Pitch Wars 2017: #PimpMyBio

Pitch Wars 2017 is here and I’ve decided to join in the mayhem. (Not sure what Pitch Wars is? Check out Brenda Drake’s blog HERE.) Below you will find a post that shamelessly pimps two things very near and dear to me: myself and my writing.

The left picture, where I look like a slightly distracted vampire, is my author photo. The right picture (that’s me on the right and my husband on the left in case you’re confused) is more of what I actually look like. Notice the cats, there’ll be a quiz later.

About Me:

  • I’m addicted to Starbucks, cats, and Oxford commas.
  • I LOVE learning. I’m the weirdo who enjoys writing research papers, listening to lectures, and taking tests. I graduated Summa Cum Laude and work full time as a sonographer. I’m also very modest. (Hard to believe, I know.)
  • I’m painfully introverted, but you can woo me with cat videos, alternative music, and bacon.
  • I live in Michigan but hate snow. Please pay me to move somewhere warm, preferably Key West. I like houseboats and sand between my toes.
  • I have a Forrest Gump quote for nearly every situation.
  • I love cats.
  • I have 4 cats. (Frodo, Minga, Lennox, and River.)
  • Did I mention cats?

About My Writing:

  • I write and read young adult. All genres, all shapes, sizes, and colors. If there are teenagers, give it to me.
  • I recently completed the Story Genius course and extension course from Lisa Cron and Jennie Nash. I also spent three months working on Hiding Hudson with a book coach (the ever wonderful MG Pitch Wars mentor, Julie Artz!) through Author Accelerator.
  • I tend to write about things that make people uncomfortable: depression, chronic illness, suicide, etc. My goal is to put a human face on the “issues” so they become tangible, relatable people instead of just concepts.
  • My short story, “Distraction,” is available in NYC’s Subway Library. (Possibly the coolest opportunity I’ve had yet!)

About Hiding Hudson:

Eventual suicide has been on Hudson Trent’s mind since his early symptoms of Huntington’s Disease appeared. He figures he has a few good years left, but when his older brother Coop, who’s debilitated by the same disease, wants his life support pulled on national TV, living and dying suddenly terrify Hudson equally.

Unable to face losing Coop, Hudson escapes to the top of a twelve-story building, ready to jump. But he’s interrupted by Remi, a firework of a girl with a suicidal plan of her own. She’s not interested in saving Hudson’s life, only filming a video that will turn their final hours into the ultimate suicide note.

The last thing Hudson expects is for Remi’s honest spontaneity to uncover a side of life he’s never known. When their night of firsts and lasts fades into morning, Hudson finds himself back on the ledge. There he must decide what makes death worth chasing, and what, if anything, is reason enough to keep living.

HIDING HUDSON, a 65,000 word Young Adult Contemporary novel, will appeal to fans of ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven and MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES by Jasmine Warga.

Ways To Love Me:

Best of luck to everyone partcipating in Pitch Wars! “I’m pretty tired… I think I’ll go home now.” -Forrest Gump

Overhauling

For the past (almost) year, I’ve been surrounding myself with new writerly types. By new, I don’t mean new writers, I mean writers new to me. I’ve been basking in the shiny newness of their ways. And I’ve been learning.

Tuesday, I tuned into Jennie Nash’s AMA (Ask Me Anything). You can watch here. She holds them every Tuesday on the Author Accelerator Facebook page and answers any questions about writing and publishing. If you’re not familiar with Jennie Nash, YOU SHOULD BE. This woman is a wealth of writerly knowledge and she gives so much of it away for free. (And she has the best laugh, I swear.) Jennie Nash is the founder and Chief Creative Officer of Author Accelerator and she’s a book coach. Look her up, you won’t regret it.

During her AMA, Jennie talked about how the world does not want or ask for our writing. Yet here we are, day after day, month after month, toiling away at something that the WORLD DOESN’T WANT.

Wait, what?

As writers or artists or any creative type, we are harnessing our passion, something that no one else might ever care about, and we are pouring all our time and love into it. I won’t be the first person to say that writing a book is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. You’re definitely not going to finish writing a book if you don’t love it. And then you have this thing that nobody asked for, and it’s such a subjective thing, an endless feedback loop between writer and reader. Everyone filters our words through their own world lens. Which means two things:

  1. Some people will LOVE it.
  2. Some people with HATE it.

It also means there is truly a market for anything that is well written. (And probably some things that aren’t so well written. You all know what I’m talking about.) There is a remarkable amount of hope in that. So, future readers, I’m thinking about you. XOXO.

Jennie also talked about marketing and how the brunt of it falls on writers (as if we don’t have enough to do with all the writing and brooding and drinking!). This got me thinking about the book Be the Gateway I picked up from Dan Blank a while back. Those of you who know me well know how much I despise marketing. I bought Dan’s book because Jennie raves about it. Then I let it sit beside my bathtub because that’s where I was going to read it. I suddenly discovered a deep love of showers, Dan, I swear. But Jennie said to make yourself do it. To learn, to grow. It’s part of the process. So, I opened Dan’s book and I read.

I’m only 70 pages in and already I feel my insights shifting into something different, something more productive. What if marketing doesn’t have to suck? What if it can be fun? What if I told you this blog post is a result of Dan’s suggested marketing? Go get yourself a copy of Dan’s book Be the Gateway. It’s inspiring. I’m sure you’ll see more and more of his suggestions popping up on my blog, which will be getting an overhaul in anticipation of Pitch Wars, which begins August 2nd.

Look for more frequent updates and peeks inside what I’m working on. I don’t want to be a ghost who only shows up when I’ve got news, after all!

What I’m reading now:

The Secret Garden (audiobook) by Frances Hodgson Burnett – A MUST classic. I remember reading this in school or possibly only watching the movie. Been listening to the audiobook in the car with my son, Patryk. Hands down for sure the book is better than the movie. I also think it’s a good example of tying up loose ends by the end.

Be the Gateway by Dan Blank – See above. Loving this book. Will post more about it as I progress.

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate – I have one chapter left. Redgate is a fantastic, witty author who takes on major things, such as bisexuality, cross-dressing?, and acapella. Not necessarily in that order. Redgate recently announced this book was optioned for television. It’s a bit like Glee meets Pitch Perfect, except with more coming of age bits.

Now I Rise by Kiersten White – And I Darken, the first book in this series is one of the BEST BOOKS I’ve ever read. Lada is a fierce, mean (often justified) girl, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE reading about her. Kick ass girls are the best thing ever.

Cruel Prince by Holly Black – I love Holly Black. Guys, I have a big old crush on her. Cruel Prince was dark and fierce and I read on her Facebook today that just she finished the sequel. I need it in my hands!! Unfortunately, Cruel Prince doesn’t release until 2018!! Soo long for you to wait. Preorder!

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera – Silvera is possibly the nicest most down to earth person you will ever meet. He’s sincere and sweet and I just love him. Aside from that, he’s an AMAZING writer. Just try not to cry reading his work. Try. I dare you. They Both Die at the End is available in September – be sure to preorder!!

 

 

AT LAST, THE SERIES IS COMPLETE

Torch Rock Teaser - Copy

I sit before my computer in a confusing state of satisfaction and sadness. The earliest files in my hard drive for Reflection Pond date back to early 2012, though I think the actual writing started in 2011. There are dozens and dozens of files, if not hundreds. In the grand scheme of writing, four or five years for three books is not a long time, I realize that, but those years defined who I am as a writer. I began the series scared, uncertain of my own capabilities, and I’ve emerged from the other side more confident, more sure of myself and the risks I’m willing to take in my stories.

Today is the release day for Torch Rock, Book 3 in the Reflection Pond Series, the final installment of Callie and Rowan’s story. Much like me, the characters have gone on a journey to find their strength, to heal, and I’m deeply satisfied with this ending. I hope you, my readers, find it just as enjoyable as I do. I’ve already been asked if I’ll ever return to Callie and Rowan’s world, to expand on the secondary characters in the story, to follow the seeds of possibility I left strewn throughout the final novel. The truth is, I don’t know. I do have some bonus content, deleted scenes and such that may become available at some point. But right now, the end is justified, and I like the idea of readers creating their own possible futures for Rowan and Callie. The characters we love live on inside of us, and I hope some parts of Callie and Rowan live on in each of you.

To celebrate the release, I’ve made Reflection Pond free for today! On May 7th, the series will tour with Brook Cottage Books. You can still sign up for the promo day HERE.

I want to thank everyone who has stood beside me as I completed these books, especially those who encouraged me and listened to my issues (over and over again for weeks, months, and years). You know who you are. Thank you to the bloggers, reviewers, and every fan who has contacted me. Your support and enthusiasm always puts a smile on my face. Huge thank yous to my early readers, ARC reviewers, and everyone who has been cheering on Callie from the beginning. A big thanks to my designer Julia at Bioblossom Creative, who always, always exceeds my expectations with her beautiful covers. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The entire series is available on Amazon. If you want some music to read to, check out the playlists I’ve created for Reflection Pond and Torch Rock. And when you’re done reading, please leave a review, even if it’s just an I liked it!

Reflection Pond

Amazon Goodreads Playlist

Poison Tree

Amazon Goodreads

Torch Rock

Amazon Goodreads Playlist

STRENGTH IN UNLIKELY PLACES

I think as children we look at the world with an innocent wonder. The people surrounding us are meant to be trusted, not suspected. As we grow into adulthood, that wonder and trust is challenged by experience. We get hurt. We have our emotions taunted, our decisions questioned, and we learn that the world is not a safe place. It’s not even a welcoming place.

When I wrote Reflection Pond, Callie’s childhood shaped her character into someone I consider unwaveringly strong. She’s not flawless, but a road map of scars from every experience that nearly broke her. Nearly being the imperative word. She’s a survivor, she’s cautious, and though she’s suffered terrible abuse, she still holds that childlike wonder that the world, in general, isn’t a despicable place.

Throughout the series, Callie’s fragile trust is challenged. She learns that family is not synonymous with love and sometimes friendship come from the most unlikely of places. Most importantly, she realizes that trusting others is nowhere near as important as trusting yourself. I won’t give away the ending of Torch Rock (which releases April 26th! Preorder here.), but I will say that Callie in the final installment is miles away from the scared girl who fell through the Reflection Pond.

Callie’s character is based in part on my own experiences. I’ve seen betrayal firsthand. I’ve breathed it and lived it. It took time and no small amount of tears, but I found a way to drag myself off my bathroom floor and overcome devastation. There isn’t a recipe for climbing out of an emotional hole like that, you only have to have the determination to know that this isn’t the end. After all, if you’re reading this you’ve already survived every bad day you’ve had. Look at you! 100% success rate.

A lot of people have said they can’t relate to Callie or connect with her. Perhaps this has something to do with her horrific past. Violence and abuse leave marks on you. Though hidden, these marks admit you to a private survivors club.  Maybe relating to her comes with a price. Maybe I’d rather you couldn’t relate.

I’m proud of Callie. I know that readers love a strong female character, someone who takes no shit and kicks ass. But Callie isn’t that character. Sure, she can fight. Sure, she has cool faerie powers. But Callie’s real strength comes from her unwavering belief that she will find her place in this world, no matter how many times she has to pull herself to her feet.

I think, at the end of the day, regardless of our differing pasts, that’s all any of us hope for.

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 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