Crossroads by Chandler McGrew is an alternate world YA story about a young girl, Kira, who finds herself on the run with her friend, Jen, after her parents and her carnival family are massacred. Unsure of where to go, but following her instincts, Kira explores her other-worldly powers which allow her to create, and uncreate, by will, learning about her family’s true origins and discovering that only she can save the last of her people.
It’s a role she didn’t ask for, and she doesn’t want as she realizes that she and Jen are being pursued and everyone she comes into contact with dies. Then she meets Sheila, who has the gift of talking to the dead, and is tied to Kira and the world beyond the mirror, although neither knows it. They go through the mirror and embark on a quest to stand against the evil empty-eyed man, who has overtaken Dream Time, (the world beyond the mirror, and is trying to overtake all worlds.
Crossroads is character-driven with a strong story line, but it is almost a little too convenient that although she does not understand what she is supposed to do, Kira always knows what to do when the time comes to do it. The answers just seem to come to her. I give it four quills.
My friend and cohort, author Jeff Bowles wrote a post Choosing to Become a Better Writer vs. the God Complex, where he offers advice on what to do when your novel hasn’t been picked up by a literary agent as soon as you’d hoped, as is currently the situation with his thesis novel. I had to chuckle when I read this, not because the post was meant to be funny, (it wasn’t), but because of the timeliness of the post, as I find myself in the same situation and I have been pondering what to do with my own thesis novel, Playground for the Gods: Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle.
Jeff’s advice is sound. Revise. Submit. Repeat. And he’s right in saying that to achieve success in writing, as in most things in life, you must persist in your efforts and endeavor to persevere. In fact, I’d decided on the same course of action for my novel, with a slight twist and a lot of determination. So, my first 2017 New Year’s writing resolution is to get my thesis novel published in the coming year.
Since completing my thesis novel, the first novel in my science fantasy Playground for the Gods series, I’ve submitted it to seven publishers and four literary agents. It was rejected by two agents and four publishers, and is still waiting for word on three publishing houses and two agents. I don’t hold out hope of hearing from the agents, many don’t even bother to respond unless they’re interested, but the publisher who has had my submission the longest has had my submission for six months. There may still be hope there, but I have to wonder.
I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged with these results, so I started thinking about why my novel wasn’t catching the interest of publishers or agents. e first thing I looked at were my query letters. So, the first thing I looked at were my query letters. As I said, I’ve sent out multiple queries for the first book and been rejected multiple times. I looked at all my queries to see if the problem might be in my presentation.
The query letter is an author’s introduction and it is very important. It’s the first thing an agent or publisher sees, and it determines whether they chose to get to know you and your work better. A query should look professional, and it should tell the publisher or agent about the work you want them to buy into and about the author. It raises their interests and gets them to ask for more than just the excerpt you sent with it. A request for a complete manuscript is the ultimate goal.
Some of you may know the story behind this novel, but for those who don’t I’ll relate it briefly. The summer I presented the proposal packet for my thesis novel was the worst summer of my college career. I had this great idea for a story about a species from a different planet, who come to Earth and present themselves as deities. It was to be a science fantasy novel with a strong female protagonist, Inanna. I presented my idea to my cohorts and nobody got it, (this was partly because I was trying to cram way too much into one book, but at the time it just felt to me like the idea wasn’t well received and I was crushed). So, maybe publishers and agents weren’t getting it now, the same way my cohorts and instructors didn’t get it then?
This led me to take a hard look at the audience which I thought I was writing for and the types of agents and publishers I’ve been pitching to. I’ve sent out my queries for my science fantasy novel to publishers and agents who handle both science fiction and fantasy. Something I had overlooked was that the biggest audience for science fiction and fantasy are young adult readers.Epiphany! I’ve been pitching to the wrong audience!
Because of the summer from hell, mentioned above, my thesis novel has turned into a four book science fantasy series, Playground for the Gods. Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle shows the destruction of the Atlan home planet, which explains the reason they are searching for a new home and chose Earth, and how it was almost destroyed before they could make it their home. Book 2: In the Beginning tells the story of how the Atlans made Earth their home and cohabited with humans, and how Inanna becomes the goddess of war and love, forcing her to deal with the dualities within herself. The hero’s journey that Inanna takes in my original story will now be the Book 3: Inanna’s Song. In Book 4: Enki’s Folly, Enki, (the sort-of anti-hero), tries to fix his past mistakes by traveling through time.
By the end of my courses, I had Book 1 and it’s complete submission packet, Book 2‘s chapter outline, synopsis and partial first draft, along with the outline, synopsis and a few chapters of Book 3 completed. If I could do that major transformation in less than a year’s time, I’m thinking I should be able to transform my books into a YA series with minimal revision.
Next, I took another look at the story itself, and I realized that aside from a few instances of harsh language, this book almost reads like a YA novel. Most of the characters are teens, although Atlans don’t experience time the way humans do, (what passes for a year for us is comparable to a millennia for them), and still, some are more mature than others. The series has many of the YA tropes already: a young female protagonist who is idealistic, (Inanna); a perfectly perfect Mary sue character in Inanna’s BFF, (Ki); missing, or at least distant parents (Atlan familial units are pretty messed up); plenty of half-human/half-something else characters – mermen and Minotaurs, the characters are diverse; and there’s a rebellion against the existing power structure, (in reverse).
The one thing that might prevent Playground for the Gods from becoming a successful YA science fantasy novel is the degree of sexual content, which is actually vital to the story line. We’re not talking about unnecessary sex here. We are talking about the story doesn’t work without it. Although it could be toned down some, I imagine I would have several parents who were hot, should I try to market this series as YA, even though it has a lot of the expected tropes. So, I had to look once more at audience, where I took an in-depth look at a market called New Adult.
New Adult has protagonists aged 18-24, and is aimed at audiences aged 18-30, but may appeal to readers of 30 or more. Just as some YA may appeal to adult readers, so New Adult may appeal to older readers, as well. It carries steamier sexual content, that you probably wouldn’t want your thirteen year old reading, but is perfectly acceptable for older readers. In a 2014 article on Book List Online, YA or NA?, by Michael Cart, Harliquinn Senior Editor Margo Lipschultz points out that “NA rose to popularity as a subgenre that bridged the gap between contemporary YA and contemporary romance, it’s gradually expanding… ” NA is not just a romance market any more, and I’m thinking that the steamier scenes in the PfG series could find a home there.
Another 2014 Book List feature article, What is New Adult Fiction?, by Gillian Engberg, Donna Seaman and others quotes Neil Hollands, adult services librarian at the Williamsburg (VA) Regional Library as stating,
“…librarians talking about NA are often thinking of books that appeal to “both male and female readers, in their late 20s and 30s. The books we’re looking for try to capture the feel of a generation, including integrating technology’s effects on communication and relationships, new outlooks on a range of political and social issues, and more recognition and blending of the genres that younger readers are most familiar with.”
Now that sounds like my series. While it still has some of the YA tropes and qualities, it also has more mature content and deals with social and relationship issues, the value of technology for better or for worse, and characters in the right age bracket basically, (give or take a few million years), and would appeal to an older audience of new adults.
From my very first M.F.A. class it was drilled into us the important of knowing your audience and doing the research. And I did do my research in the adult market, and now I’ve done my research in the YA market. But, after discovering that it’s a little too steamy for YA, I’ve gone back to research the NA markets, and I’m currently revising The Great Primordial Battle for an NA audience. When I’m done, I plan to promote to the NA markets with high expectations, while I get busy on Books 2 and 3.
Leave a comment to let me know if you think I’m on the right track with PfG: Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle.
You can find updates on the Playground for the Gods series on its Facebook page, here.
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This will be the last reflective post of the year. Next Monday’s post will find us in 2017. For my writing career it has been a slow take off, but I’ve seen progress. In July, I completed my Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. With emphasis in both genre fiction and screenwriting, and two completed novels, Delilah and Playground for the Gods Book 1: In the Beginning, two full feature film scripts and one comedy series pilot script in hand, I eagerly jumped right in to get my feet wet in either the publishing and/or screenwriting industry. I began submitting my work to agents, publishers, and competitions like crazy. I received mostly rejections, as expected, and although I still haven’t found a home for either novels or scripts, I did manage to find a home for two poems and two short stories. Not too bad. While the poems, Aspen Tree and Yucca! Yucca! Yucca!, appeared in print, (in Colorado Life (Sept.-Oct. 2016) and Manifest West Anthology #5 – Serenity and Severity, respectively), my short story, I Had to Do It was published on Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, and my not so short, short story, Hidden Secrets was published on Across the Margin.
2016 has been a pretty good year for Writing to be Read. The revamping of the blog site was completed in March, I’ve managed post things on a fairly regular basis, we were honored with guest posts by my friend Robin Conley, and my visits and page views have risen, with almost 2000 visitors and over 2,500 page views. Looking at this, makes me feel pretty good about the blog, as a whole. Another good change is the addition of screenwriting content, which I believe has drawn a larger audience by widening the scope of the content.
The top post of 2016 was my book review of Simplified Writing 101, by Erin Brown Conroy, which is an excellent tutorial on academic writing, including writing advice that every writing student should know. After that, the reflective post Writing Horror is Scary Business would be second in line. Other popular posts include my four part Making of a Screenplay series,( Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4), my Tribute to My Son, and What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean for Writing to be Read. More recently, my ten part series on publishing, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing gave me the opportunity to interview some awesome names in the publishing industry: self-published authors, Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch; traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch and Mark Shaw; independently published author Jordan Elizabeth; and children’s author Nancy Oswald, who has published under all three models; as well as Caleb Seeling, owner of Conundrum Press and Curiosity Quills Press – with the final installment summarizing the conclusions made from those interviews.
Many of my posts were reflections of my own writing experience. These included: Why Writing is a Labor of Love; Fear is a Writer’s Best Friend; I’ve Come A Long Way, Baby; Writing the Way That Works For You; Creating Story Equals Problem Solving; What’s A Nice Girl Like Me Doing Writing in a Genre Like This?; Acceptance or Rejection – Which Do You Prefer?; A Writer’s Life is No Bowel of Cherries; Write What You Know; Discouragement or Motivation?; What Ever Happened to Heather Hummingbird?; How You Can Help Build a Writer’s Platform; and Why Fiction is Better Than Fact.
Sadly, I only attended two events that were reported on, on Writing to be Read in 2016 – the 2016 Ice Festival in Cripple Creek, and the 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference in Gunnison, Colorado. What can I say? I’m a starving writer. This is something I hope to improve on in 2017 by attending more events to report on. One possible addition to the 2017 list that I’m very excited to think about is the Crested Butte Film Festival. The details are not ironed out yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Screenwriting content included this past year seemed to be popular. In addition to my Making of a Screenplay series and Writing Horror is Scary Business, Writing to be Read also featured Writing Comedy for Screen is a Risky Proposition, and a book review for Hollywood Game Plan, by Carole Kirshner, which I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone desiring to break into the screenwriting trade. Robin’s Weekly Writing Memo also included several writing tips that could be applied equally to literature or screenwriting.
Another project I’m particularly proud of is my ten part series on publishing, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing, which I just finished up last week. In this series I interviewed nine professionals from within the industry to get the low down on the three different publishing models. My interviews included self-published authors Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch, traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch (children’s books) and Mark Shaw (nonfiction), and independently published YA author Jordan Elizabeth. To balance things out a bit, I also interviewed children’s author Nancy Oswald, who has published with all three models, Clare Dugmore of Curiosity Quills Press and Caleb Seeling, owner and publisher at Conundrum Press.
One of the great things about doing book reviews is that you get to read a lot of great books, in with the okay and not so great ones. In addition Simplified Writing 101, my five quill reviews in 2016 included Jordan Elizabeth’s Runners & Riders, Mark Shaw’s The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, Nancy Oswald’s Trouble Returns, Carol Riggs’ Bottled, Jeff Bowles’ Godling and Other Paint Stories, Janet Garber’s Dream Job, Art Rosch’s Confessions of an Honest Man, and Mark Todd and Kim Todd O’Connell’s Wild West Ghosts. I don’t give out five quills lightly and every one of these books are totally worthwhile reads.
Of course, not all books get a five quill rating. Other books I reviewed that I recommended with three quills or more include three short story anthologies: Chronology, Under a Brass Moon, and Cast No Shadows; two poetry collections: Suicide Hotline Hold Music by Jessy Randall and Walks Along the Ditch by Bill Trembley; Escape From Witchwood Hollow, Cogling, Treasure Darkly, The Goat Children, and Victorian by Jordan Elizabeth; Dark Places by Linda Ladd; Chosen to Die by Lisa Jackson; Wrinkles by Mian Mohsin Zia; Full Circle by Tim Baker; The 5820 Diaries by Chris Tucker; The Road Has Eyes: An RV, a Relationship, and a Wild Ride by Art Rosch; Hollywood Game Plan by Carol Kirschner; Keepers of the Forest by James McNally; 100 Ghost Soup by , and A Shot in the Dark by K.A. Stewart. I also did two movie reviews: Dead Pool and Point Break.
I feel very fortunate to have had Robin Conley join us with her Weekly Writing Memo and her guest movie reviews. The useful writing tips in her Weekly Writing Memos covered a wide range of topics including critiquing, using feedback, ways to increase tension, Relatability or Likeability?, 3 Types of Plot, story research, what to write, making your audience care, world building, handling feedback, writing relationships, establishing tone, editing, word choice, How to Start Writing, endings, queries, Parts of a Scene, making emotional connections, the influence of setting, Building a Story, Inciting Your Story, movement and dialog, Writing Truth, time, Overcoming the Blank Page, Networking, character names, theme, set up, cliches, parentheticals in screenwriting, horror inspiration, and Learning to Write. Robin’s guest post movie reviews included Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Batman vs. Superman, Miss Perigrin’s Home for Peculiar Children, and The Neon Demon.
I am thankful for Robin’s valuable content and am glad that she will still be contributing Memos on a monthly, rather than a weekly basis. Although I was sad to lose her weekly content, I am happy for her as she moves forward in her own writing career and I wish her well in her writing endeavors. For those of you who looked forward to her weekly posts, you can catch more of her content on her own blog, Author the World.
2016 was a great year for Writing to be Read, even if it was kind of rough for the author behind the blog. You readers helped to make it a good year and I thank you. Now it’s time to look ahead and see what’s in store for 2017 Writing to be Read. I mentioned some of the things I hope to achieve above: more posts pertaining to the screenwriting industry, and coverage of more events throughout the year are two of the goals I have set for my blog. I also plan to add some author, and hopefully, screenwriter profiles into the mix. I had good luck with author profiles during my Examiner days, and I think they will be well received here, as well.
I also hope to bring in some guests posts by various authors or bloggers, or maybe screenwriters, just to give you all a break from listening to me all the time. I believe Robin plans to continue with Monthly Writing Memos, which will be great, too.
I look forward to all the great books that I know are coming my way in 2017, too. The first reviews you have to look forward to are a short memoir, Banker Without Portfolio by Phillip Gbormittah, a YA paranormal romance, Don’t Wake Me Up by M.E.Rhines, a Rock Star romance, Bullet by Jade C. Jamison and a short story, How Smoke Got out of the Chimneys by DeAnna Knippling.
I hope all of you will join me here in the coming year. Follow me on WordPress, or subscribe to e-mail for notifications of new posts delivered to your inbox. Have a great 2017 and HAPPY WRITING!
Brass glass! Jordan Elizabeth has once again created an extremely well crafted steampunk romance in her latest addition to her Treasure Chronicles series. Runners & Riders is filled with mystery and intrigue, as well as plenty of steam powered gadgets and inventions that bogle the mind. Elizabeth captures the Victorian tone in every detail, taking readers of all ages on a steam powered journey that won’t soon be forgotten.
There’s an age old battle going on in New Addison City between Runners and Riders. A bored young Juliet Darcy finds herself smack dab in the middle of it all when she falls in with the notorious Runners, a brutal gang of thugs who take what they want, by force if necessary, terrorizing the city. Jonathan Montgomery is the newest young Rider, sworn to bring the Runners down after they murdered his parents when he was a child. Add an ancient mechanical princess who navigates the tunnels beneath the city with an agenda of her own and you have the makings of a great steampunk adventure.
Princess Arlene enlists the help of Juliet, who after being betrayed by the Runners, teams up with Jonathan to bring them down. But the Runners are ruthless, with little regard for anyone who stands in their way of their goals. Jonathan and Juliet risk it all to destroy the Runners and their merciless leader, but to do so, they must stay one step ahead in this deadly game.
Runners & Riders is well structured and full of surprises at every turn. I give it five quills.
Kaye gives honest book reviews and she does not charge for them. If you have a book you would like reviewed contact Kaye at kayebooth[at]yahoo[dot]com
Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 6): Interview with Independently Published YA Author, Jordan ElizabethPosted: November 21, 2016
One question I hear asked a lot to writers is, “where do you find your stories?” This question is sort of silly to me because stories are everywhere around you if you look. Every item you come across in your day has a story for how it became what it is, and got where it is. If you ask enough questions, eventually you’ll find some interesting element that you can turn into a compelling story if you try. I could go on for a long time about ways to find a story, so instead I decide, in honor of Halloween, to narrow the focus this week and discuss where to find inspiration for horror stories in particular.
For me, I really think horror stories have to either start with the protagonist or the “monster.” By monster, I mean whatever villain is in your story, be it a literal monster, a ghost, a serial killer, a psychological monster, a location, etc. I say this because the core of most horror stories is the conflict between these two entities — the protagonist and the monster — and I think starting with one of them can be the easiest way to start a horror story. If you start with the monster, you can ask yourself who would it go after and find your protagonist. If you start with the protagonist, you can ask yourself what type of monster would they encounter and go from there. Immediately either one can give you your story, but where do you find the protagonist or the monster?
If you want to start your horror story by coming up with your protagonist and you have no ideas in mind, you can go several directions:
- Pick someone you know and turn them into a character by changing some of their traits to make them slightly different.
- Pick a stranger on the street and create a character from them based on what you can infer from their appearance and behavior.
- Pick a stereotype character and then do a free write or character sheet to turn them into something more and give them depth.
- Pick an occupation and then create a character that fills that job role.
There are a ton of other ways to come up with a character, but these are a few of my favorite simple ones. Once you have a character in mind you can find your monster by asking yourself where would this character go to find trouble? Does it find them, or do they seek it out by going somewhere they shouldn’t? Do they have a friend that takes them to a haunted forest? Do they live near a mental asylum where a killer can escape? Do they work in a hospital where people die every day and ghosts may linger? Do they go swimming or camping in a secluded area where monsters could lurk in the shadows?
Think about all the places your character may go on a daily or weekly basis and think about what kinds of monsters they could encounter there. If none of these places is suitable, then think about what kind of friends your character has, and what kind of trouble those characters could get the protagonist into. Do they have a reckless friend who likes going into abandoned buildings? A crazy friend who sees things? A friend who picks up shady drifters and brings them home? Once you have the monster your character would most likely meet, you can start creating the plot between the monster and the protagonist and find your story.
As I said earlier, when I use the term “monster” I don’t necessarily mean a literal monster, but rather I mean any type of antagonist your character will come up against in the story. Monsters can be anywhere, and if you’re prone to writing horror it’s a good idea to keep a list somewhere of various monster ideas whenever you come up with one. A few places that I generally find monster ideas include:
- Reading about urban legends and mythical creatures. Those cheap tabloid papers have some great ones of these, as do those random lists of legends, myths, and creatures that are all over the internet. Pick one and make it your own, give it a setting, and see where it takes you.
- Phobias. These are a great source for monster inspiration because once you pick a phobia you can use it to build your monster. Think of phobia that you like, or look up a list and pick one, and then ask yourself if your character has that fear what kind of monster would trigger it? Do they have a fear of being alone? Then how about you forget them in the middle of the ocean after a deep sea diving expedition (Open Water). Do they have a fear of the dark, well how about a monster that only appears in the darkness and can make the lights go out (Lights Out, Darkness Falls)? Whatever phobia you choose, ask yourself where or how your character can be forced to face it, and what kind of monster could cause them to. Sometimes it’s even the monster that has the fear (Lights Out) and it can be used as part of how the protagonist defeats them, so you can also try to create a monster from that angle as well.
- True unsolved mysteries or famous oddities. These are a great source for horror because they’re true, unexplained, and usually, have just the right amount of creepiness to them that they can be twisted even further for the perfect horror story.
Any of the options above can work for finding a monster to create your horror story around, but they aren’t the only way. At the heart, the monster comes from the twisting of something that is somewhat normal to something threatening. Think about it. Cujo was a dog, a ghost is just a (dead) person, water is just water, etc, but all can be turned and twisted to become a monster. So if you can’t find some kind of monster from the ideas above, then try taking something random and asking how could it be dangerous? How could it be scary?
Once you have the “monster,” then ask yourself what kind of character would they either go after or accidentally encounter? Is the monster in a lake at a teen summer camp? Are they in a house that a nice young family has just moved into? Are they in a school where kids just want to go to prom? Once you know who your monster’s victims are, and where the monster hunts, then you have your story.
The Goat Children, by Jordan Elizabeth, is a journey into the world of dementia, as a seventeen year old cares for her aging grandmother out of love. The flashbacks are endearing, allowing readers to understand the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter better. It is a touching story which will tug at the heartstrings of its readers.
It was a pleasure to review this book, and a pleasant surprise to read this venture outside the steampunk genre for Jordan Elizabeth. The Goat Children is a well-crafted tale about a young girl and her struggles to take care of her grandmother in order to allow her to remain in her home, a tale many families with elderly member may relate well to. I can say, from almost twenty years’ experience as a senior caregiver, Jordan’s portrayal of dementia is accurate and realistic, and she handles the subject truthfully, yet with sensitivity.
The Goat Children are products of her grandmother’s dementia… or are they? No spoilers here. All I will say about the ending is that I didn’t see it coming and perhaps I was a little bit shocked by it at first, yet it was the perfect ending for this story.
I recommend The Goat Children and give it four quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read, and she never charges for them. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.