Easy as (1) Rock the Drop, (2) Support Teen Lit Day, and (3) Win a Book!

TBD2014BannerReader or writer? Then you should know that this week is National Library Week. Be sure to swing by your local library. Many are holding events or giving away cool swag (my local library is giving away a nifty reusable tote bag) to support this initiative. Great!

Even better? Thursday, April 17 is a day dedicated to the genre that has a special place in my heart: Young Adult. The idea behind Teen Literature Day is to show support for and highlight this diverse array of books and encourage more teens to pick one up and start reading.

It’s a cause I can’t help but get behind. However, with these types of initiatives, I often find myself thinking they are terrific ideas, but I’m unsure how I can actually help or participate. Fortunately, there’s an organization that’s addressed this very problem.

ReaderGirlz has organized a Rock the Drop event in which they encourage anyone and everyone to leave used or new books in areas around their towns with a note that they are free for the taking. Visit the ReaderGirlz Web site for more information (there’s a great bookplate to print out to connect your donation to this initiative). If dropping books around town isn’t your thing, ReaderGirlz suggests others ways to participate.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be dropping books all over my town. And so will the authors in my debut author group. Check out the Freshman Fifteens Web site on Friday, April 18 to see a photo essay of our country-wide Rock the Drop!

If you are up for joining, grab your favorite YA book, print out the ReaderGirlz bookplate, attach it inside, stick a Post-It note on the front, and drop away. Don’t forget to be creative!

As a reward, if you post a photo of your Rock the Drop donation on my Facebook page (feel free to give it a Like too if you are so inclined!), you’ll be automatically entered into a giveaway to win one of my FAVORITE books! Nope, not telling which!

It’s My Anniversary…Sort Of

This day last year, I officially entered into a working relationship with my agent, Lucy Carson of The Friedrich Agency. And this day, this year, I’m working on revisions for my editor, Liz Szabla at Feiwel and Friends. There are many words I could use to describe this past year of my life. But you know what they say about pictures, right? So I’m doing something a little different, letting my besties at The Vampire Diaries chronicle my journey until now. Oh, and you’re welcome.

While querying BECOMING JINN:









What I most feared:










Okay, what I REALLY most feared:










What I heard when Lucy offered to represent me:










My image of me suavely accepting:









During the revisions Lucy warned would be “substantial” prior to submission:










When Lucy said we were ready to submit to editors:


























When we received an offer for BECOMING JINN and it’s sequel with a Spring 2015 release date:









While I waited for my editorial letter:










While I worked on revisions for my editor:









What it feels like when I get thumbs up from my beta readers:










When I think about a year from now, my book being on bookstore shelves and in readers’ hands:










And a bonus, just because this one of my favorite scenes ever:
















And….I think I may become addicted to Tumblr. There, I said it.



A Fine Line Between Sweat and Tears

PitchWars SnowballLet this be said: The Pitch Wars writing contest is not for the weak: writer or mentor (though the writers have the much harder job). The five weeks between winners being announced and the well-honed pitches and first pages going live in front of the impressive list of participating agents fly by. That day is here, well, technically it will be here at midnight tonight.

The winners’ material will be posted on Brenda Drake’s Web site and the alternates will appear on the Web sites of mentors kind enough to host. My own alternates will appear on the fabulous Nat Traver’s blog (incidentally Nat found her agent, who then landed her a book deal for the tentatively titled DUPLICITY, coming from Macmillan in 2015, a house I have a particular fondness for, ahem, through an online writing contest).

Though as a mentor I was only required to read the full manuscript of my mentee, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, circumstances made it so I was able to also read the full works of my two alternates, Kimberly VanderHorst and Laurie McElderry. In finalizing their pitches and first pages this week, I was thinking back to my wish list at the start of this contest and how I got so lucky to work with all three of these writers.

Let’s revisit what I said I was looking for and how these three ladies (almost 100% TeamLori/Laurie, though I swear that’s coincidence) managed to rise to the top of the near 70 applications I received.

I said: While I read and love all genres, I’m most drawn to contemporary, whether contemporary/urban fantasy, straight contemporary, or realistic (light) science fiction.

They delivered: Laurie Elizabeth: contemporary; Kimberly: urban fantasy; Laurie M.: realistic (light) science fiction/horror. I wasn’t lying when I said I read across all genres of YA.

I said: If your book makes me laugh, you will win my heart.

They delivered: All three of my chosen mentees soared to the top of my list because they tickled my funny bone. As you will see when you read their pages, this doesn’t mean slapstick, guffawing, belly laugh humor (though that’s in there from time to time!). It means a tone that infuses humor, be it overt, subtle, or sarcastic. Full-blown angst is just not my thing. Serious things happen in all these manuscripts. I believe it is the touch of lightness and humor that make these moments even more effective. This is how I approach my own writing, and BECOMING JINN has equal parts humor and tears.

I said: Characters rule for me. The stronger, the better.

They delivered: And they delivered from page one. These were characters I knew from the first page. That is near impossible to do. Kudos, ladies.

I said: Most of all, my mentee should be ready to work, and work hard. My critique will be full of smiley faces but won’t shy away from pointing out the areas that need work.

I delivered and then they delivered: My comments were extensive for all three of my mentees. The red pen was flying. From plot points to subplots to character motivation and depth to word choice, I marked ‘em. And my mentees thanked me. Thanked me. They had a lot to tackle in a short time, but they never complained. Not once. To say I am impressed by their strength and work ethic is an understatement.

I can’t wait for you to read Laurie Elizabeth, Kimberly, and Laurie’s pages. When you do, I’m sure you’ll be as instantly hooked as I was. If you are, tell them! They’re all on Twitter, linked above.

Congratulations to all the Pitch Wars participants. We are all rooting for you!


Have a query that needs help?

Oh, and I have a little something special for those who didn’t get into the contest this year. I’ve been having a blast doing query critiques but haven’t done any this month…until now. Follow my blog and/or me on Twitter and then enter a comment on this post. Anything. Your MS title and genre will do. I’ll chose a winner (or two) at random by the end of this week for a query critique. And maybe a first page critique too. On Friday, I’ll post the winners here and give a shout out on Twitter. Good luck!

The Freshman Fifteens Yearbook Is In!

Freshman FifteensMy 2015 YA debut group is getting geared up to tackle what is already looking to be a very busy year before our books hit the shelves. We’re having some fun introducing ourselves to the world. Check out our “yearbook” profiles on our Web site: (www.freshmanfifteens.com)!

Find out who’s most likely to get kicked out of their future kids’ soccer games, wake up in the trunk of a Ska band’s mint green Cadillac, or make to-do lists (spoiler: that’s me!).

It’s an amazing group of authors and women, and I’m honored to be a part of such a talented group. Warning: one look at the quotes from their books will make you want to read all of them. I can’t wait to get my hands on these great books!

One Year Ago….

One year ago, in January 2013, I entered a contest called Secret Agent. An online writing contest run by an author, the contest has you post the first page of your novel. An agent, whose identity remains a secret until the winners are announced, chooses one or more winning entries based on the writing and the idea. I was one of those lucky enough to win last year with BECOMING JINN. And everything in my writing career flowed from that. I wrote about it a few months back for the “Success Stories” section of that author’s Web site. I wanted to share my story, reposting that original article below, because the January 2014 Secret Agent contest opens today. Good luck to all the writers entering and I hope to read your success story soon!


An Indirect Secret Agent Success Story

(This article was originally posted on September 3, 2013 on Miss Snark’s First Victim Web site.)

Contests are a little bit like the first day of school. You dress up your first page in its finest duds, hope the teacher (i.e., judge) likes it, and are scared beyond all get-out that you won’t make a single friend.

Or maybe that’s just what they were like for me.

When I entered the Baker’s Dozen in November 2012 with my hot-off-my fingertips YA Contemporary Fantasy, I had high hopes. Everyone who had heard the concept loved it. It was about a Jinn, aka a genie. Not many genie books were around at the time, and I thought I had a good shot at making it in the Baker’s Dozen.

And, well, I got schooled.

I didn’t make the cut. But the positive feedback I received on the generous K.T. Crowley’s Web site, which hosted loglines for critique, fueled me. The concept was solid, the writing was there (I hoped), but my first page needed work.

Turns out my first chapter needed work. As in a revamp. A rewrite. A retooling. I was fortunate to receive feedback from three published authors whose critiques I had bid on and won as part of charity auctions, including, coincidentally, Jodi Meadows, who had selected with Authoress the winning Baker’s Dozen entries.

I absorbed all the feedback and zeroed in on my opening, concentrating on making it the best it could be. The start of Chapter 3 became the start of Chapter 1. Reworking this was like throwing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in the air and trying to reassemble them into a picture that made sense. It wasn’t easy. But I did my homework, read books about opening pages, read more opening chapters than I can count, and I learned. At least I hoped I did.

When the January 2013 Secret Agent contest came along, I was lucky enough to have my number chosen. If it wasn’t, I’m not sure I’d be writing this today.

Because when I put my shiny, first page in its new outfit up there on its first day of school to meet the teacher, it had a great day. The best. Readers loved it. And, so did the teacher. The Secret Agent chose three winners and asked for the full manuscript. My first page was one of those winners.

I hadn’t even begun querying, and I had a full out. I had planned to start querying that week regardless of the contest outcome, and I continued with the plan, sending to a handful of agents.

One liked it. A lot. Asked for the full. Asked if anyone else had the full. I explained about the contest win (for which she offered huge congratulations) and told her about the Secret Agent.

She offered me representation within a couple of days. And that agent, Lucy Carson of The Friedrich Agency, sold my January Secret Agent winning entry BECOMING JINN and its sequel to Macmillan’s Feiwel and Friends in May.

My agent and I worked on a revision before we went out on submission, but that first page, which I spent all that time honing for the Secret Agent contest, never changed. Through my agent’s reads, through my betas’ reads, the first page remained as it was. And, you know what’s pretty cool?

I recently received my line edit from my editor. The first page that won me the Secret Agent contest, that led to my offer of representation, well, my editor didn’t make a single mark.

I can’t wait to see that page in print. And for you to see it too.

Thank you Authoress for running your Secret Agent contests. I’m thrilled to have my success story start with you. If that weren’t enough, I also managed to make some friends on that contest day, one of which has become a beta and dear friend with her own contest success story (go Nat!). [Addendum: Nat has also sold her debut YA novel, DUPLICITY, to Macmillan!]

BECOMING JINN is scheduled to be released in Spring 2015. In the meantime, you can read that first page right here! You can add BECOMING JINN to your Goodreads to-read shelf here and vote for it as one of the 2015 YA Novels on Goodreads here and here!




The Wound and the Want

As I mentioned previously, I’ve been doing a series of blog posts on novel planning over at YAtopia, my group blog. A course I took at Boston’s Grub Street in July 2012 had a profound effect on my writing career. I credit this course with teaching me the concepts essential to writing a novel. I used them when I plotted and then wrote Becoming Jinn, and now, as I’m plotting the sequel, I find myself buried in my notes from that class, doing it all over again.

If I were a cartoon character, the concept I wrote about this month, the wound and the want, is the one that would make my head do a 360-degree spin. It’s what was missing when I wrote my first novel; it being missing when I wrote my first novel is why I rewrote that novel about a zillion times over three years. Nailing the concept before I wrote a word of Becoming Jinn made all the difference.

Before I share the post, I’d like to thank the instructor of that course, author James Scott. His debut novel, The Kept, releases today. My preorder copy is already on its way.  I wish James all the luck and will eternally be grateful for all he taught me. Thanks again, James!

 The article below was originally posted on YAtopia.


The Wound and the Want: How to Breathe Life into Your Characters

It’s January 4, which means I can still wish you all a very Happy New Year! It seems fitting that this, my first 2014 post, centers on the writing concept that had the most effect on my book, BECOMING JINN, which I teased on this blog last year. (Well, in November but that still counts as last year!)

As a reader and as a writer, nothing matters more to me than character. So it shouldn’t be particularly surprising that an exercise to create a character profile is what kicked my writing brain into gear.

Last month I discussed how having both an inside story and an outside story gives your novel a firm foundation and touched on the concept of “the wound and the want.” This surely goes by other names, but I love the way “the wound and the want” rolls off the tongue.

The idea is simple: The primary characters (and even most of the secondary ones) have a wound that makes them want something. This want is the guiding force of your story; it is what your character is striving to achieve. Essentially, the want is the purpose of your novel.

Wait, and that’s simple? Pretty heavy stuff there, isn’t it? For one thing to be the purpose of your novel?

Well, it is and it isn’t. If you don’t know your character’s wound and want, you will flounder while writing, your story will lack a depth that makes the readers care, sympathize with, and follow your characters, and your novel may not be as strong as it can be. It may not live up to its potential. But once you figure out the wound and the want, everything flows from it and your job is easier, not harder.

Need, hope, wish, call it what you will, but your characters must want something and they must want it intensely. The want doesn’t need to be some spectacular thing. It’s the intensity of the wanting that matters and that instills doubt in your readers that the character can achieve his or her goal. This gives you tension while you toss obstacles at your characters that thwart them from fulfilling their want. And the wound that makes them want? That gives your character depth, motive, and backstory.

One-dimensional characters usually lack a wound and a want. Ditto for cardboard villains. Your main character’s wound and want must be fully fleshed out and must be able to change and deepen as the story progresses in order to sustain an entire novel, but your supporting characters should also have a wound and a want. You don’t have to explore it as fully, but the wound and the want makes them who they are just as much.

So many key aspects of a novel come from these two words: the wound and the want. That’s all good right, but how do you figure out what your characters’ wounds and wants are? There are likely many ways, but I’ll share what worked for me, what I learned in the novel planning course I took that turned me into a proud (and somewhat obsessive) plotter.* It all goes back to those writing exercises I used to scoff at.

As I’ve said previously, the best part of writing exercises is that they have the capacity to surprise you, to spark an idea that may form the core of your book, something you might never have thought of (or only thought of after multiple revisions). This is because they make you think about your characters.

Character profiles can be developed in many ways: writing a letter or diary entry from your character’s point of view to help discover their history and voice; interviewing your characters and answering as if you were in your character’s head; jotting down responses to a series of simple to complex questions about who they are.

Is this hard work? Not really. But it’s more thinking than writing. And we all know how much we writers are just dying to put fingertips to keyboard and start, well, you know, actually writing our stories. As much of a believer as I am in plotting, even I feel that pull and that desire to shove all this aside and just write. But I know in the end how much better my work will be if I put in the thinking time first.

To dissuade myself from giving up on these exercises too early, I go old school: pencil and paper. I take a brand-new, spiral-bound notebook and start writing the answers to these questions by hand. I actually do almost all of my initial plotting and writing exercises by hand. Doing them this way separates them out as a distinct task. I associate notebooks with plotting, so when they are in front of me, I don’t feel that pull to write the same way I do as when I sit at my computer. (If you give it a try, let me know if it works for you!)

So finally an end to the teasing! What’s the one question that gave BECOMING JINN its unexpected backbone? The thing I would have never expected to fuel my main character Azra’s wound and want?

What is the worst thing your character has ever done?

That’s it. I won’t tell you what this thing is because that’d be a spoiler. But the worst thing she did was to her best friend. And the reason she did it is because she wanted what that friend had. And why she wanted it was because of the wound she has had since she was a little girl. Wound, want, story. From one question. Powerful stuff.

Here are some of the other questions I most use when creating character profiles. If they don’t work to spark your imagination, find ones that do. There are many books and Web sites listing these kinds of character-building exercises. Browse through, pull out the ones that get your brain churning, and customize your own character profile exercises. Then grab that notebook and start plotting!

* The writing course I took was at Grub Street with author James Scott as instructor. After two long years of waiting, his first novel, THE KEPT, is debuting on January 7. Congratulations James! And much thanks again!

Wound and Want

What does the character want (primary and secondary characters must have wants)?

What are his or her motives for wanting this?

Where in the story is this made clear to the reader? (And it should be.)

How do we learn what the central character wants? Dialogue? Actions? Interior thinking?

What or who stands in the way of him or her achieving it?

What does that desire set in motion?

List five things that are obstacles to what the character wants: can be inside or outside character. Rank their intensity, how hard is it to get past each one?


Who Is this Character?




Key strength

Key flaw (and consequences of failure, which is not as important for secondary characters; but for secondary characters, do need: relationship with main character; history with MC; purpose of character in story, how affect MC)

Where live geographically? Describe.

Physical description



Fashion sense: What would character wear in summer? winter? To a wedding? funeral? bed?



Nervous habit

Family history/relationships

Key friendships

Role models

Social status

Academic performance

Special talents/hobbies

Favorite hangout

Favorite phrase

What does he/she do on weekends?

For work?

Favorite meal? What would dinner with them be like?


Deeper Questions (for MC and antagonist)


Moral compass

Is he or she a giver or a taker?

Introvert or extrovert and how manifest in life?

Most secret yearning?

Childhood dream that never came true and why?

Worst thing ever done?

Secrets? Secret life?

What has held him or her back in life?

How many people would come to his or her funeral? Why might someone decide not to attend?

Most unlikely or most contradictory aspect?

How strong is character under pressure?

What is their character arc? How change and grow? How apply toward overcoming final obstacle? Tip: at the bottom of every page, write what you know about the character from that page to see if the character is changing over course of the novel, if new information is being given or too much is repetitive.


Let’s Celebrate! It’s 2014!

Though I’d been writing for a couple of years, it was in 2013 that I was finally able to call myself an author, and my journey started this very month. One year ago, I was lucky enough to have BECOMING JINN chosen as part of a writing contest online. Winning that contest ultimately led to an offer of representation from the lovely Lucy Carson of the Friedrich Agency, which led to my two-book deal with Macmillan’s Feiwel and Friends. The biggest thrill of the calendar flipping to 2014 is me being able to say my first book in the series comes out next year!

One of the best things to come from last year’s amazing ride is meeting fellow Macmillan and Friedrich Agency authors. And a perk is getting to read their books before they hit the shelves. And now one of you will get to do so too!

I’m giving away a beautiful ARC of Jessica Khoury’s VITRO, coming from Razorbill on January 14, 2014. Enter to win by January 6 and have it in your hands before release day!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Jessica Khoury's VITRO

Jessica Khoury’s VITRO

When Something Just Clicks…

Last summer, I took a writing course at Grub Street in Boston that changed my life. My writing life, at least. Which actually means it changed my life. Because in the span of last summer until now, a year and a half later, I wrote a YA Contemporary Fantasy, BECOMING JINN, for which I landed an agent and then book deal.

This week I turned my revision of BECOMING JINN in to my editor. I couldn’t be happier or more proud of the book and the shape it is now in. I have many beta readers, including my husband, as well as my fantastic agent and my spot-on editor to thank for pushing me to get the book to where it is now.

As I await news from my editor on what she thinks of my revision, I’ve been reflecting on all I’ve learned about writing. Which is a lot. And I have a lot more to learn.

But some things I learned from that Grub course are worth sharing. So I’ve started a series of blog posts on the group YA writers’ blog I’m a part of, YAtopia, to pass along the key things I learned in that course.

My first post on writing exercises appeared last month. Check it out here.

This month’s, on inside and outside story, is the concept that I believe most changed me as a writer. Click here to check it out.

I plan to write at least five more posts on character, setting, and more over the course of the next few months and will link to them here. I hope they change another writer’s writing life. And more.



Don’t Have a Holiday Tradition? Make One!

The fantastic Brenda Drake, who runs many contests for aspiring writers, including the mega Pitch Wars, which I’m a mentor in, asked me to do a guest post on her blog about a holiday tradition. This year, I’m starting a new one for my nephews. In this year that has been all about writing and books for me personally, it seems appropriate that the tradition I’m starting is called “A Year of Books.” Check out the post here.

Freshman FifteensAre you a writer? There’s a special announcement at the end about a giveaway my 2015 debut author group is running in December! Be sure to read to the end and follow me and the Freshman Fifteens on Twitter for more details!



I Wanna Be Your PitchWars Mentor!

Winter funVampires, Dirty Dancing, and the Jersey Shore: Ten Facts About Me

1. I had a grandmother named Snookie and grew up on the Jersey Shore before it was something to be embarrassed about (okay, so maybe growing up in Jersey has always been something to be embarrassed about).

2. I slept in a tent in the Serengeti in Africa and survived the terrifying hours of an unidentified animal thumping the outside directly behind my head by reciting, often word for word, the entire story of Dirty Dancing to my husband. He countered with Star Wars.

3. I am 4’10″. I may or may not have a Napoleon complex. In times of war, this is a good thing.

4. I wish I knew at the time that my sixth-grade teacher was a psychic. She foretold the future by writing on my report card “Lori will be an author.” Nice. But would it have killed her to add a winning Powerball number or two?

5. I have copyedited everything from an essay by the president of Mexico to the energy policy plan for the state of Oklahoma to a knitting for dogs book. I will find every missing comma, every double word, every “than” instead of “then.” Promis. Promise.

6. I cannot be friends with you if you do not like Fight Club.

7. I love all things vampire. Always have. Always will. If you know who Damon and Klaus are, you are my people.

8. I write about teenagers because apparently I still am one. My editor was impressed with my ability to nail a sixteen-year-old’s voice. I didn’t confess that the voice is simply mine.

9. I need three things for my perfect day: beach, book, and backup book for when I finish book one.

10. I can successfully hail a taxi in New York City in the rain.

My YA contemporary fantasy BECOMING JINN will be published in Spring 2015 by Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. The sequel will follow in Spring 2016. I’m represented by the inimitable Lucy Carson of The Friedrich Agency. My main character, Azra, is a Jinn, a modern-day genie. So I know a thing or two about granting wishes. You can read a snippet of my book here. I am a bursting-with-pride member of the amazing group of 2015 debut authors known as the Freshman Fifteens and the Fearless Fifteeners.

PitchWars SnowballMy PitchWars Wish List

I’m serving as a YA mentor. While I read and love all genres, I’m most drawn to contemporary, whether contemporary/urban fantasy, straight contemporary, or realistic (light) science fiction. Paranormal romance and dystopian are still okay by me. Historical if it’s Tudor/Downton Abbey like. If your book makes me laugh, you will win my heart. Characters rule for me. The stronger, the better. I love stories that blend genres and styles: a dash of humor, a pinch of suspense, an ounce of romance. The more you flavor your writing stew, the more I’ll want to gobble it up (after writing, cooking is my next love). I want your LGBTQ stories, your snarky and/or strong heroines, your antihero gents. Make them real and make me care about them, and you’ve got me. I’m less drawn to straight-out action, crime, horror, romance, and high fantasy. Stories involving religious themes, sports of all sorts, and very dark or political aspects are probably not for me.

Most of all, my mentee should be ready to work, and work hard. My critique will be full of smiley faces but won’t shy away from pointing out the areas that need work. I have a knack for dialogue and am particularly good at trimming the fat. I won’t ask you to do anything I won’t, and haven’t, done. I have recently come out the other side of doing revisions on BECOMING JINN for my editor and know firsthand how one or two pointed questions can make your book better. If you pick me as your mentor, I’ll devote all I’ve learned to make your book the best it can be.

Oh, and don’t forget, if needed I can pull out my big Jersey hair, whack a hyena, wiggle through the smallest of spaces, contact my psychic sixth-grade teacher, slash a dangling participle, never talk about Fight Club, resist compulsion, pass for sixteen, build a sand castle, and if we’re ever in NYC together in the rain, get you that cab.

Follow me on my blog (sign up at the top right of this page), Twitter, and Facebook to receive more hints about what I like from now until submission day (December 2)!

For more on the contest, including submission details, visit host Brenda Drake’s Web site.


Check out the fantastic list of participating agents!

Louise Fury – Bent Agency

Suzie Townsend – New Leaf Literary

Nicole Resciniti - The Seymour Agency

John M. Cusick – The Greenhouse Agency

Sarah LaPolla – Bradford Literary Agency

Victoria Marini - Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency

Jessica Sinsheimer - Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency

Pam van Hylckama Vlieg - Foreword Literary

Quinlan Lee - Adams Literary

Jen Udden – Donald Maass Agency

Emily Keyes – Foreward Literary

Brianne Johnson – Writers House

Carly Watters – P.S. Literary

Molly Jaffa – Folio Literary Management

Evan Gregorgy - Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency

Stefanie Lieberman - Janklow and Nesbit Associates

Rena Rossner - The Deborah Harris Agency

Zachary Shuster Harmsworth – Lana Popovic and Natasha Alexis


 Check out the other fabulous mentors!
















































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