Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

I belong to a great writers’ workshop, and we put on a writers’ conference every year. And this year, DFWcon melted my face off like Dave Grohl rocking during a Foo Fighters’ encore set.

Lemme give you 10 reasons why:

1. I met my agent, Sara Crowe, in person, for the first time ever!!! She’s so phenomenal in eleventy-billion ways, and hanging out with her all weekend just confirmed them all. I had so much fun gabbing and getting into shenanigans. (In-N-Out Burgers! Panel Discussions! Bull-Riding at Billy Bob’s!)

2. I met many other publishing professionals, and it turns out that PR genius Mer Barnes, and super agents Sarah LaPolla and Jennie Goloboy are just as crazy cool as you’d expect. (Psst…they aren’t bad at Texas two-stepping either.) And editor Stacey Barney? When she talks about YA, drop your fork and take notes. Her taste in good books (and dessert) is impeccable.

3. Alec Shane is at Writers’ House. He’s also a former Hollywood STUNTMAN. Dude. Fo Realz. He might not have an official action figure, but hey, google his IMDB page. Then award 1,000,001 street cred points for appearing in a flick called MAXIMUM CAGE FIGHTER. And award another 1,000,001 points for championing boy YA books. (Note to self: Write heartbreaking, edgy YA about a seventeen-year-old mixed martial arts master. Who cage fights. In Post-Apocalyptic Detroit.)

4. There’s a coffee shop in Hurst called ROOTS. They make blackberry green tea Chai lattes. That taste like warm blackberry cobbler. Don’t tell me how many calories are in a Venti. I don’t want to know.

5. Author Rosemary Clement-Moore is a perfect hotel roommate. She doesn’t snore, she doesn’t hog all the hot water, and you can totally pick her brain at 1:00 a.m.

6. Kate Cornell is the world’s best agent wrangler. She gets your agent coffee, packs a mean conference survival kit, tells perfect anecdotes, and absolutely, positively doesn’t hold it against you when you have to drive back to Abuelo’s and kidnap her because you couldn’t figure out the right exit to get to the airport.

7. DFWcon attendees are charming and sweet and 100% inspiring. When you teach a session, they don’t heckle you and they ask great questions. When they practice pitch you, they blow you away with high concept premises (Hey, Sally Hamiltinez!) and well-developed ideas. (Hello, MR. SECULAR APOCALYPSE, I’m talking to YOU.)

You can e-mail Jason at

8. This year’s GONG SHOW–I can’t even, guys. What happens when you listen to agents gong and crit queries/first pages? A scorched earth, DEFCON LEVEL I nuclear blast zone of shock and awe-some. Mildly painful. Seriously instructive.

9. Rosemary, A. Lee Martinez and I taught a ‘Perfect Your Pitch’ class. And Candy Havens critiqued reads with us, too! Our best advice? When querying, your e-mail shouldn’t be Also, never google ‘purple bondage lolcats.’ EVER.

10. Author Roni Loren knows how to write a scorching hot love scene. She also knows how to teach you how to write a scorching hot love scene. She also, also knows the words one must never use in a love scene. No LOVE SWORDS or SECRET GARDENS, apparently. Can’t imagine why.

So…how was your conference weekend? If you were at DFWcon, I’d love to hear about your experience!

I have news! The University of Texas at Arlington contacted me about developing/teaching a few courses for writers. This spring, I’m teaching Writing Young Adult Books. You do NOT have to be a UTA student. Anyone can enroll.

The class will run for five sessions, Monday Evenings from 7-9 p.m. CST.

Session one: April 30th
Session two: May 7th
Session three: May 14th
Session four: May 21st
Session five: June 4th (No class on May 28th for Memorial Day).

Basically, during the class, I’m sharing every secret I’ve ever learned about writing, querying, revising, landing an agent. And here’s the thing…You won’t just be learning from me and from the other students in the class…You’ll be learning from some amazing industry pros!

GWEN HAYES lives in the Pacific Northwest with her real life hero, their children, and the pets that own them. She writes stories for teen and adult readers about love, angst, and saving the world. Gwen’s first novel, Falling Under, was released in March of 2011 by NAL/Penguin and followed up by the sequel, Dreaming Awake, in January of 2012. She is represented by Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. You can find her at

Gwen will be sharing her expertise in creating chemistry between characters!

Jeff Hirsch is originally from the suburbs just south of Richmond, VA. Growing up, he always knew he wanted to do something artistic but it wasn’t until he started writing poetry and short stories in Junior High that something really stuck. Jeff  graduated from the University of California, San Diego, with an MFA in Dramatic Writing and is the author of The Eleventh Plague and Magisterium (Scholastic).  He lives in Beacon, New York, with his wife. Visit him online at

Jeff will wow us with his expert skills in writing taut action with emotional intensity!

Kiera Cass is a graduate of Radford University and currently lives in Blacksburg, Virginia with her family. Her fantasy novel The Siren was self-published in 2009, and The Selection is her young adult debut. Kiera has kissed approximately fourteen boys in her life. None of them were princes. You can keep up with her at

Kiera will be Skyping into class to answer all your burning questions about the writers’ journey! (Did you know CW snapped up The Selection, and a pilot is in the works?! You might want to ask her about it.)

Rosemary Clement-Moore is the author of award-winning supernatural mystery novels for young (and not so young) adults, including Texas GothicThe Splendor Falls, and the Maggie Quinn: Girl versus Evil series. Her books have been included on the YALSA list of best books for teens, the New York Public Library’s Books For the Teen Age and Kirkus Reviews best teen books of 2011 and received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal. A recovering thespian with a master’s degree in communication, she now puts her drama queen skills to use writing novels and posting on Twitter. She loves coffee, dogs, history, Jane Austen, archeology, fantasy novels, comic books, Gilbert and Sullivan, BBC America, Star Wars, books with kissing and movies with lots of explosions. You can visit her webpage at
Rosemary will appear (in person!) to teach us all about making magic on the page–creating rich narratives that sing with romance and  crackle with adventure.

Sara Crowe  is an agent at Harvey Klinger, Inc. where she represents adult fiction and nonfiction and children’s fiction. Her clients include NYT Bestselling author Jonathan Maberry, Nina LaCour, Michael Northrop, Lisa Schroeder, Kristen Tracy, and Dan Wells. Her authors have been nominated for Edgars and the Morris Award and have been on the ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults list and in the Top Ten. She is consistently ranked among the top three YA agents in Publishers Marketplace. You can check out her submission guidelines at

Lucky for me, Sara is my own (WONDERFUL!) agent.  She’ll be chiming in to offer advice and answer all your burning questions about agents and the industry in general.

In case I hadn’t mentioned it yet, I CAN’T WAIT FOR THIS CLASS!

So…exciting things are happening. Amazing, wonderful things! I blogged about 2012 being The Year of Impossible Things, and suddenly, some things are starting to look…well, pretty darn possible.

But. Here’s the deal.

Here be dragons.

Okay, maybe there’s just one dragon. Here be one big, scaly, seemingly invincible, fire-breathing dragon who wants to dine on roast girl with a side of scorched dreams. I stare down this ugly beast almost every day. It taunts me, warns me to turn back, demands my immediate and unconditional surrender.

I’ve learned it’s no use bargaining with this particular dragon. Without mercy, it devours peace offerings, always eating up more of my time and resolve. I can’t kill it, either. I’ve slayed it a thousand times, only to see it slink back, alive and whole again. The only thing I can do is face the mirror and confront the monster hiding in my reflection. Often, I can intimidate the treacherous brute, temporarily banishing it out of sight. There’s a magic chant that usually works:  Go away, dragon. I’m writing and I don’t have time for you today.

Hungry for more? Try this recipe for Kitchen Sink Brownies, which appease all but the fiercest creatures.


A couple of weekends ago, I hosted a session at the 2011 DFW Writers’ Convention called Bringing Pages to Life.  

The class was loads of fun–I met a lot of terrific writers, and since then I’ve been immersed in reading and critiquing sample pages from attendees. Of course, I’ve also been reading published books, beta reading for crit partners, and working on my own WIP.  

In looking at my own writing and that of others, one question plagues me:  

Is this book read-able, or is it un-put-down-able?  

Really, doesn’t everything–finding an agent, selling a book, finding an audience–***partially hinge on this one, crucial question?  

I think so.  

I think readable books… 

have a decent premise.  

have coherent plots.  

have believable dialogue.  

have sympathetic characters. 

have a narrative voice.  

garner nice, personal rejections from agents and editors.  

are damned with faint praise. 

languish in the slush pile. 

are destined for dark drawers.  

I think un-put-down-able books… 

have killer premises that hook readers and don’t let them go.  

have such compelling plots that readers can’t stop turning pages. 

have wholly convincing, honest, distinct dialogue.   

have living breathing characters with vivid dreams, recollections, memories, desires, and fears.  

have narrative voices so strong and so rich, they make readers laugh out loud, reach for kleenex, grumble in anger, gasp in surprise, and linger over passages,  

garner urgent requests from agents and editors.  

are ardently championed with with praise and recommendation.  

are pitched, sold, and slated for release.  

are destined to be bought, borrowed, and beloved.  


I know. It’s soul-sucking to think of our own work as ‘readable.’ But we can’t settle. We have to keep reading, keep listening, and keep learning. We can’t rest  or be satisfied until we write books that are totally UN-PUT-DOWN-ABLE. 

Hungry for more? Then try this recipe for Sweet and Salty Party Mix. One handful is never enough.


***Yeah, yeah. I know there are plenty of other variables (timing, luck, notoriety, etc.) that factor into a writer’s sucess, but this post isn’t about those. So sue me.

We’ve all heard about (or maybe even know!) writers with bad additudes–scribblers who are bitter, self-important, unrealistic, or just plain old hard-headed.

I worry about that quite a bit–I don’t want that to be me.  I’m no expert, but here’s what my interactions with writers, agents, and editors have taught me about cultivating a healthy writing attitude:

1.) Realistic expectations should balance optimism.

Some of my friends in our writers’ group tease me about being a bit of an Eeyore when it comes to writing. No, I’m not oozing with false modesty or self-deprecation. No, I’m not a naysayer.

I’m…cautiously confident.

For example, when I started querying my novel, I told myself I probably wouldn’t get requests. When I did, I smiled. When I got requests, I told myself I probably wouldn’t get offers. When I did, I danced. I always let myself dream and entertain thoughts of success, but here’s the key: I never expect them. I never feel entitled when it comes to getting published.

If and when it happens, I will shout and jump into the air and fly to the moon. Until then, I will keep my feet on the ground. I will keep putting one foot in front of the other.

2.) Live in the moment.

Once a manuscript is queried or goes on submission to editors, there’s not much more writers can do to influence the outcome. We have to let our work stand on its own. We have to let our wonderful, capable agents do their jobs. To wax Beatle-esque, we have to LET IT BE.

Here’s what we can do–we can read in our genre or field. We can work on another projects. We can take the time to support fellow writers. Day by day, we can enjoy the blessings we already have in our work, friends and family.  After all, a writing project should be fulfilling, but it shouldn’t be the only thing keeping a suicide watch at bay. (If  you feel it is, PLEASE GET HELP NOW.)

3.) Be circumspect.

At every point in my journey, I’ve been faced with the temptation to blab, blab, blab about the minutiae of my writing life. I’ve fretted. I’ve obsessed. I’ve contemplated word vomiting my ups and downs into cyberspace. But one thought stops me (almost) every time–I can’t regret what I didn’t say, blog, or tweet. My rule is simple: If I can’t say something constructive or share good news, it’s crickets for me.

4.) Embrace opportunities for real growth.

Setbacks and rejections are tough schoolmasters, but they are instructive, all the same. Every time I sit down to write, I process and exploit whatever feedback I’ve received.  I try to get better. I always want to always look back and see development and change. I always want to stretch for words just beyond my reach.

Stasis is my enemy, not rejection.

What about you? I’m so grateful for all my writing friends. What have you learned so far?

Hungry for more? Try this recipe for my cinnamon rolls. They’re from scratch, but they’re worth the wait!

Cinnamon Rolls


4 packages rapid rise yeast

1 cup hot water (not boiling, not lukewarm, just hot tap water)

2 tablespoons sugar

2 sticks real butter

1 1/2 cups warm (not hot!) milk (heat on stovetop or in microwave)

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. salt

8-9 cups of flour


More butter

Dark brown sugar

Good Quality Cinnamon (don’t cheap out on this one, ok?)


Even more butter

Powdered Sugar



Dissolve yeast in a medium bowl with 1 cup of hot water and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. You will not the yeast mixture is active if the yeast bubbles up (mixture should get very foamy, if not, you goofed with bad yeast or too hot or too cold water).

Melt one cup butter and combine with 1 1/2 cups of milk. Mix the milk/butter mixture with the yeast mixture. Add 1 cup sugar and then the eggs. Mix in salt and four cups of the flour. Mix until smooth. Add in the remaining cups of flour, a little at a time, just until the mixture is cohesive enough to handle. Save some of the flour to knead with. I usually save the last cup or so for this purpose.

Slap dough onto the counter and knead it a bit. Knead it just enough so it no longer so gooey and sticky in your hands.

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Put the dough into the bowl. Cover the dough with a thin cloth and let it sit. Let dough rise for an hour to an hour and a half. Dough should double in size.

Spray a counter top surface with cooking spray. Spray your rolling pin, too. Divide the dough into two lumps. Roll one out one lump into a large rectangle. Soften a stick and a half of butter and smear on the dough. Sprinkle a lot of cinnamon (to taste, I like a LOT) over the dough. Smear a bunch (a heaping cup) of dark brown sugar. Roll up the dough from the widest side to make a log. Use a length of dental floss (unused, please!) to cut and section individual cinnamon rolls (1 1/2 inch width sections).

After placing the rolls in a greased 9 by 13 pan (you should have approximately a dozen), roll out the second lump and do the same. You’ll end up with two pans of cinnamon rolls. Cover pans with a thin cloth and let rise for another hour to an hour and a half. I put my rolls on my stove top and turn on the oven to preheat. The warm airflow near the oven helps the rolls rise.

When the rolls are nice and puffy, bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. I have a large oven, so I can bake both pans at the same time on the same rack. If your oven is not big enough, bake one pan at a time. Don’t use different racks.

After rolls have cooled a bit, ice with homemade frosting. For frosting, I use one stick of melted butter, one tablespoon of vanilla, some powdered sugar (just add until the mixture is the right thickness), and a tiny bit of milk. Add powdered sugar and whisk until icing is the right consistency.


I kinda hate New’s Years resolutions.

They’re just so ubiquitous–so many people make them and break them. And blog about them. It seems like overkill for me to blather on about my goals. I mean, they’re so much less interesting and shiny than yours!

Last year I eschewed resolutions in favor of a Writer’s Revolution. Here’s the challenge I laid out for myself and my writing friends: 

In 2010, my goal is not to get an agent and publish a book. My goal is to grow and learn enough to write a book worthy of esteem, a book worthy of the best agent and the most discerning publisher. I take this oath as a sacred trust, and I shall toil until my manuscript shines like the sun and lays waste to the spurn of rejection.”

I’m happy to say my revolution was actually successful. By focusing on improvement, I was able to write a not-so-horrible book . And that book snagged me my agent. 2010 was a great year for making new friends in the industry, learning from them, and forging ahead. Today, I’m on the cusp–very soon that not-so-horrible book will be released into the wilds of publishing. Am I excited? You bet. Come what may, 2011 is going to another year of growth.

But I wouldn’t trade 2010 for anything.

It was a very good year.

Hungry for more?

Try my homemade Chocolate Lava Sauce. You’ll need more than a few spoonfuls on hand to get through all the pints of Haagen-Dazs you’ll scarf down while hunched over the keyboard this year.

Chocolate Lava Sauce

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup butter

2 Tbsp. cornstarch

2 Tbsp. cocoa

2 Tbsp. light Karo corn syrup

2 Tbsp. vanilla

1/4 cup cream

Combine all ingredients except vanilla in a medium saucepan. Bring to a gradual boil. Do not scorch, but allow sauce to boil for two minutes. Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Allow to cool slightly.


**spoiler alert**

So I saw the movie SKYLINE this weekend. It was dissappointing, to say the least. SKYLINE is a bad movie that could have been great.

As I watched the big screen, I couldn’t help but see the movie as a semi-solid first draft. It was as if they took a freshly written NaNoWriMo piece and filmed it. If only the screenwriter, director, and producer had put more work into polishing the movie, it could have been EPIC. If only they’d revised as any good NaNoWriMo scribe would.

What revision lessons can writers learn from SKYLINE?

1. Prologues (usually) stink, so start where the story starts.

Don’t begin with the alien invasion and then backtrack to the day before. Build in bits backstory as the action unfolds. Or simply anchor the beginning of the story in the ordinary world, just before the action explodes.

2. Cut. Cut. Cut.

Only include scenes that matter. Don’t include irrelevent subplots. For example, don’t spend an ungodly amount of time developing a love triangle between a hollywood player and his two vapid mistresses if you’re just going to have an alien snap off each of their heads off midway through the story.

 Edit out any characters who don’t pull their weight and bulk up the ones who do. In Skyline’s case, we needed less rich-girls-we-don’t-care-about and more *cough*  hot and angsty, alien-punching ERIC BALFOUR.

What can you cut from your novel?

3. After editing out the fluff, deepen and develop the good stuff.

Skyline had a great premise, but it played out like a disjointed sequence of special effects scenes. It didn’t quite gel. (ME GRIMLOCK EAT A DELICIOUS VFX REEL AND POOP OUT SKYLINE.)

But if the creators of the movie had cut out some of the extraneous story arcs, they could have really focused on the characters that count, aka Jared and his pregnant girlfriend, Elaine. Their conflict, their relationship,was a great thread. But because SKYLINE squandered so much energy on other subplots, the movie ran out of time. At the story’s most climactic moment, SKYLINE just sputtered out. The film had a non-ending–no satisfying conclusion was offered, only the worst kind of ambiguity.

Boo, hiss. Don’t do that with your NaNoWriMo novel. Revise it to the point that it: 1.) has a satisfying, complete story 2.) has interesting, compelling characters and 3.) has an actual, HONEST-TO-GOD POINT, for crying out loud.

 Hungry for more? Whip up some alien-apocalypse-proof trail mix and then check out A. Lee Martinez’ most recent post, in which he writes the ending of SKLYINE so you and I don’t have to.