Tag Archives: Susan Dennard

Interview with Shelli Johannes, author of UNTRACEABLE + GIVEAWAY!

30 Nov

by Susan Dennard

You might have seen my book review for Untraceable on Sunday. If not, read it. This book is impressive–and its author, Shelli Johannes, is quite possibly even more impressive.

Why do I have such glowing praise for Shelli? Because she’s done something a lot of us are too scared to do: she has indie-published her debut novel.

But more importantly than that, Shelli has indie-published it right. She has approached it as a professional author who knows the industry, knows what readers want, and knows how to tell a damn good story.

If you want to hear more about her amazing and empowering journey, I suggest reading her blog series on it (which begins here). I was lucky enough to get an interview with Shelli about her publication process, and all I can say is: WOW. She is an inspiration to us all.

When you started writing Untraceable, what was the inspiration behind it?  A dream? A musical clip? Plain, old-fashioned brainstorming?

My husband came home one day from being in the remote woods for the weekend and said, “I was so far out–a terrorist camp could set up there and no one would ever know.”

The story started out called Grace Under Fire. And it was about terrorist cells in the wilderness (hides face from embarrassment). Years later, I got rid of the terrorist camp but kept Grace and the wilderness.

It actually came in the quarterfinals in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award of 2009. 1 of only 7 thrillers to make the list.

Wow–I did not know that about the Breakthrough Award! (Can’t say I’m surprised either ;)) And what a COOL way for a story to start…mine are always lame dreams, so I’m totally jealous.

What was the biggest challenge for you while writing UNTRACEABLE? 

Editing it. Back in 09, I remember agents HATING the terrorist angle but loving Grace and the overall setting (go figure :)) so I had to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the entire plot from scratch. I did that more than once. But that time was the hardest.

You’re taking a different, unique path for getting your book out there, and you’re really showing other writers how self-publish in a professional, and reader-focused manner. It’s obvious you care about your readers more than making some quick cash. When and why did you decide to indie-publish?

For a few reasons:

  1. I was tired of people telling me a contemporary thriller would not sell well to teens.
  2. I wanted to see if I could do it on my own and learn more about publishing process in general.
  3. I thought it would be fun to create my own thing my own way.

Because I was scared everyone would think I suck, I decided to blog about the process openly – the ups and the downs to see if I could help others decide if indie pubbing was right for them.

I also hear so much about the stigma of indie/self pubbing. I wanted to break through that barrier and create a high quality product I was proud of and show people that you can do it the right way.

Yeah, I think that stigma is starting to fade as more and more writers with high-quality stories take that route. All I can say is: GOOD FOR YOU! For having the courage and the determination to do this the “right way”.

Is there anything that, in hindsight, you wish you had done differently with UNTRACEABLE–either in the writing or publication process?

I’m having so much fun I wish I had done this a long time ago. I wish I had skipped all the unnecessary anxiety. But I believe everything happens for a reason and I am where I am supposed to be.

Too true–I’m a firm believer of that as well. What’s your next writing project? And do you think you’ll continue on the self-publication path with it?

I have a special edition of Untraceable coming out in Jan/Feb with a different ending. And I am putting out Grace 2 – called Uncontrollable early next summer.

Beyond that – I’m not sure. I have manuscripts that have almost been bought on my shelf. Who knows maybe I’ll pull another one out.

But I am writing a WIP that I would like to get an agent for down the road. I love the traditional pubbing process so I hope to do both someday when I am ready to jump back in the pit.

I think it’s so awesome that you’re interested in both approaches and that you want to try to tackle both. I would love to as well…one day…when I’m not so lazy.;) Honestly, though, writing all these books and self-promoting–it must take a lot of perseverance and hard work. What’s a typical writing day for you? 

I drop off my daughter at school around 8 and then hang with my son until I drop him off at preschool at 9. I spend about an hour on the Internet with emails, twitter, Facebook, catching up on blogs etc. I usually write from about 10-12ish. Then I catch up on emails again before I get my son at 1.

But this is not how it is all the time. Especially not right now.

Right now, I imagine your life is wrapped up in UNTRACEABLE promotion. In your spare time, though, what are you reading?

Just finished The Pledge by Kimberly Derting and Fracture by Megan Miranda.

And any final words of advice or inspiration? 

Don’t give up. Let go of you ego. And follow your heart.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win not only an ebook of Untraceable, but also a copy of Escape Velocity and an ARC of Promise the Night.

It’s open internationally, and we’ll announce our giveaway winner on FRIDAY! ALONG WITH OUR BIG NEWS!

And Monday’s giveaway winner (for a copy of PRETTY BONES) is

Nicole Steinhaus!

Email us at letthewordsflowblog (at) gmail (d0t) com with your mailing address!

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QOTW: 2012 Debut Author Challenge!

11 Nov

Hi, everyone! (And Happy 11/11/11!)

In case you haven’t seen it yet, The Story Siren just launched her 2012 Debut Author Challenge!

A few of us have participated in previous years, but we are ESPECIALLY excited this year because LTWF has FOUR (4!!!) members with debut novels!  Susan Dennard (SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, out 7/24/11), Sarah J. Maas (QUEEN OF GLASS, Fall 2012), Vahini Naidoo (FALL TO PIECES, Fall 2012), and Kat Zhang (WHAT’S LEFT OF ME, Fall 2012)! Hooray!!!

You can find out more information about the 2012 Debut Author Challenge on The Story Siren’s website, and you can also see (and vote on!) the list of debuts here on Goodreads!

So, in honor of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge, we thought we’d share the debuts WE are most excited about!

~~~

 If I had to pick a debut that I’m desperate to get my hands on, it’d have to be CINDER by Marissa Myer. The hype around the book, the cover, the sheer coolness of the story–I WANTS IT. Like STAT.

Susan Dennard

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 I’m really looking forward to Jodi Meadows’s debut, INCARNATE, (who can see that gorgeous cover and not want to open the book?) as well as TEMPEST by Julie Cross, because I’m a sucker for time travel stories. LOVE AND LEFTOVERS by Sarah Tregay also looks like something I’d like to read!

Julie Eshbaugh

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 A few of the books I’m super excited for have been named already, so I won’t go through them again. One that hasn’t been mentioned that I’m really intrigued by is THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass. The cover is gorgeous, and I admit it…I’m a sucker for books where girls get dressed up in ridiculously fancy dresses, hahaha. I’m also looking forward to CRACKED by K.M. Walton, because it seems like it’ll be an interesting and edgy contemp.

Kat Zhang

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 Ditto on INCARNATE and CINDER! They look absolutely incredible. I’m also reallllly pumped for SHADOW & BONE by Leigh Bardugo–I had the privilege of reading an early draft and it was SO stunning. I can’t wait to read it again–and to hear what other people think! And UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi, BORN WICKED by Jessica Spotswood, SCARLET by A. C. Gaughen, and STORM by Brigid Kemmerer look fabulous, too!

Sarah J. Maas

~~~

What about YOU GUYS? How many of you are participating in the challenge? And what 2012 debuts are YOU most excited for? Inquiring minds want to know!

Interview with Kiki Hamilton, author of THE FAERIE RING

3 Oct

by Susan Dennard

Guys, I am SO incredibly excited to be able to share this interview with you. Kiki gives some fantastic, thought-provoking answers, and…well…I haven’t exactly hidden the fact that I’m totally fangirling over her novel, The Faerie Ring.

If you want to read my review of this fantastic addition to YA fantasy, head here. Otherwise, onwards to the interview!

So, Kiki, when you started writing THE FAERIE RING, which came first for you: the characters or the plot?

The characters came to me first. Tiki was there and I knew she was a pickpocket. After she stole the Queen’s ring I suddenly thought – what if somebody else wanted the ring? And that’s when the faeries showed up.

Wow, I had the same experience with my own characters–they came first, and then I built in the plot. Very cool. When you sat down to write the novel, what was the biggest challenge for you?

To be honest, there wasn’t a hard part. The story just fell out of my head onto the page and I had to type as fast as I could to keep up!!!! However, I’ve had hard parts in other stories and there are a couple of things I do: 1) keep writing and see if I can get the momentum going again and figure I’ll fix any problems in revision. 2) Think up the worst possible thing that can happen to my main character and throw it in there, or 3) figure out where I got stuck – sometimes plots will take a wrong turn and if you go back and eliminate a scene, you can get things moving again.

Um, okay, I’m officially jealous. My first drafts are like giving birth…for 30+ days straight.  Once you had a finished book, what was your journey to publication like?

I think my experience has been pretty typical. THE FAERIE RING was actually my second book. An agent had requested a partial of my first book and I wrote TFR while I waited for her response. She asked for a revision on my first book and I mentioned I’d written a second book so she said send both back. At that point, (November 2008) the agent (Kate Schafer Testerman) offered to represent me and she went out first with THE FAERIE RING. We got close several times but it took about nine months to find the *right* editor at Tor.

And what a great fit it was! The end product for THE FAERIE RING was fantastic!  Now, as an eager fangirl, I have to know: What’s your next writing project?

I just finished writing a YA contemporary called THE LAST DANCE. That one just fell out of my head onto the page too. So much fun to write! I will probably write book 3 of THE FAERIE RING series this winter and I’m halfway through a historical kind-of steampunk fantasy right now.

Historical steampunk. Clearly you and I were meant to hang out at some point (I don’t mean that in a creepy fan-stalker way…er…not completely, at least). As a fellow historical/steampunk/fantasy writer, I am very curious what a typical writing day looks like for you?

It varies. I have to spend a lot more time with marketing now, so that takes up an enormous chunk of my day. Also, I’m a mom to a teenage girl so I spend a lot of time with her. Plus the cooking ,cleaning, laundry business. Yuk. But I write something almost every day – seven days a week. I do that instead of watch TV.

ME TOO! No TV, and 7 days a week of work. (I stand by my hanging-out declaration!) Do you have a critique partner or beta reader?

Yes, I have a couple of people who I trade manuscripts with.

As do most professionals, I think. And, when do you decide your book is ready for your agent’s/editor’s eyes?

It depends on the feedback I get from my crit partners. If their suggestions aren’t huge, then I know I’m close.

That’s a pretty good approach, methinks. So, now that I’ve finished THE FAERIE RING and am searching for my next read, I have to know: what are YOU reading?

I’m reading an ARC of Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE.

ACK! That’s at the top of my TBR list! (These similarities are uncanny, Kiki. ;)) Now, before we wrap this interview up, do you have any final words of advice or inspiration?

If writing is your dream than you can never give up. The industry is VERY competitive and you have to go into it knowing that rejection is not personal. It will take time to sell your book. You might not sell your first book. (I didn’t.) One editor / agent will love a story and the next won’t. It’s subjective. But stick to it and write for the love of telling a story. There’s a lot to learn about writing and you will be well-served to take classes, join critique groups and attend writing conferences. Always be open to revising to improve the story and never give up!!

Ain’t that the truth? Never give up, never surrender! (Any Galaxy Quest fans out there? Anyone, anyone?)

Thank you so much, Kiki, for taking the time out of your busy, laundry/cooking/writing-filled life ( 😉 ) to answer my questions, and I can’t wait to more of your books in stores. (Um, and more Rieker–can you possibly give me some more of him too?)

AND NOW, to announce our giveaway winners…

Yeah, you read that right. I said winnerS, plural. There was such an overwhelming response to our giveaway last Friday, we decided to hand out TWO copies of The Faerie Ring. Because we had several people with the same name leave comments, we’ve put the date and comment time in parentheses.

And the winners are:

Amity (10/2 4:10 PM)

and

Victoria (9/30 8:04 AM)

Thanks to everyone who participated, and will the winners please email susan (at) susandennard (dot) com with their mailing addresses.

~~~

Kiki Hamilton is the debut author of The Faerie Ring (Tor Teen, 2011), and you can find out more about her on her blog, twitter, or facebook.

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Giveaway! Win a copy of THE FAERIE RING!

30 Sep

To prepare for an upcoming interview with author Kiki Hamilton, we’re giving away a copy of her debut YA fantasy, THE FAERIE RING!

Debut novelist Kiki Hamilton takes readers from the gritty slums and glittering ballrooms of Victorian London to the beguiling but menacing Otherworld of the Fey in this spellbinding tale of romance, suspense, and danger. 

The year is 1871, and Tiki has been making a home for herself and her family of orphans in a deserted hideaway adjoining Charing Cross Station in central London. Their only means of survival is by picking pockets. One December night, Tiki steals a ring, and sets off a chain of events that could lead to all-out war with the Fey. For the ring belongs to Queen Victoria, and it binds the rulers of England and the realm of Faerie to peace. With the ring missing, a rebel group of faeries hopes to break the treaty with dark magic and blood—Tiki’s blood.

Unbeknownst to Tiki, she is being watched—and protected—by Rieker, a fellow thief who suspects she is involved in the disappearance of the ring. Rieker has secrets of his own, and Tiki is not all that she appears to be. Her very existence haunts Prince Leopold, the Queen’s son, who is driven to know more about the mysterious mark that encircles her wrist.

Prince, pauper, and thief—all must work together to secure the treaty…

I (Sooz) have read it, and let me tell you guys: it’s awesome. I’ll have a full review coming on Sunday on my personal blog, but the general lowdown is this:

This is one of those books you want to read curled up in your bed while the blustery wind blows outside.

It’s just got that atmosphere–you know the one I mean. That feel of cold and magic and high stakes and romance. It’s a definite must-read for fantasy lovers everywhere.

So if you’re interested in winning a copy, leave a comment below! The giveaway is open internationally, and we’ll announce our winner on Monday after the Kiki Hamilton interview.

Differents Types of Romance, or My Love For You Can’t Be Labeled

21 Sep

by Susan Dennard
~~

When it comes to romance in YA (or really any novel), how the romantically-involved characters first meet is dictated very much by the type of romance you want to create. For example, what’s wrong with this picture:

Scene 1: Boy meets girl. They meet eyes; their hearts skip a beat. He comes over and is ridiculously swoon-worthy.

Scene 2: Boy picks on girl. She retorts with her own insults, and soon they’re quarreling.

Yeah, those two scenes sound like two different kinds of romance, don’t they? Scene 1 fits with #1 below, and scene 2 is more of a #2 from the list.

We may think our love is indefinable and vast and SO WONDERFUL it can’t be squeezed into a label, but…the truth is, like most plots, there is a little bit of formula to romance.*

*Note: romance–like any plot–doesn’t have to follow a formula. It just often does because those formulas WORK. Formulas give the reader expectations, and expectations heighten the tension by transforming the question from, “Is their the potential for love?” to “WHEN WHEN WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN? Just KISS already!” The plot keeps the characters apart when we know they belong together, and that builds a natural tension into the story.

Here are just a few examples of romantic plot lines and what’s needed when the characters first meet:

1. Love-at-first-sight? Then you’ll want some visceral reactions that show the heroine/hero’s initial reactions. Sex appeal, yes, but not explicitly so. A heroine might find her mouth dry and her stomach fluttery, and she might think about how good looking the hero is. Or maybe she’s just wondering why she is so compelled to speak to/see/be near this guy… She doesn’t know, but the reader does! (Ex: Hereafter by Tara Hudson)

2. It could be an “I HATE YOU” to “You’re not so bad” to “I luuurve you” romance. Then, the hero & heroine will probably get off on the wrong foot, immediately argue, and then kinda want to kill each other. Personally, I’m a fan of these romances (oh, Mr. Darcy, how I love thee!), and Something Strange and Deadly has some of this. The visceral reactions/attraction will come later, and that pesky hate thing is a great barrier to the final admission of feelings. (Ex: Star Wars, Han Solo and Princess Leia—best romance EVER!)

3. Maybe it’s a friendship-to-love romance. In that case, we’ll see the hero/heroine as Just A Friend, and we’ll move through the story as the MC figures out his/her true feelings. Again, the visceral reactions/attraction will develop as the story goes along. (Ex: The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal, The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting)

4. It could also be a long term crush turned to love if the MC has always loved the hero/heroine, or vice versa. When we first see the love interest, we also first see how the MC feels. If the MC desperately wants to kiss the boy, then the reader wants her to too–and we’ve gotta keep turning pages until it happens. (Ex: You Wish Mandy Hubbard, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver)

5. Or it could just be a slow, natural relationship. The characters meet, find each other attractive perhaps, and their romance grows from there. The meet up will have just a slight element of attraction or maybe none at all until a few scenes later. (Ex: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand)

What other romance meet-ups can you come up with? Please share!

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

One Book To Rule Them All

14 Sep

by Susan Dennard

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One book to rule them in all, and in the greatness bind them!

So, I got this idea from Molly O’Neill’s blog, and it’s such a COOL thing to think about, I wanted to share it here. That is:

If you could only ever publish one book (or one more), what would that book be about?

She calls it the One Book To Rule Them All (it’s a LORD OF THE RINGS reference, btw), and I knew instantly what mine would be. Which in turn, made me stop and consider why that one book isn’t the book I’ve already written or plan to write next.

The answer is pretty straightforward: I’m a coward. I fear I can’t do the concept or the genre justice. I fear that I do not have the skills needed to execute what I would want to be my crowning story.

And no, I won’t tell you what that idea is–what my One Book To Rule Them All is about. Suffice it to say it would be middle grade and so deliciously magical (though with no actual magic or fantasy in it) and brimming with atmosphere you would think about it long after you close its covers.

Well…that’s my dream about it anyway. Clearly, I don’t consider myself up to the task of actually producing that. YET.

What about you? Do you have an idea for that One Book To Rule Them All? Or do you even have an idea like that in mind? If so, what keeps you from writing it now–or have you written it?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Coauthoring A Novel: Part Two

7 Sep

by Susan Dennard (and Sarah J. Maas!)

~~

As Sarah said Monday, the casual idea of coauthoring a book didn’t become a REAL idea for months. And then the actual world-building and novel-writing happened in a matter of weeks.

We were pushing out two to three scenes a day and letting go of our egos (because how else can you let someone read your first draft? It’s scary!). And as we wrote, a new thought weaseled in: What if this is actually good enough to publish? What if…what if…we could show this to our agents?

It was like tossing a grenade into the fray. Suddenly, we weren’t on fire for our own enjoyment—we were infernos of writing madness. There’s something about imagining your book as a REAL, published novel that motivates like no other.

But, all the excitement and dreaming big aside, here’s where you have to remember the fourth rule of coauthoring: writing is a business. Never forget that deciding to SELL a book adds a new dimension to your project—and it also puts more emphasis on being 100% transparent with each other. Why? Because now Sarah and I were talking money. We were talking about the path of our careers. Now we were looking at our writing schedule as a business plan.

And now, we had to bring in our agents.

So we notified our knights-in-shining-armor, Sara Kendall and Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary and Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency. We told them we were coauthoring a book, we were really excited about it, and gave them the rough pitch.

Insert Awesome Agents Stage Left.

Without even waiting to see if we could produce something good, our agents were SUPER enthusiastic about the project, and moved right on to the next step: meeting each other. For an actual coauthored novel to sell, both sets of agents need to be involved constantly.  Everyone is CC’ed on emails, phone calls go out at the same time, and the entire process is completely open and honest.

(Also, it is super exciting. I get to work with a new agent (albeit temporarily). Now there are three possible names in my inbox that make my heart go KAPOW.)

Sarah Chimes In: Getting our agents on board was one of the most harrowing and exciting moments for us. Sooz and I were absolutely honored—and thrilled!—that they trusted us (and our work) enough to move ahead so quickly! And, as Sooz said, it’s SO awesome to closely work with another agent! I’ve admired Sara and Jo for so long that working with them still feels a bit surreal.

We wrote up a detailed synopsis of the entire book and we sent it to our agents before their first lunch date. Funnily enough, the agents instantly recognized—from the synopsis alone—which author (me or Sarah) wrote which character. Even in the synopsis, our voices and unique approaches to storytelling were obvious!

So now that we had our agents in the loop and doing their thing, Sarah and I set to revise our shiny new novel. But I was nervous. Now I was telling Sarah something was wrong with her scenes. Gone were the days of gushing praise—we had to sharpen our claws and get honest.

And so what is the fifth rule of coauthoring? Don’t take it personally. This is one of those obvious lessons we all KNOW we should feel with our novels. We all say our skins are thick from years of criticism, but if anyone out there can say they honestly don’t feel the slightest sting the when someone points out their mistakes, then raise your hand (I want to meet you because you’re clearly not human).

Sarah Chimes In: This is definitely a moment where trust comes into play, too. We had to trust each other to see the things we couldn’t, trust that the other person wouldn’t get upset if we pointed out something that needed fixing, and trust that our friendship could survive through it all. You’re not on opposing sides—you are a TEAM. What happens to one person affects the other. And whatever gets thrown your way, you face it together.

So I had to not fret over hurting Sarah’s feelings, and I had to not wince when she let me know if something I’d written just wasn’t working. I read the entire MS, wrote up a master list of all the problems we had—plot holes, character inconsistencies, etc., and sent it to Sarah. We talked in depth about the issues, and then…

BAM. The hurricane was back. No feelings were hurt at ALL—in fact, seeing the problems somehow drove us to want to fix them. We were determined to reach the book we’d initially set out to write. We’d revise two, three, or more scenes a day and swap. And within a week, we had a new book to show for it.

Now Sarah took charge. With the big problems fixed, there were still all the little issues to fret over. Line edits, pacing, infodumps, etc.  She read the whole novel and with track-changes pointed out everything that needed fixing…

And then we were done.  Well, scratch that. We were done enough for a critique partner.  Sarah and I both firmly believe that sending your agent an un-critiqued manuscript is unprofessional. We had read the book so many times by then, it was all blurring together—we couldn’t see the mistakes any more. An external set of eyes was the only way to spot the remaining problems (and to verify that this book we thought was the Greatest Novel Ever Written was actually any good at all).

Once we got the feedback from our CP, we incorporated her ideas, sent the book through one more strenuous wringer of line edits, and then…we held our breaths, crossed our fingers, and sent the darn thing to our agents.

Insert montage of Susan banging her head against the desk and groaning, Sarah frantically picking all the polish off her fingernails, and both girls writing panicked emails saying “WHAT IF THEY HATE IT?”

Sarah Chimes In: Way to expose my nervous habit, Sooz!!! 😉 Seriously, though—while we waited to hear what our agents thought about the ms, we were pretty pathetic. It felt kinda like the moment of truth—what if all our hard work was for nothing? What if we had to go back to Square 1?

The sixth rule of coauthoring is to be available when your buddy is freaking out because you will certainly have your own fair share of freaking out.

Fortunately, our agents didn’t hate the book—they actually loved it! And fortunately, they were all in agreement on what needed changing and twisting and fixing.

Flash forward a month and a half (oh my gosh, it’s only been a month and a half?), and Sarah and I are just finishing what we hope will be our last big picture revisions before the Submissions Fairy deems us okay for editorial eyes. Every new round of revisions is like that initial grenade, and we work furiously for a few days, send the newest draft to our agents, and then conk out for a week of recovery (just kidding. Sort of.).

Sarah Chimes In: Not gonna lie: It’s like a writing hangover.

Every time there’s some new excuse to work on this book, my heart does a little dance because this means I get to skype with Sarah for 3+ hours and babble about our fantasy world (much to the chagrin of our husbands). I love to talk about my writing—like LOVE it—and being able to talk about my writing with a writer…and with a writer who is writing the same thing?? BLISS!

So, hopefully one day in the not too distant future, this novel will make its way to some publishing inboxes and pique some acquisitions editors’ eyes, and you can promise that when that Big Deal Day comes, we will let everyone know—because the third rule of coauthoring is to have fun, and the seventh rule is to share that fun with the world!

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

~

Sarah J. Maas has written several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in Fall 2012. She is repped by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency, and resides with her husband in Southern California. You can visit her blog here, and follow her on twitter.

Coauthoring A Novel: Part One

5 Sep

By Sarah J. Maas (and Susan Dennard!)

~~~

Seven months ago, if you had asked me about whether or not I’d ever coauthor a book, I probably would have just scratched my head. It was something that SOUNDED cool, but seemed really, really hard to do well—not just the writing aspect, but also the emotional and business sides of it. Though I was fairly certain that if the right person came around, and if the right idea struck us, it could be a fun thing to do.

Enter Susan Dennard.

We’d swapped novels before—I had read Susan’s stunning debut, SOMETHING STRANGE & DEADLY, and she’d read both QUEEN OF GLASS and A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES (my “Beauty and the Beast” retelling). We both loved each other’s work, and had an instant friendship back when Sooz joined LTWF in October 2010, and had jokingly talked about one day writing a book together. The problem was that we didn’t have any idea WHAT to write.

Sooz Chimes In: If you think about it, it’s pretty daunting to come up with an idea two writers agree on. We’re all used to being 100% in control of our stories, our characters, and our worlds. Not to mention Sarah’s books are very different from mine—at least in terms of world or genre…

Then, one fateful day—February 8th, 2010—inspiration struck. We can’t yet explain WHY that date is so important, but let’s just say that a simple: “What if?” question turned into a “Holy crap…that’s an idea for a NOVEL!”

The thing is, neither Susan nor I had ever co-written a novel—and didn’t really know the first thing about it. We knew almost right away that the novel would be dual POV about two sisters. Which meant we each would be writing half a novel, essentially (though this actually doesn’t mean there’s any less work involved). But things like coming up with our world, plot, and characters—things like outlining and writing a synopsis…we had to figure out how to do all those things TOGETHER.

First rule about coauthoring a novel? Be flexible. Be open with your ideas, be open to suggestions, be open to learning how someone else’s creative process works, and what inspires THEM. And be crystal-clear when communicating.

Once we had a basic idea of our book (and by basic, I mean it was still “What if we wrote X?”), we began brainstorming. Every day. For a few weeks. We’d talk on skype, on gchat, over email. Most of the brainstorming went like this:

Sarah: So what if we did THIS?

Sooz: Ooh!!! That sounds so cool! But what if we did THIS?

Sarah: OMG. YES. And what if we added THIS?

Sooz: And then that could tie into THIS!

Sarah: Or we could go THIS route…

Sooz: Or THIS route!

Sarah: You are a genius because then we could tie it in with THIS.

Sooz: I know. And OMG—YES.

We even roughly outlined the first six chapters, but after weeks of brainstorming, we ran into a slight speed bump: when would this novel be set? We had originally envisioned steampunk, but given Sooz’s debut has steampunk elements, we were hesitant to also make ours a steampunk book. We both knew from the start that if this was gonna work, we’d have to be clear about what we wanted—about what was working for us and what wasn’t.

Sooz Chimes In: Like Sarah said, because SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY is an alternate history with gadgets and because I’m not allowed to write a new book that would compete with it, it seemed like our original envisioning of this coauthoring project wasn’t gonna fly. So I straight up told her, “My no-compete clause limits me. Would you be willing to look at different settings?”

And though it was frustrating to realize that our steampunk setting might not work, it was also a great sign that we were getting this communication thing down—we both felt that the decision to avoid the steampunk route was the right one. Without being brave enough to voice our opinions—and open enough to hear them—the project could have fallen apart right there. But then things like edit letters and revisions and other projects came along, and before we knew it, our little project got set on the back burner.

Weeks went by, and to be honest, we didn’t think of our little project all that often. But then one day out of the blue, one of us said: “So, I’ve been thinking about our little project…What if we set it in THIS setting/era?” And the other one said: “…Well, maybe not THEN, but what about a few years before…?”

What followed then was explosion of creativity that I don’t quite have words to describe. We had our setting, and our two heroines, and a villain—for the next few weeks, we built the world. The thing about co-writing a book is that you BOTH need to agree on EVERYTHING. In a hurricane of brainstorming, we built a world from the ground up—a world that we absolutely adored. One book became a trilogy.

Maybe we had it easy. Sooz and I come from the same geekdoms. STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, various anime…we loved the same novels. We knew, inside and out, the kind of sources we were drawing from, and knew our target audience. And because we were so familiar with the same things, it made getting on the same page way easier (example: I mentioned wanting a “That’s no moon…It’s a space station.” kinda shout-out moment, and Sooz knew exactly what I was talking about.).

But there comes a point when you can’t do any more brainstorming—when you have to bite the bullet and start writing.

Doing that—deciding to put words onto paper—was perhaps the hardest part so far. We decided to each take a character and write their POV in alternating chapters. After we’d write a chapter, we’d swap those chapters and read through them so we’d be on the same page about pacing and plot development. Initially, it felt like a game of chicken: who would be the first one to write their chapter? Worse: who would be the first one to SEND their chapter to the other?

Confession: Sooz is way braver than me and sent her first chapter before I sent mine. And it was so good that I looked back at the first chapter I had written and CRINGED. And then worried that Sooz would find my first chapter so freaking horrible that she’d realize working with me was a terrible mistake and suggest we not do it.

Sooz Chimes In: Sarah is being ridiculous. When she sent me her first chapter, I got chills…and then freaked out because I had already sent her mine and in comparison, hers was SO much better. I told her what I thought, and she laughed and told me how she felt—next thing you know, we were both feeling pretty confident about our scenes and chomping at the bit to get out more!

Second rule of coauthoring a novel? Embrace your belief that your co-author is writing better stuff than you—and writing faster and more of it. It becomes a powerful motivator.

Seeing Sooz produce such stellar stuff made me push myself. It kept me on my toes. It challenged me to write the very best that I could—it made me demand excellence from myself.

Sooz, like me, is a fast worker. We can both write well over 5k words in a day if we’re focused. Seeing Sooz churn out chapters made me not want to let her down—I wanted to match the quality and quantity of work she was producing. Best of all, these weren’t negative feelings—it was liberating. Inspiring. It was an adrenaline rush and a sugar high and like going 0 to 60 in 7 seconds. I woke up every morning eager to get to work, and went to bed every night dreaming of the next day’s scenes.

We finished our rough draft in two weeks. And then began the process of revision—which is a process that Sooz will talk about in our next article on co-authoring.

Third rule of coauthoring a novel? Have fun.

I keep telling people that this summer has been one of the busiest of my life, and it has. But it’s also been one of the most fun I can remember. Every day, I got to wake up and work (via skype, email, etc) with my best friend. We got to giggle about the guys in our book, or go on wild tangents about Boba Fett or my obsession with Ancient Aliens or the alien-raccoon-demon hybrid dwelling in my attic. Or one of our dogs would bark, and the other would bark in response, and we’d have to stop working for 5 minutes to allow our pups to have a doggie skype session.

We started off just writing this book for the hell of it. Just to have a grand time and write about some of the things we love and wish we could do. But it didn’t take long after we began writing before we asked another question….

“…What if we tried to get this book published?”

~~~

Sarah J. Maas has written several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in Fall 2012. She is repped by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency, and resides with her husband in Southern California. You can visit her blog here, and follow her on twitter.

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Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Holding Yourself (and Your Writing) Accountable

22 Aug

 

by Susan Dennard

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I’ve talked about productivity before. About how BICHOK is one sure-fire way to get your writing where it needs to be. About how focused practice is the only way to get better.

But what about those times when your self-motivation (if you even have it to begin with!) starts to flag?

What about those days where you spend four hours at the computer and write all of 4 words?

Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

On those days, my friend, it’s time to seek help elsewhere. It’s time to find SOMEONE ELSE to hold you accountable.

I mean, think about it: when you were in high school, you got your work done (or I hope you did…). Maybe it was at the last minute or maybe it wasn’t always your best work, but you finished. Why? Because someone else expected you to.

So why not put a dose of SOMEONE ELSE in your writing life?

It’s easy. Find another writer (or as many as you want!) and agree to talk regularly, share your goals, and check in often to make sure you’re staying on track.

For example, right now, the Let the Words Flow ladies are sharing their daily word count goals. In the morning, we all email how many words we want to type out before night…and then that night, we email to say how much we actually wrote.

I can assure you that simply knowing the other ladies are gonna see my daily progress really pushes me to keep TYPING! And, if for whatever reason one of us is flagging, we all shoot out upbeat emails–and when I’m the one behind, that support REALLY helps me get back on track.

So if you’re finding you need a bit more motivation in your life, I challenge you to find another writer who’ll hold you accountable and send you lots of smiley faces when you need ’em.

Is this something you would ever do? Or do you already have someone like this in your writing life?

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

The Lightning Thief: a book recommendation

17 Aug

by Susan Dennard

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I have to say, I’m not usually a middle grade reader. I typically pick up YA, and if it weren’t for recent forays into writing MG, I wouldn’t have probably ever started the Percy Jackson series.

And oh how tragic that would have been.

Yes, this is a repeat review from my blog, but no, it’s not because I’m being lazy. It’s because you NEED to read this. As writers, you need to pick this up and observe how well Rick Riordan controls his craft.  From voice to plot to characterization, this book does it all REALLY well.

And come on, what’s not to love about modern day Greek myths and fish-out-of-water (quite literally) heroes?

After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.

As hinted above, the voice had me hooked on page 1. Percy is just so compelling and so entertaining. I love his sarcasm and the way you feel like he’s just a regular dude telling you his very non-regular story.  He feels twelve, but he also feels like an adult (read: CROSS-OVER APPEAL!).

If the voice hadn’t gotten me so thoroughly, then the characters would’ve been the thing to draw me in. I loved Annabeth (kick butt secondary females unite!) and Grover–not to mention all the gods and demi-gods and monsters. Yeah, Riordan did an amazing job bringing this world to very vivid life before my eyes. I loved how he dropped in all the Greek myths–and I had so much fun identifying things before Percy sorted it all out.

What really got me (in a good way), though, was that it had so many nice twists and turns! Figuring out who the bad guys were, what the prophecy referred to, and seeing it all set up for Major Epic-ness in later novels made this one un-put-down-able book!

If you’re looking for some great adventure, the sort of lovable hero who just barely scrapes by, or a world of gods and goddesses, be sure to read The Lightning Thief!

Have you read The Lightning Thief? What did you think?

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Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.