Sunday, December 30, 2012

Creative Kids and a Happy New Year ARC Giveaway of Level 2

Never “write down” for children or teen readers.  One of the major rules for authors, right?  Recently I was reminded of just how sophisticated those young readers are.

I coordinate the Reflections creative arts competition at my daughter’s elementary school.  Yes, I’ll admit it – I volunteered to coordinate a PTA program. (I hear you snickering, Kurt and Collette! And Heather Smith Meloche graciously accepted my request for her to serve as one of the judges.) This year’s theme was The Magic of a Moment, and the 5th grade teachers required all of their students to enter.  Their assignment was to write a poem, essay, or short story, and one teacher even brought in a local poet, Alise Alousi, from InsideOut Literary Arts Project in Detroit to lead a workshop for the kids. (A huge thanks to Kristine Uyeda, writer-in-residence for InsideOut, and local author/teacher Barbara Rebbeck for also serving as judges!)

Alise began by sharing a poem with the class.  The students readily identified various elements - similes, personification, alliteration.  Later, when the students wrote their own poems, their teacher wouldn’t allow them to turn in their first draft, or their second, or third; she challenged them to dig deeper, to find fresh, unique images, to revise again and again.  The kids set their poems aside, returned to them days later, rewrote, and after 3 weeks of this process, they turned in their final work. 

As the coordinator, I had the privilege of reading their writing before it got sent to the judges.
“The breeze as cautious as a fawn”
“Fireworks decorated the sky like Christmas ornaments”
“It was like hitting dust”

The students wrote about common, special moments – a new puppy, a new sibling, a soccer goal, a dance recital – but they also wrote about art, fear, nature, life, death, our universe, and the feeling of being merely “a freckle” on the vast landscape of our world.  The wisdom of ten-year-olds.

If you’re a teacher or a parent, you have plenty of opportunities to spend time with children and teens, but if not, I encourage you to make that one of your New Year’s goals. I guarantee you’ll be impressed by their deep thinking, and they’ll inspire you to write fuller and truer.  In case you missed it, here’s a humorous essay from the NY Times Book Review from an author comparing her two writing groups – the one for adults and the one for 7-year-olds.

I wish you a 2013 filled with love, peace, and opportunities.  And since this is a blog celebrating books and writing, let’s kick off the new year with a giveaway.

 Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans.  In this gripping exploration of a futuristic afterlife, a teen discovers that death is just the beginning.

I’ve followed the Presenting Lenore blog for the past year and was delighted to receive an ARC of her debut YA novel, Level 2, from publisher Simon and Schuster.  Even more encouraging was this review by one of my favorite authors, Mary E. Pearson:  “Absolutely gripping. My heart pounded on nearly every page. You won't be able to put it down.”

Indeed, Lenore’s novel is getting great reviews praising her world-building and multi-layered plot.  The first few chapters present question after question that will keep you guessing and turning the pages.

Level 2 will be released in mid-January, but you can read it now by entering this giveaway.  Leave a comment with your name and email.  We'd also love to know about other 2013 debuts you’re looking forward to reading.  Please comment by Friday, January 11th. This giveaway is for US and Canadian mailing addresses.

* YA Fusion has 294 followers!  I'm not sure why round numbers have so much appeal, but we'd love to get to 300.  If you're a new follower, please let us know in your comment and I'll give you an extra entry for the giveaway.

* We’ve been so busy that we neglected our What’s News section for many months. It’s updated now, so please take a look and celebrate our good news.

* On Tuesday, I’m sharing a super simple, quick writing tip over at Literary Rambles. Please stop by to help me wish Casey and Natalie a Happy New Year.
Cheers!Special occasion banner saying, 'Happy New Year'
Kristin Lenz

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Hi friends. The YA Fusion team is on vacation this week, spending time with family and friends. I'm almost ready to host Christmas Eve, except for making the squash and spinach lasagna - it's a lengthy labor of love!  This is my Christmas tree with some of the original red lights from my childhood - I love how it makes our living room glow with warmth.

We'll be back next week to kick off the new year with an ARC giveaway.  Wishing you a peaceful and joyous holiday season.  Cheers!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tis the Season

When I was a kid, we had a big cardboard box full of Christmas decorations.  Once a year—usually the day we put up the tree—we’d dig the box out from under the suitcases in the hall closet, flip open the lid, and listen to Dad cuss as he untangling the strings of lights.  Ah... Christmas.
Beside the well-damned lights, we had stockings for our post-war split-level with no fireplace, and tons of salt-dough ornaments.  Plus... a couple books.  The book I remember best was a heavy-duty paperback version of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas—not the Rankin Bass with the talking mice and broken clock—I’m talking pure Clement Clarke Moore.  It was shaped like a chimney—probably 24” tall x 10” wide—with Santa’s jolly head sticking out the top.  I read that book over and over during the three or so weeks before our homemade foil star came down and we buried the box away, not to be seen until summer vacation when we needed the suitcases.

I mention all this because I’ve been thinking about holidays and books lately (to say nothing of summer vacation).  With the many winter solstice holidays coming, I was going to be timely and post a list of YA holiday books.  But a quick check the internet says it’s been done by folks with far better reading habits than I.  So, I decided to talk about how holidays can help an author tell a story.
Holiday World Building
    If I say, “Santa’s Workshop,” you likely get a vision that’s similar to mine—gallons of blood and a chipper/shredder full of... wait, that’s Valentines.  Back to Santa.  We both know his workshop is at the top of the globe.  What’s more, if we’re talking Santa, we’ve agreed that there is a Santa.  Interesting that we can make that leap easier that we can deal with melting polar ice caps.

    Even if the book isn’t about the actual holiday story, the holiday can add to the setting.  A contemporary story can have decorated department store windows.  A space station 100 years in the future can have a faux-holly wreath.  Come to think of it, a wreath might be the one thing the Sci-Fi author doesn’t have to describe.

Holiday Characters:
     Holidays come with a cast of well-established characters.  You’ve heard of the Easter Bunny; you know about that Santa guy.  The author doesn’t have to tell you who they are, even if they’re doing an alt-version.  If I say, “Bad Santa,” you know the character just as well as “Good Santa.”

Holiday Timing:
    The author may have to establish the year of the story, but the time of year is pretty well set for a holiday.  Halloween is the evening of October the 31st.  Thanksgiving in the USA is the fourth Thursday in November.  A Valentines Dance is in mid-February.

Emotional Impact:
     Since I just mentioned Valentines, let’s not ignore the emotional punch associated with holidays.  An author need only mention the date to get some hearts racing.  Of course, the author can go deeper by having their characters experience the holiday in a relatable way.

Apart from helping with the story, holidays have a broader impact.  Clearly the holiday books of my childhood were bought, sold, and saved because of the holiday.  They were read every year because of the holiday.  And while that might pigeonhole a classic holiday book, I think readers are open to holiday settings any time of the year.
I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts—and getting back to my original idea, what are your favorite YA holiday books?  Mine happens to be the one I’m writing right now.  Well, that and Terry Prachett’s Hogfather, and a friend’s that isn’t quite done yet, so I can’t tell you about it, but it rocks.

May you have the best of whatever holiday you like.  I’m off to untangle the friggin’ lights.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Self Doubt and Writing

My sister is an artist.

Some of my earliest memories are of her drawing or of people talking about her drawing.



Each word used to describe her and each word is absolutely true. Me on the other hand…I can’t draw a stick figure.  

For years, I used to watch my sister about pull her hair out over her work. “It’s not good enough,” she’d say or “It’s not done.”

I would sit back on the couch of our small living room and see nothing but spectacular brilliance. How could she not see the absolute beauty she created when it was right there staring her in the face?

I never got it…until I took my fascination with storytelling and decided to pursue a publishing career.

Last week, I finished revisions for a story and I felt a little stir crazy as I closed out the document. Doubt nagged and chewed at my confidence. My mind raced through all the possible other things I could have done with the storyline, characterization, or plot.

My trusted beta readers and critique partners all told me that it was ready…that they loved the story, but when I would reopen the document, all I saw were things I could have done differently or possibly better.

Let me throw this onto the table: I feel this way with every story I finish and each time I type “The End” I understand my sister.

My book was like her painting; it’s my work of art. While others can appreciate its beauty for what it is, as the artist, I see where I could improve.

And when I made the connection, when I realized I wasn’t appreciating the beauty in front of me, I took a step back and a deep breath.

I love my story. I love my characters and the plot and everything about it. Writers are artists. We use words instead of a paintbrush. I think it’s good that we are always pushing ourselves to be better, but remember to take a step back and congratulate yourself for your accomplishments.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

THE SEVEN STAGES OF GRIEF (after rejection)

Grief is the response to a loss. The loss could be felt for the death of a loved one, friendship, a business loss, or some other thing considered dear.
If you’re a writer you’ve probably experienced this feeling at some point—probably more than once—over rejection. And you’re allowed to; after all, you’ve poured everything you had, your heart and soul, into a project that you’ve been growing for months, maybe years, only to send it out into the world and get rejected.
Your foundation is shaken, your dream shattered (at least temporarily), your confidence and hope fade like a pair of worn-out jeans.
Everyone in the business encourages you, tells you the best way to handle it is to start on your next project (actually to start it the second you go out on submission). Which is excellent advice; as long as you’ve moved on, or are at least allowing yourself to move through the grieving process…

Step one: Shock and disbelief after hearing the news of the loss.
I had some early interest by a few publishers, one in particular where a senior editor at one of the big houses loved my manuscript and asked for second reads. Unfortunately, she didn’t get 100% agreement from the acquisitions team so she had to pass. To be that close only to end up being passed on was pretty devastating and took some time to settle in.

Step two: Denial-refusal or ability to accept the reality of the situation.
I had to wrap my brain around the fact that I had spent countless hours slaving over something that may never see the light of day. I refused to accept that it was the end of the road for my book—until the rest of the rejection letters trickled in. (I plan on revising eventually and still believe there’s hope: )

Step three: Bargaining is what most people do when hearing of the loss, wishing to reverse the damage.
If I could only make some changes, if the editors would just take a chance on me, I’d do whatever it takes to make it right. Please God, I’ll be a better person; I’ll volunteer to run for office in the PTA, coordinate the can drive, and even offer to be the official Box Top for Education counter and checker of expiration dates. I’ll take part in a fundraiser for a disease I’ve never heard of and unicycle cross-country with a bike club (even though I have no unicycling experience whatsoever). I’ll help search for nearly extinct beetles in the Mohave desert (after I take a look at a map and figure out where the Mohave desert is), if you’ll just let my dream come true.

Step four: Guilt usually overlaps bargaining, blaming oneself.
I felt overwhelming guilt for taking away so much time from friends, family, and especially my children to chase a dream. I have a feeling that no matter the outcome I will always have some guilt.

Step five: Anger expressed outwardly; usually when the grieving process starts to manifest.
I was mostly angry with myself; my writing wasn’t good enough, I didn’t know enough, I didn’t write fast enough. But don’t think the green-eyed monster didn’t rear it’s ugly a head a few times when my writer friends and I would discuss published books that we deemed “pure crap”: )

Step six: Depression—occurs frequently throughout the grieving process.
It’s a hard thing to admit, especially from someone who likes to consider herself a glass-half-full-kinda girl, but depression hit me hard at times, making it difficult for me to continue my next project. Since my WIP was a series idea, it held an emotional connection to my rejected submission. After much struggling, I eventually set it aside and started something brand new. This was a tough choice since I’d actually spent a considerable amount of time plotting, outlining, and had written nearly half of a novel. I don’t regret the decision though, and plan to get back to it eventually.

Stage seven: Acceptance and Hope—realization that things cannot be reversed.
The realization that things are working out just as they are meant to, and that I have no control over timing, is a huge step. I’m not saying I don’t backslide on occasion, but at the end of the day, I have two options when considering the pursuit of my writing career A) dig in and try harder or B) quit.

How many of us have had to pick up our pages, revise them for the bazillionth time, or set them aside and start something fresh altogether? The alternative is letting our characters die, letting our dreams die; and wouldn’t that just give us a whole new loss to grieve??

P.S. Option B was never an option: )

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Rise of YA Steampunk (and Book Giveaway!)

I am working currently on a novel with a lot of steampunk elements. Yet, when I tell people this, most ask, “What’s steampunk?” Since steampunk is rising in popularity and has been consistently present in the market for the past several years, with books such as Clockwork Angel (Cassandra Clare, 2010), The Girl in the Steel Corset (Kady Cross, 2011), Incarceron (Catherine Fisher, 2010), and Boneshaker (Cherie Priest, 2009), I thought it would make sense to answer that question for YA Fusioners.

I usually tell people steampunk is written as if the Victorian world were thrust into the future. H.G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Jules Verne were the original science fiction writers, and their works about fantastic adventures to other worlds and times have inspired modern-day steampunk, which is filled with airships, mad scientists, corsets, brass goggles, air pirates, and lots of gears and cogs. Steampunk worlds tend to be darker, and as an off-shoot of science fiction, they are filled with amazing gadgets and gizmos that use Victorian materials and resources. Often, there is a paranormal or fantastical element to these stories, as well.

What attracts writers to this genre is its versatility. Steampunk can be set in the future, in the past, all over the globe or even on another planet. Because of this, the characters may have extremely Victorian traits or they may seem more contemporary than their Victorian-like surroundings. Whatever weapons, vehicles, or machines they use can be wildly creative and fantastic as long as they are gear-, steam-, or natural gas-driven.

Suzanne Lazear

Suzanne Lazear is an up-and-coming YA steampunk author whose book, Innocent Darkness, Book 1 of The Aether Chronicles, was released in August of 2012. The Aether Chronicles Series mixes the airships, weapons and wardrobe of steampunk with the paranormal darkness of faeries. Suzanne is also a part of the steampunk group blog, Steamed!, at, which has tons of information about writing steampunk and immersing yourself in the very cool elements of the steampunk world.

Suzanne has been kind enough to answer some questions about YA steampunk and share a bit about her own work. Thank you, Suzanne, for talking to us on YA Fusion!

How did you get into steampunk?

I have liked steampunk books for quite awhile, but I didn't know that it had a specific name until I discovered steampunk clothing.

You are currently working with Flux for The Aether Chronicles series. When you began pitching your first book in this series, did you find steampunk was a tough sell?

Yes, when I first started pitching steampunk, I spent more time explaining steampunk than pitching the book. I got rejections because people "just didn't understand this steampunk stuff." I also got some pushback because I'm not just writing steampunk, but steampunk faeries, and some people didn't understand why I needed to have both in the same book. Fortunately, my editor at Flux liked the idea just fine.

What are your favorite YA steampunk books?

My favorite YA steampunk book is Kady Cross' The Girl in the Steel Corset.

What do you see as steampunk’s future in YA?

Steampunk is such an incredibly diverse genre and there are so many places it can go. Like YA, steampunk is often about grey areas and pushing limits. I think not only is YA steampunk here to stay, but we're going to see a lot more steampunk mash-ups as authors continue to get creative and push boundries of their own.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book in The Aether Chronicles?

Yes! Charmed Vengeance continues to follow Noli, V, Kevighn, and James. I love this book even more than Innocent Darkness -- there were a lot of scenes that were super fun to write. Also, most of this book takes place on an airship. There's plenty of adventure -- and air pirates. (Yes, one of them is Noli's brother). I can't wait for you all to read it when it comes out next summer.


To find out more about Suzanne’s The Aether Chronicles series, visit


Leave a comment below with the title of a YA steampunk book you’ve read that we haven’t mentioned in this post or with an explanation of what you think readers love about steampunk. Leave your email in the post so I can contact you if you win. A winner will be randomly drawn and announced on YA Fusion on Saturday, November 17. Good Luck!!

I am happy to annouce that YA Fusion reader Nuzaifa has won the drawing for Suzanne's book, Innocent Darkness.
Congratulations, Nuzaifa!!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Query Hell

I did a post several months ago about queries and how difficult they can be. Since then, I've gotten a lot of emails from people wanting help with their queries, I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk about queries again, as I know there are a lot of writers obsessing over that dreaded query right this second.

One of the hardest things to do other than writing a query, is actually critiquing a query without reading a story, so whatever advice you get, keep in mind that without someone reading your novel, they don't know the ends and outs like you. Does that mean you should discount their feedback. Absolutely not, but you should be able to take their advice and tweak it with you own extensive knowledge of your book.

During my writing career I’ve probably sent well over 150 queries. Yep. You read that correctly. Some of those queries were for agents, others for the agent to submit to editors. I’ve written a total thirteen, unique queries for different books. Each of those thirteen has been rewritten so many times I cringe to even think about it. Out of all those rewrites, there’s only one query that I’ve ever been truly proud of and that was CURSED.

Here is some advice I can give you on writing the query.

  • Start off with your synopsis. And trust me, that sucks worse than a query, but typically you can pull a query out of a synopsis. Also, if you can’t write a synopsis for your book, you’re not going to be able to write a query. Why? Because you either don’t know your book well enough yet or there’s flaws in your book that still need to be worked out.
  • Make sure your query has your character’s voice. You query should read like your book.
  • Write your query in first person. GASP.  That was the Internet gasping at that suggestion. Keep reading. Writing your query in first person can help you get into your character’s voice. Once you have your query finished, go back and change it from first person to third person. Now the Internet can calm down. It’s a trick that’s worked for me.
  • Have unbiased, complete strangers reader your query. Not your beta partners. There are forums like Query Tracker that is a great place for this.
  • Rewrite your query until your eyes bleed. Don’t be like me and submit the very first version of the query you’ve written. It’s embarrassing.
  • Once you’ve written and rewritten your query and submitted your query, the next thing you need to do is prepare yourself for rejection because it’s going to happen. Some of the most popular writers have been rejected dozens and dozens of times. It’s just the nature of the process. 

      There isn't one perfect way to write a query and no one person can tell you how to do it. I kind of compared queries to the Big Mac sauce. No one knows quite what's in it, but they have their theories. In the end, it taste damn good. So it's a bit talent, bit timing, and a bit luck.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

How Does One Cry Underwater?

World-building is one of my favorite parts in the writing process. You can be as creative as you want, you can make civilizations and histories and literally move mountains, but you have to follow the rules.

What rules, you ask? The rules of the world you create.

Let me explain.

Let’s say a mermaid falls in love with a charming, but broody young merman, and they spend their days frolicking in the seaweed (much to her father’s dismay), daring each other to swim too close to the jellyfish (which only stings if you’re a wimp), and trapping tuna (which are slippery, but not altogether too bright). They don’t have a religion, apart from worshipping a metal hairbrush from the surface (we’ll just call it a Dinglehopper), and their biggest dream is to win the all-star synchronized swimming contest.

But building a world isn’t just about combining brilliant (award winning, really) ideas, it’s about consistency. A story is only believable if the characters have some limitations – gravity maybe, or human restrictions, like the one I always neglect, sleep. It needs to have rules, just like a body needs to have bones in order to stand.

For instance, let’s just say our mermaid friend finds her dark brooding merman catching crabs with the mergirl from across the pond. Would she burst into tears? Well, that depends. If she’s submerged in water then probably not. You’ve just bumped up against one of the constraints of your world. You need to find another way for your characters to show the emotions behind the tears.

Maybe she’s not sad. Maybe she wants to stand her ground and tell him off. Would she say, “What the hell? Get your filthy paws off of my merman!” Maybe. But probably not. Because 1) what would our underwater heroine know of paws (I doubt she had a puppy growing up)? And 2) you’ve set up a world where mermaids worship Dinglehoppers, and to reference Hell implies a traditional, surface-dweller’s religious belief system. Anyway, she’s probably not going to “stand” very well with a tail, and I don’t know about you, but the last time I tried to say anything underwater it didn’t go very well.*

You get my point.

When it comes down to it, we use words and phrases every day that reflect the world we live in. I was breathing like I’d just run a mile. Don’t be such a baby. Piece of cake. He’s born again. That costs an arm and a leg. I’m having a bad hair day.

Most of us know what they mean, so we assume our characters do too. But we have to be careful. Just 
because it’s fiction, doesn’t mean anything goes.

Welcome to some of the joys of world-building!

*Anne Greenwood Browne has created a very unique communication style for the mermaids in her book, LIES BENEATH (2012). Check it out! It's awesome!