If You Don’t Read, Tell Me Why…Please

No, I don’t have an agent or a job yet, but I’m still actively writing and looking. I’ve still been reading too—two books, in fact—but can’t really recommend either one. Let me  tell you a little bit about Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis and Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, because I think they’d both be worth reading for the right audiences, and then give a pre-announcement of sorts.


From Goodreads:

When Marshall King and Elyse Alton suddenly wake up tangled in each other’s arms with zero memory of how they got there or even who they are, it’s the start of a long journey through their separate pasts and shared future.

Terrified by their amnesia, Marshall and Elyse make a pact to work together to find the answers that could restore their missing memories. As they piece together clues about their lives, they discover that they’re in the idyllic mountain resort town of Summer Falls. Everyone seems happy there, but as Marshall and Elyse quickly learn, darkness lurks beneath the town’s perfect facade. Not only is the town haunted by sinister ghosts, but none of its living inhabitants retain bad memories of anything—not the death of Marshall’s mom, not the hidden violence in Elyse’s family, not even the day-to-day anguish of being a high schooler.

Lonely in this world of happy zombies, Marshall and Elyse fall into an intense relationship founded on their mutual quest for truth. But the secrets they’re trying to uncover could be the death of this budding love affair—and of everyone, and everything, they love in Summer Falls.

It’s well-written, but because Marshall and Elyse are amnesiatic, their lives are somewhat discombobulated and fragmentary, which makes it a little hard to follow and harder still to connect with them. I feel like I’m going to have to read this one at least one more time to fully understand it, but it may turn out to be much better on the second reading.

It is $3.99 on Amazon right now, for Kindle. It’s very much worth it, especially at that price, despite my perspective.


Life As We Knew It

From Audible, which is where I bought it:

Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when a meteor knocks the Moon closer to the Earth. How should her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis wipe out the coasts, earthquakes rock the continents, and volcanic ash blocks out the sun? As summer turns to Arctic winter, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove. Told in journal entries, this is the heart-pounding story of Miranda’s struggle to hold on to the most important resource of all, hope, in an increasingly desperate and unfamiliar world.

It’s a story about the end of the world, told from a teenager’s perspective. As a writer, I’d say the author did a really good job with the voice of the book; it very much sounds like a teenager telling the story. As a reader, though, I think she did a little too good of a job. Her bubble-gum-popping tone and focus on things like dates and friends made me feel like the real plot was passing me by unnoticed by Miranda. Indeed, there didn’t seem to be much of a plot other than day after day of she and her family surviving the slow destruction of Earth. To tell the truth, I can’t finish this one, even though I’m more than halfway through. Very little has actually happened.

Life As We Knew It is only $6.19 on Amazon right now, which is a pretty good price too:


Preparatory to an announcement of some additions that I hope to be making to HeadOverBooks in the next few weeks, I’m doing some research. Would you mind completing this very short, three-question survey if you read 10 or fewer books a year, or even sharing it with your followers and friends online? I watched this dispiriting Jimmy Kimmel clip the other day, about how little people actually read, and want to understand why.

Don’t worry: I’m not doing this survey so I can try to convince more people to read; I just want to understand where they’re coming from so that I can plan changes to my website that will meet people’s needs. Hint: those changes might involve video games and movies. What do you think?

The Thorn Necklace: A Book and a Writing Journey

“Frida Kahlo had polio as a child,” said Francesca Lia Block in her book The Thorn Necklace, referring to the painter, “survived a horrific accident at eighteen that shattered her body and pierced her pelvis with an iron hand rail, and suffered through a number of resulting miscarriages. To add insult to injury, her husband…had an affair with her younger sister. But Frida produced hundreds of works of art…that elevate unbearable grief to shocking beauty. Some artists survive their pain, some do not. But all channel it into art.”

It is that channeling that Block refers to as the thorn necklace for which she names her book. Kahlo herself said: “my painting carries with it the message of pain,” and that pain is definitely evident in her painting Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, which you can see here. To be an artist, to a certain extent, is to take the pain that life gives you and channel it into something beautiful, to show that something good can come from something bad.  I believe it’s also to don a painful mantle as well. In the painting, Kahlo wears a necklace made of thorns. It pricks her skin and makes her bleed. To produce true beauty–no matter the artistic form–one has to undergo a certain amount of “pain” at worst, or challenge at least. To create whole worlds from nothing, in the case of science fiction and fantasy literature, and structure them into cohesive and compelling plots populated with characters that feel real is no small task.

Block’s book is a memoir of sorts, describing the challenging life path she’s traversed and couching that in her thoughts on writing. “A way to help a reader to identify with a protagonist,” she says, “(and thereby gain more life-enhancing insight from the story) is to the show that character’s…flaws. Flaws…get a character into trouble, which satisfies the reader’s need for story.” She provides this before describing the flaws of some well-known book characters as well as some of her own flaws and those of her parents. That reminiscing passage, as well as many others woven throughout the book, is somewhat rambling. She calls it “excess exposition in memoir” which “comes from being engulfed in a tidal wave of vague memories that haven’t solidified into scenes yet, and, in turn, [results in] a passive character…who feels and thinks but doesn’t do much.” She sums up her book quite succinctly.

But  there are undeniable nuggets of wisdom interspersed among the rambling, excessive parts, nuggets that could be very useful for a writer, such as:

  • When you claim your creativity, when you say, “I am a writer,” it becomes a vital part of your identity. You’re not only braver on the page, you’re also braver in the rest of your life because you’re a change agent, a builder of new worlds.
  • When we write from our deepest longings, our stories have broader appeal.
  • In order to get in touch with your obsessions [and thus flavor your character’s], try making a list of anything that fascinates you. Be as specific and detailed as possible.
  • One of the biggest mistakes writers make is not having a clear story problem from the beginning (or sometimes at all).
  • [The antagonist] must be complex and dimensional, not a mustache-twirling caricature.
  • Setting should reflect character.
  • [Voice]…is one of the most difficult aspects of writing for many people and can take years of hard work to hone. But don’t give up! Once you have your voice, the rest is much easier. To develop your voice, read widely, write consistently, and live fully. A strong writing voice can connect us to others, and more deeply to ourselves.

Some of these nuggets I’ve heard before in other writing books and at writing conferences, so they weren’t necessarily unique, but the way they were phrased helped me see better how I could apply them in my writing life.

So, The Thorn Necklace, while rambling and repetitive, was also helpful and encouraging. I would recommend it to my writer friends.


Where I’ve Been: Futurescapes

Oh, it’s been a busy week! You guys, it was awesome! I just got back from Futurescapes, which is an awesome, intense workshop for science fiction and fantasy writers. Hosted at the Sundance Ski Resort in Utah’s Provo Canyon, it was three days of meeting in small groups with agents, publishing house editors, and published authors to get their critiques (and those of other group members) of a couple of my manuscripts. Since attendance at the conference was capped at about 60 to allow for close attention by the agents, editors, and authors, I had to submit a writing sample. And, once accepted, I had to pay a relatively large sum to go, but it was so worth it.

I was assigned to three separate groups of about eight people each, each group led by a different literary agent. My first group (go Group A!) was led by Seth Fishman, an agent with the Gernert Company. The members of that group reviewed the first ten pages of my book Stranger in My Own Head. While I had already had those pages (and more) critiqued and beta-read, and I’ve queried (i.e., sent a cover letter about and the first few pages of one of my books) and revised that book several times, I still haven’t received an offer of representation for it, and the feedback the group, and especially Seth, provided was invaluable. Until I send that manuscript out for critique and no one finds anything wrong with it, I’ll keep working on it until it gets published.

Seth’s the one in the gray sweater in the back.


Seth being crazy.

My group B, led by Thao Le, an agent with Sandra Dijkstra, reviewed my query letter for Stranger, and my group C, led by Martha Millard with Sterling Lord Literistic, critiqued my Stranger synopsis. All of those agents specialize in science fiction or fantasy, and a couple of them specifically requested that I query  them, which is very exciting. The food was great, although the food served at the reception Tuesday night was…interesting (see below).

On Tuesday afternoon, I had to go down into the valley to get a signal to call and see how everything was going at home, so I went to the Orem Public Library, where I happened to find a few very well-priced books in their used books section. I’d also gotten a couple of books in the mail that day too. Look at this book haul!


The setting was beautiful, and the help and the camraderie were amazing. I have a long list of things to do to improve Stranger, and I’m excited to do that. Not only that, but my Highland critique group is looking at one of my other manuscripts, so I’ll need to make those revisions soon too. And I’m in charge of a Utah Valley Writers meeting tonight at which Shadow Mountain Publishing editor Lisa Mangum is going to speak. And I’ve been asked to join another critique group. Ah, the life of a writer. Now, wouldn’t it be awesome if I were making money doing all of this?


My Writing Update and a Book Review of Paper Hearts,

This past week has been an interesting one as I gained a lot of insight into a problem I’ve been having, and took steps to resolve it, and as my husband and I talked about what he wants to do “when he grows up.” In the midst of that, I continued revising my first book, Forced, querying my second book, Stranger in my Own Head, looking for beta readers for my third, which is the sequel to the second, and starting my fourth book, which is called Sealers for now. What this means is:

  • After writing Forced, revising it through five drafts,  then getting it critiqued, beta-read, and edited, I researched about 50 agents looking for urban fantasy, then submitted query letters and sample pages to them, asking them to consider representing me to publishers. While there were a couple of requests for fulls and partials, no agent has yet offered representation, so I took the premise to one of my critique groups and, after receiving reassurance that it’s still really solid, decided to tweak and revise it again. Rewrite #8: bring it on!
  • After writing Stranger in my Own Head and revising it seven times, having it critiqued and beta-read, and submitting queries to 120 agents, I’ve so far received a similar response: one request for a full manuscript and another for a partial manuscript, both from agents from whom I haven’t heard back from yet.
  • I wrote Stranger in my Own Head #2 in a little over a month, and have since revised it once. It’s quite short, only 50,000 words, which is about 150 pages, so I need to have a beta-reader take a look at it to see where the plot would best be fleshed out.
  • To prepare to write Sealers, I’ve done all kinds of research on volcanoes, rapamycin, skin cancer, Chile, and Easter Island. I’ve made a character bible and a beat sheet (basic outline). I scrapped everything I did before writing the book from the daughter’s perspective, and am instead writing/rewriting it from the mother’s perspective. This will be the first adult sci-fi I’ve written.

I’m also researching and outlining three other books.

Paper Hearts: Some Real Writing Advice

To help me in all of these tasks, I read Beth Revis’ Paper Hearts #1: Some Writing Advice. I bought this book purely based on the fact that Beth is a published YA sci-fi author whose books (Across the Universe, A Million Suns, Shades of Earth, and The Body Electric, to name a few) I have greatly enjoyed. In more than 100 very short, “tidbitty” chapters, Revis explains the intricacies, beauty, and difficulties of being a writer, in a conversational, helpful tone. From one writer to another, she offers advice on things like how to find a good critique partner, ways to chart story structure, and what a writer should do if he or she is stuck somewhere in their work-in-progress.

Ninety-eight percent of her advice was spot on, about things I can testify to the importance of through my own experience, or easily and practically applicable to the book I’m writing right now. I could see how what she was saying about charting plot structure could help me fine-tune the beat sheet I’ve done for Sealers, for instance. The only thing that would keep me from giving this book a perfect 10 out of 10 stars, or five-out-of-five on Amazon, was that Revis, in one part of the book, got on her soapbox about a particular issue (featuring gay characters in books). I like hearing other people’s opinions, especially when they’re respectfully stated and posted in a way that invites civil conversation. But if someone states their opinion on social media or in real life simply for the purpose of putting it out there (which I understand) as opposed to starting a dialogue, it just adds to the cacophony of people shouting their opinions. We don’t need more of that, especially in a writing book.

So, I do recommend Paper Hearts #1 to other writers, with that one caveat. There is a workbook and two other books in that series that I intend to get. If you’ve read them, let me know what you think!

Writing Journey Update, 2/11/2018

Because of a massive reduction in my work hours and some changes in my oldest’s education needs, I’ve had more time to write lately, which has been wonderful. I won’t go into too much detail about the identity crisis that I faced as that transition took place, but suffice it to say that there was a period where I was very frustrated and not sure what my purpose in life was supposed to be: if it wasn’t to work to help provide for our family, and it wasn’t to homeschool my 14-year-old, which I had been prepared to do to help him recover from a disastrous first semester of 9th grade and to help him learn how to compensate better for his vestibular neuritis, discalculia, and ADD, then what was it? Well, it’s still possible that I’ll be homeschooling him for 10th grade, and sending him to summer school if he doesn’t get his grades up, and I’m working with him everyday to help him do that. Until we know for sure that he’s going to be able to stand on his own academically, it seems my purpose in my life has once again become being a stay-at-home mom. It is a role I still enjoy, although it’s different now than it was before I worked at BYU. Coaching an adolescent through middle school is not easy. I’m freelance editing now, and I started an etsy shop to sell the fancy cards I make.  I still read a ton (obviously) and write.

In fact, I started writing three new books, which is to say I crafted query letters, character bibles, and beat sheets for those books. A writer usually writes a query letter to send to an agent to ask them to consider representing him or her to publishing houses if that writer wants to get traditionally published, especially by a medium to large press. They write it after they’ve written and revised a book, had it critiqued, beta-read, etc. It generally contains the nuts and bolts of the book the writer is asking the agent to represent, in a couple of paragraphs, along with the writer’s credentials. I started with the query letters this time so that I could make sure each book had a strong, emotionally-centered conflict, and that the stakes (what the main character stands to lose if they don’t get the thing they’re striving for) were clearly defined.

The character bibles are dictionaries, if you will, of all the traits (physical, mental, etc.), histories, and beliefs of each of the central characters in a book. And the beat sheets are basic outlines of the plots in 15 short blurbs.

When I had those completed, I had to decide which one I wanted to write most, which one was calling my name most. As it turned out, it was the sequel to Stranger in My Own Head, the book that I’m querying now. I just queried my 115th agent for that book, and am still waiting on a response from one of those agents who requested my full manuscript . So that’s what I started writing. Five weeks ago. And I’m almost done!

That’s unprecedented for me, to write almost 10,000 words a week for five weeks. I can only hope that that means that this book, this series, is meant to be published. I’m certainly doing everything I can to educate myself on the craft of writing: presiding over Utah Valley Writers, having a critique group, looking for beta readers, going to writers’ conferences, continually reading books on the craft of writing, etc. I still really, really want to get traditionally published (as opposed to self-published), to get what I write to the point that it’s good enough to be published in the highly-competitive book market these days.

So to those of you who have cheered me on, who have encouraged me to continue even when I felt like I was crazy for doing so, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Please continue to do so. I’ll get there some day. Meanwhile, I’m still enjoying the journey, even if it’s not what I expected it to be.


Top Eight Ways to Get Custom YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book Reviews

So, say you’ve been reading my posts for a while now, and have gained an appreciation for science fiction and/or fantasy books (yay!). Say you want to read more of them but aren’t sure where to start, other than subscribing to my blog.  You can go to the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of Barnes & Noble, but how do you know which books you’d like best, other than the blurbs on their backs or inside covers? Physical library books aren’t sorted by genre. You can search by genre on Amazon (although there is no YA sci-fi/fantasy subgenre, which I think is unfortunate), or even look up books that you’ve liked or heard about and then check out the books listed below them in the “customers-who-bought-this-item-also-bought” section.  And, of course, you can check out the reviews on either Amazon or Goodreads. But did you know there are other ways to find recommendations for books, recommendations more customized to your tastes that won’t take forever to find? Let me tell you about a few.

  1. mybookcave.com – I love this site because you specify what genre(s) of books you like and what your preferred price point is and they email you whenever something comes up in those genres and at or below your price point. You indicate whether you’d like books with or without gay/lesbian characters,  and the retailers you prefer. It’s only for ebooks.
  2.  Tor.com – Tor is a publisher of speculative, science fiction, and fantasy books, one that I dream of getting published with one day. I recommend looking at their books list, which links to sites where you can buy the books.
  3. thebooksmugglers.com – because they review a lot of speculative, science fiction, and fantasy. Their tastes run a bit more liberal than mine,    but I’ve bought several books that they’ve recommended and agreed with their ratings every time. The thing I like about their newsletter,        which I signed up for, is that it doesn’t fill up my inbox. They only send me something when they have something important to say.
  4. On Amazon, search for “Nebula award showcase.” You’ll get a list of anthologies of winners of the Nebula award, one of the top honors for        any science fiction or fantasy book to receive. Each one contains a collection of excerpts and short stories of the winners. Reading one of          these (something I don’t normally do) was how I discovered Nancy Kress, one of my favorite “hard” sci-fi writers.
  5. Facebook – I highly recommend searching for book club groups such as Science Fiction Book Club, and asking to join them. You’d think that GoodReads.com would be a good place to get recommendations, but I’ve found it much easier to ask for recommendations in the Facebook book groups that I belong to.
  6. On Pinterest, if you search for “science fiction book reviews,” then click through on interesting titles, and then on “read,” you can find some reviews.
  7. Twitter: if you search on #scifibooks, you’ll find some reviews, although there’s also a lot of promo, and self-published authors doing promos. I recommend following publishers of science fiction and fantasy books, such as @Tor.com, @TorTeen, @Tor Books, and @IReadYA  (associated with Scholastic), as well as your favorite authors.
  8. Instagram is a surprisingly good place to find talk about books, given its picture-centered format. Discussions are usually centered  around the hashtags #bookstagram, #book, and #booknerdigans. There aren’t many hashtags that are specific to sci-fi or fantasy or that link to reviews that tell you why people liked the books they post about. I’m thinking of starting the hashtag #scifibookster.




Pitch Wars and a Giveaway

First, before I tell you about Pitch Wars, remember that I’ve still got a giveaway going on for a copy of The Waking Land, the book I reviewed last week. Go here to find the link to enter for a chance to win. Your odds are good!

Courtesy of Brenda-Drake.com

Second, I entered Pitch Wars yesterday. Pitch Wars is a contest that writers of unpublished books can enter to vie for published-author mentors who can really help them whip their manuscripts into top-notch form. The writers choose 4-6 mentors from among a huge list of possible mentors, and submit their first chapters and a query (i.e., cover) letter. The mentors, if they choose a writer’s submission, will work closely with that writer to prepare his or her manuscript for the agent round, in which the writer queries or submits that reworked manuscript to a participating agent or agents, who then will review it to see if they’d like to represent that book to a publisher. From what I understand, quite a few writers have gotten book deals this way.

I submitted my first chapter and chose six mentors. Now I’m checking my in-box every five minutes to see if I’ve been accepted by at least one of them, although the submission deadline hasn’t even passed yet. It’s not unlike waiting to hear back from an agent. It’s a nerve-wracking buzzing in the ear, but it won’t kill me if I don’t get accepted by any of them. I entered last year with a different manuscript and didn’t get selected.

Wish me luck!

Moving Forward, Ever Forward, on my Writing Journey

I’ve written two books and am working on getting them published traditionally, focusing very much so on the second one. But these are the odd I’m up against, as provided by Berrett-Koehler Publishers:

  • While the number of books being published every year has exploded (more than 300,000 traditionally published as of the end of 2014, and 700,000 self-published in 2017), overall book sales are shrinking. They were less in 2016 than they were in 2007, even with e-books taken into consideration.
  • Because of the explosion of books published and the declining total sales, each new title gets less and less sales.
  • For every available bookstore shelf space, there are up to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space.
  • Each book is competing with more than thirteen million other books available for sale, while other media are claiming more and more of people’s time.
  • the book publishing space is in a never-ending state of turmoil

Make no mistake: I’m fully aware that my odds of getting traditionally published are slim, and of making any money should I get published even slimmer. That’s why I say that writing is my particular form of craziness. The authors of the books you read have to all share that craziness to a certain extent as well.

So why do I keep trying? Because it’s hard. Because other writers are fascinating people to be around. Because using my imagination to create something as substantial and emotionally compelling as a book is FUN. Because it’s a way for me to push for progress in my life even if other things feel staid or stagnant.

This week, that progress took place in my election to the position of president of a 35-member writers club called Utah Valley Writers, and in meeting and hopefully starting a great working relationship with a new critique partner. Liz Stone, a fellow YA sci-fi writer and aspiring author, read the first 50 pages of Running and provided some great feedback.  In exchange, I read the first twenty pages of her manuscript, titled Broken Authority. Having a good critique partner and beta readers is so, so helpful. You don’t even know!

My Latest Writerly Activities

It’s been a while since I last posted for two reasons. The first is that I was preparing for and attending a writers’ conference, called Storymakers. As you may or may not know, I’m working to get published myself.


The brief version of my writers’ journey:

  • wrote angsty teenage poetry in junior high and high school
  • edited high school literary magazine because (I guess) there were a lot of teenagers writing angsty poetry in the mid-80’s
  • got a bachelor’s degree in Journalism, then a master’s degree in Public Administration while working at a nearby nonprofit writing grants
  • wrote one young-adult science fiction/fantasy book, called Forced
  • joined a writers group and started attending writing conferences
  • pitched and queried Forced to 50 agents over the course of two years. Got some interest from them, but ultimately, no one picked it up.
  • wrote a second book, Running, a YA sci-fi
  • attended fourth Storymakers conference, where the first chapter of Running didn’t win anything in the contest I’d entered it into
  • felt horrible
  • pitched Running to an agent who didn’t request any pages beyond the first 10 and synopsis she’d already seen
  • decided that I should never write anything ever again
  • heard the word “brilliance” somewhere in said agent pitch, and received some very helpful, constructive feedback
  • started to feel hopeful, at least enough to decide to revise Running and pitch it to 60 agents
  • received awesome feedback on my first 10 pages from author Annette Lyon, through Eschler Editing
  • heard an amazing keynote speech by author Jennifer Nielsen, who said that the great thing about writing in Utah is that, as writers, we’re not all competing for a limited piece of the readers’ market “pie,” we’re working together to “grow the pie.”
  • decided I’m not only going to finish and pitch Running, but that I’ll write the other three books that are lining themselves up in my head, after that.

Sorry…I thought that was going to be the short version. Really, it is, when you take into account the fact that this journey has taken place over the course of 30 years and during a whole bunch of real life. This year’s Storymakers conference, like the ones before it, breathed new life into my writing journey.

What I Did at Storymakers

Met Nikki Trionfo for the first time, and got a copy of Shatter signed by her.
Bought WAY too many books!
Watched James Dashner, who wrote the Maze Runner books (among others) have to share a Naughty Shirt with Sarah M. Eden, another great author whose books I have enjoyed. I won’t try to explain why they had to share the shirt.

Also, the agent with whom I met, Nicole Resciniti, was so helpful. Because of her and Annette Lyon, who edited the first chapter of Running for me, and Lisa Mangum, who edited my pitch, I’m excited to keep working on Running. Hopefully, it’ll be ready to query in a month or two!

The second reason I haven’t been able to post is that I read a book that I didn’t want to review here until its writer did more work on it to make it really shine.  It’s not that I’m super picky about the quality of writing in the books I read, but I don’t like to review books negatively outright. If I really can’t connect with the characters or the plot, if there’s something fundamentally wrong with the writing, pacing, premise, or plot, I’ll reach out to the publisher or author, depending on who initiated contact with me for a book, and provide feedback in constructive ways. When I say “fundamentally wrong,” I don’t compare those things against my imperfect writing or knowledge; I compare it to the standards provided in the many writing classes I’ve taken and books I’ve read, and even then, realize that it’s still, ultimately, just my opinion. And when I say “constructive ways,” I mean that I point out the positive things, and when I point out the negative, I do it in such a way that I provide specific suggestions for improvement (e.g., “This paragraph would have been much more dynamic if the author had shown a character stomping his feet or ramming his fingers through his hair, instead of saying that the character was angry.”) Hopefully, I’ll get to review the improved version of that book for you all down the road!

I’m reading Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth, which I’m very much enjoying, and hope to have a review of that up soon! Stay tuned!