Thursday, October 31, 2013

Spooky Flash Fiction Contest Finalists!

Happy Halloween, Secret Lifers! We've been getting in the creepy holiday mood ourselves by reading through some of your awesome entries for our Spooky Flash Fiction Contest. Thanks so much to everyone who submitted a story! It was incredibly difficult to pick just three to showcase on the blog, but we finally did, and they're listed below!

So, fabulous readers, if you would be so kind, show some love and support to these writers who have shared their work with us. Read through the entries, and then be sure to VOTE on your favorite in the fancy little poll thing at the bottom of this post. Votes will be accepted through the weekend, and the winner will be announced on Monday!

Entry #1


“I never meant to hurt you. Please, believe me.” Joe ignored Marcy’s pleading. “I’m sorry. It was only the one time. No more secrets, I swear. And it will never happen again.”

Joe looked through her.

“Joe, I’m sorry. Please, say something.” Marcy stepped forward, her hands moving toward his shoulders. But when he still didn’t respond, she stopped just shy of contact, her arms falling back to her sides. “I love you,” she whispered, “so much.”

Then, he stepped right through her. Confused, she turned to see him kneel beside her body and start to clean up the blood.

Entry #2


Being the new guy in school always sucked at first, especially when everyone asked where you'd transferred from and why. From Pick-A-City, USA. Mom's always wanted to live here. I'd mastered the art of lying—psychiatric wards were like prisons: highly educational. No more hallucinations, Dr. Fields/Mercer/Kravock. Well, practice makes perfect, and after years of study I'd graduated with a clean bill of mental health. Now the only thing locked away was my file, and the secrets it contained.

Nightmares I hoped stayed buried this time.

Eight months in Savannah and things looked good. Normal. Like tonight's kick-ass party at the abandoned Bouchard Mansion. Booze flowed, music raged, and Stacey's hand slid to the bulge in my jeans and squeezed. I groaned against her neck.

“Let me tell Mac we're leaving,” I said.

“Okay, but hurry.”

I took the stairs two at a time, hoping they wouldn't collapse. Fucking things were dry rotted. I passed Jake and Alissa in the hall.

“Where's Mac?”

Jake pointed to the room at the end. I opened the door and froze, icy shards of terror pricking my skin. Mac's body lay face down in a sea of blood. Oh, God, please, not again.

My murdered sister sat at a small table decorated with plastic tea cups. “Anna did it,” she said, pointing to the doll sitting next to her.

Anna fixed her glassy black eyes on my face.

You left us behind and now look what happened.

Entry #3


It wasn’t hard to imagine their eyes following her.

They weren’t, of course, that would be ridiculous. The shrunken stoat frozen and crouched on its tree stump, the fox with its dried black mouth stretched over fake yellow teeth, the hare with its glassy eyes and stiff brittle whiskers. They stared at her from inside their display cases, and that was just the smear of children’s fingerprints on the glass, not the fog of angry, living breath.

It was just the hospital next door that gave her the creeps. She hated it, its sour-faced NHS nurses and cold, impatient doctors. Her mum had died in that hospital, alone and shrivelled with cancer. The nurse’s voice on the other end of the phone had been dry and empty. She’s dead, it had said. Your mother. And we need the bed. 

A siren wailed in the distance. The stoat gazed at her, the dull museum lights making white starpoints in its dead empty eyes.

The siren screamed, getting closer and closer. Louder. Louder. The sound of it made her feel sick, her heart choking inside her chest. Then in at the gates next door, its scream so loud and intimate she could feel it shaking inside her bones. The museum lights flickered, and the spark in the stoat’s eyes danced and blinked. Its tail twitched.

She stared blindly out the window at the paramedics rushing the body inside the doors, and the stoat glared at her, showing its tiny yellow teeth.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

8 Fun #NaNoWriMo Must-Haves

Have you noticed the theme we've had on the blog for the last few posts? I think it's safe to say we're all a little #NaNoWriMo crazy. CRAZY EXCITED.

So just for funsies, I put together this super serious* list of must-have things you need before you begin your NaNo-ing.

*lol yeah right

1. Sweatpants. This girl is rockin' hers. Just look at that NaNo game face. IT'S ON, WORDS. But lets be honest here. The writing world is a pants-optional environment. Go with what's comfortable for you.

2. A Word-Goal Cheerleader. Here's a picture of mine. Make sure this cheerleader is super supportive of you and your NaNo goals. Or a cheerleader who just gives lots of cuddles. You know, whichever. 

3. Organizational tools. Are you a multi-hilighter/rainbow tabs/sticky note kind of person? These are perfect planning tools for NaNo. And if you're a pantser, that's okay too. We can write each other pretty notes with our multiple colored gel pens. 

4. Music. Put your favorite jams on to get you in the writing mood. Pandora is my weapon of choice, always.

5. SNACKS. Don't go hungry mid-writing sprint. Stock up on those munchies! 

6. Computer charger. Do you know how annoying it is to sit down, get comfortable and halfway through a GOOD part in your story realize that your battery is at 9% and OMG where the *$%@ is your charger? From someone who does this almost weekly, it's highly annoying. Keep that charger near you at all times. 

7. FUEL UP. Coffee is my substance of choice.

8. THIS. Because who has time to get up and pee when you're in the zone, man? 

What are your NaNoWriMo must-haves? Feel free to share in the comments! And to all you NaNo-ers, good luck!

Oh and PS, here's a round up of all our NaNoWriMo posts this month:

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 @:
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Monday, October 28, 2013

10 Tips to help you make it through NaNoWriMo

So you've decided to take the plunge and go for NaNoWriMo this year. Good for you! Whether you win or not, you're challenging yourself and pushing your creative limits, and that earns you a hearty round of applause from me.

Now that we've got the pep and fanfare out of the way, let's look at what you can do to increase your writing productivity and stay motivated, whether it's in November (or, really, any month of the year).

1. Twitter sprints
Are you on Twitter? (If not, get thee to Twitter, Ophelia. There's a great writing community there just waiting to be all supportive, give you good publishing advice--indie or traditional, and also show you cute pictures of baby animals when you're down.)

It's true that the writers over there are pretty fab. What's also pretty fab about Twitter in November is the sheer amount of word sprints and sharing of prompts--whether it's word prompts, art, or music-- that goes on. You can find a word sprint, which is a timed interval during which you write like a crazy person and then tweet the number of words you wrote at the end of sprint, at almost any time of the day or night now. Here are a couple of accounts that I know do word sprints:

@FriNightWrites (keep an eye out for their event to help kick off Nano!)
@5amWritersClub (Secret Lifer Heather helps run this, so say hi!)

2. Wake up early, stay up late-- find your groove.
Make extra time for yourself to get your word count in. It's like having homework every day in November, which is great, but if you already have a lot of homework due in November, then sometimes it's hard to juggle another subject thrown in.

I tend to wake up about a half an hour earlier (or more if my sleep-deprived, grad student body can take it) to squeeze in some extra words before I have to start my day. Sometimes I make word count and sometimes I don't, but I at least can kick off the day creatively and I'm less worried when I get back home from school about making word count because I'll already have made a good start on it.

Find a time that works for you. Whether it's waking up to sprint at 5am on twitter, or holing yourself up in a coffee shop or library for an hour, or just taking time to yourself before sleeping, set aside time to do your writer thing. Try not to force yourself to fight for time to write-- you already have enough stress with the volume of work that you're expecting yourself to produce. 

3. Victoria Schwab and the Star Stickers: Adventures in Meeting Word Count
Okay, so I'm kind of a huge Victoria Schwab fan (read VICIOUS if you haven't already, by the way, it's ridiculously good). In the video below, she explains her method of giving herself stickers as rewards for meeting her word count goals, and this can easily be adapted to NaNoWriMo. Buy yourself a pack of stickers (and maybe some special, super rad looking ones, too, for those days when you have to bust some serious word count moves) and fill your calendar up with awesome.

4. Reread before you restart. 
Oldie, but a goodie. If you're stuck try rereading what you wrote the day before to get yourself back into the story. Especially if you're writing in dual POV, or have multiple narrators, I can guarantee that there will be times when you will forget what someone sounds like. And that's okay-- that's why we have revision. But if you're not entirely sure what you were thinking when you added in that side character who magically is now the Love Interest and also has his own POV, then skip back and reread his entrance again.

Chances are that you'll be thinking about your writing all throughout the day, but it's always helpful to ground yourself in a scene. 

5. Ernest Hemingway's Trick 
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.
Obviously, don't stop in the middle of a scene when you're on fire-- finish that sucker. But if you've just finished something that you're proud of and you have a good idea of what you want to happen next, leave it for tomorrow and let your subconscious figure out where the story ought to go from there. This is easily one of my favorite tricks.

Want some more writing tips from Hemingway? You got it.

6. Get your CPs into the game, or find a writing friend. 
Have a contest between your CPs, or just find them on the NaNo site and then bother them on gchat if they aren't keeping up with their word count. What makes NaNo work for me is that I know that there's a huge group of writers out there who will cheer/cajole/prod me into crossing the finish line. We did our Buddy Project match-ups earlier, so if you got a buddy from us, let us know how you guys weather NaNo! :)

7. Use writing prompts. 
I got into writing (and finishing!) longer stories in high school thanks to fan fiction and writing tables, like those at fanfic100. I'd know that I wanted to write stories about characters and have some vague ideas, but what really helped me nail down scenes was having prompts to fixate on. You can scour LJ for some great writing communities with cool prompts, or you can leaf through books of poetry or novels and pick out random phrases that inspire you.

Other prompts that are awesome are pictures and music. Pinterest is a great source of visual information. If you're an audiophile, then maybe consider writing a chapter inspired by each song from an album by your favorite band. Word sprint leaders will often throw out prompts of all kinds, too.

If you know what you want to write now, great! Think about all the scenes that get you revved up about starting this manuscript, then write brief sketches of them down on index cards or post-its, or in a notebook, and then save them for when you get stuck. Whenever you feel like your idea sucks and why on earth are you even bothering to write it, pull out those ideas and remember how excited you were to start this project. Then, maybe write one of those scenes. 

8. Go to a write-in.
Taking yourself to a cafe is awesome, so why not meet up at a cafe with fellow writers? Get excited about writing, meet people, and you might also score some sweet stickers from your ML. :) Find your home region on the NaNo forums and get to it!

9. Butt in chair, hands on keys.
Ultimately, making it through NaNoWriMo in one piece is a lot of BICHOK-- you just have to put the time in and write. Use prompts, use music, use whatever you have to to make it. One of my big strategies for getting through being stuck at this point is jumping around in time-- if I'm not inspired to write the scene that I'm writing, then I'll skip to one that I am inspired to write about and come back to what I was working on before later.

Still want some help with this? Check out Susan Dennard's excellent NaNo Boot Camp forums.

10. Enter writing contests.
Like ours!  The more writing you do, the better you're going to get. Give yourself a warm-up for NaNoWriMo by entering our Halloween contest and flexing your creative muscles.

Best of luck writing, and happy November, guys!

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 @: alexyuschik
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @: 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Not-So-Secret Horror Movies You Should Watch This Halloween

What kind of person would I be if I didn't post a list of some of my favorite horror movies? I mean Halloween is NEXT WEEK. I can't just sit here and let it go by like it's just another day. So here you go, my lovelies. The movies listed below are an absolute must!

1. Sleepaway Camp because Angela says so.

Just a heads up, I am not responsible for the nightmares this ending will give you. It pretty much destroyed my childhood. 

2. Happy Birthday To Me because your birthday party will never be the same after this. 

3. Prom Night because Jamie Lee Curtis, that's why! 

4. 976-EVIL because it is cheesy creepy.

And while you're on a Stephen Geoffreys kick, you might as well throw some Fright Night in there.

5. Pumpkinhead because d'awwww isn't that the cutest pumpkin you've ever seen? 

6. Black Sunday because it may be an older movie, but it is damn scary. 

And just for fun . . . 

After watching some of these super freaky films, you made need a laugh. Here are some that have a mix of both creepy and LOL moments. 

7. The Monster Squad because . . . Hello, childhood! 

8. The Frighteners because anything with Michael J. Fox is legit. 

There you have it, folks! Get thee to Netflix and start ordering these movies. And if you haven't submitted your spooky short story scene to us (250 words or less), what are you waiting for? Send your submission to by Wednesday, October 30th and we'll pick our favorites and post them on Halloween. The winner gets to win some creeptastic books out of the titles listed on the blog. Check out Stefanie's post here for the titles and more details.

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.

You can find her on Twitter @:
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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A NaNo Peptalk

It's coming up on the week before NaNo and I'm getting pumped! A reminder: Farrah did an awesome post about dealing with NaNo which you should read because it's, well, awesome.

I'm just going to go ahead and admit something up front: I have never "won" NaNo. I've tried two or three times and each one of those times I blew it. I have plenty of excuses as to why I never finished before, but I'm not even going to mention any because I don't want to put those thoughts in your head or mine. Instead, I want to suggest a game plan for this coming week.

1. Get ready to have fun! First and foremost, don't let this endeavor stress you out too much. Writing should be fun, especially first drafts, in my opinion. It should be done with a heart full of love and excitement. Yeah, that sounded a little cheesy, but I stand by it.

2. Immerse yourself in this new idea. Wallow in it. Create a Pinterest board and a playlist. Cast the actors who will star in the movie adaptation. Throw together a mock cover. Jot down scene ideas, figure out your one sentence pitch, and maybe even put together the first draft of a query.

And most importantly: 3. Commit. Do not waffle. Tell your friends and family that this is what's happening and you're going to need their support. NaNo is a big exercise in commitment and this year you can prove to yourself that you can do it.

So, are you ready?! Share your plans for this week in the comments. Link us you your Pinterest board! Let's get excited! *cue Rocky montage*
Monday, October 21, 2013

A Spooky Secret Life Contest!

Happy Monday Secret Lifers! I can't believe it's almost Halloween already!

This movie is basically my favorite part of October

Since it's only ten days away, I thought I would do something a little fun and festive for today's post. So we're going to have a little writing contest! The rules are simple enough: you just have to creep us out. And you'll be doing that by writing a short little horror scene (250 words or less!). Extra points if you can somehow tie something "secrety" into it! Once finished, email it to us at by no later than Wednesday, October 30th. Then, we'll pick our top three entries and post them to the blog on Halloween, at which point all of our readers will be invited to vote on their favorite.

So, what's up for grabs for the winner? How about some free books to get you in the mood for Halloween? Sounds good, right? Right! So, the winner of this simple little contest gets to choose any TWO shiny new books from the ones listed below, which are just a few of my favorite creepy YA and MG reads. There's also a good chance that some other fun Halloween treats will end up in the winner's prize package, too (trick-or-treat candy, anyone?)

The Books:


To recap: one creepy 250 word short, emailed to us by Wednesday, October 30th, could land you two of the awesome books above plus some other awesome spooky and fallish gifts! So get to writing! Can't wait to see what you guys come up with :) 

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 novel, FALLS THE SHADOW, is forthcoming from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @: 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Interview with MG & PB Author: Heidi Schulz

The Secret Life is so excited to have the chance to interview Miss Heidi Schulz on the awesomeness that is her MG book HOOK'S REVENGE with Disney Hyperion (2014) and her PB titled GIRAFFES RUIN EVERYTHING with Bloomsbury Kids (2015). Heidi tells us all about her ideas for each book, as well as her secret writing process. Let's get the questions rollin'!

What has the editing process been like for you for both your picture book and your middle grade? 

Before I answer, I want to say: I love both my editors. Like, a lot. Almost as much as I love pie. If you follow me on twitter, you know how how I feel about pie: Pie is my patronus.

I did revisions on both projects with my agent, Brooks Sherman, before they went on submission. My post-sale edits have been fairly light. I got my first edit letter for Hook's Revenge at the beginning of August. I was in the middle of the woods, camping with a girlfriend and our daughters, so I couldn't actually download and read the inline comments until I got home. 

That first round I was given a four week turn-around. In a stroke of good timing, my daughter was scheduled to spend the entire next week visiting my grown-up niece and her family. I got the bulk of my edits done then and finished the rest over the next couple weeks.

My second round edits had a two week turn-around. I addressed all the comments within a few days, then printed out the entire manuscript and gave it a thorough read over the next several days. I ended up making a lot of additional little changes, like cutting nearly all the "seemed as if"s. 

Why did I have so many? It seemed as if I used it a hundred times. Um...

Hook's Revenge is now with the copyeditor and I am both eager and anxious to get it back.

I recently began edits on Giraffes Ruin Everything. That edit letter came just as I was setting up for Wordstock, a huge Portland lit fest I was working with. I got the email on Friday, but couldn't even read the inline notes until Sunday night. And then I left for the beach for a few days and had no internet access. I wasn't able to actually work on it until I had had it for nearly a week.

I just sent some possible changes and notes to my editor. I hope she likes them. (Fingers crossed.)

How did you come up with the ideas for both of these books? Was it something that came at you all at once, or did it develop over time as you drafted/revised?

Peter Pan has been an important story in my family since my daughter was very small. He was both her imaginary friend and her alter ego for years. In fact, I remember when she was only three, she would get so immersed in being Peter Pan that even her body language would change. I could see it come over her from across the room.

We spent a lot of time reading and rereading the original J. M. Barrie book and pretending to "fight all the nasty pirates" together. She slept with a plastic Tinkerbell in her hand every night. I painted Peter Pan's shadow on her wall. And when we moved to the East Coast for a few years, we were certain that the fireflies in our yard were really fairies having grand parties.

I feel like I was pretty well steeped in Neverland for several years, but hadn't ever considered writing about it. That is, until I got the flu.

My daughter was only five at the time. Too young to fend for herself while I took a Mama Sick Day. So, I turned on movies--Hook and the 2003 live action Peter Pan. She watched while I slept on the couch. 

I woke with a question in my head: What if Captain Hook had a daughter? 

I saw the girl very clearly in my mind--mud on her hem, a mess of dark curls, and wearing her father's too-large red coat. As you might expect of his offspring, Jocelyn refused to be ignored. I would get little flashes of inspiration at odd times--while showering, drying my hair, or just before I fell asleep. 

I put together a basic outline and began drafting over the next few months, but then my life took some hairpin turns. My father-in-law became ill. My husband and I decided to move back home to Oregon to be close to him. Shortly thereafter, we made the choice for me to begin homeschooling our daughter. Less than a year after that, my father-in-law died. I'd pick up my story on occasion and play with it, but it wasn't until last February that I felt it was time, and that I was ready, to give it my all. 

The basic premise and most of the situations I imagined way back at the beginning didn't change as I began making serious revisions, but three chapters of unnecessary backstory were sliced right off the front and other areas were expanded. Then, after I began working with Brooks, many new scenes were added.

As for Giraffes... you can read what inspired me to write that story here. I tend to view all real life giraffes as terrible, ruinous ruiners, so no one that knows me was surprised by this title. However, I have been a bit surprised by the giraffe I wrote. 

I actually like him. Go figure.

What do you do when you get stuck? Do you wait it out or do you have strategies for getting unstuck

Take a walk. Take a shower. Talk it over with a writer friend or my agent. Work on a different scene. Lose myself in a good book.

Those all generally work for me, though a few months ago I did shelve a project that I had been working on. I had a completed draft, but I just could not make it sing for me. I wrote it and rewrote it to the point that I hated both it and writing in general and then I decided I needed to put it away.

I hesitate to even mention it because I have no happy ending, so solution to offer someone else who may be struggling. If that person is you, I want to cheer you on, to tell you you can do it. But really, maybe it's not a bad thing to hear that sometimes letting go is okay.

We so often hear, "Finish your work," and that is very good advice. Every novel will have times that are soul-crushingly difficult, times where you want to quit. The only way through that, truly, is to work it out.

However, I think it's also important to trust yourself as an artist and listen when that creative inner-voice stops saying, "This is really, really hard" and starts saying, "This is killing me." 

Or maybe that's just me. I don't know. But I do know, hard as it was to admit to myself--and to others, that project definitely wasn't the right one for me at the time. Maybe one day it will be--I hope so--but not now.

Tell us how you fit writing into your daily life. Are you a night writer, 5am writer, or oh-god-whenever-I-can-get-to-the-laptop writer?

Pre-submission revisions on Hook's Revenge were so exciting I couldn't stay in bed past 5:00 am. In fact, quite often, I'd wake at 4:00 or 4:30, unable to sleep any longer because I was so ready to get to work. 

I still write early in the morning, but not every day. I write while my daughter is doing her schoolwork (we have continued to homeschool) or taking classes outside the home. I write when she volunteers at the library or just after dinner while she and my husband watch TV. I write on Saturdays before and after family time. I fit it everywhere I can--except on Sundays. No matter how much I have to do, I need that break and I'm always better for taking it.

I also don't write much late at night. I have in the past, but I've learned that for me nothing aftermidnight is as good as it seems at the moment--and I will be exhausted and fairly useless at writing (and anything else) the next day. As tempting as it can be sometimes to stay up and work late, I'm much better off during the day (or before day breaks).

Can you talk a little bit about the submissions process? How many drafts did you go through before your agent submitted it to publishers? How long you were on sub for and how did you handle being on sub without wanting to hurt someone?

For a lot of Hook's Revenge I revised as I went along, so it's hard to say exactly how many versions I went through. I know I did two full revisions after I had a completed draft, before I began querying. I did a Revise and Resubmit for Brooks before signing with him, and two edits--one quite thorough, one lighter--after signing.

I went on sub the first week of December last year. We had a week-long family vacation planned at a condo in central Oregon and I worked hard to finish before we left. I actually went on submission the day after we arrived. It was perfect. I barely had time to be overly stressed--I was too happy to be on vacation. And when we got home, there were Christmas preparations to keep me busy.

I also found being on sub far less stressful that querying. I placed all my trust in my agent (lucky for him that worked out). I felt like it was out of my hands, which was oddly comforting.

The first offer came in at the end of January and we sold at auction on February 5th.

Being on sub for Giraffes was even less stressful. Things happened so fast with it--I sent a draft to Brooks on a Tuesday--just to see what he thought. He gave me some suggestions and we went back and forth on revisions over the next few days. He ended up sending it to editors the following Monday afternoon.

I think because it happened so fast, I didn't have time to get nervous about it. The whole thing was a bit of a blur. In fact, I just had to look back at my emails to see how long it was on sub. It looks like it took around six weeks to sell.

About a month later I flew into New York for BEA. While I was there, I was able to meet both my editors which was really lovely. 

Which character in HOOK'S REVENGE is the most like you and why?

There are little bits of me in all of them, though none is terribly close to me as a whole. For example, the narrator has an extreme dislike for children. That is certainly not me, I love children. (Babies, not so much. Sorry.) I like to talk to them and tease them and tell them stories. I enjoy hearing how they see the world.

But I will say there have been times that I have liked children a bit less than they seemed to like me. I remember an afternoon berry picking where a group of unknown children decided I was fun and kept coming to pick off the bushes I was at. They stripped those raspberry vines clean all around me, and I just couldn't get rid of them. My own child was quite irritated by the whole thing. She is singularly unimpressed by me--as is her right. No one's own mother is all that interesting. At any rate, on that day, I could sympathize in a small way with some of the narrator's feelings. 

And like Jocelyn, I felt the sting of mean girls at school. There is a scene where she finds her cloak pocket filled with nasty, anonymous notes. That scene is pulled from my own painful last few months at elementary school. (One of my notes said, "Dear heidi, Notice I did not capitalize your name. That is because you are not important." Oh how that stung! Though as an adult I can appreciate the cleverness behind it. It's too bad I don't know who wrote it. She probably posts really funny grammar memes on Facebook.) 

Also like Jocelyn, I hate being told that I must do this or I must not do that. I like to make my own choices.

Was there a specific moment or scene in your book(s) that you're especially proud of? Can you tell us a little about it? 

In Giraffes I have a page where a child is waiting behind a giraffe for his turn on the slide, but its neck is so long that when its feet are at the bottom its head is still at the top. I love the utter ridiculousness of that image and cannot wait to see it illustrated.

For Hook's Revenge, it was very important to me that I stay true to the original Peter and Wendy. I read and reread both it and the Peter Pan chapters in J.M. Barrie's The Little White Bird(published on their own as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens). Though Captain Hook himself is not present in a lot of my book (this is Jocelyn's story, after all), there is a scene near the end where we get to hear from him. Every time I reread it, I get a little thrill. His character rings true to me. I am particularly proud of that scene. 

What's a secret about you?

You want all the juicy dirt? Are you sure?

All right then, but I hope you will still like me once you know the truth. Lean in here and I'll tell you.

I am the one who ate all the m&ms from your trail mix.

But what more could you expect? I'm a bit like the pirates in my story too.

Thank you, Heidi, for being a part of the Secret Life! We can't wait to read your books, and we hope you all add them to your Goodreads list!

Heidi Schulz is a writer, reader, and giraffe suspicioner. She lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband, co-captaining a crew made of their teen daughter, a terrible little dog, and five irascible chickens. Her debut novel, HOOK'S REVENGE, will be published by Disney•Hyperion in Fall 2014 followed by her first picture book, GIRAFFES RUIN EVERYTHING, from Bloomsbury Kids in Fall 2015. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter: @Heidi_Schulz.

Andrea Hannah is a YA writer represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider. She writes stories about criminals, crazy people, and creatures that may or may not exist. When she's not writing, Andrea teaches special education, runs, spends time with her family, and tries to figure out a way to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (still unsuccessful). Oh, and she tweets a bajillion times a day, mostly about inappropriate things.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

SLOW Buddies Project Update!

Hey, guess what. You guys are awesome!!! So awesome are you that it's taking us longer than expected to put everyone into groups! We were expecting maybe 20-25 emails regarding the Buddies Project. That estimate was doubled!!! 

Crazy, right?!

So, the thing is that because of the unexpected turn out, you guys might have to wait until Sunday, October 20th, at the latest to receive your Buddies email. I'm going to try to get them out as soon as I figure the groupings out, but in order to group people up that really sound like they will mesh... Yeah, I want to put a little extra time into it. 

We're very sorry that it's going to take a little longer to get your buddies to you, but you are all so unique and amazing that we feel you deserve the most analysis and cupid-magic as we can give! 
Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tips for Preparing for NaNoWriMo!

#NaNoWriMo begins in exactly 15 days.

Are you ready?

Neither am I, but unfortunately I don't think I'll be participating this year. I have 100 more pages of my book to rewrite and revise. BUT I participated last year and even though I didn't finish all 50k words, I still thought it was really encouraging! 

Today I'm here to give you some pre-NaNo organizational advice. 

1. Outline. Everyone will tell you this, but it really helps. Having a general idea of where you want your book to go saves you from staring at a screen midway through your NaNo-ing and going . . . um, now what? If you're anything like me, you'll have an outline and completely change scenes and situations around. That's fine too. As long as you have some sort of guideline, you'll be more than set. Also? Start outlining now!

2. Don't get caught up with your word count. Okay yes, I know NaNo is the time to really keep track of your words, but November is also a really busy time of year. Thanksgiving, preparing for Christmas, seeing family and friends, etc. Personally, I don't think you need to sacrifice seeing the people you love to get some words on a page. You'll always have more time to double that count on another free day of yours. And if you don't? That's okay too! At least you're trying :) 

3. Stop being a perfectionist. The beauty of NaNoWriMo is that is allows you to word vomit all up in your document so that you can add in all those details later on. NaNo isn't the time to go back and tweak every paragraph you write. Concentrate on that during your revisions. 

4. Don't. Query. Your. NaNo. Everyone will tell you this. Despite what you think, it's not a good idea. Who wants to read word vomit? No one. Clean that up first, then send it to your CPs. (BTW, Alex just wrote a fantastic CP post. It's magical). If you don't do this, everyone in publishing will hate you. (Okay, maybe they won't hate you, but they will want to slap you with wet noodles)

Good luck to all you NaNo-ers! 

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.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

The Secrets of an Awesome CP Relationship

Hey everyone! Just a quick reminder before I get into the meat of this post-- we're still accepting applications for our Buddy Project! So if you've been on the fence or hesitated (fortune favors the brave, yo!), you still have time to get in on the action. We're sending out the match-ups on Friday, Oct. 18, so get your application in before then to give us enough time to match you up. :)

Tell us as much about you and your writing styles/habits as you can-- what you write, what you're looking for in a CP, what stage of the process you're at with your current project, etc. We've got people from all over the place-- agented, querying, revising, and drafting authors (not to mention a huge range of genres wow), so the odds are good that there's someone in our pretty sweet author pool who would work well with you.


This weekend, I met one of my CPs for the first time ever in person (and dude it was so awesome you would not believe). We've been chatting about our manuscripts, what it's like working in publishing, author dreams, and random life stuff since April, and it was so cool to finally meet this fantastic person who somehow can look at my crazypants first drafts and see the feedback I need to make them gradually more badass. 

Critique partners are arguably some of the coolest, more invested people in your career as a writer (also basically guaranteed to lose their crap along with you when you sign with an agent, get a book deal, or have a wicked cool idea). And sure, you already know this. It's not hard to convince anyone that CPs are awesome. The difficulty is first in finding people you'd want to work with, and second in maintaining a good relationship with them. 

We're trying to help out with the first step of the process (and this is me totally subtly reminding you about the Buddy Project), and in the meantime here are some handy tips for how to meet and then be awesome to the CP of your dreams. 

Find someone at your level with similar goals.
You get the most out of it (and honestly, both of you will most want to continue the relationship) if you find someone about at the same skill level as you. If one person has a lot more experience than the other, then the partnership turns into more of a mentorship-- which isn't bad by any means, but one person tends to get a lot more out of the exchange than the other. When you have a limited amount of time to stretch between personal, professional, and writer obligations, sometimes it can be hard to keep things going that don't benefit you in some way, even though it's nice to help someone out. On the flip side, it's frustrating not being able to help someone grow as a writer or offer insightful critique.

Talk to each other about what you want out of writing-- is it a hobby or a career for you, do you want to publish traditionally, or are you open to hybrid publishing and more of the indie side of things, etc? You'll also find that you'll be able to say some pretty helpful things about your partner's work, and will be surprised by all the cool stuff your writer friend can find to help you out with in yours when you're evenly matched. 

Go into it knowing that you're probably going to have to try a lot before it'll work. 
You're playing a long game. Not every person you contact in your first CP search is going to turn out to be brilliant and a great match-- maybe only one or two will. Maybe none. Finding someone who meshes well with you is tricky, so don't get discouraged if it's rough starting out. Do put yourself out there. I found my first CP at How About We CP after around four or five people had contacted me, I met my second through blogging and emails, and others through people I talked to on twitter whose work intrigued me. Other people find CPs on Absolute Write, or their friends locally in writing programs or NaNoWriMo groups, or a myriad of other sites.  

Cast a wide net, and, if you have time, give several people a chance. If someone tweets about a story idea that you think sounds awesome that they're working on, ask if they're interested in a beta reader. Don't give up on working with other writers because one or two CP hopefuls didn't pass muster. You never know what could come up. Be persistent, like you are in querying, revising, drafting, and basically every other aspect of your writing.

Test the waters. 
Once you find someone interested in working with you (and vice versa), do a test critique with no strings attached. Usually, swapping first chapters is a solid strategy. If you like the things that your potential partner is picking up on, then awesome! If not, then no worries. You and potential CPs are in this to try to find someone who works well with your writing style-- if it's not working, then there's no reason to draw it out. No one's saying that you have to work with absolutely every person you approach, and sometimes it's more beneficial to walk away on a note of mutual respect rather than burning each other out. 

Respect their critique tolerance. 
Some people want you to be as harsh as you possibly can, and just tell them straight up to their face that the second scene was really weak, or that a certain character frustrated you. Other people want you to be just as brutally honest but might need you to approach it more gently. Either know or ask what your CP expects and can deal with before starting your crit. Especially if you're doing a beta read or a critique for someone who you don't normally read for, make sure that you're clear on what kind of feedback they're expecting-- are they interested in doing another revision based around what you have to say or do they want you to focus on smaller fixes? Ask if you're not sure.

Use the sandwich trick.
Even CPs who say that they need brutal feedback also want (and need, for our egos, haha!) to know what you liked. Criticism is almost always better handled if it comes between two compliments. Like so:

Wow, I loved the language you used here! I get a really great sense of the maliciousness going on in this character. I was a little confused about what he meant by getting revenge, though.  It felt weird to have him stutter and reveal crucial information under no pressure. You've given him some kickass dialogue earlier, so I feel like there's a way for you to make him reveal this info more naturally--can you raise the stakes?-- and fit in more with the character you've built up. I think he's cool, and as a reader I don't want him to crack easily under pressure! :)

Say something you like about a scene, give your feedback, and end on a positive note. It's a sandwich and it's super effective.

Find an easy way to communicate that works for you both.
Are you both on gchat? Do you live for texts and phone calls? Are video chats your thing, or do you prefer waxing poetic via email or DMing each other over twitter? Find what works for you and your CP and make it happen. Having an easy way to communicate will make you more likely to talk about writing stuff, and by extension, keep you both more motivated to keep working on your projects.

Maybe you don't need to maintain constant contact with every single person you work with, but being able to come back from work and strike up a conversation about writing and fun stuff after a long day is awesome, and definitely has made me more excited about tackling really arduous revisions projects. 

You know, it's really not a bad idea to get familiar with Track Changes. 
I was a total grandma with this one. It was so bad. I legit gave my first comments in underlined, red font (yeah, that I underlined and made the text bold and red manually) in the body of the text, aka pretty inconveniently. A lot of people in traditional publishing  use Word's Track Changes feature to add comments and mark-up the text in an easily-visible manner. If you're considering self-pub, a lot of freelance editors will give you edits using Track Changes, too. 

Do yourself a favor and practice with it early. In the newest version of Word, you just go to Review and then Track Changes, and add in comments to your heart's content. 

Return crits in a reasonable amount of time. 
Obvious, sure. Let your CPs know when they can expect you to have feedback for them ready, and what kind of feedback it will be-- line by line in Track Changes, big picture stuff in an email, etc.

That being said, sometimes crazy life stuff comes up. Sometimes I remember that I promised my students I would hold a review session and that oh yeah I actually need to prepare for that, which will push my crits back. Know thyself. Give accurate estimates, and keep your CPs informed and updated if you have to delay their crits. Ask if they have deadlines and do your best to get your feedback in so that they can meet them. 

Point out what's not working, but let them write the book.
It's important to remember, though you might (and probably will) get attached to a story of your CP's, that it's their story and they don't have to listen to any of your suggestions. And that's okay. Some things you suggest are going to be useful and some you'll later realize are a little more out of left field than you originally thought they'd be. No worries, your CP can sort through these on their own.

As the great Neil Gaiman says on receiving feedback:
Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. 

Tell them where you stop believing the action, or where you get thrown out of the story. Tell them where you think it slows down too much. You can pitch ideas for how you'd fix it, especially if your CP encourages you to help with brainstorming, but ultimately this is their fiesta. Let them run it. 

And sometimes you just need to be a confidant and someone who will listen when things suck. 
It's no secret that writing is a hard business. Everybody puts their souls into this stuff and there's a ton of extra work, frustration, and rejection that gets meted out regardless. It's rough getting rejected or waiting weeks and weeks to hear back from agents you query or editors that your manuscript is out on sub with. It's especially rough because this stops being the kind of thing that you can share on twitter or chat in forums about without looking unprofessional. 

Having a CP is a lifeline in a lot of ways: all that pent-up stress and nervousness and having to keep things under your hat, you can let out to these people that you trust. Sometimes it's not even related to the business side of writing-- it's some troll on the internet being a dick, or someone at work asking if you write YA then why aren't you besties with Suzanne Collins, or a family member or close friend wondering when you're going to quit this silly writing hobby and actually, you know, focus on your real job. The world can be an awfully cruel place, and situations like these can be when CPs transcend extra set of eyes status and become friends. 

As with all things, just be awesome. 
If you find a CP whose feedback you really like and whose work you adore, then chances are you're going to become pretty close friends with them. So, be an awesome friend. Send them pictures of their favorite hot celebrity crush online, or surprise them with cool new songs, funny videos, or book recommendations. You can send them care packages when they're on deadline, draw them fan art of their characters or commission an artist. Some CPs send each other flowers on release dates. A critique partner is way more your writing partner in crime than an email address you send drafts to that sends you feedback later. Treat them well and some amazing stuff can happen. 

What are your favorite tips for being a good CP? Share them in the comments! :) 

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.

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