Category Archives: Blog

A Character Interview: Jayden from Scarlet Moon

scarlet-moon-coverI’d like to welcome S.D Grimm to the blog, author of Scarlet Moon, which comes out October 21st! Welcome S.D!

Hey! S.D. Grimm here. I am really excited for this guest blog post today. Not only do I get to talk about my novel Scarlet Moon, but I also get to do something really fun, and that is talk about my main character: Jayden Jorah.

A little bit about Jayden’s appearance first.

Eyes: Blue

Hair: Medium brown with some red highlights.

Height: 5’ 3”

Distinguishing features: A birthmark that looks just like the moon only it’s blood red.

Now there is more than one main character in the Children of the Blood Moon series (of which Scarlet Moon is the first book), but Jayden’s story really takes the lead in this book for a number of reasons. I wanted a really awesome heroine, but I also wanted someone real. Someone relatable.

Jayden is those things. She has honest fears and doubts, and overcoming them is a big part of her story.

grimm-characterWhat Jayden likes most about herself: Her ability to spar with daggers and a sword and to throw knives. I’m not going to lie; she’s really good at it.

What she likes least about herself: Her emotional side. She’s an empath, and sometimes feeling all those emotions get in the way. Also, she has a big problem with fear. She fears stepping out of her comfort zone and leaving what she knows.

What she wants to do with her life: Become a wise woman and eventually a doctor.

Jayden’s biggest fear: Moving away from her home and family and the things that she believes define her.

Her deepest secret: Children of the Blood Moon like Jayden have special talents and abilities given to them—they’re all marked by the Blood Moon birthmark. Jayden’s biggest secret is some of her talents. No one knows she can actually feel other people’s emotions and make them her own. 

Has she ever been in love? Well, she loves Ryan, her betrothed, but she’s not ready to marry him. Some of it is the fear of leaving her comfort zone—that includes her friendship with him. She’s not sure how much things will change when she moves from friend to wife. And she’s not sure she’s ready.

grimm-drawingHere are some fun facts about Jayden.

Favorite color: Green. Specifically the green the sky gets right before a storm.

Myers Briggs Personality Type: ISFJ

Theme song: “Shatter Me” by Lindsey Stirling

Hobbies: Sparring, horseback riding, cooking, and archery.

Favorite animal: Horse. She wears a necklace that used to be her mother’s, and the white, wooden charm is a horse.

I hope you have as much fun getting to know Jayden as I had writing her story!

 

 

 

sd-grimmS. D. Grimm’s first love in writing is young adult speculative fiction. She is represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Agency and her debut novel, Scarlet Moon, is slated to be published in October 2016. When she’s not writing or editing, Sarah enjoys reading (of course!), making clay dragons for her Grimmlies store on Etsy, practicing kickboxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu, training dogs, and doing anything outdoorsy with the family. Her office is anywhere she can curl up with her laptop and at least one large-sized dog.

Get ready for Scarlet Moon on October 21st! Purchase here.

To win a copy of Scarlet Moon subscribe to S.D Grimm’s newsletter and then comment here on the blog post to let us know you’ve subscribed!  Click here to subscribe.

US residents only.

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The 10 Stages of Editing Your Novel – In GIF Form

I realize we covered a bit of this in “How to Write a Novel”. But, dear reader, a quarter of a blog post simply doesn’t work to convey the fresh hell that is revisions (a hell I am intimately familiar with, and am revisiting right now, in fact).

So let’s get to it. You’ve finished your rough draft, and you’re wondering what you should be doing now, aside from cleaning up the ten coffee cups and sixteen billion Twix wrappers on your computer desk.

Enter STAGE ONE:

Stare blankly at your manuscript. Try to wrap your mind around what a colossal mess it is. Freak out.

 

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STAGE TWO:

Get out the manuscript again. Gear up with chocolate, coffee or tea, scented candles, and your coziest reading socks. Repeat after me: I do not suck. I will rewrite this. I am a literary genius. I am going to be published and make loads of money and appear on Oprah.

Now repeat it again, like you mean it.

Now sit down and reread what you’ve written.

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Okay, so maybe it’s not great yet, but that doesn’t mean YOU aren’t great. Now that you’ve read it over and taken notes, you’ve got something to work with! You’ve discovers problems with character development, plot, pacing, world building and grammar and spelling.

And it’s on to STAGE THREE:

Creating a game plan.

Okay that’s not as easy as it sounds, is it? It can actually be pretty overwhelming. Like, really overwhelming.

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BUT, if you sit down and take a few deep breathes, maybe go to other authors who have done this before and ask them what the best method is, or check out great websites like Susan Dennard’s (who has an epic battle plan laid out for revisions) it can be a little less intimidating.

At the very least, you can break it up “problem by problem” (Character, plot, pacing and world building), and do those edits one at a time, or chapter by chapter. Also, color coding, sticky notes and highlighters are helpful, both for organizing your work, and make this process a little more fun.

 

After you’ve mapped out your revisions strategy, you enter into STAGE FOUR:

BATTLE MODE.

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I mean, editing your manuscript…sorry, easy mistake. No kicking anyone into wells, okay?

Remember, tackle one thing at a time, either chapter by chapter, or problem by problem. It may seem overwhelming at first, but if you take it one step at a time, your problems become a lot smaller and easier to tackle. Take your time with this stage, don’t rush it. Even if you’re eager to get it out to beta readers, rushing through revisions just creates more work for yourself later. It should be as good as you can make it before anyone else sees it.

 

STAGE FIVE:

Sending your work out into the world. This is the scary part, the part where you have to send something you slaved over for months out into the world. And you’re pretty sure that everyone is going to hate it. And not just hate it with the kind of “meh, didn’t finish it” hate, but the hated it so much they set it on fire and then ran it over with their car to put it out, left a bag of  flaming dog poo on your doorstep, printed out a picture of your face and drew mustaches all over it, kind of hated it.

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But it doesn’t matter, you gotta get stage five over with. So you send it off and hold your breath and…woah, one of them writes back and says they like it. And maybe a few you never hear back from again, but eventually all the advice comes trickling in and you take notes of the stuff you agree with, and disregard what you don’t, and make more revision notes for yourself and a new plan of attack.

And then it’s onto STAGE SIX:

The third draft of your manuscript, and the last big round of edits (maybe) that you’re going to be doing. You’re almost there.

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Once you’ve finished all the major revisions it’s time for STAGE SEVEN.

Yes, I know, there’s one more stage. Just one, I swear!

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This is all the small annoying stuff, typos and grammar errors and misplaced commas. Do a read through for all of this and mark it down, then back to the computer to edit one last time. Give it one last polish.

And you’re done!

You’re finished, celebrate! Buy yourself some chocolate (or if chocolate is what you’ve been eating up until now, maybe buy yourself a salad), shout about it on twitter, tell your friends and family, treat yourself to lunch. Do something to reward yourself for a a job well done. You finished a novel, holy crap!

self-five

 

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How to Write a Novel – In GIF Form

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Step 1 – Get a shiny new idea. 

It’s brilliant, it’s fully formed, and you’re totally ready to write it and make a million dollars. It’s going to be the next Harry Potter for sure.

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Step 2 – Write Like the Wind

Get that baby down on the paper. Drink about ten gallons of coffee, eat a copious amount of chocolate and use semi colons with reckless abandonment. Whatever it takes to bring that story to life.

 

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Step 3 – Read over your Novel

And figure out it’s actually…not very good.

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Step 4 – Take a few days to despair

Flop around a little, if you need to.

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Step 5 – Steel yourself for edits.

Arm yourself with colored pens and index cards. Strap yourself in with your sticky notes and your highlighters, it’s time to go to war. Er…edit, time to edit.

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Step 6 – Buckle down and get your edits done. Then send it out to beta readers.

Sit back and hope they don’t rip your baby to shreds.

 

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Step 7 – Receive the feedback. Cry a little. Drink a little. Decide all the feedback is wrong and you’re actually brilliant.

LIAR

 

 

 

 

Step 8 – Finally admit to yourself that the feedback might be right. Start on the edits. 

One draft, and then the next, and the next.

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Step 9 – Literally edit until you fantasize about setting the manuscript on fire.

Like actually.

destroy it

 

 

 

Step 10 – Finish your edits. Polish the words. All the words.

And realize…you’re finished.

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Step 11 – You’re finished! Celebrate, because you wrote a freaking book and you’re DONE.

It’s time to tell everyone how awesome you are. Take that, Grandma. You knew you could do this!

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Step 12 – Realize the next step is querying.

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And…that’s it. That’s ALL it takes to write a novel. No problem, right?

You got this.

 

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Paper Hearts: Tour Stop

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If you haven’t heard of the Paper Hearts series, today is your lucky day! NYT bestselling author author Beth Revis surprised us all late last year by releasing a trilogy of advice books perfect for those of us working our way into the world of authorhood. This week we’re celebrating Volume One: Some Writing Advice which Beth was originally posting over on Wattpad, where you can still check out some of the awesome entries from the finished product. And while there’s a lot of great content there, the final version of the book has expanded into every possible area of writing you could dream of, with a special focus on YA.

Not only is it easy to see why the Paper Hearts series would be a fantastic series to any writer’s craft library, but if you’re just starting to build up your reference books the Paper Hearts books are a great place to begin as there is so much great advice between the pages of these books covering the entire writing and publication process, right through to marketing your books after they’re out in the world.

And don’t forget to make your way all the way to the bottom of the post as there’s a great giveaway going along with the tour. Enter for your chance to win signed paperback copies of all three books in the series! And as an added bonus, Beth Revis has been sharing some great tips on writing all week, and now it’s my turn to take part. Be sure to check out the earlier tips as well as to keep following the tour for more writing tips, plus insights into both publishing and marketing. Let’s check out tip #4!

4

When building the world of your story, make it dirty. Add in history and scars—and then use those to develop the characters and the plot. Those extra world details can give you direction for your plot, or help you make your character have more background. Show scuff marks on the floor, and then later show how they got there. Show trash in the corner, and then show the character who threw it…or the one who cleaned it up after. Make your world lived in, and every aspect of your story will be richer.

Great advice! Every little detail makes the story just a little bit more real. It makes things come to life on the page for your reader.


 

Bird by Bird meets Save the Cat in this new writing advice book by NY Times bestselling author Beth Revis. With more than 100000 reads on Wattpad, this newly expanded and rewritten edition features 350 pages of content, including charts and a detailed appendix.
~~~
paperhearts1Fight the blank page.

When it comes to writing, there’s no wrong way to get words on paper. But it’s not always easy to make the ink flow. Paper Hearts: Some Writing Advice won’t make writing any simpler, but it may help spark your imagination and get your hands back on the keyboard.

Practical Advice Meets Real Experience

With information that takes you from common mistakes in grammar to detailed charts on story structure, Paper Hearts describes:

-How to Develop Character, Plot, & World
-What Common Advice You Should Ignore
-What Advice Actually Helps
-How to Develop a Novel
-The Basics of Grammar, Style, & Tone
-Four Practical Methods of Charting Story Structure
-How to Get Critiques and Revise Your Novel
-How to Deal with Failure
…And much more!

BONUS! More than 25 “What to do if…” scenarios to help writers navigate problems in writing from a NY Times Bestselling author who’s written more than 2 million words of fiction.

Learn more at BethRevis.com

Paper Hearts, Volume 1: Some Writing Advice on Goodreads

Purchase Paper Hearts, Volume 1: Some Writing Advice
AmazonKoboBarnes & NobleThe Book Depository

Follow along with the rest of the tour at the Paper Hearts Tour Headquarters, or follow Beth Revis on Twitter!

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Self Publishing VS Traditional: Let’s Move On

No seriously, let’s get over this thought that there is only “one true way” and if you “insert way of publishing here” you’re a loser who will never amount to anything. That was SO 2015.

I really thought we were making progress, since I hadn’t seen any scathing articles about traditional or self publishing in a while. I thought, “Gee, maybe people are finally realizing that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and every writer is different”.

And then ANOTHER article came out. You may know the one I’m talking about, it’s been doing the rounds lately, circulating. In this article the author basically claims that you’re going to be broke and unhappy if you go the traditional publishing route, but that she would NEVER EVER self publish because that’s for hacks (essentially, I’m summing up here).

Not only is it depressing for writers thinking about going EITHER route (seriously, what a downer) it’s a return to the same backwards thinking that was so prevalent over the past few years.

At first I was all, “Ugh, I give up.”

 

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But then I decided I’d do something better than sulk and angrily eat all the contents of my snack cupboard.

So I put on my ranty pants and made a video. YOU’RE WELCOME.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Query Process in Harry Potter Gifs

When you finish your manuscript and it’s time to email agents!

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When you learn what a query letter actually is and that you have to write one.

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When you first start trying to write one and realize everything you write sucks.

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When revisions have driven you insane but you realize you’re FINALLY ready to send this bitch OUT.

 

realize it's ready

 

 

 

 

When you hit “send” and then have to wait forever.

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When you get your first partial request…and it turns into a rejection the literal MINUTE you send the pages.

go vomit

 

 

 

 

 

When the feedback is all rejections and you feel like the agents are all like

your query is rubbish.gif

 

 

 

 

 

When you get your first actual feedback from an agent

wicked.gif

 

 

 

 

 

When your revised manuscript actually starts getting full requests

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When you finally get “the email” asking for “the call”

Wooo.gif

 

 

 

And then realize you have to actually talk to a real life agent on the phone

 

panic now.gif

 

 

 

But then the call goes great, and the agent offers!

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And you realize you HAVE AN OFFER. Time to celebrate!

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And you brag for days to all your friends, who are all like, “that’s great, shut up about it already”.

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And then your awesome new agent says it’s time to go on submission

 

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The end (but not really).

 

 

 

 

 

 

E.-Latimer2E. Latimer is a young adult fantasy writer  and literary intern. She was was born and raised in Victoria, BC and recently moved to Vancouver. She writes books, makes silly vlogs about writing with the YA Word Nerds, and reads excessively.

For more ramblings, tips on querying and thoughts on writing, sign up for the newsletter by clicking on the “Newsletter” link in the menu. Your email will not be shared, and newsletters will only come out biweekly.

 

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Today I am an “Angry Feminist”

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Y’know what? There’s a reason feminists become “angry”. It’s because you wake up and check your facebook/twitter/news station and get smacked with another steaming hot face-full of sexism.
 
This morning it was some scraggly-bearded, hobo-turd in a tweed jacket saying that women aren’t as ambitious as men. That we aren’t “driven”. The only way we’ll ever be happy is marrying and having children.
 
We aren’t driven. Women. All women. That includes me.
 
This pushes me over into angry feminist territory, because I have spent the last five years of my life FIGHTING to achieve my goals, to not give in to the sucking vortex of hopelessness and stress and shitty jobs, while I struggled to write more and write faster and write better. I have been rejected and rejected and rejected and broken down and picked myself up over and over because I WANT THIS SO BADLY.
 
Lately I’ve been killing myself to meet two deadlines that fell on the same date. My house is in shambles, I’m eating out of Tupperware, I’m on the computer until eleven at night. The other day I edited for seven straight hours.
 
I mean, I am literally working my butt off (yes, literally, I forget to eat occasionally and dropped three pounds over the last three weeks). I look like a wizard trying to dress like a muggle because at this point I’m just putting on whatever is left in my closet.
 
So don’t you dare tell me I’m not driven.
 
I just sent off both projects last night and realized my house looks like a bomb went off, and I am a disgusting, unwashed mess and most of all I realized, I AM FIERCELY HAPPY. I love what I’m doing. For once in my life I don’t stand around and wonder, What the hell am I doing here? I don’t have times where I’m watching Netflix or lying around on my phone thinking, I feel like I should be doing something. Those feelings are gone when I’m fulfilled, when I know I’m right where I should be, doing exactly what I’m meant to do.
 
So don’t tell me I’m not happy.
 

My husband also makes me fiercely happy, he’s an amazing guy (and he puts up with the human disaster that is me) and it’s not like I don’t want to have a kid someday, but to have some dirt-bag yammer on about how women simply aren’t driven after all of this…well, it’s enough to make a gal angry.

And I’m not the only driven writer I know. I know loads of them, all balancing work and family with their writing, squeezing in time to write between feeding everyone and cleaning the house and working a full time job. They do this because they’re driven. Because they have ambition and passion and they’re not going to give up regardless of how much rejection they face, or how difficult the battle becomes.

So basically I have one last thing to say, and it’s not professional or eloquent in any way, but it needs to be said so…

Screw you neck-beard, dude. Screw you.

And that’s about it.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/87098609@N00/511361871″>White Panther</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

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How I Got My Agent

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There’s been a lot of ups and downs over the last two years. The last four years, really, but that’s something I’ll probably go into more later.

I parted ways with my first literary agent in March of 2014. The book I wrote hadn’t sold, but I still loved the characters and the title, so I scrapped all but the first chapter and started over again. Roughly eight months later I got into Brenda Drake’s “Pitch Wars” contest and actually won the middle grade category for most agent requests.

I was over the moon! I’d sent out over twenty full requests at that point, both through Pitch Wars (and after PW, with just normal querying) so I was sure I would get an offer from someone.

I didn’t. Instead I got rejection, after rejection, after rejection.

The feedback was all the same. No one connected to the character, they couldn’t get into the story, the voice was inaccessible. It all amounted to the same thing. And at the time it was something I didn’t feel ready to try to fix. Mainly because it was such a huge overhaul and I wasn’t even sure where to start.

So I got into a funk. A deep, chocolate-filled misery session that lasted several weeks.

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But I can never stay in a funk for long, because there’s always some new shiny idea to pull me out of it. And The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryrony Gray was it.  The idea of writing a kind of weird, MG retelling of The Picture of Dorian Gray was enough to pull me out of my slump and get me to start writing again.

Six months ago I started querying the new manuscript. I was cautiously hopeful, allowing myself some excitement when the full requests started coming in.

And then, again, rejections started trickling in one by one. Some of them specific, most of them vague. And I was caught up in the idea that This is going to be the same as last time.

The thought terrified me. I wasn’t sure if I could take another roller coaster ride like that again, barreling to the tip top of the tracks and then crashing down over and over.

At the time I was sending out queries in batches of ten, and an agent from the second round of queries asked for an R&R. I read over her email and loved everything she’d suggested. So I immediately stopped querying and took about two months to make the changes.

Then, when I thought I might finally be ready, I sent the agent  the new manuscript back, and sent out another couple rounds, confident this new version was so much stronger.

It turned out it was. In the morning on November 24th I woke up to an email from Silvia Molteni of Peters Fraser and Dunlop. She said she loved the manuscript and read it in one day, and she asked if we could speak on the phone.

A call. The call.

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That’s basically what I did.

 

After recovering from my shock I sent her a very excited email back telling her I would love a call, and I was so excited she loved the manuscript. I gave her my phone number and then stared impatiently at my email icon for a several minutes before realizing…It’s 6pm in London, she’s probably home for the day. Crap.

Being a normal, non-mouth frothy type of person for the rest of the day was difficult, but I managed to pull it off for the most part. I went bookstore shopping with my family, and then we got lunch in one of my favorite little cafes.

The YA Word Nerds like to tease me that I’m still one of those people who talks on the phone instead of just texting. So when my phone rang I debated picking it up. It was a long number from Alberta. Telemarketer, I decided. Probably just someone trying to tell me I’ve won an Alaskan cruise. No thanks.

Then my phone rang again, another outrageously long number. I looked at it and hemmed and hawed and both my brother and my mom went, Just answer it! And I did, and it was  Silvia, calling me really, really late her time.

We talked, it was loud inside. I went outside, it was even louder, due to the windstorm going on. But it was slightly better than the loud indie music in the cafe so I braved the weather for a few minutes.

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Now picture me with a cell phone in one hand.

I had to run to the shelter of my car so I could actually hear her. After the call, I emailed all the agents with my full. I also emailed all the agents I had queried in the last two months who hadn’t answered yet, which is something that a lot of writers don’t realize they can do (I recommend it, since quite a few of them asked to see the full so they could read before the deadline).

A few days later, after the initial excitement had died down, I got another email asking for a call. I could barely believe it. It had been shocking that one agent had loved it, to have another ask for a call was something I hadn’t even dreamed of. We talked the day after, and she offered as well. I was completely floored, and spent the next few days in kind of a daze.

And then a third email asking for a call came in. This time the agent wanted to talk to me about an R&R. Changes she and her team wanted me to make before she could offer. Not an offer yet, but still three agents very interested.

I repeatedly pinched myself.

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The day before the deadline I got a fourth email, and one I’d kind of been afraid of. By that time I had ceased walking around bumping into objects, and I was kind of leaning toward one agent in particular. I was fairly sure we were the best match. I felt our visions lined up. That she was enthusiastic and that we had “clicked”. But I knew a dream agent still had my full. An agent who had been on my “top agents” list since I’d started querying four years ago.

And then, the email came. The dream agent wanted a call.

And I knew I had one day to make the biggest decision of my life.

I know for some people it’s not “the biggest decision”. It’s not deciding where to live, it’s not figuring out if you want kids, it’s not taking the red pill or the blue pill. But to me, it might as well have been. Writing is my life, so this…this was big, and scary. A terrifying, life-altering decision that needed to be made in roughly half a day. One in a half if I wanted to stretch the deadline a bit, and I had too many people waiting to feel comfortable doing that.

So I paced back and forth. I agonized. I made pros and cons lists, lists of what was important to me, diagrams, maps…okay maybe not maps, but there was plenty of frenzied chart making.

This decision between the agent I had really clicked with and the agent that had been on the top of my list for years, was brutal. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The thing was, there was no WRONG answer. Both of the agents were awesome for different reasons. A cold, hard business decision would have been dream agent, because her sales are unbelievable and I right now I have NYT best selling books on my shelf that she reps.

But the other agent also had terrific sales, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the call we had. About her sheer passion for the project, her love of Oscar Wilde, the way she talked about the characters like they were real, live people. A choice guided by emotion or “gut instinct” was her.

So how was I supposed to choose?

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But since there was also no wrong choice, since both the agents were with excellent agencies, since both had great sales, at the end of the day I decided I had to follow my heart.

Yes, I know that sounds less like a business decision and more like a Disney movie, but I also know that your agent has to be your partner, your cheerleader, your tireless advocate. That’s not to say that dream agent wouldn’t have been, but the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that the agent who had originally offered (Silvia) was also a dream agent at this point. The thought of turning her offer down made my stomach turn. The thought seemed…wrong.

I made my decision finally, sent off the emails…and sat there quietly for about ten minutes. Then I burst into tears.

But then I realized how silly I was crying, because I had an agent, so I was laughing at myself. And crying, and laughing and…it was ugly.

We’ll say no more about that.

Days later, having emailed back and forth with more questions and signed the contract, I know I made the right decision for me.

So it’s time to break out the happy dance.

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photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/28288882@N08/4548845462″>Still Life (35mm) – Typewriter</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>

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A Halloween Story: The Midnight Dinner Society

He was twenty-three when the first invitation came. Flush with the vibrancy of youth, dressed in stiff suit jackets and wrapped in the kind of confidence that only comes with academic achievement. The ink on his bachelor degree—hanging proudly on the wall of his office at home—was practically still wet.

The invitation was printed on linen paper, the kind that usually proclaims that “Mr. and Mrs. So and So would like to cordially invite you to the wedding of their beloved daughter…” but this had nothing to do with weddings, which he disliked on general principle. This was an invitation that he’d been convinced he might never receive, and if he’d dared to dream, in his daydreams he’d been old and grey, stooped, wearing a tweed jacket with worn elbows, nursing a bad smoker’s cough perhaps. He could never kick the smoking habit, even now that it was no longer fashionable.

But here was the invitation, just shy of his twenty-fourth birthday. It set his hands trembling and his heart drumming furiously against his ribcage. The crisp linen paper had only six words on the front.

You are cordially invited to dinner.

He could only imagine the reactions of his friends. The jealousy disguised as admiration. They’d laughed at him once, when he’d mentioned the society. That a man of his age would believe an urban legend. There was no Midnight Dinner Society, they told him. There was no secret meetings where the greatest scholars and scientists shared their secrets in the flickering candlelight. What a ridiculous idea.

Their laughter had crept into the back of his skull and stayed there, keeping him awake at night, body stiff with fury, fingers knotted in the covers. But now they would have to shake his hand and slap him on the back like they were happy for him. When they get home they’d complain to their wives and girlfriends.

That Harvey, they’d complain, Lucky bastard got an invitation. Got THE invitation. Haven’t I worked just as hard as he has? Haven’t I got the same degree?

They’d be right to be jealous.

His hands shook and the invitation trembled, fluttered like dove wings. He knew what was on the back, but turned it over anyways. The address blazed across the centre in black ink.

1116 Pickard Place.

It would be this Friday. It was always Friday, at least, if the rumours were to be believed. He checked his day planner, smoothing his fingers over the glossy leather cover, fidgeting as he took in the dates. Wednesday. It was Wednesday now, and that gave him two days to plan. Two days to think out what to wear, what to say, how to act. His mind worked out the hours, minutes, seconds, tallying up the numbers. He was always thinking in numbers. Two days gave him endless time.

His nerves were jangling already, raw and buzzing. The office seemed suddenly small as he paced back and forth. He couldn’t tell his friends, he remembered that now. If you told anyone, the invitation would be revoked. If just he had a wife, a girlfriend, even a roommate. Someone to talk to. Even if he couldn’t tell them exactly what he’d been invited to, he could tell them how prestigious it was. Women didn’t need to have things explained to them in detail, particularly not when it was something academic. His girlfriends in the past, the good ones, had just been happy for him, even when he’d said they wouldn’t understand exactly what he’d achieved, but that it was good. They’d been happy to celebrate with him.

The apartment seemed quieter than usual.

Friday stretched out forever, long and lazy and reluctant to be over. Every second seemed like forever. At eleven he put on his very best suite, the one with ascot instead of the tie. A bit pretentious if he was going anywhere else but this.  In silence he stood before the mirror, worrying at his cuff links, then his hair, making sure every bit had been jelled into place. He cut a heroic figure, the type of man who could recite entire text books, but capture a woman forever with one promising look. It occurred to him that there could be women at tonight’s dinner. That the Midnight Society might have given in to that way of thinking. Everything was political correctness and kowtowing these days, wasn’t it? It didn’t have to be right, it just had to be equal. A nonsensical, feel-good way of thinking of things.

It hardly mattered though. The highest rewards were still reserved for those who earned them. If there were women there, there wouldn’t be many. He straightened his ascot again and looked at the clock.

At eleven-thirty he walked slowly down the hall, past the kitchen, into the foyer. He slid into his jacket and buttoned it slowly, all the way up to his chin. The house was dark and silent. It was good to be leaving it behind. For brighter things, for better things.

On the doorstep he paused, winter air burning his lungs. There was a map in the car, in the compartment beside his seat, and it would be easy to find the place. In fact, he was pretty sure he’d heard of Pickard Place before. It was an industrial area, nothing there.

The address lead him to a warehouse, a nothing place in the middle of nowhere, a building that crouched on its patch of land like a hungry dragon, algae-stained walls bowing inwards like fleshless ribs. He parked on the street beneath the “no parking” sign, standing before the warehouse for a few seconds, letting the cold air and the smell of garbage assault his senses.

This place didn’t seem right. It was supposed to be the most prestigious of meeting places, hallowed ground of the greatest scholars from all over the world, not a place where drug pushers and whores might meet.

For the first time a flash of cold doubt seized his heart. Had he been played for a fool? Was the invitation in his pocket someone’s idea of a joke? He thought about turning around to leave, climbing back into the safety of his car and driving home. But then he would never know if he was the victim of a cruel prank, or if he really had been invited by the society.

He approached the building as if it really were a sleeping monster, treading softly down the sidewalk to the cavernous mouth of the warehouse, a door that hung crooked on its hinges like a broken tooth. Once over the threshold the sound of broken glass under foot made his teeth grit together, and he paused, letting his eyes slowly adjust to the darkness inside. It was empty, filled with dust and garbage. Piles of scrap metal collected in drifts over the floor. Cobwebs draped from the corners and dangled from the beams of the ceiling.

Anger slowly grew in the pit of his stomach. He’d been invited to an abandoned warehouse full of garbage. Was that what these people, these pranksters, thought he was…garbage?

An orange light at the very back of the warehouse flared, making him stiffen and raise one hand to shield his eyes. The light faded, then brightened once more.

There was a doorway at the back. He moved as if in a dream, ignoring the foolishness of it, lured toward the beacon. Though piles of broken glass and metal littered the floor, his feet seemed to find a clear path.

The second doorway lead into a wide room, a room so big that the orange light was swallowed before it could reach the walls or ceiling. The light itself was coming from a wrought-iron lantern sitting at the center of a very long table. There was a strange, low whirring noise from the table that made the hairs on the back of his neck prickle.

A whisper of fabric, and a second light flickered into existence, revealing its bearer as he walked toward Harvey, a heavy-set man in an immaculately pressed suite and a silver tie. Harvey stared, taken aback by the presence of a gentleman in this place.

“Ah…hello. Is this the place…er, you know…where they meet?” He wasn’t sure how much he was supposed to say.

The man’s face was absent of all expression as he gestured to the table, sweeping one gloved hand outwards. He said nothing, but the meaning was clear enough. Sit.

Harvey turned to look, about to protest, but something had changed with the lighting of the second lantern. The table was set for a dinner party, draped in a white linen table cloth. There were seven spots, each set with glistening silver placeware. Ivy had been arranged artfully down the center of the table, curling around several large candelabras. But the most impressive thing of all, the thing that made Harvey’s protests die away before he could voice them, was the centerpiece in the middle of it all.

It was a giant, clockwork timepiece, something made of gears and wheels that spun and ticked a whirred, creating that low hum he’d heard when he first came in. Brass, needle-like hands crept over a clock-face made of glossy stone, and wisps of steam hissed out with each tick of the second hand.

11:45. It had been less than five minutes since he’d stood at the entrance of this building and wondered if someone was playing a joke on him.

The butler – that’s what he had to be, Harvey decided – was leaning over the table, lighting each candle from the candelabras now, slowly and ponderously, a job that was surely going to take an eternity at the pace he was going. Gradually the room grew lighter as he did, revealing a high, vaulted ceiling and a fireplace at the back, one made of black marble that glistened wetly in the orange light of the flames. There were stone lion statues on either side of the sooty grate. One sat regally upright, still and watching. The other crouched low and feral, mouth forever open in a silent roar.

Nervous, Harvey shifted, taking in the rest of the room. Above the table hung a giant chandelier, tear-shaped drops of crystal glittering as they swung ever so slightly. There was a second door at the back of the room, beside the fireplace. Perhaps that’s where the butler had come from. Clearly the man had been waiting here for him to arrive. For the others to arrive.

He ran his hands over his suite jacket, licking his lips. Where were the others? He was eager to meet the regulars, and it was nearly midnight.

The butler finished lighting the candles. He turned away from the table and stooped over the fireplace, moving the grate aside. Harvey was just making to stand, to demand the silent man speak up and tell him what was going on. But there was a sound that froze his voice in his throat.

The tell-tale click, click of high heels on cement.

And then the second guest was in the doorway, and she was a woman. A very beautiful woman in a green evening gown, with dark glossy hair piled on top of her head and large expressive eyes. She belonged in magazines and movies, but not here. Not at a secret midnight dinner.

The woman smiled at him with red, red lips, and made her way silently over to the chair across from him. When she came closer her features triggered a memory of something unpleasant. He had seen her on the front of magazines. No, not magazines, newspapers. He hadn’t bothered to learn her name, but he knew she was famous. A woman scholar, someone specializing in languages.

He could feel his own face tighten in response, forcing a smile, masking the disapproval. He was a guest here, and no matter what he thought, he had to be polite. A display of manners in the face of something you found unpleasant was the mark of a true gentleman.

The arrival of a second guest became a merciful distraction, a pair of them, two men in neat pin-striped suites. They tipped their hats to the lady and gave Harvey a careful nod before seating themselves, one on either side of him. The brothers had been featured in one of his favourite science magazines last year. Harvey’s face grew warm, his cheeks burning slightly.

He felt small, an unpleasant thing to feel.

Third to arrive was a tall, spindly man whose suite looked as though it had shrunk, revealing his thin wrists and ankles. The way he scuttled across the floor and settled into his seat reminded Harvey of a spider, and he barely looked around at the others at the table.

A pale, twitchy man. Decidedly a beta type.

Harvey disliked him immediately.

The fifth and last guest, was another woman, and one that set Harvey’s teeth on edge even more than the first one had. She was solid and firm and dressed in a pant-suit. She squared her shoulders like a man after she sat down, and kept shoving her glasses up her nose aggressively while she looked around the table.

The twitchy man broke the silence. “Wh-where’s the…there’s only six of us.”

A smooth voice spoke up from beside the fireplace. “Yes, and Mr. Taylor apparently thought it acceptable not to show up.”

“But the…num-number seven—”

“It will still work.” The butler stepped out of the shadows, folding his hands in front of him, smiling around at the dinner guests. “Do not fear. Mr. Taylor is being dealt with.”

The twitchy man shuddered, and Harvey sat back in his seat. Was this Mr. Taylor being kicked out of the society? So they didn’t forgive absences, that was something to note for the future.

The butler cleared his throat and then drifted back into the shadows. It seemed to be a signal that only the others understood, because they all sat up a little straighter. The woman in the pant-suite straightened her shoulders again, her thin lips pressed together. The brother leaned forward slightly and exchanged a look across Harvey’s line of vision, making him feel like he was intruding on something.

Then the twitchy man gave one sharp jerk of his shoulders, as if he’d been shocked by something, and scrambled to his feet. He began to speak haltingly, clearing his throat and smacking his lips between every sentence.

“Uh, this year I tra-travelled to Berlin. They’re making great leaps and b-bounds in heart transplant technology. I learned from one of the top surgeons there, a new t-t-technique…” He stammered to a halt, and for several painful seconds, simply moved his lips helplessly, while nothing came out. Finally he appeared to catch his breath. “Also, I attended a conference while I was there, three days of in-intense lecturing.”

He fell silent, and Harvey’s shoulders slumped as the twitchy man sat down. Just watching him stumble over his words like a buffoon had been painful. He blinked as the brothers on either side of him stood. “We discovered a new ship wreck this year,” said the first brother. His face was eager, cheeks flushed as he gestured with his hands. “We’ve documented it extensively.”

The other brother added, “It appears it was another ship full of immigrants much like the Mayflower, only this one never made it. We’ve uncovered records of the families that were on the ship, and we’re putting together an extensive history.”

Next up was the woman in the green dress. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes glittering. There was something about her that vibrated beneath the surface, though her face looked outwardly calm. “I travelled to Egypt, Cairo this year, and we think we’ve uncovered the roots of a new language, one that was use by the Enocians there. I’ve begun to learn as much as I can of it.”

There was silence after this statement, brief, and loaded with something that Harvey couldn’t interoperate. The woman in the green dress sat down so suddenly that she nearly knocked her wine glass over, and the brothers exchanged another long look across Harvey, who crossed his arms and frowned at the table top.

Perhaps the others were uncomfortable with the idea of a woman making discoveries like that. What if she missed something? Emotions so often caused distraction in women. To trust something as vital as the discovery of a new language to this woman, with her pouty lips and smokey eye-makeup…it didn’t make sense.

He barely heard the man-like woman speaking. He thought it was something about teaching a writing class, nothing impressive. It was hard to look away from the woman in the green dress. She was no longer flushed, in fact, the blood seemed to have drained out of her face, and she refused to look at anyone, staring only at the table top, fastening her eyes on the ticking clock at the center of the table.

Eleven minutes to midnight, the clock said.

Then it was his turn, at least, everyone was looking at him, so he assumed it was his turn. Heart racing, he stood up, feeling his knees threaten to give way beneath him.

“I, um…” he hated himself for the hesitation. He wasn’t like the twitchy man. He was a man. He was assertive, sure of himself. He pressed forward. “This year I achieved a PHD in history.” He hesitated, unsure if he was meant to go on. But the others shifted their eyes to the shadows behind him, so he sat, taking a deep breath to calm himself. It seemed that was all that was expected of him this time around.

Flames were crackling in the grate now, and the butler, who had been warming himself with his back to the guests, turned around. A silver tray was balanced on one hand, and as he moved closer Harvey could see a circular ring of leaves rested on the tray, deep green and glossy.

“The laurel crown.” The butler drew his thin lips back, showing receding gums and crooked teeth. The first time he’d actually smiled, Harvey realized. It wasn’t pretty.

“I think we all know who has earned the crown this year.”

The woman in the green dress sat up straight in her chair, and Harvey felt a flash of envy and hatred so intense that his mask nearly broke down. His polite smile nearly slipped. Everyone was looking at her, the smug little bitch. She just expected this, and clearly everyone else did too.

The butler glided around the table, placing the silver tray directly in front of the woman, as if he were serving her dinner. Carefully he reached down and picked up the laurel leaves. The woman in the green dress closed her eyes as he placed the crown on her head.

Then the butler was gone, replaced by a pair of heavy set men in black pin-stripe suites that Harvey hadn’t even noticed up until then. But they had been leaning against the wall behind the woman while the butler had put the crown on her head. He knew that, he’d just been distracted, wallowing in irritation and jealousy.

The men stood on either side of the woman in the green dress, who finally opened her eyes, and slowly stood. They pulled her chair back, moving in perfect synchronicity, the one on the left offering his elbow. She took it delicately, eyes wide, lashes fluttering. Something in her pale throat moved as she swallowed once, twice. A muscle in her jaw ticked and fluttered. Then they were leading her away from the table, towards the door at the back of the room. Harvey fixed his eyes on the tumble of curls that fell between her shoulder blades, and the sharp green of the laurel crown against her black hair.

Moments later she was gone, vanishing behind the closed door. The only indication she’d ever been there was her empty chair.

The brothers on either side of him and the woman in the pant-suit struck up a conversation about politics. Even the twitchy man coughed into his hand a few times before joining in, his voice growing less shaky as the minutes went by.

Harvey should have been listening to them talking. He should have been joining in, even. He often complained to anyone who would listen that there was a shortage of intellectually stimulating conversation in the world. But he seemed to be entranced by the sight of the closed door, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from it.

Twenty minutes went by, then thirty. The others kept the discussion going, and occasionally they would try to draw him into it. The woman in the pant-suit even directed an encouraging, motherly smile at him, as if she thought he were merely shy. Harvey bared his teeth back at her in what he thought was a smile, and she leaned back in her chair, brows raised.

One of the brothers spoke up hastily. “It’s strange at first, we know.”

“You get used to it,” his brother added.

“It’s even worth it,” the twitchy man said. He was far less twitchy now. His stammer seemed to have mysteriously disappeared. “The knowledge is worth it.”

At last the door in the back opened, and the butler entered, pushing a silver dinner cart before him. “Dinner is served.”

A silver domed platter was set in front of each dinner guest, the butler moving fluidly between them, silent as he laid dinner on the table. The other guests no longer spoke, nor did they make eye contact with one another. The woman in the pant-suit no longer smiled. Harvey wondered if he was expected to lift the dome from the platter, or if the butler did it for them. Nobody was touching it, so he sat back in his chair and waited.

At last the butler stood at the end of the table and clasped his hands together. The orange candlelight flickered over his face, painting his features in fire. “We give thanks to for this meal, not to any god, created by man, not to the earth, plowed and tilled by man’s hand, but to knowledge itself, which is so vigorously searched for and so rarely found.”

The others chorused back as one, “To knowledge,” which made Harvey jump. He saw that they were all reaching for the silver handle on the platter, and quickly moved to do the same.

As he pulled the lid away, steam wafted up, bathing his cheeks and forehead. The scent, that of a rich and hearty stew, immediately set his mouth to watering. The broth was thick and light brown, chunks of vegetables and perfectly cooked meet showing just beneath the surface. It reminded him of the stew him mother used to make, before she left.

The broth was seasoned thickly with herbs, several of them whole leaves floating on the surface. Sharp green against the darkness. Laurel leaves.

Harvey braced his hands against the table,  stomach turning.

“We imbibe the knowledge of the past to show us the discoveries of the future.” It seemed like voice was coming from somewhere else. His own head maybe. The butler had vanished, but it was his voice, deep and velvety, soothing.

“We become great scholars, gods and goddesses. Tasting the fruit of knowledge that the world has declared forbidden. Only this way can we achieve more than anyone else. You can drink now, and be one of us. Achieve more, become more. Be the best in your field. You will receive fame and money, you will be lauded by your peers. Or you can walk away now and never come back.”

Harvey picked up his spoon. It vibrated in his hand, clunking against the table.  Around him, there was only the gentle scrape of cutlery on china.

“Drink and become more.”

He dipped his spoon in, just the tip of it. Letting the liquid slide on, thick and steaming, impossibly dark against the silver spoon. In the darkness the voice whispered.

“Drink.”

Harvey lifted the spoon to his lips and closed his eyes.

He drank.

THE END.

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How to Beat Writer’s Block

It’s always hard starting a new project. I found out this week that it’s especially hard starting book 2 in a series. When I talked to other authors, they agreed with me, they dread chapter one of book 2.

I have no idea why that is, but I had to go back and watch my own video to make myself start! At least I can convince myself if no one else.

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