STEPPING STONES IS HERE!

Stepping Stones - FinalIt’s finally release day for Stepping Stones. If you’ve been following along you know how excited I am to share this book. It’s my baby…I absolutely love this story, especially how it’s progressed over the years and grown into something I’m so proud of. This is only the beginning of Everett and Onna’s story, they still have a long way to go.

So, what are you waiting for? Go grab your copy and please, please, PLEASE leave a review when you finish. (And remember to share it with your friends!)

Amazon Paperback * Kindle * Nook – Coming soon * Goodreads

Stepping Stones by Kacey Vanderkarr

YA Contemporary Fantasy

Onnaleigh Moore is part of a plan—and it isn’t hers. When her brother dies in a car accident, Onna is desperate to preserve the tatters of her family. Any hope of finding normalcy vanishes when her mother runs off and her dad turns to booze to numb his pain. Onna’s grief is crippling, but the boy who showed up just when she needed him is helping her cope.

Everett’s presence is comforting, though he knows things—Onna’s name just before they met, where she lives, and sometimes he comments on thoughts she doesn’t say aloud. She pegs him for a stalker, or maybe psychic, but the truth is deadlier than she imagines. As their feelings for one another deepen, Everett confesses a horrifying secret: Onna’s brother is only the beginning of the plan, and some fates are worse than death.

Follow along next week when Stepping Stones goes on tour with YA Bound Book Tours.

August 31st

Adventures in Bookland http://adventuresinbooklandblog.wordpress.com  Review

Reader Girls   http://www.readergirlsblog.com   Review

Desert Rose Reviews   http://desertrosereviews.blogspot.com     Promo Post

Kats Reading Corner    www.katsreadingcorner.blogspot.com   Promo Post

Writing Pearls   http://www.writingpearls.com   Review

Geeky Chiquitas   http://geekychiquitas.blogspot.com    Review

Rambling Reads   http://rambling-reads.blogspot.ie/    Promo Post

Princessica of Books  http://princessicaofbooks.wordpress.com   Promo Post

September 1st

Behind Closed Covers   http://behindclosedcovers.blogspot.com   Review

Mythical Books   http://www.mythicalbooks.blogspot.ro/    Promo Post

Mom With A Kindle    http://momwithakindle.blogspot.com   Promo Post

Booky Thoughts and Me   http://www.bookythoughtsandme.com   Review

Part Time Book Nerd   www.parttimebooknerd.wordpress.com   Review

Here’s to Happy Endings   http://www.herestohappyendings.com   Review

Andrea Buginsky, Author   http://andreabuginskyauthor.blogspot.com/    Promo Post

Bibliobibuli YA    http://bibliobibuliya.com/   Promo Post

undercover book reviews – http://undercoverbookreviews.blogspot.com/ – Promo Post

3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too! – http://3partnersinshopping.blogspot.com – Promo Post

Archaeolibrarian – I Dig Good Books – http://archaeolibrarianologist.blogspot.de/ – Promo Post

September 2nd

Reading, Writing, and What Not   http://pixiescanread.blogspot.com/    Review

I’m Lost in Books  http://imlostinbooks.blogspot.com   Promo Post

The Moral Of Our Stories   www.themoralofourstories.com   Promo Post

Star-Crossed Book Blog    http://starcrossedbookblog.com/    Review

Literary Musings    http://literarymusing.weebly.com/  Promo Post

A Crave For Books    http://acraveforbooks.blogspot.co.uk/   Review

The Moral Of Our Stories   www.themoralofourstories.com    Review

maliha reads   http://malihareads.wordpress.com   Review

September 3rd

Donnie Darko Girl   http://donniedarkogirl.blogspot.com   Review

Crystal’s Chaotic Confessions    https://crystalschaoticconfessions.wordpress.com/     Promo Post

Around the World in Books    http://www.aroundtheworldinbooks.ca/    Promo Post

The SMART Book Club   http://thesmartbookclub.blogspot.com/   Review

My Random Book Thoughts   http://myrandombookthoughts.blogspot.com/ Review

Readiculously Peachy http://readiculously-peachy.blogspot.com    Review

A girl and her books   Www.southernbooknerd.blogspot.com   Review

Flirting with Fiction http://flirtyfiction.net   Review

Reading Addict – http://readingadd.blogspot.ro/  Review

comfort Books   http://paigebradish1996.blogspot.com/  Promo Post

September 4th

Reading, Writing, and What Not  http://pixiescanread.blogspot.com/   Review

Feed Your Fiction Addiction http://feedyourfictionaddiction.com    Review

The Book Lovers’ Lounge    http://thebookloverslounge.com  Review

books are love   http://hello-booklover.tumblr.com Review

In Wonderland   http://www.stephwonderland.blogspot.com Review

Just Us Book Blog  http://justusbookblog.blogspot.com/   Promo Post

The Phantom Paragrapher   www.thephantomparagrapher.blogspot.com   Review

The Page Unbound    http://thepageunbound.com   Review

Desert Rose Reviews  http://desertrosereviews.blogspot.com  Promo Post

Mythical Books  http://www.mythicalbooks.blogspot.ro/  Promo Post

Stephanie Keyes, Author Www.atephaniekeyes.com/the-blog Promo Post

All the best,

Kacey

STEPPING STONES – A LOOK BACK (PART 3/3)

Stepping Stones - FinalIn anticipation of Stepping Stones’ release on August 25th, I’ve dug out my old manuscripts and compared them, one by one. It hasn’t been pretty, but it has been fun! I’ve had help from my trusty sidekicks, Stephanie Keyes (of The Star Child fame) and Hannah R. Goodman (Founder and Editor of Sucker Literary and All the Way YA). These ladies have read over my early drafts and marked then up with red pen. (Side note: Print out your manuscripts and use red pen. It’s SO satisfying!)

If you’re late to the party, you can catch up by checking out Version One HERE and Version Two HERE.

Now we’ve reached the moment you’ve been waiting for: THE FINAL FIRST SCENE REVEAL (with a few comments thrown in). I know I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it (at least!) a million more times, but I love this book. I’m so excited to share Onna and Everett’s story with you. You can preorder the digital version of Stepping Stones from Amazon, or add it on Goodreads.

Version Four – 2014

KACEY: I wrote SEVEN OTHER novels from Version One until Version Four. (There is an incomplete Version Three somewhere on my hard drive…I’ll post it if I can locate it.) That number is an estimate because my memory is hazy. I joined the Flint Area Writers. I branched out into short fiction. I read A LOT.

Things I learned between then and now:

*Writing is HARD. Writing WELL is harder.

*There are some words you shouldn’t use. A shortlist:

  1. Seems, in any form.
  2. Wonder, as in she wonders if…
  3. Was, Is, Had, Has, etc.

*A successful novel takes multiple drafts. Hours, days, week, months, years (EVEN DECADES) of struggling.

*You’re still a writer even if you suck. (HANNAH: YES! Because being a writer is not something one can judge without being prejudice. Meaning, being a writer is like having blue eyes…you are born this way.)

*You really should listen to those who are older/wiser/more experienced than you. They’re not critiquing you to be rude (usually), they’re critiquing you so you can learn and grow and become a better writer.

*If writing is something you’re passionate about, don’t give up. It’s always worth it in the long run if it makes you happy.

**In this version, Onna’s brother’s name is now Caleb. Name changes are often part of reaching a final draft.

**The point of view has changed from first person to third person.

This is the first scene of Stepping Stones, which will publish on August 25th. This book is my baby, my rambunctious problem child. I’m SO PROUD of how far it’s come (and how far I’ve come as a writer!). I took this excerpt straight from the digital version of the document, which is ready for publication. See? Just for sticking with me, you get a sneak peek!

Divorce. The word BURROWED deep in Onna’s chest, BARBED like the sharp quills of a porcupine. The sting RADIATED from her heart into her lungs, her head, her hands. She knew she should stick around and listen to her parents’ STUMBLING apologies and paper-thin explanations, but she couldn’t.

She BURST through the front door into DAZZLING sunshine. The sky hung endless above her from horizon to horizon—perfect, crisp blue. She glanced back at the windows, rooms hidden by curtains and blinds. Houses were facades, masks to cover pain and heartbreak. She could stare at the glass all day, where cheery vines and flowers SPILLED from window boxes, and never see past the guise. Even now, her parents were probably sitting in cruel silence, debating how to avoid each other until one of them moved out.

HANNAH: I could go on but I will stop and focus on this section to highlight that this is what makes writing have a sense of movement, a sense that SOMETHING IS HAPPENING even if it really isn’t. The language here allows us to get back story in a way that feels like we are moving through the events of the plot. Amen. (The words Hannah is referring to are BOLDED.)

 It made her sick.

Sliding into the driver seat of her Grand Am felt like stepping into a sauna. End-of-summer heat collected in the car and made the interior stifling. Onna CRANKS the windows and cursed her parents for not buying her a car with automatic anything, and the air conditioner was broken. Her dad promised to fix it four months ago. Guess he was too busy planning the divorce to get around to it.

Onna PRESSED her phone to her ear before she backed out of the driveway. Caleb answered on the first ring.

“Baby sister,” he said, a smile in his voice. The knot around Onna’s heart EASED. “What’s shakin’?”

She pictured him on the balcony of his apartment in Traverse City, feet propped on the banister, staring out over Lake Michigan. She stayed with him for two weeks in July, spending her days sprawled on the beach with a book in her hands while Caleb studied for medical boards. At night, they PROWLED the town and sampled swanky restaurants, and Cora, Caleb’s girlfriend, took Onna dancing at a beachside club.

“Caleb—” Onna said, wondering how to break the news.

“They finally told you.”

Onna nearly dropped the phone. An angry honk sounded from behind her, and she realized she’d stopped at a green light. Muttering, she passed through the intersection and pulled into a parking lot. The convenience store was dead, the lot deserted. The relentless heat drove everyone indoors where there was air conditioning and iced-tea and Saturday afternoon movie marathons. Neon signs advertising beer and cigarettes flickered in the window. The attendant inside LEANED over the counter, watching her.

Returning to her conversation with Caleb, she hissed, “You knew?” The pause was long enough to serve as Caleb’s confession.

“Don’t be upset, Leelee.” He fell back on her childhood nickname, even though she’d asked him to stop. Onnie, Leelee, Leigha—her name, Onnaleigh Evelyn Moore, was too easily shortened. “They fell out of love,” Caleb continued. “We can’t expect them to stay together if they’re unhappy.”

“Easy for you to say, you don’t live with them. You didn’t see how Dad looked at Mom. You didn’t see him cry.” Onna closed her eyes. Tears burned behind her lids. She wished she were with Caleb now. He’d tell her a dirty joke or let her drink half his six-pack. He’d make it bearable.

Her parents always laughed about Onna’s devotion to her older brother. Whenever she hurt herself as a child, she ran to Caleb. From the time she could walk, Caleb was the one who kissed her scrapes and chased the boogeyman from beneath her bed. Even now, she called him with breakups and bad grades and for advice about everything. He was the only twenty-five-year-old male Onna knew who would listen to her ramble about boys, makeup, and what color dress she wanted for prom.

During Caleb’s drawn out silence, a vintage, kelly green Mustang pulled into the convenience store lot, all sleek lines and muscle. Onna GROANED as the driver, instead of choosing a space near the entrance, pulled in next to her at the far corner. She wiped her eyes and debated rolling up the windows. There was nothing worse than crying in public, except having a witness. In the end, she settled for glowering at the driver as he emerged.

Much like his car, which was a sex-machine with four wheels, the guy was hard lines and hotness. He wore board shorts and a blue t-shirt over dark, olive skin. A longish crop of unruly brown hair hung to his eyebrows. Black aviators perched on a straight nose.

HANNAH: Enter the Hot Dude. What an entrance. It is short and teasing, just how it should be. I particularly love hard lines and hotness, as it evokes voice. I like the varied sentence structure of the three lines after it. This is sophisticated writing. This is good.

Onna swore she felt his gaze on her face. She sank lower into the seat and her cheeks heated. The guy nodded in her direction before crossing the lot and disappearing into the store. The doorbell’s jangle reached her ears, followed by Caleb’s worried voice.

“Onna? Hello?”

She swallowed, heart thudding against her ribs in a frantic dash to be free. The Grand Am’s vents blew hot against damp cheeks. She propped her door open and gulped fresh air. Who is that guy?

“I’m here,” she said, peeking over the seat back. She lost sight of the guy between the shelves.

“Cora and I are coming home next weekend. Can you survive until then? I have some time off saved for a special occasion, but I wouldn’t mind spending it on you.” In the background, the excited tone of Cora’s voice rose, and Caleb mumbled, “It’s Onna.”

There was a moment of deafening static, and then Cora was on the line. “We’re engaged!” she yelled.

Onna squealed. “You’vegottabekiddingme!”

“Not kidding. He got me a rock. I can hardly hold my hand up.”

“Lies,” Caleb said, voice far away. Another rumble of static and Caleb spoke again. “She was supposed to wait until next weekend.” His voice distorted as if he covered the mouthpiece with his palm. “You were supposed to wait… You know, wait. Should I spell it for you?”

Cora giggled and Caleb’s voice lifted to full strength. “Keep it to yourself. With everything going on…” he trailed off and suddenly Onna was back in the living room, seeing her mom glare at her dad while tension churned around them.

“Right,” she said, forcing brightness into her words. “Congratulations, Caleb.”

“Thanks. Hang in there. At least school starts soon. Senior year.” He faked a sob. “My baby sister’s growing up. Anyways, call me if you want to talk. Cora and I are headed out to tell her parents. She thinks her dad will chase me with a shovel.”

Onna was horrified. “He wouldn’t.”

“That’s what I said,” Caleb agreed, laughing.

“He’s got a shotgun,” Cora yelled.

She’d just hung up when the guy came out of the store carrying two jumbo blue slushes. Prickles crawled up Onna’s neck. She tossed her phone onto the passenger seat and closed her driver door. When she looked up, he was outside her window, dripping plastic cup held through the opening. A red swirly straw sat atop the melting blue drink.

“You looked like you could use this,” he said, leaning down so his face filled her open window. His mouth curled in a sexy smile that made Onna lose conscious thought. She wished she could see his eyes, but the lenses of his glasses were so opaque she couldn’t guess the color behind them.

“Uh—thanks?” she said, hoping he’d go away.

He pushed the drink closer. The sharp sting of cold condensation falling onto her bare legs jolted her from the stupor. She took the slippery cup, burning fingers brushing his freezing ones. Her stomach tickled.

“See you around, Onna,” he said, standing.

She watched him climb into his car. He rolled down the windows—also manual—giving her a view of an all leather interior and shiny four-speed shifter on the floor. The guy put the straw of his slush—also red swirly—to his lips and drank deeply. Onna thought she would die before that sip ended. Then he smiled, backed neatly around her car, and tore out of the parking lot.

HANNAH: Steamy awesomeness. What’s awesome is that this is actually a sex scene and yet, no sex has been had.

STEPH: LOVE, LOVE! So much stronger than the earlier version. You know the expression. There are no good writers, only good re-writers. The only thing I’d like to see is more of a transition in the first paragraph when she runs out. A glimpse of what her parents look like. A line from them and then, boom, she runs.

HANNAH: A huge improvement that really showcases your skills and hard work. I love that now I know how you grew as a writer. Bravo! (KACEY: I just love her…)

KACEY: You can see how the scene progressed from version to version. A lot of the same things still happen, we learn about the divorce, Onna’s devotion to her brother, and we get to meet (YAY!) the male main character and introduce his mystery to the story. The backstory remains, but it’s woven in between action scenes that move the story along. Onna doesn’t spend much time sitting around thinking. Information is learned from her dialogue with Caleb and Cora, along with a glimpse into her personality and values.

Now, I’ll never say that a draft is perfect. Perfection is IMPOSSIBLE to achieve, but feeling satisfied over a journey is allowed. I hope you’re intrigued enough to pick up a copy of Stepping Stones when it releases August 25th, especially now that you’ve seen the process it underwent from inception to final draft.

I’d love to hear your thoughts or horror stories over your first drafts. Comment below!

 

STEPPING STONES – A LOOK BACK (PART 2/3)

Stepping Stones - FinalIn anticipation of Stepping Stones’ release on August 25th, I’ve dug out my old manuscripts and, along with some amazing friends, torn them to shreds. I’ve been writing consistently for 6 or 7 years now, and I’ve come a long way. What you see below is progress. Sometimes (READ: ALWAYS) you don’t get it right on the first try. It takes multiple drafts, a lot of heartache, and tons of hair pulling to finish a manuscript. It’s worth it. Learning to write in a way that affects people has no comparison.  I’ll never forget when I read at Flint Area Writers and one of the other authors (who I respect immensely!) turned to me and said, “I hate you.” You can read the piece she loved. It’s in the inaugural issue of Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things. The point is, it took me YEARS to reach that point. And it made all the work worth it. (Getting published certainly helped, too.)

Joining me today are my partners in crime, Stephanie Keyes (of The Star Child fame) and Hannah R. Goodman (Founder and Editor of Sucker Literary and All the Way YA). These ladies have taken off their gloves and given me their honest opinions and suggestions. When you’re a new writer, you NEED people like this. Grow some thick skin and let’s get down to it.

STEPPING STONES VERSION TWO – 2010 (CATCH UP Read Version One HERE.)

KACEY: I will prequel Version Two by saying that I shared Version One with a few close friends who I love dearly. They, bless them, LOVED it! This bolstered my courage. “I am a writer,” I shouted. “Hear me roar!” Which essentially means I sought out some writers online. Writing groups. Writing websites. Things about *gasp* publishing.

Here’s what I learned between Version One and Version Two:

*Agents won’t look at a YA manuscript that has 125,000 words.

*As a writer, you can’t just ramble on and on for no reason.

*Self-editing sucks, and it’s not something you learn how to do overnight. (HANNAH: Toughest rookie lessons to learn but once you let go of taking anything personally, this is a game changer in a manuscript.)

The first bell rang forcing me into my final year of high school. The last two weeks of summer had passed quickly. My mother moved out and away without a backward glance. My dad and I still reeled from the shock of it. Even though she’d served the divorce papers I’d never really believed she would go through with it. She wasn’t my mother anymore—her entire personality had changed.

HANNAH: Aha! Yes! We are in the moment! Things are HAPPENING! And backstory is given with succinct, action-oriented language. “Moved out” and “still reeled” although simple, get the idea across with a feeling of movement in the wording. Much better!

I should’ve been excited to start the final year. I’d looked forward to it since fifth grade when I realized that school ended eventually. But instead, I thought about my mom and worried about my dad.

KACEY: BEHOLD! The condensed version of the INFO DUMP. At least it’s condensed, but it still doesn’t belong here. Slightly fewer HADS, still FAR TOO MANY.

STEPH: I like this better, but there’s still no emotion in this. Also, it needs to be more active for an opening paragraph. Everything’s still happening to her. Her mom ditched her entire family. How does she feel on the first day of school with that news weighing her down? That’s a big deal. We should feel the weight bearing down on her shoulders from this.

I slammed my locker door and wound my way through the familiar hallway flanked by red lockers. Halfway down the hall Hunter joined me, already talking a mile a minute about the new guy. I’d heard snippets from other students in the halls.

KACEY: Hot guy? What is this? Better yet, WHO is this? That’s right. I discovered that it’s important to introduce BOTH main characters in the first scene. This is a CATALYST. Something needs to happen to the character that gets her story going.

And let me warn you about all the adverbs coming. ADVERBS are like dialogue tags. They should occur rarely, if ever, and only if they’re super special. I have a friend who uses prettily to describe sighs and I’m down with it. I’m sure there are a few in my final version. But adverbs are not our friends. They’re distant relatives that you visited once when you were a kid but can’t really remember.

HANNAH: I will point out the words that improve this…slammed, flanked. Strong verbs that evoke immediate feelings and images. Cliché alert! “Mile a minute”.

STEPH: So what feels familiar about this hallway? How does she feel seeing it and knowing her mother isn’t around? That the last time she was there they were a family? Describe it more fully. What else is there besides red lockers. Are they freshly-painted, chipped, older than God? We need to see this. Also, what does Hunter look like? Can we have dialogue with Hunter talking about the new guy? Describing him?

“And, oh my gosh, Onna!! I cannot believe how hot he is.” She sighed longingly, “If only I wasn’t still with Brody. I would be all over that.” She pulled a tube of watermelon lip gloss from her newly acquired Coach purse and applied it liberally, smacking her lips. “I mean, I love Brody…” She smiled, “Of course I do.”

“Who are you trying to convince?” I asked. Hunter rolled her eyes.

I couldn’t comment on the supposed hot new guy. I hadn’t met him yet, but news traveled fast at Swartz Creek High School. I wondered how long it would take for everyone to know the details of my parents separation.

KACEY: INFO DUMP

STEPH: Most people don’t use one another’s names in casual conversation that often. Hunter is a girl? I missed this! It could just be me, but let’s be clear on Hunter’s gender. A good description of her above would help.

We passed the library. It was empty except for the frumpy librarian who was steadily stamping newly donated books, looking as menial as her job.

I was distracted, thinking about my mom again. She was going to miss my senior year, my senior prom, graduation, all of it. I hadn’t heard from her since the day she left nearly two weeks ago. I was beginning to think that she didn’t even care. The morning she left, I’d woken to pancakes. It was almost a normal day; her heading off to work at the salon, my dad was already gone for the day. We ate breakfast in oppressive silence—not that I’d worried about it. I went school shopping for a few hours and when I returned all of her stuff was gone. I hadn’t seen her pack. She left her wedding ring on the kitchen counter where Dad was sure to see it.

KACEY: So I moved on from HAD and developed a love for WAS. WAS is HAD’s illegitimate brother that always gets drunk at weddings and embarrasses the family. Almost always, WAS sits in front of what could be an awesome VERB. She was going to miss my senior year, my senior prom, graduation, all of it. WAS GOING…so ugly. Simple fix? Mom would miss my senior year… Better fix? Mom abandoned me. ABANDONED. Hits you right in the feels! Also, Onna’s inner monologue makes her sound super selfish, which she isn’t, I promise.

HANNAH: I just wonder if we could skip all the narrative and get to the immediate, present day action.

STEPH: So explain a little more clearly that they are still walking. Where are they going? What’s her goal. YES! I want these thoughts about her mom. I want them sooner. Again, we’re slipping into backstory here. Show this all to me as it’s happening. I’m getting everything after the fact.

“Um, hello. Are you in there?” I forced myself to meet Hunter’s insistent stare, her watermelon lip gloss shimmered on her pursed lips. Her summer blonde hair flounced around her shoulders as she nodded towards the door. “Are you going to go in, or are you just going to stand here looking dazed?”

KACEY: Oh gosh. That description of Hunter’s lip gloss and hair. Less is more, people. Less is more.

STEPH: If you spend that much time on the lip gloss, we’re gonna think it has magical properties. : ) Also, I’m not sure who’s speaking here. Just be clear.

Inside, I could see students milling about, chatting with friends and already looking bored at the prospect of a new school year. I could relate.

The sociology classroom was unusually full, which forced Hunter and I to sit on opposite ends of the room. She blew me a kiss and headed to an empty seat in the back. I had to take the last seat in the front of the room, directly facing the teacher’s desk. I wasn’t a bookworm, but sitting in front of the class wasn’t unusual for me. My grades were important because I wanted to go away to college—not just any college, either. Only a big university would do. But it was all just dreams, even though it was my senior year.

The second bell rang and the teacher bustled into the room. She was intimidating at six foot two. She had a short, no nonsense haircut that left brown strands fringing her face.

“Full house,” she joked, her voice sugary, more fitting to a preteen girl than a forty something woman. “Okay, this is Sociology 304, if this isn’t your class, get out your schedule and we’ll help you find it.” She smiled as five students, including the boy seated beside me, stood up, looking slightly embarrassed. I assumed they were freshman, as lost as an Alzheimer’s patient at Detroit Metro Airport.

KACEY: This is a lot of description for the teacher. She’s not even important to the story. Save your words for people and things that matter. Also, what’s happened so far in this scene? A whole lot of nothing. It’s Onna’s first day of school. There’s a new hot guy. This is normal, boring, everyday stuff. The reader is bored. I’m bored. Somebody please throw this manuscript in the trash.

Just kidding…

Kind of.

HANNAH: I hate to say this, but I agree. I keep waiting for the “something-big-to-happen” and I’m waiting too long as a reader.

STEPH: Inside what? I need more transition so I know their walking to Onna’s first class. Did they have their schedules before they came to school? Wouldn’t they swap schedules? Alzheimer’s patient at Detroit Metro Airport.—love this image.

As she assisted them in finding their respective classrooms, I stared blankly at the wall. I wondered what Mom was doing, and if she was happy. Should I pop in for a visit at the salon she worked at?

I thought better of it. If she wanted to see me, she would come home, or call, even.

Dad was taking it hard. He still went to work, but I’d noticed the dark circles forming under his eyes. When he came home he no longer wanted to watch television or play pool like we used to. He just went into his office and shut the door. We didn’t eat dinner together anymore either.

Though I was capable of taking care of myself, I worried about him. I’d cooked dinner since my mom left; though it used to be something my dad enjoyed doing. Now he wasn’t interested in anything. His portion of the food usually went uneaten, even if I wrapped it up and left it in the fridge. I was at a loss; I didn’t know how to make it easier for him. I cleaned the house, I did his laundry, but he wasn’t seeing anything anymore. He just went through the motions of living, but didn’t feel any of it, like a zombie or a robot.

I could only imagine what he was feeling because he refused to talk about it. He’d slammed his office door in my face one too many times, and I’d lost the will to pursue it. I wanted my dad to be happy, but I didn’t think he was ready to deal with his grief yet.

I didn’t know if I was ready to deal with his grief yet, let alone my own.

The teacher handed out papers about the course and the required project, and I forced myself to take notes. I refused to let my grades slip. I wanted to apply to Yale, and it was a stretch if I didn’t have perfect grades. So I settled into the mundane task of recording every word she said.

KACEY: We spend SO MUCH TIME in Onna’s yet when we’re not yet invested in her story. She thinking about her life, which is code for INFO DUMP. Are you sick of me saying that word? Because I am! There’s hardly any dialogue, nothing to move the scene along. Nothing happens! This makes the opening COMPETELY USELESS. Nobody cares about Onna. Nobody cares that her parents are getting divorced or that she wants to go to Yale. Nobody likes her best friend. INFO DUMPS don’t make friends.  

Moral of the story? ACTION! DIALOGUE! PLEASE GOD LET SOMETHING HAPPEN.

HANNAH: You said it all perfectly for me : )

STEPH: While this is interesting, it’s all told. We aren’t seeing any of this happen. If this is all important enough to mention then the book should start with the scene between Mom and Dad. If it’s so pivotal then show it to us, don’t cheat us. Inquiring minds want to know!

Version Two is in the books…well, sort of. What do you think? Is it better? Did I learn a thing or two those first couple years? Writing is a JOURNEY. It’s a lifelong learning experience. I get better at it every day.

Hang around. The final version is coming!

All the best,

Kacey

STEPPING STONES – A LOOK BACK (PART 1/3)

Stepping Stones - FinalIn anticipation of Stepping Stones’ release this month, I dug into my archives and found the original manuscript that started it all. I’ll admit it: It’s terrible. I should be embarrassed to show you this, but in hindsight, it’s incredible to see how far I’ve come as a writer and what I’ve learned along the way. And because my opinion isn’t enough, I convinced the wonderful Stephanie Keyes (of The Star Child fame) and Hannah R. Goodman (Founder and Editor of Sucker Literary and All the Way YA) to give their opinions. What follows is a pretty accurate depiction of what it’s like to be a new writer, and some perfect examples of What. Not. To. Do.

There will be three versions of Stepping Stones, the one below, a rewrite, and then the final version that’ll publish later this month. (In reality, there are several more versions than this. For the sake of time, we’re only looking at three.) Just for sticking around and enduring, you’ll be rewarded with a sneak peek at the first scene of the book.

It’s my hope that showing Stepping Stones in various states of—how do I put it gently? Hot mess? Deconstruction? Editing?—will help other writers realize that we’ve all been there and sometimes it takes a village to make a manuscript what it should be. Feel free to chime in below and leave some comments or horror stories.

STEPPING STONES VERSION ONE – 2009

I had known this day would come, but I had tried to repress it. I had heard the hushed arguing, noticed my mother spending more and more time ‘at work’. I didn’t know if that was just an excuse, or if it was true, but at this point, it didn’t matter anymore. My bedroom was the only place that didn’t feel claustrophobic. The rest of the house seemed to have thick walls that pushed the agony back on you, so I spent a lot of time in my room.

Between my mom’s angry looks shot at my dad and his blatant refusal to acknowledge the situation, I was going crazy. I couldn’t figure out where it had all gone wrong, but my mom was very, very unhappy, and my dad, well he was just faking ambivalence.

KACEY: Wow. I don’t even know where to start with this opening. First of all, the HADS! Jeesh. So many of them. Cut as many HADS as you can. It’s a useless, clunky word that automatically makes your writing passive. Take the first sentence: I had known this day would come, but I had tried to repress it. Though I tried to repress it, I knew this day would come. <This is more immediate and eliminates all those ugly HADS.  

This is a terrible place to start a novel. There isn’t any action, it’s just a character sitting in her room whining about how terrible her life is. We don’t care about her at this point, so we don’t want to listen to her whine. We want to see something HAPPEN!

Onna’s narrative sounds likes a poorly done voiceover at the opening of a movie where they need to catch the viewer up quick.

HANNAH: My first thought is, where and when are we in time and space? I want to see stuff, hear stuff, and smell stuff and you already nailed the “HADS” piece : ) Also, are we in the claustrophobic-feeling room? What color are the walls? Are there windows? If so, are they tiny, crank-out ones? Setting details seem necessary, not too many, coupled with some action, even if it is small.  And…what is the situation? Not that you have to front load the opening, but maybe some kind of concrete object or gesture from a character to indicate the nature of the situation. Show the parents, maybe? Maybe she sees them, in the kitchen, through the crack of the door of her bedroom. Sitting across from one another at the kitchen table…her mom glaring and her dad staring at his drained glass of beer…the possibilities are endless : )

STEPH: Too many hads! It’s also completely told. Why not open with an exchange in the parents in real-time so we’re not experiencing things in backstory. What I would like to see is more description. Here are a few examples: Why doesn’t her bedroom feel claustrophobic? What’s different about it? So her parents are experiencing issues—how does this make her feel? I want more detail around the “crazy” feeling. What does that look like to the reader? Get me inside of her head.

My parents had sat me down and had the official talk, my father had cried, but my mother had been stone-faced, as though unaffected by the impending divorce. I wished that they would have just skipped it. Maybe they could have waited another year, for when I was away at college and oblivious to their inner marital turmoil. I knew that thinking that made me selfish because they were so unhappy. But how long had they been holding out, trying to stay together for me? If I was even a factor in their decisions.

KACEY: A better option for the argument instead of telling the reader it happened, would be for us to see it happening right now, which is “showing the reader” not “telling the reader.” Plus, making it happen RIGHT NOW would get rid of HADS. I hate HADS.

HANNAH: ALL tell and NO show. Should we see the talk? Should this be in “real time”? Or do we save this for another, separate scene? “Have been” and shortly after “would have just” are indications that the writer is struggling with whether or not this should be a moment in the present, actually happening, or if should be background information that trickles out later in this opening scene. 

STEPH: Show me this discussion happening. When something is portrayed in backstory, we lose the pace. I’d like to see the argument taking place, experience her feelings about it. Is she relieved? How about embarrassed that they may have tried to stay together for her? Fear for what her life will become? She’s too detached.

My only plans for the day were to sunbathe by the community pool and maybe read a good book, but now I wasn’t sure if I was up for any of it. I was instead lying across my bed, cell phone in hand wondering who I could call to make me feel better. Maybe someone to just distract me. There was a guy that I had been seeing on and off for the summer, but lately he had been blowing me off for his friends all the time. Not that I was really into him anyways. He had more brawn than brains, but could always scrounge up a good party to go to. I could call Hunter, my best friend, but it was Tuesday and she usually spent half the day at the gym, toning her already perfect body. Yuck…not my idea of fun.

KACEY: Now she’s telling us her plans, which are pretty dull. We don’t know anything about her so we don’t care either. She just talks and talks and talks and nobody is listening. Allow me to introduce you to the INFO DUMP. I’m telling you a lot about Onna’s history. Her parents, her best friend, her boyfriends. TELLING being the operative word here. Basically, an INFO DUMP is when the author drops a whole lot of boring info on the reader. A better way is to sneak in the back story when it feels natural, and usually in the middle of ACTION. We LOVE ACTION! Plus, we’re inside her head a little too much, so she sounds melodramatic, and since we don’t know or care about her, this will make the reader dislike her.

HANNAH: Tacking on to your comments, I would take this and revise it so that it has more punch and so that it also SHOWS the character’s personality and hints at her conflict. “Sprawled across my bed, I scrolled through my list of contacts, searching for the perfect person to make me feel better.”

STEPH: So I just missed something. She’s having the talk and now she’s at the pool, or talking about her plans as though none of the above happened. There’s a lot of passive voice going on. I’d like to see this eliminated so we have a more active paragraph. Also, does this information push the story forward? This seems like an info dump so we can meet her best friend.

 After the family HEART TO HEART, my Mom had STORMED OFF to ‘work’ and my Dad had locked himself in his office, his usual hiding place where he goes to brood and ignore the rest of us. It’s not like divorce was uncommon where I lived. I knew plenty of people whose parents were divorced. Some who acted perfectly normal and others who were questionable.

HANNAH: It’s not like divorce was uncommon where I lived. For some reason, this sounds like something a writer or author would have in a book from the 70s or 80s. I think it’s the phrasing of it, implying that divorce was actually an alien concept . Also, since you pretty much deconstruct this so nicely below and I agree with your comments, I will point out some of the wording that could be stronger and more unique or even deleted. These (BOLDED) are phrases that are clichés or have cliché overtones.

Would they want me to choose who to live with? I couldn’t even if they wanted me to. Maybe I could choose neither. I sighed, and looked at the still blank screen of my cell phone.

I gave up on calling a friend and instead decided to call Ethan, my older brother. He was nine years older than me, and somehow managed to escape before ALL THE CRAZINESS started around our house. I wished I could have been so lucky, but I was born late, and unexpectedly. He answered on the third ring sounding out of breath and in a hurry.

“Hey, Ethan, it’s me,” I said, happy that he answered but worried that I caught him at a BAD TIME.

KACEY: FINALLY! Our heroine is doing something. Even if it’s just calling her brother. Let’s examine the last sentence. “Hey, Ethan, it’s me,” I said, happy that he answered but worried that I caught him at a bad time. This is a clunky, useless sentence. She already commented on him being out of breath, so a simple “Hey Ethan, bad time?” could’ve saved the reader (and writer!) all those words. Dialogue is an excellent way to move the story along and convey emotion in a relatable way.

 STEPH: So her mother is really that cold that she goes to work after having this conversation? What a bitch! So what is Onna’s reaction to this? Is she so used to this is doesn’t even sting? How could it not? Also, why didn’t she ask these questions in the actual conversation? At this point I’m viewing the heroine as a whiner. Is that your intention?

“Onna!” He exclaimed. No matter when I called him, he always seemed happy to hear from me. I don’t know how I got so lucky to have a great older brother, but I was sure I didn’t deserve him. “What’s up kid?” I cringed. I hated when he called me kid, which he did, at every available opportunity.

“I got the talk today,” I told him, no explanation necessary, we talked frequently enough that he knew the SITUATION. Ethan was the one who talked me through most of my SITUATIONS, and sometimes I felt like he was more a best friend and confidant to me than anyone else, even Hunter.

HANNAH: Repeating words…and also a word used prior that is a little vague and not SHOW enough.

“Ouch, are you doing okay?”

“Yeah,” I shrugged, “I knew it was coming. Mom looked bored the whole time, but Dad was upset.” I had known, but it still hurt to think that two people who had pledged their love couldn’t hold up the bargain.

“Oh…well that’s Judith and Kurt for you,” He never called my parents Mom and Dad anymore, “Do you want me to come down later? We could go out to dinner or something,” he offered, willing to put off any of his plans for me, as usual. He didn’t even sound put out by it.

KACEY: ARG! Dialogue tags. Let me list all the awful ones in this section. He exclaimed. I told him. Oh? Only two really awful ones. Dialogue tags should be invisible to the reader. It’s true. They’re only necessary to root the reader in the story. If you have any sort of action going on around them that tells us which character is speaking, they are absolutely unnecessary. When and IF you need a tag, a simple he said or she said gets the job done. SAID is your friend. ASKED can be your friend, but only on Sundays. You can use other tags, such as he offered, or he promised, but SPARINGLY. The best option is to avoid the tags altogether, if possible.

HANNAH: I feel like this conversation is restating what we already know.

STEPH: Ethan isn’t going to greet her by her full first name unless he’s substantially older—maybe in his eighties. It’s going to be something like “Hey” or “What’s up, On.” Something fresher. Ethan’s reaction is pretty blasé for a brother. Wouldn’t he ask how she is? Or make an assumption about how she might be feeling if they know each other so well? Also, why wasn’t he a part of the conversation? Wouldn’t he have reached out to her? Maybe even known this was going to happen and been proactive? Also, some of the phrasing is a little old for high school. They might say “pissed off about it” instead of “put out by it.”

“Nah,” I said, though secretly wishing I was needy enough to say yes. “I can handle it. Just wanted to talk, you know?” I fingered the purple flowers on my bed spread. “So what are you up to today?” I heard him hesitate, so something was going on.

KACEY: She HEARD him hesitate. Why can’t he just hesitate? Filtering it through the main character makes this passive. A better way would be to stay Ethan hesitated. Bam. Short and sweet and gives the reader space to wonder WHY Ethan is hesitating.

STEPH: Hearing him hesitate is a point of view break. This needs to be shown. Example: He sucked in a breath and silence took over. Why is he hesitating? Also, how does she know something was going on? Is the pausing an indicator with him? Can she just read him so well that it’s obvious? We need to know.

“I’m meeting Cora later, we’re having lunch at my place,” his voice was higher than normal, excited. “I bought the ring last week. I even talked to her Dad, Onna.” He laughed a little, “I’m going to ask her today.”

I shrieked. “Oh my gosh, Ethan! I can’t believe it!”

He chuckled. “Yeah, finally.” He had been dating Cora for five years. They had met during his third year in college and had been inseparable since. Recently she had started bugging him about moving in together, but he had held her off because of his other plans, asking her to marry him, of course. I couldn’t believe he was holding out on me.

KACEY: The last paragraph is an example of how to sneak in backstory. Ethan announces he’s getting married, Onna reacts, and then gives the reader a little look into their history. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than the doozy of an INFO DUMP at the beginning.

STEPH: So what is higher than normal? Does he have a bass voice maybe a higher pitched tenor? Does his voice crack when he talks? Let us know how he sounds. Would he really propose to his girlfriend on the same day his parents announced their divorce? Not only is that cold, but it’s kind of a bad omen, isn’t it? Wouldn’t he be skeptical about marriage? If he isn’t, then why not?

I felt a little guilty that he was willing to put off Cora and his proposal to come take care of me, but that was Ethan. I was so excited for him; he truly deserved to be happy. “Do Mom and Dad know?” Right now, I wasn’t sure if a marriage proposal would bode well with them, even if Ethan and Cora were so right for each other.

KACEY: Ouch. It was hard for me to read that. So much telling, hardly any action. Many, MANY writer no-nos.

STEPH: Why should she feel guilty? He should be there. He’s her older brother. This is a big deal. Although you’re trying to paint him as caring, he’s coming off as a little selfish here. Also, this is really bad timing.

So there you have it, my first failure attempt at writing a novel. Pretty terrible, right? Come back next week for Version Two of Stepping Stones and see what I learned (or didn’t learn) along the way.

All the best,

Kacey

THIS IS NOT GOODBYE

Alas, friends, it’s time I must impart some (sort of) sad news. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve scaled way back on my social media time, my blog has gone quiet, even Twitter is out there flapping in a lonely wind without me. So let’s just get it over with.

It’s unlikely, aside from Stepping Stones, that I will publish any more novels this year.

I know many of my readers are anticipating the final installment in the Reflection Pond series, Torch Rock. I know I said it should be done by the end of 2015, but the truth is, I just don’t have it in me right now. I can give you all kinds of excuses: I’m working too much. I don’t have time to write. I’m not inspired. I don’t have motivation. I have a LOT of other things going on right now. All of those excuses are true. I’m still writing, it’s just at a much slower pace than I’m used to. And the truth is, I’m burned out. Writing has always been a safe, relaxing place for me, but once I got going, I started demanding more and more from myself, and it’s too much. I need to not worry about publishing right now. I need to worry about growing myself as a writer and spending time getting to know my characters. Stressing out over publishing has turned writing into a chore, something that causes me grief and guilt if I don’t reach my ridiculously high standards RIGHT THIS MOMENT. What can I say? I’m a dictator, even to myself.

This is by no means a goodbye. I’m not going anywhere. I’m still writing. I’m still publishing Stepping Stones (now available for PREORDER) on August 25th. I’m just giving myself a much needed breathing break.

This announcement, while difficult for me to accept, is lifting a huge weight from my life, and it’s giving me the time I need to finish Torch Rock at my own speed, without the worry that I’m letting myself, and others, down. The story will be better because of it.

I hope you can find it in your fantastic reader hearts to be patient with me. I love all of your support, messages, reviews, and requests. Keep them coming!

Lastly, I’ve joined Authorgraph, and can now autograph your digital books. Head over to their site and request my signature!

All the best,

Kacey

STEPPING STONES COVER REVEAL

Stepping Stones - FinalI’m so excited to reveal the cover of Stepping Stones, created by the wonderful Julia at Bioblossom Creative.

Stepping Stones (The Stone Series, Book 1)

Available August 25, 2015

Onnaleigh Moore is part of a plan—and it isn’t hers. When her brother dies in a car accident, Onna is desperate to preserve the tatters of her family. Any hope of finding normalcy vanishes when her mother runs off and her dad turns to booze to numb his pain. Onna’s grief is crippling, but the boy who showed up just when she needed him is helping her cope.

Everett’s presence is comforting, though he knows things—Onna’s name just before they met, where she lives, and sometimes he comments on thoughts she doesn’t say aloud. She pegs him for a stalker, or maybe psychic, but the truth is deadlier than she imagines. As their feelings for one another deepen, Everett confesses a horrifying secret: Onna’s brother is only the beginning of the plan, and some fates are worse than death.  

Add it on Goodreads.

I have so many exciting things planned for this series. I can’t wait to share Onna and Everett’s story with you. What do you think of the new cover and blurb? Leave me a comment below!

ALL THE TORCH ROCK TEASERS IN ONE PLACE

I know I surprised all of you with the news of a NEW book series, but, as a show of good faith that Torch Rock is still happening this year, I’ve compiled all the teasers I can find and posted them below. Maybe I’m biased, but 75% of these are from Rowan’s POV. (No I will not point out which ones!)

Because you’re all loyal blog followers and I heart you, I’ve also included a sneaky-sneak exclusive teaser and a photo, which is an obscure reference to Torch Rock. Obscure? Hmm…

Enjoy! And don’t forget to leave a comment below. I love hearing from you!

“I can’t lie to you, Callie, and act like I haven’t thought about it. I think about it all the damn time.”

She loved this city, but rebuilding it to its former glory felt out of reach, like climbing the stars to capture the moon.

“Your guards won’t save you. I’ll do it just like you did—inch by agonizing inch until there’s nothing left to cut away, until you beg me to die.”

“What if they’re dead?” Ash asked.

His wings blocked out the sun, their usual inky depths stained brilliant blue, the tips alight with flames.

“You’re not afraid of me,” he said, voice full of wonder. “Arol’s children are so uniquely idiotic.”

“We don’t have to map the future with our scars.”

Rowan rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb. “I kept the scars because they remind me of my foster mother. The guilt is—” he shook his head. “It’s an infection. I’ve carried it inside of me for years thinking the only way I can be a good person is if I remember all the wrong I’ve done. And then you came along.” He looked up, giving her a half-smile.
“It’s not your fault,” she said, heart aching for the boy he’d been, for the broken man he became.
“You forgive me so easily I’ve started to think I could forgive myself, too.”

He’d never touched her like this, so unthinking and natural, as if she actually enjoyed it. Something warm unfurled in his chest. When he reached the base of her spine, he wound his arms around her until her back pressed against his front, and lifted the sword into her hands. “Find me, then.”