Thursday, March 31, 2016

My Experience At A Middle School Career Day Fair

So I had a really cool opportunity last week.

A friend of mine works as a Middle School counselor and she invited me to present at their career day. My response: Um, yes!

So I had weeks to prepare... a really cappy looking tri-fold poster for my table. I posted some cool inspirational quotes from Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and others.

And even a cover photo of a book recently published by a thirteen-year-old boy (because INSPRIATION!)

It was quite fun to make, which is a good thing because pretty much no one looked at it. Which was probably okay, because even though my quotes were cool, the over all presentation was... pretty lame. (probably looked like I made it in Elemtary school. I should stick to digital presentations.)

I was super excited and not all that nervous... until I got there. Pulled up right next to a cop car, which of course is expected at career day BUT STILL. All I need is to ding his car (the silly things you worry about)... But also, I started getting real nervous that I was going to be super lame.

Like, being an author is really cool. But Police officers, doctors, veterinarians... those are the kinds of careers that career day is about, right? They have cool uniforms, and stories. And dude, did so many of the other presenters have COOL displays. Like full on professional banners and hanging signs and... just cool stuff, okay? I looked super extra lame. *twiddles thumbs*

(no, I have no clue what this is, but it looks cool)
But soon I noticed that the over achievers weren't swollowing me whole, and other lame-os (I say lovingly) with the same tri-fold poster things with self printed text and pictures, were right along side of me.

There were around 50 presenters so lots of options, not just firemen and doctors. There were realtors, and teachers , photographers, construction workers, and lots of tech jobs I have no idea what they really do (seriously, there was one table that just said "Squirrel" and nothing else. No clue) and so many more.

Now, how this particular fair went down was that the students had to pick at least three career tables to visit and ask interview questions. 95% of the questions were pre-set, and were pretty irrelevent to my particular career. Like, "What kind of career advancements are available?" Uhhhh....

So the students crowed into the gymnasium and I was lucky to get one student come up to me right away. But she quickly asked me a couple questions, which I answered awkwardly, then she left and ! was alone... *cricket cricket*. There were like tweleve girls crowded around the photography table (that's 100% where I would have been at this age, to be truthful.) *twiddles thumbs again* I wasn't the only one standing around, though, waiting eagerly for students to find me interesting. Many students passed and didn't stop.

But before long my wallflower identity dissapeared when a few more interested students showed up. Then a few more. I was by no means super popular, but I had someone interested in me/my career pretty regularly, with only a couple gaps. Actually, the fair was split into three periods, and the first was the most lacking in interest (maybe because EVERYONE hates mornings. Truth.) I had a couple small crowds (like 5 kids tops) later in the day.

Still, most of the students asked the stock questions, never venturing to ask their own. I did my best to explain the reality of being an author with those questions. "There are no qaulifications! You don't need any kind of degree," (I did mention MFA a few times) "there aren't even age requirements. Anyone can be an author, if you're dedicated enough. It's hard and it takes a long time, but if it's what you want you can start working towards that goal right now." I even explained that you are paid per project that sells, so it can be very irregular. Most published authors also keep other jobs.

Most of the students were just simply curious, which is totally fine. I didn't expect to come across many super motivated young writers.

I was mostly impressed when I came across a young person who asked me real questions. Who understood that their worksheets didn't really fit this career and that was okay. They got enough to fill in their assignment, but asked out of the box questions.

But I did find a couple legit writers out there. One who already has a book up on Wattpad (which I just started using myself. Cool site.) one who said she's working on her first book and really wants to be published one day. A handful who write poetry and/or short stories. One young girl surprised me with "So do you think it's hard to self-publish?" (I'd decided to only talk about traditional publishing for the simple fact that if I talked about both options things would get super complicated super fast. I did chat with her about it a little, though, since clearly she had a bit of background knowledge.) Apparently, her mother was an author and offered to help her self-publish her book if she ever finished it. So a potentially soon-to-be published author in my midst!

(I had no idea this picture was being taken and I feel like I look like a dork, but what are you gonna do?)

It was fun to chat with some of these young writers and readers. Some who only ever write short stories, some who write novels, some who just LOVE to read. They were all awesome.

It was really a cool experience, and I didn't feel insecure at all by the end (next time I'll just go without the cheesy poster. They just talk to you anyway.)

I also had a quick interview with a local journalist and he quoted me in his article about the event (also where I got the pictures, I didn't take any myself). Check it out here (yes, he miss-spelled my name 3/4 times. Again, what are you gonna do? #authorlife)

Final note: Why didn't they have this kind of thing when I was in school!?!


Monday, March 28, 2016

What if?

Let's talk about inspiration for a second. We all need it. Yet, we all get it from different places. And sometimes we never know where or when it might strike. But until the MG Minders decided to tackle this topic over the next few weeks, I never really thought about where my inspiration came from.
And as much as I'd love to say Buzz speaks the truth, unfortunately that's not always the case. Okay, sure there's tons and tons of ideas, in fact I have over 150 email drafts in my inbox where I store my spur of the moment thoughts. However, most of those ideas are just a single thought, they don't have characters, plot, or depth to them. They aren't unique, and they don't carry much weight.

Every once in a while an idea will strike and take hold, or in some cases if I'm very lucky, it'll take over. We all love when the words start pouring out of us, but I'm getting ahead of myself. How do we actually get to the point where the ideas just come. Where does that spark of inspiration come from?
The short unhelpful answer is EVERYWHERE. But it goes much deeper than that. Sometimes, I honestly don't know. Sometimes there's a word or a phrase that some says or I something I read online that will set me off, other times it's an article or something on TV or in a movie. Most frequently though, the inspiration comes from within me. It's engrained in my very nature.
Confused yet? I know, it surprised me a bit too. But when I really sat back to think about it, every manuscript I write has a large piece of me in it. I often don't even realize it's happening. Let me explain.

In addition to writing in my free time, I'm also an aerospace engineer. It's not only something that pays the bills, but it's something I really enjoy. I love science and math. I also love science fiction and fantasy. And those ideals are so closely tied together. In my day job, I'm constantly surrounded by technology and research. The wheels in my brain are always spinning within the real world, and the world just out of reach. I'm always asking myself questions about what is, what could be, and what seems impossible. But the one question I find myself asking most frequently when it comes to my writing is 'What If'.
Even when I feel completely lost, that one question has become the source of a majority of my inspiration. It starts with that spark that I mentioned earlier, someone says something, that article, that TV show, etc. but it's that 'What if' question that keeps me moving forward. My thoughts and ideals, the things I dream could be real one day, and the things that are just out of reach that terrify me. Those are the inspirations behind my work.

How far can I push that idea? What would that world look like? And how would a character react and survive in that situation? Those are the ideas and thoughts that help drive my stories.

So the next time your find yourself stuck...
Where do you get your inspirations? What drives your stories?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Why I Write Middle Grade

Why do I write Middle Grade? I could answer this question with seventy-five multi-coloried heart emojis, but I'll dig deeper. The thing I love the most is writing about fiercely strong kids. They take risks and figure things out They've got troubles, but – and this especially holds for my heroine- they look monsters straight in the eye.

Pull up a beanbag, 'cause here’s where I’ll get a little personal. When I was a middle grader myself, I had a different personality profile.  At the start of 6th grade, I was seized by out-of-nowhere anxiety.  During the school day, I was afraid to talk to people, and didn’t know how to dress myself beyond throwing a giant sweatshirt over my weird, changing body. I kept my head down, and tried to be as invisible as humanly possible. One day a popular girl complemented my necklace and my body inexplicably morphed into that of a petrified house mouse, I scurried into a hole in the wall l and lived off of discarded Lunchable scraps for the next two years.* 

I had an Eddie Munster haircut and insomnia, but I also had books. Awesome books. Books about mice that were actually warriors...

and chubby short people who love bread (like me) who could take on a dragon 

...or save the whole world. 

I got lost, then found my way in the stories, and they became the architecture of me. Not the grades, or clothes, or even friends, but the inside stuff that stays permanent. 

When I started out writing The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee,  I wanted to build a kick-butt adventure with ghosthunters, science, magic,  and blueberry pancakes. But I think maybe my characters want to make a lot of noise. They shout out  –

“Weird is cool!” 

“It’s awesome to be different!” 

"Who cares about your dumb haircut?! You can save the world!"
... And if they yell loud enough, maybe someone fighting that good fight through adolescence will hear them and feel a little better about flying their own flag and managing their own bangs. Hair grows out, guys - stories are forever.

*The very mildest hyperbole

Friday, March 18, 2016

Why I Write Middle Grade

Why do I write MG? 

Well, I LOVE it, for one. And two and three...

I also believe that almost every parent-writer, at one time or another, has had a story idea of their kids lighting up the page as the main character of a world they’ve created. (Am I right?) Well, that’s how going all MG happened for me.

I can't ever remember a time when I didn't write in some way. But up until a few years ago, I'd never written a whole book. Not that I didn't want to. Oh, I always said I day... If I ever had the time, when the time was right, if time allowed (if Time knew how much stuff I blamed on him he’d never speak to me again). But to be fair to the guy, I was happily writing along and never really felt pushed to compose something from beginning to end.

Until I needed to get my son to read.

*slides confessional curtain open* 

My son would rather eat a mound of booger-green vegetables than read a whole book.

Yes, I’ve checked into specialists.

And his DNA.

But never one to give up, I devised a plan: What if I made my son the star of his own story? Gave him the lead in an epic adventure, with alien-sidekicks and everything?

What kid could resist that? And other than words coming to life in the form of an Xbox game or a Lucky Charm’s marshmallow, how else was I gonna get his nose in a book?

Yup, tried cash. 

But soon the answer became clear.

                       THE PLAN

Write the story that would get my son to love reading! Just like Judy Blume did for me.

Except I’m not Judy Blume.

…Not even Udy Ume

But I loved to write and my son needed to love books (control issues: check).

So with my unsuspecting offspring vibrantly cast in his premiere leading role, I wrote my VERY FIRST whole story. And I’m not afraid to say I was gold-sticker proud if its beginning, middle, and end.

At first, my head was solely focused on what would engage my son, writing to his specific trigger points, creating anything that would make him want to turn the page. But the more I wrote, the more my brain sort of exploded with other stuff. 

...Ideas to expand one character then another, adding more stakes to enhance the story line…and wouldn’t it be funny if this character said this? Or did that? And what would happen if…

My brain went crazy! (yes, the good kind, this time). Soon, I was having a ball and creating a world, not only for my son, but for other kids as well. 

And for myself.  

I've been totally hooked and head-over-heels ever since!

What can I say? My epic plan turned into a mushy love story. 

*carves MG 4Ever on tree

So...will my son still take broccoli mud pies over a book? ...Mmmmm...not always.

But I can’t take the credit for that (although he did like dressing up in New Times Roman). There are some SUPERSTAR Middle Grade writers out who've helped open my son's heart and mind to books, and continue to inspire both of us with each new read.

I write MG because it gives my imagination a permanent hall pass to run wild.

...And if I could ever be any kid's Udy Ume, well, that would just be a dream come true!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Social Networking: Pitch Contests, Writing Pals, and Keeping it Real

If you found your way here, you are very likely a writer who has some skill navigating the universe of social networking. By some standards I’m fairly active in social media and social networking. I post on Facebook daily, I’m semi-active on Twitter, I have an Instagram account, and I’ve maintained a blog with regular updates for several years. But when compared to many, many other people, my online presence is barely a blip on the radar.

Take Twitter, for example. Before I knew anything about pitch contests, my Twitter activity amounted to little more than a few dozen followers and a snarky tweet every couple of weeks. Truly minimal involvement. I had only even started an account just to see what all the fuss was about. It was a semi-engaging way to follow musicians and authors and comedians, and occasionally find some interesting bit of information. I was much more (and, truthfully, still am) involved with Facebook for social networking, since that’s where my most of my friends and family are.

Then one of my cousins, also a middle grade writer, told me about this contest he’d read about on Twitter called Pitch Wars. A lot of people were excited about it. He was querying at that time and knew I was, so he sent me a link with the info. Long story short — we both entered, were both chosen as first alternates, and many happy days followed. My participation in Pitch Wars opened me up to this whole world of Twitter pitch contests I had no idea existed. Months later I was a finalist in Pitch Madness, which led me to finding an agent, which in turn snowballed my Twitter presence into something, while remaining relatively modest, much wider than it had been before. There's one important take-away for you -- whatever the environment you cultivate for yourself in social networking is like, you need to be prepared for it to head off in unexpected directions, and sometimes without much notice.

Twitter is now the network I primarily use to connect with the writing community. I’ve met some interesting people there I’m happy to know, and even though the frequency of my tweeting seems to come and go in waves, I try to stay in touch with them to keep from fading into the background. I don’t see myself ever being someone to tweet fifty times in a three-hour period after getting caught up in a four-way conversation, but I like the feeling of knowing there’s this greater writing community out there. I like seeing how active it can be, and knowing how welcoming it is. 

But I still wonder: Am I holding myself back by not tweeting more frequently, or reaching out to connect with more people? How much difference will having hundreds vs. thousands of followers ultimately make, either in landing a book deal or with all of the business that would come next? How vital is this for an author in the world of 21st century publishing? (And what kind of writer would I be if I wasn't constantly inventing new ways to second guess myself??)

In the end, it's fair to say that however you use social networking as a part of your writing platform boils down to two things. First, whatever interactions you have with people online need to be genuine, especially if you hope to build strong networking relationships. Most network-savvy people seem to have good filters for what’s real and what’s not, and something real is always going to give you a stronger connection.

Secondly, and probably even more important, the writing needs to be there. People might promote your book deal or retweet your cover reveal or interview you for their blog because they want to be supportive, but giving them some writing they’ll love can be very compelling motivation for them to stay on your team (as well as to keep you on theirs). A long list of friends and followers could be a good way to get people to climb up on your platform and have a look at what's going on, but the goal is getting them to stick around.

And remember while you're out there tweeting and posting and blogging and making all kinds of new pals and finding amazing critique partners, it never hurts to simply be nice to people. We're lucky to have so much niceness already as a part of our greater online writing community, and the more we can spread it around, the better. Both the Internet and the real world can always use more of it. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Real Trick To Social Media

Social media can be a complicated business. While the internet, in general, and social media specifically have made it simpler, cheaper, and more efficient to spread a message across, literally, the entire world, it also makes accidentally stepping into a ill-considered quagmire or misspeaking so badly you’re considering shoving your whole leg up to the knee in your mouth All. Too. Easy.

And that’s to say nothing of the frothing horde of angry users who apparently view every online interaction as a kind of electron-driven Cyber-Thunderdome, where “Two Comments enter, One comment leaves”, and every hint of opposing opinion needs to be challenge, shamed, and, sometimes (horrifyingly) threatened.

For someone writing Middle Grade books or just wanting to get the word out about a new project or something awesome a friend has going on, it can all be a little daunting.

But really, my buddy and fellow Middle-Grade Minded contributor, Tom, already covered all of this with a much more colorful brush than I’ve got in a post last week.

The one thing he touched on, but didn’t quite cover fully, though, was one making genuine connections through online exchanges, and that’s exactly why I find social media so compelling. Don’t believe me? Well, as the old saying goes, showing is better than telling, so I present to you this Storify’d twitter conversation from Friday:

Fried Chicken at the Clam Back, (A play in 60+ tweets)

Admittedly, there’s nothing about this exchange that makes anyone’s manuscript stronger or necessarily improves someone’s art, but instead demonstrates how four or five kid-lit’ers from a variety of geographic places and backgrounds can use social media to great effect. Over the course of a conversation including things as ridiculous as singing clams and chicken disco with some people I knew and others I didn’t (yet), my book-loving, art-forward tribe grew a little bit and we all had a pretty good chuckle on a Friday afternoon.

And that, to me, is kid of both the why and the how of using social media, especially for someone who’s been a painfully shy introvert all of his life.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Advice from a YouTuber

Emily Wass is a sixteen-year-old YouTuber. In just over a year, her BWithEmMarie channel has built a following of over 36,000 subscribers. Please welcome Emily as she talks about YouTube and how writers might use it to build their online presence.

How did you get started with YouTube?

I got started with YouTube because I have always liked making videos. It gives me an opportunity to share something I love while helping other people along the way. 

What is your channel about?

On my channel I make primarily DIY and lifestyle videos. I use it as a way to help out younger girls and hopefully inspire them to pursue what they enjoy. 

How did you gain so many subscribers in such short period of time?

I gained subscribers by making videos that are popular and are known to get a lot of views, but then putting my own twist on it. This helped bring people to my channel and kept them interested.

How often do you watch other people’s YouTube channels and comment on their Instagram/Twitter/Facebook posts?

I watch other people's videos every day. I love seeing what other YouTubers create and get inspiration from it. I often comment on their social media because YouTube is a community where everyone generally supports each other. 

Do you think YouTube could be used as a way for children’s writers to promote their books? How might writers do this?

YouTube could definitely be used as a way for children's writers to promote their books. One of the best ways to do this would be by contacting YouTubers and having them talk about the book. It takes a lot of time and effort to build up an audience on YouTube, so having someone children already trust talk about a book would be the most beneficial. If a writer wants to post a video themself, they should make sure to include their face in it and talk directly to the camera. This will create a more personal relationship with viewers/potential readers.

Any other advice for writers hoping to use social media to build connections with readers and other writers?

To build a social media following, it is important to be consistent. Focus on posting at least once a week, depending on the social platform. Don't worry about being professional; instead, act like you're having a conversation with a friend. This will attract people to your social media and create a connection with them. Also, interact with everyone who comments on your posts. Reply to the comments and have conversations. The more genuine you are, the more people will be interested.

Thank you, Emily!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Social Media - the gateway to the soul of a 24th century author!

Okay, just give me one second.....and done.

We're starting up with a new topic of discussion this month, folks. And that's social media. Now if you don't know much about social media, well then I'm not exactly sure how you got to this blog. But if you are involved in social media, then you may be asking yourself, "what the heck does social media have to do with me getting a book deal / agent / editor / etc."

I've got news for you. A LOT. Welcome to the 24th century....(i jumped ahead a few centuries).

We live in a world where anything and everything could be found out with a click of a button. Don't lie. You know you've sat on wikipedia for roughly four hours looking up pointless information on the Kardashians. ADMIT IT!!! Ahem...but here's the thing. It's a good thing, and a bad thing when you're talking about endless access to information, especially in the veins of social media. I figured I'd sit down and talk about some the PROS and CONS I've experienced with my dabbling in social media, and how it could benefit you as an upcoming author.


The absolute best thing about social media is that fellow writers are EVERYWHERE. I'm not even kidding when I say most if not all of my writer buddies have come out of twitter / blogs. Seriously, I wouldn't know anybody in the writing world if it wasn't for these methods of communications. I lack the time to attend conventions, so most of my exposure is through the interwebs massive tunnels of information.

But that's the great part about it. You are able to talk to writers from ALL OVER THE WORLD with different genre specialties, interests, knowledge, skills, and more. And above all, you can use this to your advantage. What better way to find a wide variety of critique partners than by utilizing social media. Post on twitter LOOKING FOR A CRIT PARTNER - LETS TRADE MS. I guarantee you'll get a thousand responses. Most people on social media are looking to help one another.

And who couldn't use a few writer pals? *waves at all his friends!*


If you haven't seen them already, now is the time to go looking. There are dozens of writer contests out there year round that can help even the newest offer make his or her mark in this cutthroat industry. I'm talking about such events like PITCH MADNESS, PITCH WARS, SUN VS SNOW, etc. Google them. Look them up. Check out their blogs. And be amazed.

I've been lucky enough to be a mentor in some of these events, and the exposure to talent you are going to receive is awesome. So many writers are involved in these contests with one goal in mind. To help new writers.

The amount of success stories out there coming from these contests is mind blowing, and we a owe a lot of it to the people who take their time to organize these events.


Trust me when I say that most of the agents and editors live and breath social media. It's a superb way to pimp their clients novels, or seek new talent. Heck, there's an event on twitter called #MSWL (manuscript wish list) where agents call out what they're looking for. I kid you not, I FOUND MY AGENT THIS WAY. SEE!? SOCIAL MEDIA WORKS!

Not to mention, its a great way to put your foot in the door and actually have some open conversations with agents and editors. They're people too. Don't be afraid to message them or tweet them. They'll talk to you!


You may not think about this much now, especially if you're trying to perfect your novel, but platform building is a huge...HUUUUGE part of the industry. Editors and agents like to see you establishing yourself outside your novel, and working on establishing some sort of platform before you even have a book published. Whether that's taking part in conversations online on twitter, or creating a blog / podcast, or just being vocal, building that platform helps jump start the sales of your book. After all, it's a bit easier to sell your book when thousands of people know about you already, right?

I started building my platform for my first novel COPERNICUS NERDICUS ( a middle grade novel based around video games) a long time ago. I created a youtube channel, and a blog based around video games to help promote my interests and gain some fans. Although CN is shelved for the moment, and I'm working on other novels, I do have a growing group of followers that would help me in the future. I HOPE :)

Then again.....maybe I still just do it for fun because I love video games so much...but that's another story lol.

Now these are just a small portion of things that are positive about social media..I just wanted to dabble in it. But it's not always bunnies and cupcakes.

Social Media can backfire.



Once you're on social media, you're always on social media. And I'm not talking about being addicted to it lol. I'm talking about be careful about what you say. Because things spread like wild fire. If you turn into some sort of bad egg, or if you insult someone, or you start spouting nonsense. It is going to bite you in the arse, real hard and real fast. Which brings me to rule #1 of social media.

Don't be an a**

Not everyone is friendly on social media. In fact, most people are downright cruel. Don't turn into one of them. Be positive and make it a positive experience for everyone around you. Trust me, its a small industry despite how big it is. Don't dig yourself a hole you can't get out of.


I'll be the first to admit it. But I do get jealous. Everyone does, and if you say you don't you're lying to yourself. When you find yourself on social media, get ready to be exposed to a lot of people sharing their success stories.

Now let me explain. When someone I know announces signing with an agent, or signing with a publisher or getting a book deal, or whatever...I am ecstatic for that person. I love seeing my friends succeed. But then I get hit with it. That little twang....that evil jealousy bug that hits me for 2 seconds. And it's not even that I'm jealous, it's more like I'm asking myself "WHEN IS IT MY TURN?" - It's going to happen, and there's no escaping it, especially if you're on social media.

The important thing is to step away. Don't start doubting yourself. I've done it before, but luckily enough I have some awesome friends that I can talk to about it. Accept it. Talk to someone. And know that your time will come.

I don't know you, but I have faith in you.

Well, that's about it....

I only just scratched the surface folks, but let me know. How has social media benefited you? Do you use it, and if so how often? What do you like about social media in terms of being an author?