Category Archives: YA Fiction

Writer Wednesday: Hitting the Mark with Amy Durham

I am pleased to welcome author Amy Durham back to Writer Wednesday! Amy has a captivating new release, Asher’s Mark, a New Adult Romance book. Please check out the book’s description, excerpt and buy links after Amy’s wonderful guest post about doing the hard stuff.
by Amy Durham
My oldest son is a junior in high school. YIKES! It seems like just yesterday I was writing about him on my website as he was beginning middle school!
High school is a really fun stage in his life, as he’s discovering the things he loves to do, fine-tuning the things he’s good at, and beginning to make decisions about his future. I’m enjoying every minute of watching him become a young man.
When he was a freshman, he auditioned for All-State band for the first time. This is a rigorous audition process – that involves 2 different “cuts” – to determine the very best instrumentalists in the state. For his instrument (French Horn), only 20 players from the entire state are selected each year. He made it through the first cut, finishing 5th overall in our district. Already a tremendous accomplishment for a freshman competing against students who are sophomores, juniors, and seniors in high school. When he didn’t make it through the second cut to be one of the 20 selected, he was bummed. So was I. But not too terribly disappointed.

We had a talk about what it meant to do the “hard stuff”. Auditioning for All-State band, especially as a freshman, was hard. He didn’t have to do it. He CHOSE to do it. And choosing to do the “hard stuff” is how we improve, how we grow, and how we eventually “get there”. There’s such value in doing the hard stuff. When we stretch ourselves past what is comfortable or easy, that’s where we find who we truly are. Where, after several tries, we find success.

I told him it was sort of like writing a book. Writing a book is not easy, as all authors know. It’s difficult, toiling, gut-wrenching work. It takes a long time and can drain you mentally and emotionally. But authors choose to do it, because we know that by “doing the hard stuff” and stretching ourselves beyond where we’re comfortable, a book eventually comes to fruition. And with each “stretch” and each “completed product”, we grow and improve.

This idea is true no matter what area you pursue. So… dream big… run, don’t walk toward the things you want most out of life… even if it means you have to do the hard stuff. It’s always worth it in the end!

I agree with what Amy says in her post. It’s all too easy to slip into a comfort zone, doing the same thing day-after-day more because it’s comfortable than because it’s the best thing for us. I retired from the practice of law last year and threw myself off of a proverbial cliff to pursue a writing career. And boy, is it a hard thing! A full year later, I still feel like I’m trying to figure out my day, my routine and truly own my choice. But I can absolutely agree with Amy that doing the “hard stuff” is worth it. 

Back to Asher’s Mark, Amy’s newest release:

Asher’s Mark Book Description:
Asher’s Mark by Amy Durham
Grace Ballard has been
in love with Asher Howell for a long time. When she was sixteen, he became her
hero, and she fell head over heels for the boy with a ring through his eyebrow,
a big heart, and an unending sense of justice. But two years ago he left for
college without a backward glance, leaving Grace to wonder if she’d imagined
With no reason to wait
for Asher to return, Grace moved on, and Asher’s brother, Adam, stepped in to
help her pick up the pieces. But Asher never left her thoughts … or her heart.
Now, two years later,
tragedy brings Asher home and back into Grace’s life. The boy who left her
behind is now very much a man – a licensed tattoo artist, much to his parents’
dismay, and still carrying a major torch for Grace. But two years apart has
changed them both, and the things that happened during their separation may
create a divide that can’t be crossed.
Asher and his brother both left their mark on
Grace’s heart. Will Asher’s be able to stand the test of time?

**This New Adult romance features characters 18 years and older. However, this title does not carry a content warning, indicating readers should be over the age of 17.

Would you like a little preview? You’ve got it. Here’s an excerpt of Asher’s Mark:

I’m kissing Grace. Finally. Every molecule in my body screams with the rightness of it. How had I ever thought I could stay away from her? How could I

have put so much distance between us?
         I have no answers. All I know is that my arms are locked around her as her mouth
fuses to mine, and I never want to let her go.
         There are all sorts of reasons I shouldn’t be doing this… namely Adam… but I can’t stop. I don’t want to. Something in me shouts I saw
her first!
Two years of wanting her, loving her, have finally exploded between us. She’s in my arms. In my lap. Under my skin. In my heart.
She is everywhere and everything.
         Maybe to her it’s just a way to forget. A way to stop thinking about losing Adam. But I just don’t care. I don’t care at all.
         All that matters is that we are together in this moment.
         I pull back a fraction of an inch, still hugging her close. Her golden green eyes
are glassy and gorgeous, hazy with the desire we just stirred up. Strands of her auburn hair have escaped her ponytail and now hang wistfully around her
face. She’s so beautiful it makes me ache.
         She doesn’t look upset, which is a relief. I thought I’d gauged her reaction
correctly, but I’m glad to know I was right.
         She’d wanted to kiss me just as badly as I’d wanted to kiss her.
         I refuse to think too much about the ramifications of it.
         I run my hands up her back, from her waist to her shoulder blades, pulling her toward me again. Pressing a kiss to one eyelid, then the next, I take a deep
breath and speak.
         “Mom’s gonna text me any minute,” I say, already dreading the moment I’ll walk out her door. But I know it’ll be better to leave now, while things are still dreamy between us.
         Grace nods, letting her hands slide out of my hair, over my shoulders, then coming to rest on my chest. My stomach flips over.
         No one’s ever made me feel like this. Not even close. A simple touch from Grace does so much more than…
         I shove that thought way down and slam a lid on it, knowing that after all the stuff I’ve done the past year to try and forget Grace, I shouldn’t even be touching her.
        “I should go,” I whisper, leaning in to brush another kiss on her lips. “Before she gets antsy.”
         Grace smiles. “Okay.”
         “I don’t want to, though.” I grin back at her.
         All this talk about me leaving, and yet she’s still on my lap and my arms are still
wrapped around her. If I don’t go now, I might not ever.
         I stand up, taking her with me and placing her feet on the floor. I grab my button-up shirt from the love seat, throw it over my shoulder, and turn back to
face her. Our hands find their way to each other, fingers lacing together as we walk toward the door.
         I shift close before opening the door, intending to ask if I can see her tomorrow. On the bulletin board by the light switch, I see the picture… the picture I drew her just before I left for Flagstaff two years ago. Had it been
there the night before? I think back and realize it wasn’t. It must’ve been covered up by the big picture of Grace and Adam.
         Between last night and tonight she’d uncovered my picture. My mind races with what that might mean. I open my mouth, unsure what I’m about to say.
         But she speaks before I do. “We should probably talk about…” She doesn’t finish the sentence.
         But I know she means Adam.
         The guilt bounces around inside me, but I can’t find it in myself to regret what just happened. What I hope very much will happen again. Very soon.
         “Later.” I reach up and push a stray tendril of hair behind her ear, my hand lingering on the soft skin of her neck. “I know we’ll have to, but not right now. I just want to feel this right now.”
         She nods. “Me too.”

         Leaving her right then is about the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I do it, before something ruins what was absolutely the most perfect moment of my life.
*     *     *
If you’d like to check out more of Asher’s Mark, please use these handy buy links:

Author Amy Durham
After spending every work day with classrooms full of tweens and
teens, then going home to three boys of her own, two of whom fall into the
tween/teen category, you’d think that Amy Durham might like to leave the world
of teens and young adults behind. Not so!
Instead, she spends her spare moments – which sometimes consist of
waiting twenty minutes for her oldest kiddo to get out of band practice – with
her laptop and a multitude of teenage characters trying to navigate their way
through the twisted, difficult road of adolescence.
You might ask… “Why Young/New Adult Fiction”? Well,
because it’s what she knows. As a teacher and a parent, Amy is around teens and
young adults on an almost constant basis. And while it’s true they can be – ahem
– challenging, they are also full of life, vision, and dreams. And that’s a
really cool place to be.
Young Adult and New Adult Fiction allows young readers the opportunity
to find hope for the situations they find themselves in, find determination to
keep on going, and courage to pursue their dreams. It also allows adult readers
the chance to revisit the exuberance of youth, remember the joy and poignancy
of first love, and recall how it felt to dream with abandon.
Natalie Wright, P.C.




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Durham is a wife and mother, an author, a teacher, an avid reader, and a
musician. If she weren’t writing books, she’d be a celebrity chef!

You can touch base with Amy here:
Twitter – @amy_durham
Natalie Wright, P.C.




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Instagram – @authoramydurham


Writer Wednesday: Riding the Roller Coaster with Heather Sunseri

Today I welcome the lovely Heather Sunseri to Writer Wednesday. Heather is smart, funny and a damned good writer. I hope you enjoy her post as much as I did. And I look forward to reading her books, Mindspeak and her new release, Mindsiege. Why not pick up a copy for yourself? Links are below.

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Heather Sunseri,
Author of Mindsiege & Mindspeak

Hi, I’m Heather Sunseri, and I’m a recovering rule-follower-aholic.
Somewhere along the path to becoming a writer, someone insisted that I had to follow a certain set of rules if I had any hope in succeeding as a novelist.
I was told that I had to write 1000 words each and every day; I had to be a consistent blogger and blog often; I couldn’t introduce more than two characters in the first scene of any novel; it was imperative that I join a critique group; I would never make money with writing; traditional publishing was the only way to give my writing any merit; and the fact that I don’t like chocolate is the main reason I would never succeed as a novelist.
I kid you not. (Although someone may or may not have been joking about the chocolate. I’m not sure.) All of the above and many more absurd statements have been said to me on the bumpy road I’ve traveled to become a published writer. I’m sure you’ve had your own list of demands put upon you as you strive to reach a goal, whether it be in the realm of writing or something else entirely.
I realized one lovely September day more than two years ago as I sat in front of an agent (who I will not name) at the ACFW conference that I was done. D-O-N-E. I had hit my rock bottom of following all the rules.
It truly wasn’t that I didn’t respect the professionals that I had paid hefty conference fees to hear. The problem? The publishing world had hit a tough time. Really, the entire U.S. economy had hit a tough time. Agents were not accepting very many new authors. Publishers were not making deals. The outlook for aspiring writers was bleak. And with the odds further stacked against writers, I believe agents and publishers were frustrated and had nothing positive to offer many writers. And I got a full dose of this frustration when an agent read one page of my manuscript, looked up at me and said, “Your writing is good, but this will never sell. You’ve introduced like four characters on the first page.” And he went on to say other discouraging, you-didn’t-follow-the-rules-type statements.
This agent meeting came at the end of a long few years of blogging, writing according to what publishers and agents were “looking for,” trying to connect with certain authors and publishing professionals the way I read I was supposed to, and following many other rules. This meeting was my rock bottom, and I knew I had a choice to make.
I could stay the course, or change with an industry that was rapidly transforming, and is still racing at the speed of light to an unknown destination.
I had someone tell me not that long ago, “I feel like I missed the boat to self-publish.” My response? “It’s not a boat. It’s a never-ending roller coaster. You just have jump on while it’s on the uphill and enjoy the ride after it hits one of its peaks and then prepare for the next peak and hang on when it goes upside down.”

Here’s another thing. It’s no longer a debate about whether to self-publish or query agents and traditional publishers. For me, it never was. For me, it was a decision to make career choices that were best for me and what I wanted to write. And not be afraid to make a different choice the next time.
After I left that conference, I reassessed my writing career and aspirations, and realized I had been following all the wrong rules and advice, and for all the wrong reasons. My goal had been to win some publishing game — follow someone else’s arbitrary rules, play a game others had made up, and win some prize that no one could even define for me. A prize I wasn’t even sure I wanted anymore.
That was when it all changed for me. I began listening to my own voice. I thought about the books I enjoyed reading. I envisioned a certain audience that might enjoy my voice. And then I wrote the book that I wanted to write with no consideration as to whether agents or publishers would be interested. I stopped listening to all the publishing rules and wrote to entertain.
Mindsiege, by Heather Sunseri

I’m not sure I’ve gotten it completely right yet, or if I ever will. But I know that I’m enjoying the ride. And I also know now why following the rules was so frustrating for me once upon a time. While I was busy following the rules, the game was changing. And that’s the decision we writers face every day: Are we going to play the game created by others yesterday, or are we going create a new game based on the rules that continuously evolve?

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Heather Sunseri was raised on a tiny farm in one of the smallest towns in thoroughbred horse country near Lexington, Kentucky. After high school, she attended Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and later graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in accounting. Always torn between a passion for fantasy and a mind for the rational, it only made sense to combine her career in accounting with a novel-writing dream.

You can connect with Heather in the following places:

Sign up for her newsletter at

Heather’s latest release, Mindsiege, the sequel to Mindspeak, is available now. You can read blurbs about either and find out where the books are available on her website: The Mindsiege page will be constantly updated as Mindsiege goes live on each of the bookseller sites. Widgets

Writer Wednesday: Beth McNamara

Please welcome my guest, EN McNamara to this week’s Writer Wednesday. EN’s Young Adult series, The Jamie Keller Mystery Series, sounds like a fascinating read about real-world kids dealing with some heavy stuff. Check it out:

EN McNamara, Author

Greetings Readers,

My name is EN McNamara and I am the author of The Jamie Keller Mystery Series.

As I scan the popular YA titles, I can’t help but notice that vampires, sorcerers, werewolves and unicorns crowd the shelves. Often the theme is good over evil, light over dark, along with the message that you are the ruler of your own destiny. The Jamie Keller Mysteries are about real people, but the message is the same.

I believe that our mission in this life is to create our own world, and the earlier we learn this critical lesson, the happier and more peaceful our lives will be.  There is a hitch: negative thinking blocks our power. Before we can be masters of our universe, we have to get a handle on our thought process. A simple concept, but not always easy. My main character, Jamie Keller is learning many of these lessons – sometimes the hard way.

I think I am attracted to write for YA audiences because books were so meaningful to me when I was growing up. I also enjoy the middle-school crowd, as I find they possess a high level of hilarity along with very open minds. I’ve been a music teacher for the last six years so I’ve rock and rolled with the best of them.

My writing career began quite by accident. My partner, Jerry and I were mushroom hunting in our woods. Our new kittens Schwartz and Isaiah,  insisted on following us. The problem was that they had just been neutered that very morning and we were instructed by the Vet to let them rest. Out of concern we cut our trek a little shorter than usual, and the wee cats made it home without incident – they’re still alive today and quite fat. Later that evening as we sat by our wood-stove, over a glass of wine, we cooked up the bones to the first book, Off the Grid. I jumped up, grabbed my computer and began the story. It was finished thirty days later.
The Jamie Keller Mystery Series are about everyday people. The kids in the story are not super heroes.  They go to school, have chores, and worry about money and grades. They experience young love, unrequited love and the misery of jealousy. They have misunderstandings with friends and family members. They do good deeds, and they make mistakes. They dream – and sometimes they make their dreams come true.
Here are some short descriptions of the series:

Off the Grid -When Jamie Keller’s father is killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb, her mother decides to combat the financial and emotional stress by moving the family from Hamilton, Ohio to the rural town of Promise, Oregon.

Fourteen-year-old Jamie narrates the tale of the journey, intermingling descriptions of family dynamics with her own personal philosophy of life.
The victims of Jamie’s scrutiny include: older sister Jenny, who listens to praise music and wears a WWJD bracelet; younger brother Jake, contained and brainy, with know-it-all tendencies; and little sister Jana, lover of animals and sometimes the comic relief.

In Reno, Nevada, the mystery begins when Jamie’s mother fails to pick the kids up at the mall as had been previously arranged.

After waiting for hours in the blazing heat, brother Jake finally goes in search of his mom only to return with an amazing story. He has located the car, and everything in it is intact (including the family’s pet cats), but Mrs. Keller is nowhere to be found. Intensive searching proves futile. Their mother has vanished!

Nervous about becoming wards of the state of Nevada, and fearful of being put in separate foster homes, the Keller kids decide to avoid authority, choosing instead to take the gamble, and continue on to Promise, Oregon.

On the way into town, a giant JESUS banner is the first sign that Promise is in a bible belt. Jenny is thrilled, Jamie, not so.
Upon arriving at the ranch, the Kellers are met with further disappointment when they discover that the ‘ranch’ is nothing more than an old trailer, situated off the grid. Jake is in his element, with the challenge of solar panels, batteries and generators, but the girls are far from enchanted.

War, religion, world peace, inner peace, dealing with financial stress and self sufficiency are some of the key topics in this story.

Readers relate to the characters in Off the Grid, Over the Edge and In the Groove. The series can be read out of order but it’s much better to start at the beginning. If you do enjoy The Jamie Keller Mystery Series, I would sincerely appreciate a kindly review on Amazon.

Book 4 in the series, On the Brink, will be released in 2014.

Have a great summer Everybody,

EN McNamara
p.s. Last but not least, I’d like to thank Natalie Wright for hosting me on her blog – Thank you, Natalie!

Amazon Link

B&N Link


Teaser Tuesday: First Look at Emily’s Heart

Gothic Comments

~Magickal Graphics~

This is an excerpt from a scene that I’m working on for Emily’s Heart, Book 3 of the Akasha Chronicles. In this scene, Emily has just received a visit from the mysterious Draicha. He reminds her so much of Madame Wong, but Emily’s not sure of him. Is he a good guy? Or is he more bad news?

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I grabbed a potholder and opened the oven door, the smoke hitting me in the face. I coughed and gagged as I fanned the smoke away. I pulled the pizza from the oven, the edges like cinders.
My dinner. Black and unsavory, a bit like most everything else in my world.
The smoke alarm blared, but I didn’t dare open a window to get air. It would only alert the people in the shadows that I was easy prey.
I sat on the barstool where Draicha had been only minutes before. Instead of it being warm from his body heat, it was cold.
I pulled the card from my pocket and stared at it. The high-pitched screeching of the smoke alarm sang in the background but it sounded as if far off, down a tunnel, in another place.

       I was on a battlefield, my fellow warriors around me, facing an enemy made from the dark 

shadows of our fears, and I searched my mind for the answer to how one kills a shadow.

Manic Monday: Book Festival Booyah!

Wow, what a whirlwind of a weekend!

I spent the weekend at the Tucson Festival of Books (TFOB) and it was AMAZING!

I shared a booth with my writer pal Janine Caldwell, also a writer of YA fantasy fiction (the Vortex Series). Saturday we braved unseasonably (for Tucson) cold, rain and wind. But the die-hard book fans of Tucson and the Southwest braved the weather to take in the festival and buy books.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you who came out and took the time to meet us and hear about our work.

As an independent author, I meet most fans through my various internet connections. Virtual meetings are great and I couldn’t have connected with other writers and fans as far away as India and Australia without the internet.

BUT, there is nothing better than seeing the eyes of a potential reader light up when you tell her about the book she’s holding in her hand. And then to see the excitement of middle grade girls to read Emily’s adventures. Some of them actually cradled the book in their arms! That is priceless.

And the high school girls were eager for Book 2, Emily’s Trial. Seeing Emily on the cover, holding a dagger, made them want to hear more. Then when they heard that Emily was tempted to use her powers in a forbidden way by the desire to win over the boy, they could all relate. My hunch that aging Emily up with each book and giving her more mature issues to deal with proved to be correct to widen my audience.

Meeting real people who are eager to read your book — BEST FEELING EVER! (Okay, for a writer I mean.)

Natalie Wright at the
Tucson Festival of Books, 2013

Being an exhibitor and selling your wares at a book festival is a large investment for an author, especially and Indie author with no big publishing backing or advances. I went into the weekend unsure of whether the cost would be worth the expense, planning and time.

Answer? Heck yes!! I’ll be back at the TFOB next year with my Akasha Chronicles series completed and hopefully the first book in my new speculative fiction series (H.A.L.F.) completed as well.

Last night I was exhausted but exhilerated. Barely able to keep my eyes open, I began a search for more book festivals.

I feel a new addiction coming on.

The weather is nice in L.A. in April . . .

P.S. Click this link to go to the page with my March giveaway.

Emily’s Trial Book Trailer Reveal!

The teaser, the trailer, the hint of things to come.

I’ve worked off and on for over a month now to create a trailer for my upcoming release, Emily’s Trial.
Without further ado, I bring you my first cinematic creation *wink* – the trailer for Emily’s Trial.
The digital version of Emily’s Trial will go on sale October 15, 2012. Emily’s Trial is about fear and takes place around Halloween – so it will get you in the mood for the spookiest time of the year!
As always, I love to hear from you. What do you think? 

Manic Monday: Book Trailers, Covers & Arm Jewelry?

What does an author do when she she’s not writing or editing her newest novel? She might be spending time meandering through Etsy, trying to find a jewelry artist brave enough to tackle the task of creating an Emily’s House inspired armlet.

Emily’s Torc, Hand-Crafted by Lady Steel
Isn’t this awesome!! Lady Steel of 88Links took up my challenge and created a beautiful, handmade armlet, complete with Celtic twists and braids. Lady Steel has wonderful energy, so who knows, these beauties may be imbued with magical energy, just like Emily’s.
I’ll be giving some of these away during the release of Emily’s Trial.
And when will that book release you ask?
Good question. I’m shooting for mid-October. Ambitious. I’ll keep you posted, but you will definitely have a new Emily book before the end of the year.
And when not revising and playing with arm jewelry, I’ve been creating a book trailer for Emily’s Trial. Shall I tease you for the teaser? 
Emily Adams, courtesy Getty Images

And what about this?

And finally, this . . .
Are you curious how romance and a graveyard mix? Me too! 😉
A great book needs a great cover, right? I love what Claudia at Phatpuppy Art did for Emily’s House.
But I think this next one is going to be even better. Claudia is now working with a great photographer, Teresa Yeh, to create original, custom photos for covers. Here are a few samples of the joint efforts of Claudia and Teresa:
Borrowed Ember (Fire Spirits #3)
Sneak Thievery (The Fade, #2)
And she is going to work on the cover for Emily’s Trial! *squee* As I write this, Teresa is putting out a casting call to find the perfect Emily. We’ll be working together to come up with an image that suits the flavor of Emily’s Trial. Then it will be shifted back over to Claudia to apply her artistic talents to create a kick-ass cover.
I’ll keep you posted and perhaps I’ll have some fun behind-the-scenes stuff for you from the photo shoot. I feel a contest coming on. . .
As excited as I was for the release of my first novel, Emily’s House, to the world last fall, I’m even MORE excited to bring you Emily’s Trial. The journey continues . . .

Manic Monday: The Bionic Manuscript

As I write this, I’m attending the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrator’s (SCBWI) annual summer conference in Los Angeles. Three days filled with speeches, workshops, and  presentations by wonderful writers, book illustrators, editors and other book publishing people. Three days filled with inspiration, pep talks, advice on craft and storytelling, and rubbing elbows and breaking bread with kindred spirits.

And a time for a bit of reflection on my journey thus far. A time to reflect on the first two stages of becoming a writer.

Just three years ago, I sat at my first writer’s conference. Wide eyed. Excited. Hopeful. 

I sat there with a great idea, boundless enthusiasm for the subject, and no one had yet said to me the dreaded two letter word: No.

I sat in a workshop today and was struck by the fact that in the last three years, I’d changed as a writer. I’ve written three manuscripts now and they’ve changed me as a writer. Here’s what happened to make me see this.

The presenter at the workshop asked people to volunteer to tell the their story idea – the premise – the log line. The one to two sentence hook.

Many threw out their ideas. Most were so-so. Ideas that were a bit interesting, but not so compelling that you’d buy the book. There were a couple of ideas that were knock outs. When a person can put their idea succinctly into one sentence, AND hook you with it, you know they’re on the right track. 

There was one young lady, that rambled on for a while about her idea, losing me after about ten words. The presenter gave her a few pointers as to why the concept wasn’t yet compelling. But the nascent writer persisted, saying something that made me both cringe and feel envious. She said something to the effect that she could see her story in her head and couldn’t wait to see it made into a movie because she thinks it would make a great movie.

Joy! Rapture! I have the best story idea ever and soon I will be lavished with praise and a
six figure advance and a movie deal.

This newbie writer is at the stage where her idea is, still, very fresh and thrilling to her. It’s probably all she thinks about. And her story idea is a movie, in her own head. To this writer, she likes the story idea so much, how can anyone else not like it? How could they possibly resist the chance to not only publish the story, but make it into a film?

I cringed because I have seen many editors and agents say that this is exactly the kind of thing that if they hear in a query letter, that they’ll reject the writer’s work immediately. Every writer thinks their idea is good. Every writer has a friend or family member that thinks their story is the best story since the Bible. Every writer thinks their story would make a great movie. It’s cringe worthy because it’s not only cliche, but because it sounds both boastful and out of touch with reality.

I cringed for that writer that she’ll likely continue to say things like that until someone either smacks her silly and tells her to stop, or until she’s rejected about a million times and either stops writing altogether or tries something new, just to see what happens.

But I envied her too. I envied her because I remember feeling that way with my first story idea. So full of the story, all the time. It was all I could think of. And I was so hopeful. Had not yet had my writer self bashed about a bit.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to be hopeful. It’s not naive to believe in your story. Cynicism does not for good writing make.

But once a writer has completed that first story, she must move on to the next one. And a first story is a bit like your first car. Remember your first car? Of course you do. You remember how it smelled. My first car was old and smelled of dirty leather and oil and that musty old car smell. You remember the make, model and paint color. And you remember how it felt to drive it. Mine was old and crappy and prone to stalling in the middle of the road but oh, how I loved the freedom of  my own wheels. My first car was old and cheap and shabby and should have been at the scrap yard, but it was my first and it was new and an adventure and thus memorable for me.

1976 Ford Mustang II Ghia
My first car, but picture it rusted and broken down on the side
of the road with smoke issuing from its hood.

I bet you don’t have as many memories of your second car, even less of your third, and may not be able to remember at all some of the cars in the chain of cars you’ve owned. And I bet your more recent cars are finer ones than your first. Maybe now you can afford a sweeter ride, but your first is still special, even if it was a piece of shit car.

It’s the same with a writer’s stories. The first is new. It’s fresh. It’s exciting and thrilling because you’ve never done it before. Writing your first story is an adventure.

You finish the first one, maybe take a small break, then you push on to the next. If you’re a professional (or aspire to be a professional) anyway, that’s what you do. You move on. 

Maybe you’ll get a publishing contract for the first one (may the odds be in your favor), but statistically speaking, probably not. You may write two, five or even seven or more novels before you find out how to come up with both a fresh concept and the writing craft to deliver it.

Once you’ve mined that first idea, fleshed it out, and delivered it to the world, it may be met with the same awe and wonder that you had when you wrote it. But unless you’re a prodigy, born from your mother’s womb with an extreme gift for writing that even the greats of literature have lacked, your idea will likely be met with . . . you guessed it: No.

Why? Because the new writer has, most of the time, not yet learned that there is a difference between having an idea and writing a novel. And because the nascent writer does not know the difference, they upchuck pages upon pages of backstory onto the page and then “tell” rather than “show” the reader their story.

I read a lot of self-published novels and most of them are built on a compelling idea or premise. A few deliver the promise of the premise through solid writing and are a good read.

But most fall short. I see what the author is trying to do. I see what got them excited about writing it. But it’s not a good book.

Why? Because the writer has not yet learned how to write a novel, rather than “tell” a story. Telling a story and writing a novel are not the same thing.

The idea isn’t enough.

This is important and bears repeating: The idea isn’t enough.

The idea is necessary. Yes. You must have a compelling premise. You must.

But then you must deliver the promise of that premise by writing a compelling story that pulls the writer sentence by sentence, page by page, willingly and gladly along on the ride you created for them. The reader doesn’t want to be “told” a story. They want to be shown characters overcoming obstacles, and growing and changing.

Three years ago, I came to this conference as much a newbie as there ever was. I paid extra to have a consultation with an agent about my work in progress, the work that would become Emily’s House. The consultation was a fool’s errand. There I was, submitting a piece of writing for critique on a story that I hadn’t even fully written yet. How could I know how to write a novel, when I had not yet even completed one?

The agent who met with me was kind, and pointed out things she liked. But she also gently urged me to go to workshops and get into a critique group. And she never once commented on what a great premise I had or how cool my idea was. She couldn’t even get to the idea for the lack of skill in the writing. Poor craft distracts from the idea.

“Learn about craft,” she said. If she had said it to me straighter, she would have said: “The idea is not enough.” 

I left that consult, made my way to my hotel room, closed the door, and cried. I cried, and cried and cried. She had said no. No to my big idea. No to my story. No.

That was three years ago. At the conference today, in his keynote address, author Dan Guttman (referring to a line from the movie A League of Their Own), said, “There’s no crying in the world of writing.”

I heard that advice today, not three years ago. And three years ago I cried. Hard.

I don’t know if I agree with Dan. I think it’s okay to cry, sometimes (but perhaps do it privately if you’re really going to wail, so as to not draw a crowd). Sometimes, you need to let the tears roll.

But, and perhaps this is what Dan was really getting at, you dry your tears and you pull yourself up and you go at it again. And again. And again.

Back in 2009, I had a choice to make. Sit, cry and stop. Or stop crying, and start writing.

I chose the latter.

I spent another two years writing that novel. I tore it apart, rewrote, then tore at it some more. I went to classes and worked with editors on it. I learned and rewrote, then learned more and write it again.

The final product isn’t perfect. If I wrote it today, I’d write it differently. But I finished it. I saw it through. I published and I’m proud of it and best of all, readers have enjoyed it too. Readers that would have never gotten to meet Emily and her pals if I’d given up back in 2009 just because I heard the word “no.”

I finished it, published it and moved on to the next one.

I’m now revising my third novel. Each one gets less precious. It becomes easier to shoulder critique. Easier to hear “no.” Not easy. Just easier.

I had a critique today with a well respected editor and I heard a yes and a no. She said “Yes” to my concept. Yea! My writing is stronger now, and I don’t upchuck backstory for twenty pages anymore. I’ve learned how to show not tell (most of the time). So my storytelling was strong enough that she could see the forest through the trees and she liked the concept. Yes.

But the plot has some issues that need ironed out. It’s  not there yet. So that’s a no. For now. It’s not ready and I know it. Back to work.

I left  the critique feeling glad that I didn’t leave wanting to cry. But I also felt, for a bit, like “I can’t do this. It’s too much. It’s too hard.”

I believe this is a new stage in the writing journey for me. A stage well known by most writers who have pushed beyond the newbie phase. There comes a point where you know enough about storytelling to know that you have not hit the mark. Your draft is lacking. And you know enough to know that it’s damned hard to do it better. And you worry, for a moment or maybe for weeks, that you don’t have it in you.

You see, your expectations of yourself have become higher. You no longer rely on just the idea. The idea is fine, it’s wonderful, it’s what got you to the computer and put words on the page in the first place. But you know, now, that the idea alone isn’t enough. And you worry that you don’t have what it takes to pull off that wonderful idea you’ve had.

“Maybe it’s just too hard for me,” you say.

In this stage, you are the one saying no to yourself. You are the obstacle you need to overcome. You must wring that no from your head.

“The concept is good,” she said. I’ll take that. It will inspire me. Fuel me. Spur me on as I take that damnable manuscript apart, piece by piece, and rebuild it. I picture it now like the Bionic Man. Remember the beginning of that show? “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. Better, stronger, faster.”

That’s my manuscript now. The bionic manuscript. It will be better, faster, stronger.

Stage two rockets released. What’s the next stage?

Bionic Man Doll, circa 1970’s
It’s pretty creepy, isn’t it?
Hopefully, my bionic manuscript
won’t look like this!

Book Review Friday: LEVERAGE, by Joshua C. Cohen

Today I’m reviewing Leverage, by Joshua C. Cohen. In case you missed it, please check out my interview of the author, Josh Cohen, AND enter the Giveaway for FREE, signed copy of Leverage, by clicking here.

Let’s start with the description of Leverage from Goodreads:

“The football field is a battlefield

There’s an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid on – and off – the football field. And it claims its victims without mercy – including the most innocent bystanders. 

When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a school’s salvation.

Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes.”

Okay, this is accurate description – sort of. But I found it odd that nowhere in the description of this book does the publisher ever use the word “bully.” And that’s odd, since this is a book largely about bullying.

Yes, there is an ever-escalating prank war, but that makes it sound like what happens in the book is somehow the shared fault of the victim of things gone too far. And that is NOT how the book is written.

Yes, there are football players – and male gymnasts. Yes, they engage in a prank war. And yes, the school’s pride – in fact the whole town’s pride – in their football team is at the heart of the story. It informs as to why some of the characters make the choices they make.

But in Leverage, sports is part of the setting. It’s the background of the human drama. And Leverage is, more than anything, a human drama, and a story about bullying.

In our social media age, bullying these days often takes the form of cyber-bullying. But in Leverage, bullying is the old-fashioned kind. “I’m big, you’re small, therefore I can do to you what I want. And because I’m seen as popular (i.e. powerful), I’ll get away with it.” 

Bullying is pervasive in our society and it doesn’t end when you become an adult. A person can be bullied at work, in their marriage, or even bullied by media. For that reason, books like Leverage are so important. We need to discuss this topic. We need to explore it. 

Leverage is not a sports book. It’s a book about bullying, choices, courage and relationships – and that’s why it’s worth a read. So take the cover and the cover copy blurb (chosen by a publisher, not the author), with a grain of salt.

The story is told from two different perspectives – Danny and Kurt. Danny is a sophomore, small and a gymnast. Kurt is a large, hulking football player. He’s not stupid, though his stutter makes him appear so. Danny and Kurt form a strange duo and an unlikely pair.

Of the two, I enjoyed Kurt – liked Kurt – so much more than Danny. Kurt’s story is entirely sympathetic. We root for Kurt and hope that it all works out for him. Kurt is a well-crafted character and one of the highlights of the story. 

The poignant thing about reading a book like Leverage is that you just know that there are Kurt’s out there. People who have suffered abuse like he has. Who have been dealt shitty cards like he has. You just  hope that real kids dealt cards like that find the inner fortitude that Kurt finds to do the right thing and to lift themselves out.

I am not a fan of sports stories. If it wasn’t for hearing the author discuss this book at a book festival, I probably would not have picked it up based on the cover and description. I would have judged it by its cover.

I am so happy that I picked it up, despite the cover. Leverage is a tautly woven tale about making choices, about finding courage, and about the consequences of our actions. Cohen creates wonderful tension in the book. You know from the first couple of chapters that something bad is going to happen. You don’t know what and you don’t know when. But you know it’s coming.

The “bad thing” that happens comes at about the 40% mark. And as a reader, I felt the tension – actually began to sweat – as the “bad thing” began to unfold. Author Cohen did a great job of “showing” just the right amount. The big scene isn’t for those who cannot abide any form of sexual violence (fair warning). As someone who avoids contemporary realism (I love Ellen Hopkins’ writing but find her books too harsh to read), I was able to read Leverage. The author didn’t resort to sensationalizing the scene to emotionally manipulate the reader. 

The remainder of the book explores the aftermath of the horrible thing that happens. The main characters, the ones involved – even the town itself – is explored.

Joshua Cohen is a bright star of a writer, giving us a wonderful first book that makes us want more from him.

I highly recommend Leverage and give it:

 5 Hawks

A WORD OF CAUTION: Leverage deals with mature themes and includes graphic violence of a sexual nature. I do not recommend this book to those under 13, and give it a PG-13 rating.

Summer Teen Reading Party with Barbara Ehrentreu

I welcome Barbara Ehrentreu to my blog today as part of the Summer Teen Reading Party. Barbara has written a prize-winning novel titled If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor. Love the cover!

From Goodreads: Carolyn Samuels is obsessed with the idea of being popular. She is convinced that the only thing keeping her from happiness is her too heavy for fashion body and not being a cheerleader. Hyperventilating when she gets nervous doesn’t help. When she is paired for a math project with the girl who tormented her in middle school, Jennifer Taylor, she is sure it is going to be another year of pain. With Carolyn’s crush on Jennifer’s hunky junior quarterback, Brad, her freshman year in high school looks like a rerun of middle school. When Jennifer is the only student who knows why she fell in gym class, Carolyn is blackmailed into doing her math homework in return for Jennifer’s silence. Jennifer takes on Carolyn as a pity project since she can’t be seen with someone who dresses in jeans and sweatshirts. When Jennifer invites Carolyn to spend the night to make her over and teach her to tumble, Carolyn learns Jennifer’s secret and lies to her own friends to cover it up. Will Carolyn become a cheerleader and popular? Does she continue to keep Jennifer’s secret? Or will she be a target of this mean girl again?

Inspiration for Writing If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor

summer of 2002 I enrolled in Writer’s Week at Manhattanville College where I
was currently working on my Masters in Reading and Writing. If you have never
been to Writer’s Week and live relatively close to the college you should think
about it. For an entire week you have workshops both in the morning and the
afternoon. You choose your genre and each workshop is headed by a well known
author or teacher of writing. Celebrity authors and workshop participants rub
shoulders at many activities, including the daily readings of outstanding work
from each group.
the workshop I chose was Children’s Writing led by the delightful, quirky and
multi- book author, Paula Danziger. She wrote books for young girls that cut to
the very heart of the emotional life of a tween ager. For the pass to get into
the class we all needed to write three chapters of a story for children. At the
time my daughter, who was going into college in the fall, had some issues with
both her body and with eating. Her eating disorder had not gotten out of hand,
but it was a problem to both her and me. This was something on my mind and so I
created two characters. One had issues with her body image and the other was
perfect, but she had an eating disorder. I wrote my three chapters and handed
them in to Paula Danziger.
first day of the workshop she arrived with her signature purple sneakers and
her bright red hair and she looked like she had stepped out of a children’s
book. But the thing about Paula was how open and friendly she was and how
accessible she was to us. We all sat around and she talked with us about
writing, for a whole week. During this time she held private conferences and
the first time she saw my three chapters her first words to me and the words
she wrote on the paper were “Cut, Cut, Cut!!!” 
I still have the original papers on which she wrote. Paula believed that
children’s books didn’t need long sentences and especially in the beginning of
the book, sentences should be short and move the reader to want to learn more.
After all of the revisions and editing of my book, I still have a few sentences
left that came directly from Paula. She told me that first day that she liked
my writing and that I might have a good book in there if I could wade through
all the extra words. She even reminded me during workshop discussions that I
should cut my words while speaking.
six months later I met Paula at the Winter Conference for SCBWI and we talked
about my book. Then a year later, her last conference, I showed her a passage
that had given me a lot of trouble. She read it and suggested a few things to
do that helped me very much. Her encouragement helped me to continue to write
and eventually finish the story. However, I got bogged down in the middle
and that was when I turned to Children’s Authors’ Bootcamp for help. This was
two days of constant lecturing and writing where we took apart our stories and
examined each part. We learned about character development and plot development
and on the second day after having been stumped for both an ending and a clear
plot line for my secondary character, Jennifer, I was able to finish the plot
and write an ending for my story. Laura Backes and Linda Arms White gave me the
tools I needed!!
Danziger, unfortunately, is not here to share in the triumph of the publication
of my first novel, but I know if she were she would be doing a happy dance with
her red hair wildly flying and her face smiling. She was one of a kind and her
support made me feel that someday I too would be able to publish my book. That
is why I dedicated my first ever YA novel to Paula Danziger. If you are not
familiar with her work you should go to Amazon and look up Paula Danziger.
YA novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, MuseItUp Publishing is
available here in ebook and print:
and Noble:
come over to visit my blog, Barbara’s Meanderings,  where I am part of the month long Summer Teen
Reading Party. In addition to my blog I sometimes do a monthly show on Blog
Talk Radio called RRWL Tales from the Pages where I get a chance
to interview authors, editors and publishers.

Barbara Bio:
a retired teacher with a Masters degree in Reading and Writing K-12 and
seventeen years of teaching experience lives with her family in Stamford,
Connecticut. When she received her Masters degree she began writing seriously. If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, Barbara’s
first YA novel, published by MuseItUp Publishing was inspired by Paula
Danziger. It has won #2 in Preditors & Editors Poll for Best Young Adult
Book of 2011. In addition, Barbara has a story in Lavender Dreams, a memorial anthology for
which all the proceeds go to cancer research. She has three poems in Prompted: An International Collection of Poems by
the Anthologists for which all the proceeds go to Literacy research. Her blog,
Barbara’s Meanderings,, is networked
on both Facebook and Blog Catalog. She hosts Red River Writers Live Tales from
the Pages on Blog Talk Radio every 4th Thursday. In addition, her children’s
story, “The Trouble with Follow the Leader” and an adult story, “Out on a
Ledge” are published online She has written book reviews for
and several of her reviews have been on Acewriters and Celebrity Café. She is a
member of SCBWI. Writing is her life!