Friday, August 31, 2012

Hurricane Preparedness for Writers

Since Hurricane Isaac blew past my house the other day dumping rain and rolling thunder, then moving on to pour down it's wrath on Haiti, Louisiana, and many places in between, I was reminded of an old post here on Writermorphosis that we had fun with a couple of years back.  That post -- meant to be a humorous look at how writers can (and should) prepare for unexpected things like natural disasters (by backing up your work, etc) -- initiated a fun discussion on what real writers do and "should do" to keep their manuscripts and works-in-progress safe from flood, fire, electical outage, or any other sort of disaster.

When I went back to read the old post I noticed that one of our upcoming "Each One Teach One" authors, Kathleen Duey, author of more than 50 books for young readers and teens, including the brilliant Skin Hunger, made a great suggestion at the bottom of the hurricane post, way back in 2008.  Thanks Kathleen!

So, as folks are drying out, wringing out, and cleaning up from Hurricane Isaac, I'm reposting "Hurricane Preparedness for Writers" as today's post. (Click the link to read it!) I hope you will enjoy it, and share your comments on ways to keep your writer's life safe from disaster. : )  Meanwhile for those who are mopping up from Hurricane Isaac -- our thoughts are with you.  For those who wish to assist them, here's a lin to The American Red Cross.

We'll look for Kathleen Duey's "Each One Teach One" interview in Mid-September, as well as other "Each One Teach One" Author Interviews on topics ranging from "fantasy novel world-building," to characterization, to making your way through the publishing industry. See you then!

Happy Labor Day Weekend to those reading this blog in the U.S.!

Friday, August 24, 2012


First of all, a quick, sincere apology:  I was volunteering at a great event last weekend in the Dominican Republic called “Kiteboarding For Kids  that raises funds for organizations that help impoverished children on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic. (Check it out! We're still collecting donations if you want to be a part of it!). Alas, I got so busy with that that I completely forgot to post on writermorphosis last week!  I am very sorry. : ( 

Huge thanks to those dedicated readers (I saw you all there on the stats feed graph) who sweetly showed up last Friday and Saturday to look for the missing post.  I’m so sorry! It was a colossal fail on my part!
But I’ve got a great post for you this week, to make up for it! It’s not an interview! It’s a bunch of them!  It’s an online writer’s conference for children’s/YA writers called WRITEONCON!  I attended this conference online this past week, and if you didn’t get there, I encourage you to go there now!  It's still open! I had never attended WriteOnCon before but the list of amazing speakers, video and blog presentations, and especially the interactive discussions with editors, agents, and authors were phenomenal.

So, in case you missed it, here is the info on how you can (and should) still attend:
WriteOnCon is annual, it’s free, it’s online, and it’s open to you NOW – even if you didn’t get to attend the live feed last week. You can still go online to WriteOnCon and read lots of great samples of query letters if you’re trying to write one. You can still go there and learn how to write a great novel summary, or a twitter pitch, or a novel even.  It’s all still there – for you.  Now.

I highly recommend you go there today to .  And here’s why:

If you go to the website, click on “The Full Schedule” on the right hand side of the page, enter the site by creating a user name and password (your “profile”), then  return to the homepage at  and again click on “the Full Schedule” you’ll find links for various presentations and question/answer sessions by editors and agents that are still posted there for you to read.  It’s almost as good as having attended the conference yourself! And again, it's FREE!
Sessions you can go in now to read (find them listed on the WriteOnCon website under the dates posted below in the Full Schedule) include:

Tuesday August 14th:
Revision Toolbox — Characters by author Donna Cooner

The Revision Checklist by Author Talia Vance
Hooks and Killer First Lines by international bestselling author Lissa Price

What is Voice, and How do I Get it? by author Jennifer A. Nielsen

How to Get Started With Social Media: DON’T Do All The Things! by Publicist Meredith Barnes by publicist Meredith Barnes of Soho Press!
Choosing the Right Critique Partners by bestselling author Leigh Bardugo

And the list goes on.  Lots of fabulous topics. So check it out!

Then there was Wednesday August 15th  

Building Characters into Real People by very funny author Frank Cole (Definitely recommended!)
Elements of Writing (AKA Plotting) by Rhoda Belleza and Lexa Hillyer of Paper Lantern Lit

The Inside Scoop: Get Your Query Noticed by editor Leah Hultenschmidt
And the brilliant…

He Said, She Said, Creating Sexual Tension Through Dialog by author Jessica Martinez
I’ll be going back in to watch this one again and to take some notes related to my current manuscript, so thank you, Jessica! Excellent presentation!

There was also the very helpful and not to be missed:
Q&A/YA Twitter pitches w/ Editor/Agents Stacy Abrams, Heather Howland & Alycia Tornetta

And another one that I highly recommend:
All Your Publishing Questions… Answered! by editors Molly O’Neill and Martha Mihalick, and literary agent Holly Root  (They gave great answers to great questions!)

I also must say that I had the pleasure of meeting both Martha Mihalick and Molly O’Neill at a conference a few years back and they both exhibited a great combination of sweetness and honesty, which I loved : )  Here is a photo of Martha Mihalick signing my critique group’s “mascot” – the Hockey stick.  Yes folks – we’re “the Goalies!” : ) Loud and proud! Thanks for signing our stick, Martha! We love ya!
 So if you missed WriteOnCon just like I missed showing up here last Saturday to do the weekly blog post  --(so sorry, I really truly am, there was no excuse for it!) -- you can still attend WriteOnCon!  Head on over to see what you missed!  And for those who did attend, it was great to meet you at WriteOnCon and I look forward to seeing you all there again next year. What a great event for YA and Children’s authors!
I’ll be back here with our next post Next Saturday morning.  Until then, enjoy WriteOnCon and learn lots from all the great author, editor, and agent speakers there.  See you in a week - Janelle

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Each One Teach One Interview: Megan Shepherd YA Gothic writer Part II: PLOT MAPPING

This is our second week hearing from YA novelist Megan Shephard!  If you don’t know her name yet, you soon will! Check out last week’s writermorphosis blog post here  to read her great tips on writing YA trilogies.  Megan has two YA trilogies coming out from Harcourt Publishing, and her first book in the first series, “THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER” has already been optioned for film! Megan is currently writing both trilogies at the same time, and it's amazing to me how she keeps them straight!

So, I thought we’d pick her brain a bit this week about how she creates great plots that are selling so many YA novels, and how she keeps her writing organized.

So Megan, last week you shared a bit about how you create an overarching plot for a trilogy, while also remembering that each book needs to have its own plot within it – like the “stand-alone” novel that started your first trilogy, the Madman’s Daughter.

One related question I have is, how do you not get confused when, as your blog says, you are “writing 3 books at a time” – in 2 different trilogies?  How do you keep the characters, “voices,” and plots straight in your mind? J
Good question! This is one reason why I write books so quickly; if I don’t, the details start to slip out of my head. I’d rather spend ten hours a day writing intensely for two months than two hours a day for ten months—after that long, the story just gets too convoluted.

I can manage writing multiple series at the same time because each book is at a different stage. For example, today I just finished reading through the final proofread for MADMAN’S DAUGHTER #1—the last step before it’s published. Yesterday, I sent my editor the rough draft of MADMAN’S DAUGHTER #2 for her edit letter. And this afternoon I’m working on brainstorming and researching for THE CAGE #1.

I also keep very detailed spreadsheets. I’m a highly organized person, which works well for this kind of business! For each book, I keep a spreadsheet with:
Chapter Number
Brief Description
Date/Time of Action
Characters in the Chapter
Subplots in the Chapter

This is essentially a plot map, and also helps me keep track of the changes I make each revision—I update the spreadsheet after each round. Otherwise I think I’d go crazy trying to remember in which draft X-and-Y had happened.

Those are great things for all of us to keep in mind for our own plot maps, Megan. Thanks!  Whether it’s color-coded post it notes carefully stuck to the wall, or a spreadsheet on our computer, each writer definitely needs to have a strategy for managing their plot!

Here are some fun links to visual novel plot maps that some authors have used!

1.) Here's also: J.K. Rowling's Plot Map of Harry Potter Book 5 (or so says the internet). This is actually really helpful for those like me who like seeing how other authors keep track of their plots.

2.) I particularly like this link on "plot maps" because in addition to some wonderfully helpful novel plot map ideas 9At the top of the linked page), it also features a large number of garden plot maps, and even one or two cemetary plot maps! :) So, I'm including it here for the novel plot maps section (click here) but, ha ha ha, all of the plot maps on the site could probably be used in some form of novel plotting - depending what you're writing about.  :)

Ok, back to our interview! Megan, here’s a fun question: If you could have written any book that’s already been written by someone else, what book would it be, and why do you wish you had written it?

I’d have to say STOLEN by Lucy Christopher. It’s a similar premise to the YA psychological thriller manuscript I wrote once, but STOLEN is about a thousand times better. I love everything she does with the setting, mood, romance, and moral ambiguity of that book.

Sounds like a great book, Megan!  I’m sure many readers of this post are now running off to read it!
I’m really looking forward to reading the Madman’s Daughter, as well!
It’s been a pleasure having you here on the blog.  Here’s one final question:

What would you say have been the three most exciting moments for you so far in your writing and publishing journey? J

Well, the most exciting moment was when I got “the call” from my agent, Josh Adams, offering representation. I had only submitted the manuscript the day before, so I was totally unprepared for such a quick response. I was at my day job and hid in my boss’s office most of the rest of the day because I was so stunned and excited I couldn’t even think about my regular work. Josh loved the manuscript as much as I did, and his enthusiasm made me realize my publishing dream might be closer than I thought!

Two other great moments were calling my parents to tell them THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER had sold (as booksellers, they were ecstatic), and going to New York to meet my editor and the HarperCollins team for the first time. I felt like a real writer!

Those are three wonderful-sounding moments in a line up of what I’m sure will be many more!  I’m glad to see that sharing the news with your parents made the list! J Our families are often our most ardent supporters, and the ones who read our first manuscripts when we were new to the profession and still had so very much to learn! 

I want to include on final link on this interview.  This is a wondeful blog post that Megan recently wrote about what it REALLY takes to be a successful writer.  For all of the writers out there I would recommend that if you don't read anything else today, DO READ THIS:  Attitude Makes the Writer.  It's the most inspiring and truthful blog post for writers that I've read in a long, long time.
Thanks, Megan, for letting me share it here!
- Janelle

Saturday, August 4, 2012

"Each One Teach One" Interview: YA Gothic Trilogy Author, "Rising Star" Megan Shepherd

If you haven’t heard of this week’s “Each One Teach One” Interviewee Author Megan Shepherd, you soon will!  Megan is a rising star in the YA publishing world.  (Go Megan!) She has 2 YA fiction trilogies about to hit the bookstore shelves beginning in January 2013, from Harper Collins, and she already has a loyal following. The first of her books, THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER has already been optioned for film! 

In addition to her YA writing, Megan also serves as editor for the Pen and Palette, the quarterly publication of SCBWI Carolinas.

Because Megan has found her niche on the fast track in YA noveling success, I wanted to interview her on writermorphosis so that she can share with us some of her techniques and experiences.  This will be a 2 part interview – today, and next Saturday.

Thanks so much, Megan, for taking time out from your writing to be here with us today! As usual, we’ll start with our normal first question. Please tell us who was a more experienced author or other publishing professional who helped you when you were first starting out in the fiction world? What did that person help you with?
When I started out writing, I didn’t know a soul in the publishing world. I’d grown up in a bookstore, so I knew a lot about authors, but wasn’t acquainted with any of them personally. It wasn’t until I went to the Highlights Chautauqua Workshop in 2009 that I first met published authors and industry professionals. Alvina Ling, Editorial Director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, was assigned as my mentor during the weeklong workshop. She read three samples of my work and gave me incredible feedback. More than that, she gave me the encouragement and confidence to believe my work was (or would be) publishable. She liked the novel I was working on at the time, and even took it to Little, Brown acquisitions board. It was rejected, but she gave me a revision letter. By that time I was working on THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER, so nothing else happened with it. I don’t know if Alvina would remember me, but she was really the first person to make me believe I had a shot at this crazy dream, and for that I will always be so grateful to her.

 That’s really great, Megan.  Encouragement definitely is often the most powerful “help” that anyone can give to a new author.  Great job, Alvina Ling!

What a Beautiful Cover  Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins has made for the first book
in your first Trilogy! I love it!

Now that Alvina Ling's encouragement (and a ton of hard work on your part) is propelling you into great YA noveling success, I want to pick your brain a little to learn some of the things you’re doing “right” that perhaps the rest of us can learn from. 
But before we get into the nitty gritty, I know that many new writers envision that becoming a published author will be easy. But in truth it takes a lot of time and hard work.  So, in order to ground us in reality a bit, tell us please, how long ago did you start planning and writing THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER Trilogy?  And did you write other manuscripts before this one that you have shelved for now because you felt they weren’t ready for publication?
Yes. I wrote three full manuscripts before coming up with the idea for THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER. Two were middle grade adventures, and one was a YA psychological thriller. I barely queried any of those—I knew they weren’t good enough. In addition to those, I started but never finished about five other novels, and started developing about twenty ideas that I later decided weren’t strong enough.

I came up with the idea for THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER in September 2010 and started writing it straight away. I had a full-time job at the time, so I could only work on it evenings, lunch breaks, and weekends. I finished it in June 2011, and submitted it to agents. A few weeks later, I had an agent, a book deal, and a film option!

Wow!  That second paragraph about how quickly you wrote THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER, and how quickly you got an agent for it, sold it, and got the film option leaves us all amazed and inspired, I think! But even more important is the paragraph right before it where you described all the work that laid the foundation for that success, and all those prior novel manuscripts where you learned and strengthened your writing skills.   That’s a wonderful reminder to all of us of the need to keep honing our skills and not to give up if we haven’t “arrived” yet! 
Ok, now for the “brain-picking.”  I know that many people are interested  in writing trilogies or series’.  How did you decide that these books needed to be trilogies versus stand-alone novels?
I hadn’t intended THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER to be a trilogy; I wrote it as a stand-alone, which is what they tell most aspiring writers to do. But when I reached the end of the book, I realized the story had really only begun. So when my agent suggested we expand it into a proposal for a trilogy, I definitely agreed!

I always planned for THE CAGE to be a trilogy. I knew that the first book in that series would only be a jumping-off point, and the action would continue and grow in the second and third books.

Yes, I have always heard that it’s better to write your first book as a “stand alone” and then if the editor or agent recommends a Trilogy go with that. I’m glad to see an example of how that played out in your case.

So now that you are writing trilogies, Megan, what has been your process for developing a compelling plot that will carry your character logically and with proper passion and emotions through 3 books?  Do you use a comprehensive plot outline for the entire trilogy plus one for each separate book? Index cards? A plot map on the wall? What has worked for you so far?

Since I hadn’t planned from the start for THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER to be a trilogy, that series-long arc has been very difficult, and I’ve had to continually brainstorm and revise as I’ve gone along. Now that I’m starting to write Book #3, it’s crucial that I continue and wrap-up the internal and external arcs—not an easy thing, and I’m not exactly sure HOW I’m going to do it!

For THE CAGE, this is easier. Since I always knew it was going to be a trilogy, right from the start I planned for that. Instead of thinking about each book’s individual plot arc first, I started by thinking about the series arc, then breaking that down into three components that each have their own unique story and arc.
Hmmm. It’s interesting to think about the complexities of creating the larger trilogy plot-arc after having written the first book as a stand-alone.  It does seem easier the way you're doing it for THE CAGE.  I wonder if it would be helpful for people who are writing the first book as a stand-alone, but who think they might want to expand it into a series if given the chance later, to write a bit of a larger outline for the whole 3 books at the beginning,  just so that they have thought through where they would take the books if they went past the first one. Then they can write a separate outline just for the initial "stand-alone" novel, and write that book. 

Do you have any additional specific recommendations for new authors who do want to pitch a trilogy idea to agents or editors?
Middle grade and YA trilogies are popular now, but they are hard to pitch if you’re an aspiring writer because you don’t have a proven track record. In my case, my agent recommended we expand the idea into a trilogy, and I trusted his opinion. I still think the advice of writing a stand-alone is best. If you have an idea that really must be a trilogy, write only the first book, and then write a one-page synopsis for the second and third books. It’s useless to write all three books before the first one’s sold. I think the best bets are “stand-alones with series potential.” That gives editors the most flexibility, which works in writers’ favor.

Thanks, Megan. That’s great advice!  I defintely have enjoyed some wonderful YA trilogies and series' in the past, and I am looking forward to yours!
Next Saturday  we'll be back here with some more fun interview answers from Megan, including, specific tips on what she includes in her plot maps, and how she keeps up with writing two series’ at once! See you then.