Sunday, October 27, 2013


For me, the creative process is a mysterious one. Sometimes, even downright spooky.

I read craft books, study the structures and elements of stories that I love, tinker with outlining, think up plot points and muse about character motivations and backstory. I’ll fill out calendars for the timeframe of my story and consider character arcs while also taking the traditional three-act structure into account.

However, as much note-taking and preliminary work as I might delve into, the true magic of storytelling never happens in the realm of “thinking something up.” At least, never for me.

I won’t deny I get some solid ideas when brainstorming. I might even get full outlines that I’m pleased with. I can come up with compelling characters and I might even catch a glimpse of how it all ends. What I can’t seem to manage with preliminary work, though, is creating magic.

Author Robert Lewis Stevenson, who based The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from his dreams, once wrote: “And for the Little People, what shall I say they are but just my Brownies, God bless them! who do one-half my work for me while I am fast asleep, and in all human likelihood, do the rest for me as well, when I am wide awake and fondly suppose I do it for myself. That part which is done while I am sleeping is the Brownies’ part beyond contention; but that which is done when I am up and about is by no means necessarily mine, since all goes to show the Brownies have a hand in it even then.”

In this wonderful quote, I believe that the “Brownies” Mr. Stevenson is referring to might just as easily be called the subconscious.

My subconscious, I have found, is a far better organizer than I am. Even if I’m working with an outline, I don’t ever force myself to adhere to it completely. In fact, if a story begins to take off in a new direction, I usually let it, if only to see what will happen and if it might work. Art, after all, should also be play. And play can be messy. Usually, that is how I find the gold. Or rather, that’s how the gold finds me. And by “gold,” I mean the all the stuff I couldn’t possibly come up with by consciously thinking and mulling it over.

In my current project, for instance, there is a specific item that shows up in every scene that a certain character appears in. At the time of writing those scenes, I was not purposefully making it a point to link that imagery and that character together. However, since it seems to be such a fitting element, during my subsequent drafts, I can now streamline that imagery, amplify it and take conscious note of something cool that I did unconsciously.

Sometimes, even well after a book has been finished, I’ll still think of the things that tied together at the end and wonder how on earth that happened in the way that it did. In the end, I know I owe it to my Brownies, of course. God bless them indeed.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

DARE TO BE BANNED and an Ellen Hopkins' Book Giveaway

As a writer who likes to push the limits, Banned Books Week -- which this year was at the end of September -- is always one of my favorites. I used to question how far I should go, what would get me in trouble with editors, with agents, with conservative groups, with my mom. But my husband would tell me, “The best thing that can happen to you is to get banned. You get more attention that way, and then you sell more books.”

He’s got a good point. Teens love things their parents say “no” to. But banned books aren’t about just throwing in taboo and gratuitous material. Truth is, YA books are never banned for being poorly written. A YA editor would rather burn their favorite reading chair or be cut off from coffee for an eternity than to throw a mediocre book out into the marketplace. YA books are banned because they are written so well and with so much truth and honesty that they resonate with their readers.
Which is why books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, John Green’s Looking for Alaska, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky are on the list of most frequently banned books. While banners of YA literature only see the language, sexual content, or on-the-fringe social issues in these books, teens see real life. And they relate to it. But more importantly, they feel they are not alone.  

Meg Cabot, author of over 45 YA books, said in last week’s awesome CNN article, A brief history of young adult literature, that "The whole reason you're reading is because you want some hope that you're going to get through whatever you're going through. I know how hard it was as a teenager, and I understood how it felt to be an outsider. I want to be able to offer people hope."

CNN’s article also suggests that what young adults relate to has changed drastically from the inception of YA literature, and it will continue to change as taboo subject barriers are broken down and the majority of society accepts that more teens are getting involved with and relating to subjects like sex, drugs, self-mutilation, bingeing, etc. Even ten years ago, editors and agents would read my work and tell me that sex could happen, but you’d have to “close the door on the reader” before teens read it in detail. Now that door stays open while YA writers find the most effective way of packing the emotion into the experience without turning it into 50 Shades of Grey.

Ellen Hopkins, author of emotionally wrenching novels in verse, is frequently banned, even as her books go straight to the New York Times Bestseller list. Hopkins says her intention is never to sensationalize the mistakes and tragedies of teens. Instead, she tries to get as close as she can to the emotional heart of these issues.
"The story lines push the boundaries of what young adult is allowed to be," she says. "I don't see how arming kids with knowledge can ever be a bad thing."*


In honor of 2013 Banned Books Week, YA Fusion is giving away Ellen Hopkins’ new novel, SMOKE. Simply post a comment below about your favorite banned book or what your stance is on banning YA literature. A random drawing will be held and the winner posted on Friday, October 25. Be sure to leave your email so I can contact you in case you win. Drawing open to only U.S. and Canadian residents. 
Good Luck!!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sharpening My Tools: A Month of Nonfiction

Sharpening My Tools: A Month of Nonfiction

Are you taking the bold leap and participating in NaNoWriMo in November? I am, and I plan to succeed. To that end, I’m spending the month of October preparing. Yes, I’m doing the expected character GMC’s, outlining plots and pinpointing turning points. But I’m also prying open my mind to the possibility of quality writing by reading some nonfiction.

First on my reading list is Rosaline Wiseman’s MASTERMINDS AND WINGMEN. You may be familiar with Ms. Wiseman’s very popular QUEEN BEES AND WANNABES,  focusing on teenage girl power and the groups they inhabit. MASTERMINDS presents the same information from a male perspective. Whether you’re the mother of sons, or a writer whose books are inhabited by male characters, this book is an invaluable resource. As with QUEEN BEES, Ms. Wiseman identifies the standard groups in Boy World, the positions in those groups, and the power in those positions. My son is 28, but I’m seeing him differently, hopefully more completely, by reading this. I know my characters will gain depth.

But characters aren’t the only means of conveying a story. Setting, if used skillfully, can add a very rich voice. Lucky for me, Mary Buckham’s third installment in her WRITING ACTIVE SETTING series, ANCHORING ACTION AS A CHARACTER AND MORE, has just been released.
I first encountered Mary through an online class she taught. Her classes and books are impressively full of useful information. She backs up each concept presented with loads of easy to recognize examples from popular fiction so that absorbing her teaching is almost osmotic. Revisiting book 2, EMOTION, CONFLICT AND BACK STORY and delving into book 3 are a perfect fit for my Nano goal of Great Quality, Less Editing. (Book 1, CHARACTERIZATION AND SENSORY DETAIL won’t be released to Nookies like myself until November.)

I contacted Mary this week, and whether it’s her bottle of bourbon I’m holding hostage or the fact that she’s just so nice, this crazy busy woman agreed to an interview.

First, thanks, Mary, for joining us. I’m a huge fan (Can you see my Fan Girl hands?) of your books and your teaching. Then there’s that sense of humor . . .
Have you always been a teacher? What motivated you to start teaching writers?

Thank you Lisa for having me here and how cool that I get the fan girl wave. My ego is expanding! I don’t have a background in teaching and still don’t consider myself as a teacher. I started sharing what I’d learned by trial and error about the craft of writing about the time my third fiction book was due to be released. At that time online courses were still relatively rare and I thought sharing what I knew and was learning myself was a win-win option. Others might benefit and I could connect with writers and readers from all over the world.  They say to learn, teach, and boy have I found that true!

I've taken online writer's classes through Writers' Univ. ( In what capacity are you associated with WU? Founder? Professor? Athletic Director?

LOL! Some days it feels like Athletic Director, especially with the major changes Yahoo Groups have instigated recently. Sort of like wrestling crocodiles when you’re trying to teach a class but spending more of your time making sure participants can participate with all the technical “improvements” creating roadblocks to participation. Actually I’m a co-founder with the amazing Laurie Schnebly Campbell. We wanted to offer a venue that was not one genre specific but offered craft courses for writers of all genres.

 You had great success with your book, BREAK INTO FICTION: 11 STEPS TO BUILDING A STORY THAT SELLS. Now you are focusing on active setting. What was the spark that inspired this series?

The WRITING ACTIVE SETTING series books came out of my teaching around the US and Canada, reading lots and lots of pre-published manuscripts and listening to writers speak about craft elements that they struggled with on a consistent basis.  Too many writers think of Setting as a static element in their stories instead of a powerful dynamic that can really take their writing to a new level. So first I researched how Setting was used effectively by published authors in a wide variety of genres from literary, YA, Fantasy, Historicals and more. Then I taught courses on the subject for several years to see if my concepts, once explained, helped other writers. I was blown away by the changes I saw when writers understood the ways Setting could be used. Creating the books, and making them affordable, was a logical next step.

Will there be a fourth book?

Not at this time. There will be a paper version that will combine all three e-versions and enhanced with additional material. I’m aiming to have that out in early 2014. Then I’m looking to take some of my other teaching material and create books out of them. Right now I’m debating between SEX ON THE PAGE: Understanding and Writing Sexual Tension for all genres (including YA) or PACING. One or the other will be released in 2014.

Hmmm, I’ve taken those classes and loved them both. Do you have to pick just one?

Since I’m focusing so much on my fiction (released 4 novels, two novellas and two more novels coming just this year) it’s a matter of making sure there’s time to do everything. Great news is that I’ll look at releasing whichever non-fiction book I don’t write next year in 2015.

Mary, you also write fiction. You’ve got the INVISIBLE RECRUIT Urban Fantasy series, but aren’t you working on a YA series?

Yes! It’s so much fun, too! TIME TRAP is the first book in the Red Moon Series and was released earlier this year. The second in the series, TIME RETURN will be coming later this year. It’s a cross-genre YA novel with elements of Sci Fi/Fantasy, Adventure and Romance. Best part is I get to work with NYT author Dianna Love in the creation of the series which will be four books all together. Check it out at

If you are interested in more information, you can find Mary at: The local pub! Oh, you mean online. Here I am: (my Urban Fantasy series) (the YA series)

Thank you Lisa for inviting me to share. All the best with NaNoWriMo!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

That time of year again...

The season of falling leaves, hot chocolate, cozy fires, and incoming white stuff. Summer is finally behind us and winter is on the way (yay). To me that means lots of yummy apple and pumpkin flavored goodies and curling up with some awesome reads!

So here’s the scenario. You go to bed one night and when you look out the window, you see the hint of flurries. When you wake up the next morning, you find that those flurries have turned the outside world into a winter wonderland (Not rushing the snow much, am I?). There’s two feet of fluffy snow and it's still falling. The roads are impassable, and there’s plenty of hot chocolate. What do you do all day?

Duh. You read!

We get some pretty wicked storms out here during the winter. So when it snows like crazy, I’m house bound—and happy to be so.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite winter reads.

Bitten - Kelley Armstrong—I could read this book a thousand times. Why? Two words for you. Clayton Danvers. Don’t get me wrong, I love Elena, but Clay is the reason I’ve read this book, like, a million times. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to find out.

Anything from the Mediator series - Meg Cabot—Suze and Jessie. A girl and her ghost. Suze is one of my fave YA chickies. She’s smart, sassy, and can roll with the punches. Plus, she deals with the dead with flair! 

Nightlife - Rob Thurman—Cal Leandros remains one of my favorite fictional men. Badass and snarky!

Any one of the Soul Screamer books — Rachel Vincent - This series was amazing. If you haven't started it, this is the perfect season to get cracking!

The Heavenly Horse from the Outermost West - Mary Stanton - This was one of the first fantasy books I read as a kid. I will never, ever get tired of revisiting Duchess and Dancer and the gang

Your turn! What books will you curl up with during the first big winter storm?