Drafting: False Starts and Knowing When It‚Äôs Working

For me, I know for sure whether a new manuscript is working around the 10,000 word mark. That also means sometimes I have to scrap hopeless false starts around 10,000 too.

I’m rewriting an old story–in fact, the manuscript that got me my agent–for the ~fifth (?) time. Every version before it has essentially been a variant on the wrong direction. Practice runs, if I’m being generous to myself.ūüėā

I started in December with confidence. I had notes and an outline and I made it all the way to 10,000 words by January 2nd before it just tanked. I was sitting under the covers in a soft bed with my laptop nearly in tears because I knew it wasn’t working. ūüė≠

I knew I had to toss all 10,000 words–which is not easy for me because drafting is like pulling teeth, especially in the distance from 4,000 to 10,000 words. That first “hump” is an obstacle that can take me weeks or sometimes even months to hammer out. It’s the pivot point (it’s also the inciting incident) that defines the direction of the rest of the story, so it has to be right!

But I suppose tossing 10,000 is better than tossing an entire draft and starting from scratch. I used to plow through to the bitter end, forcing 60,000-80,000 words even when it didn’t feel right, sure it was just the weird feeling of drafting and not a more serious red flag.

And that’s how I have two first drafts of two different stories on my hard drive that I shelved as soon as I reread them. Because they’re completely wrong, pivot point/incident to end. ūü§∑ūüŹĽ‚Äć‚ôÄÔłŹ

It’s funny, because that first hump is only roughly a span of 6,000 words. At any other spot in the manuscript, if I have the writing flow going on, I can easily write 6,000 words over the course of one breezy weekend and a few low-intensity writing sessions.

So, going back to the drawing board in January, I read some craft books (the most helpful being STORY GENIUS by Lisa Cron, seriously, ūüíĮūüíĮ READ THIS if you need plot/structure help!), filled the well by reading an entire stack (and rereading a few favorite) middle grade books in search of inspiration/comps, and made a new outline. Honestly, it took nearly two months to work out an outline that I didn’t hate or tear apart with logic every time I reread it. And then I let it sit for a month to simmer. I reread it a couple weeks ago and…I still didn’t hate it. In fact, I sort of liked it, which seemed promising!

So I’ve started over again. Page one. And it’s been slowly growing, the word count ticking up steadily, but I was still wary. Was this a false positive? Was I going to have to toss this too and restart again?

[pulls out hair]

. . .

. . .

Happy to report that I made it past the 10,000 word mark this weekend and I’m still going! It feels right, past that hump, I know the direction is solid. Sure, it’s still a terrible “zero draft” as I like to call it, that I won’t ever share with another soul, but it’s the bones, the foundation of a only mildly less terrible first draft I can share with CPs someday.

I’m just going to relish this hard-earned moment for a bit, being in the post-10,000-word drafting sweet spot. Not only because it’s the green light to keep drafting using this outline, but because every session added to it feels like the best number! Today, I squeezed in 1,400 words on lunch break at a cute coffee shop in the city and now it’s a whopping 14,000 words! That’s, like, a real on-it’s-way-to-book-shaped size! Five-digit word count numbers feel good. ūüėé

First Drafts vs. Final Drafts

In the last four years I’ve drafted (and revised and rewritten and revised again…and again) two middle grade manuscripts. I love the revising stage because every decision and change improves the story in some way (thank goodness). Drafting? Less of a delight. The product is such a hot mess and such a far cry from what I’m hoping to achieve that I cringe opening up the document. I spend more time questioning my writing skills (do I have any? Why is each sentence more terrible than the last? Why is this scene boring and undeniably the worst thing I’ve ever written? Even worse than that English paper from 9th grade that I purposely reread just for comparison sake [not procrastination, no of course not]?! Am I getting WORSE at writing? Is that possible? What am I even doing?! ūüėā) than getting words on the page so the process is slowwwwww and excruciatingly drawn out. Also, my characters are usually completely mute in my head during the first draft, I have absolutely no idea what their voice is like or what they’d even say in a situation, they’re resistant to all of my pleas to just “tell me what you want and why and oh for the love of brownies why won’t you reveal anything about yourself why are you giving me the cold shoulder I don’t understand can’t we just be BFFs–”

(Yes, it’s dramatic. But they’re my real and true feelings. For months!)

While the secret to finally (finally!) getting a full manuscript down on the page was very different for each project (I will never tell those secrets, I promised the troll I traded with for my first and second borne) (jk) (but sort of not), they did both involve months of bribery (of myself: chocolate, wine, caffeine, Netflix, whatever it took), craft books, crying into my coffee with writing friends, and hair pulling.

And they always end with a messy first draft that I sort of side-eye with fear and mild loathing.

But I’m starting to notice a pattern in my first and final drafts. Which I actually find very reassuring as I start thinking ahead to the next story idea and drafting in general. Instead of hating drafting/considering it a failure, maybe I can just appreciate it as a very predictable first step towards a polished manuscript I love.

First draft is ALWAYS:

  1. Bare bone/short word count (like, really short! Think 35-40,000 words). Woe is me, I think. There’s nothing else to say. That’s all she wrote, folks. There’s no hope.
  2. 95% descriptions, 5% dialogue. Argh!
  3. Cluttered with lonely scenes where the main character is totally alone with their thoughts, while participating in completely solitary activities (hence contributing to the 95/5% ratio referenced above). This also often leads to very melodramatic main characters. Stop whining! I want to shout and shake them by the shoulders. I’m so tired of your repetitive complaints and worries!

Then there’s some of this in-between. Rinse and repeat until the book makes sense. Throw in some critique partner reads and opinions.

So much purple! Always so much purple ūüė≠

To my great and utter relief, I’ve now twice been able to replicate that the final draft is ALWAYS:

  1. So much longer! After layering in more and more with each revision, manuscripts start clocking in at the much more standard/acceptable 60-70,000 word range. Can it be true? I sniff the air, refresh the Word word-counter half a dozen times, just to be sure. It lives! It grows!
  2. Sooooo much more dialogue! I don’t know the exact ratio, but a chapter never goes by without someone talking to someone. Hurray! They speak!!
  3. Except for maybe in the dark night of the soul, very little totally solitary scenes. New side characters and relationships have been layered in and the main character now has a PERSONALITY (hallelujah!) so he/she actually has things they want to say and people who want to listen/talk back! Slow down! I want to shout, but don’t, to avoid jinxing it, fingers flying across the keyboard to catch everything they’re yammering so fast and loud in my head before I lose it. As a result, the melodrama dial is turned wayyyyy down and while it takes two to tango, it also takes two to joke! So there are actual jokes and humor in final drafts which make the stories so much more fun to reread! (And reread…and reread again.)

Thank goodness for revisions. Maybe (just maybe) I’m willing to admit my writing has improved since 9th grade. ūüėā

–Hannah

New Year, Not So New Project

Ah, 2017. For me, it was personally excellent, full of major changes. A new manuscript. A new job. Getting engaged. Buying our first house. A new niece to dote on. This year was exhausting and nerve wracking in so many ways, but with a lot (!) of elbow grease, there were also so many rewarding moments. So much to be thankful for.

Looking forward to next year, I’m hoping I can snuggle down and settle into all these things. Also, now that most of the boxes are unpacked and we’ve set up a life routine of sorts, I’d love to participate more in the local KidLit community. Being a PitchWars mentor this year was definitely a highlight–I loved joining the crowds to cheer on the mentees and helping one awesome writer in particular in a meaningful way–I hope to do it again next year, but also, I’d love to stretch that seasonal PitchWars community feeling into a year-round experience!

On the writing front, after a glorious year romping around with a new cast of characters and a totally new world in the HM manuscript, 2018 is going to involve returning to an old manuscript and revising, yet again.

Writing is rewriting is rewriting is rewriting, a lesson this TPOPF manuscript seems specially designed to torture¬†remind me of year after year. Someday, someday I‚Äôll get this book right! As of this month I‚Äôm diving into what probably amounts to the fourth complete rewrite of this novel since 2013, not counting the more half-step revisions in-between that involved rearranging scenes and scrapping and replacing a handful of chapters. (Mere child play compared to a rewrite! ha-haha…)

What does a rewrite entail? Well, for TPOPF, at this point I think I‚Äôm keeping a grand total of 500 words‚ÄĒa handful of sentences from one scene‚ÄĒfrom the last 50,000 word version. [bites nails] Only 500! This is simultaneously terrifying, frustrating, and a relief. (Wouldn’t it be nice to write the story the right way the first time? Do other people do that? Don’t tell me.) On the bright side, instead of feeling like I‚Äôm rehashing the same story again (again!) after four years of tapping out those same dance steps, it instead feels like I‚Äôm taking these characters I adore and have had so much fun with and sending them on an entirely new and exciting adventure that even I am going to be surprised by. Beyond those 500 words, the only other things remaining are a subset of the cast of characters and their relationships to each other, though their motivations are completely reimagined and every step they take in this new draft will take them down a completely new, never-before tread path.

In 2017, I wrote HM. Then I completely rewrote it, preserving maybe more like 12K from one draft to the next. It wasn’t easy, because each one of those carryover sentences was massaged and tweaked as I changed tenses and also aged the book from YA to MG. But it feels good walking into 2018, knowing I’ve done this sort of work before and I can do it again.

PitchWars: Send Me Your Middle Grade!

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Folks, I am SO EXCITED for PitchWars this year! I am thrilled and honored to have been chosen to serve as a mentor. While it’s my first year officially part of the community, I’ve been totally swept up in the excitement of PitchWars season for years. I’ve cheered friends from the sidelines and was a mentee hopeful myself a few years ago, so I’ve been on your side of the desk! While I didn’t get in, the feedback busy mentors so graciously offered helped get my revisions on track. That manuscript went on to attract the attention of my now agent! Bottom line, this is a community of amazing, supportive, dedicated writers and I’m so happy to have the chance to dive in with a mentee.

Me, you, and your manuscript? We’re going to take over the world and have an absolute blast doing it!

*ahem*

WHAT I’M LIKE IN REAL LIFE

Born and bred in the Philadelphia suburbs, I’ve been living in the Princeton, New Jersey area for the last five years. (FYI, just this weekend, we bought our very first house, an adorable 100+ year old brick home, in a little river-side town in Pennsylvania!!!! It feels so so good to be back on this side of the Delaware, though I’m counting boxes in my sleep at this point.) I double majored in English/Creative Writing and History with a minor in Professional Writing at Bloomsbury University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, I went on to the NYU Summer Publishing Institute and my publishing career has included copy editing for Entangled Publishing, serving as an editor at a small scholarly press, working on eBooks and the interior pages of books as a content manager at HarperCollins for 3+ years, and, as of a few months ago, I’m pleased as punch to now be the Managing Editor at Running Press in Philadelphia!

While my day job is process-based (a nice overview of what a managing editor is, exactly, here) broadly it means I like to dig into the mechanics, get up to my elbows figuring out what makes something tick, and tool around until the best potential version of a thing is revealed. This, methinks, translates well when tackling plot and structure and messy bits.

Also, since Addie is the absolute best and I have a high opinion of her opinion,¬†I’ll just bring this to your attention:

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As for my writing, I have a few published short stories and ¬†memoir pieces out in the world and a pictorial history book, BYBERRY STATE HOSPITAL (Arcadia Publishing, 2013). I signed with my fabulous agent, the one and only Kira Watson at the Emma Sweeney Agency, last summer. We’re on sub with a MG novel and I’m hard at work on revising another one.

In my free time not spent writing, I swim and nap by pools. I listen to First Draft, 88 Cups of Tea, Stuff You Missed in History, and Writing Excuses podcasts. I binge watch (and rewatch) MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES and PARKS AND REC. I like to experiment with new recipes and cocktails. I like dark chocolate, exclusively, and Pinot Noir and ros√©, particularly. I spend a great deal of time cuddling my Welsh terrier and attempting to cuddle my little black cat. I have a Stephen and he and I can often be found at flea markets and used bookstores.

WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR

I LOVE MIDDLE GRADE. I love it so much. It is, in my humble opinion, pretty much one of the best forms of storytelling available. A major contributing factor of that is VOICE. Give me your particular, your quirky, your charm.

Yes Please: straight contemporary, contemporary settings with a magical twist (literary or contemporary fantasy), historical or historical fantasy (as a history major my interests were broad–Joan of Arc to the Ottoman Empire to Vaudeville–though I have a particular fondness of the Guilded Age and Progressive Era, but am eager for any obscure sliver of history that is less than well-tred. Surprise me!), mysteries (see MISS FISHER’S obsession above, also, I looooove SHERLOCK), diary format (loooooooooved Dear America series growing up), retellings (the more obscure the better), sister stories, multi-generation casts (grandparents, elderly aunts, be they sweet or crochety, love ’em!), summer settings (I was a lifeguard for years and love being whisked back to that special schools-out season!), diverse stories of all kinds, curses, sci-fi set entirely on Earth (think X-Files, “Darkness Falls” episode)

No Thank You: horror, second-world or high fantasy, sports-centric stories (excepting swimming–I was on the high school team), fairies or angels or vampires (I have tried and tried and tried and just never appreciated them the way other readers do), bullying or mean-girl plot lines, personification (chatting animals have rarely captured my attention, aside a long ago middle-school love of REDWALL), sci-fi featuring aliens or robots or set in outer space

Some of my favorite authors include: Neil Gaiman, Meg Cabot, Cornelia Funke, Eva Ibbotson, Victoria (V.E.) Schwab, Markus Zusack, Maggie Stievalter, Louis Sachar, Ann Rinaldi, Roald Dahl

Great examples of stories that have charmed me in the past:

ONCE WAS A TIME by Lelia Sales

YORK by Laura Ruby

THE DETECTIVE’S ASSISTANT by Kate Hannigan

MY DIARY FROM THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Jodi Lynn Anderson

FLUNKED by Jen Calonita

DOLDRUMS by Nicholas Gannon

SNICKER OF MAGIC by Natalie Lloyd

DOLL BONES by Holly Black

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

THE YEAR OF SHADOWS by Claire Legrand

HOUR OF THE BEES by Lindsay Eagar

THREE TIMES LUCKY by Shelia Turnage

DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos

GHOST KNIGHT by Cornelia Funke

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN WORKING TOGETHER

I’m looking for a writer who isn’t faint of heart, someone familiar with critical feedback. Someone who’s ready to jump into thoughtful and possibly extensive revisions with energy and enthusiasm. You’re going to need a tank of that (and maybe a tank of your beverage of choice, too) to power through this process. Revision is hard, as you well know, but it’s totally worth it!

Though of course this is YOUR story and you know what’s best and you should only integrate¬†the suggestions that resonate with you, I’m obviously going to pick a story that needs revision of some sort. So don’t expect a one-line revision letter stating that the story is perfect and nothing should change. I give detailed, thorough, big-picture feedback. I poke, poke, poke at plot holes and things that confuse me as a reader. But I also do not hold back when something completely delights me. There will be praise and all feedback will be constructive.

To those of you who have read to the end of this post, squealed with joy¬†at my favorite book list, and are squirming in your chair because you’re so excited that YOUR manuscript might be MY thing–I can’t wait to meet you and your awesome characters! Looking forward to your submission :]

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Revision Retreat

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Cabin #17, I love you

My annual trek up to the Highlights Foundation for a little solitary cabin-in-the-woods time usually falls in April, when the trees are beginning to green and the creek water is warm enough during soggy hikes to dip your toes into. 

This year, due to the driving desire to finally finish this darn revision and dedicate the 24/7 brain space to the story that was really necessary to weave together the elusive closing threads, I came a bit earlier.

There were snow flurries nearly every day and unlike past years, I wasn’t tempted by beautiful weather to leave the cabin and explore beyond walks to the barn for meals and short afternoon walks to stretch and combat mental fatigue. It was lovely to snuggle inside and watch the snow fall through all the giant picture windows.

Some writers listen to soundtracks while drafting and revising but I need complete and total silence in order to focus, so Highlights is a perfect place for me. It’s so quiet at night that–no exaggeration–there were moments where the only sounds were my own heartbeat and the heat kicking on. It’s so different from home. Even though we live in a neighborhood with “whispering” in its cutesy name and I would generally call it a quiet place, we share all four walls and, even if faint, there’s always the muffled sound of televisions and arguments and clarinet lessons and the highway and doors slamming. Then there’s the pets, of course, always circling, begging for attention.

I’m happy to report that the retreat was a sucsess: the revision is (finally) done. It’s an email attachment in other people’s inboxes now and I can take a few weeks off to read and relax and binge watch Netflix and forget about how to solve these characters problems. 

It’s funny the difference a year makes, though. Last year on this retreat, I finished a very rough first draft of this story and sent out query letters in the late night hours. This year, I finished up a major revision, making it officially draft #3, and favorited my delightful agent’s tweets while sipping coffee. I wonder what next year’s retreat will mark.

You HAVE to Read This One!

I‚Äôll tell you a secret‚Ķ There is not an author in the world who can make a living selling books. Authors make a living by having other people sell their books. So you need to get into a position where you‚Äôre good enough, you know your craft well enough, you tell good enough stories with enough interest in them, that people will not only read it and go, ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs pretty good, I‚Äôll read another one,‚ÄĚ but they grab their friend and go, ‚ÄúHoly crap, you‚Äôve got to read this book. It‚Äôs amazing.‚ÄĚ That‚Äôs what‚Äôs going to get you a living as a writer. —Brandon Sanderson, Writing Excuses podcast, S11.E11

This holiday season, I got more than a few text and emails from people asking for book recommendations for various loved ones of all age groups and I was more than happy to oblige. I love gushing about books I loved, love the puzzle of pairing someone with a new story well-fitted to their tastes, love giving books as gifts! A few of my favorites this year that I think everyone should consider sitting down and reading:

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THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS by Anna-Marie McLemore

YA. Contemporary Romeo and Juliet, with¬†mermaid-nomad performers vs. tree-hopping acrobats. Dark family secrets and grudges and magical realism and so many pretty pretty sentences. Read this in one sitting–which never happens–and I cried. And cuddled the book. I might actually reread this one–which also never happens.

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OPEN ROAD SUMMER by Emery Lord

YA. Summer. Taylor-Swift-esque music sensation BFF roadtrip. Swoony.

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CONSTABLE & TOOP by Gareth P. Jones

MG. Ghosts. England. Absolutely charming heroes and villains.

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HOUR OF THE BEES by Lindsay Eager

MG. Summer vacation. Stuck on a desert ranch with her family (including a bratty older sister and a grandpa suffering from dementia she just met). Family folklore. Magical realism at it’s absolute finest. Yes, I cried.

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SIX OF CROWS and CROOKED KINGDOM by Leigh Bardugo

YA. Duology. Fantasy. Magic. A dirty slum of a city. A heist. A crew of thieves and witches and soldiers and tight-rope walkers. Absolutely some of the best writing I’ve ever experienced.

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A GATHERING OF SHADOWS by V.E. Schwab

Adult! Book #2 in an amazing fantasy series. Pirates and London pubs and royal Olympic-like games of magical talents.

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A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE by Brittany Cavallaro

YA. (Charlotte) Holmes, meet (Jamie) Watson. In boarding school. In New England. All the spit and fire and sass you love from Sherlock dialogue.

 

 

 

First Draft

Summed up in one word, 2016 was exhausting. It came at me from all angles–professionally, personally, physically–all twelve months of the year without reprieve. I lost more than one person I loved. I got other sorts of bad news. I failed at a lot at things I tried and built up hope for (though none of those “things” were submission-related, the philosophy of why you should aim for 1,000 rejections a year and be happy about that tally has helped me reframe my feelings a bit).

When looking over the gold stars (one star per hour of butt-in-chair writing time) on my monthly calendar, the way I track out my writing year, I was even more put-out. I kept scolding myself: You didn’t write every day, or even every week! You have to do better this year!

Even though a few wonderful things happened–I became a godmother to an absolute charmer of a cute baby, I signed with a literary agent who is encouraging and supportive and lovely–I’m the kind of lady who is thrilled by gold stars and checking things off lists and other trackable accomplishments, and it felt like 2016 had beat me 10-2.

I snuggled in the last two days of the year reading the first draft of a YA project I started and finished in 2016. I was kind of dreading it. Though I struggle with the drafting process, period–I moan, groan, and whine, my confidence is low the entire time (revision really is much more my cup of tea)–I had this persistent impression that the premise of this story was great and the execution on the page was, at best, an incredibly rough zero draft that would require a rough slog of a revision in the new year.

You can imagine my surprise and delight when the manuscript actually turned out to be…good. My best first draft ever, I’d be willing to say. Oh, there are rough patches and pacing issues and one of the main characters definitely falls a little flat, and I’ve already sliced out 20,000 words that weren’t doing any good, but even despite that, the word “wow” came to mind more than once as I read the pages. It’s no literary masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination–and it still is a draft after all–but it is without question a huge jump in craft for me.

After reading the draft, I’m looking back at the calendar with significantly more pride: Wow, I was really dedicated this year. I found time despite everything, even during the crap storms. I kept at it. And it really paid off. Quietly, so quietly I didn’t even recognize it while it was happening, I was a more dedicated writer than I’ve been in any year previously. I wrote a full draft faster than I’ve ever managed. And this draft, these characters, this plot–it is doing so many things right. In a year where so much was out of my control, looking at these pages where I managed to wrangle stubborn characters and interweave multiple complicated plot lines during scraps and starts of free time makes me feel a little better prepared to step into January. 

Here’s to 2017 and the revsision cave, folks. 

How I Learned to Write

Totally triggered by the most recent PubCrawl Podcast episode about author career qualifications, I got thinking about what’s helped me develop into the writer I am today. Writing is so much more than sentences and grammar (though that’s obviously a pair of critical variables) and learning how to write requires so much more than a creative writing degree (though it helped kickstart me in the right direction).

I learned how to give constructive feedback and absorb criticism thanks to creative writing workshops in undergrad.

I learned about story in those same workshops. 

I learned how to write powerful sentences and build logical paragraphs writing dozens of research papers as a history major. It’s also where I kicked my purple prose habit.

I learned how to accept rejection from rounds of literary magazine submissions.

I learned how to finish a book in NaNoWriMo. 

I learned about pacing and voice by reading reading reading. 

I learned about dialogue from Girlmore Girls.

I learned how to be succinct when writing my pictorial history. (Word count restrictions!) And Twitter, maybe. And my flash-fiction phase. 

I learned about scene structure from a SCBWI conference workshop led by the superb Laurie Calkhoven.

I learned about plotting and structure and beats at a writing conference talk by the fabulous Chris Grabenstein. And by reading craft books.

I discovered revision tactics by reading the blogs of authors I admire.

I learned how to revise on book #4. By pulling the story apart and refashioning it back together, over and over. And by following my critique partners’ advice.

I’m excited to see what the next writing break through might be. :]

Inspiring Thoughts

I love a good book event–and what’s not to love? You’re (usually) in a bookstore. (+10 bonus points) You’re surrounded by a crowd of booklovers so a) they’re great to talk to; and b) THEY HAVE SUCH GREAT BOOKISH ACCESSORIES! (For example, I went to an event yesterday and the people surrounding me had the cutest tote bags with quotes and library-card designs, book-related dresses and T-shirts and earrings…! I was ready to go on a shopping spree.)

And then there’s, you know, the point: the author! They often give their life story (I’m a sucker for the “how did you become an published writer?” tale!), talk passionately about craft and process, and sometimes offer sneak peak readings of upcoming books. In the past year alone I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Markus Zusak, Sarah Dessen, Scott Westerfeld, Victoria Schwab, Marissa Meyer, Julie Eshbaugh, Sarah J. Maas, Lauren Oliver, Gayle Forman, Mia Siegert,¬†and lots others I might be forgetting off the top of my head. I used to be really into buying a book and getting it signed, but now I’ve found that the lines are sooooo long and the presentations are always so inspiring, I want to speed home and get my butt in the chair to start writing ASAP! A book event on a Saturday is a sure-fire way to inspire me for an entire weekend of dedicated writing.

I know I’m pretty lucky to be in such a well-visited area for authors, only a train ride away from New York, and going to book events to hear authors speak might not be in everyone’s cards. To be honest, as many book events I go to, I still find that it’s not enough! I supplement with Podcasts throughout the week to get myself in the writing mood. They’re also so valuable for craft ideas and plotting pointers and general writing advice. I’ve learned SO much from other MG/YA writers who have been willing to share their time on podcast interviews. Some of my current favorite subscriptions:

First Draft with Sarah Enni–74 episodes available for you to binge through! So many excellent authors!

88 Cups of Tea with Yin Chang–I just discovered this one this week! Not every episode is an interview with a YA author, there are other creatives who come on the show, so I picked through the ones I wanted, including some great¬†conversations with Kody Kiplinger, Leigh Bardugo, Kendall Kulper, Mindee Arnett…

PubCrawl–a mix of interviews and craft-related topics with hosts S. Jae-Jones and Kelly Van Sant.

This Creative Life with Sara Zarr–hasn’t had new content¬†in a while, but a delightful backlist to work through if you’re just digging in.

UpvoteYA–another new discovery (and in fact totally new podcast) hosted by 4 monitors for the YA Reddit threads. Enjoyed the first episode and looking forward to the next one.

As you can tell, I’m just burning through these episodes. Any you folks would recommend? I need to add some more to my playlist! I’m trying to push my way through a draft and I desperately need the encouragement of hearing others talk about how they’ve¬†survived their own drafting efforts!

Wrapping Up 2015: Too-Few Book Reviews

And the series continues! At the end of the month I give a few little book reviews. I focus on books that, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten the media attention and buzz other more popular books did, have less than 2,000 3,000 reviews on Goodreads as of my beginning reading them, and could use a little bit of love and attention. Also, I’m adding information for each title about how I discovered that book and/author. Mostly because I think this is interesting information, but also in case it helps any authors who have under reviewed books of their own and want to think of creative new ways of reaching new readers.

The Only Thing Worse than Witches cover

Book: The Only Thing Worse Than Witches by Lauren Magaziner

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads:  252 ratings

Date Published: August 2014

Publisher: Dial Books

How I Discovered this Book:¬†I think while perusing the Internet looking for books about witches for comps for my next WIP…? I honestly can’t quite remember how I stumbled across this one.

Thoughts: Cute and funny, full of nonsense names and spells reminiscent of Roald Dahl silliness, a light-hearted middle grade for young readers.

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Book: Paper Hearts by Beth Revis

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads:  19 ratings

Date Published: November 2015

Publisher: Scripturient Books

How I Discovered this Book:¬†Author’s twitter account.

Thoughts: Great little craft and writing encouragement book that felt like having a coffee date with a more experienced writer who was happy to share some pointers on general knowledge writing topics. The casual/chatty tone of a blog made it an easy read and includes particularly good overview/perspective on story structure.

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Book: Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads:  1,823 ratings

Date Published: September 2014

Publisher: Little Brown

How I Discovered this Book: Book blogs everywhere, specifically The Perpetual Page-Turner, as I recall. Folks have been chatting up this book for awhile and the description had me thinking about it until I finally got my hands on a copy.

Thoughts: Perfect for readers who want witches, historical fiction, and seaside lore. With a New England island setting, whaling romanticism, and a dark family curse, this YA was a perfect brew of my favorite things.

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Book: Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads:  2,082 ratings

Date Published: February 2013

Publisher: Delacorte Press

How I Discovered this Book: Read the first one earlier this year and liked it a lot, so hunted down the second on Scribd audio.

Thoughts: It was fun to catch up with the character I had come to care for in book 1 and follow her new adventure. Historical fiction set in early 20th century San Francisco as Hattie pursues her dream of becoming a reporter, much of the story is conveyed in the form of letter correspondence.

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Book: Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads:  292 ratings

Date Published: October 2015

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

How I Discovered this Book: While perusing the bookshelves at work.

Thoughts:¬†Loved this–If you’re in the mood for YA, historical fiction, spies, codebreaking, WWI, and are particularly interested in a setting beyond Allied territory (specifically, the German palace and¬†its secret tunnels!!!), this book is absolutely going to be your cup of tea. Found it to be a¬†well-paced and plotted¬†thriller.

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Book: Anyone But Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads:  190 ratings

Date Published: April 2015

Publisher: HarperCollins

How I Discovered this Book: While perusing the bookshelves at work.

Thoughts:¬†Spunky and plucky MG character–young orphan Ivy Pocket is a terrible British housemaid and on her adventure she leaves chaos in her wake. Bit reminiscent of the charmingly bumbling antics of Amelia Bedelia, now that I think on it.

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Book: Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads:   383 ratings

Date Published: May 2015

Publisher: TOR Teen

How I Discovered this Book: My book club voted on reading it for the month of August.

Thoughts: Contemporary teenage witch trying to balance high school, a new crush, and the impossible demands and never-ending chores set by her evil witch guardian, it was a fun and funny read with some charming things like a dragon who lives in the garage and spellwork being a combination of algebra homework and dipping wands in spices stuffed in a fannypack. Would appeal to fans of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Just my cup of tea, honestly.

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Book: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads:  3,663 ratings

Date Published: January 2014

Publisher: Knopf

How I Discovered this Book:¬†I kept seeing this mentioned as a favorite MG fantasy book on several agent’s blogs so I decided to see what the buzz was all about.

Thoughts: Bit like The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, in that is an adventure set in a museum after hours and in forbidden hallways (mostly) but add in an evil witch and an in-prisoned little boy from another magical world.

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Book:¬†Pip Bartlette’s Guide to Magical Creatures¬†by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads:  780 ratings

Date Published: April 2015

Publisher: Scholastic Press

How I Discovered this Book: A gift from a friend, though this was on my radar for a while because I read everything Maggie Stievfater writes.

Thoughts: Funny, spunky, and chock full, as promised, of magical creatures like unicorns (who are actually quite vain and ill-tempered) and other fluffy and fierce creatures with unexpected personalities. Includes diagrams of the animals, reminded me a bit of a younger-audience Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them.

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Book:¬†Lily’s Ghosts by Laura Ruby

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads:  703 ratings

Date Published: August 2003

Publisher: HarperCollins

How I Discovered this Book:¬†After reading and loving Bone Gap, I started digging into this author’s backlist. (Nothing sells backlist like front list!) And I was delighted to find a MG ghost story set in Cape May, one of my favorite places in the world!

Thoughts: Set in Cape May, NJ (one of my favorite places in the world!) with a full cast of quirky ghosts, a haunted Victorian mansion, and a girl with a chip on her shoulder, every single character in this story was charming and fun to follow.

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Book: The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads:  2,661 ratings

Date Published: June 2015

Publisher: HarperTeen

How I Discovered this Book:¬†I’ve been following the lovely Lauren Gibaldi’s blog since I was a brand new blogger in 2011 and I’ve been waiting for this book ever since she announced the deal!

Thoughts: I love contemporary YA books set in summer and I particularly liked that this one was set in that strange, tense, nostalgic summer after high school graduation and before everyone leaves to start their new lives. A book about friendships and forgiveness, taking chances and making tough choices, enjoyed this one.

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Book: Zero to Hero by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads:  326 ratings

Date Published: January 2012

Publisher: Scholastic

How I Discovered this Book: While searching for MG ghost story comps for my book, lots of Googling lead me to this series.

Thoughts: Listened to the audiobook read by Henry Winkler and, as a result, the ghost character came off as sounding a lot like the Fonz (he used a lot of the same slang and presentation and obsessive hair-combing) but all the same it was a fun little MG about a boy who moves into a haunted house and makes friends with a ghost.