“N” is for New Orleans: Best of the City

NGumbo. Beignets. Fortunetelling. Jazz. It’s hard to put the affinity I feel for New Orleans into words. There’s no logical explanation for how much I love the place. I’m not from there, and neither is anyone from my family. I can’t even claim ancestry with any of the world powers that have held the city over time. I’m neither French, nor Spanish. And I’m definitely not Creole. So what does a mostly white girl like myself have in common with one of the American South’s greatest cultural meccas? I suspect because it has so much to offer, from music to cuisine to some of the spookiest stories in the world. We go there every chance we get. I even had my wedding in the Garden District. So I thought I’d do a round-up of some of the best New Orleans has to offer, spanning all the things I love about the city.

Best Sandwich: The Muffaletta at Maspero’s Cafe

Located at the edge of the tourist district, near the canal, Maspero’s offers traditional New Orleans fare for an excellent price. I love their French Onion Soup, and like to pare it with half a muffaletta, because I have yet to meet the person who can eat a whole one. It’s larger than a dinner plate, and comes stacked with meats and olives. It’s also a great way to prepare your stomach for all the alcohol you’re about to consume.

Best Haunted House:

Known around the world as the most haunted city in America, New Orleans has much to offer for those who seek a “real” spooky thrill. Although there are a ton of stately residences to choose from that are haunted, some of the most interesting places are hotels. My personal favorite is the Hotel Monteleone, located in the French Quarter. Guests have reported seeing the ghosts of former staff, and even other guests, and sometimes at night you can hear an old-time  jazz singer in some of the middle rooms. The spectres of children who died in a yellow fever epidemic have also been reported. But the architecture is gorgeous, and it has a rotating piano bar, so that’s an all around win for the living and the dead alike.

Best Cocktail:

Although the Hurricane is the signature drink of the city, I feel it comes in behind the classic mint julep as far as authenticity and taste. Made with crushed mint leaves, powdered sugar, and bourbon, it’s a traditional Southern sipping cocktail, best enjoyed on a front porch. They’re also quite good at the landmark bar Pat O’ Brien’s in the French Quarter, which is the birthplace of the Hurricane.

Best Cemetery:

St. Louis Cemetery #1 is located near the canal, and is one of the oldest cemeteries in New Orleans. Built below sea level, cemeteries in New Orleans had to be raised above ground. This gave rise to elaborate tombs and mausoleums rising from the ground and crowded in together until the graves resemble a massive city of the dead. The most famous resident of St. Louis #1 is the woman known as “The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,” Marie Leveau. Even to this day, people flock to her tomb in order to leave small offerings in return for her blessing. Unfortunately, her grave became so famous as a tourist attraction, that visitors are strongly discouraged from visiting the cemeteries located inside the city alone. Make sure to go with a reputable tour group during the day, because if you’re alone, or it’s night, you may fall victim to the city’s criminal element.

Best Place to Get Your Fortune Told

Jackson Square is a happenin’ place. Located directly across from the World Famous Cafe Du Monde, it often features street musicians, performers, and even a fire eater once. There are small, eclectic shops that have everything from antique toys to elaborate Mardi Gras headdresses. There’s a beautiful cathedral and cobblestone streets that go back to the sixteenth century. But by far my favorite part of this vibrant area are the fortunetellers. There are usually half a dozen to choose from, and most read palms as well as cards. I love talking to them, because they see the underside of the city, and have the best stories. As to whether they actually seeing the future, I honestly can’t say. The stories stand out way more than the predictions.

Best Park:

City Park was the scene of some pretty massive destruction during Hurricane Katrina, but it rebounded into the loveliest bit of green in the Big Easy. There are statues and fountains, ponds, ducks to feed, and an amusement park for small children. Rolling green lawns are shaded by massive live oaks and magnolia trees. It’s a fantastic place to relax in the sun before hitting the Quarter. Best of all, it’s completely free and family-friendly.

Best Open-Air Market:

The French Market has fresh bulbs of garlic the size of my fist. They have amazing produce, local honeys and jams, french breads and pastries, and more. But they also have embroidered dresses and jewelry, and a host of other small pretty things that make excellent impulse purchases you’ll only regret later. It’s the perfect, low key late morning activity to indulge in after a night on the Quarter. (Or hell, it’s N’awlins. Make that afternoon.)

“H” is for “Holidays”: Bizarre Things to Celebrate This Spring

HSpring is the perfect time to get out and celebrate. The warmer weather, after months of being cooped up as victims of winter’s tyranny, makes us want to shed some clothes, and get outside. It’s the ideal season to eat fresh and locally grown things, to buy handcrafted items at fairs, and to generally let go a little. Festivals abound, some of them great, and some ridiculous, as the following list attests. If your area doesn’t offer enough to do this spring, here are some silly, and in most cases pretty obscure, reasons to celebrate the coming months:

 

April 11th: Eight Track Tape Day

Who remembers the eight track, with its hard plastic case that was bigger than a smartphone but held only one album, on its thin ribbon of black magnetic tape that broke so very easily? Truthfully, not me, except as an artifact unearthed in a thrift shop or relative’s junk pile. But eight tracks ruled the sixties and seventies, so much so that they have their own day of remembrance. Even though most of us can’t actually play an eight track tape anymore, and wouldn’t want to even if we could, we can still use this day to give a shout out to the old gold of yesteryear. Put on a Steely Dan album, and chill out.

April 27th: National Tell a Story Day

This is a day to celebrate storytelling in all its forms. This is also a favorite day with local libraries, when many have festivals and reading events. Check your local listings for an event near you. Full disclosure: This day is also celebrated in the United Kingdom, but on October 27th. This makes me wonder why these holidays are celebrated six months apart, in two different parts of the world. I bet there’s a story in there somewhere.

 

May 6th: International Tuba Day

I personally love this holiday, and it caught my eye because we have a tuba player in the house. It’s a hard life, lugging a tuba around. The instrument weighs so much, carrying it is more like an endurance sport than a fine art. The holiday was founded by a disgruntled tuba student from Maryland named Joel Day in 1979. Day felt that tuba players got little respect or recognition, and so he founded the holiday to increase awareness. Unfortunately, since none of us have ever heard of this holiday, it seems as if Day failed in his mission. But let’s not let obscurity get in the way of enjoying an underappreciated, but nonetheless awesome, instrument. Go hug a tuba player today. If you can find one.

May 6th: No Diet Day

Now this is a day I can really rally behind. Who doesn’t want some version of a day where you can basically eat what you want? But this particular celebration is more about body positivity. No Diet Day hinges on the belief that we should accept ourselves and the bodies we have today, rather than potentially harming ourselves with drastic diets, pills, and surgeries. Founded by Mary Evans Young in 1992, the movement grew out of Young’s own struggles with anorexia, and years of harmful dieting. She went on to form the British support group Diet Breakers.

 

May 22: World Goth Day

Do you know a Goth? Is there someone in your life who loves gloominess, wears lots of black, and listens to mopey music? You should use this day to run up to them and hug them. Besides being sure to piss them off, this will show your solidarity for the Goths of the world. The founding of this holiday can be traced back to late 90s Great Britain, which is credited with having a thriving Goth scene at the time.

 

(F) Fictional Feasts

FMy favorite book feasts immediately sprang to mind when thinking about the letter F. Nothing quite engages the senses like a grand meal. I’ve often felt food was a good gauge of how descriptive a writer can be. It seems easier, somehow, to be descriptive when writing about, say, a rose. But food scenes have so many layers of nuance. There are the many senses involved, of course, like taste, sight, smell, and so on. But more importantly, food remains at the center of the human experience. The very best fictional feasts feed not only people’s literal appetites, but their desire for connection to other humans, as well.

What surprised me the most, while compiling this list, was that children’s books often contain the most vivid descriptions of food. From the chocolate centric Willy Wonka to the Great Hall at Hogwarts, children’s literature seemed to contain the most vivid passages related to food. Perhaps this answers the age old question of whether candy really did taste better when we were children. Four out of five passages are from the children’s or YA categories, and only poor Melville made it on to the list, for the adults. But then, he did devote an entire chapter to clam chowder.


charlieFrom Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

“‘The waterfall is most important !’ Mr Wonka went on. ‘It mixes the chocolate! It churns it up! It pounds it and beats it! It makes it light and frothy! No other factory in the world mixes its chocolate by waterfall! But it’s the only way to do it properly! The only way! ‘

 

harryFrom Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:

“Harry’s mouth fell open. The dishes in front of him were now piled with food. He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, chips, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup and, for some strange reason, mint humbugs.”

But let’s not forget about dessert. :

“When everyone had eaten as much as they could, the remains of the food faded from the plates, leaving them sparkling clean as before. A moment later the puddings appeared. Blocks of ice-cream in every flavour you could think of, apple pies, treacle tarts, chocolate éclairs and jam doughnuts, trifle, strawberries, jelly, rice pudding… As Harry helped himself to a treacle tart, the talk turned to their families.”

narniaFrom The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow, and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very centre and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious. He was quite warm now, and very comfortable.

While he was eating, the Queen kept asking him questions. At first Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one’s mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the Queen should be so inquisitive.”

mobyFrom Moby Dick:

“But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt…..we dispatched it with great expedition.”

Z is for Zilch- As in The Writer’s Block Mind and It’s Cause

ZYou sit at your desk, light on, fresh coffee steaming to your left, and a blank screen burning holes into your corneas. You’ve finally made time to write, and your mind goes completely blank. You know it well, it’s a well feared plague among writers everywhere. Writer’s block.

While I myself am not a long form writer, I obviously am around them often enough to see it happen on a regular basis, and to see more, “How To Get Over Writer’s Block” posts to vom. Oddly enough, I’m pretty sure I know exactly what it feels like.

I’m a runner….sometimes. I love running, but I also hate it. When I actually drag myself outside and hit the pavement, I always come back with a runner’s high and a new dedication to the activity and wonder why I don’t do it every single day. Then the next day rolls around and it’s like pulling teeth from an angry polar bear to get myself to lace up my sneakers.

If I don’t run for a few days, it’s even harder to get myself to do it. However when I suck it up and run for a handful of days in a row, it gets easier to convince myself to do. I get over the initial abhorrence of how slow I’ve become, how fast I tire, because I can feel myself improving. This is near identical to how the writing mind works. The human brain is a muscle just like everything else, if you are not stretching it, not exercising it every day (and not just to do your taxes), it seemingly becomes harder to do.

Laziness begets laziness, and while I’m not saying writer’s block is necessarily an issue of laziness, it breeds in the same way. IF you can force yourself to write every day or near that for an extended period of time, it will become second nature, a habit, and the writer’s block will eventually be replaced with a sort of creative autopilot. You have to train yourself to be in a creative state of mind by putting yourself in that position and just frakking doing it day after day. I understand it’s impossible for most people to carve out 5 hours of writing time every day, what with life, work, children, parents, school etc etc. Duration doesn’t necessarily matter as much as doing. Just grab 20 mins here, 50 minutes there, but do it. Any day you aren’t going to write needs to be a day where you are expanding your mind and creativity a little bit. Have a parent-teacher conference that cuts into your writing time. FINE. See if you can chat with some of the kids or parents to help gain insight into your MG character or that stressed adult protag you just can’t seem to bring to life. As a writer you have two responsibilities. To write often, and often enough that you better yourself little by little, and to live. To live in a way that broadens your perceptions of people, behavior, and the world itself, so that when you do write, you are speaking authentically and realistically.

Not every aspect of your novel needs to be method written (in fact, please do not write from experience if your character is, say, a serial killer), but you do need to keep your creativity and mental writer alive and interested enough that you can sit down every day and write something. I don’t care if you end up spending most the time writing about the quirky old lady down the street instead of your fantasy WIP, just keep writing until you’re inspired enough to finish that sentence, that chapter, the book, that series.

Live long and prosper. And write.

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Y is for Yummy – deliciously hot actors and the fictional characters they play!

YEveryone has a favourite book boyfriend, and seeing them on-screen in the movie adaptation of their books just adds to their swoon-worthiness. Here’s our list of deliciously hot actors and the fictional characters they play!

*warning: drooling may occur with prolonged exposure*

 

 

 

Theo James as Tobias “Four” Eaton, in the Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

Four

I’m pretty sure this is on top of every girl and gay’s fictional/movie boyfriend wishlist. We fell in love with Four in the novel Divergent, but when the director cast Theo James as his motion picture counterpart we all lost our shiitake mushrooms. The film industry has definitely figured out the winning formula: equal parts badass fighter and hunky man-candy.

Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

Matthew Lewis who portrays Neville Longbottom in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" attends the Chicago; Illinois premiere at the AMC Theater on July 14, 2011.  Fame Pictures, Inc - Santa Monica, CA, USA - +1 (310) 395-0500

Neville Longbottom wins the prize for growing out of puberty with style, throughout the series he went from pudgy sidekick to hero with dimples and sexy beard scruff. He started gaining attention during the Half-Blood Prince, but we’ve always loved his sweet sensibilities and hilarious comic relief.

Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair, in the Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

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Tell, who can resist a man who dedicates himself to his love even after she loses her sanity, takes care of an elderly woman likes she’s his own mother, and has dimples? NO ONE. We aren’t arguing about this blonde fisherman wearing nothing but nets either.

Kellan Lutz as Emmett Cullen, in the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer

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We know everyone is all Team Edward or Team Jacob, but the unsung hottie of that series is Kellan Lutz, aka Emmett. He’s Rosalie’s beau and even when she’s being a total bitch, he keeps her in check with a smirk and gesture. Plus, check out those guns, he looks like he benches Redwood trees.

Nicholas Hoult as R, in Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

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We love a good zombie book turned movie as much as the next nerd, but rarely are we crushing on a zombo. When they cast Nicholas Hoult to play R in the movie adaption of Warm Bodies, we definitely understood what a sexy zombie looked like. His blue eyes and ruffled hair completely negated the fact that he was, well, dead.

Kyle Gallner as Larkin Ravenwood, in Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

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We all love a good bad boy, and while Kyle plays a snake in the series, he does it while looking stylish. Something about his boyish face and offset hair has all of thinking about switching to the dark side.

Kevin Zegers as Alec Lightwood, in the Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare

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Jace may be the main man of the series, but there’s just something about Alec’s baby blues in the form of Kevin Zegers that has us all swooning. If he didn’t have an uber-powerful warlock boyfriend we might try and win him over, but Magnus would probably turn his competition into cats.

Kit Harington as Jon Snow, in the A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin

Jon

He’s the bastard of Stark House but no one cares because he’s got honor, bravery, and the most luscious curly black locks we’ve ever seen on a man. It’s no wonder he broke his vow as a man of the Night’s Watch, if real life is any indicator he must have had women lining up to get with him!

Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, in the Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

Gale

I think it’s fair to say that any brother of Thor is going to be a winner, but paired with the bravery and shy love that begets the character of Gale, he is absolutely dreamy.

Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian, in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Caspian

Narnia may have been our childhood read, but when they cast Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian, we definitely started paying attention again! We love a man with goals, and he definitely has them, not to mention some serious hair envy!

Orlando Bloom as Legolas Greenleaf, in the lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

Legolas

There’s just something about a man in elf ears that is just so damn attractive, especially when they are on Orlando Bloom. His razor sharp cheekbones had everyone falling for Legolas far before he became a pirate!
Cara Delevingne as Margo Roth Spiegelman, in Paper Towns by John Green

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While Cara may not technically be a dude we want to boyfriend her anyway! How can you pass up a second glance at the spontaneity of Margo Roth’s character played by an actress/model combo who has walked the walk from London Fashion week to Victoria’s Secret.

 

X is for X-Rated Scenes

X“Becky and Billy sitting in a tree. K.I.S.S.I.N.G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a golden carriage.”

 

A challenge many contemporary-romance writers face is writing the (sometimes dreaded) X-Rated scene. I’m sure many writer have played out a hot action between their characters in their mind, but putting it on the page for the world to see is a different question!

 

Once you get going though, it can be a lot of fun, and add an extra layer to your romance. Plus, as they say, sex sells!

 

Here are some of my tips (from the POV of a writer, reader and marketer) for writing a great X-Rated scene.

 

Keep Your Audience In Mind!

 

If you’re writing a young-adult romance, you’re not going to want to go full on graphic. Sure, teens might be having sex, but they’re not quite ready to read about it yet. Sometimes a ‘fade to black’ scene works. But what’s most important is focusing on the emotions and feelings behind an X-Rated scene, and it’s that which YA readers seek. We don’t need to know what went where, but we do need to know how it made the character feel!

 

As you move into new-adult and adult, you can bring in a little more detail, but remember to always keep the feelings on the characters at the fore. It also helps to keep the tone of the book in mind. In a more mature book, with strong language and adult themes, a graphic sex scene will work. But in a lighter, book where the characters are more innocent, you’re not going to see them suddenly turn into porn stars.

 

Mind You Language!

 

Every writer chooses every word of their novel carefully, and this is also true for X-Rated scenes. If you’ve used a lot of slang in dialogue and narration, it will seem odd, even clinical, if the character starts using words like penis and breasts in the bedroom. Be creative, without being over the top.

 

Erotica lends itself to much more explicit language, and words that you wouldn’t normally find in a regular romance are acceptable here. Just remember to keep it realistic, though.

 

Know Your Body!

 

Nothing will pull a reader out of an X-Rated scene quicker than a character growing an extra pair of hands, or bending in a way not humanly possible. You don’t have to study autonomy, but use personal experience to keep in mind what positions are do-able and what won’t work.

 

Think about how your own, and your partner’s, bodies react in the bedroom. If you squirm and squeal when tickled with a feather, chances are, your character will too, but they likely won’t suddenly start singing!

 

Draw From Experience!

 

Following on from the above point, a good way to make sure your X-Rated scenes work for readers is by drawing from personal experience. I’m not saying you should record your own sex lives on the pages of your novel, but like with any other part of a story, the key is often write what you know. For example, if you’re not into the BDSM lifestyle, you’re going to have to do a lot of research before writing about characters who are, if you want their experiences to be authentic and not jarring for your readers.

 

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. As with every aspect of writing, each experience is different, so it pays to gain advice from multiple sources. Another helpful way to figure out what will and won’t work for an X-Rated scene in your novel is to read other novels in the same (or similar) categories, or to watch movies and TV shows with a similar target audience.

 

If you’re writing an X-Rated scene; good luck, have fun and stay safe!

Women, Winning, and Other W words

a to z blog challenge w, women, winning, Today’s A-Z challenge letter is W, so as a female I obviously knew something about women was going to be part of the conversation. There are a lot of areas where women ‘fall short’, in the public eye, such as video game and comic usage, science-based careers, equal pay, and even the ratio of successful male to female authors.

Sit tight, we’re working on those, but in the meantime, there are a few things we’re kicking butt at. More women are writing books, and hitting huge success with it (see: Cassandra Clare, Veronica Roth, Gail Forman, and Suzanne Collins, they’ve all had motion picture adaptations). DC is coming out with a graphic novel series geared specifically towards women. We dominate male readers in fiction, occupying only 20% of the fiction market. Twitter has been taken over with hashtags such to #tothegirls, promoting self-confidence and loving oneself, encouraging girls to bust open that glass ceiling and to speak their minds. The one W we are saying goodbye to? Weakness. With campaigns such as #tothegirls and #yesallwomen, there has been an extremely strong response from women across the world, and a fair amount of men chiming in to say that women are just as tough as men.

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Here are some of the female authors I’ve read recently that are absolutely #winning in my book (pun intended):

Charlie N. Holmberg’s Paper Magician Series

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J.E. Anckorn’s Untaken

Cora Carmack’s Inspire

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Annika Sharma’s The Rearranged Life

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Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Caster Chronicles Series

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Sandy Hall’s A Little Something Different

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Katie Young’s The Other Lamb

The Other Lamb, by Katie Young - Cover

 

V is for Vicki’s Literary World

VI never knew just how big and varied the world of books is until I wrote one. And even then, it still took a while to completely sink in. It takes so many people to bring a book into the world- editors, designers, proofreaders, artists, photographers, typographers, pr and marketing…. Well, you get the idea. A book is a huge undertaking, and I knew from an early age I wanted in, even if I had no idea I’d someday be behind the scenes, too.

I’ve been lucky enough to have worn a lot of different hats in this industry, in what feels like the brief time I’ve been in it. I’ve been both a writer and an editor, and I’ve worked on both the production and marketing ends of things. I can honestly say I find these behind the scenes things very rewarding- just as rewarding as reading and writing. I mean, we’re making books, and that’s a very cool thing.

I have to trace my writing career back to my love of reading. To me, reading is the cornerstone of writing. If we don’t read, we cease to grow as writers. When I was little, and a grown-up asked the eternal question of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’d always answer. “Professional reader!” as if it was a documented profession. I also think writers are just frustrated readers at heart. I think every writer gets to this point where they want a new book, but there’s nothing that quite meets our expectations. That’s when the writerly imagination steps in, filling the gap with original worlds and stories.

In 2011, I published my first novel, a YA paranormal called Gifts of the Blood. It was a great time to be Indie. The community was thriving and very supportive of new authors. I made a ton of friends that are with me to this day, and learned a lot about how, and how not, to self-promote. In 2012, I signed with Curiosity Quills Press to publish The Chronicles of Nowhere. I fell in love with this small press, and its author-centered approach to the publishing industry. They later acquired my entire Angel’s Edge series, and I am no longer Indie published, as of 2013. For now, anyway! Who knows, maybe I’ll dip my toes in those waters some day in the future. That’s the beauty of the publishing world today- you have so many choices that weren’t there five years ago.

In 2014, I really began seeing the publisher’s side of the writing industry. I began working as an acquisitions editor, which realized my dream of being a professional reader. An AE, as I came to be known, is responsible for reading and critiquing the manuscripts that come in, through the slush pile, and from agents. I read and critique the manuscripts, and hopefully even manage to help get a few published. I also began helping out on the marketing side, and learned that it can be just as much fun as reading, and working on a novel. There’s something thrilling about reaching out to book bloggers about a new novel I’m really in love with, or knowing I helped an author organize her first book signing.

I don’t get to spend as much time dreaming up worlds as I did a few years ago. Part of that is work related, but the biggest factor was the birth of my daughter in 2013. I simply have less time, now that there’s a toddler in the picture. And I’m totally okay with that. One day, she’ll be a lot less demanding of my time, and I’ll be able to once again shut the office door and bliss out to music while I type away. But she needs me now, and I’m privileged to be there for her, all the while getting to still have an active role in the book world I love so much.

Vicki Keire - Author PicAbout Vicki Keire

Vicki Keire grew up in a 19th Century haunted house in the Deep South full of books, abandoned coal chutes, and plenty of places to get into trouble with her siblings. She spent the last decade teaching writing and literature at a large, football-obsessed university while slipping paranormal fiction in between the pages of her textbooks.

Published works include the bestselling Angel’s Edge series, which includes Gifts of the Blood, Darkness in the Blood, and Blood Redemption, The Chronicles of Nowhere series, and the stand-alone novel Daughter of Glass. She is included in the Dark Tomorrows anthology with J.L. Bryan and Amanda Hocking, and the Primetime anthology with J.R. Rain and Anita Exley.

When not reading and writing about all things paranormal, she enjoys other people’s cooking and keeps vampire hours. She’d rather burn the laundry than fold it, and believes that when an author wins the Newberry, he or she gets a secret lifetime pass to Neverland. She is fond of lost causes and loud music. She currently resides in Central Florida on a lake-front farm full of many furry friends. She loves hearing from readers and can be reached on most social media sites or through her blog (link: http://www.vickikeire.blogspot.com/), of which she is awfully fond.

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U is for University: What I Learned Teaching Freshman Comp

ULong before I was a writer, I taught Freshman Comp at a large, football-obsessed state university. I walked thousands of students through the writing process of academic papers. Naturally I thought this would be a big plus when I sat down to write my own novel. I mean, I had been teaching college writing for nearly a decade. Surely that meant I was an expert, right?

Excuse me for a second- I almost asphyxiated while laughing at myself.

There are so many aspects of the college writing experience that don’t necessarily apply to fiction writing. I mean, who needs to worry about in-text citations when you’re keyboard deep into a battle scene on an alien world? I had to learn that my inner critic, honed after thousands of freshman comp papers, was actually a liability when it came to producing my own fiction. No one wants to feel like they have a stern professor standing over their shoulders while trying to write a love scene. Yet that’s exactly what I had become to my inner writer. Suffice to say, I had as much unlearning to do as I did learning.

Another few years as a writer, however, brought me the realization that, as much as college teaching left me unprepared for fiction writing, college and writing nonetheless have some important things in common. In fact, college life and the writerly lifestyle are sometimes so similar it’s painful. Here are just a few of the things the two have in common:

  1. The Writing Process

I taught writing as a process, meaning that a piece of writing works best when it’s tackled in identifiable stages- freewriting, brainstorming, clustering, and more. We worked through multiple drafts until the paper was finally ready for peer review, where students turn their work over to other classmates for honest feedback. These are just a few of the stages of the writing process, and some of them should seem familiar. The ones that don’t, however, can be easily adapted to fiction writing. Take academic research. We may not have to use in-text citations when inventing alien worlds, but it is a good idea to be meticulous in your research nonetheless.

  1. Cramming

College students quickly learn to cram, or die. It’s because we professors make sure to schedule all tests and major assignments within the same week, ensuring campus-wide insanity. (No, we don’t really do this, but it’s a fun urban legend.) Nonetheless, there’s a lot to be learned from the up-til-dawn lifestyle of the hard studying college student. Writers will also face deadlines that at least feel like a ton of exams landing on them all at once. That’s when collegiate survival skills come in handy. You’ll need a ton of caffeine, chocolate and other snacks, loud music if that’s your thing, and a grim determination to make that deadline, or else.

  1. Freewriting

This is maybe my favorite part of the writing process, and it’s great for fiction. I especially love it when I have full-on writer’s block, or even just need to explore a character or plot point more fully. In my version of brainstorming, you write the first things that come into your head for a specified period of time. Say, five minutes or so. Now, you’re aiming for a step above gibberish, if possible, so do try and keep the topic at hand in mind when you write. But if you do wind up typing, “I wish I was watching Oprah right now,” that’s okay, too. Sometimes just the act of writing will unblock your flow.

  1. Yoga pants

Walk on to any college campus and you’re likely to encounter a lot of yoga pants, sweats, and even pajama bottoms. This has become the uniform of choice for today’s college students and writers alike. Why not take advantage of the fact that there’s no one to impress? Find a “uniform” that works for you. Physical discomfort from uncomfortable clothes won’t do your writing any favors.

  1. The library

With almost everything available in digital format these days, the old fashioned library is going out of style. That’s why I made sure to use it as much as possible and to force my students to do the same. At least two sources for their research papers had to be physical books, and sometimes we even had class in the library. Just like with my students, I think it’s beneficial to writers to ground ourselves, every once in a while, in a physical book. Plus the library is an invaluable tool with any kind of research.

  1. Caffeine

Coffee is a student’s- and writer’s- best friend. How else to power through those late night study sessions? What about those study group meetings at the local coffee shop? Similarly, writers often claim to have coffee for blood. (I know this one does.) And the local coffee shop is a favorite writing spot. Some of us are even lucky enough to have combination bookstores/ coffee shops, for maximum inspiration.

  1. Attendance

I like to think of this one as “suiting up and showing up.” Those of us who have left college behind would be hard pressed to remember every lecture. In fact, there were probably many circumstances of being barely awake. But we powered through and showed up anyway, even if we were only present physically. Writers can get a lot out of this. The trick is to show up for every writing session, even if you don’t particularly feel like it. There may even be sessions where the words aren’t coming, but the act of honoring our writing time makes it more likely we’ll succeed. After all, the surest way to fail at writing is to be an absentee at the keyboard.

  1. Peer review

You know that writing process I keep harping about? Well, this is a step not to be missed. After you’ve written your best draft, it’s essential to get peer feedback. My students exchanged papers with each other. As a writer, I send out my draft to beta readers, made up mostly of fellow writers, for feedback. Some people use friends and family too. The important part is that you get eyes on it- other than your own.

Vicki Keire - Author PicAbout Vicki Keire

Vicki Keire grew up in a 19th Century haunted house in the Deep South full of books, abandoned coal chutes, and plenty of places to get into trouble with her siblings. She spent the last decade teaching writing and literature at a large, football-obsessed university while slipping paranormal fiction in between the pages of her textbooks.

Published works include the bestselling Angel’s Edge series, which includes Gifts of the Blood, Darkness in the Blood, and Blood Redemption, The Chronicles of Nowhere series, and the stand-alone novel Daughter of Glass. She is included in the Dark Tomorrows anthology with J.L. Bryan and Amanda Hocking, and the Primetime anthology with J.R. Rain and Anita Exley.

When not reading and writing about all things paranormal, she enjoys other people’s cooking and keeps vampire hours. She’d rather burn the laundry than fold it, and believes that when an author wins the Newberry, he or she gets a secret lifetime pass to Neverland. She is fond of lost causes and loud music. She currently resides in Central Florida on a lake-front farm full of many furry friends. She loves hearing from readers and can be reached on most social media sites or through her blog (link: http://www.vickikeire.blogspot.com/), of which she is awfully fond.

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T is for Trolling – Dealing with Negative Reviews

TAsk most aspiring writers what they think are the fundamental ingredients for publishing success and they’ll probably say talent, a killer story idea, awesome characters, a perfectly polished query letter, and a lot of luck. In short, you need to write a kick-ass book and get it in front of the right people.

All of those things are true. The trouble is, what constitutes a kick-ass book is a very subjective matter. If you don’t believe me, try looking up a few of your favourites on Amazon or Goodreads and check the one star reviews. I guarantee you there will be some, and they won’t be pretty. Something you consider to be a work of life-changing genius will have left someone else apoplectic with rage, perplexed, or just plain indifferent. Personally I find the latter the hardest to swallow. Hate I can deal with. ‘Meh’ breaks my heart!

That’s why I believe the best asset you can have as a writer is a thick skin.

It’s almost certainly a given that anyone who’s had work published – be it a novel, an article, or a short story in an anthology – has experienced rejection to some degree. A ‘no’ from an agent or an editor is never pleasant, but generally you can take comfort in the fact it wasn’t personal. Perhaps the story wasn’t a good fit with the others selected for the collection. Maybe that agent already represents a romance about a voodoo high priest and a timid young missionary. On the flipside, a ‘yes’ is like finding a golden ticket. It never loses its lustre. And it’s tempting to think that once you’re in print, you’re immune to disappointment. Until the first negative review rolls in…

However level-headed you are, and however many time it’s happened to you, seeing a reader savage something you’ve spent blood, sweat, and tears honing – possibly for years of your life – is always a smack in the mouth. So how do you get past your initial knee-jerk reaction and deal with the feelings of anger, inadequacy, and despondency negative feedback can evoke?

Firstly, I think it’s important to distinguish between the various types of bad review. Once the initial feelings of heart-sink and outrage have passed, take a deep breath, get yourself a cup of tea/coffee/gin, and read the offending article as objectively as possible. Try and take the emotion out of it. Pretend you’re reading a review of someone else’s work if it helps. Do not be tempted to respond, especially not in the heat of the moment. That way madness lies.

What is the tone of the review? Is it hyperbolic, personal, or deliberately offensive? If so, you are probably dealing with a troll. We all know there are people out there in cyberspace who get their jollies attacking people from the anonymous safety of an online persona, and they really aren’t worthy of your headspace. Unfortunately trolling is rife. Try browsing the mentions of your favourite celebrity on Twitter for a few minutes. Even people who claim to be fans can send the most entitled and abusive messages sometimes. Unless you’re being targeted by someone who is engaging in threatening or illegal behaviour, it’s best to just ignore this kind of taunting. It’s just a sick compulsion, and has no bearing whatsoever on you or your abilities. If you have a loyal following, the chances are they will shoot trolls down on your behalf anyway, but I don’t recommend encouraging a flame war. Karma will out. Don’t dwell. Read something you enjoy and leave some feedback. Spread positivity and love. There’s nothing trolls hate more than someone who’s impervious to their attempts at provocation.

More often than not, a bad review is just that. Someone, for one reason or another, didn’t like your writing. I know it’s hard when you’re at the top of the despair spiral, staring down into the dark core of it and considering throwing your laptop out of a window, but again, try to be analytical. It may feel that way, but it’s unlikely your reviewer is attacking you personally. What is the reader actually saying? Humility is your friend here. Galling as it might be, perhaps your critic has a point? Have they hit a nerve because they have shone a spotlight on a genuine flaw that you failed to fix? Maybe you knew your main character was a bit passive but hoped no one else would notice. Is your pacing all over the place? Perhaps your ending is a little weak. If so, take the comments on board and chalk it up to experience. We’re all works in progress; we’re all learning a craft. Dust yourself off, and vow that your next protagonist will drive the action like a total BAMF.

Sometimes a reader will find something in your work distasteful. There is nothing you can do about this. Stand by your work and try not to second guess yourself. Everyone has the right to be offended, but that doesn’t mean you have to censor yourself or apologise. You’re a writer, not a moral compass. Some people just won’t get it. Again, remember that your agent, your publisher, your editor, all the readers who left positive reviews, they did get it. Concentrate on them instead, and don’t waste your energy chasing the naysayers. You can’t write for everyone. You can only write the stories you want to tell in your own unique voice, and if you stay true to yourself, your authenticity and passion will find you the right audience. I promise.

Sometimes, someone will just plain hate your stuff, and you know what? That’s fine. Personal taste is just that, and there’s no accounting for it. Don’t wallow, don’t let self-doubt mess with your mojo. The best way to get over the pain of a bad review is to work on the next project. Get lost in a new and exciting idea. Fall down a rabbit hole. Find a new obsession. You birthed a piece of work, it has a life of its own, and now it’s time to let go. It’s out in the world. Your job is done. Let it fend for itself and channel your emotions into creating something else. You can’t control what people say about your work, but you get to choose how you react to their words. The only difference between the happy and the unhappy, the lucky and the unlucky, is perception. Don’t get dragged down into the mire of negativity. Stay in the light.

Better still, be a beacon.

Now go make something beautiful.

Katie YoungAbout Katie Young:

Katie Young is a writer, fantasist and occasional zombie movie ‘supporting artiste’.

She also works in kids’ TV but wishes she were a rock star. She has various shorts available to download from Ether Books, and has tales featured in anthologies from Collaboration of the Dead Press, Angelic Knight Press, Indigo Mosaic, Song Stories Press, Static Movement and Fox Spirit Books.

Her story, Atelic, was shortlisted for the 2010 Writers’ & Artists’ Year Book short fiction prize, and she is a regular contributor to the Are You Sitting Comfortably? story-telling events run by White Rabbit in her native London. The Other Lamb is her first novel. She lives in Greenwich with her partner and a second-hand cat. She’s not a natural redhead.

Find Katie Young Online:

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