Thursday, October 30, 2014

Guest Post: LITTLE DEAD RIDING HOOD

Hi, Amie! I'm so glad you decided to stop by to talk about the recent release of the second book in your Scarily Ever After series. I also hear you're going to let us know how to enter your giveaway! I'm so excited in fact I'm just going to step out of the way and let you do your thing:

Hi Niki!  The place looks great! Mind if I have a brownie? They look soooo good. *takes a bite* What did you put in them. *nom nom* Yuuuum.  *crumbs fly from mouth* We're really glad to be here today and tell you *crumbs dribble down shirt* about LITTLE DEAD RIDING HOOD!

You know things are going to suck when you’re the new kid. But when you’re the new kid and a vampire… well, it bites!
 
Unlike most kids, Scarlet Small’s problems go far beyond just trying to fit in. She would settle for a normal life, but being twelve years old for an entire century is a real pain in the neck. Plus, her appetite for security guards, house pets and bloody toms (tomato juice) is out of control. So in order to keep their vampire-secret, her parents, Mort and Drac, resort to moving for the hundredth time, despite Scarlet being dead-set against it. Things couldn’t be worse at her new school, either. Not only does she have a strange skeleton-girl as a classmate, but a smelly werewolf is intent on revealing her secret. When she meets Granny—who fills her with cookies, goodies, and treats, and seems to understand her more than anyone—she’s sure things will be different. But with a fork-stabbing incident, a cherry pie massacre, and a town full of crazy people, Scarlet’s O-positive she’ll never live to see another undead day.
 
Not even her Vampire Rule Book can save her from the mess she’s in. Why can’t she ever just follow the rules?
Add Little Dead Riding Hood to your Goodreads to-read list here Purchase LDRH at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite Indie bookstore!
***
You know, Scarlet Small really likes sweets, too. One of her favorites is cherry pie. But you'll have to read the book to find out why! Trust me....cherries...vampires...it's not a good combination. In the meantime, here's a recipe for our favorite brownies. They're not as good as yours, but they might be a close second.

Amie's OhMyGoodness Brownies
1 1/2 cups of Cocoa
1/3 cup Vegetable oil
1 cup (two sticks) melted butter
3 large eggs
2 cups of sugar
1 tbsp. Vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
  1. Mix cocoa and oil to form a thick paste.
  2. Add melted butter to the cocoa paste.
  3. Beat the eggs with a hand mixer on high for about 4 minutes until foamy and yellow.
  4. Add sugar into the eggs and mix until blended.
  5. Add in vanilla and cocoa paste. Blend well.
  6. Mix in the flour.
  7. Bake in a small square pan (8x8 or so) at 325 for about 45 minutes.
  8. Enjoy!
About us:
Amie Borst is a PAL member of SCBWI. She believes in Unicorns, uses glitter whenever the opportunity arises, accessories in pink and eats too much chocolate. 
Bethanie Borst is a spunky 14 year old who loves archery, long bike rides and studying edible plant-life. She was only 9 when she came up with the idea for Cinderskella!
Little Dead Riding Hood is their second book in the Scarily Ever Laughter series. Their first book, Cinderskella, released in October 2013.
You can find them on facebook. Amie can be found on twitter, pinterest, and her blog ***
We're having two great giveaways as part of our blog tour! The first is for a copy of LITTLE DEAD RIDING HOOD! So be sure to enter the giveaway by following the steps on the rafflecopter form below. a Rafflecopter giveaway
THEN - as soon as you finish that, be sure to stop by my blog for a second contest! I'm having a SCAVENGER HUNT that you won't want to miss with lots of extra great prizes! All you have to do is make sure you enter the contest below first then hopping over to my blog and filling out the rafflecopter form there! Super easy! Here's the rafflecopter form for my blog just in case you missed it!   
a Rafflecopter giveaway See you soon! 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Very Special Halloween Visit!

Some of you may remember Amie Borst's guest post here on my blog last October in honor of the debut of CINDERSKELLA, the first novel in her Scarily Ever Laughter series. Well, a year has passed and great things have happened with CINDERSKELLA. Now, just in time for Halloween once again, Amie will be taking over my blog for a day on October 30th to tell you all about the second book in this scarily fun series: LITTLE DEAD RIDING HOOD. Trust me, you don't want to miss this.

Not to tease you or anything (except of course that's exactly what I'm doing), but there will be chocolate involved, as well as two great giveaways. That's right, TWO! You'll be able to register for a chance to win an ARC of LITTLE DEAD RIDING HOOD, as well as a $25 Amazon gift card which you can use to buy whatever treats your heart desires.

So be sure to check back on October 30th! And in the meantime, I'm going to drop this right here so you can take a nice long gander:

(Gorgeous, isn't it?
If you can't wait until the 30th to get your hands on a copy, you're in luck! LITTLE DEAD RIDING HOOD is already available at a bookstore near you, and can even be ordered online, if you're into that sort of thing, at:

So go ahead and add LITTLE DEAD RIDING HOOD to your Goodreads list, and then stop back by on the 30th to enter the giveaways, too. You know you want to!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

FAVE FINDS: Resilience

Look out interwebs, I am back! Yes, I realize it has been a while (WAY too long) since I've posted anything on my blog, but that doesn't mean I can't jump back in here and revitalize this old thing any time I like, does it? I mean seriously, as I've discovered over the past year or so, I am resilient like that. Just because I've had to walk away for a while after promising to post more frequently, that doesn't mean it's all over. My blog is still here. I still care. We can get back on track.

My blog isn't the only writing of mine that took a hit this summer. My manuscripts have suffered (or more accurately, languished) these past few months. Due to family health issues, as well as mental health issues-- because what else can you call it but crazy when one decides to gut and completely remodel one's kitchen, dining, and living room, huh? No sane person decides to do that to themselves, do they?* But anyway, due to these... issues, I've barely sat down at my keyboard at all even though I had just begun to launch into a massive revision before literally packing POTHOLES and BUBBLE GIRL (and my entire laptop) away indefinitely. Or at least until the remodel was finished enough. It's still not completely finished. It feels like it may never be. But it is at least a little less all-consuming for now.

It's true I have taken breaks from my writing before, even whole summers away when the kids were little. But this was different. This wasn't one of those good-for-the-soul, good-for-my-writing, vacation kind of breaks. This was a hiatus that came out of necessity from my non-writing life, and it came at a less than ideal time. It came on the heels of a very trying year. After taking POTHOLES out on submission for several months and coming so very close but still not scoring that elusive cigar (and by cigar, I mean agent**), I was seriously beginning to question whether I'll ever be able to gain the last inch I need to break through in the publishing world. There are no guarantees here. I could work my whole life toward this and never make it. I am not so delusion I can't see this. And so, amidst these doubts, to walk away for an indefinite period felt dangerous.

Sure, I wasn't leaving the writing world entirely. I went on a lovely, and much needed, write-in at Mt. Magazine Lodge in July with some of the best writer pals you could ask for. And I had smaller Saturday write-ins at Starbucks once every month or so, but for the most part my butt-in-chair time was non-existent. My carefully guarded weekday writing schedule didn't just unravel, it vaporized. I pulled away from treating my writing as my full time job. And I did it at a time when I already doubted my ability to keep my chin up for much longer. Rejection stings, no matter how nicely it's worded. To pull away while that sting was still fresh made me feel like less. Less than a writer. Less than whole. Less than capable of moving on once again. Like I was an outsider, a fraud, looking in on this world that I love. Like I was pretending to be something I'm not, and may never get to be.

Writing is hard. The heartbreak from thinking you've maybe made it and then finding out you haven't is harder. How much better would I feel if I never put myself through that pain and disappointment again? How much time would I have for everything else in my life if I gave up trying? I'm not going to lie, these thoughts went through my mind during the long gaps between write-ins. Once you've pulled away, isn't it far easier to let go than to ever get momentum again?

Theoretically that should be true.But alas, as I have found, letting go isn't really an option for me. I love writing. I love my manuscripts. I love being a part of the writing community. This is who I am, and what I have to do. I would feel lost without it. I HAVE felt lost these past few months, and I don't care for the feeling at all.

Now that I'm gearing up for my annual trek to the AR-SCBWI Fall Retreat, now that I'm blogging again***, and easing back into my revisions again, I finally feel like I'm piecing together those missing parts of me. I'm rediscovering the thing I've relied on for nearly ten years now; the part of me that lets me get back up and keep moving forward no matter how knocked down I feel. The thing that all writers who ultimately get published MUST have without exception:

Resilience.

So POTHOLES was as awesome as I thought it could get, and it still wasn't enough.

So all these years of hard work, sweat, and abundant tears hasn't gotten me where I want to be. Yet.

So what.

I'm still here. And I still care. I will get this back on track again I swear.

The awesome agent feedback I received amidst those rejections (as well as feedback from my Writer's Voice contest coach) gave me new ideas; let me see just why close wasn't close enough. I know now what needs to be changed. And I know I can do it. I have the courage, and the drive, and (as I have proven with this remodel) just the right amount of crazy to jump in and see this story through to the finish once more.

Will once more be enough?

Who knows. Certainly not me. But how awful would it be if once more WAS enough and I never found out?

And that's where my resilience comes from. I'm in this thing for as long as it takes. Crazy or not.

You may not be able to count on me blogging on a weekly basis. Or even monthly. I'll be too busy working on my other writing at times for sure. But I'm not giving up on this either. When I have the time, and something interesting to say, I'll be here.

And that you can count on.



*Even if you are sane when you begin, you certainly aren't by the time you get a week in to the remodel, let alone three months in. Oh no. By three months in to digging up ceramic tile, ripping out cabinets and counter tops, scrapping and sanding away at old paint, there is very little of anything resembling sanity left anywhere in your house.

**But not in a Freudian way. Because gross.

***Just you wait and see what fun things I have in store for the next couple of weeks!

Friday, April 25, 2014

FAVE FINDS: QUERY TRACKER

Today's FIND is an oldie but goodie. Query Tracker has been around for as long as I can remember. It's an online database of nearly 1300 agents, but it's also so much more.

In the past I've used an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of my submissions, and it has served me well, but that was before I got serious about finding an agent. I mainly submitted my first manuscript to editors I met at conferences and retreats, so very little research was necessary. With my current YA, though, I'm already through a couple of rounds of agent queries, and to be honest with myself, odds are I still have a long way to go. Querying is not a quick process.

Don't get me wrong. I won't ever give up my trusty spreadsheet completely. If anything ever happens to Query Tracker I don't want to lose my submission history. Believe it or not, as much as every rejection stings to the core like the biggest mother trucken bee you've ever seen, it is possible I might eventually lose track of who exactly has had the distinct honor of sending those rejections my way. But that doesn't mean I can't branch out. And now that I'm deep into this often overwhelming process, I can clearly see just how fabulous Query Tracker is. It's not JUST a database. Or a good tool for agent research. Or a wonderfully organized way to track your current and past submissions. It's all of those things PLUS a community.

Most of the writers who use Query Tracker use the comments section to make note of when and what type of manuscript they've queried and/or submitted. They also go the extra mile to cheer each other on, and to occasionally lend or borrow a virtual shoulder when things don't work out so well. But better than that, the comment section is an active, up-to-date frame of reference for where YOU stand in the pool of queriers. You can take a look at all the people who've queried before you, after you, at around the same time as you, and you can see what response (if any) they've received. It gives you an excellent feel for what to expect from each agent in regard to response time, because it really does vary tremendously from agent to agent. You can also see if an agent you've been expecting to hear back from is running a little slower than usual; you can even sometimes find out the reason for the delay (they've been traveling, they've been sick). You'd be surprised by how sanity-saving that little piece of information can be. Then again, if you're a writer you probably won't be surprised because you already know how maddening it is to simply NOT KNOW. And no matter how long I stare at my trusty spreadsheet, it is never going to give me a window into each agent's process the way Query Tracker can.

Paid memberships to Query Tracker are available for $25 a year (or $8 for three months), but so far I've made do with the free version. I haven't had much use for the metadata or reports available to paid members, though I suspect I will eventually upgrade in order to more easily track additional projects (one of the added benefits of a paid account).

If you're unfamiliar with Query Tracker, I highly recommend you check it out for yourself by going here, and be sure to let me know what you think.  If you're an experienced Query Tracker and have any great tips or tricks to making the most of the website, I'd love to hear all about it on Facebook or in the comments below.

Until next time, keep an eye out for new writing FINDS of your own, and share with me any great ones that come your way; I'm always in the market for more. In my experience, anything that might potentially make this journey even a little easier is worth looking into.

Friday, April 11, 2014

FAVE FINDS: FLASH FACE

Today's FIND is an app I came across this past January called Flash Face. The intended market for the app, according to the app website, was police sketch artists, but I've found it to be surprisingly useful in my creative writing.

Flash Face is available for download to both Apple and Android devices if you're interested in owning it in either the free (limited) app, or the paid full versions (there are two separate mobile versions-- one for sketching males and one for females). However, if you simply want to give it a test run, you can play around with it online here.

The app I purchased from iTunes isn't perfect-- it could use MANY more hairstyles and jaw options, as well as the size and opacity manipulations available to the online version-- but it has still been a ton of fun to use. I've already sketched out several of the characters in my completed YA manuscript, POTHOLES ON THE ROAD TO NIRVANA. For example, this is the image of Jason, one of the main characters in that story, I've had in my head for years:



I can't even begin to tell you how enjoyable it was to finally give that mental image tangible form. And now that I'm using the app for my new WIP, I'm finding it to be not only satisfying but seriously helpful.

Exploring all the ways a character's personality comes through in her facial features has helped me delve deep inside even the more minor sidekicks. The simple act of choosing the perfect eyebrows, for instance, forces me to think about whether a character would have dainty, pencil-drawn brows, or big, burly ones. Would her general expression be hardened and angry, soft and kind, sarcastic or bemused? The brows say it all. Deciding which set is the perfect fit is a fabulous way to put detailed thought into the who and why of each character.

The mobile version of the app that I bought for my iPad allows me to play around with it whenever and wherever I get a chance-- on the couch, in the car*, at the DMV. . . give me ten minutes, and character development is mine! The purchased app has also given me the ability to save and import my finished images into Scrivener for easy reference while writing, but even if you're not interested in spending your hard-earned cash, I urge you to give Flash Face a go for free online with one of your more mysterious characters in mind. You never know what developmental surprises might be waiting to be discovered.

Be sure to let me know what you think of the app in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter because I'd love to know. And tune in two weeks from now for my next great FIND.

Until then, be on the lookout for your own favorite new things, and drop me a line if you find any I should try!


*NOT while driving, of course! Only when parked.




Friday, April 4, 2014

FAVE FINDS: WRITE YOUR NOVEL FROM THE MIDDLE by James Scott Bell

Only two weeks-- that's how little time has passed since my last blog post, and yet here I am at it again, as promised. At the rate I'm going I'm all set to beat my old record of, oh, approximately four blog posts per year. And they said it couldn't be done. Or maybe I said it couldn't. Either way I'm doing this thing. For real this time, y'all.

Today's post--also as promised--is the first in what I hope will become a recurring series titled FAVE FINDS. I thought it might be difficult to choose which of my favorite gadgets, apps, software, books, or techniques to highlight first, but when it came time to decide, there was no doubt. The FIND that has me all tingly to the tips of my toes with excitement this week is the how-to ebook titled Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell. You can find your own copy of it here if you're interested (as well as anywhere else good ebooks are sold).

"What makes this ebook so special?" you might ask. "What sets it apart from the bazillion other how-to's that exist in the world?" Good questions, dear readers. For me it was partially the fact that Mr. Bell has hit on an aspect of writing I've rarely, in all my years of study, found much information about: the middle of the story. And I'm not just talking about the long middle (the Second Act); I'm talking about a specific moment that falls in the dead center of the story (books and movies alike).  Bell refers to this as The Mirror Moment. Whether this moment has been placed there by intentional design or by good old fashioned writerly instinct, it is present in nearly all great stories. And it is a moment that gets down to the very heart of the story.

I don't want to steal any of Mr. Bell's thunder. If you want to know more about the Mirror Moment, you can download the ebook for yourself. It was less than $3 when I bought it, and worth every cent. The ebook is a short one--only 60 pages, half of which are dedicated to non-Mirror Moment tips, but that still adds up to only pennies per invigorating page. (And no, in case you're wondering, I don't get anything in return for this rave. All of my Finds will be sincere joy in sharing awesome things with you, and nothing more nefarious than that.)

The other part of my excitement over this book is that it came at a crucial time for me. When I discovered it I'd recently struck gold with a new story idea that I instantly LOVED. So of course I'd done tons of research and then dug right in to the outline, because at my core I am a plotter, a planner, a leave-no-stone-unturned-er. I was amazed at how quickly the entire story outline fell out of me. And so when I finally sat down to write that all-important first scene, I couldn't understand why it wouldn't come. It simply wasn't clicking.

At first I was afraid my love of plotting had finally gotten the best of me. I've heard some writers say that knowing how the story will end has a way of ruining it for them. I sincerely hoped that wasn't it, because this idea was too good to let go of. But then, after much angst and questioning, I realized my passion for the story was still strong. What I had to admit though was that my gorgeously crafted plot full of hooks, turning points, and a well earned climax was still missing something. It didn't seem to have heart or that spark that brings it all to life for me, and therefor the reader. But how to fix it? That was the big, confusing problem that sat square on my chest like a 1,000 pound gorilla tweaking my nose.


But that's when it happened-- I found the ebook, and the mirror moment, and the rest, if the muse gods smile on me, will soon be rough draft history. I don't know if the Mirror Moment will do the same for you, but even if it doesn't, it's still an interesting spin on an aspect of writing you'll rarely get anywhere else.

Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, whether you've just struck gold with a new idea, or you've muddled through a draft (or five) but still don't know what's missing... heck, even if you think your draft is perfect but want to make double sure it is, I hope this Find is exactly what you need right now. Be sure to let me know if you try it, and if you have any luck with it!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

CONFESSION of a BAD BLOGGER

Hello, my name is Niki, and I am a neglectful blog owner. It has been five months since my last post.

There. I've said it, and already I feel better. My sad, lonely blog has been weighing heavily on my mind. Not heavily enough to make me actually do something about it for quite a while obviously, but heavy-ish still.

It's not that I haven't had anything to say, so much as not enough time to say it. My other writing and home responsibilities have had higher priority. And they still will. I won't apologize for that, it's just the way it is. However, I hereby vow (in public and not just in my head this time) to MAKE the time to blog on a somewhat regular basis.

In two weeks--once the kids are back in school from Spring Break-- I will begin an exciting new series of posts in which I share with you all, dear readers, some of the coolest writing related things I have found. My Friday Finds, if you will. From software, to apps, to how-to books and helpful techniques, I'll cover it all. And best of all, my blog will be lonely no more.

I hope you'll join me, and that you'll find my Finds to be as useful as I have.

Please subscribe to my blog if you want instant updates on new posts, or watch for me to share the link on Facebook and Twitter.

I'll see you all soon! I promise.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Guest Post: Amie Borst, author of CINDERSKELLA!



I am beyond excited to have Amie Borst here with me today on one of my all-time favorite holidays--National All You Can Eat Chocolate Day! (Also known as HALLOWEEN!)

Amie is currently on a multi-blog tour to launch her debut novel, CINDERSKELLA. It's the first book in the Scarily Ever Laughter Series co-written with her teen daughter, Bethanie. (How cool is that?!)

I was honored to be one of the first to reveal the gorgeous cover (here), and NOW Amie is stopping by to share some of the inspiration behind her delightfully spooky novel!

Even more exciting, at the very end of this post YOU will have a chance to win your very own AUTOGRAPHED copy of CINDERSKELLA!!!

That's right, folks... no tricks here today, just treats. So sit back, join me in unwrapping another chocolate (or three), and dig in:



I love creepy stories. It probably started when I was in middle school when our English class studied Edgar Allen Poe.  Or perhaps it was because of my older brother’s obsession with Fangoria magazine and anything with blood, guts and gore.

Because of this I also started reading scary books and watching horror movies.  Anything from Clive Barker (Cabal – the book/Nightbreed – the movie) to Stephen King (Carrie, Pet Cemetery, The Shining).  Of course this was back in the 80’s (yes, I’m dating myself here) so Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elmstreet) and Jason (Friday the 13th) were the horror movie icons.  But I also loved some other great movies: Silver Bullet with Corey Haim, The Lost Boys (who didn’t love Corey Haim, Corey Feldman and Keifer Sutherland back then??), and Fright Night. 

Now that I’ve reached adulthood, I’m not into the gore so much, just the strange and creepy. I seriously can’t handle the blood and gore like I used to. My stomach is much too squeamish. And oh yeah, keep the strange and creepy rated PG.  Something like Signs or The Others. One of the things that freaks me out the most is ghosts. I’m terrified of ghosts. So yeah, don’t even put me in a room when The Sixth Sense is on. I seriously will not sleep for days. Yes, I’m a wimp.

So perhaps that’s why I love middle-grade books when it comes to the macabre.  It’s just the right amount of tension and fear without being over the top.  From The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand and Coraline by Neil Gaiman to Haunted Sister by Lael Littke, The Stolen by Alex Shearer and just about any ghost story by Mary Downing Hahn, I really get my fill of fear!

When I was a kid growing up in the 80’s there were also some really cheesy horror flicks. The ones that were so bad you had to laugh. The ones with dark humor. My Best Friend is a Vampire, Transylvania 6-5000, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, and Little Shop of Horrors to name a few. Some more favorites were Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, Heathers, and Edward Scissorhands.
I think it was this combination of fear and funny that compelled me to write a humorous, yet slightly creepy, middle-grade book with my daughter, Bethanie. While there’s definitely a trick to implementing humor at the right time, when done well, it can really deliver quite the punch! Cinderskella has lots of wit, light-hearted humor and heart. But it also has just enough strangeness to satisfy those with a taste for something a little different.

So if you have a middle-grader (or are a wimp like me) then Cinderskella might just be the perfect Halloween read for you! Of course, I like to think it’s perfect anytime of the year, but it’s especially timely today!

Happy Halloween! And don’t eat too much candy or you might end up like this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zx0ME65y72E

~Amie Borst


Cinderskella is now available at these fine retailers:

And don't forget to add it to your to-read shelf on Goodreads!

Cindy is just a normal eleven and three-quarter year-old. At least until she wakes up one night and finds out she’s dead. Well, she isn't technically dead—she just doesn't have any hair . . . or a nose . . . or skin. Yep—all bones, no body.  
Human by day and skeleton by night, Cindy is definitely cursed. And because her mother recently died, Cindy has no one to turn to except a father who’s now scared of her and an evil stepmother who makes her do the housecleaning with a toothbrush. To make matters worse, the Spring Fling dance is approaching, and Ethan, the cutest boy in sixth grade, doesn’t seem to know Cindy exists. Of course, Cindy doesn’t think letting Ethan find out she’s part skeleton is the best way to introduce herself.
While facing such perils as pickled pig’s feet, a wacky fortune teller, and a few quick trips to the Underworld, Cindy’s determined to break the curse—even for a single night.


Amie Borst still believes in unicorns, uses glitter whenever possible and accessorizes in pink. She enjoys eating chocolate while writing and keeps a well-stocked stash hidden away from her family. A native New Yorker she currently resides in Northern Virginia with her husband, three children and a cute dog named Lily. She wishes she had a hot-pink elevator with carnival lights to travel the world. But for now, her minivan will have to do.
Bethanie Borst is a spunky 13-year-old who is an avid archer with Olympic dreams, enjoys the outdoors, loves reading and is quick to make lasting friendships. When she is not writing, she swings on a star.


You can follow Amie and Bethanie on facebook , or find Amie on her blog, on Twitter, and on Pinterest.


Don't forget to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below to win a signed copy of CINDERSKELLA:
a Rafflecopter giveaway