Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Just a glimpse

     I'm always struck by how judgmental we are of each other. I preach to my children to not judge, to be kind and loving instead, that - yes, there are definitely black and white lines when it comes to our moral code,  but they apply firmly to actions and not to people.
     People are chameleons -changing colors on the hour. If we catch someone in a red moment, we can easily dismiss him as a bitter, angry individual. That mom who bawls out her kids in the grocery line. The wife who tosses a too-loud snide remark in her husband's face. We can roll our eyes and call her a shrew. Or, we can wonder - what's going on behind the scenes that's making her act that way? What happened in her yesterday?
     We're human though. Even the kindest of us simply can't stop our thoughts from going there once in a while. A few weeks ago, I caught myself in the thick of people watching. My curiosity landed me on a journey that took me from feeling red-faced anger to blue melancholy. For me, it revealed aspects of humanity I don't always appreciate - in others and in myself as well.

Starbucks on a Sunday night.

A few teens and college students working on what seem to be school projects.

A few moms out after dark, grabbing a gab and a post-run chai tea latte.

And one old man, all alone.

I notice the fellow as I walk toward the coffee counter.  He’s asleep, or at least he appears to be, in one of the four easy chairs, across from the trio of gabby geese. Dressed in dirty, too- long- for- his- legs khakis and worn out shoes, he’s slouched over, his body curled into a ‘C.’ He’s drooling a little and quietly snoring, while a pair of teens, a girl and a guy, sitting caddy corner from him, smirks and snorts, gawking unabashedly at the man from their perches.

My husband immediately wants to kill the teenagers, but I, matter of factly urge him to restrain the growling beast that is his temper. I’m not in the mood to post bail for simple assault. Inside though, I want to strangle these two crapheads until their eyes pop out and they beg for mercy.

An hour later, the fun poking hasn’t grown tired for them. They continue to point, stare and giggle without reservation. The old man finally wakes from his nap. He stands and stretches, reaching absentmindedly for the empty or at least now cool cup of coffee on the table next to him. The crass teens watch him carefully, whispering to each other in a manner that’s probably only obviously rude to my husband and me because we’ve been spying on them.

Maybe they’re hoping for new material for their lame comedy act, maybe they’re gearing up to bully a little more overtly. I’ll never know, because the old man leaves, walks out of the coffee shop without making eye contact with anyone.  A trio of young high school girls looks up from their project work to watch him walk out the door. Each one is, for a moment, taken away from her notebooks and pens, flyaway flat-ironed locks, and lipstick. For just one moment, each of them, in her own silent space, takes notice. For some reason, this disheveled senior with his strange cowlick and his three-day old stubble seems to give everyone pause. I wonder if any of them will consider him later.


I’m stuck thinking of the old man intermittently throughout the evening. Where does he go when he leaves the coffee shop? Is he a widower who hates to be at home with his memories? Can’t stand how very lonely ordinariness can seem?

Did he just receive a frightening diagnosis? His own? His daughter’s?

Is his wife a clean freak with plastic covers over all of the furniture at home? Does he come to Starbucks simply to relax in a comfortable chair, sans plastic? 

I can’t know why the man chose to take a nap in such a public place, under the scrutiny of so many, but I love to imagine his life beyond this glimpse.

And, the bullies too. What are their stories?

What gave birth to their cruelty?

Is the girl victimized? Does someone call her ‘dike’ when they pass by her locker? Does the laughter press on her ears like a vise?

Does the teenage guy with her feel invisible in the hallways? Is that why he’s wearing bright red rain boots pulled high over tight black and grey check jeggings, a faux fur Russian hat and a lip ring? Is he pleading to be noticed without saying a word?

 Victims, preying upon a species they deem to be lower than themselves on the social food chain. I get it. I don’t like it, but the spin of the cycle is easy to follow.

Crisp November night kisses my cheeks as I exit the coffee shop. My husband, having forgotten his previous fervor toward the meanies, takes my hand in his and walks us toward our vehicle.

A man with a stark white collar passes us. The large gold cross around his neck glints in the glare of the streetlights, and the sweet smell of whiskey overpowers the air.

“Nice,” my husband says, his sarcasm landing like a heavy stone in my belly.

“It’s just a glimpse,” I whisper, and wonder, once more.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Writing Romance Novels for Teens


     It can be tricky to write romance for a teen audience. A writer must carefully balance her characters’ relationships on the thin line that exists between too juvenile and too mature.  If the writing is done well, readers should feel a hazy intensity when reading love scenes but obviously not feel the need to go to confession or take a shower afterwards. Below is a piece about the all-consuming fervor a teen experiences when bitten by the love bug for the first time.


     First love comes into view.  You’re giddy, nervy, like there’s a marshmallow in your mouth and there’s no way to swallow it. Your skin is on fire, but you have goose bumps, not blisters. You want to stare straight into his face, study the contour of his cheekbones, his chin, but your eyes dart everywhere else. You flip your hair and sigh, trying desperately to act nonchalant as he approaches.

     The sweet subtle smell of him, all cinnamon chewing gum and musk, floats into your senses, and you melt, just a little. You beg your wobbly knees not to betray you and vow to stand straight and still and sturdy.

     The moment your eyes meet his, time stops. White noise slips into all of the empty spaces between and around the two of you, and your lips part just enough to quietly gasp. The atmosphere is lit with an electrical charge that’s hissing and spitting off of him and onto you, along a current that’s unmistakably alive. It juices and jolts you in the thread of a moment before allowing you to breathe again.  

     And here you are, basking in the warm glow of the aftershocks that buzz in the bottom of your belly like happy bees. You swallow the bliss of that silent interlude, the one that spoke volumes with no words at all. The moment has seared itself into the skin of your memory, knowing it can never be outdone. You will never forget this.

     Until he smiles.

     At you.

     And suddenly, you can’t even remember your name.


     Writing romance for teens requires me to open up that memory vault where I store my most cherished teenage memories of first love. Strangely enough, after all of these years, those memories are still pretty vivid, probably because of the intensity of emotion I felt during these moments. Most people can easily recall the sweaty brow, the bundles of butterflies, the two word conversations that meant so much more than what was actually said.  As adults, we tend to chuckle at the high drama of it all, but for the teens experiencing it, these feelings are very real and super strong.

     When writing a love scene, I take a trip back through time, shed the years of trial and error, disenchantment and practicality, and slip back into the penny loafers I was wearing the year I first fell in “love.” Immersed in memories of angst on top of pins and needles on top of breathlessness, my adult mind is both entertained and intrigued by the sheer concentration of every feeling, the phenomenon of emotions on steroids.  I allow myself to sink almost completely into the teenage drama queen I used to be, but make sure to keep my head above water – just enough to be able to use my years of life experience to send the right kind of message. After all, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to summon the passion of that recklessly love struck creature I used to be, while safely keeping the gifts of truth and wisdom in the back pocket of my (still hip) Mom jeans.

     I don’t know how other writers of YA romance handle this, but I feel a responsibility to set boundaries within my stories. I want to show examples of young men and women with forceful feelings for each other, attractions and urges my readers themselves are experiencing. Then, through the actions of my characters, I want my readers to learn how to harness those feelings and make good decisions. I’m not saying I’m going to hose down my lover boy with ice cold water and cover every inch of my protagonist’s skin. Characters have to be authentic, and sometimes steamy is authentic. Steamy doesn’t have to go over the line to be good though, and if love scenes are written well, they can do more than simply excite the reader. They can open up a conversation about limits and how abiding within them can foster a love story that’s real enough to last and last.

     The romance between Callie Evans and Joshua Pride in Whisper, book one of the Whisper series, is, in a word, magnetic. The intensity between these two individuals practically pulses off the pages. In Wake, book two of the series, both jealousy and danger push Callie and Joshua to an even deeper level of crazy love for each other and force them to have a discussion about boundaries. Although Callie’s identity has morphed to celestial proportions, her values remain those of a good Catholic girl with a conservative upbringing. In short, Callie and Joshua are engaged in war against both the Darks of Satan and their own hormones. It’s almost too much to bear, but the fragile hope of what’s to come, along with the core truths that have been laced into their consciences keep them tethered to the right track. Wobbly, but tethered none the less.

     What do you think? What, if any, lines should not be crossed when writing books for teens?

Friday, August 2, 2013

An Interview with Heidi Ruby Miller from Raw Dog Screaming Press

     I had the pleasure of meeting Heidi at the Penn Writers Conference this past May. Heidi not only is one of the managing editors at RDSP, but she is also an author herself. She has had amazing success both in mainstream and self publishing, and she shared many of the secrets of her trade with me. She is a self publishing guru and really knows how to work the market on her own. Check out Heidi's bio below for more info on this energetic, super smart, and incredibly sweet lady.

View Heidi Ruby Miller_author photo.jpg in slide show
1. Tell me a little about what you do at RDSP.I am the managing editor for RDSP's new Science Fiction Adventure imprint, Dog Star Books (launching August 2013). That means I'm in charge of title acquisitions and contracts, most content editing, and some copy editing. I also coordinate with our incredible cover artist, Bradley Sharp, and undertake some of the marketing responsibilities.

I also write for them so I have that rare opportunity to see both sides of the table, and I believe that perspective, coupled with teaching at Seton Hill and constant educational enrichment, makes me a better editor.

2. Why did you choose to go into the field of writing and publishing?
I always loved reading and writing, especially Science Fiction and Thrillers, but never pursued the writer's life seriously until enrolling in Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction Graduate Program in 2005. That changed my life, and I knew I could only ever follow my dream from that first term forward. And that's exactly what I've been doing.

3. What books did you love as a young adult and what are your top 3 favorite books (any genre)?
I was just telling my husband yesterday when we went to see Pacific Rim that I bought every RoboTech book as a child, along with all the G. I. Joe Choose Your Own Adventure Books, and Star Wars comics. I also loved Madeleine L'Engle. A Wrinkle in Time is my favorite book, and one of the few I've read twice. Rounding out the rest of my top three are Don't Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk and 2010 by Arthur C. Clarke.

4. What is your view/the industry's view on self pub and how is it changing?
Wow. This could be an entire post. Suffice it to say that I believe self-pubbing propelled my career. In the two years since I released Ambasadora as an e-book, I have noticed less stigma attached to self-publishing, but also the profits seem to be evening out a bit. It feels as though the industry changes each month. I try to keep up with it all, as I'm rather business-minded as well as a creative type.
My husband and I both have a hybrid philosophy at the moment. We have some works published through Big 5, some through smaller publishers, and some we've put out on our own. I see many of my peers keeping to a hybrid as well. But each writer must do what is best for him or her. One thing I've learned is that every circumstance is different and all writers have their own journeys.

5. What advice would you give to an author who is going the self pub route?
Write what you want to write. Put out the best product you can. Immediately write the next book.

6. How do you think e-books are changing the market?
For readers: more choice, better prices, more convenience, easy sampling.
For writers: more money, more creative control, faster development, faster feedback, more room for experimentation, easier to reach niche markets.
And, for those who panic and lament the end of print books and the feel of paper and the smell and such--print books aren't going anywhere any time soon. In most instances the audiences for print and digital books are still very different.

7. You are an e-book marketing guru. Give me 5 tips on how to market and sell.
Having as many good books available under your name as possible is the biggest marketing tool of all.

Whether some people like to hear it or not, really the key to selling right now is Amazon. Fiddle with your book. Change the price around every once in a while, but hover around that magic $2.99. Try a new description if the one you have doesn't seem to attract an audience; the same is true of a cover. Use your KDP promotional days to get your books into the hands of as many readers as possible and don't worry if you give away 5,000 books--there are millions of readers.

Make the most of your Amazon author page and your Goodreads author page--both are more important than your website because they are right there in the path of readers so they can find you without having to look for you. Because most often they won't come looking for you. Why do think Starbucks put two coffee shops on oppoiste sides of the street in some cities? Because they know people are unlikely to alter their routine even to cross the street.

8. Tell me about your books. What gave you the idea for Ambasadora?
My biggest influences for all my work, whether my speculative fiction or my thrillers, comes from dreams. I know I am finally immersed in a story when I begin to dream and daydream about it constantly. Then I often go into hermit mode and forget about much of the world until the book is finished.
Bits of the world for Ambasadora came from many different influences: Disney World, TV, comics, books, the fashion world, travel, movies, and music. The Ambasadora-verse really exists out there somewhere so far as I'm concerned and there are lots of stories waiting there, like Greenshift, which is about to make its paperback debut (available as an e-book now) and Starrie, which is next in line for publication.

Ambasadora (Book 1 Marked by Light)          Greenshift (From the World of Ambasadora)
9. You talk a lot about your travel experiences. How do you think these have influenced youand your writing?
I always include details from each journey I take--and the journeys don't have to be far away. I can get as much inspiration an hour from my house as I can across the world. Luckily, my husband and I are still childlike in our sense of awe. I hope we never lose that.
We're heading to Paris in a couple of weeks. You can bet each of us will be infusing the feel and the details of our time there into our books somewhere down the line.

10. What is one thing you'd like your readers to know about you?
I love fashion! Part of what makes me happy each morning is putting on a cute dress or top. I only buy items that I love and I mostly stick to black and grey with a pop of bright color from time to time, even if it's just a small accent. I'm especially fond of reds, purples, and blues. And, I have finally begun to wear white a bit more often, though it tends to get lost on my fair skin.


Heidi Ruby Miller uses research for her stories as an excuse to roam the globe. With degrees in Anthropology, Geography, Foreign Languages, and Writing, she knew early that penning fast-paced, exotic adventures would be her life.

She's put her experiences and studies to paper in her far-future AMBASADORA series and into ATOMIC ZION, the beginning of her new supernatural spy series.

In between trips, Heidi teaches creative writing at Seton Hill University, where she graduated from their renowned Writing Popular Fiction Graduate Program the same month she appeared on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. AMBASADORA was her thesis novel there, and the multi-award winning writing guide MANY GENRES, ONE CRAFT, which she co-edited with Michael A. Arnzen, is based on the Seton Hill program and was named #5 in The Writer magazine's Ten Most Terrific Writing Books of 2011.

She has had various fiction and non-fiction publications, as well as various jobs, including contract archaeologist, foreign currency exchanger at Walt Disney World, foreign language teacher, and educational marketing director for a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Currently she is an editor at Dog Star Books and sometimes co-hosts author interviews on the GoingLIVE talk show on FCTV.

Heidi is a member of The Authors Guild, International Thriller Writers, Pennwriters, Broad Universe, SFR Brigade, Science Fiction & Fantasy Saturday, and Science Fiction Poetry Association.

She's fond of high-heeled shoes, action movies, Chanel, and tea of any sort.You can read about her books, travels, and author interviews at and tweet her @heidirubymiller.

She lives near Pittsburgh with her traveling companion and writer husband, Jason Jack Miller.

Contact her at

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Coming home to Pittsburgh...

     I was sifting through seashells today, taking a moment to exhale after a week of wonderful houseguests and beautiful busy noise, enjoying the still salty memories from our recent beach vacation. I came across a poem that found my fingers on our first morning back home. It reminded me how wonderful it is to return home renewed and refreshed by time with family, sea breeze and beach walks with no planned destinations or time restraints.  Our trip to the beach soothed my soul, loosened my nerves and bleached my hair a color I've decided to call carefree (not the same as careless) blond. (It's terrible, but I refuse to pay to have it darkened when it will just get more bleached by chlorine and sun for the rest of the summer.)

     Vacation for us, as it is for most families, was a break from the spinning cycle of run here, sprint there, pick up this one, drop off that one, Hi, Bye, goodnight, and so on. Instead of the morning rush to catch the school bus, we'd leisurely slip into swimsuits and sunscreen and make a day of searching for sharks eyes and tulip shells. During these hot, lazy strolls, conversation seemed to spill as naturally as the ocean spills onto the sand. On rainy nights, all five of us would cuddle up together on the one couch, under two blankets, relishing in the uncomfortable perfection of being so close to each other. We watched movies and ate popcorn and candy for dinner, confident we wouldn't get bellyaches or cavities. That stuff just doesn't happen on vacation.

     After two weeks of sandcastles, seafood and sun, it was time to say "See you next summer." I was okay with that. I left the beach feeling blessed to have had the opportunity to experience it with my daughters and husband and also with parents and extended family. The beach left me rejuvenated, calm and grateful for everyday blessings.

      Much as we enjoyed rubbing shoulders with each other in our tiny condo, I have a renewed appreciation for the breathing space our home provides. I absolutely loved every minute my toes twitched in the sand, but I'm also glad now for the smell of fresh cut grass and clover. Marco Island was as magical as always, but Pittsburgh is where we make magic from our own little square of reality. There is a time for vacation, and then there is a time for....

 Coming Home

Crossing the quiet threshold, we bring the noise.

It smells wet and empty, like old dirty laundry.

In a day or so, the air will fill

With morning breath and garlic

And the scent of pool soaked bodies kissed by sunscreen.

The plants are mostly dead.

Too much rain or not enough attention?

Hard to say, but it doesn’t really matter.

We’ve come home.

Solid ground and pillows that don’t leave a crick in my neck.

A sense of newness inside the old and comfortably worn.

I kick my shoes off in the hallway, noticing the stray grains of sand that spray from them like sea foam.

I sigh, then smile, then shrug my soft muscled shoulders.

We’ve brought the beach back home with us.

In more ways than one.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Stinky Boots - Embarassing Moments Make the Best Memories

Someone recently asked what my most embarrassing moment was. I took one look at my husband's face. He had both eyebrows raised, both begging and demanding that I not tell the story. So, I thought I'd blog about it instead. Everyone has a terribly embarrassing moment, right? And, honestly, if you don't have one, you need to get one and learn to laugh at yourself. It's so cathartic.  Feel free to post your funny moments below. I'd love to laugh at you too.

Okay ~ here is probably the funniest/most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me.
I was pregnant with my first daughter, almost 10 years ago, and it was my 2nd prenatal visit. I had spoken to my Mom earlier that day and she'd informed me I would not have to have an internal check anymore -the doc would just listen to the heartbeat and measure me etc.. It was Friday late afternoon, and my husband was with me. We were dressed to go out to dinner and a movie after the appt., and I was wearing my infamous stinky black boots with... wait for it...

No. Socks.

Now, this may seem a little strange to some, but honestly, these were really stylish (from Payless by the way - I was dressing on a teacher's salary...) and super comfy high heeled black boots. And, really, they were only smelly when I took them off, so I figured what they heck? No one was going to be seeing (or smelling) my bare feet in mid December, right?


Cute young Dr. (the one in the practice that all of the nurses and patients got googly eyed over) walks in to the exam room and introduces himself to me and my husband.

"How you doin?" And, he winks... I swear.... maybe.

He then proceeds to tell me to change into the green papery robe so he can come back in to do my internal.


The minute he leaves, I completely freak out.

"These are my stinky feet boots!" I tell my husband, desperately seeking one of his solutions.

"So?" he asks - totally not getting what an internal exam is, probably, or possibly not suffering from the visual of cute Doc's face resting uncomfortably and green with nausea between my sweaty stirruped feet.

"I can't take them off! The whole room will stink!"

"So, leave them on," he tells me.

Now, I'm suffering from the visual of me in what  would look like a pair of stripper boots when worn with no panties and propped up in stirrups.

"Yeah, that's not happening." I desperately scan the room, trying to locate a quick fix for the stench my feet would bring to the table. Powder? Spray? Soap?

Soap!  And, not just soap. Water! Angels sing - "laaaaaa", and a ray of light bursts through the acoustic ceiling tiles, shining directly on my salvation - the corner sink. I could wash my feet with soap and water before Dr. Cutie returned.

At this point, I am wearing a tight fitting red sweater (pregnancy chest, remember?) and one high heeled black boot. No pants, no skivvies, no gown yet. I make my way, bare bootied, over to the sink and hoist one leg up onto the counter, ready to scrub away the gross when "knock knock knock," Dr. Cutie Pants walks in without pause.

"I'm not ready yet!" I shriek, in what may or may not have been the English language. I probably sounded like a cross between a howler monkey and a sick cat.

My husband bursts out laughing at me sliding gracefully across the floor on one wet foot, slamming the door shut with my body and staying there to make sure the Doc doesn't push his way back in.
To this day, I am sure beyond the shadow of a doubt that Dr. Cutie Pants saw me, washing myself at the sink. Every time I start to imagine what he may have been thinking the moment the image of naked butt, soap drippy me graced his eyes, I cringe and stop myself. The shame is too much to bear. I'm sure his staff, upon hearing the shrew-like echo that reverberated down their Christmas card decorated hallway, readied themselves to fax prescriptions for any number of mood altering drugs.

Safe for pregnancy drugs, of course.

In the end, I did wash both feet before I forced my husband to inform the Dr. I was ready for my examination now. Never wore those boots to the Dr. again, but I did continue to wear them to places I was one hundred percent sure I would not have to take them off.

And, stinky or not, they were my favorite boots ever.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Marco Island.

     Most people have a favorite vacation spot. Some people are drawn to the woods where nights are spent around crackling campfires with nothing between them and the stars. Others prefer bright lights big city. Las Vegas calls to them with the ding ding of slot machines, or New York's Broadway scene serenades them back year after year. For me, it's Florida, specifically, Marco Island.


     Marco Island is in Southwest Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico. The water is always clear and warm, there are always interesting treasures to collect - shells, sand dollars, starfish, -  and the island promises a sense of serenity that exists nowhere else on earth for me. I've been vacationing here for 9 years, and every time I visit, I learn something new that I love. My oldest baby took some of her first steps on this beach. My middle child proved herself fearless in her quest for live giant conch a few years ago. My youngest is learning to swim in the Gulf... no floaties. My husband and I find each other again and again along this shoreline. It's both comfortable and exciting at the same time.

     I'm always inspired to write poetry when I'm here. It's God's creation, stirring within me a sense of gratitude. I'm so thankful that He fashioned a place such as this.

Tigertail at Sunset.

I can feel the peace of God here.
It dances on the sulfur sea breeze and lingers in my hair
It laps at my toes on the shelly shoreline.
It sneaks around a stubborn cloud and slides down a singular ray of sunshine to find my upturned face.
I close my eyes and breathe it in.

I’m fairly sure that Heaven hides here.
Just behind every fleeting sunset, it sits in wait,
Teasing me with vaporous trails of cloud.
The inlet below winds through marsh and reed and pours itself into the welcoming Gulf,
Unaware of the perfection it reflects.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A host of agent Interviews~ #1 Suzie Townsend from New Leaf Literary

     I've learned that one of the best things you can do as a new author is talk to as many professionals in the field as you can. During my weekend at the Pennwriters conference, I was fortunate enough to meet a host of uber talented individuals - writers, editors, and agents. After several conversations with agents and editors from a wide range of different publishing houses and literary agencies, I realized that these guys had a wealth of information that my writer peers and I definitely needed access to.
     We all want to know what agents are looking for in a query. What makes an agent read the first couple of lines of the letter, then immediately click reply and insert a form rejection letter? What is the average advance for a first time author? These are just a couple of questions that writers have for agents and editors.
      Pennwriters held a session in which writers could sit with different agents and editors, one on one, and basically interview them for ten minutes. We could ask any questions we wanted about the field, about our own writing... anything. I waited in line three times and talked to three different agents. Funny thing was, I got three different sets of answers to the same list of questions, but still... it was really informative, possibly one of the best sessions of the conference for me. I decided to ask a few of the agents I met to answer some interview questions that I could post here on my blog and share with fellow writers. So far, they have all agreed to do so! So nice, right?!
     The first agent I interviewed was Suzie Townsend, an amazing and super smart young woman from New Leaf Literary. New Leaf is a full service boutique agency out of Manhattan that represents both commercial fiction and children's as well as some nonfiction. Suzie herself has represented books such as The Nightmare Affair, by Mindee Arnett and Losing It, by Cora Carmack, two totally different genres of books but both great reads. She has experience with everything from creatively working with successfully self published novelists to dealing with publishing houses to sell her clients' theme park rights. Think Harry Potter World in Disney - those are theme park rights.
     Since my first book, Whisper, is self published, I wanted to pick Suzie's brain about how her self pubbed clients had become so successful. She was kind enough to meet me for coffee in New York City and spend an hour giving me tips on how to successfully market my book on my own. Apparently, her client, Cora Carmack, who is self published, got so much buzz in the book blog arena when her first book, Losing It, was released, she topped the charts before anyone in the mainstream publishing community had ever heard of it. When it started hitting best seller lists, publishing houses were calling Suzie about the book. The success of Losing It is really a testimony to social media marketing. The book blogging community (as well as the awesomeness of this hilarious novel) really put Losing It in the spotlight. Suzie shared some advice on how to reach out to the many YA book blogs that are out there and also handed me a slew of other helpful tips.
     Below is our interview. Some of the questions are just for fun, but most are ones I felt that writers would want to ask a successful literary agent, like Suzie Townsend.

Interview with Suzie Townsend from New Leaf Literary Agency

1. What makes you decide to take on someone as a client?

First I have to love the manuscript. Then we'll have to be on the same page in a discussion. We should have the same vision for the manuscript and the author's career moving forward--as in what they'll write next. 
2. What characteristics do you love in a protagonist? A villain? Examples?
I just love characters that are real. Flawed characters that have realistic motivations. I want them to be complex. A great example I can think of are the characters from Game of Thrones. When you read the first book, you have a clear idea of who the "good guys" are vs. who the "bad guys" are, and then as you keep reading and you learn more about each of the characters, your allegiances start to change. And no matter whether you like a character or not, you believe they're real. 

3.What books did you love as a young adult?

When I was a teen I read a lot of adult fiction. I was a big Stephen King fan, and I love the Ender series by Orson Scott Card.
4. What are your top 3 favorite books (other than your clients' books)What is an average book deal for a first time writer?
I'm going to give you my top three authors (non-clients) instead: Melina Marchetta, JK Rowling, and Tana French. Then my three favorite books in the last year are: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

5. What is an average book deal for a first time writer?
There isn't really an average. Plenty of debut writers get no advance--with all the ebook publishers out there, they usually give no advance but the potential to make money in royalties is good. Other debut writers can get up to six figures for an advance, but that's not typical. 
6. Tell me about how sub rights work. Are they standard in a deal?
A book deal is more than just a deal for the book. The domestic book that you see in the airport bookstore, is just a piece of the puzzle Subrights are the other rights involved--the translation rights, the UK edition, the audiobook, the movie or television show--that stem from the book. So Harry Potter World in Florida qualifies as theme park subrights. Here's a great post that will tell you a little more about them. 

7. What is your view/the industry's view on self publishing and what advice would you give an author who decides to go this route?

I don't know that the industry has a collective view on self-publishing. The rise of ebooks has made it easy to self publish and as a result opened up a lot of opportunities. But because it's so easy, it also has it's pitfalls. A lot of people don't have a plan beyond putting the book online. For every story you hear of people selling millions of copies, there are at least a hundred cases you don't hear of people who only sell a hundred copies.
8. What would you like writers to know before they query you?
It's just always great to be informed. About what other books are out there, about the industry, about what kind of carer they want to build.
Thank you Suzie Townsend for being gracious enough to share! 

I will be doing a series of interviews with a host of talented agents and editors in the coming weeks. Keep up with my blog for more information!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Revelations by Jason Jack Miller coming June 13th from Raw Dog Screaming Press!

Coming June 2013 from Raw Dog Screaming Press
Cover Art by Brad Vetter
Preston and Katy face a new darkness....
Sometimes a battle between good and evil doesn't look much like the ones they show in movies. The good guys don't always wear white, and they don’t always walk away with the win.
And sometimes you're better off with the devil you know.
The last time Preston went down to the crossroads, his best friend died and he nearly lost his brother. But Old Scratch doesn't take kindly to fools, especially not those who come knocking at his front door. And before all is said and done, he's going to teach Preston a thing or two about what it really means to sacrifice.
Read the first 100 pages of The Revelations of Preston Black -
Pre-order The Revelations of Preston Black at Raw Dog Screaming Press -
Raw Dog Screaming Press –

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Again - Hoping for never again

     I wrote this piece because I am moved and bewildered and saddened by the number of teen suicides that have occurred in our community recently. Why does this keep happening? Why must these bright lights be snuffed out when they are just beginning to shine? My heart aches for the families, the friends, and my mind can’t help but question the reasons.

     In Whisper, my young adult trilogy, I suggest that dark forces are weaving into the minds of teens, suggesting destructive behaviors, trying to steal their joy, their very souls. Whisper is a work of fiction, but sometime I can’t help but wonder…

     I pray for all of the families who have lost loved ones to suicide. And I pray that these terrible forces that are leading  young people to take their lives may be extinguished by all that is right and good in our world and beyond.


   Tragedy strikes.


     A mother’s scream confirms the terrible truth of it as her greatest nightmare reaches out and slaps her in the face. No one hears her, but soon the world finds out. And soon, the men and women wearing the “I’m in charge” name tags compose and distribute an email to all families in the school district, explaining a horror that can never ever make sense.


     And counseling is offered to all of the students. And lovely memorial services are planned and attended by many.  And the girls and boys are sitting in their algebra and physics classes with big puffy eyes and runny noses, trying their best to focus on x plus y and gravity and motion, but how can they? The unthinkable has happened.


     And, a minute later, everyone has texted and tweeted about the terror that has struck their little town – “did u hear what happened to so and so?” “did u hear what he or she did?” “it’s awful.” “I can’t believe it.”

     Really? Because it’s certainly happened enough times to be more than believable. Three times in one school year seems quite a lot for a horror such as this… and yet.

     It keeps happening.

     And the mothers and fathers keep on screaming long after the buzz has left the screen.

      And the rest of the world continues with x plus y and gravity and motion and texting and tweeting and emails and sleep. And they forget the punch to the gut they felt when the news broke. They forget how they couldn’t breathe for a second when they found out. They forget to remember how precious life is, even in the valley of teenage discontent.



Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pennwriters Conference 2013~ Pitch Perfect

     It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the 2013 Pennwriters annual conference held in Pittsburgh, at the Airport Marriot, where the corridor outside of rooms 203-208 was filled with chattering teeth, sweaty brows and more deep breathing than a yoga class. This was where aspiring-to-be-published authors waited in line for their turn to pitch their book to an agent, face to face for ten whole minutes. Scary stuff, right?

     Not really.

     As unpublished writers, we tend to harbor a sense of insecurity about how others view our authenticity. We know, or at least think, we’re good at laying pen to paper (fingertips to keyboard,) but we’re terrified of being judged, especially by people who get paid for having the “right” opinion.  I mean, their words can make or break us. They can agree to read our manuscripts, to take us on as clients and sell our projects into print, to make our dreams come true. They can flat out reject us for any old reason they like. Maybe our books aren’t a fit for their companies. Maybe they don’t dig our turquoise flatform open toed shoes… Who knows, really?

     So, in the midst of totally freaking out over having only two hours and thirty seven and a half minutes left before my oh so pivotal pitch appointment with an editor from a big name publishing house (who was never ever going to buy a book from an unpublished, unrepresented writer anyway...,) I had a bit of a revelation.

     I was there, at the 2013 Pennwriters conference, to learn something. And getting ten whole minutes in front of a successful editor meant that, even if I knew he wasn’t going to buy my book, I could ask him a slew of really important questions and get answers from an expert.  After this seemingly common sense tidbit struck me, I stopped wigging and started pondering all of the information I wanted to take away from this place.  Information that would help me make good decisions about my work in the future. I stopped shaking. My heart stopped trying to punch its way through my chest. I was ready to interview this guy.

     I ended up pitching to four agents and an editor at the conference. I also did my best to casually speak with other agents and professionals, not to try to sell them my book but to pick their brains for the answers I was seeking.  I left the conference overflowing with ideas and information and so grateful to these talented and knowledgeable individuals who’d shared their expertise with me.

      Funny, we, as aspiring-to-be-published authors had put these agents on pedestals, made gods out of them as well as demonized them. They’re just people doing their jobs. Some of them are superstars in their industry and have so much to teach us at venues like these conferences. Others… not so much superstars…  A few seem as nervous sitting across from us and our lists of questions as we may be pitching to them.  Maybe they are the ones with the shaky hands, funny faces, squeaking voices. Believe it or not, it happens.

     Ultimately, it was the best of times. I got what I paid for and so much more. Sure, for the first couple of hours,I may have sprouted a few gray hairs and a stress pimple worrying about my big chance to shine, but after I came to my senses, I sucked up all the good stuff I could get.  Great job Pennwriters! I’ll definitely be attending next year’s conference.