Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Going to Dinner with the characters from TRAINWRECK

What’s on the menu for my characters in TRAINWRECK? Um, a dinner date? I decided to write a scene with Ben and Ani before her rape because part of the fallout of Ani’s sexual assault is the damage to their relationship. A relationship that is actually very strong before it is damaged permanently by the events of one party.

“Where to?” Ani asked as she slipped into my jeep.
I shifted my eyes to the side and glanced at her bare legs. Even after three weeks, I couldn’t stop staring at them. My heart thunked in my chest and my palms felt like an overly enthusiastic poodle had licked them.
“Beez.” Ani snapped her fingers. “I’m up here.”
I grinned. “Sorry. Nice legs.”
“Are you going to sit here all night admiring them or are we actually getting food?” Ani crossed one smooth tan thigh over the other. I raised an eyebrow.
“You’re teasing me?”
She smiled and I lost my breath. Still. Three weeks and I was like a third-string basketball player suddenly asked to start.
“Dinner, Beez. I’m starving. Where are you taking me?”
I gripped the steering wheel with my slick palms and forced myself to move. “Zoo.”
She laughed. “Again? You’re taking me to dinner at the zoo again? If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was becoming our place.”
“I like your mustardy kisses,” I said.
She belly laughed and it circled around me, through me, and made me want to pull the jeep over again so I could make out with her. She leaned over and squeezed my shoulder. “You’re a surprisingly good boyfriend. I wouldn’t have guessed it when we first met.”
“Um, thanks.”
She sat back into the crappy vinyl of my bucket seats and sighed in the way girls do when they’re thinking about serious stuff. “Not everyone likes mustard,” she said as she looked out the window. She turned back to me. “I’m glad you do.”
“Is this your Ani way of telling me you really like me?” Please say yes. Christ, don’t let me be the moron who’s fallen too hard too fast for a girl who only half-likes me.
She shook her head. “Of course it isn’t. I think you’ve known me long enough to know I’m not that subtle.”
I snorted and coughed.
She swatted me. “Shut up. You think I’m adorable in my lack of subtlety.” Adorable and amazing and like no girl I’ve ever met.  
“So?” I asked her and hated that my voice sounded needy. Idiot move, but there was no turning back now. I pulled the jeep to the side of the road and stared at her.
She licked her lips and blinked. Why do girls do this? Always with the lick-lipping. Surely this is some ploy they learned in junior high to turn us inside out.
“I like you,” she said and didn’t break eye contact with me. “Just as much as you like me. Maybe more.” She grinned and the breath knocked out of me. “Now can we get a move on here? I’m starving and sitting on the side of the road is not getting you any closer to mustardy kisses.”

Christa Desir writes dark contemporary young adult books and is represented by Sarah LaPolla at Curtis Brown, Ltd. She graduated as a theatre major/women's studies minor from Grinnell College and lives with her family outside of Chicago. 
Christa's debut novel, TRAINWRECK, was created after she attended a survivor testimonial writing workshop offered by the Voices and Faces Project. Written from a boyfriend's perspective, it tells the story of a girl who is gang raped at a party and the fallout of their relationship afterwards. It will be published by SimonPulse in Fall 2013. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What's on My Main Character's Menu? And What's That Pungent Smell?

The theme on the blog this week is "Dinner with our characters: What's on the menu in our books?" Today you're invited to sample a taste of life in Cat Winters's YA historical ghost tale, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS.

Welcome to the gaslit kitchen of my main character's aunt's house. Have a seat. Make yourself at long as you're not carrying influenza germs.

I apologize if my protagonist says anything snappish or cynical to you. I've made her life miserable lately, and she isn't feeling her best. Plus she's getting tired of the food.

What's on the menu? you ask. Well, I'm sure you're aware we're at war with Germany. No, no, no, this isn't WWII. Go further back—to 1918. WWI. The Great War. We're sending our food overseas to help the starving in Europe, so the Food Administration is asking us to ration our meals.

The government's suggestions:

Sunday - One Meal Wheatless & One Meal Meatless
Monday - All Meals Wheatless & One Meal Meatless
Tuesday - All Meals Meatless & One Meal Wheatless
Wednesday - All Meals Wheatless & One Meal Meatless
Thursday - One Meal Wheatless & One Meal Meatless
Friday - One Meal Wheatless & One Meal Meatless
Saturday - All Meals Porkless, One Meal Wheatless, & One Meal Meatless

It's Tuesday, I see, so let's forgo meat today, and you'll need to put aside your craving for bread for this meal. Sorry about that, but this is war, and we need to be stellar Americans.

What was that you just said? I think I heard you mutter under your breath that you wonder if this family has made its pledge to the Food Administration. Rest assured, my protagonist's aunt has filled out the appropriate form, and you'll find the Food Administration Membership Card hanging in the front window:

Courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections,
Cornell University Library.

This is a patriotic house—all-American, we swear. No one here wants to impede the war effort.

Yes, I saw the dark, nervous look my protagonist just darted our way at the topic of anti-patriotism. Please ignore that look and let's get back to the menu.

Oh...I see you're glancing at the pot boiling on the stove, wondering about that pungent smell. If you haven't noticed (how could you not?), there's also a lethal flu blazing across America, and most people are resorting to folk remedies to keep themselves alive.

My heroine's aunt isn't cooking that pungent item for you to eat.

She's cooking it for you to wear.

What exactly is it? you ask with widening eyes. What am I going to have to eat or wear to stay alive?

I'm sorry, but you'll have to wait until you get your copy of In the Shadow of Blackbirds to find out what's boiling on that stove.

You didn't really think I'd tell you everything I'm cooking up for my novel before it's available, did you?

Cat Winters was born and raised just a short drive down the freeway from Disneyland, which probably explains her obsession with haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, a young adult WWI-era ghost tale, is coming Spring 2013 from Amulet Books. She lives outside of Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids.

Cat's haunts:, Twitter, and Facebook. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is now on Goodreads.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Glimpse into the World of THE FOUNTAIN

Hi everyone! Today I'm going to give you a glimpse into the world building of THE FOUNTAIN, my YA sci-fi coming out in the summer of 2013 (Dial/Penguin).

Here's the basic blurb:
It's about a 17-year-old who must rescue her kidnapped sister with the help of a band of outcasts with mutated genes, set in 2150 when genetic manipulation has been outlawed.

So how did I think up this world? I extrapolated based on the reality of today.

Neia and its Agriplane:
Zelia and her sister currently live in Neia (an aggregate state of Nebraska and Iowa).  It's an agricultural state, famous for its agriplane. I envisioned a world where the earth itself was overpopulated and the ground poisoned from pollution. The growth of food needed to be physically moved upwards onto a an artificial field that runs parallel to the earth, held aloft by gigantic supports and the occasional building. As a result, under the agriplane where people live, is quite gloomy since the agriplane gets most of the sunlight.

Fossil fuel-driven automobiles will be a thing of the past. The most energy-wasting thing about driving is friction--friction from the air, and from pushing a vehicle's weight against the earth. Instead, there will be magpods--oval-shaped pods that ride over magnetic strips embedded into the ground. Totally frictionless. No one owns the magpods. Based on your demographic and ability to pay, a particular magpod will zoom up to you when you request one. And if you can't afford them? There are free, public magpods, but they're kind of gross.

Fingertip identification--based on your fingerprint and capillary (blood vessel) pattern--define you. Where you live, who you are, your medical record, how much money you have, etc.  Pressing your fingertip will sign electronic documents, or get you the right magpod after pressing a magpod ordering machines. It's great because you can't leave your fingertips at home like a wallet or credit card, and it's nearly impossible to forge. But it's pretty scary, because everything you do can be watched.

There is so much more I'd love to chat about, but I can't spoil my own book, now, can I? ;)

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into THE FOUNTAIN!  

 And now a question for you. Can you share a teeny tidbit about the world building of your current WIP? Pretty please?

Lydia Kang is a writer, part-time doctor, and salt-addicted gal with a near-pathological need to doodle.  Find her on Twitter, her blog The Word Is My Oyster, and Facebook.

If you want to get a better glimpse of THE FOUNTAIN, you can check out her Pinterest page!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dreaming California: Setting and THE WIG IN THE WINDOW

Inspiration for "Luna Vista"
Describing setting doesn't come naturally to me. There is, in fact, one inconspicuous paragraph in my middle grade mystery THE WIG IN THE WINDOW that took me an entire day to write. If I ever dared reveal which paragraph (not even torture would convince me to do that), you would be hard pressed not to burst out laughing.

I blame my setting challenges on my itinerant childhood. As I was growing up, I moved every two years or so. My childhood memories are a jumble of different schools, houses, friends, and neighbors. When I write, I tend to visualize places from my past that call up certain emotions. I might imagine my seventh grade classroom in Reno, Nevada to write one scene, but transport myself to my sixth grade cafeteria for the next. My resulting prose might do a great job of conveying my characters’ mental landscape, but in early drafts (and – yikes! – even later ones) my descriptions of their physical world are riddled with inconsistencies. In a draft of THE WIG IN THE WINDOW sometimes kids walked down linoleum hallways and at others they strolled across outdoor courtyards. “Is the school campus-style?” my editor politely asked in her editorial letter. “It was a little bit hard to visualize.”

No kidding. When I went back and sketched diagrams of the fictional jumble of places I’d created, the result looked like I'd hired Picasso to draw up blueprints.

Setting is important to me, though — however hard I struggle to evoke it. I set THE WIG IN THE WINDOW in the fictional California seaside suburb of “Luna Vista,” because I wanted to create a surreal backdrop to my mystery. Preposterous events are easier to accept when the entire world of a story is just a bit off kilter. Besides, ugly secrets are best uncovered in beautiful surroundings. Luna Vista’s surreal nature also gave me more liberties in depicting my character’s lives. My young sleuths Sophie Young and Grace Yang roam about more freely than actual suburban kids do these days— a useful ability when it comes to conducting high-stakes investigating. A more true-to-life setting might also have required them to be tethered to that universal foe of  mystery: technology.

However surreal the fictional town of Luna Vista is, it was inspired by a real place: Los Angeles’ stunning Palos Verdes Peninsula, where I was lucky enough to live briefly as a kid. Luna Vista Middle School — and the beach where the book’s final late-night showdown takes place — bears a strong resemblance to my former public middle school, Malaga Cove:

Of course, halfway through sixth grade, my family moved. This was my new school:

I think I picked the right setting. Don't you?

Kristen Kittscher's debut mystery THE WIG IN THE WINDOW (Harper Children's 2013) follows the comic misadventures of two tween sleuths who suspect their school counselor is a dangerous fugitive -- and just might be right! A former middle school English teacher, Kristen lives in Pasadena, California, with her husband, Kai. When she's not writing, you'll find her running her after-school tutoring business or taking orders from her hopelessly spoiled pets. You can find her  on TwitterFacebook, or at Sleuths, Spies & Alibis, where she blogs with other YA & MG mystery authors.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Laissez les bons temps rouler

This is a really wonderful time in my home state of Louisiana. The last few weeks we’ve been in the height of Mardi Gras season, ending yesterday with Fat Tuesday. Across the state, everyone celebrated by attending Mardi Gras balls, eating King Cakes hoping to find the baby inside and fighting like children over the beads and cups thrown from the floats being paraded through the city streets. Laissez les bons temps rouler - Let the good times roll...It’s one of my favorite times of the year.

A float from our local Krewe of Highland Mardi Gras parade.

When most people hear Louisiana – they immediately think New Orleans. And while New Orleans is an amazingly fun over the top city – it’s not the only interesting destination in the state. Louisiana is filled with many small towns that ooze charm and history.

In my novel, THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING, my main character and her family are stuck in the Witness Protection Program and are forced to move from city to city. Each new identity comes with the added pressure of “fitting in” and the town becomes as important as the people in it. The unique culture of small town Louisiana was the perfect setting for my novel and I knew I had to use it as a character in the story.

And what a character it is!

Although I had many great small towns to choose from – I picked Natchitoches, Louisiana. It’s about thirty minutes away from where I live in Shreveport and I’ve been there many times. What makes Natchitoches utterly charming is the cobblestoned streets on Front Street, the winding Cane River that runs through town and it’s laid back way of life. Everything moves at a slower speed – there’s always time to visit over a cup of café-au-lait and talk about your day.

Front Street, Natchitoches, Louisiana
Cane River

And how can you talk about Louisiana without talking about the rich, sumptuous food. Natchitoches, like any good Louisiana town, has its share of wonderful fare: Beignets (a fried doughnut covered in powdered sugar), Boudin (Cajun sausage made with pork and rice) , and Étouffée (crawfish or shrimp smothered with gravy and vegetables). But it’s known for their Natchitoches meat pies: a crescent-shaped, flaky pastry filled with savory meat, onion and garlic. Utterly delicious! And it was fun subjecting my characters to bizarre foods like Crawfish pizza and shindigs like Cochon de laits (pig roasts)!

Beignets from Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans

Natchitoches Meat Pies

So when my scared family gets dumped in the middle of this old Louisiana town, it’s quite a shock. The accents of the people there seem foreign, the food seems outrageous and the people way too nice. And when you have secrets to keep – they last thing you need is this small community trying really hard to make you feel at home.

Ashley Elston lives in Shreveport, Louisiana with her husband and three sons. Her debut YA thriller, THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING, will be published by Disney Hyperion in Winter 2013.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The World of Luminance Hour

This week on the Lucky 13s we’re talking about the settings of our novels. Because my novel is a story about a Faery who guards the Prince of England, I didn’t have a very difficult time choosing where to set my story (understatement!). Ever since I first crossed the Atlantic twelve years ago and explored the streets of London, the halls of Buckingham and the sweeping fields around Stonehenge, I’ve been captured by the grandeur and the significance of the place. Since many of you are familiar with these places via social media and television, I thought I might show them to you today in a slightly different light--through the perspective of the Fae. Take a seat and I’ll give you a glimpse of Britain through the eyes of Prince Richard and Emrys.


A city of ghosts and kings, London sets the stage for Emrys's story. It is a place bustling with life: black cabs, the snaking trains of the Underground, tourists cramming the tops of double-decker buses. But there is a shadowy side to England's capital not seen by its mortal inhabitants. Soul feeders (spirits who need human death to sustain them) roam pubs and alleyways looking for victims. Emrys and the other Fae are sworn to protect the royal family from these predators, but in London's bustling nightlife, it proves quite a challenge.

c Nora Leitz
c Nora Leitz
Parliament's clock tower and the London Eye are two places where you can get a bird's-eye view (or a Fae's-eye view) of the city. There may or may not be some scenes that take place here.

Buckingham Palace

c Nora Leitz
Prince Richard spent his childhood here, among so many art-strewn halls, floor-length mirrors and gilded moldings. His father, King Edward, still lives and works from the palace's grand apartments. The surrounding gardens are a good resting place for their invisible Fae guardians, who use the presence of trees and earth to recharge their magic against the city's grating technology.

Windsor Castle

c Kate Barry
Windsor is the second royal residence featured in Luminance Hour. The royals use it as a getaway whenever they grow weary of inner London. Although their Faery guardians appreciate the relief from so much concrete, electricity and steel, they are also on edge every time they must reside in Windsor's walls. The reason is Herne the Hunter, a powerful free spirit who lurks in the woods of the adjoining Great Park. His dark, unpredictable nature makes all uneasy.

c Kate Barry


c Kate Barry
This iconic structure is one of the last bastions of strong, wilderness-fed magic in the south of the British Isles. Queen Mab, the ruler of the Faery court, sometimes comes here with her courtiers to soak up all of the energy the stones have to offer her. At one time spirits were born here, springing up like pure energy out of the ground, but ever since the Industrial Revolution the site's magic has tapered off.

The Highlands

Because of this decline of magic, most of the older Fae stay in the Highlands, far from technology. Queen Mab's court is tucked away in the beauty of this wilderness, between snow-capped peaks, tea-stained lochs and crumbling fortresses. 

c David Strauss
c David Strauss
 Emrys spent many happy years here before she lost one of Queen Mab's Kelpies to the brown waters of a loch. Her punishment? Go to London and join the Guard as Prince Richard's personal Faery guardian. It's here our story begins...


When she’s not writing and drifting around the globe, Ryan Graudin enjoys hunting through thrift stores and taking pictures of her native Charleston, SC. Her novel LUMINANCE HOUR, the story of a Faery who falls in love with the prince she’s forced to guard, is due out with HarperTeen in 2013. You can learn about all of these things and more at You can also follow her on Twitter at @ryangraudin

Monday, February 20, 2012

Setting, Lies, and Photographs

This week on the blog we're talking about a sometimes overlooked topic: setting. If writing a book was like hosting a dinner, "setting" sometimes feels like the appetizer you forgot to put out and then remembered halfway through dessert. But setting can really make or break a book: I can still taste the popcorn from the circus in THE NIGHT CIRCUS, feel the salty wind from THE SCORPIO RACES, and feel the claustrophobic spaceship from ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.

My YA Gothic thriller, THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER, takes place in three settings: London in 1894, a wooden tall ship, and an unnamed tropical island. I've never been to any of these places (especially not in 1894). So how does one write about a place one's never been?

Lie! (aka, use your imagination)

I'm banking on the hope that none of you have ever been in 1890s London either. But lying only takes it so far. To create a realistic feel, I had to put in hours and hours of research and visiting similar places, like this ship from the 1700s I found at the North Carolina Outer Banks.

The reenactors aboard didn't quite know what to make of my questions: If you had to hide a llama on board, where would you put it? Did the crew play Backgammon? If there was no fresh water and everyone only drank beer, was everyone just drunk all the time?

The bulk of my book takes place on a fictional tropical island, and since it doesn't exist, I haven't been there. So I had to imagine it from photos and guidebooks and my own memories. When I was sixteen--the age of my protagonist--I spent a year in Costa Rica as an exchange student. For various reasons I didn't actually have to attend school, so I spent my time exploring rain forests, hanging out with hippies on the beach, riding horses in the surf, and climbing volcanoes. That was more than a few years ago, but it certainly made an impact. The funny part was, I didn't even think about using my time in Costa Rica as inspiration until I'd written the first draft. Reading back through it, I suddenly remembered the sights and smells of Costa Rica and realized that whether knowing it or not, I had pulled upon my own experience to create the setting.

16-year-old Megan not realizing that one day, many years later, she'll use this memory to write a blog post on setting.

I also personally think islands make some of the best settings. LOST was a big inspiration for this book, and in fact I pitched it to my agent as a 19th century LOST. There is so much you can do with an island as a microcosm of a society--and in my book's case, a society gone very, very wrong.


Megan Shepherd is a young adult writer living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Her debut book, THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER, will be published in early 2013 by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins as the first in a three-book Gothic thriller series. She is represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary. Visit Megan at her website, on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

APOCALYPSE NOW: Above World! Interview with Jenn Reese

I was really fortunate to get an ARC for Above World, one of the best sci fi middle grade novels to come out in a long time! There I said it! And it has a great cover too!

And Jenn is not only an agency mate of mine, she is an awesome friend and truly talented writer. So I got to ask her a few questions here on the Lucky 13 blog.

 Ello - Hi Jenn! Congratulations on your book release and welcome to the Lucky 13s! Can you tell us about your road to publication?

Jenn - My road was fairly standard, I think:  I wrote the book, revised like crazy, and managed to sign with a great agent who found Above World a fantastic home. But I certainly couldn’t have done any of that without the support of my friends. Some of them read the first draft as I was writing it and cheered me on, others gave me invaluable feedback on the novel, query, and synopsis. A few gave me lists of the agents they had queried, and some even gave me referrals. When I got offers from more than one agent, they patiently reviewed my comparison spreadsheet and didn’t laugh. Now they’re the people re-tweeting my announcements and giving me pep talks when I get a bad review. Actual publication is just the tip of a mighty iceberg made of effort, support, and love. (For example, if I showed this answer to one of my trusted friends, they’d tell me I was being a sap and to lose the iceberg metaphor. They’d be right.)

Ello - And your book just came out this week! How are you celebrating your book release birthday?

Jenn - First, my partner Chris and I are both ditching work. (Woo!) We’ll hit More Than Waffles for lunch, where I will order “Waffles Benedict with avocado instead of meat,” my traditional meal of celebration. (That’s Eggs Benedict on a waffle, which is even more delicious than it sounds.) Because it’s Valentine’s Day, the Arclight Cinema in Hollywood is showing one of my all-time favorite movies, The Philadelphia Story starring Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant. I’ve never seen it on the big screen, and I absolutely can’t wait.  

Ello - Sounds like a blast! Now, the world and mythology of your book is so fascinating! Can you tell us a little bit about how you created it?

Jenn - For this book, I worked backwards. I started with the endpoint, the spark that made me most excited to write the book: a world where humans had bioengineered themselves into mythological creatures in order to survive in harsh climates. Then I tried to build a history that made this future world at least remotely plausible. I speculated that our current problems with overpopulation would continue to worsen, creating the need for creative solutions. These “solutions” (no spoilers!) resulted in the Kampii, Aviar, Deepfell, and Equian cultures.

Ello - And that is what is so cool about your book! In Above World, you can adapt and live under water, in the air, on land, in the deep, etc. Where would you choose to live and what adaptation would you want and why?

Jenn - I’m not going to lie; I want them all. I have always dreamed of shapeshifting into animal forms. Animals are sleek and fast and always free. When I was young, I was in love with horses, and would have chosen them. Then came a very severe dolphin phase. Now, as an adult who spends far too much time in LA’s traffic, I most often dream of soaring through the skies with my own pair of wings.

Ello - Flying. That's the one I absolutely would choose! Ok, last question. Do you have any superstitions that affect you as a writer?

Jenn - Except for knocking on wood to avoid jinxing myself, I am not a superstitious person. In terms of writing, I won’t talk about any good news unless it’s a done deal – but that reflects on my years working in Hollywood, not publishing.

Awesome! Thanks Jenn for stopping by and congratulations again on your awesome new book!

Posted by: Ellen Oh - Writer, lawyer, college instructor, donut-slayer, chocolate lover. Addicted to diet coke. Likes to quote extensively from the Princess Bride, Monty Python and Godfather movies. Never leaves home without her iphone, chapstick, a book and her American Express card. Her debut, PROPHECY, comes out in Winter 2013 by HarperCollins Childrens.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Valentine--Michelle Wolfson

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Valentine's Day is a special day for me and not just because it's the day that chocolate doesn't have any calories. This very day last year, I signed with my agent. So I thought it would be appropriate to interview her (Michelle Wolfson) on our one year anniversary. She is a very smart lady with lots of cool insights for writers.


Kasie: Since it’s Valentine’s Day and since this is the one year anniversary of the day I signed with you, would you recommend all writers include a marriage proposal in their query like I did, since it seemed to work? Just kidding. Of course. But that leads me to the actual question: Are there any “gimmicks” people included in their query letter that actually got you to request pages? (Side note: Is your husband jealous that I have stolen this romantic holiday as our anniversary?)
Michelle: So first of all, my husband was actually thrilled to turn over to you the responsibility of showering me with love and lavish praise on Valentine’s Day. Oh, and cards. Yes, it is the ultimate Hallmark holiday, but that’s perfect, because I happen to love cards. But the ones that make me laugh. And then you should feel free to talk all about our wonderful marriage inside, because make no mistake about it, we are married. You are not leaving me. Ever.
Oh wait, there was a real question in there, right? Gimmicks. Well, gimmicks are funny things (and by funny I mean slightly weird) and agents are funny people (and by funny I mean slightly weird). The same gimmick might entertain me on a certain day and on another day, in another mood, I might think—that’s so ridiculous.
Ultimately, it all comes down to your writing, so I think instead of wasting a ton of time coming up with the most clever gimmick, I would invest that time into writing the best query that you can.
Now charm is something different, and I often have people open their queries with a comment that makes me smile. But again, this doesn’t necessarily make me take them on. It may make me more likely to respond even if it’s a no, even though that is not my policy. But I’m not sure how helpful that is.
Kasie: That is very helpful. And I'm glad my talk of twitter conversations in my query made you think I was charming instead of odd. Which leads me to my next question.
What is the most important thing you look for in a client?
MIchelle: So this relates back to the previous question, and although there is no doubt that the writing comes first, personality, temperament, and fit are all important to me—as they should be to you. I am very up front about the way that I work, and I recognize that it may not be right for everyone. But it works for me.
I want clients who are working hard toward achieving their goals, so that I can work hard to help them achieve those goals, whatever they may be. I listen to my clients and I want them to listen to me; I feel we have discussions about their careers and the directions they want to go. And I want clients who are open to ideas and to what I have to say.
As a side note, it occurs to me that I answer this question differently every time I’m asked it, and the answer probably largely depends on what has been going on recently at the agency. But a key takeaway there is there’s no right or wrong way to be. Be professional, be respectful, be open to suggestions and you can’t really go wrong.
Kasie: I agree, personality was important to me as well when I was looking for an agent. I wanted someone who was not only smart and professional but who I could be myself with and I enjoyed talking to.
Changing topics here. It seems like everyone and their dog and their dog’s grandma is writing now. How does a writer stand out in this competitive market? (Side note: If my dog’s grandma actually writes a book, can I refer her to you?)
Michelle: Soooo, I think maybe I would prefer to hear from you if your grandma’s dog writes a book. If that happens, let’s talk, ok?
I do think it’s harder and harder to stand out in this market. I don’t have a secret formula for it, and if I did, I certainly wouldn’t be sharing it here on this blog!
I think the advent of social media, while time consuming, also provides writers with marketing opportunities that weren’t available in days gone by. I would encourage you to begin sooner rather than later to build a following. And I would encourage you to work smarter rather than harder.
Watch other writers who are successful in social media. Look for new smart ideas. Save them for later. Don’t just do the same old tired things. Otherwise I feel that social media becomes draining very fast and just another excuse to keep you from writing.
And most obvious of all, if you want to stand out, write a stand out book. It can happen. Think BIG!!
Kasie: Okay, so speaking of social media, with the whole blogosphere as our playground these days, and knowing you are only a tweet (or twenty....thousand) away, are writer’s conferences worth it? Do you feel like you connect better with writers face to face?
**This answer was awesome and if you want to know what she thinks, you should go over to her blog to read the answer.**
Kasie: So what is your favorite part of your job?
Michelle: When I get to call an author and tell him/her we got an offer. No wait! When I get to call another editor and say we have another offer, what are you going to do? No wait!! When I have an editor on the line making an offer and the other line rings that another editor is calling…you guessed it, to make an offer!
Ok, just kidding. Kind of. Of course sales are exciting, but there are so many wonderful parts. I love being involved in all stages of books. From ideas to publication to covers and titles and marketing and PR—I love the variety. Every author is different and every book is different.
I would say that in particular I love strategizing with my clients about their careers—helping to come up with a plan for the future. Each one is different—everyone writes at a different pace, everyone has different goals, and it’s my job to think outside the box and figure out how to make it happen.
Kasie: And you are very, very good at it. I know I said only five questions, but you know I can’t quit without asking: How did you not know who Adam Levine was before the last season of The Voice? Are you not a music girl?
My mom is a pianist, so growing up, I would say about 95% of my exposure to music was classical music. And then MTV was invented. And music videos were all the rage. And poor Michelle just didn’t get the concept of watching music. I said what?? Music is something that’s meant to be in the background while I read (and prepare for my future career). So really, if I knew who Adam Levine was, I probably wouldn’t be a literary agent today. Except I’m pretty sure I went to Hebrew school with an Adam Levine, but it probably wasn’t the same one.
Kasie: Well, when you put it like that, thank goodness you didn't know who Adam Levine was. But let's all take a moment to be glad you know who he is now. Because let's face it, he makes all our lives a little more complete.
Thanks so much, Michelle, for doing this interview. And thanks for being my Valentine. :) Visit Michelle's blog here to learn more about her and for more commentary on today's interview.
Kasie West writes YA paranormal (and dabbles in contemporary). She graduated from Fresno State University with a BA degree that has nothing to do with writing. She earned her masters in Junior Mint eating (which is awarded after eating your millionth King Size box....and is now working on her PhD). She loves sappy alternative rock ballads and reading way past her bedtime. She blogs at

Her debut novel PIVOT POINT will be out with HarperTeen in the Winter of 2013

Monday, February 13, 2012

The 13th Day: Super-Awesome-Bomb-Diggity News!

Some people may think that the number 13 is unlucky, but not those of us at The Lucky 13s!

In fact, we're celebrating the 13th day of each month by featuring all the fabulous stuff that's been happening to The Lucky 13s.

Please raise a glass to our super-awesome-bomb-diggity news....

Sarah Skilton welcomed a baby boy named Elliot. We can all brag that we've created debut novels, but Sarah's created something even cuter. Welcome, Elliot!

Elle Cosimano has been accepted into the SCBWI Mentor Program for Agented/Published Authors and will be working with Ellen Hopkins (squee!) on a new mystery/thriller project.

Christa Desir has been contacted by dozens of rape crisis organizations around the country offering support for her book, TRAINWRECK. This includes a letter from RAINN founder Scott Berkowitz and a note from one of the Voices and Faces supporters who works at NPR and would like to pitch the story of how she wrote this book to This American Life.

Chelsey Flood's stage adaptation of Infinite Sky has been shortlisted for a BBC Writers Room competition.
Emma Pass and Chelsey Flood have been asked to take part in a Q&A at the Derbyshire Literature festival in May. Mark your calendars!

Caroline Carlson's middle grade pirate fantasy, MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, and its two planned sequels will be published in the UK/Commonwealth by Simon & SchusterUK and in Brazil by Companhia das Letras.

Liz Coley's agents at Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation have sold foreign rights to UK, Sweden, Brazil, and France for Pretty Girl-13. She's glad she doesn't have to do the translations!

Rachele Alpine is represented by Dystel and Goderich and her young adult comtemporary novel CANARY will be published in the summer of 2013 by Medallion Press.

She blogs, or you can find her on Facebook and Goodreads.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Life and other unplanned events

People who know me, know that I am a HUGE fan of planners. Show me a to-do list or a shiny new calendar system, and you've hooked me, cold. But whether you're fourteen or forty, life sometimes doesn't work out the way you expect.

Sometimes, it's the good surprises that throw you for a loop and send your life careening out of control. And sometimes, the surprises aren't so good.

When I was a teenager, I was living life pretty much according to plan. I was a straight A student, and was popular "enough" and athletic "enough" for our small school. I figured I'd finish out high school, go to college, get a great job, get married, have kids, etc. (I didn't say this was a great plan, but it's sort of what I figured would happen).

Then, one sunny day in September of my sophomore year, my highly active, successful and joyfully self-employed father unexpectedly passed away. I won't go into the details, but something in his body just gave out, and that was it. To say my life changed dramatically after that day was, of course, an understatement. Setting aside the whole emotional hit for myself and my family, I moved to a much smaller house, enrolled in a much larger public high school, learned new skills, found new friends, adapted. 

And it's probably the "adapting" part that mattered the most. I had to take ownership of my life and live a new reality. And yes, over time, I realized that this new reality could have a great deal of joy in it… and I certainly appreciated that joy more, after what I'd been through.

I'm happy to say that most of the other surprises in my life have been pretty amazing. My career path has taken me all the way up the corporate ladder--until that ladder fell over and I became a freelance writer. Along the way, I fell in love, won a few writing awards, and, just last year, achieved my decade-long dream of selling my first novel. (woot!)

I had all sorts of ideas about what my life would be like, post sale… but um, yeah--just like my "plans" as a teenager, I'm finding that the reality is much more complex than anticipated. I think I secretly expected a game show host moment where I'd be given my new life on a shiny platter and I'd know EXACTLY how to live it. But once again, I'm finding it's much more about adapting and taking ownership of my new reality (or, some days, surreality) to actually live this life of my dreams. 

Bottom line, for each of us, life can change in a heartbeat, and all the planning you do in the world might not matter once you're actually in a moment of dramatic (and hopefully positive) transformation: once you get INTO your perfect college or LAND the job of your dreams or, in my case most recently, BECOME a full-time fiction writer. Because life isn't about planning… it's about living.

Though I'm still not giving up my planner.

What about you? Has your life path ever taken an unexpected detour? Are you living the life you planned?

Jennifer McGowan has been writing fiction since well before she knew any better. A past Romance Writers of America Golden Heart winner and 2011 Golden Heart finalist, Jenn is represented by agent extraordinaire Alexandra Machinist, of Janklow & Nesbit.

Jenn's debut novel, MAID OF SECRETS, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in Spring, 2013. You can find Jenn online and on twitter.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ode to… my writing partner

The Lucky 13s are all loved up over the next couple of weeks. Today, I want to pay tribute to my writing partner, Adam Parks, who was the first person to read Oathbreaker – long before it became the novel it is now. And long before I had an inkling of a deal, he believed that it would happen for me.

And so, in true ode style, I’m going to serenade him in verse:

Dear Adam, at uni we met because someone said
We had the same colour eyes. Weird hazel-green.
More in common: classes we took, books we’d read,
But most of all, we shared the same dream.
To write! But more than just write, to live to write
And together we sat in the same cafe on Bloor
Replacing our blood with coffee, filling our fingerprints with ink
You read the first draft; pointed out things that weren’t right
Things that weren’t wrong; but most of all you asked for more.
For that, I thank you. Next stop: your deal, -wink-.


Amy McCulloch is a girl of many publishing hats: author, editor and reader. Originally from Ottawa, Canada, she currently lives in London, UK. Other than books, she is addicted to travelling, running and Starbucks coffee.

Her debut novel, THE OATHBREAKER'S SHADOW is due from Random House Children's Books in Spring 2013. Find out more on her blog or feel free to say hello on Twitter!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Commas in the New Yorker fall with the precision of knives in a circus act, outlining the victim. - Elwyn Brooks White
I’m not going to talk to you about comma rules, but I am going to make a point about the role of grammar in contemporary writing. It counts. Still. Yes, sentence fragments have become common. Really. Especially in kidlit. Infinitives are permitting themselves to be ruthlessly split from time to time. And sentences are allowed to begin with conjunctions and end with prepositions when the occasion warrants.
However, to misquote Churchill, there are certain errors up with which I will not put.
I recently read a quite excellent story that was blemished only by two grammar errors, like chin zits on a lovely face. First, there were misuses of lie versus lay, one each way. Lie was used for lay, and lay was used for lie. Elsewhere in the manuscript they were used correctly, suggesting that the author and editor and copy editor had the ability to get it right, but not consistently.
If this usage isn’t second nature to you, I beg and implore you to learn the difference. It is the single most common error in written and spoken English (no citation--just experience).
The second error was another that has become rampant in spoken English on TV and radio--misuse of the past tense forms of verbs. I drunk a glass of water. Those of you screaming, “Noooooooooo!” may be excused from class now. Those saying, “Huh? Isn’t that right?” may benefit from a refresher. Reading “my heart sunk” is like hearing fingernails on the board to anyone who had Mr. Erickson for middle school English. Just remember the Grinch: “Stink, stank, stunk.” And remember that the Titanic SANK into the sea, and, after several days, all hopes of finding survivors HAD SUNK.
Grammatical errors, even more than typos, throw the reader out of the narrative to the sound of their own gnashing teeth. SImple errors can even generate a smidgen of distrust in the bond between audience and storyteller.
Fortunately, I have tackled both of these all-too common errors in a quick, easy, and lighthearted way that I hope will stick. Rather than repeat myself, I invite you to follow these links:
Let me know if there are any other grammatical points you’d like explained in my inimitable way, and I will add them to my grammar rants.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Liz Coley writes young adult novels and science fiction/fantasy short stories for anthologies and magazines.
Her novel Pretty Girl-13 from HarperCollins Katherine Tegen Books will be debuting in 2013. There are secrets you can't even tell yourself.

For more about Liz and her work, visit or follow her on Twitter at LizColeyBooks.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An interview with emily m. danforth, author of THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST

I'm so pleased to feature emily m. danforth, whose debut novel, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST, publishes today! In case you haven't read the wonderful reviews it's been getting, here is a brief description:

When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief she’ll never have to tell them that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief soon turns to heartbreak, as Cam is forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and not making waves, and Cam becomes an expert at this—especially at avoiding any questions about her sexuality.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. To Cam’s surprise, she and Coley become best friends—while Cam secretly dreams of something more. Just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, her secret is exposed. Ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self—even if she’s not quite sure who that is.

I was lucky enough to read this book pre-publication and ask emily some questions about her beautifully written novel.

You were born and raised in Miles City, Montana. What prompted you to set THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST in your hometown rather than a fictional town based in the same area?

My answer is in two parts. (Probably some of you will want to just skip part two. I’m totally fine with that. In fact: just about everyone should skip part two.)

a) I think it’s absolutely accurate to call THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST an autobiographical novel. And the details that are most autobiographical (because there is also a great deal, in fact, a majority, of wholly invented material) are the details of place. Frankly, Miles City has a really colorful and fascinating history as a cattle/cowboy town, and a very particular geography and culture, and I was interested in exploring some of that in my novel. The (world-famous) Bucking Horse Sale, for instance, really does take place in Miles City each and every May, and it’s such a throwback kind of western, good-timin’ cowboy event (you should check it out if you get the chance: that I knew I would just have to write a scene that takes place at BHS. So while I could have created some fictional town with some invented name and then have given it some event like Bucking Horse Sale, but not actually named that event Bucking Horse Sale, the question is: why? Why do that? Because I’m afraid that people will think I’m writing memoir otherwise? Or because I’m afraid of annoying current and former Miles Citians? As a fiction writer I’m drawn to the practice of using real places—towns or attractions that readers can absolutely find on a map and arrange to visit, if they’re so inclined—but then coloring those places in such a way that it renders them as a fictionalized versions of themselves.

I understand that this might be disappointing for some readers who want every street name or video rental place, whatever, to match exactly to reality—though businesses close and re-open al
l the time, right, so there isn’t a “fixed” reality that a novel can capture and hold ever, because “the real world” will always keep changing—but more importantly, we each experience a place—be it a town or a museum or a carnival, the world’s largest ball of twine, whatever—as funneled through our completely unique and personal set of judgments and expectations, experiences and associations. I suppose this is a convoluted way of saying that we create our own reality(ies), and that mine can never be identical to anyone else’s, but that also helps to explain my approach to fiction: the Miles City in my novel can only ever belong fully to Cameron Post, it’s hers, because she’s not only our first-person narrator and protagonist, she’s also a character with very particular sensibilities of place. So yes, it’s Miles City, but not THE Miles City. That’s my distinction. It’s Cameron Post’s Miles City.

-->b) There’s no way to tell this part succinctly so I’ll just say this: the wonderful Canadian writer Alice Munro has a (fairly widely anthologized) short story titled “Miles City, Montana,” and part of that story is in fact set in a town Munro calls Miles City—ostensibly “the” Miles City. (My Miles City, I might say, feeling like a territorial fiction writer.) I love Alice Munro’s short fiction, I do, but I came upon the story in question as a young writer and have always taken issue with what I see as a blatant misrepresentation of one specific aspect of our town. Now, undoubtedly Munro would tell you that she was just fictionalizing a place to suit the needs of her story (as I just advocated for above), and I take no issue with that. I get it. I like it. I write fiction that way, too. However, as a writer who was born and raised in Miles City, a writer whose parents in fact still live there, I decided to make this specific location (in my novel) bear much more resemblance to the reality of the last hundred years or so of local history. And so, you see, it just had to be Miles City. It had to.

As someone who grew up in the '90s, I feel that you captured that period so well; the pop culture references were dropped in so seamlessly that I often felt like I had traveled back to my own teenage years. Did you have to research a lot or was it all in your head, so to speak? Was there a specific reason you set the book in the '90s?

Thanks for saying so. It’s nice to hear that from a fellow '90’s teen (they were the landscape of my adolescence, too). I guess I wouldn’t call some of the preparatory work that I did while writing this novel research so much as reminding. I had a clear sense of some of the prominent cultural trends and ideologies of that decade, the sensibilities, but I misremembered some of the details, of course. For instance, a couple of times I had a movie in mind for Cameron’s VHS rental obsession, and I would even write it into a scene, and then I’d look it up on IMDB and realize that I was a few years off, that it had come out later in the 1990s than I had thought, same thing with some songs.

I wanted to set the novel in the 1990s, the
early 1990s, not only because a kind of early nostalgia for that time, I guess—though certainly I’ll willingly admit to that—but also because I’ve long been marveling at just how much has changed (for the better) during the last two decades in terms of LGBTQ visibility and advocacy. There’s lots of cultural “evidence” of this, but I’ll just given the example of the internet. It can be easy, I think, given the ubiquity of internet even by 1996, to misremember it as this enormous site of social change (and, of course, of community-building, of information dissemination) throughout the entirety of the 1990s. But that’s just not the case for the very early 1990s. So for Cam, this world of information is just around the corner, certainly, but not quite there; not yet in any way that can directly benefit her, anyway. I guess what I’m getting at here is that one of the things I wanted to do most in the novel was to chronicle this very particular slice of history—a time and a place—as viewed through the eyes of one character.

In the summary on your website, you describe the novel as not just "coming of age" but coming of GAYge. There's been more and more talk about how the LGBTQ community is portrayed in YA novels - or, more specifically, arguments from editors and readers alike that there is a serious lack of YA books with LGBTQ protagonists and characters. What are your thoughts on this topic? Is the range of books improving? Did you set out to write an LGBTQ book or did the book come first, the label later?
-->I’m being a little bit cheeky with coming-of-GAYge. I mean, it’s true, yes, that Cameron’s journey is one to all kinds of self-acceptance, including an acceptance of her sexuality, but it’s also just sort of funny to play with portmanteaus. I came up with that term, or maybe my friend Dave came up with it, I don’t remember, but it was when we were having a conversation about the book (when it was still decidedly in-progress) a few years ago. Whatever its exact origins in that conversation, I’ve been using it ever since.

But as to your question, yes, absolutely, I do think that the range of YA books with LGBTQ protagonists is increasing and diversifying. Certainly if the publishing professionals that I’ve worked closely with are any indication-- from my agent to my editor to the whole team, really, at B+B--there’s no question that there are plenty of people within the publishing industry absolutely committed to telling all kinds of stories from all kinds of perspectives. It seems to me that we’re, right now, somewhere in the middle of the golden age of YA publishing, and thus novels with certain characters or storylines are now viable in ways they mightn’t have been even five years ago. This is certainly not to suggest that things are perfect, but are they improving? Absolutely.

As for setting out to “write an LGBTQ book,” I guess I’m just not sure how to answer that. I “set out” to write a coming-of-age story wherein the protagonist has to recognize and then confront and (hopefully) reconcile her sexuality within a culture that not only doesn’t outwardly seem to support said sexuality (and identity, and attraction, and desire, and, and, and…), but in fact has many systems and structures which deny her various identities and/or attempt to change them into what’s sanctioned and upheld: heteronormativity. I’m conflicted about a category like “LGBTQ book” because I’m just not really sure of the factors required of such a classification. Are all books with LGBTQ characters “LGBTQ books?” If a book pushes against any aspect of heteronormativity is it, necessarily, an “LGBTQ book?” The part of me that embraces that classification (LGBTQ book) is the part that knows it might help some readers to find my novel: readers who wouldn’t have otherwise; readers who might then come to identify with its characters or situations; readers who might feel that the novel reflects back to them one or more of their own “essential truths,” or perhaps challenges those truths in interesting ways. But the part of me that bristles at such a classification, or label, as you put it, is the part that knows the novel form to be, as Henry James famously called it, “a loose, baggy monster.” And John Gardner talks about the need for a novel (in order, he said, to “be” a novel) to attempt to get at the complexity of the world (a tall order, to be sure). There are lots of ways to do this on the page, but the point is that some of the novel’s power, to my mind, comes from its irreducibility: that it’s not ever just one thing; that it can’t be. So I guess my answer is: sure, my novel is an “LGBTQ book,” and it’s also a coming of age story, and a novel of instruction or development, and a novel of place, and… You know what I’m saying, here.

I have to admit, I knew very little about religious conversion therapy before reading your novel. It's a pretty heavy topic, to say the least. What was your experience researching and writing about it?

I would venture that you’re not going to be the only reader to go into this book without knowing much about conversion therapy, at least in this kind of detail: that’s one of the things that made me want to explore it so fully. I didn’t invent conversion therapy for this novel. I wish that I had, I guess. It would be nice for it not to be a part, however small, of the fabric of our culture, but that’s not the case. There are absolutely churches and religious officials and parents, people in positions of influence and authority, who believe in religiously-informed conversion therapy as a viable form of “treatment” for “same sex attraction disorder.” Most of these people also believe that if you don’t seek out this kind of “help” you’re going to hell. (My apologies, but I have to use an overabundance of scare quotes when talking about this subject. It’s just the way it goes.) I mean, obviously, when we’re talking about a population who refers to any variation from the strictest enactment of heterosexuality as “same sex attraction disorder,” we can assume that there’s not a whole lot of room for fluidity of desire or identity or expression.

My experience of researching this topic was often upsetting and always baffling. There’s absolutely zero credible (rigorous/thorough) scientific evidence to suggest that such “therapies” are effective at changing attraction or desire or identity in the least. And, in fact, there is much evidence that such “therapies” cause all kinds of harm to those who partake in them. (You can reference the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association—or a whole host of other, credible, scientific organizations—for studies and statements about this very topic.) The question we need to be asking is a simple one, and it’s definitely not: Does conversion therapy work or might it work? Instead it’s: “Why are we (is anyone) actively treating something that is not an illness.” I am not “sick with homosexuality.” No one is. The problem is not that a certain percentage of the population is somehow “sick with” non-conforming gender identities or non-heterosexual attractions. The problem is in believing that this is somehow a sickness in the first place. Let’s start there. (Of course: I tried not to be nearly so dogmatic in my novel as I’m being here.)

How are you celebrating your book's release?

I actually have the bulk of my teaching load on Tuesdays, so on its official release date of February 7, I’ll be teaching an intro to creative writing class and a graduate workshop in fiction at Rhode Island College. Which is, in some ways, probably the perfect way to celebrate. I get to talk about writing and books with some very smart writers at all stages of the process. And then later in the week I’ll be one of the visiting writers at Hendrix College in Arkansas, so that will be my first official event, post-release, and I’m very excited to meet those students. Also, at some point, I think my wife and I are going to try to sneak over to Al Forno, which is this AMAZING local restaurant in Providence. That will be the private, grilled-pizza-filled, celebration. We want to have a party too, and I’m sure we will, but not until later in the spring; in May, maybe, so we can use the outdoors, light some candles, string some lights—do it up garden-style.

And since this is The Lucky 13s blog, I have to ask: what's your favorite superstition?

This one's easy (and fun, thanks for asking it): I love to throw salt over my shoulder after I've spilled it. And since I do most of the cooking in our house, and since I can be quite a messy cook, there's usually an occasion to throw Kosher salt or sea-salt or just table salt over my shoulder on nearly a weekly basis. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thanks to the Lucky 13s for hosting me!

emily m. danforth was born and raised in Miles City, Montana. She has an MFA in fiction from the University of Montana and a PhD in creative writing from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, where she's worked as the assistant director of the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference. She teaches creative writing and literature courses at Rhode Island College and is coeditor of The Cupboard. This is her first novel.

You can connect with emily via her website, Twitter, or Facebook.

And you can purchase her book online through the following websites:


This interview was conducted by Lucky 13s member Brandy Colbert as part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies – YA, MG, and children’s book authors debuting in 2012.