Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Happy Book Birthday To A MADNESS SO DISCREET!

Grace Mae knows madness.

She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.

When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.

In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us. 

Book Launch party TONIGHT at the Orange Branch of the Delaware County Library from 7-8:30 PM, with fellow YA authors Demitria Lunetta, Jennifer McGown and Geoffrey Girard.

Can't make it? No worries - I've got a lot of upcoming events!

None near you? Don't fret. Call Fundamentals Bookstore to have a signed copy of A MADNESS SO DISCREET (or any of my books) mailed to you!

Monday, October 5, 2015


My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.


As daughter to the Lord of Galedonia, fifteen-year-old Ida thinks she’s safe from tragedy … until she fails to save her oldest friend from dying in should be "at" I think? the pillory. When her father banishes her mother to the slums for defiance, Ida refuses to fail again. She smuggles her mother food and valuables until she’s caught and banished too.

Thrilled to live with her mother ​once more​, Ida throws herself into the maze of streets, befriending beggars and crypt-dwellers. But slum life is harsh: her neighbors are scapegoated, maimed, and broken, her mother slaves in a factory, and small-time parasites like actual parasites, or is this another bad human move? using the word "devour" here makes me think of silverfish devour their money. Ida must learn to survive if she hopes for a brighter future, and her new friends are the perfect teachers. With the help of Fairfax, a freakishly ugly outcast with a soft spot for her mother, Ida navigates their knife-edge existence.

When Fairfax is arrested on trumped up charges and left to die in again "in"... is the pillory in your story different from the traditional idea of a pillory -- simply a pillar that the victim is tied / nailed to? the pillory, Ida is forced to relive her worst memory in the face of a terrible choice. If she’s caught trying to save him, she’ll be sentenced to death. If she walks away, she’ll watch another friend freeze. And in her dangerous new world, where friends mean survival, letting Fairfax die isn’t just cruel … it’s suicidal.

THE STATUE SAYS SPRING is an 88,000 word YA historical fantasy with crossover potential. It is set in a non-magical world that blends elements of Victorian and medieval England, and combines the style of Karen Cushman's Catherine, Called Birdy with the world-building of Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse.

I think your query is strong and the genre explanation at the bottom helps explain some questions that arose for my while reading the query. I do think you might need to examine the use of "in" for pillory, and also explain the cause of death at the beginning. If freezing plays into it we need to know a little more about that in terms of the world building - is this a season, or is this a freezing world? 

Overall more world building is necessary since it's a non-magical world that feels historical, why make this a fantasy at all? Get more about the stakes into the query - the plot can build entirely toward helping or not helping one person. Surely there is a subplot - what is it?

First Page:

The pillory would be teeming with spectators by dawn. If Ida wanted to help Mr. Hanson in time, she’d have to leave soon.

Across the room, her mother hadn’t shifted in minutes and her breathing was steady. The phrasing of this sentence feels passive as is. She was finally asleep. Ida crept from bed and collected her bag of supplies, coat, and glasses before sneaking out.

The icy Brimmen sea wind was a slap to the face so Ida pulled her long, lank hair over her ears. It didn’t help. Why was it so cold tonight, of all nights? It was mid-September, but it felt like February, and Mr. Hanson was confined in the pillory with only a thin shirt and breeches. He’d be frozen half to death. Good - you've built the coldness of this world into the first page. Get it into the query.

“Ikshik,” Ida cursed as she passed the Basilica’s blood-red gates. Maybe he was frozen to death. It was cold enoughThis is just echoing something we already know from the above para. She cursed again, blew on her numb fingers, and sped up. Gregor Hanson was like a grandfather to her, always there when she needed him most. He’d smuggled her forbidden books, taught her to ride boy-fashion, carried her to the surgeon when she broke her collarbone. Ida knew he was innocent of what?, she just knew it. There was no way she’d sleep peacefully in her warm bed while he suffered. If the stars had favoured her, she’d already be wrapping him in a warm blanket. But her mother had guessed she’d sneak out and sat up in her room to stop her.

Her mother never listened to reason.

Overall this is a strong start. Get the repeat of the idea of him being frozen to death out of there and you're looking pretty good. Also I think it would be important to build on the idea of his "innocence" - for what crime? Is this government one that pillories people for small grievance like stealing bread? Or did he supposedly do something worse? I'm not saying this needs fleshed out in the first 250, but definitely be sure it's addressed within the first few pages - it's world building and scene building in one.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Fall YA Scavenger Hunt! #YASH

Welcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive one signed book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are EIGHT contests going on  simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the GREEN TEAM--but there is also a red team, blue team, gold team, orange team, teal team, purple team, pink team for a chance to win a whole different set of signed books!

If you'd like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.


Directions: Below, you'll notice that I've listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the green teamand then add them up (don't worry, you can use a calculator!). 

Entry Form: Once you've added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prizeOnly entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian's permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by Sunday, Oct 4th at noon Pacific time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.


Today I am hosting Anne Boles Levy, who teaches English to middle schoolers after more than two decades writing and editing for print, web, and radio. Anne is a graduate of Smith College and studied abroad at University College London, and she has her master's in journalism from Columbia University. She is also an amateur silversmith and the absentminded wife to her long-suffering husband, Brett. They run around after two children and a cat in Scottsdale, Arizona. Anne's book for the scavenger hunt is book two in the TEMPLE OF DOUBT series, titled THE WELL OF PRAYERS and I have the honor of hosting her cover reveal for her special content here on the YASH!

Hadara, now sixteen years old, is still recovering from the night she assisted the Azwans, mighty magi, in destroying a demon that fell from the stars. She has a new job as an apprentice healer and wants to put her past—and her doubts—behind her.

On the planet Kuldor and beyond, it is deemed a sin to doubt the god Nihil’s magic, and heresy to fail to worship him correctly. The Azwans, still on Hadara’s island home, have begun punishing disbelievers with a vengeance.

Hadara can’t shake her own skepticism, though, especially when she suspects that the demon they destroyed isn’t entirely gone. What if bits and pieces are, in fact, floating around inside her and maybe taking root? Since she stood at the altar that fateful night, she’s developed the ability to understand foreign tongues, among other odd talents she never had before. Had she perhaps swallowed some part of the dying demon? She suspects no one can answer that question for her, but she doesn’t trust anyone enough to ask it.

But then a temple guard who she once thought was dead comes back into her life and points her toward new truths and a new sense of purpose: somewhere in the murky jungles surrounding her city, another people beckon her and demand she fulfill the destiny foretold by the falling star.


And don't forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of signed books by me, Anne Boles Levy, and more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 9Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the green team and you'll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!

And enter to win a signed copy of NOT A DROP TO DRINK below - even if you don't win the big giveaway with all the green team members, you can still have a shot at a signed copy of my debut!


To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author! 

Just FYI the e-book version of NOT A DROP TO DRINK is $1.99 right now!

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#PitchWars Crit - NEVERLAND

My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.


All beautiful and intelligent Tinkerbell wants is to survive, though granted I'd cut "granted" for flow she does it differently than other UnSeelie Fae. Neverland is a carnival, petting zoo, playground, fun-filled wonderland, and Tinkerbell has happily spent her centuries luring children there with the help of her brainwashed, broken, and beloved Peter Pan. There children are safe from that nasty outside world full of horrific pain, and can be carefree and happy always. At least until the day prior to their thirteenth birthday. It's unclear how this ties into her survival, and how what she does is different than other fae.

But now some useless, nasty, scum-filled imaginary friend by the name of Wendy has come along. She thinks Tinkerbell’s Neverland is barbaric, that Peter Pan needs to be saved, that Neverland needs to come crashing down and Tinkerbell needs to die. So naturally, Tinkerbell wants her gone. But paradise has gotten boring, so a game is decided upon rather than just sending the snivelling thing to whatever afterlife imaginary friends have.

So it’s a chess game to gain control over Peter Pan; whoever captures the king’s mind wins the chess game. If Tinkerbell wins she’ll make sure a fate worse than full body mutilation awaits her opponent. But if Wendy wins, one way or another Neverland will fall.

NEVERLAND is a 61,000 word YA psychological thriller retelling of Peter Pan, and is told from the point of views of both Tinkerbell and Wendy If this is the case then I think the query needs to reflect this a little more. Right now the query feels entirely Tink-centric. There are examples of racial diversity as well as LGBTA+ diversity in my manuscript, as I believe diversity in literature is essential. That's great, but mentioning it here almost feels like a marketing ploy. I'd leave it alone in the query and let it speak for itself in the manuscript.

First Page:

Tinkerbell yawned and shifted in the warm morning’s rays there's no mention of a sun here - just morning rays to glance down at the human bed below her warm nest. Her boy hadn’t left without her then, good, and a smile curled as the Fae watched him rub his eyes. She tied her pixie dust bag to her waist and then wings fluttered to bring feet cloaked in leaves and dandelion puffs down to rest upon her twelve-year-old’s pillow. Awkward phasing - the wings sound like they're acting independently of Tink He was so cute, he had been even before she magicked him to be twelve forever.

“Good morning my Peter Pan…” Tiny fingers brushed through auburn hair as he shifted into them.  “Are you fully awake yet my darling? How did you sleep?”

Brown eyes I mentioned this on my last crit as well, and it may be a personal preference, but I think character description slipped into narrative like this always feels awkward fluttered open, and a cute crocodile grin stretched his lips as Tinkerbell’s Peter Pan scrambled up and her wings fluttered wildly to keep from tipping over. Lots of -ed verbs at work in this sentence, it's slowing down the narrative.

“Mornin’ Tink! I slept good how’d you sleep? What’re we gonna do t’day, somethin’ fun?”

“Yes, yes of course.” She fluttered out of the way as he rolled out of bed and shook his hair about. “Lots of fun things but you must do what I please too darling. Always obey me.” He rarely needed a reminder, but sometimes it was nice to give one.

“Yes Tink!” He was an amusing and cute little thing, and Tinkerbell followed as her Peter Pan galloped down the swirled staircase of their tree. “Up up ev’rybody up!” The excitable crowing that amplified itself with each word made everyone stir, and soon all twenty three twelve-year-olds were yawning and grumbling. Tinkerbell gave Oliver a sweet smile and wave as she landed on his wooden clock that dangled from his shelf, and his delighted grin gained him noises akin to falling glitter.  Unsure what you're saying here -- is Tink making the noises? Does falling glitter make a noise?
Each boy was greeted as Tinkerbell checked the days left on their clocks and dove down into the depths of the tree to greet more of them. “Tinkerbell…?” Who was this little brunet boy, David? Yes, David. Her tinkles of gibberish that they all thought was “fairy language”  eased a small smile onto his face as he rose and adjusted his yarmulke. The standing was strange, I don't know what you're saying here - standing? but it was likely just a cultural happening among whatever his race of humans were.

You have a lot of awkward phrasing at work here, and some sentences that are quite frankly, confusing. It's easy for an author to read their own work and interpret it correctly because you know exactly what you mean, and your brain fills in the blanks. I would suggest getting a critique partner to read over this to mark passages that are confusing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

An SAT With Chris Von Halle

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Chris Von Halle. Chris's books recreate his childhood memories of such outlandish locations as the near and distant future Earth, other planets, and even other dimensions. He lives in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and enjoys such extraordinary activities as playing videogames, tennis, and basketball, and writing the occasional comic strip. His debut, THE FOURTH GENERATION, is available now.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’m definitely a pantser at heart, but over the years I’ve incorporated some planning into the equation. It’s an ever-evolving process ☺

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

I think the average is about two years. Usually that involves setting the book aside for months at certain points in order to work on revisions for another manuscript or simply to get distance from the book so I can return to it with fresh eyes.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

As I hinted at above, I’m a bit of a multi-tasker, since I will sometimes set a book aside to work on another depending on which one needs my attention the most at the moment. However, over the course of any long period (say, two years), one project typically occupies most of my time and effort.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

I’ve been writing ever since I can remember, so I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even old enough to be aware that writing could be “scary” the first time I sat down to do it. I just wrote for the sheer joy of it. However, the notorious self-doubt monster is definitely something that has periodically reared its ugly head over the years. I think that’s something every writer deals with at some point, though, if not often; even the most “successful” ones.

How many trunked books did you have before you were published?

It’s embarrassing to say, but technically six.

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

Yes, six times. In the beginning it was clear that I wasn’t writing at a professional level yet, based on the type of feedback I received from critique partners and agents, so that’s why I shelved a few. Later it was the fact that I sent out so many queries I couldn’t even count, and hardly received any requests or interest.

How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?

It felt absolutely fantastic, like a dream come true. Even cooler since I think the cover is so awesome (thanks, Cora Graphics!).

How much input do you have on cover art?

Speaking of which, I did have some input on the cover. That’s what I really like about my publisher, Clean Reads. The cover artist and I had a little back-and-forth action to iron out a couple things, and the result is stunning, I think.

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

I think it’s the importance of evolving and trying different paths if one path isn’t working for you. During my long seven or so years of shooting for publication, I had always envisioned myself trespassing the so-called traditional path: get a literary agent who then gets me a book deal with a major publisher. But after beating down that path for so long without much success, and giving a small press a shot without an agent, I’ve come to realize that that’s also a viable and rewarding path. So, bottom line: Don’t be afraid to try different avenues if one in particular isn’t working for you.

How much of your own marketing do you?

I do a fair amount of marketing. At least, these days I split up my writing time down the middle between marketing and writing the next book. I have a blog, a website, and Twitter.

When do you build your platform? After a book deal? Or should you be working before?

I think you can really start building your platform after you get an agent or a book deal, but it doesn’t hurt to have a blog or website while you’re shooting for those things. But, still, I’d say that prior to getting an agent or book deal, your time is best spent honing your writing skills, since ultimately that’s what will bring your work and your writing career to the next level.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Certainly. I’m not sure how much it ultimately helps, but it definitely makes you and your book(s) more visible and accessible to the market.

Monday, September 28, 2015


My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.


The Black-Eyed Children is a chilling urban legend passed through generations, recounted to scare people for terrifying enjoyment. Good start, but the wording gets a little laborious here, making it lose a little punch. But the legend isn't a myth. The stories are dangerously real, and the Black-eyed Children?

They're coming, and they aren't taking prisoners.

When seventeen-year-old Raquel Alexander was born, she inherited all three Soleian powers of The Light. She can kill with a flick of her wrist, heal with the softest touch, and protect others with the roar of a single word. The problem for Raquel--she believes she's the only Soleian left, and revealing this kind of power in a world controlled by the Devati, a stunningly beautiful yet cruel family of magical dark-eyed warriors, would turn deadly. Hmm... okay I'm a little confused because you used the phrase "urban legend" above, which implies a contemporary. But right now this is reading as straight up otherworld fantasy.

Raquel is hell-bent on hiding her true identity from the Devati, and confides only in her best friend, Kaia, who's sarcastic and gritty kick-butt attitude keeps the curious at bay. Her world again, I need to know what world this is. is turned upside-down when she meets Adrian, the strikingly handsome and mysterious son of the Devati Commander, where wording doesn't quite work here forbidden love blossoms and she learns she isn't the only Soleian left. While Adrian's father is methodically hunting, torturing and killing any Soleian who can be found, Adrian is teaming up with Raquel, quietly helping her escape certain death by smuggling her into Soleian territory.

When the Commander uses his dark powers to kidnap Kaia as bait, Raquel is forced to venture back into the heavily guarded Devati sector to save her and capture the Commander before it's too late. If she fails, Kaia will suffer a gruesome death, and the fate of the entire Soleian race will be left in the viciously evil hands of Commander Sloane and his dark-souled henchmen.

THE SOLEIA: RISE OF THE GUARDIAN is a YA Fantasy okay, so it is a fantasy. In that case I would get rid of the phrasing "urban legend" because that implies we're looking at urban fantasy / contemporary with magical elements. and is complete at 93,000 words. A full or partial manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration. I have included the first page per submission guidelines.

Also - who are the Black-Eyed children in this scenario? Is it Raquel? Is it the Devati? It's a powerful start but there is absolutely nothing to link the opening para to the rest of the query.

First Page:

Today will be different. I can feel it. It's happened before, but never to this intensity. The warm spring breeze dances through my hair as my feet tread down the street. The golden strands This might be a personal preference but I dislike character descriptions teased into narrative like this tickle my bare shoulders, teasing me with warm, happy memories of the past. Like what? How would her hair on her shoulders remind her of the past? A tiny trickle of sweat runs through my hairline and toward my temple. Yet, my body is cold. Chills are rapidly spreading throughout my body, dampening my heart as they snake outward through the intricate pathways of my veins. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The feeling is electrifying and my senses are overly heightened.

What will it be today? The Light is growing inside me, aching to be let out. It's almost superhuman. Be definition, it is superhuman. Danger is lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike. I can taste its metallic bitterness on my tongue and smell its rancid stench saturating the air. Somebody is going to need my help, but who will it be? My chilled heart constricts with fear, and my honey-colored you did it again eyes dance around, scanning the different rundown buildings and entryways for any hint, any sign of impending danger. Again, I'm getting mixed messages on genre here. I have no feel for setting right now other than "street" and "rundown buildings" - it's reading like a contemporary at the moment, but your genre is stated as fantasy.


The walk home from school okay so we are starting in our world / contemporary? This feels at odds with your query is long and tense. My heavy steps pound the eroded sidewalk, leaving my legs longing for a break. I left my bike at home today, and that decision wallows in the back of my mind. The other kids in my class think I'm crazy. Maybe I am. I'm not like everybody else. They would all love the upper status one inherits by owning a bike here in the outskirts of Sector 14 now it feels dystopian. Bikes are rare, and those of us who are lucky enough to have one are usually popular and social. I couldn't be more different.

The heat rises as I continue walking along the main road, following far behind my classmates. The icy feeling of impending danger constantly tugs on my heart strings. One of the popular girls ahead turns and stares at me with disgust. She knows I chose to walk today and hates me for having the luxury of a bike, but not taking advantage of it. She would give anything for a bike. Her desire to have one melts together with the anger she holds, and the poisonous combination seeps out of her body, invading my inner core and causing me to become physically nauseated.

Overall this isn't a bad start, it's just that what you're giving us in the first two paras feels at odds with the the query, and has me dancing around mentally trying to figure our where we are. The query says it's fantasy, the beginning feels like a contemporary setting for the first few paras, then uses wording that leans dystopian. Get your setting out there front and center, and make sure it's in keeping with your query. Also watch your echoes - high lighted above.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: ANATOMY OF A MISFIT by Andrea Portes

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Anika knows to pretend to have everything together - the way it looks from the outside. She's the third-most popular girl in school, blonde, attractive, and always in the sights of Becky - the penultimate popular girl, who is just waiting for Anika to slip up so she can grind her to a powder under her dainty heel.

When Logan - the brooding, black leather jacket-wearing former nerd - comes back to school with an edge Anika can't ignore, she tries to smother it. Logan won't do anything for her social status, even if the breathtaking art projects he creates are clearly inspired by her. Besides, Jared, the bad-boy everyone wants has been paying attention to her - why throw that away?

As she gets to know Logan better she learns that his dark, brooding side matches her own well-hidden one perfectly. She's the only one that knows his darkness is hardly an act, growing from a home life that he'd love to escape. As Logan's circumstances grow worse, and Anika's social status more firmly entrenched, she has to decide which part of herself to embrace - or if she can be both.

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