to miss the place. I hated what it had become but I sure loved what it once was. 

I came to Authonomy mostly to support a friend who loaded a book there. She left almost immediately, but I like to give things a fair try, you know… so I stayed. By the time Autho closes, I will have been there almost five years.

I didn’t think I’d have the guts to put my book up, because I was sort of afraid of the reception, and what people might say. Of course, after a few months of watching I couldn’t help but wonder what people would say about it, so I did put it up for comment. That was Sunflower. I was startled by the positive comments I got, and emboldened by the people who read the whole thing and liked it. Several Authonomy readers were impatient with it and said it was too slow-paced. I wrote my second book with the Autho audience in mind: much faster pace, more hooks. And Watch did get a more favorable reception on Autho than Sunflower had. So much so, that when I was contacted by a publisher I immediately assumed it wasWatch he wanted to talk about. But he wanted Sunflower, the slower-paced story he had seen on Authonomy during a brief time on the site.

I can thank Authonomy for that, I suppose, as I’d never have had the guts to directly seek a publisher for my work. But I think the site never worked at all as advertised; the very best use of it was as a platform for writers to network with each other, learn from each other. And of course, do battle with each other. I met some great enemies there. Also some truly wonderful people that I hope to call true friends for the rest of my life. The internet being what it is, friends flit in and out like electronic butterflies, but I do think the bonds formed on artistic sites like Authonomy are strong, due to the nakedness you have to exhibit with each other. So it’s that which I will miss most: the group of people I had become accustomed to walking around naked with.

It was a time, you know. It was quite a time.

Follow Cass on her blog. She's a funny woman.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Honey and I are building a camper-trailer. What that means is that he does all the hard stuff - plumbing, carpentry, etc - and I pick stuff out and contribute little artsy-fartsy flourishes.

I think we picked out the flooring together. Either that, or he let me pick it out and let me think we were of one mind. Here it is:

Besides picking stuff out, I had one job - designing the counter. Here's how it turned out:



all together.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Interview with Author Alison Boulton

Years ago, I discovered a book called Tom's Daughters on a writing website and it was so good that I bought a version when it was self-published. It was the first e-book I ever purchased and remains one of the best I've read. I still remember the characters like they were real people. So when I heard that the author, Alison Boulton, was publishing a second novel - I jumped at the chance to do an interview.
To read the entire interview, you can go to todaysauthor.com. I'll include an excerpt here.
KO: Tell us about Chasing Sunflowers. Who is your audience?
AB: Chasing Sunflowers is the story of Kate, who moves to Amsterdam with her husband and young son. Lost and lonely in a new city, she develops a passion for the paintings of Vincent van Gogh. Her decision to study them leads her to artist Rudy de Jong and following in Vincent’s footsteps, she makes a trip to Arles which transforms her life.
So, it’s a book about a woman who steps outside her own life, and how the experience changes her. There’s quite a lot about Amsterdam, the south of France and Vincent van Gogh too.
My first audience is me, since it was me I told the story to first and I liked it. So after that people a bit like me, I suppose; usually female, maybe over 25, though my daughters who are 20 and 22 enjoyed it too.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Spotlight on Declan Conner

Thriller/crime author and fellow Authonomy.com member Declan Conner talked to me about his experiences in publishing and his thoughts on the writing site's closure:

In 2008 I found myself with time on my hands and decided to fulfill a dream of writing a book that had been simmering in my head for many years. Like many new to writing, I didn’t have a clue what to do with the MS, other than I knew I would need to find a literary agent when it was finished. What I found was that writing was a lonely pastime. There wasn’t anyone to turn to for advice that I knew of in my circle of friends. Twelve months later and I had a completed manuscript of 100,000 words. There was no way I could determine if I had a viable commercial story, pretty much the same as other first time authors. I did what many do and joined the ranks of the literary slush pile merry-go-round. It is only now when I look back that I see how high the bar is set and why so many fail at the slush pile stage, in many instances just by not knowing the basics.

Many submissions later, with nothing more than form rejection letters, I was none the wiser as to why it was not getting past the first base. I decided to invest in my work and I put it to an editor. Fortunately for me they were not in it for the money. Five chapters in, they pointed out the errors of my way as well as my strengths and pointed me in the direction of a new writers’ site called authonomy. Long and short is, I ditched the MS and started again, uploading my work in progress for a new project to authonomy. That was in 2009.

In the early days, for me as well as many others on the site, it was all about the competition to get to the editors desk. Sure enough, with persistence I got there. Along the way I received a lot of good advice, but also a lot of poor advice. It also stopped me from concentrating on writing a next book. I am however thankful I got to the desk. The editor’s review was something of an anti-climax and not worth the effort it took to get to the ED. The reason I was thankful was to realize the futility of the game. It wasn’t just the stress of the game to get to the ED. Once there and the month end passed with the ED in the bag, it was like falling into an abyss and the loneliness took over again. That led to some serious soul searching. Once the illusion of publication by Harper Collins was out of the way, then that’s where the usefulness of the site kicked in.

I have learned so much from authonomy over those 6 years in every aspect of the publishing industry and genre crafting and writing. I’ve also met many other authors whom I learned to trust to give solid advice. I don’t usually submit to agents, having made the decision to self-publish. I am one of those who will never forget the “not knowing” so I stuck around on the site not just for feedback on new works, but to give advice and for those who wanted to take the self-publishing route. I even set up declanconner.com which is dedicated to those who wished to self-publish, with free guides on formatting.

As for the writing, I’ve self-published a decent catalogue of thrillers. I’ve also had some of my shorts translated both into German and Portuguese. There have been some successes along the way and some disappointments, but more than anything, logging into authonomy every day was a great motivator to keep going. I for one will be sorry to see it go, not as much for me, but for those new to the craft. I’m just thankful for the apprenticeship. I’m also thankful that other writers’ sites have developed along the way for new authors. I’m also grateful that there is now a wealth of information on the Internet that wasn’t there when I first started, both for those who wish to self-publish, or who wish to follow the traditional route.

No doubt I will find another site and meet up with many old faces and avatars, but for now I am preparing two full-length books that did the rounds on authonomy. One was uploaded on the site as Night Girl. That one is with an editor now and is due for publishing in September 2015 with the new title of, In Search of Jessica. The other was uploaded as Chimera Dawn, now titled, The Killers Among Us and due for publication January 2016.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Spotlight on Bradley Wind

Last week HarperCollins announced it would close down its writing community, Authonomy.com. I recently had the chance to talk to fellow member Bradley Wind about his experience on the site and his thoughts on its closing.

"I was writing without sharing my work for years. I finally started submitting to agents and was happy to sign with Luke Janklow, but he didn't sell Bulb in that early form (surprising he signed me for it at all really) and as I was nearly finished A Calculated Embellishment I decided to look for some online groups where I might get feedback before submitting again. I'd never received feedback before Luke so it was a real eye-opener to join Authonomy.

I didn't go to school for writing, and mostly just decided I wanted to write a book, picked up an ax and started swinging. But in those early days members like Bluestocking (Maria Bustillos - who's gone on to write for the New Yorker and the Awl) among others were incredibly kind and supportive.

All the forum dramas were already happening and it was fun to follow. All that funny anger over silly stuff like spam aka marketing of ones book, and "gaming the system". The site was flawed but basic enough to enjoy and when I landed on the desk in ...what was it... 2009? with A Calculated Embellishment and then given the pass to the Writers festival in York UK as a prize - well, that made it all worthwhile. 

Although, possibly an equal reward was the amount of reviewing/reading I did to get to the desk.
All those first chapters = great writing lessons, and test of endurance! I made terrific friends on Authonomy - many of which continued off the site: Lee Mundell, Rena Rossner, Sandie Dent, Freddie Omm, Simon Kearns, Billie Storm, Dai Lowe, Jane Alexander, Gerry Dailey(RIP), Daragh McDonnell, Marcella O'Connor, Cait Coog, Oliver Johns...so many. 

The help kept coming from many smart and generous members and  I started feeling guilty about what I was offering in return (crappy little) but when I saw a need for bookcover help I found my in.

Since Bulb made the desk (and I got that lame review, ha) I've been busy working on a couple projectsI've got another novel I've been chipping away at. I've finished writing and illustrating a children's book...mainly done for my girls, but one day I may push to publish it. ( I'm not a Robot, I'm a Unicorn!I've started another children's book - reworking a Thich Nhat Hanh story into one for children.

Shame what happened to Authonomy. But from the folks I met in York that managed the site, I'm not sure it ever really had the backing and great interest from HarperCollins - a test of sorts. I had hopes with the new site but obviously it needed to be more. 

Ah well. Hope those that contributed to it find success elsewhere. Big thanks to all of you - members, friends, and site developers."

Monday, August 24, 2015

Finding Charlie Cover

This is the brand new Finding Charlie cover. I hope you like it. I had such fun with Debbie at thecovercollection.com designing it. It really came out better than I could have imagined. She has such a great eye.

Finding Charlie is set to win the Authonomy.com editor's desk competition this month - right before the site closes it's doors. That'll be bittersweet.

The next step is entering Finding Charlie in the KindleScout competition. I'll keep you posted on that.

It isn't like Charlie to stay out all night without calling, but maybe Olivia doesn't know her little sister as well as she thought.

The police aren’t concerned when Charlie vanishes without warning, but the people who love her are worried sick. Even if the law considers her an adult at nineteen, Charlie's still the baby of her already broken family. Older sister Olivia is determined to figure out what's happened. She finds a lost cell phone, an abandoned car and a shady boyfriend she'd never met before. And he's not the only secret Charlie's been keeping.

This disappearance feels uncomfortably familiar, reminding Olivia and her father of another loss years before. But this will be different, Olivia swears. Charlie's coming back.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Interview with author JL Fontaine

I recently read The Mark and was lucky enough to get the author JL Fontaine (aka: Judith Williamson) to answer a few of my burning questions. This is the first book Williamson has had published and I was so impressed by her ability to get me to empathize with her deeply flawed characters. I find it really interesting to hear other writers talk about writing. I hope you do too!

KO: My first question is one that hit me in the middle of the night. I think I read a review that suggested the title was a reference to the biblical ‘Mark of Cain’ and Liam’s struggle to overcome his complicated history with his brother. But as I was thinking more about it, isn’t Laura ‘the mark’ because she is so vulnerable to the con? Or is it both or neither or purposefully ambiguous?
JW: Yes, there are two meanings to the word ‘Mark’. One is the Mark of Cain which according to the Bible, God placed on Cain after he killed his brother. But, also, Laura could well be a mark, in the sense of a conman’s singling someone out to trick them. 
To read more, check out the full review on Today's Author.

Monday, July 27, 2015

I was right

Not long ago, I had a three book deal with a traditional publisher. Even though sales for the first book were great, they didn't do anything to promote my second book and I decided to get out of my contract with them.

In the months since I launched A Long Thaw on my own, I've wondered whether that was the smartest way to go. I wanted control over how my work was marketed but I didn't really know if I could do it by myself. Here's what I said back in March
"Getting that agent to help negotiate the contract may have been the best $100 I ever spent. Instead of allowing my publisher to hold the rights for my book for ten years, I get them back in two. This means I can rerelease A Long Thaw, the book my publisher didn't promote, and see if I can do a better job."
Well the reports are in: I've already sold more books in the past four months than the publisher managed to sell in an entire year. I guess I'm done wondering if I made the right decision.

If you'd like to take a look at my debut, Monsoon Season, it's being sold by Hachette. My next book, Finding Charlie, will be out in the coming months.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Never Fail Meatloaf Recipe

Meatloaf is one of those traditional dishes that everyone should know how to make, but I never did. The first time I made a meatloaf, it tasted like a hamburger in a meatloaf shape. My boyfriend said it was fine (cuz he's sweet), but I knew better. I got advice from my friend Debbie who is such an amazing cook she should have her own restaurant.

This is how I do it and the boyfriend admits it is really good now:

1 lb hamburger
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 packet onion soup mix  (If you're fancy, you can use a real onion. I am not fancy.)
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup ketchup

I think the trick is getting the balance right so I try to stick pretty close to the measurements and mix evenly. I top it with a drizzle of ketchup that cooks up nice.

Bake @ 375 for 30 minutes! Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Interview with author Liz Hoban

I think it's so helpful to hear from other writers about their process and publishing experience, so I jumped at the chance to pick the brain of author Liz Hoban, who just had her second novel (third book) published last month.  Check it out!

I read your book awhile back for our women's fiction critique group. At the time, it had a different title- which leads me to my first question: How did the title change come about? Whose idea was it? How much input did you get?

Thanks so much for your interest in my latest book TheSecrets That Save Us.  The book was posted on Authonomy as A Fine Pickle – the odd thing about this title was I had it before I even had a story line for the book - a friend of mine had a later in life pregnancy and she said, “Well this is a fine pickle, isn’t it.” and from that point forward her baby’s nickname became Pickle.  And a storyline later took hold. 

After incredible feedback from the Woman’s Fiction Critique Group (WFCG) on Authonomy and with several other writers there believing the title was too light-hearted I was forced to consider a new title.  After making the editors desk in July 2014, I began sending queries out to agents and I received a very positive response from literary agent Elizabeth Weed.  She was no longer taking on new clients but gave me an encouraging critique of the first third of the book and when she commented that the title didn’t fit the heaviness of the material I knew I needed to change it. My son Ryan is my best reviewer and he had read the manuscript and suggested the title The Secrets That Save Us. 

The input from the WFCG was priceless and the book evolved from there.  The original story was written in first-person, POV from the two sisters but then after all the feedback from Authonomites and Elizabeth Weed I switched it to third person POV.  That took months of editing and even when I received the galleys from the publisher I found a few POV mistakes here and there.  It took a tremendous amount of editing but I am very happy with the outcome. 

Can you tell me a bit about your path to publication? This is your second book with this publisher so I'm assuming you're happy with them. How did you find them? How long did it take? Did you query many agents first or did you head straight to publishers?

I already had two other published books and had heard it was easier to get an agent with a bit of a writing resume.  Not true, I’ve learned, unless you have a best-seller.  I queried about ten agents, received excellent feedback but no representation.  In the end, I decided to go with my publisher for The Cheech Room since I knew they did nice work, paid a modest advance and work very closely with their authors. Part of the decision to take that easy route is because I have the attention span of a housefly and I really just wanted to see it completed and in print.  I find it very distracting to move on to a new writing project with loose ends of another hanging over my head.  Although I have several novels I’ve started – one is currently on Authonomy – Baby Mac -if the novel is completed, I am compelled to get it in print.  

I made a deal with myself years ago that I would never pay a publisher to publish my books and that the money would go only in my direction and not the other way.  Old LinePublishing is an independent publisher located on the East Coast in United States.  They print about 20 titles a year and as I mentioned they work closely with their authors.  When I was trying to find a home for The Cheech Room, I discovered a website called First Writer and it was there that I came across Old Line.  First Writer does charge a small annual fee but what I love about it is every day I get an e-mail from them with agents and publishers looking for new clients, along with contests, etc.   Not only did I get a publisher through them but I have since had a few short stories published with various periodicals – all from their daily recommendations.  After submitting the first time to the Old Line I heard back fairly soon – maybe a week.  With this second fiction book, The Secrets That Save Us, I heard back within a day but it’s probably because they already had me as a client.

After I finished the Cheech Room and prior to it being picked up by Old Line and way before I started The Secrets That Save Us, I got a writing offer I could not refuse.  My father had an amazing WWII/POW bomber pilot experience that didn’t come full circle until he was 92.  He had saved an Austrian village and in 2007 our family was invited to see the unveiling of a monument in the Alps in my father’s honor.  The whole thing was an unforgettable experience and I remember saying to him on the flight back from Europe how his story would make an excellent book and he said, “Well then write it.”  Of course, I am not a history enthusiast and have never attempted a non-fiction book but I decided I would spend the following year interviewing my father about the story and lo and behold I completed The Final Mission in two years (just so you have an idea - The Cheech Room took ten years)  Getting this book in print was like a writer’s dream come true because when I completed the manuscript I sent it out to ten publishers just to see if there was any interest and I received three phone calls that same day asking for the full manuscript.  We sold the book to Westholme Publishing because they offered the highest advance and seemed the most passionate about the project.  About a year later the book was in hardcover, paperback and e-book form.  It has currently sold over 10,000 copies and it is required reading for many colleges across the country as well as high schools. The best part of the book’s release was going to local Barnes and Noble bookstores and finding it on their shelves in the front of the store.   

The opening of The Secrets that Save Us is such a great hook. I dare anyone to read it and not need to read on. Tell us what the book is about and what genre it would fall under.

Although the book is fiction –contemporary literature genre - this book is very much steeped in the collapse of the World Trade Center.  My brother was a first responder – he survived that day and then the next day was able to get me to Ground Zero because I have a military ID and a medical license.  The devastation I saw 24 hours after the collapse changed my life and I knew that someday I would figure out a way to write about it without trivializing the experiences in a fictional account. 

The Secrets that Save Us is about two sisters who miss their train to their jobs in the World Trade Center’s North Tower on the morning of September 11th 2001.  Both are harboring deep secrets that will radically alter their lives.  The storyline revolves around the aftermath and there is a twist at the end the reader will not see coming which of course links to the start of the book you mention in your question. It was selected as One To Watch by Harper Collins whose editors described it as “…shades of Gone Girl and Before I Go To Sleep.”  The Cheech Room had also been a One to Watch and the nice thing about that is even though Harper Collins didn’t take-on either book – I was able to use the editors comments on the back cover of both books.    

I've heard rumors that your first book, The Cheech Room, might be made into a movie. Can you talk about that?

The Cheech Room was released in 2012 and is now in the process of being written as a screen play through my publisher – eventually it will go to auction and bidding in Hollywood.  It would be very nice to see this book made into a movie but that process takes years.  I was fortunate with The Cheech Room, (even though it took ten years to complete) that it was released the same year as The Final Mission so it sort of sailed on those coat tails. 

How long have you been a writer? How much time do you typically spend working on a book? How do you know when it's done?

I have always loved writing – kept journals as a teenager but it wasn’t until my sons were born that I began to get paid for writing.  For several years in my late twenties and early thirties as a stay-home mom I wrote magazine articles and newspaper columns. It wasn’t a lot of money but enough to make me feel good about what I was doing. 

Of course, my boys became teenagers and in 2000 I began writing The Cheech Room which is based loosely on something tragic that happened in my neighborhood.   The Cheech Room took a decade, The Final Mission was two years in the works, and The Secrets that Save Us was about three years.  It is difficult to say how long a book takes to write because so many other things can get in the way like employment, raising kids, family, etc. My goal at this point is to write one novel a year. I have a Young Adult series I am working on currently however my personal yearly deadline is December and I am behind schedule.  I try to write at least a page a day but occasionally fall short. 

Finally, here's a more philosophical question to end with: Why do you write?

It is very difficult to spend so much time on something and not see it in print and/or make any money so why do we do it? I write because I don’t know how not to is probably the best answer.  I was at a lake party this past weekend and there was a constant niggling in the back of my head that I needed to get home and get writing. I do not watch television although The Voice is my guilty pleasure.  I have a full-time job as a nurse practitioner at a college so there is no way to get any writing done at work which relegates the evenings and weekends.  It is easy to get distracted with writer’s sites and forums, etc.  I allow myself a half hour a day to surf writing forums and such but then I get down to business.  I also am an avid reader which makes writing a bit easier because it is studying the art of writing when you read other’s works.  I have a commute everyday so I do audio books, about two a week.  If I hear a turn of phrase I really like or I wish I wrote, I pull the car over and jot it down. I have written things on tissues with an eyeliner and even went as far as to write on my hand if it is something that inspires me. Unfortunately, writing is a very lonely business but if you are compelled to do it, you will carve out the time.  I am sure over the years my family got tired of seeing me behind a computer screen while they were having fun but just the other day I was thrilled when my oldest son who just turned 30 told me he had written a short story he’d like me to take a look at.  I wanted to say something like, “Are you sure you want to venture down that highway?”  But I told him I’d love to read his work – after all, if he’s been bitten by that bug there is only one cure - to write.                  

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The truth about agent queries

When I got my first book, Monsoon Season, published in 2012, I thought I'd made it. Really, it was just the beginning. After a lackluster release of my second novel, I got out of that contract and rereleased A Long Thaw on my own. Both books have kick ass reviews on Amazon, by the way. Meanwhile, I've been sending agent queries for Finding Charlie and getting the nicest rejections ever.

In fact, I've sent more than fifty queries for this book and I've gotten a really promising response. I've had requests for full reads from about a third of those, many from top agencies, like Writer's House, Trident, ICM, Levine Greenburg, etc. One of those agents called me on the phone to discuss my book.

I keep getting the same response. Here's the remix:
"We’ve determined that this particular project isn’t the right fit for our agency at this time.  As I’m sure you know, the publishing industry changes swiftly now, as do readers’ tastes and trends."
"Given how competitive the market is, I worry I'd have difficulty placing it. I'm going to step aside so you can work with an agent who will give your work the full enthusiasm it deserves."
"Do query others; you deserve an agent who will really fall in love with this, and who has the vision for your work that will help you achieve the career you want."
"We would like to encourage you to consider querying us with future projects as you may deem appropriate."
My debut novel sold over 10,000 copies. Finding Charlie is ranked #12 on Authonomy and is top rated on Book Country. I'm running out of ideas. The other great writers I know, even those with publishing history, are hitting a similar wall. So I think I'll reply to the latest agency rejection. What do I have to lose? Something like this:
"I appreciate your getting back to me. Your response echos the one I've gotten from more than a dozen agents who asked to read the full and then passed. I'm at the end of my list of agents to submit to.
 I have a super thick skin and would love an honest answer to this question: Do you think Finding Charlie is not ready for publication or is it just not right for your list? I'm sorry to put you on the spot but would really be grateful for your insight.
How's that? If I get some clarity, I'll pass it on. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Book Country

I've been posting chapters of my new book, Finding Charlie, over at Penguin's Book Country site. It is currently top ranked and on the front page of the site.

I don't really know what it means, but the Book County twitter account is tweeting about my book: