Tuesday, October 21, 2014

14 Things I Learned at My First SCBWI Conference

View from Kathy and Corrie's hotel room at SCBWI

About two months ago, I attended SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) in LA. Although I knew of people and authors I'd conversed with on the internet who were going, I was essentially going by myself. I didn't have any expectations other than wanting to learn as much as possible. 

I'm not new at doing things on my own, but I was nervous as I tried to figure out parking and where exactly this thing was being held at (the hotel was ginormous). But once I was into the swing of things, it turned out to be a lot of fun. 

If you're considering attending a SCBWI event in the future and want to know what to expect, here's a quick list of everything I learned!

Dani (met her at the newbie orientation),
Jenny, and me at the Italy dinner.
1. If you're new, go to the newbie orientation. Everyone there is also new and probably has no idea what's going on or what to expect, so you're not alone. I also ended up meeting a friend after the orientation. 

2. Look at the workshop schedule beforehand so you have an idea of where you'll want to go. Chances are you'll want to be in two places at once because everything will sound so good.

3. Bring a pen and notebook. Lots of good information being shared.

4. Talk to people! Introduce yourself, especially if you've heard of their book/enjoyed the workshop they presented/have seen people on social media and want to say hi in person. Chances are you'll become good friends! :)

Stephen Chbosky and Jay Asher workshop
5. Don't be rude. I thought this was common sense, but there were some grown adults who raised their hands only to be rude instead of seeking clarification from workshop presenters. And if you're walking out (in a non-emergency/non-bathroom break way) don't be dramatic about it. 

6. People you meet will ask if you're a writer/illustrator, what genre, what you're working on, etc. It's best to have at least a two sentence pitch memorized in your head. Or, what I really preferred from pre-pub'd or pub'd authors, was a small hand out that had the book's info on it. 

7. Layer up. SCBWI took place a few flights of stairs under the hotel, and it was cold. Bring a sweater. 

Sunset evening post-conference 
8. I live about 30 minutes away from the hotel, so I didn't think twice about staying there. But man, SCBWI days are LONG. 6 AM (from when I woke up to get ready) to around 11-midnight (depending on if I went out with friends). If I could go back and split a hotel with friends, I totally would. I was a zombie on the drive home. 

9. If you're trying to save money, bring your lunch and snacks. There is a mall outside of the hotel as well as places to eat in the hotel, but it can add up after a few days. 

10. Take advantage and go to as many workshops, keynotes, and presentations as you can. You paid a lot of money to be here, and I promise you'll gain something from each one. 

I love these ladies dearly! 
11. The free coffee doesn't last any longer than the morning, so caffeine up while you can. (You'll want to)

12. Keep your handouts. I loved those who provided them in workshops. I didn't retain every single thing because my brain was completely overwhelmed, but it gave me something to look over afterwards. 

13. Speaking over being overwhelmed, chances are you will be. From listening to dozens of presenters, mingling with friends, and stuffing your brain with all this good information--I could barely string a coherent sentence together at the end of the day. But it was all well worth it. 

14. To end this on a positive note, Kathy Kottaras and Jenny Moyer both sold their YA debuts shortly after this conference! Dreams do come true :) 

Farrah Penn enjoys staying up way too late and making up for it in large quantities of coffee. On top of her love for reading books with memorable characters, she also enjoys internet memes, yoga, and her adorably bratty dog. When she’s not rushing to complete marketing projects at work, she’s writing and daydreaming about traveling the world. Farrah writes YA and is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary.

You can also find her on Twitter @: www.twitter.com/farrahpenn
Drop her an email @: farrahnicolepenn@gmail.com
And visit her blog at: www.farrahpenn.com
Thursday, October 16, 2014

That One Time Stefanie Made a Fool of Herself in Front of a Bunch of People but Still Lived to Tell the Tale and It Was All Okay in the End

Hi Secret Lifers! *waves furiously* It's been waaaay too long! How are you? You look great. I love what you've done with your hair.

Right, so, in case you missed it--I'm a published author now!


Pretty wild stuff. I'm still waiting for someone to jump out and yell "just kidding!" and then for all of my books and all traces of their existence to poof because seriously is this real life? And I was going to ramble on about that feeling for this first post back, but then something else happened this week that I wanted to talk about instead. And what was that, you ask? Well, it was the absolute most terrifying part (for me) about this whole published-author thing: my first public presentation (dun dun dun).

Hey look! It's me!

As part of teen read week, I partnered with my local library and ran a creative writing workshop and presentation about publishing for area teens a few days ago. And it was awesome! And, as I said before, it was terrifying!

When one of the librarians reached out to me a month or so ago about doing this, my introverted, extreme social anxiety knee-jerk reaction was basically this:

But then I remembered how, earlier this year, I made a promise to myself that I would do a better job of getting out of my comfort zone and actually interacting with people. And, to cut myself some slack for once, I will say that I've done a pretty good job of sticking to that goal. This year I've gone on a writing retreat (with people I'd never met before!), I've stopped shying away from random conversations in coffeeshops, I met my agent in person, and I've finally learned how to answer the question "what do you do for a living" by telling people I write and then going on to explain my career and aspirations in an intelligent way instead of melting into a pile of mumbles and awkwardly shuffling away. It's been a year of big steps, for sure. And so after contemplating it for a bit, I wrote back to the librarian and told her yes! I'd love to!

The love part was a total lie but that's okay. I'm a writer. I sort of make stuff up for a living.

So the day of the presentation arrives. My husband and I are on the way to the library, and to give you an idea of how crazy my social anxiety can be, I actually said to my husband: what I wouldn't give to go into labor right now so I would have a valid excuse to not have to go to this thing.

Yes, that's right: I'm less freaked out by birthing another human being than I am by the thought of giving a presentation to a few teenagers.

I am a ridiculous person and I know it.

Anyway, my daughter remains snug in my stomach as I type this, so you can probably guess that I did, in fact, have to go through with what I'd committed to do. And, *spoiler alert*, I survived it. Not the way I'd planned on, though; see, I had this really detailed outline all typed up, and I was going to follow it to make my presentation easier. To make it fantastically detailed and informing and...yeah, somehow I still had really high expectations for this thing, even though I was almost certain I was going to bomb.

And I sort of did bomb. I guess because the best laid schemes of mice and men are often going awry and all that. I ended up abandoning my outline within five minutes of starting, because I am so not a public speaker, and I could tell my audience was very painfully aware of that, and they were checking out. So I ended up improvising. No more plans, no more expectations about how it would go--I just turned the session into an impromptu Q and A and then we all just sat around and talked. About writing, about publishing, about anything they wanted to know.

And they asked awesome questions, and answering those questions would lead to more questions, and at some point I even stopped watching the clock and silently begging the minutes of my hour-long session slot to go by faster. I actually relaxed and had fun. The teens did too, I think; even after we broke the formal session and everyone was mingling and eating desserts the library provided, they were still coming up to me and asking questions. It was actually really cool. And in the end, I think I would have been much more disappointed in myself if I hadn't shown up at all, than I was about getting off to a rocky start.

So I guess the secret I want to share with this post is this: you don't have to be an awesome public speaker, or even an extrovert, to get out there and personally connect with readers. And it's okay to still be scared of things, even once you reach that "officially published author" stage. Even if you totally bomb, it's still going to be okay in the end. Promise. :)

Stefanie Gaither writes YA novels about killer clones and spaceships, with the occasional romp with dragons and magic-users thrown in for good measure. Said writing is generally fueled by an obscene amount of coffee and chocolate, as well as the occasional tennis and/or soccer break. She's represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, and her debut YA sci-fi novel, FALLS THE SHADOW, is available NOW from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers!

You can find her on Twitter @: https://twitter.com/stefaniegaither
Or drop her an email at: stefanie.gaither@gmail.com
And also visit her website @: www.stefaniegaither.com

Thursday, October 9, 2014


(Psst, our Instagram event is still going on here!)

Congratulations to Andee on becoming an ~*officially published author*~ as of yesterday! Kirkus calls OF SCARS AND STARDUST "an intriguing puzzle of a book" and it is for reals all kind of amaze, you guys. Curious? Read on!

After her little sister mysteriously vanishes, seventeen-year-old Claire Graham has a choice to make: stay snug in her little corner of Manhattan with her dropout boyfriend, or go back to Ohio to face the hometown tragedy she's been dying to leave behind. 

But the memories of that night still haunt her in the city, and as hard as she tries to forget what her psychiatrist calls her "delusions," Claire can't seem to escape the wolf's eyes or the blood-speckled snow. Delusion or reality, Claire knows she has to hold true to the most important promise she's ever made: to keep Ella safe. She must return to her sleepy hometown in order to find Ella and keep her hallucinations at bay before they strike again. But time is quickly running out, and as Ella's trail grows fainter, the wolves are becoming startlingly real.

Now Claire must deal with her attraction to Grant, the soft-spoken boy from her past that may hold the secret to solving her sister's disappearance, while following the clues that Ella left for only her to find. Through a series of cryptic diary entries, Claire must unlock the keys to Ella's past—and her own—in order to stop another tragedy in the making, while realizing that not all things that are lost are meant to be found.


Remember back when SCARS first debuted on our blog in Andrea's query letter? Or when we all freaked the crap out when it sold? It's so amazing to be a part of this group and not only get to watch our friends be kickass with their careers, but also to share all this good stuff with you guys, too.

Congrats, Andee! <3 *drowns everything in pug-shaped balloons with occasional narwhals*
Monday, October 6, 2014

Secret Life: Resurrection and Contest! :D

Hey Secret Lifers! How have you guys been? It's been a long summer and we're super pleased to be coming back to you in the fall!

Some quick stuff before we get into the meat of this: we're now going to be posting on Mondays and Thursdays! You'll get all our secret writer happenings, what we're reading, tips and tricks from the publishing world, or just cool literary stuff we think you'll enjoy coming at you twice weekly. We've also got a super cool Instagram contest waiting for you at the end of this post! :D

So what've we been up to this summer (and kind of early fall)? Kick back, put on some music, and let us bring you up to speed on our shenanigans and oh man, SO MANY BOOKS:

Farrah has been enjoying her summer while working on a contemporary YA. She was able to attend her first SCBWI in LA and is excited to share more fun writing secrets with you. Her favorite reads this summer were Silver Linings Playbook, 13 Reasons Why, and Isla and the Happily Ever After.

Stefanie's spent most of the hiatus trying to make herself believe that she actually had a real live book hitting shelves this year (FALLS THE SHADOW is available now!), but she still doesn't quite believe it. She's also been hard at work preparing new manuscripts for submission, and-- oh yeah! Also with growing a tiny human life :) Baby Gaither will be making her debut in early December, and both Stef and her husband are thrilled (and terrified) to welcome their new baby overlord.

Leah went to the Romantic Times conference this summer in New Orleans, where she met up with fellow Secret Lifer Alex! She also signed with awesome agent Jenny Bent earlier this year. Leah's next book is ROMANCING THE NERD, the companion novel to THE SUMMER I BECAME A NERD, coming at you soon from Entangled Teen!

Andrea's debut OF SCARS AND STARDUST hits shelves soon (this week!) and we're super pumped to get to celebrate her release week with her. She's hard at work on her next manuscript (ladypower! magical realism! how awesome does this sound??), and if you're in Michigan you be might able to catch her at a signing.

Alex spent her summer studying to pass her PhD preliminary exams, which sounds lame but worked out pretty okay because now she's an official PhD candidate at her grad school! She's in queryland, working as a freelance editor, wrote a manuscript about magical girls in milky pen, and is currently writing the book of her heart (which is surprisingly even more terrifying than 60k in gel pen).

Heather's debut THE GATEWAY THROUGH WHICH THEY CAME released earlier this August! Sadly, Heather won't be returning to the Secret Life this fall, but we're wishing her all the best as GATEWAY and its sequel take off!

Secret Life Instagram Contest! 

To celebrate our comeback and how much we appreciate you guys for sticking with us, we're having an instagram contest. :D The Secret Life has always been about sharing our writing journeys with you guys and we're thrilled to have the chance to keep doing that. It's also been a blast getting to connect with each other and cheer as our friends' books are published.

So, for this contest, take a picture of any Secret Lifer's (past or present) book in the wild! Bonus points if it's more than one of our books chilling together! (Because book friends are best friends.) Follow and tag our instagram account @secretlifeofwriters in your photo and use #secretlifeofwriters to show off your pics!

Prizes will include a copy of each of our fall 2014 releases (GATEWAY, FALLS THE SHADOW, and OF SCARS AND STARDUST) or a full manuscript critique from Alex-- winner's choice!

The contest ends Oct. 23, so get out there!

And thanks again for sticking with us. We're excited to be back and we can't wait to share more of our secrets with you. <3
Monday, June 9, 2014

It’s cover reveal day for Vicki Leigh’s CATCH ME WHEN I FALL! Lots of awesome stuff going on, including a giveaway! But first, here's a special message from Vicki:

And here's what CATCH ME WHEN I FALL is all about:

Recruited at his death to be a Protector of the Night, seventeen-year-old Daniel Graham has spent two-hundred years fighting Nightmares and guarding humans from the clawed, red-eyed creatures that feed off people’s fears. Each night, he risks his eternal life, having given up his chance at an afterlife when he chose to become a Protector. That doesn’t stop a burnt-out Daniel from risking daring maneuvers during each battle. He’s become one of the best, but he wants nothing more than to stop.

Then he’s given an assignment to watch over sixteen-year-old Kayla Bartlett, a clinically depressed patient in a psychiatric ward. Nightmares love a human with a tortured past. Yet, when they take a deep interest in her, appearing in unprecedented numbers, the job becomes more dangerous than any Daniel’s ever experienced. He fights ruthlessly to keep the Nightmares from overwhelming his team and Kayla. Soon, Daniel finds himself watching over Kayla during the day, drawn to why she’s different, and what it is about her that attracts the Nightmares. And him.

A vicious attack on Kayla forces Daniel to break the first Law and reveal his identity. Driven by his growing feelings for her, he whisks her away to Rome where others like him can keep her safe. Under their roof, the Protectors discover what Kayla is and why someone who can manipulate Nightmares has her in his sights. But before they can make a move, the Protectors are betrayed and Kayla is kidnapped. Daniel will stop at nothing to save her. Even if it means giving up his immortality.

CATCH ME WHEN I FALL will be available on October 23, 2014 in both paperback and e-book formats from Curiosity Quills Press. For more information, visit the book’s Goodreads page.

Now, there can’t be a cover reveal without a giveaway, right? Lots of authors stopped by and donated some fantastic books to help Vicki celebrate. You don’t want to miss out on these! Here’s what you can win:

  • An e-copy of CATCH ME WHEN I FALL by Vicki Leigh
  • A submission package critique (query+synopsis+first chap) from Vicki Leigh
  • An e-copy of HEIRS OF WAR by Mara Valderran
  • Two query+first chapter critiques from YA author Emily Stanford
  • A full manuscript critique from YA author Emily Stanford
  • An e-copy of WITHOUT BLOODSHED by Matthew Graybosch
  • A paperback of DESTRUCTION by Sharon Bayliss
  • An e-copy of KIYA: HOPE OF THE PHARAOH by Katie Teller
  • One query+first chapter critique from YA author Katie Teller
  • An e-copy of DARKNESS WATCHING by Emma Adams
  • A copy of DESCENDANT by Nichole Giles
  • An e-copy package of EVER and EVADE by Jessa Russo
  • A signed copy of DIVIDE by Jessa Russo
  • A copy of UNHINGED by A.G. Howard

Enter the giveaway below for your chance to win! All prizes will be accompanied by a Dreamcatcher swag package from Vicki Leigh.

Thanks for stopping by!

About Vicki:

Adopted at three-days-old by a construction worker and a stay-at-home mom, Vicki Leigh grew up in a small suburb of Akron, Ohio where she learned to read by the age of four and considered being sent to her room for punishment as an opportunity to dive into another book. By the sixth grade, Vicki penned her first, full-length screenplay. If she couldn’t be a writer, Vicki would be a Hunter (think Dean and Sam Winchester) or a Jedi. Her favorite place on earth is Hogwarts (she refuses to believe it doesn’t exist), and her favorite dreams include solving cases alongside Sherlock Holmes.

Vicki is an editor for Curiosity Quills Press, a co-founder of The Writer Diaries, and is represented by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary Agency.

You can find Vicki at her website and blog and on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, and Goodreads.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

So You Want to Write an Ensemble Cast

Happy Cinco de Mayo, Secret Lifers! (: In the spirit of parties and the number five, I've got five tips for writing a great ensemble cast for you.

I have this thing about ensemble casts. A lot of my projects feature teams, secret organizations, or groups of people working together for a common goal, and one of my biggest issues as a writer has been "how on earth do I get a number of people to work together without a) overwhelming the reader and b) actually helping people keep all these characters straight?"

Okay, let's do this.

1. Each character has a certain base set of skills.
If you, like me, enjoy RPGs and D&D, this will probably come naturally to you. Think of each of your characters as fitting into a certain class.

Using classes as an underlying way to sort characters is useful-- you can balance out skills more easily. There's the people who can take a lot of physical damage and then the more vulnerable, magical characters. The magician's spells hurt more than physical attacks (often) but magicians cannot take a lot of physical damage.  Perhaps it's most easy to see this working in a fantasy setting, but it can be applied to any group of characters.

As an example, there's this one military drama I love that takes place on a submarine. Maybe the people in the command room have some hand-to-hand combat training, but the sub's chief engineer is unlikely to be able to hold her own in a fight, even if she's the smartest person on the boat. Likewise, the ace mecha pilot might be able to accomplish his missions on the ground in record time, but he lacks the strategic foresight to always avoid falling into trouble.

One of the keys to getting the group to work logically together is having them cover each other's weak spots-- figure out ways for them to all balance each other out, with each person being useful. The flirty sniper isn't good at all with hand-to-hand combat, the brilliant strategist captain is actually terrible at fighting of any kind, and the mysterious lieutenant just lives through anything.

2. Ensemble casts are a system of interchangeable parts.
Sometimes it's not necessarily that someone has a certain skill-- a lot of people in the story could have that same skill-- it depends on how good the characters are. Lots of people can drive a car, but maybe there's only one person good enough in your heist story to be the getaway driver.

Likewise, in the submarine drama, it's not hard to find someone can set the submarine's course-- the lieutenant commander can do it, the XO can do it, the captain can do it. But, if the submarine has to evade missiles and be pushed to its operating capability, then the captain (who's designed the sub from scratch and knows it better than anyone) has to be one giving orders.

This also helps you avoid falling into the chosen one trope, if you're not going for that. If a lot of people can fight an enemy but your protag is just trained to be the best at it, or if there are a lot of tacticians but your main character is the most resourceful, then we're more inclined to cheer for them on their merits than on their mysterious powers.

3. Your main conflict is a ripple across character arcs.
Here is a kind of ugly picture that I derped up in mspaint to illustrate this point.
Okay, so the letters that are closest to the center of the ripple? Those people should be my main characters (this project had a lot of people running around it). I have my protag (D), the love interest/mentor (S), and the antagonist (J), right at the center. The conflict between them defines the book. The people at the center of the circle are the people whose lives change drastically based on this conflict (D becomes a coward, then re-learns how to be brave, always-honest S finds a reason to lie, D's best friend J finds a reason to hate him). Characters on the next ring out are ones that are more indirectly affected, and so on.

The closer you are to the center conflict, the more I need to see you change/evolve as a character across the story. The people on the outer ring may change a little, but for the most part, they're pretty constant-- they're the most minor of the characters. But on the four inner rings, each character changes in some way (the closer to the center, the larger the change) based on the main conflict.

4. Help your reader remember all these great people. 
One of my favorite tricks for helping keep characters straight is associating different letters with them. If all your characters start with the letter J, it will be much harder for a reader to keep them all straight, especially the minor ones.

Granted, if you have a truly huge cast of characters (think Game of Thrones size), then sure, you're going to run through the alphabet very fast. In cases like this, it's probably better to look at family or clan names, and trying to make those unique, then assigning unique letters within them. (Where I'd normally think, "oh that's that T-named character from before!" then I can think "oh that's T-whatever of House S--")

Unique names are cool, but keep in mind what will stand out and what will make your characters blend in. A lot of unusual names together makes more common names stick out (in a sea of Haven's, Pierce's, and Asa's, a Thomas stands out). Likewise, in an expensive preparatory school setting in the US, it's more likely that characters with names like Rohit and Yosuke will stand out and be more memorable than Ashley and Jax. However, if your story is set in Seoul, then a character named Rosalie sticks out more than In Hwa Lee.

5. Quirks win the day. 
What defines a character? Sometimes it's just as simple as being the guy who takes himself too seriously and acts snooty, or the specific way that a character opens a door and inexplicably stubs her ballet flat on things. If you can give us something specific, some human detail to associate with a character, something that they do different than anyone else, then we'll remember them more easily.

Good luck!

When Alex Yuschik isn't writing her next YA novel, she's working on someone else's as an intern at Entangled Publishing. She writes about lock picks, ghosts, the abandoned places in cities, and how not to strike bargains with stars. Between sneaking in time to game and rocking out to indie music, Alex spends the rest of her free time working towards her PhD in mathematics. You know, as one does.

You can find her on Twitter @: https://twitter.com/alexyuschik
Or drop her an email at: alex.yuschik@gmail.com
And also visit her website @: alexyuschik.wordpress.com 
Friday, May 2, 2014

That Time I Met a Fellow Secret Lifer and CP: Farrah Penn

If you follow me on Instagram, then you probably saw the photos I shared from my trip to Los Angeles last weekend. This trip came about because of the awesome lineup the Pasadena Library put together for their first ever Teen Book Festival.

I knew I couldn't miss out on this wonderful opportunity, and immediately talked my critique partner Farrah Penn into attending the event with me. This was a big deal for us because we've been friends via Twitter as long as we've been critique partners. Of course, we text often and SnapChat almost as frequently, but we've never actually met in person.

So when April 26th finally came around, I packed up and hit the road around 2AM to make it in time for the event. I was super excited to meet Farrah IRL, and I couldn't wait to surprise her with an ARC of GATEWAY; a book she helped get published by reading it who-knows-how-many-times. Here we are shortly after I arrived in L.A.:

Yay!! How fun is that? I totally kept it a secret, which we all know is hard for me when I can't share things on Twitter. I got the ARCs that week and was dying to share them with the world. Keeping the secret was totally worth it, though. (Side note: If you don't already know, Farrah is also a fellow Secret Life of Writers blogger, as well as a fabulous writer of YA contemporary who's represented by the awesome Suzie Townsend from New Leaf Literary.)

Seriously. Farrah's support has been absolutely wonderful. I don't know what Gateway would be without her, and I don't even want to think about it. That's how much of an impact she's had on my writing, which I'm sure goes for all of us with critique partners. Not to mention that she's just an overall sweetheart. I greatly enjoyed our chats and wished I could have stayed a little longer.

In true critique partner fashion, Farrah couldn't let me leave without signing her copy, which I happily obliged:
P.S. Signing your own book for the first time is a pretty surreal experience. I sat there and thought about what to write for a good five minutes.

With all that being said, I keep hearing rumors that Farrah's gonna visit the weekend of my book launch. Let it be known, I'm holding her to it. haha Cheers!
Heather Marie is a YA writer who loves all things creepy. She enjoys writing horror/supernatural stories that make you question that feeling of someone watching over your shoulder. Heather spends most of her days reading and writing and plotting her next idea. When she's not in her writing cave, she enjoys watching creepy TV shows with her husband and picking apart plot holes in movies.

Her YA debut, THE GATEWAY THROUGH WHICH THEY CAME, releases August 25th, 2014 from Curiosity Quills.

You can find her on Twitter @: http://twitter.com/HeatherMarieYA
And visit her website @: http://HeatherMarieYA.com