Sunday, October 30, 2011

Author Interview/Giveaway, The Implosion of Aggie Winchester

The blogosphere has been celebrating all month with spooky stories and great giveaways. But I'm a fraidy cat, so I have a non-scary author interview and giveaway for you.

Lara Zielin works for the University of Michigan, my alma mater - Go Blue! She graciously answered a slew of questions. Read on, then join us for trick-or-treating and a special giveaway!

The Implosion of Aggie Winchester is your second YA novel, following Donut Days. Congrats! Tell us about your path to publication. How did you find your agent?

As most writers do, I struggled for a long time to get my debut novel published. From the time I started the book to the time I held the finished hardcover in my hand, it took 8 years. Now, that's on the long side for most writers, so if you're reading this and trying to get a book published, don't despair! I had a lot of growing to do as a writer during that time, and that was my path - it's not everyone's path.

The good news is that along the way I had wonderful people helping me. One of those people was Brad Meltzer, who has a new show on the History Channel called Decoded. You should totally watch it! Anyway, Brad recommended I speak to Larry Kirshbaum about representation. At the time, Larry had just opened a new agency, LJK, and Brad knew him. I querried LJK, and Larry passed me along to Susanna Einstein, who ended up becoming my agent. So, happy endings all around!

Aggie was inspired by some true-life events. Tell us more.

When I was in high school, a pregnant Goth student was elected homecoming queen. The school administration burned the ballots and put a pretty, popular girl on the throne instead. This happened my junior year, and my dad was my principal at the time. He was embroiled in the scandal, which made national headlines. My dad lost his job over the whole thing.

Aggie is definitely fiction, but the ways in which she figures out that leadership and parenting aren't always black and white are certainly things I personally discovered. Today, my dad and I are both grateful Aggie afforded us the opportunity to talk about what had happened all those years ago. Would you believe it, we never had before I started writing the book. Maybe it's a Midwestern thing - you just smile and nod and pretend everything is fine, just fine. It was great to finally have a chance to honestly discuss what went down.

Speaking about honest discussions... Let's talk about sex, baby... In some stories, the scene heats up, then the curtain is drawn, leaving readers to their imagination. You took a more direct approach, wrote honestly without glossing over details, and used straightforward words. Masturbation, penis, orgasm.


Tell us about your thought process, and if these scenes changed in revisions with your agent or editor.

I think the frank talk about sex is either something readers appreciate about the book, or something they think is just way too much, over the top, why'd-you-put-that-in-there content.

My goal was to write a book about a very real girl who didn't pull any punches. She's not every girl, and Aggie makes some seriously bad choices throughout the book. But she's at least honest and straightforward about what she's experiencing - and at the end I believe she's totally redeemed, even though she stumbles and falls over and over again in the story.

This kind of literature isn't for everyone, and I totally understand that. It's also literature that my editor and I decided from the get-go wouldn't get pared down to make it more "safe." I'm so lucky in that way - my editor is very strong and she's not afraid to put edgy stuff out there. We definitely collaborated closely to give Aggie her strong voice and to not gloss over details.

Yes, Aggie is totally redeemed in the end. I was rooting for her! What's next for you?

I finished my third book, The Waiting Sky, and it comes out in August 2012. It's about a girl who chases tornadoes with her brother in Oklahoma for a summer. Currently, I'm working on my fourth book, which is about a girl who suffers from panic attacks. I also am busy helping writers with their manuscripts through my website:

Never a dull moment, that's for sure! Whew. :)

Thanks for sharing, Lara!

Lara is giving away one signed copy of The Implosion of Aggie Winchester to a random commenter. (Sorry, U.S. mailing addresses only - it's a hardcover!) Please leave a comment by Saturday, November 5th, and tell us if you're dressing up for Halloween. Or, what was your most memorable costume in the past? Here's one of mine:

Yep, that's me as Sherlock Holmes. Even at age 9, I was a book nerd!

And you have to check out Lara's 6th grade costume. Go to her blog here, to see the picture!

The interview with Lara Zielin continues on Monday over at YA Stands where you can enter to win a second copy of a signed hardcover edition of Aggie!
You'll also find a yummy Halloween recipe for pumpkin/black bean chili!

Back to work on Tuesday! I'm sharing a writing tip at Literary Rambles for Casey's Tip Tuesday feature. Stop by and explore the wealth of information on that site.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Colette Ballard

The winner of Jus Accardo's signed copy of TOUCH is Jamie Manning!
Jamie, please send your mailing address info. to Jus at:

Thanks for entering!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Colette Ballard

Today’s blog post is an interview with our very own, Jus Accardo, whose debut novel has just been released!! First of all, a big congratulations to Jus, as well as a shout out to the cover artist: )



A DENAZEN NOVEL - Book One - by Jus Accardo

When a strange boy tumbles down a river embankment and lands at her feet, seventeen-year-old adrenaline junkie Deznee Cross snatches the opportunity to piss off her father by bringing the mysterious hottie with ice blue eyes home.

Except there’s something off with Kale. He wears her shoes in the shower, is overly fascinated with things like DVDs and vases, and acts like she’ll turn to dust if he touches her. It’s not until Dez’s father shows up, wielding a gun and knowing more about Kale than he should, that Dez realizes there’s more to this boy—and her father’s “law firm”—than she realized.

Kale has been a prisoner of Denazen Corporation—an organization devoted to collecting “special” kids known as Sixes and using them as weapons—his entire life. And, oh yeah, his touch? It kills. The two team up with a group of rogue Sixes hellbent on taking down Denazen before they’re caught and her father discovers the biggest secret of all. A secret Dez has spent her life keeping safe.

A secret Kale will kill to protect.

1.Touch has a very interesting premise. Where did the idea for your book come from? Honestly? A coffee drive-through line. Totally serious. I was sitting on line, waiting for it to move (which it wasn't, in case anyone's wondering) and I was staring off into the woods. I got the picture in my head of a girl being chased through the forest. She was barefoot and everything she touched--trees, branches, the ground beneath her feet--all shriveled and died. It all just kinda snowballed from there. Three weeks later, the first draft was done.

2.When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? And how did you decide on YA? I've wanted to be a writer or a chef since I was really little. Growing up I was either in a corner with my nose in a book, or in the kitchen with my grandparents. I actually started out writing adult paranormal and UF. The first book I queried was an adult urban fantasy. But thanks to the genius of one of my critique partners, it was pointed out that my voice is more YA than adult. This was fine with me because 90 % of what I read is YA anyway :D

I get more out of writing young adult. There are so many firsts... Experiences and strong emotions. In reality, first kisses don't always make you swoon. Going to prom isn't always the best night of your life. Meeting the one isn't always sunshine and puppies and singing angels. It's fun! Tons of painful, messy, angsty emotion.

3.What is your writing process like? My process is a little funky...being I don't really have one. Not a normal one, anyway. I don't plot--it screws me up. The most I start out with is a vague list of scene ideas that I've seen in my head (because yes--I not only hear voices, but see things, too) I know it might sounds strange, but I've tried to plot. It doesn't work. All the twists and plot points come out as I'm writing. If I try to get it planned before hand, I just sit there staring at the screen. It's not pretty. There's even drool involved...

As for how often I write... It's every day. I can't not write. There's too much going on in my head and lemme tell gets crowded in there. I start around 5 or 6 when my husband leaves for work, and usually go until midnight. I run errands in between, of course. That many hours straight in front of the computer would probably turn my brain to pixel particles.

I average anywhere from 6 to 10k on a normal day. People always flip when I say that, but really, when you think about it, that's not that much. This is my full time job. It's what I do all day (and night sometimes) Plus, my 3 kids are the fuzzy, four-legged variety and don't require trips to soccer or ballet. They've happy as can be to just chill at my feet all day as I work.

4.Your book was sold as a trilogy, many writers speak of hitting a wall after they sell the first one. Have you experienced this? If so, how did you overcome it? When I sat down to start book two, for five days, all I did was kind of sit there and pull my hair out. I'd worked myself up over it so badly, that I just couldn't think. It was like my brain shut down. As soon as I relaxed though, it all flowed nice and easy and book two poured out (almost) as quickly as the first.

5.Anything you'd like to share about what readers can expect in book two? Hmm... Well, Dez and Kale aren't going to have it easy. (cue evil laughter). They went through a lot in TOUCH and things aren't going to get any simpler. You can expect more secrets, some surprising betrayals--even some side switching. Oh, and there's a chance someone might die... ;)

6.Who are some of your favorite authors and why? Kelley Armstrong, Rob Thurman, Mary Stanton, Lili St. Crow, Rachel Vincent... There are SO many. The thing they all have in common is that their books are full of characters I can't stop thinking about. Stories that stay with me way past the final page of the book.

7.Oh, and how much do you love your cover?? : ) OMG. My cover... Look at it and tell me you don't want one of him for your very own?!!? I love the colors, the guy--and those eyes. He's the perfect Kale.

Thanks so much for letting me hang out on your Sunday, Colette! This was a blast :)

To read an excerpt of Touch and for ordering information, go to Entangled Publishing at:

OR to be entered in a drawing for a FREE SIGNED COPY….

Leave a comment below and like her on facebook from now until 10/29:!/pages/JusAccardo/118357108246769

For more on Jus, check her out on:




And the winner is...

Thanks to everyone for your great ideas! The winner of Forgive My Fins is Heather! Watch for an e-mail from me.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cover love and a CONTEST!

I received the cover art (which I adore!) for my May release, What She Left Behind. I love the way the words hide behind the trees! The cover artist, Jessica Handelman, was kind enough to answer a few questions about this cover and her job.

Tracy: Could you tell us a little about the process you used to create the cover for What She Left Behind?

Jessica: The first step I took in designing What She Left Behind was to read a good chunk of your manuscript. I'd love to read every manuscript that I work on all the way through, but realistically, I get assigned all of my titles for each season at once and I don't have the luxury of time. In order to get moving as quickly as possible on all of the covers, I try to read about half of every book. This helps me get a sense of the voice and the story. After reading, I talked to the editor about my initial thoughts. She filled me in on the rest of the story/the ending. Once I had this information I did a lot of photo-research. I put together a bunch of covers with some rough type in place (we didn't have a final title at the time). Annette [the editor] and I really loved one of my comps but didn't love the exact look of the girl in the photo. I spent a few weeks looking for various stock shots of alternate girls, but none of the ones I found were quite right, nor did they fit well into the layout. From this point, I started my image search all over and put together a second round of new comps. Again, we really liked an image of one girl, but some other people in-house were iffy on the direction, so we scrapped it pretty quickly.

With the last round of comps, I decided to focus less on a girl and more on the mood of the story. Annette and I talked about pushing the cover in a more scary direction. I found an image of the trees on one stock site and a girl running on another and spent an afternoon photoshopping the two together. I put together a few type treatments. Immediately, Annette and I knew that this was the best direction for the cover, but some people in-house felt that the girl I had running looked a little too young. I quickly found a replacement (the girl on your cover) and the rest is history.

Tracy: What kind of background /training does it take to become a cover artist and /or what brought you to this field?

Jessica: In college I studied Visual Communications, with a focus on illustration and graphic design. In order to be a gooddesigner, you must know how to use Photoshop and Indesign. I spend 75% of my day on the computer, using these programs. The other 25% I spend on email/phone corresponding with illustrators and photographers.

Tracy: What is your typical day like?

Jessica: Each day varies depending on the projects I am currently working on. When I am working more on teen novels, I spend a lot of time photoshopping stock photography and/or organizing a photoshoot, going on the photoshoot, and then turning a few shots from the shoot into a cover. When I am working more on middle-grade, I spend more time art directing illustrators and then designing a cover around the art. Typically, my day involves emailing, going to brainstorming and production meetings, and working in photoshop and indesign on the layout of a jacket or cover.
In celebration of cover art, I thought I would share two other covers that I've enjoyed, ask you to share your favorites, and offer you the chance to win a copy of a book with a pretty cover (not that any of us judges books by their covers!)

Pretty cover #1: After reading the story behind the paperback cover of Carolyn Mackler's Tangled at Melissa Walker's blog (, I have to admit, I was hooked. I mean, who doesn't love butterflies? So I got my very own beautiful copy of Tangled. I loved this story about four teen lives that intersect.
Pretty cover #2: When I saw the cover of Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs, I was fascinated by the mermaid's blue lips on the cover. I thoroughly enjoyed this fresh and fun take on mermaids.
In the comments, please tell us about a YA book that you think is the total package: and awesome cover AND an amazing story. One randomly selected commenter will WIN a SIGNED COPY of Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs (U.S. entrants only). Please be sure to include an e-mail address. Contest ends Saturday at noon (eastern time).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Excrement My Dad Said

My father had a few memorable phrases. They ranged from the teeth-grating, “You don’t have to want to, you just have to do it,” to the disarming, “My opinion, not to be confused with reality.” My favorite was, “The only nice thing I can say about that couple is that they keep two other people from being miserable.” But today, I’m thinking of another of Dad’s phrases. “Some people have twenty years of experience; some people do the first year twenty times.”

I mention this because I recently attended the SCBWI-Midsouth 2011 Fall Conference in Nashville. Bear with me on this. I’ve got a point and I promise to get back to it. But first...

Road Trips
My wife and I take audiobooks on road trips. Given the distractions of driving, the best books are collections of humorous essays. For the conference trip, we had Howie Mandel’s, “Here’s the Deal, Don’t Touch Me.” He’s not always funny, but from developing stand-up routines at the foot of his parent’s bed, to dramatic acting, to cartoon voice-overs, he is always experimenting, trying to find his next level.

Which Reminds Me
Mandel’s book reminds me of Steve Martin’s memoir, “Born Standing.” Mr. Martin takes his comedy seriously. All that stuff with King tut, balloon animals, and silly hats was well practiced. He worked hard to figure out what made people laugh and why. He tested audiences and changed them as much as they changed his humor. Now he tours as a professional banjo player. His year one was definitely not the same as his year twenty.

Back to Nashville
At the conference I was lucky enough to meet Newbery winner, Linda Sue Park and attend her scene-writing intensive. She shared a lot of good writing techniques, but she taught us something more in her key-note address. She experiments. She educates herself. She finds challenging stories. Her most recent book, “A Long Walk to Water,” is different from her award winning “A Single Shard,” or her entry in the 39 Clues series, “Storm Warning.” Year twenty doesn’t look much like year one.

Excrement I Say
Here’s the point I promised at the start. It’s about us, as writers and readers. We’ve got to experiment. I’m experimenting now. My current work-in-progress—the reason I’m on this blog—is my first YA. I’m writing it to see if I can—and because my critique group came close to saying, “You don’t have to want to, you just have to do it.” Anyway. I shared the opening chapters at the conference, and while the critiquer’s opinion should not be confused with reality, I got a rave review.

The author does research while attending the 2011 SCBWI-Midsouth Fall Conference.

Don’t Turn Me Into My Father
What about you? What have you written, read, made, tried or tasted that’s new for you? Post a comment about your experiments. Otherwise I’ll have to keep saying it. “Some people have twenty years of experience; some people do the first year twenty times.” Don’t turn me into my father.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Do you have the beat?




A ninja in the craft of writing. With it, your words can flow like water trickling over smooth rocks.

Without it? Your story will be flat. It will go slow. And I’m going to stop there, because it’s painful for me to try to write sentences without a beat.

What is a beat? It is the way a writer uses varying sentence length, sentence structure, words, and literary devices to create a flow in the story.

I first discovered beats when I was reading aloud to my children. I found that there were certain stories that my children and I enjoyed more than others. It didn’t take me long to discover why. Our favorite stories had a rhythm that made them slick to hear aloud, smooth to read in the mind, and just plain fun for the lips.

Best example: Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham.

Sure, you say. It’s a rhyming book so of course it flows. No, no, no. You can have a rhyme that doesn’t flow. My horrible example:

I have a cat.

Mice went down the street and enjoyed eating hats.


We own large old mats.

Five days ago, the old lady next door told me to go outside and then she sat.

It rhymes but it doesn’t flow. Read a verse from Doctor Seuss or if you’re brave enough, check this out:

There is a structure to the writing that creates the beat. The structure you chose will help create rhythm in your story. When writing be mindful of certain things:

  1. Within your paragraph, are you varying your sentence lengths? Do you have short sentences mixed in with longer ones?
  2. Are you using the same sentence structure over and over again? For instance, subject/verb or are you mixing it up by starting the sentence with dependent clauses, adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases?
  3. Are you willing to kick grammar’s butt and do something daring? Are you willing to let one word or one sentence speak as its own paragraph?
  4. Are you learning about literary devices such as parallelism (where the sentence is parallel in structure), anadiplosis (repeating the last word at the beginning of the next sentence), anaphora (repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of successive sentences)? There are lots more of these.
  5. Are you reading your work aloud so you can hear if you have a beat?

Here is an example from my novel, PUSHING THE LIMITS, which will be debuting from Harlequin Teen in summer of 2012:

Whatever. They weren’t the ones who lay in bed at night trying to figure out what happened. They weren’t the ones who woke up screaming. They weren’t the ones wondering if they were losing their minds.

They weren’t the ones who felt…hopeless.

I created a beat using anaphora.

Another example:

“I’m fine.” If I kept saying it then maybe it would be true. And maybe, someday, I could sleep a full night without horrible dreams—strange dreams, scary dreams, full of constellations, darkness, broken glass, and sometimes, blood.

Check it out: I broke a grammar rule and started a sentence with “and.”

Need more convincing? Here is an example of my favorite paragraph from one of my favorite novels. Can you hear the beat?

So what about you guys? Do you guys have a favorite author that uses cadence/beats in a way that makes the story smooth? If so, who are they?

Or what is your favorite way to create a beat in your story? If you are brave enough, share an example from your work!

Keep checking out YA Fusion. In a couple of weeks I’ll be giving away a signed copy of Ruta Sepetys’ New York Times Bestselling novel, Between Shades of Gray.