What Inspired Me to Write Escape From Witchwood Hollow

My first published novel, ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW, will always hold a special place in my heart.  “Write what you know” the experts say, and I did.  I wrote about the woods surrounding my parents’ house.

Granted, their woods aren’t haunted, at least not in the sense the woods in the story are.  I would stare at those trees, darkness creeping up around them, and imagine what history had been like.  Who else had dreamed?  Who else stood beneath them and stared up at the intertwined branches?

One of my favorite things to do was stroll through them to the slate stream.  I always imagined building a cottage there for quiet writing time, but never got a chance to before moving away.

My other favorite thing to do was to visit the old foundations hidden among the trees.  Their real history was lost to me, but I could imagine the people who once lived in them and farmed the land.  I could imagine their hopes and heartaches.

I hope for you, the reader, is that ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW will transport you into a land of trees and old stones.  I hope that nature embraces you.

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Escape from Witchwood Hollow

**Noveltunity Book Club March 2015 Nominee**

Everyone in Arnn – a small farming town with more legends than residents – knows the story of Witchwood Hollow: if you venture into the whispering forest, the witch will trap your soul among the shadowed trees.

After losing her parents in a horrific terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, fifteen-year-old Honoria and her older brother escape New York City to Arnn. In the lure of that perpetual darkness, Honoria finds hope, when she should be afraid.

Perhaps the witch can reunite her with her lost parents. Awakening the witch, however, brings more than salvation from mourning, for Honoria discovers a past of missing children and broken promises.

To save the citizens of Arnn from becoming the witch’s next victims, she must find the truth behind the woman’s madness.

How deep into Witchwood Hollow does Honoria dare venture?

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Reviews: the Good, the Bad, and the Necessary

When my first book, ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW, came out in 2014, I talked about it constantly.  Family, friends, and coworkers were happy (I assume they were happy!) to buy a copy.  Whenever I sold one to them, I asked that when they were done, they leave a review.

They would lift their eyebrows at me. “Like, tell you what I thought of it?”

“Well, yes,” I would say, “but could you also please leave an honest review on a website?  It helps with sales.”

They would stare at me suspiciously, as if suddenly the book I’d handed them might bite.  “Um, sure.  A review.”

Reviews are important to a book’s success, although they aren’t the only thing that makes a book thrive.  Many people, however, aren’t familiar with reviews or reviewing.

The Good

People read reviews.  They care what others have said and it helps them to decide if this book is for them.  Take ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW for example.  The novel involves three separate perspectives.  People have raved about that and people have ranted.  It all depends on personal taste.  Now let’s say that Eileen loves novels with multiple perspectives.  She reads the reviews, sees the book has that, and she buys it.  Laura, on the other hand, hates multiple perspectives.  She reads the reviews and decides this isn’t the book for her.  Rather than buying it and hating it, she moves on to another book that does match her taste.

I can’t forget to mention that reviewing is fun!  I wish we’d gotten to “review” books in high school instead of writing ten page essays on them.  It would have made those mandatory, often depressing, reads all the more enjoyable.

The Bad

I feel as if there should be reviewing etiquette so everyone plays fair.  There are some things I’ve seen that just send me into a tizzy.

People leave one star to mark the book as “to be read.”  That isn’t fair because it brings down the overall rating and if someone is browsing reviews, they might think the person genuinely didn’t enjoy the story.

People leave a poor rating if something was wrong with the product.  Say it never arrived in the mail or a page fell out.  With books, the reviews reflect how you enjoyed the story, not the product. Leaving one star because “it fell apart” works with a lawn mower, but not so much with a novel (especially because people don’t know if you bought the ebook or paperback).

I hate to say it, but sometimes reviewers lie.  Now I’m not saying they do it on purpose, but you have to be careful how you word things.  I’ve seen comments like “The author did no research before writing this.”  Do you KNOW the author didn’t research anything?  It might feel like that, but your research might just not match the author’s research.  A comment like that can turn readers away.

I’ve also seen “the author should have used an editor” and “this is an example of a badly self-published book.”  In both cases, the statements weren’t true.  The book was edited and it was published by a small press.  I wouldn’t mind if the reviewer said, “This could have used a better editor” or “it felt like it wasn’t edited,” but statements that aren’t true can have a negative effect on potential readers who take them as facts.

I can’t forget anger rating.  I’ve known authors to get into petty wars with each other, and rate books just to bring down ratings.  I’ve also seen perspective authors become jealous when a critique partner is published and they aren’t.

Sort of in the same vein, I hate it when a reviewer makes a comment on one of my books like, “I don’t get why the author chose to _____.”  I didn’t – the editor told me to do it!  I always want to leave a comment saying that, but I refrain.  I don’t want to start any drama.

The Necessary

Many people will look up a book before purchasing it.  They look to see how many ratings it has.  If it only has a few, they pass, thinking it isn’t any good.

Amazon will only pitch your book to its customers if you have over 30 reviews.

Many advertising sites will only accept your book if you have so many Amazon reviews, and oftentimes those reviews have to have a certain rating (more than ten ratings and over 4 stars is the most common that I’ve seen).

You need reviews with five stars and one stars.  Authors might cringe at a one star rating, but it makes your book look genuine.  Ten five star ratings looks suspicious.  Did the author coerce people into rating it like that?  Did the author cheat somehow?

The Big Ol’ Book Convention

Oftentimes, readers or other authors will ask me why I don’t frequent a lot of “big” book conventions. I have done some in the past and I plan to do more in the future, but I’m going to be honest here – I sell more books at intimate gatherings, like libraries and craft fairs.

“That’s impossible,” I’ve been told. “Go to the big conventions and be a national bestseller.” Well, here’s a few truths as I see them about those big ol’ book conventions.

  1. There can be hundreds, if not more, books for readers to choose from. It is overwhelming! At a smaller event, I might be the only author present selling books. While you might have a truly eye-catching cover, an awesome title, and a breath-taking blurb, so do most of the other authors at a convention.
  2. Conventions are held in big cities. This means you have to pay for travel and accommodations unless you’re lucky enough to live in or near that city. When you’re traveling, you can’t bring all of your swag and all of your books. Traveling on planes and trains limits the amount of luggage you can have. You also have to get everything to the convention. When I went to one in New York City, I brought along two extra suitcases. Luckily I had my parents with me to help me lug it all through the crowded streets. (On the plus side, being at a convention in a big city means you get to have an awesome time in a big city!)
  3. Most people who go to book conventions want free books. Someone would approach my table. I would smile and before I could start in on my spiel, he or she would hand me a business card for their blog, and ask for a free paperback in exchange for an honest review. While I am happy to work with bloggers, most of them don’t seem selective. They would ask for a free copy before even reading the back cover, and on a few business cards, I noted the blogger preferred genres in which I don’t write. Other authors wanted to exchange books. They were a tad more selective than the bloggers and actually wanted to engage in brief conversations. Regarding the bloggers, when I let them know I couldn’t afford to give out paperbacks but would be happy to provide an ebook once I got home, most of them moved on to the next table without even a goodbye.
  4. People love free stuff in general. I didn’t realize that at conventions, authors give away a lot of freebies. Pens, USB drives, bracelets… I had regular bookmarks to give away, but I also bought fancy keychains and fancy bookmarks to go with each purchase as a bit of an incentive. People would go from table to table grabbing everything in sight to throw into their bags. If you try to call out, “Wait, that comes with a purchase,” they don’t hear you because they’re already moving on to the next table. I was out of my fancy items before I had sold a single book. Now I save those special items for more intimate signings.
  5. Conventions are noisy. When someone wanted to engage me in a discussion about my books, oftentimes I would be yelling to be heard. One convention had a DJ. It heightened the excitement in the room, but it also made it difficult to think, let alone talk.
  6. Most of the time you have to share a table with a stranger. While I love meeting people, sometimes it is difficult to make it work seamlessly. I once shared a table with an erotica author. She had some interesting items and a male model posing in just his tidy-whities. I had a young adult fantasy. The customers who approached her weren’t interested in mine, and vice versa. Many of them would ask what I had, and when I explained, they would say, “I don’t read young adult.” Some parents ushered their children past the table quickly after seeing her swag and model.

“So you’re saying you hate conventions,” I’ve been told.

Not at all. I love any opportunity to get out into the world and share my novels. I’ve made some great new author friends at conventions. I’ve discovered new ways to display my merchandise and new ideas for swag.

Parents. Gotta love ‘em.

Parents.  They play a part in most stories, and a huge role in most young adult fiction.  I’ve noticed a trend, though.  Parents in young adult fiction are clueless.  They are childish and neglectful.  The teens don’t feel comfortable sharing anything about their lives with their parents.

Why is this a trend?  Shouldn’t we teach our teens to share and trust their parents?  Shouldn’t we show parents as strong, capable role models?

This was first brought to my attention in elementary school.  Every night before bed, my mom would read aloud to me.  We would then discuss the book, watch the movie (if it had a movie tie-in), and do research (if applicable).  I loved the Ruth Chew books, and into our second or third fantasy adventure, my mom set the book aside with a frown.

“Why aren’t the parents ever involved?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I would take you with me on my adventures.”

Maybe my mom and I just have a unique relationship.  I still take her with me on my adventures.

Maybe my childhood was one in a million.  My parents both worked, but we still played games at night.  They still made dinner.  Sometimes I helped.  It wasn’t me cleaning the house and cooking all the meals because my parents were too immature to know how to turn on a stove.  I shared stories about my life with my parents.  They shared stories with me.

I know there are neglectful parents out there, but why do they have to always be in young adult books?

The next time this was brought to my attention was when I hired a freelance editor for COGLING. In COGLING, Edna’s father works on the railroad.  He supports his family as best he can; such a job, however, keeps him away from home.  The mother also works.  In fact, the family is so poor, Edna and Harrison have to work too.  The editor told me I had to make the mother clueless.  According to her, teens like reading about other teens being independent.  Teens don’t want to read about doting parents.  They don’t feel their parents can connect with them. Having Mrs. Mather be preoccupied in her own affairs added “tension” to the story.  So, that’s how I wrote it, but I made sure Edna goes to her mother for help.  I didn’t want Edna to ignore her only parental figure available (much to the editor’s chagrin).

With ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW, Honoria has lost her parents, but I show her memories of how much she loved them, how close they were.  I also made certain to write a close-knit, healthy relationship for her with her aunt and uncle.

In the Treasure Chronicles, I wanted Garth and Georgette Treasure to be hands-on.  I wanted them to be solid role-models.  They work hard, but still have time for family.  They know what’s really important in life.  In many ways, I modeled them after my own parents.

In RUNNERS AND RIDERS, Juliet is steered away from her family by the bad influence of a friend.  As time goes on for her, she realizes how much she loves her mother and they grow closer.

I’m not saying books with distant parents are bad.  I’m just saying there are a lot out there, and sometimes it’s refreshing to read a young adult novel with strong family bonds.  If you’re like me and looking for one of those books, check out:

§  THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green.

§  OUT OF REACH by Carrie Arcos.  (Not as strong as I would like to see, but you can tell the family is trying)

§  EXIT PURSUED BY A BEAR by E.K. Johnston

§  SUPERNATURAL PET SITTER by Diane Moat

§  BLOOD BETWEEN US by Zac Brewer (Not supportive parents; rather, supportive uncles)

§  RED JACKET by Mark Bondurant

§  THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

§  EVERY LAST WORD by Jennifer Niven

§ THE BODY INSTITUTE by Carol Riggs

Most Memorable Moments at Book Signings

I aim to do a book signing every month.  Sometimes I’m able to squeeze in more than just one.  I appear at craft shows, Renaissance Faires, book stores, conventions, and libraries.  Each book signing is a rewarding experience where I get to talk with readers.  Some people keep coming back to see me; others are new to my books.  While each experience is beautiful, there are some moments that stand out more than others.

1.       At my first signing for a ghost story anthology, a man approached my table to call me evil for writing about ghosts.  He then lectured me about unleashing demons.  He explained to passersby that by reading the anthology, they would be opening a portal.  I really hope the book has never opened any portals.

2.      A teenage boy asked to buy a copy of UNDER A BRASS MOON for a quarter.  He didn’t take “the book costs $15” well.

3.      I had to share a table with another author at a convention.  I’d never met her before, but they put us together because she also wrote young adult fantasy. She had fliers listing her books and their blurbs.  She spread these fliers out all over the table. I do mean ALL OVER.  She covered my books with her fliers.  When I asked her to move them, she told me it was important people know she had more than just the books she’d brought.  One of the conventions employees came over to deal with this and the author threw a childish temper tantrum.  This is an example of how not to make friends at a book convention.

4.      At another convention, I was paired with another author I didn’t know.  She had over ten erotica books written and had brought her entire family along (parents, brothers, sisters, husband, kids).  She covered the table with her merchandise and her family took up the space behind.  I didn’t have a chair, or room to stand, and I only had enough table space to place two books side-by-side. This convention didn’t intervene even though I had paid $50 for half a table. 

5.       A teenage girl told me she waited all year for May so she could read my next book.  She asked to have her picture taken with me.

6.      A man approached my table to tell me about the voices in his head.  He kept switching personalities throughout our conversation.

7.       A girl raved to me about how much she loves TREASURE DARKLY and asked about the symbolism behind the blue dress Amethyst wears.  I felt bad telling her it was blue just because I love the color, not because I spent hours deep in thought.

8.      I met an amazing young adult author who lived about an hour away.  We were able to swap books and marketing strategies.  We still keep in touch today, and have done a few more signings together.

9.      A kid pushed over my banner and broke the stand.  The mom thought it was funny.  I didn’t.

10.   A man bought two books for his daughter.  She and I chatted, and after they left, I saw he’d forgotten his change on the edge of the table.  If you’re reading this, sir, I still have it for you!

11.    A girl bought a book from me because her name is also Jordan Elizabeth.

12.   I always wear costumes to the Renaissance Faires.  At one, a woman lifted up my skirt to see what “Renaissance undergarments” look like.  I disappointed her with my Victoria’s Secret panties.  While the breeze on a hot day felt good, I didn’t appreciate the personal space intrusion.

13.   A girl bought a copy of ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW because the model on the cover appears to have pink hair.  She told me she will buy anything pink.

The Villains You Find In Online Writing Groups

I’ve taught numerous creative writing and “how to get published” classes at local libraries.  I always stress the importance of getting feedback on your work.  The paragraph might sparkle on your computer screen.  You’ve never been more proud of anything you’ve ever written.  You read it ten times, it is just amazing…and then someone else reads it and has no idea what you’re trying to say.  You know what you want to convey, so your mind might blind you to mistakes.  This is where different sets of eyes become handy tools. Critique partners make awesome resources, as do writing websites.
On most writing websites, you paste a portion of your work into a queue for others to read and give you their feedback.  I’ve gotten up to fifty comments on one chapter.  I won’t use all of the feedback, but I will consider each comment and see if I can apply it to the story.  Some of the comments fly in from left field, especially if I’m posting a later chapter and readers have no idea who my characters are, and those I tuck away.
A problem with writing websites is that readers can hide behind the mask of anonymity, a common problem with any Internet interaction.  I have gotten some truly nasty comments, and those commenters who don’t try to build you up, who see no good in your work, who want to squash the competition, well, I consider them the villains of this tale.  Here are ten of my more memorable interactions with these villains:
1. “You can’t put a sentence together.” How supportive! I asked for clarification on what she found awkward in my sentences, and she never replied.
2. “You just wasted my time with your crap.”  Only he didn’t use “crap.”  As with any writing website, you need to be prepared to meet newbies and professional writers.  Writing you might not like comes with the territory.  Sorry you didn’t like my work.  Feel free to stop reading so I don’t waste more of your time.
3. “Quit writing now. You’re hopeless.” This one cut deep.  I already had a few books published and had developed a thicker skin.  I hate to think of how a newbie would react.  Would they really quit writing?  Sure, the selection might not be strong, but I believe that with effort, you can polish any piece of writing.  Any newbie can learn to be a professional.  No one should stop something they’re passionate about – and no one should tell someone to quit.
4. “The squirrels will get you.”  This guy mentioned squirrels every few sentences.  I think he was going for cute, but the references didn’t fit with his comments and made it hard for me to follow what he was suggesting I do.
5. “Make these changes and email me your manuscript so I can make sure you did what I said to do.”  Micromanage much?  She sent me private messages demanding I do this, even after I thanked her and said I wouldn’t be following through with all of her suggestions.  It just wasn’t the direction in which I wished to take the story.
6. “Change your world to THIS.”  You can’t change the world in book three, not after it has already been established in a published series.  His ideas were cool, but it made it a different story and the world wouldn’t have been a steampunk western anymore.
7. “I can see how you’re just self-published.  None of this is good.”  Way to knock self-published authors; I know some personally who rock.  When I told him I wasn’t self-published, he called me a liar.
8. “Add adverbs.  Use ‘was’ more often…”  I’ve gotten bad advice like this a lot.  I thank them and move on, but sometimes they keep pushing.  I point out how stronger writing doesn’t use “was” or adverbs, and I disconnect myself before the debate becomes too heated.
9. “Take an English class.  Take a grammar class.”  Thanks, I actually teach both.  Would you like to come sit in on one?
10. “I think I’ll make this one my own…”  Okay, so this individual didn’t send me that, but I assume that’s what went through her head.  I had pasted my query letter for feedback, and while later, those who had read it messaged me to say someone was pasting a query almost identical.  The owner of the site (now no longer functioning) looked into this.  Anytime you share something, there is this risk.  The other author and I both sent the site owner our stories, and she let us know the stories were 99% dissimilar.  The other author had recognized some similarities and decided to use my query letter as her own because of all the positive feedback mine had garnered.
Don’t be scared of writing websites.  You can find great readers and your writing can improve tenfold thanks to the comments.  Be prepared, though, to find some villains.
Note: My favorite writing websites are Critique Circle and Absolute Write Water Cooler.

Relationship With Your Editor

I have had people ask me if I ever paid for a professional editor. My books are now edited by the publisher and I have critique partners, but some I did send through a “professional” editor.  Do I regret it?

YES.

I think I was naïve at the time.  I wanted to get published and I thought this would be the way to go, so I paid big bucks for her to edit quite a few of my young adult stories.  When I say “big bucks,” I’m talking about $25 for every five pages.  Pages needed to be double-spaced, Times New Roman font, size twelve.  I shelled out a lot of money.  Now, I don’t mind spending money to get my stories out there.  I’m into buying ads in different marketing venues.  Back then, writing websites told me the only way to get published was to have a professional editor take a look before submitting to editors and publishers.  One website recommended the editor I ended up going with, so I emailed her, she wrote back that she loved young adult fantasy, and I sent her manuscripts.  She sent me a bill and I sent her a check before she could begin work.

I will use “Book X” to describe the first manuscript of mine she edited.  I dearly loved the title I had given it, but she didn’t like it because it consisted of three words, so she shortened it to a character’s name.  According to her, young adult novels only sell if the title is a single word.

“Think of TWILIGHT,” she said.

“What about NEW MOON and BREAKING DAWN?” I asked.  “What about the Harry Potter series?”

“You’re not Stephenie Meyer or J. K. Rowling,” she said, and I let the title go.

She rewrote parts of Book X.  I don’t mean she suggested revisions.  She inserted her own writing.  Did I argue it?  A little.  She told me it would sell this way.  I believed her.  Characters took on new personalities.  Along came a setting I didn’t recognize.

One of my favorite characters in Book X was the love interest.  I wanted him to be strong and protective of the main character, but I also didn’t want him to be drop-dead gorgeous.  I wanted him to be a little self-conscious about his looks.  His character suddenly became an extreme macho-man who didn’t love his girl with the same sweetness as before.

While all of that’s pretty bad, there is more.

She made me feel bad about myself.  I was a horrible writer.  What was wrong with me?

She would ask me obscure questions and ridicule me if I wasn’t able to answer them by sufficiently “fixing” the story.  I don’t think she even knew what she was getting at.

At the end, she told me the story was “good enough” now that she’d fixed it.  I read that as “perfect” and because I thought this was the only way to get published, I sent her another manuscript.  We went through the same process, and she made me feel worse about myself.  This continued for many more manuscripts.  Each novel became something new, a story I didn’t quite recognize.

Words that didn’t feel like my own.

With each email she sent me, I started to feel more like quitting the writing game.

Now that I know what a good editor is like, I cringe every time I think about what she put me through.  The editors I have found through Curiosity Quills Press have been amazing.  They let me edit my own work without inserting their own writing (one time Editor 1 inserted two of her own chapters!).  They build me up, not with false praise, but with support.  I love my titles and I treasure my characters.  I feel great passion for each of my published novels.

Moral of the story?

Be true to your manuscript.  Don’t let anyone ridicule you as a beginning writer.  Do seek to better your writing, but do it in a way that makes you feel safe and inspired. Work with an editor who is passionate about your story the way YOU are.

Finding Time To Write With A New Baby – And Making My Writing Stronger Because Of It.

Diapers.  Sterilizing bottles (Okay, sterilizing everything).  Changing soiled clothes.  Welcome to my life as of October 2016.

Before then, my life was quiet different, and my books reflected that.  For one thing, I dedicated at least one hour a night to writing and an hour to marketing.  (Writing?  Marketing?  What is that now?)  My settings might have been set in fantasy worlds that don’t exist outside of my imagination, but the characters and many of the incidents paralleled real life.

The previous owners of Honoria’s new home grew pot in the basement. Check.

Jeremiah watches hay ripple in the wind.  Check.

Edna suffers the contempt of strangers on a crowded trolley.  Check.

My stories now deal with something new – having a baby.  I’m able to write about little humans with the knowledge that only comes from having one scream at you for no reason that you can discern.  The first thing I wrote after returning home from the hospital was a short story about how tired my husband and I are every morning.  When I say “returning home from the hospital,” I don’t mean that day, as would have been the case before.  I didn’t get a chance to write anything until November.

The editor for the short story raved about how realistic it felt, and she commented on how my writing had matured.  It was more “succinct.”

Well, I can see that.  No longer can I dawdle for an hour over one chapter.  No longer do I have the luxury of deleting a paragraph to try it again.  Now it is all about making the most from my writing time.  I only have 7-8pm, and that’s not even every day, because sometimes I just need that hour to get some uninterrupted sleep.  7-8pm is when dinner is done, the dishes have been washed (hopefully.  If not, they’re waiting for tomorrow), laundry is hanging up to dry, and my husband is able to watch our son before he goes to bed (ah, how wonderful going to bed at 8 must feel!).  That sweet, sweet hour is meant for writing, editing, and marketing.  By golly, I am going to make it work!

Reading over my writing since October, I can see how it has grown.  A major aspect I’m noticing is the maturity of my characters.  While I still enjoy writing for the young adult audience, I want to try my hand at adult novels.  I’m thinking character need to have babies now, and I have hundreds of ideas about what will ensue.

My upcoming WICKED TREASURE, the third installment in the Treasure Chronicles, does involve Clark and Amethyst with their child.  At the time when I wrote the manuscript, having a son wasn’t on my mind, and I needed to ask my friends for guidance to make sure the scenes were realistic.  While those scenes are still realistic, I can look back on that story with a fresh outlook.

Taking care of my son has also inspired me to write picture books.  I have plenty of ideas for those too.

I foresee “Books by Jordan Elizabeth” taking an interesting turn for the future.  Young adult books will still be written, but watch for adult and kid books too.  Do I know if they will succeed?  Will they rank on Amazon like COGLING, one of my young adult fantasies?  Maybe, maybe not, but it will be fun moving into the next level of my writing career.