Friday, January 31, 2014

An Interview with Stephanie Diaz, Author of EXTRACTION

Hello friends :)

While I'm on my mini hiatus, the wonderful Stephanie Diaz agreed to an interview for Secret Life! Which is great for many reasons, but especially because I cannot WAIT to read her debut, EXTRACTION. And if you haven't heard of it, then I'm thrilled to share this with you!

Read on to learn more about EXTRACTION's badass premise, Stephanie's publishing and submission process, and the writing secrets she wants to share with you all!

Stephanie recently graduated from San Diego State University. She wrote her debut novel, EXTRACTION, when she should've been making short films and listening to class lectures. Her book, the first in a YA sci-fi trilogy, hits shelves July 22, 2014. You can follow Stephanie on twitter: @StephanieEDiaz.

1. Where did the idea for EXTRACTION come from? Is there something in particular that inspired you to write this story?

The idea really stemmed from a single question: What if the moon were poisonous? That question popped into my head really of out of nowhere, when I was reading a CP's manuscript and she mentioned the moon. I honestly don't know where the whole poisonous thing came from. But after thinking more about the question, the world of EXTRACTION came together and I fell in love with it.

2. You were still in college when you wrote/sold EXTRACTION, which is completely amazeballs. How did you and how do you still find time to write while balancing other responsibilities?

Well, I think I had a pretty unique college experience in that I was in a major (film production) that didn't involve a huge amount of outside-of-class work except for on production days, which didn't come around all that often. And since I was living at home and didn't really, erm, do a whole lot of socializing during the semesters (summer is a different story), I had a good amount of free time to devote to writing. I also snuck writing in during lectures and such. Of course, there were some days when finding time was a real struggle, and sometimes I had to focus on school instead, even though it pained me. It definitely made me realize how much I preferred writing over anything else.

Nowadays, I actually have a lot more time to devote to writing, and I'm struggling with the whole forcing-myself-to-actually-write thing. It's harder than I expected, go figure.

3. Without giving too much away, can you tell us which character in EXTRACTION is the most like you and why?

The main character, Clementine, is the most like me, for sure. She shares many of my faults and fears, which made writing her quite therapeutic. But she's not identical to me, of course. She's much braver and smarter than me, for one thing.

4. Tell us about the deal itself. How did everything go down? What was it like having to keep that a secret for so long?

The deal actually happened relatively quickly, at least compared to other stories I've heard about. The book had been on submission for a month when I found out there was interest from Macmillan, and about two weeks after that we had an offer on the table. Once we accepted the offer, I only had to wait a week to spill the beans. So it was a pretty fast process, but of course at the time the days felt like ages. I survived because NaNoWriMo was happening at the same time, and I was working on a new project I was excited about.

5. From Goodreads, EXTRACTION sounds like it is packed with both action and romance. What would you rather write: a fight scene or a kissing scene?

That's tough! It honestly depends on my mood on any given day, but probably in general I'd prefer to write a fight scene.

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

I absolutely hate getting stuck, let me tell you. I always try to figure out why I'm stuck or write through it or skip ahead, but I end up sort of in limbo for anywhere from a couple days to a couple months (pretty much depending on whether I'm on an actual deadline or not). And in the end, I usually realize I knew all along what the problem was. It just takes me a long time to get up the courage to fix it, since it often involves a bit of a rewrite. Since I've become aware of this process, I've been trying to speed up the “acceptance” part of it, but it's tough.

7. I'm sure EXTRACTION required a ton of worldbuilding! What’s the coolest thing you created in your world/found out about during research?

I'm rather proud of some of the layout of the world I created, with its different underground layers. It has some Death Star vibes. :-)

8. What's the most surprising thing you've learned throughout your publishing process?

Hmm. Two things: 1. How slow the whole process feels. Yes, I knew the business was a slow one going in, but it still doesn't quite hit you until you're in the midst of it. (Of course, the awesome stuff totally outweighs the slow parts.) And 2. how lovely and supportive bloggers and others have been so far, even though I'm still many months out from my pub date. It's wonderful, but I didn't expect it!

9. Do you have any writing secrets you'd like to share with our Secret Life readers?

This secret is pretty well known, I think, but my best tip for writing is to read. Read widely and often. There's nothing quite like reading to get the imagination churning.

Thank you SO much, Stephanie, for sharing a little bit of EXTRACTION and your writing process with us! 

Add EXTRACTION to your Goodreads to-read list here! (How could you not? This book sounds completely kickass.)

You can also preorder EXTRACTION here: 
*Book Depository = free shipping worldwide*

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Hi, lovelies!

Today is the day! I finally get to share a little bit of OF SCARS AND STARDUST with you all. 

When I was brainstorming cover ideas with my editor, we decided that it had to have an elegant and romantic (but not in, like, a kissing kind of way) feel to it. Because although this book is a psychological thriller and crazy things go down, it's also thoughtful and, I think, hopeful. This is the story of a girl who loves her sister with ferocity and who will do anything to keep her safe, even if it means doing the unthinkable. 

That being said, I think what my team at Flux came up with is so gorgeous and perfect and I wish I could just hug this cover (and them)! 

So heeere we go! The cover to OF SCARS AND STARDUST + a short excerpt: 
















        Somehow, I wasn’t completely panicked yet. Because to me, Ella was magic, bright and bubbly magic, and that kind of magic just didn’t get taken away. It just didn’t.
         As I came up to Rae’s house, I saw two Amble police cars tucked into the driveway. Grant’s silver bike was sprawled across the front porch. I let my feet hang off the pedals and the bike slide to a stop, just out of sight of the front window.
         I could tell them.
         I could tell them that Rae had left with some guy named Robbie that had a half-moon smile and heavy-lidded eyes. And that she’d packed all of her things in garbage bags and was probably somewhere past Ohio by now.
         I could tell them that Ella was with me at the party last night, even though I told her not to come. And that now she was missing.
         No. She wasn’t missing.
         I would find her. She’d be sitting in the field, knitting flowered hats or trying to decide if she should take home the half-frozen raccoon she’d found in between the stalks to feed it chicken soup. I’d take her home, and make her drink the cheap cough syrup that Mom always gives us, and put her to bed. And I’d make her leave the raccoon.

YAY! I'm so thrilled I get to share this little piece of this book with you! AND, even better, you can check out the reveal over at Icey Books today to win a signed copy!

Or you can pre-order a copy here, or add it on Goodreads right over here. Thanks again for sharing this reveal with me, Secret Lifers! 

Andrea Hannah writes about delusional girls, disappearances, and darkness with a touch of magic. When she's not writing, Andrea runs, teaches, consumes epic amounts of caffeine, and tries to figure out how to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (unsuccessful to date). She's represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman-Schneider/ICM, and her debut novel, OF SCARS AND STARDUST, is coming from Flux in Fall 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can find her on Twitter @:
Drop her an email @:
And visit her website @:

Monday, January 27, 2014

Query Prep

Hey guys! Hope you're busy rocking January. :)

I'm a huge fan of planning. (Like, as in Andrea's organization posts make me green with envy and also really impressed, kind of in love with planning.) So today I'm collecting up some of my favorite tips for planning out querying and managing where and how you go through submitting a project.

I've read submissions for a literary agent and currently read for Entangled, and after seeing two of my CPs successfully query projects and land agents, I've put together a list. Disclaimer: these are suggestions-- obviously, different strategies work for different people on some of these, some are just good sense, and others I've cited agent/editor opinion where I can. Ultimately, you're the best judge of what works for you. 

Yeah, okay. You've heard this before, probably lots of times. Agents and editors only want your polished manuscripts, and polishing may mean tacking on a few more months or weeks to your querying schedule. Are revisions worth it? YES. In querying, you're auditioning to work with someone for possibly the rest of your writing career, or at least a large chunk of it, ideally. NaNoWriMo's even got a Now What? section dedicated to revising.

Part of showing an agent that you'd be a good client (or an editor that you'd be a good author to work with and publish) is showing them that you take the time to revise and develop your work on your own before passing it off to them. When I read a sub, it's pretty clear how much effort a writer put into it. If it reads like a bonsai (as in, it is sculpted and the branches are all nicely accounted for), then the more likely I am to love it. 

Is this going to take more time? Yes. Is it going to be worth it? Take it away, Epictetus. 

Gather CPs and betas, bring them into the manuscript party.
Sometimes to create your great thing, you need some help from other people. And it's cool. If you have CPs already, then get them to read your manuscript and give you some feedback. If you're looking for a fresh eyes on a project your CPs have already been through the ringer with, consider reaching out on twitter for betas. 

Don't have a CP yet, but interested in finding one? 
How About We CP is probably my fave resource for this (beyond our own kickass Buddies Project, obviously), because it's how I found one of my good friends. There's some awesome people out there and it's got helpful tags for easy genre-matching. Go forth and make friends! 

Draft a synopsis and query letter while you revise.
I love Query Shark. Honestly, one of the things that got me more comfortable writing queries was being exposed to a LOT of them. When I was interning with Mary Kole, I read a ton of queries and that was really helpful for seeing what worked and what didn't. Read lots of them, either on QS or register for Write On Con, and check out the query forums there.

The reason I suggest drafting these up while you revise is that it a) gives you a break from revising, which is nice b) has you write about what's going on in the story while it's fresh in your mind and you're excited about it and c) affords you enough time to put the query/synopsis down and pick it up again to see if it's as good and accurate as it can be.  

Research agents or editors, and choose which you'll query/submit to.
Research is pretty obvious-- you need to know who represents what genres, who wants your query, synopsis, and first five, ten, fifteen, chapter, three chapters, etc. I don't mean query an agent or an editor exclusively (exclusivity is rarely a good idea), but do choose whether you want to query agents or submit to editors. Dahlia Alder has a fantastic post on the subject for an idea how agents and editors feel when you query them simultaneously.

Again, ultimately it's your manuscript and I, as this tiny internet person, can do little to stay your clicky inbox hand. To me, though, these are different goals-- finding an agent for your career (who may not be able to sell the manuscript you signed with her) versus finding an editor for a specific manuscript (who may be less interested in your next story). Ask: am I trying to get agent representation for my whole career with this manuscript, or is this project something I feel would do best at a smaller publisher? Both are equally legitimate and make awesome books.

Have your CPs/betas read your query.
Maybe this seems obvious, but in case not: the people who've read your story are the ones you want to read your query. Are you focusing on the main conflict? Are you bringing enough of the voice in, are you setting the stakes? Your CPs and betas are awesome for help with this.

Send yourself a test email. Does it all look okay?
Paste your query and first whatever many pages into an email and send it to yourself. You'll see what agents and editors will see (if they use email submissions). Make sure that it formats nicely, and enjoy that peace of mind when it does. 

Make it easy for people with e-readers. 
This is one that I didn't know since I read submissions on my laptop. But, as more and more agents are using e-readers to read work, consider doing this to help them out:
It's also helpful to paste your query on the first page of the manuscript, too, so it's easy for an agent to remember which manuscript they're reading.

Collect up some inspiration, and prepare to move onto your next project. 
Start thinking up what you want to work on next! This can be super exciting, spending time cultivating your TBR (who am I kidding everyone's TBRs are probably massive) or researching for your next writing project. Whether you plan, pants, or something in between, this is the time to start your creative mojo. 

Remember: querying/subbing isn't the final say on everything, but the draft honeymoon should be over. 
Not getting any bites on a manuscript doesn't mean that it's the end of the line for it-- however, this is the point where the honeymoon should be over. (Revisions were the honeymoon, as awkward and perfect as that sounds.) You know the weaknesses and the strengths of this piece, you recognize that you have written a full and complete story, and you're ready to settle into moving onto the next phase of your writing life post-wedding/creating and forging manuscript. It doesn't mean that you never think about it, but more that the major creative showdown is done (until edit letters), you've taken it as far as you can go, and you're moving towards the next big challenge in your writing life.

Separate email accounts, social media as needed. 
This is two-in-one. Your query email needs to be professional-looking. That means or soandsowrites@ or if your name is already taken. It looks scads less professional if you're sending queries from or

How much separation you want between your email is up to you. I have all my writing mail forward to one place, but I can also understand (for stress/anxiety reducing purposes) wanting to have a "safe" email where you don't have to see rejections until you're ready. (I have a separate account for school-related email because sometimes I just want to be a cool writer person without worrying about who's asking me to extend their homeworks or whatever for a few hours.) Whatever works for you.

You've already heard that you have to be careful about social media-- if your CPs use gchat or text, I recommend saving the rants and sadfacing for those outlets. If you must use twitter or something to vent, either do it over DMs, or make another account for venting and protect your tweets so that only your friends/CPs can see them. Agents will check.

Batches, and the one rejection enters, another query leaves system.
Again, this is one of those your-mileage-may-vary dealios, but I feel like it keeps morale up to send out one more query whenever a rejection comes in. 

The "Badass" label, aka, keeping up your self-esteem.
Hopping on the ego train again, because querying is Rough on self-worth-- prepare for it beforehand. My trick (and you're totally welcome to laugh at/with me in the comments about this) is to label emails that make me feel awesome-- from CPs or people telling me how awesome my writing is, to cool art that people send me, or even just emails that say that someone I admire is following me on Twitter (yes, I am that vain)-- with this label that says "badass" on it. So, when I'm feeling like I suck, I can just click the badass label and remember that hey, I am kind of cool after all.

Spreadsheets! Or, keeping track of your stats.
Okay, so no one is going to hold a gun to your head and force you to keep track of these suckers. But you should have some means/method of making sure that you didn't send a query to an agent who's already rejected the manuscript you're querying. I personally recommend a spreadsheet (because I am mathy and excitable), but for the excel-phobic there's also QueryTracker.

Any more suggestions or awesome stuff I missed? Share it 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.

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @: 
Friday, January 24, 2014

From Supernatural to Contemporary YA

I was asking Twitter for blog ideas yesterday, and someone thought it would be fun to explain why I jumped from supernatural to contemporary. At least for my recent manuscript. I still have two supernatural/horror manuscripts in the works, so I haven't abandoned my love for the dark side just yet. With that being said, I'll tell the short story of how this all came about.

I never in a million years thought I'd switch up the supernatural. But as it is, I've had a hard time trying to get my manuscripts out in the world. When I had an agent, we went on submission with one and it got REALLY close, but didn't quite happen. Then, for reasons left unsaid, I went from looking for another agent and had a hard time finding GATEWAY a home. (Luckily I eventually did. Yay!) So anyway...I met an agent a few months back who read GATEWAY, but didn't quite click with it. I was crushed because I truly adore this agent and it wasn't like they didn't like GATEWAY, but it needed some work and my publisher really helped me revise it before I even signed. But agents want a manuscript that's clean and ready for submission, so I completely understood why they passed on it at the time.

The good thing that came out of this is that said agent really enjoyed my writing. They asked if I wrote contemporary. I, of course, said no. After talking back and forth for a while, this agent inspired me. It wasn't like the agent said: You should write contemporary or anything like that.

However, their faith in my writing made me realize that maybe I was selling myself short. Why didn't I write contemporary? Well, the answer to that is that I never thought I was good enough. The thing is...I've had a contemp idea in my head for a long time based on my own experiences (I'll write a blog about this another day). I've tried to write it a few times, but it just never happened. There was something that wasn't quite clicking for me. So when this agent asked me about my other manuscripts, I realized that I was perfectly capable of getting this story out. That maybe I was being too hard on myself.

It took some encouragement by an outside source to be like: Hey. You're a pretty neat writer. Maybe you should challenge yourself.

Those weren't the exact words, but that's what I took from it. It was the push I needed to step outside the box and see if I could do something completely different. When this was all taking place, NaNoWriMo was right around the corner. I took advantage and used this contemp idea for my project. This book had been inside my head for so long that I was amazed at how easily it flowed. I finished the first draft in two in a half weeks and I was like: WHOA. I guess I was ready to write this story.

And guess what? I'm really glad I did. I absolutely love this story and its heartbreaking characters, and I can honestly say that it has moved up to one of my favorites. It's a great feeling to know that I'm capable of more, and even if this manuscript doesn't go anywhere, I can go on knowing I did it. I wrote outside the box and it wasn't all that bad. It's been a lot of fun. I'm actually considering another YA contemp. Who knew!

So that's my story of SCAR TISSUE. I'll be querying this manuscript in hopes that it'll see the light of day, but if it doesn't, I still learned a lot about myself as a writer. It's been totally worth it. :)
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 @:
And visit her website @:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Secrets to Building an Online Presence

Ah, the all-important, frequently-mentioned online presence. It's one of those things people talk about all the time, but what is it really? And how do we get one? Who do we have to pay off to achieve it? Let's discuss.

In this day and age, we as authors are super lucky. We have *plays fanfare* THE INTERNET!

I'm not sure what authors did before the internet. Lots of pounding the pavement, probably. Lots of visits to the post office with thick manila envelopes, I'm sure. So let's all take a moment to say a thanks to that British guy who invented it.

Online presence was the very first thing my publicist and I talked about when I signed with Entangled. Getting your name out there, connecting with readers and other writers, is super important. Of course, actually writing is the most important thing, but online presence does a lot for a writer. Those people you connect with will be there for you when you need advice or when it's time to promote your book. So, how does one start? Here are my suggestions in list form because I love lists, if you haven't already noticed:

1. Twitter: Oh man, go get a Twitter account right now if you don't already have one! Follow authors you like, agents you'd love to be repped by, publishing professionals, and Misha Collins (always follow the Misha). And don't just sit quietly back stalking reading their feeds. Interact! Reply to their happy news, tell them why you love their work, thank them for any advice they give, etc. I'm not saying reply to their every tweet, just be friendly. I look at Twitter as one big party going on all at once. If you don't mingle, you'll never meet any one new and no one will remember you. The same will happen if you never venture out of your circle of friends.

I also think it's important to tweet at least every other day or so. I frequently go through the people I follow and unfollow those who haven't tweeted in a long time. Except for J.K. Rowling (always follow J.K. Rowling).

I really could do an entire post on the importance of Twitter and how to use it. Maybe I will... Would you like to see that? Post in the comments :)

2. Facebook: I was lucky enough to find the WraHM (Writing at home moms) society group on Facebook back when it was first started by Gennifer Albin, author of CREWEL. I've met soooo many awesome author ladies since I've joined. I've watched as they found success in publishing. We've commiserated about the many obstacles of writing, having a family, publishing, etc. I mentioned them in my acknowledgements because they're all awesome. And I've made a lot of other connections through them.

There are tons of Facebook groups for writers and readers. Through them you can meet other writers and readers. And when the time comes for you to promote your book, they'll be there to support you!

3. Blogs: Having your own blog is great and everything, but I've found it's not useful unless you interact with other bloggers. There's that word again: INTERACT! You have to visit other blogs, comment on their posts, join blog hops, and do memes. Don't have an agenda. Don't copy and paste the same comment on every blog you visit. That's called spam and everyone hates spam.

There are plenty of other social media sites like Tumblr or Goodreads that I haven't mentioned, but I think they all follow the same rules. Be genuine. Be nice. Make friends!

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Year In the Life of a Debut Author: Timeline Edition

Hi guys! Happy Monday!

Hard to believe it, but it's been a little over a year since I announced my first book deal. So what's happened since then?

Well, first off, there are quite a few great posts floating around the internet that talk about all of the steps involved in getting a book from a publisher’s initial offer to the actual bookshelf. One reason I think this post gets written a lot is because authors get asked about this a lot—except it’s usually phrased like Your book sold when? And it’s coming out when? Why so far away?” And then I, at least, just sort of nod and smile and say, “yes, it’s normal for a big traditional publisher to take that long, no it doesn't mean they hate my book, yes, I am very patient, thanks, etc...”, and then I try to explain everything that’s been happening behind the scenes, but I usually mix up my dates and words and end up just losing people halfway though.

So! I thought I’d write something on the subject down in a post, so I can just direct people to it instead. And because I liked specific dates and stats and stuff when I was researching everything before I was published (and even after, too), I thought I’d be as specific as possible—although, of course, this shouldn’t be used as a guide, since publisher’s timelines—even among the same imprints and same editors at the same house—are going to vary wildly.

This is just for fun, just for those curious about what my past year has looked like. Also keep in mind that this is my only experience, and it’s with one of the Big 5, and I’m sure other publishers work different, and that’s cool. Yay for other publishers and all the methods we now have for sharing beautiful books with the world! This is not a “let’s compare one publisher to another and talk about how slow traditional publishers are and how they’re going the way of the dinosaurs and blah blah blah!” sort of post. Incidentally, I’d never write one of those posts, because I happen to think my publisher is pretty kickass, and honestly this past year hasn't felt that slow at all. But I digress.

Right, anyway, here are some of those promised “behind-the-scenes” stats for you; enjoy! :)

Initial Offer on FALLS THE SHADOW made: January 3, 2013

Offer Accepted: January 14, 2013

Offer Announced: January 15, 2013

Contract (after agent negotiations) signed:  March 18, 2013

First Edit Letter Arrived: May 3, 2013

First Round of Edits Deadline: June 3, 2013

Second Edit Letter Arrived: July 29, 2013

Second Round of Edits Deadline: August 26, 2013

Book is considered D&A’d:  August 29, 2013
(D&A stands for “delivered and accepted”, which basically means I held up my end of the contract and produced a publishable book, which means I then get the second part of my advance, and we move on to…)

Copyedits Arrived: October 14, 2013

Copyedits Due: October 28, 203

First Look at my Book’s Cover: November 14, 2013

First Pass Pages Arrived: December 23, 2013

First Pass Pages Due: January 13, 2014

Official Release Date for FALLS: September 16, 2014

So there you have it. These are all the bigger things that have gone on this past year; all of this, of course, in between writing a new book (and a half!), revising said new book, and doing things like setting up interviews,  cover reveals, working with my editor on flap copy, filling out author questionnaires, eating lots of cookies, etc…

If you have any questions, ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!

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, January 17, 2014

Outlining for a Novel with Dual POVs

I'm baaaaack! 

Hey, everyone! I've rejoined the blogging world this month after my little maternity hiatus. And you know, I'm glad I took a break. Anyone who's had a baby knows that first month is a blur of feedings and poopy diapers and "Why is her head shaped like that? Is something wrong?" and drool (hers and mine). Blogging wasn't on my mind.

But now it is, and it has been since I started drafting again this month. See, I'm trying out this new thing: dual POVs. I've never done anything like this before, and honestly, I've never really wanted to. If there's one thing that bugs me about a dual POV book, it's when I have to keep flipping to the beginning of the chapter to decipher who is actually speaking. And you know, that happens a lot. So I decided that I wasn't going to attempt dual POV unless I was positive A) the story called for it and B) I could figure out a way to distinguish their voices enough.

(I'm still working on and failing at B, but that's another topic for another day.)

So since I haven't quite figured out B yet, let's talk A. How do you know your story absolutely needs a second POV to get the job done? The simplest answer is that one character has information that the other couldn't possibly know, and your readers need that information to make the story make sense. There you go. Think of Lena and Hana in Lauren Oliver's REQUIEM. They're at different, integral locations in the story, each fighting in the revolution in their own way from both inside and outside of the city. We need to know what's going on in both places in order to understand how the climax comes about, yes?

So I came to the conclusion that I needed both of my main characters, airplane mechanic, Nell, and her major screw-up BFF, Ronnie. Great. But how to outline?

I'm a Save the Cat beat sheet purist, and that method works well to outline when you're following one main character through a story. (I did a whole long post on how to outline with a beat sheet over on Pen and Muse if you want to check that out first for reference). So here's what I did to make this story structure make sense, and hopefully this can help you too!

When you're writing for dual POVs, I think it's important to remember that each of your main characters need to have their own, individually compelling plots and sub plots. If one is coming out as kind of the "sidekick," then you either don't need that character's POV, or you need to give him/her a bigger piece of the story. Example: When I first did the beat sheet for this story, it looked a lot like this:

  • Nell fixes the airplane engine, the fire alarms go off; Henry gets in the plane she fixed
  • Ronnie talks to her brother
  • Nell runs to the scene of the arson, finds a clue in the rubble
  • Ronnie talks to her uncle
See what I mean? I had to give Ronnie her own story. So this is what I did to make sure that happened: 
  • First, take a look at a beat sheet. Here's a quick reference guide.
  • For each section on the beat sheet, write two points: one for each character. Example: the first section is the Opening Image on the beat sheet, so if you're writing dual POV, you need to write a point for each character's opening image. On mine it's "Nell: working on an engine in her garage, pulls out her dad's old notebook. Ronnie: is sitting in the air traffic control tower with her uncle while he works because she's in trouble again, and he doesn't trust her to be home alone." 
  • Do this for every single section.
  • When you get to the start of Act III, your characters' stories should be converging. Right around the climax is when you want your reader to see why, exactly, you needed both of them in this story. Think of THE SCORPIO RACES. We had Sean and Puck's POVs the whole time, but it really made our hearts pound when we got to see their opposing thoughts during the race (Is Sean going to throw the race for Puck and lose everything? Is Puck going to let Sean win? etc.). 
  • From Act III until the end, both characters' POVs should help bring the story to a satisfying ending. They each should have their part in closing out the story. 
And that's that! Honestly, I'm still learning about this whole multiple POVs thing as I go along, but this method has worked pretty well so far. Have you written in multiple POVs before? Any tips or tricks to share? Add them in the comments! 

Andrea Hannah writes about delusional girls, disappearances, and darkness with a touch of magic. When she's not writing, Andrea runs, teaches, consumes epic amounts of caffeine, and tries to figure out how to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (unsuccessful to date). She's represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman-Schneider/ICM, and her debut novel, OF SCARS AND STARDUST, is coming from Flux in Fall 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can find her on Twitter @:
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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Subjectivity Sucks: A Guest Post by Sarah Blair

Subjectivity sucks. It just does. It’s a fickle mistress. One that every writer must be, er… subjected to if they want to put their shiny darlings out on display for the world to read. Wouldn’t it be great if we could write a book with characters we love, an engaging plot, and words that speak directly to the core of every single reader’s soul? It’d be like the writer version of the One Ring. One book to rule them all, and I would keep it in my pocketses and call it my Precioussss.

Unfortunately, pleasing ALL THE READERS is a thing that doesn’t exist. People are unique. Readers have different interests and experiences that they bring to the pages. It affects their interpretation of what they read. No writer can control that. It’s out of our reach. 

However, sitting here and telling you that is a very different thing than believing it for myself. I can type the words until my fingers fall off, but that doesn’t mean it won’t sting when that rejection shows up in my inbox. We writers pour everything into our manuscripts. We put off time with our loved ones, let the dishes pile up, and the DVR fill to the brim with unwatched shows, all in the name of making our book the very best it can be. Obviously EVERYONE should enjoy it, right? Because if someone doesn’t, it’s like they’re saying, “Your best isn’t good enough for me.”

Except that’s NOT what they’re saying. It may very well feel like it, but it isn’t. Not even close.

I’ve seen both sides of Internet writing contests. I’ve been a contestant as well as a slush reader. As a contestant, when you don’t get chosen, it’s hard to deal with. It’s even worse when you read the tweets or comments and see that ugly word SUBJECTIVITY pop up over and over. It’s difficult to believe that the slush readers, or mentors, or agents, or editors you’re submitting to might like your words just fine, but they aren’t grabbed by them.

As a slush reader, you’re wading through these wonderful words and there are SO MANY GREAT ENTRIES it truly is torture to try to choose only one. To make matters worse, there may be an entry that grabs you by the collar and won’t let you go. It haunts your dreams and you’re still thinking about it when you get out of bed to brush your teeth. But, maybe it’s a genre that isn’t selling. Or maybe the agents didn’t have it on their wish lists. Should you go with your gut and choose that entry even though there’s a chance no one else will love that brain eating zombie princess the way you do? Or should you choose the other incredible gnome erotica because erotica is super hot* right now? It’s a really tough decision. And when it comes down to it, agents and editors have families to feed, just like writers do. Sometimes taking that chance might be slightly too risky for them.

Unfortunately, subjectivity is an ugly monster that you can’t conquer, no matter how hard you try. Having trouble with grammar? Go grab Strunk & White or get some quick and dirty tips from Grammar Girl. Can't seem to pin down showing vs telling? Get a handy dandy Critique Partner to call you out on it. Your ms is 10k too long for your genre? Grab a chainsaw and hack those words to bits. 

These are all things you have control over. Subjectivity? Not so much. It’s that elusive ethereal thing that no one can quite put their finger on. 

Simon Cowell probably can't define what it is that gives some singers the X-Factor--that special spark that takes them from being another member of a church choir, to overnight superstar. He simply knows it when he sees it, and even HE doesn't nail it every single time.

Agents and editors know how to spot that X-Factor in the slush pile. Simon Cowell is just one person. The best part about the literary world is that there are TONS of agents, LOADS of editors, and ALL the readers. 

So, yeah, subjectivity may be fickle, but the pool of potential readership is deep and wide. As long as you write a book YOU want to read, and more importantly, DON'T GIVE UP, you can find someone else out there who loves what you've created as much as you do.

*I read this five times before I caught my own pun. I is clearly kan write good. #TWSS

Want more from Sarah Blair? (I don't blame you) You can find her here!
Twitter: @SarahLBlair 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Take a Walk

Sometimes I think that while we're busy exhorting ourselves to work like crazy, there's this idea that taking breaks, or letting anyone know that you take breaks, is a sign of weakness. Like, if you were a "real writer" you'd just power through it, because writing is an act of will and this will-train stops for no one.

And hey, while I'd like to believe that I could keep going for a string of hours long enough to make up a day without breaks because I am just that willful, it's not true.

There's a difference between taking breaks because you can't get motivated and taking breaks because you've tapped all the juice in this well. If you've been there, then you probably know it. It's the difference between "ugh, that prose is gross and I don't want to deal with it yet" and "I am so exhausted coming up with fresh scenes and rewriting the past whatever many pages that I just cannot deal."

In the first case, yeah, that's about time for an act of will: time to put on the big author pants and suck it up. For the second one, though, when you're creatively fatigued, then maybe it's time to give in and do something different.

At one of my elementary schools, there were these kids who would come in after the school day had ended and we'd all gone home and, just like we had our assigned seats, so too were they assigned to desks in our classroom. You never got to see the kid who had your desk in person, but you'd see relics of their passing: an eraser that they left behind, a tennis ball missing from the feet of your chair.

And sometimes their actions would affect you. You could get a cool eraser or rescue a pen they forgot, or you wouldn't be able to erase their desk graffiti fast enough before a teacher checked on you.

It was cool when things were good, but also weird-- thinking that in some inverse world there's another person who sits at your desk at night, plays with the stuff you leave there, rearranges and changes some things, and leaves it there for you to find in the morning. Sometimes I feel like our relationship with the subconscious mind (if, oh God, this doesn't sound too psych class for a Monday morning) works the same way.

Your subconscious is part of the powerhouse generating your ideas. It's a cog in the creative machine, and just like you're taking care of other aspects of yourself, like going to the dentist, doctor, keeping healthy, sometimes you need to make sure the part of you that takes over when the lights go out is okay, too.

I love that we're dedicated and we're willing to work ourselves to death. That grit is what makes you succeed, for sure. But, on this hectic Monday and new week when no one really wants to go back to work, take a little time to recharge creatively.

Maybe it's scrolling through tumblr pictures of fantastic landscapes (or, tumblr pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch, because there's no judgement in the land of creative revitalization) or maybe it's reading a book, watching a few episodes of a TV series you love, knitting, or taking a walk. Do something else. Anything that gets you to stop thinking about whatever you're working on for a while, lets it sift over to the subconscious' side of the desk.

Sometimes when I'm crazy exhausted or have a big decision to make about how plot stuff goes, I go to sleep. And usually, after hours of not thinking about it, I'll figure out how to make things work when I'm in the shower or eating cereal, or trying to figure out how on earth eyeshadow works again. Sometimes it happens after ten hours of grad school, when my brain has been working on totally different stuff.

You've been told enough already that you have to be insanely dedicated to make writing work, and you know that it's still true. This takes a lot of effort. Just don't beat yourself up if you need a break sometimes, because, hey guess what, we all do.

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 @:
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Friday, January 10, 2014

That Time I Conquered the First Round of Revisions

Helloooooo, Secret Lifers!! Gosh, it's been a while, hasn't it? So much has happened for all of us here at the Secret Life of Writers, and I know a lot has changed for some of you. This blog topic has come at the perfect time, because before last night, I really had no idea what I was going to talk about. But as it is, last night around 8:50 p.m. PST, I sent in my first round of revisions for my YA debut, THE GATEWAY THROUGH WHICH THEY CAME.

As most of you know, I announced my book deal with Curiosity Quills back in November, and since then my life has been a whirlwind of emotions. It's crazy how things can go from OMG I'M SO EXCITED MY BOOK IS GOING TO BE PUBLISHED to OMG MY BOOK SUCKS WHY DID I WRITE THIS SOMEBODY PUNCH ME. If you follow me on Twitter, then you saw this tweet from me posted last weekend:
Yep. That happened. I was stuck on a chapter for SIX HOURS. One stupid chapter. I just couldn't get my mind to process how to fix it. None of the sentences were making any sense and all the words were just jumbled together. My neighbors were stomping around above us, and the cars outside were so loud, and the TV screeched in my ears, and I completely broke down. I got up. Removed myself from the living room. Stood in my kitchen. And cried. 

I cried because everything was just so damn loud. I couldn't write. Couldn't concentrate. I was completely convinced that I couldn't do this. That I wouldn't get my revisions back in time. That my book was going to make absolutely no sense. And I was terrified that not a single person would even enjoy my book. 

In all honesty, that is the real reason I broke down. Because for the first time since I've become a writer, I'm working on a book that is actually going to see the light of day. People are going to read my words. REAL PEOPLE are going to read something I wrote and either love it, or completely rip it apart. And as much as I want to be published, nothing can ever prepare you for that. Because you WANT people to like it. Hell, love it, even! But I know some people won't. It's so, so scary to picture your book on a website like Goodreads where people will tell you how it is and not blink an eye. Meanwhile, you're behind your computer doing this: 

Let's be real. People can tell you to ignore Goodreads, but it's easier said than done. A part of me wants to know what people love or hate about my books, because guess what? Maybe I can learn a thing or two. I'm not perfect. No writer is. And if people don't enjoy GATEWAY, that's okay. I've been there. I can't tell you how many books I've read that everyone loves that I...didn't. It happens. But for me, it's the people who will enjoy it, maybe even love it, that make everything worthwhile. 

So even though GATEWAY is on its way to becoming a real book, I'm unbelievably excited and equally as scared. But this is something I've wanted more than anything, and I cannot wait to share it with you. My friends. 

With all that being said, I'm really excited to share with you that THE GATEWAY THROUGH WHICH THEY CAME has an official release date. Are you ready for this? 

Mark your calendars, you beautiful people you, for AUGUST 25TH, 2014!! 

That's right!! GATEWAY has been bumped up from the fall to late summer. I am so freakin' excited I can't even! Follow me on Twitter at: @HeatherMarieYA to keep up with cover reveals and tour info as the year goes along. 2014 is going to be the best yet! 
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 @:
And visit her website @:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Secrets to Figuring Out Your Plot

HAPPY NEW YEAR, LIFERS! I hope you had a safe and wonderful holiday season! But now, it's back to the grindstone. Time to get back to work on your writing. And we have a lot of awesomeness planned this year here at SLOW! Except for today, by which I mean I had nothing planned because... Well, I can be lazy sometimes. But that's okay because we have so many wonderful followers that all I had to do was ask if anyone had a question about writing or publishing. And lo and behold, you did!

I received a very interesting question, check it:

Such a great question! But a question with many, many answers and still the ones you get might not be the right answer for you. But I shall endeavor to give my opinion on the matter.

1. Know what you need to have. - There are exceptions to every rule, but for the sake of not getting too confusing, I'm going to stick with what I've always known as what a plot is. There's a beginning, middle, and end. Stuff happens to the characters, bad and good. And that's about it, really.

What? You need more explanation than that?! Okay, I can see how that might have been a little vague. Right, well, go download a pdf of Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! beat sheet. It's supposed to be mainly for screenplays but it's just as great for story telling in general. And while you're there, check out all the beat sheets for popular movies like the one for Jurassic Park and that will probably explain what the terms in the beat sheet mean.

(Just to clarify, that whole thing about Save the Cat! was not a paid advertisement, lol. I just think, like a lot of other writers, that that book is pretty fantastic!)

2. Talk it out! - Sometimes we just need to let our writer brain do what it needs to do. It's amazing what having someone in front of you, having someone who can react and ask questions, can do for the inner writer.

Email or chat up a writer buddy, call up a friend, pull your partner or roommate or mother aside for a brainstorming session. Whoever you have that is willing to listen to you ramble about your imaginary world, talk to them. This technique was mentioned often in a Twitter conversation I stalked, I mean, read between Gail Simone and some other comic book pros. A couple of them seemed to used it exclusively for figuring out the plot.

"But how do I explain it if I don't know what I'm explaining?" you my ask. Well, start with what you do know. "There's this guy and he's this thing and this other thing. He lives in this place. And then - " Pretend you're telling someone about a movie you just saw or a book you just read. And if you get to a spot where you don't know what will happen next, let your audience speak. What do they think should happen next? If what they say makes sense, great! If you don't quite like it, go with the exact opposite maybe and see where that road takes you.

3. Get inspired - It never hurts to know your genre very, very well. So read books in your genre. Watch movies and TV shows similar to what you're writing. I'm not saying copy from them, of course. Just look at what those who came before you have done. What did you like about those stories? What didn't you like about those stories?

There are tons of ways to get inspired, to let your writer brain do what it needs to do. Listen to music. Or go somewhere completely quiet. Go for a walk. Look for inspirational images. Sometimes, just a lyric or a picture can inspire an entire scene.

4. Use what you already have - So, you already have your setting. Well, how will that setting affect your characters? You already have your characters? How could your characters' flaws influence the story? I mean, your characters do have flaws, right? Riiiight??? I truly believe that a character's flaws are more important to the story than their good points most of the time. But that's a post for a different day.

And your characters spawn other characters. Your main character must have a mother, father, maybe siblings and friends who, in turn, might have their own affect on the plot.

5. Write it all down. - Write down any little kernel of an idea you have. Always have a pen and paper with you because you never know when inspiration will strike. It's a simple thing, but very helpful.

So, those are my ideas on how to figure out your plot. I really hope this is helpful, but remember: everyone does it differently! If this doesn't ring true for you, keep looking for more tips and KEEP WRITING!

Do you have any tips or tricks for figuring out your plot? Share in the comments! Unless you want to hog them all to yourself... In that case, phooey on you! ;)
Monday, January 6, 2014

...And Then it Was All Real and Stuff

Happy new year, lovelies!

So. 2014. It’s here. The debut year of myself, and Andrea and Heather, and lots of other fabulous authors.

Almost precisely one year ago today, I got that email from my agent—the one with the word “offer” in the subject line. And amongst all of the celebratory dancing and margaritas, I had this vague sense that my life was, more or less, changed forever because of that single message. Yes, I’m pretty sure I thought something terribly dramatic like that, something along the lines of this is one of those moments that divides, and now life is split into parts: the part that came before, and the part that comes after.  

So I braced myself. I was so ready for this next part, for that sense that I’d moved into a new era of my life, the “published author” era—because I’d been working to get to this side of the divide for what felt like forever.

To be honest, though, for most of 2013, things didn’t feel much different.

I kept writing, as I always had. Sure, I had official deadlines now, but I’d always set those and met them for myself before, so it didn’t seem much different. And yes, I had a book coming out, but it was still so far away that when I told people about it, I’m pretty sure most of them thought I was making it up (because most people outside of publishing don’t really get that, yes, it’s normal to take 18 months or longer, and no, that doesn’t mean my publisher isn’t actually serious about publishing my book).

In a way, it was liberating, to be able to carry on and just go about my business of writing without feeling like there had been any sort of dramatic shift; I was able to complete a new book,  the same as I’d completed the four that it took me to get to this side of things. Yes, I was also working through edit letters, fielding interview requests, and learning how to answer the “oh, you write books? Tell me more” question in public without sounding like a babbling idiot (okay, I’m still working on this last one)—but honestly, it was still No Big Deal.

But then, last Monday, I had my cover reveal for FALLS THE SHADOW. Which means it now has a face— a tangible sort of something that people now associate with the book, and that I don’t think they’ll easily forget (because my publisher is amazing and they created a totally striking, memorable coverthat you can see here).

And then suddenly it was like: Oh.


That’s right. My book is going to be out before long, and strangers are going to be reading it.

More than that, some strangers are looking forward to reading it (or so they tell me!). I’m still completely blown away and humbled by that—by the hundreds of twitter messages I received during my cover reveal (from strangers or otherwise), and by goodreads adds, and people sharing my book—my book—on their blogs, and pinterest boards and everywhere else all over the internet. To google your own name (not that I ever do that *cough*what google alert*cough*) and find that complete strangers are talking about this little story that once existed only inside my head, it’s, well…

It’s finally real now.

There's no stopping it, now.

And it’s exhilarating and terrifying and I-don’t-even-know, all at once. What I do know, though, is that all the time it took to make it real feels totally worth it now. 

I’m bracing for a crazy ride in 2014—and beyond—but whatever happens, I don’t want to forget that feeling, so I'm committing it here as much for myself as anybody. And I'm hoping for lots of dream-affirming moments like this for all of you this year, too--and so here's to goals and resolutions, and working toward those moments. 

Time to go out and make 2014 your bitch, secret lifers! 

But first, tell me in the comments how you're going to do that, and what exactly you're working toward this year--writing-related or otherwise? I want to know! So then I can hound you and guilt you about it until you make it happen ;)

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 @: