What HOPE Means to Me

I’ve been accused of being the ultimate optimist. If there’s a bad situation, I’ll find the silver lining. You’d think this would mean I’m a positive person, and always smiling in my unicorn-prancing rainbow-skied world. But the truth is it’s just a coping mechanism. It’s how I SURVIVE. I focus on the good, and avoid the bad completely until it burrows into the recesses of my mind. Paired together, optimism and hope are my weapons in battling all that is bad in the world. It’s worked so far, but I’m no psychologist. And if you’ve read THE GLASS CEILING, you may recognize these very traits in my main character, Heart. So many of you are amazed at how caring and hopeful Heart is after her terrible childhood. Well, now you see where these traits were born from. Just like me, it’s her coping mechanism. If she doesn’t keep hoping there’s more out there, a way to escape, she’s lost to the tunnels forever.

Hope is a wonderful thing. It’s like standing at the bottom of the hill and not knowing what lies beyond the crest. Success? Love? Happiness? That’s the magic of hope. You just don’t know. It’s my absolute favorite part of querying agents. The not knowing. Every ding of your email could be an agent wanting to see your manuscript or better yet, offer you a contract. It’s like Pavlov’s bell, except instead of salivating, my heart does a parrump when I see that glorious envelope at the top of my phone’s screen.

I remember a friend complaining a few years ago that she was 28 and still not married. Of course, I kicked in my silver lining booster. I told her that although she’s unmarried now, there’s still “hope” she’ll marry a doctor. As opposed to me, who at that time was stuck in an unhappy marriage, and was most definitely not married to a doctor. I stressed to her that even though she didn’t have happiness “now,” she still had a chance of happiness in her future. (Years later, she ended up marrying her dream Italian guy and was able to use her favorite little girl name, Giovanna. And I found renewed happiness in a second marriage. Yay!)

Book sales also promote the feeling of hope. Each sale is important because you never know where your break is going to come from. A debut author’s “success” (and I realize success means something different to everyone) is like a river being held back by a massive rock wall. Each sale removes a pebble. Obviously, pebbles aren’t going to put much of a dent in the wall, but if just the right pebble is removed, no matter how small, it can cause a leak, which can then gain speed of its own accord until it begins breaking down more pebbles, and more pebbles, then rocks and boulders. And before you know it, the entire wall has been obliterated, the water has rushed through, and you’ve become successful. All because the right pebble was removed. The right person bought your book. It could be a huge blogger who took a chance on you. A sorority sister who has a popular Twitter feed. A celebrity who just happened to see your book come across Instagram. For me, each sale promotes hope. I’m living Christmas every day of my life, surrounded by packages wrapped in shiny paper and bows. Every fan is a gift and my hope is higher than ever that my time will come, and I will succeed.

But if we want to be honest with ourselves, hope is only the start of something greater. Something even more powerful. And that’s faith. That’s where true success comes from. It isn’t until you have FAITH that good things will come your way, and you’ll find everything you’re looking for in life.

Secret Snippet!

As promised, below is a teaser of my new middle grade book. Mind you, this has never crossed an editor’s computer so it’s still a little rough. But I hope you enjoy it anyway!

To set the scene, Cam and Migizi are sitting in the middle school gym with the rest of their class for an assembly. Previously, Cam found a mysterious Native American bracelet that glows, and strange scratches have started appearing on her body.

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A high-pitched squeal made me nearly jump out of my skin, and I joined the rest of the heads turning toward a man dressed in a tan blazer.

“Sorry about that, kids,” the man said, adjusting a knob on the speaker. “So, how’s everyone doing today?”

Migizi poked me again. “Talk later.”

I sighed. If only I could fast forward time so I could find out what the heck was going on with this bracelet.

“We all know why we’re here, right?” The man looked around, expectantly. “We’ve got to raise money for your class by selling…” He paused for dramatic effect. “Easter candy.”

I groaned. My mom was a dietician. Candy was like brightly colored, individually wrapped poison to her. There sure wouldn’t be any sales from my house.

“Now, who likes free stuff?” The man picked up a glossy brochure and waved it through the air. “If you sell more than ten orders you can earn a fantastic prize.”

I squinted, but could only make out a pair of sunglasses and a tiny toy basketball hoop. Not too fantastic looking.

“Okay, where’s my student council volunteer?” The man surveyed the front row.

Chad Bellows stood up and took the microphone. Just looking at Chad turned my stomach into a lava lamp.

“Hi, everyone.” Chad ran a hand through his platinum hair. “We’re going to play a game to get you in the selling mood. It’s really easy. I’ll give you the choice of two boxes, and you pick one. You get to keep what’s inside.” He moved to the table and grabbed a small green box and a medium yellow box. “Who’d like to go first?”

Hands shot into the air. I kept mine planted firmly in my lap. No way was I going up there in front of everyone. Chad scanned the group then stopped in my direction.

I could feel myself shrink. Please not me. Please not me.

“Migizi!” he said. “Come on up.”

My muscles relaxed. Thank God.

Migizi jogged to the front. Kids scooted left and right to see what he’d get.

Just a little curious, I tilted my head to see around the girl in front of me.

He pointed to the green box. “I’ll take that one.”

“Okay, open it and show everyone,” Chad said, handing it to him.

Migizi ripped the paper off, exposing an MP3 player.

“Very cool.” He grinned. “Thanks.”

A roar of noise grew around me, and kids waved their hands to be picked for the next round. Not me. I didn’t care if they were giving away dates with Zac Efron.

Over the next ten minutes, kids won CDs, a camera, gift certificates, and a soccer ball. Murmurs surrounded me about what might be in the last two boxes that were wrapped in gold.

Chad held up the gifts and said, “Here’s the last of them. Who wants to pick?”

The excitement in the gymnasium swelled, and I hid behind the kid in front of me. Just one more to avoid and I’m safe.

“Russo.”

No, he didn’t just call my name.

“Cam Russo.”

Nononononononono! I wasn’t even raising my hand. I stayed glued to my spot, pretending I didn’t hear him. If Chad chose me, whatever was inside that box couldn’t be anything but bad.

Migizi cheered me on from behind. “Go on, Cam. It’s cool.”

Was he that naïve? It totally wasn’t cool. Chad was up to something. But I couldn’t pretend any longer. Everyone was staring at me like I was an idiot.

With Jell-o legs, I rose to my feet and slowly made my way to the front, keeping my head down. The twenty second walk seemed like hours. If only I could melt into the floor.

Finally I met Chad’s gaze. His blue eyes were unreadable, but he may just be good at poker.

He held up the two gifts. “Which one?”

The rectangular packages were identical, both the size of mini-cereal boxes. Something about his posture and the whole situation was off. Cringing, I pointed to the box in his left hand.

He handed it to me with a Cheshire grin. “Open it.”

My hands trembled. What I wouldn’t give to go back to my seat. My class leaned forward like a single mass. Migizi beamed and gave me the thumbs-up. He probably thought this was good backbone training.

“Well?” Chad shifted his weight onto his other leg, almost skipping on the spot.

Holding my breath, I tore open the paper. I choked. No, he didn’t. He couldn’t be that cruel. A picture of a yellow lab smiled back at me. Dog biscuits? My heart shot from Coyote to Road Runner speed in an instant.

Chad gestured to the crowd. “Show everyone what you’ve won.”

My body grew warm, sweltering almost. I swallowed hard, meeting Migizi’s gaze. He had no idea what kind of a bee’s nest he’d just pushed me into.

I was NOT showing off a box of dog biscuits. Both gifts were probably the same and he chose me on purpose. I couldn’t believe he did this. Sure he picked on me, but he’d never done anything this humiliating.

Chad’s grin spread from ear to ear.

I gritted my teeth and my muscles clenched, which meant I was either going to punch him or run away, crying. Running away won out. I forced my legs to move, but it was too late.

Chad snatched the box out of my hands and lifted it into the air so everyone could see.

Roars of laughter erupted, followed by dog barks and howls.

I stared at Chad, stunned. How could he?

The urge to throw up inched its way up my throat. I forced it down. Puking on Chad would make things way worse for me, even if it would serve him right.

The salesman shot me an apologetic glance and lifted his palms. He had nothing to do with this. It was Chad. All Chad.

The barks multiplied until the entire gym transformed into a human dog pound. The noise crawled all over me like a thousand fire ants, biting my sides, my ribs, the area around my belly button. I rubbed my stomach, but the pain stayed.

The principal marched to the microphone and grabbed it out of Chad’s hand, giving him a stern look. The barks died down.

“This school is a bully free zone. I will not tolerate this behavior.”

I slipped out of the gym and ran for the nearest girls’ room. The tears pressed against my eyes. Once inside, the dam broke and hard sobs shook my shoulders. I stared at my reflection in the mirror. I didn’t care about the river of snot pouring from my nose, or my red, blotchy cheeks. Right now, not even purple and green polka dots on my face would—

I gaped at the mirror and leaned forward until my breath left patches of fog on the glass. It couldn’t be.

I stepped back and pulled down the neck of my shirt for a better look. My hand froze mid-air. A bright glow flowed from the bracelet. Not again. I tugged at my collar and cried out. Five fresh, painful scratches crisscrossed my chest.

**************

If you read to the bottom of this, you’ve earned one more secret. This scene may be part of a work of fiction, but it actually happened to me when I was in 8th grade (everything, but the scratches). For the remainder of the year, I would get barked at in the hallways and in the cafeteria. Kids were merciless, sending my self-esteem into the toilet. 8th grade was not a good year for me. And to make this story all the worse, it wasn’t a student who played the prank, but the fundraiser guy.

So there you go. Therapy through writing. 🙂

 

 

Short-Short Freebies

Hello! You found your way to my site! If you didn’t come by way of the Facebook event we’re having (Beat the Post-Holiday Blues), you can check out the activity using this link.

As promised, I’m sharing three short-shorts as a freebie. These have never been published, and were basically a result of writing exercises I did a couple of years ago. I spent all yesterday polishing them up. I can’t believe how much my writing ability has improved over the years. After reading the original versions I’m glad I didn’t snag an agent before. I just wasn’t ready.

Writing is work. Sure, you can rip off pages upon pages of plot. Get it all down on paper. But does your writing engage the reader? Or just spit out facts, keeping your reader at arm’s length? There are so many things you don’t learn in English class or even in Creative Writing. Things you can only learn from interacting with other authors. If you are a budding writer, just be aware that it takes time and practice before your writing is ready for the world. It will happen. But patience and education is the key. Have faith! Feel free to contact me on the Dear Julie tab for writing tips or advice. Us writers have to stick together!

So now for my first short-short. This is a silly tale about some silly fellows who are in way over their head.

The Heist

Benny drummed his fingertips on the armrest of the van while it backed up to the rear entrance. This was an important job. If they didn’t get the goods, it could be the end of him…literally.

He swung open his door and signaled for Don to stay in the driver’s seat. He had to check first to see if the coast was clear. Don was a loudmouth and if a security guard was within earshot, it’d be over before it started.

Benny tiptoed to the large gate and slid behind a bush. He removed his gun from his holster and attached the silencer. The idea of killing made his stomach churn, but if it meant leaving no witnesses, he’d do it. The layout of the grounds was pretty simple. Three rows of eight enclosures. Their target was only two enclosures away, which meant less exposure, and less chance he’d have to use his gun.

Snaking his head through the bars of the gate, he checked for a visual. It was eerily quiet. No signs of security. He jogged back to the van and tapped on Don’s window, mouthing, “Let’s go.”

A smile sprang to Don’s lips, and he pushed open the van door as if he were about to see Santa Claus. He waddled after Benny, his short legs moving at toy-dog speed, in attempts to keep up with Benny’s long strides.

Thwash Thwash Thwash. Benny stopped in his tracks, causing Don to step on his back right heel. He turned around with a finger pressed against his lips. “Shhh.” His gaze traveled down to Don’s legs. “What the hell are you wearing? Jogging pants?”

Don shrugged. “I like the elastic. They’re comfortable.”

“Wonderful. I’m glad you’re comfortable. Now keep ‘em quiet.” Benny heaved a sigh and continued forward.

Thwash Thwash Thwash. Benny stopped and pivoted. “I said be quiet, Don. What don’t you understand?”

“I’m tryin’, boss.”

“Then try harder.”

Thwash Thwash Thwash. Benny whirled around again with a growl. “That’s it. Take off your pants.”

“Huh? You want me to take off my pants? It’s freezing out here.”

Benny’s lips turned into a snarl. “If you don’t remove those pants, I’m gonna have to kill someone, and it won’t be a security guard. Got it?”

Don gulped and immediately wriggled out of his pants. “What am I supposed to do with them?”

“Throw them on the ground. Throw them in a trash can. I don’t care.”

Don let the pants slip from his fingers, and he continued after Benny. They reached the gate, and Benny put his hand out. “Bolt cutter.”

“I, uh, left it in the car.”

“For cryin’ out loud, Don. I seriously don’t know why the boss still keeps ya around. You’re a complete buffoon.”

“I’ll go get it and be back in a jiffy.”

“Yay, and then we can all sing Kumbaya around the campfire.” Grumbling, he turned his attention to the padlock. Amateur stuff. It was so thin, it could have come from a bubble gum machine. He glanced through the bars at the concrete enclosures. Of course, no one in their right mind would want to break into this place.

Heavy breathing behind him announced Don’s return. Benny grabbed the bolt cutters and snapped the lock like it was a wishbone. Slowly, he pushed the gate open, being careful not to make any noise.

The two slinked their way up to the enclosure with the word “Zebra” on it. “Here it is,” said Benny. “In and out, real fast like. Let’s grab the zebra, then hightail it outta here. Got it?”

Don nodded, a jovial smile breaking out on his face.

Benny shook his head. Imbecile. After snapping the lock, and entering, Benny withdrew a harness from his pocket. “Here, zebra zebra. Come to Papa. I know a little girl who’s just gonna love you.”

 *******

Benny tightened his grasp around Don’s neck through the cold, steel bars. He didn’t care if he squeezed the life out of him.

Through clenched teeth, he hissed, “Your mother embroidered your name on your pants?”

 

The Cricket Matchmakers 

Molly pushed the carrot through the mesh of the wire cage. “Here’s a little treat for you, sweetie. Don’t tell Jane.” The rabbit sniffed the carrot then started munching with impressive speed. Molly grinned. “I bet that tastes better than that boring ol’ food Jane feeds you, huh?”

The bell over the door tinkled and Molly looked up. Trevor Dean stepped inside, glancing around the pet shop. What was he doing here? Okay, just act natural, Molly. Don’t make a fool of yourself. Of course, the fact that she’d had a crush on him since second grade didn’t make things easier.

His cool blue eyes caught her own, and she froze in her currently bent over position. She forced herself to straighten up and blink a couple of times.

“Hey, I know you.” He waved in her direction.

Molly turned around to see if anyone was behind her because he certainly couldn’t mean her. Not that anyone else was in the store.

He laughed. “Yes, I’m talking to you. You’re Molly, right?”

Wow. He even knew her name. “Uh, yeah?”

“I’ve seen you sing at school. You’re very good.”

Molly’s face warmed as she thought of her recent solos with the concert choir. A jock who came to school concerts? That was a new one.

Trevor must have seen the surprise on her face because he added, “My little sister plays flute in the band. My parents kind of make me go. You know, to support her and all.”

“Oh, okay.” She teetered on her heels. “So, uh, can I help you find something?”

He scanned the shelves to her right. “Yeah, I need some crickets for my frog. He’s running low.”

Molly couldn’t help but shiver. She loved animals and all, but the idea of an animal eating another live animal gave her the heebie jeebies. “Sure, they’re right over here.” She led him toward the back corner. This was the hardest part of her job; catching the little buggers. And now she had Trevor as an audience. Great. Just great.

She retrieved a container and opened the lid of the plexiglass case. Cringing, she reached inside and tried to grasp hold of one of the crickets. Just when she thought she had one cornered, it jumped over her hand. She followed the pesky cricket’s path with her fingers for a minute with no luck.

“Let me try.” Trevor placed a hand on her shoulder.

The warmth of his touch penetrated her lightweight shirt and seared down her arm. She hated to break away from his grip, but stepped aside to give him access. In the process, her foot snagged on her shoelace. She wobbled, attempting to regain her balance, then bumped against the cricket case, sending it crashing to the floor.

“Oh no!” Molly clasped a hand over her mouth, unbelieving of what she’d just done. And in front of Trevor Dean, no less. At least a hundred crickets bounced off in all directions. She scrambled to put the top back on the case before any more could hop out.

Goodbye Trevor. No one would stick around for the major clean-up job she had ahead of her. If the crickets were hard to catch when they were contained, this would be near impossible.

But Trevor didn’t leave. Instead, he grabbed a container and lid and dropped to his hands and knees.

“You’re helping me?”

“Of course. What kind of guy do you think I am?”

An awesome one. Molly joined Trevor on the tile floor and the two crawled after the tiny fugitives. Every time she got close, the crickets would hop away. She just wasn’t fast enough.

“I got a couple,” Trevor called out. Well, that was a couple more than she had.

She glimpsed a gang of crickets heading toward the front door. Maybe she should just let them outside and pay Jane for them? It would be a whole heck of a lot easier than trying to catch them.

Molly crawled after the crickets, her eyes focused on their hopping brown bodies. Slam! She reeled back on her heels and rubbed her forehead. Through squinted eyes, she saw Trevor sitting across from her, mirroring her actions. Heat rushed to her cheeks.

“Oh my God. I’m so sorry,” she said. “Are you okay?”

He waved her away. “I’m fine. Are you?”

“Yes.” She looked around and let out a puff of air. “Not sure how we’re going to catch all these guys though.”

Trevor suddenly burst out laughing. “Well, you’ve already caught one and don’t even know it.”

Molly wrinkled her eyebrows. She hadn’t caught one.

“You have a cricket in your hair.”

A chill ran through her body. She batted at her hair, and screamed, “Oh, yuck. Get it out!”

Trevor reached over and flicked the invader from her curls, then let his hand linger on her cheek. “You sure know how to liven things up, don’t you?”

She looked into his eyes and tried to slow her racing heartbeat. The sensation of his skin on hers made her feel like she was floating. Say something, idiot. Coming up blank, she let out a pathetic giggle.

“Would you like to go out some time?”

Would she? Was he serious? “Yeah, I’d like that.”

He glanced down at her still untied sneaker, then winked at her. “You may want to wear slip-ons though.”

 

(Story below is for older audiences)

The Tell-Tale Shirt

Jordan peered out from under the crumpled white sheet, admiring Marissa’s bare shoulders. He couldn’t believe he’d spent the night with Marissa Long, the varsity football coach’s daughter. She was off-limits to anyone on the team. A roll in the hay with her could get him kicked off the team, but hell, with her body, it had been so worth it.

The alarm clock read six twenty-two. Maybe he could get in one more round before he had to head home. He’d told his parents he was sleeping over Joe’s house. They wouldn’t be expecting him for hours.

Marissa sighed and rolled over to face him, the sun’s rays enhancing the sparkle of her green eyes. Grinning, she said, “Morning, Lover.”

The word “lover” made Jordan’s heart rate chug, and he beamed. Yes, he was her lover now, wasn’t he? He imagined himself as Casanova, sneaking into girls’ rooms and giving them pleasure while their parents slept just on the other side of the bedroom wall.

“Morning,” he replied. “When are your parents going to be home again?”

Marissa craned her neck to see the clock. “We have about four hours. Their plane comes in at ten.” She reached down and felt his growing lump. “Why? Are you thinking naughty thoughts?”

Chills went up his spine as she grazed her fingernails over him. For a moment, he lost his train of thought. “Uh…uh…”

“Uh, I think you’re at a loss for words, aren’t you?” She giggled. “Don’t worry. What we’re doing doesn’t involve a single one.”

Jordan gulped as she suddenly ducked underneath the sheet. He felt her satin hair blazing a trail down his chest. Thoughts of what she could do with her mouth excited him beyond belief. He squeezed his eyes shut in anticipation.

Slam. Marissa popped her head back out of the sheet, her eyes wide. “What was that? It can’t be…” She sprang out of bed and looked out of her window toward the garage. “Oh. My. God. My parents are home!”

Jordan’s breath caught in his throat. He was a big guy at sixteen, but didn’t relish taking on a man with the nickname “Wall.” Not to mention losing his spot on the team. Maybe this was a stupid idea after all.

Scrambling out of bed, he shoved his legs into his jeans, while hopping on one foot. He stuffed his socks in his pockets and threw on his sneakers, then scanned the room for his jersey. Where was it?

“Hurry, hurry!” squealed Marissa. “They’re almost inside!”

“I know, but I can’t find my jersey.”

The two scurried around the room, looking for the bright purple and yellow shirt. “It’s not here! Just go without it. Use the kitchen door in the back. Hurry!”

Jordan bound down the stairs two at a time, perspiration forming on his forehead. Just as he entered the kitchen, he heard the front door open. Quietly, he tiptoed across the linoleum floor, unlatched the back door, and slipped through. Safe.

He rushed across the grass to the house next door, glancing over his shoulder every few yards. As he approached the back door, he stopped to calm his breathing and slow his pounding heart. He took a deep breath and opened the door. His mom sat at the kitchen table, a mug of coffee in her hand.

She looked up, surprise showing on her face. “You’re back early. And shirtless?”

He glanced down at his bare chest. “Oh, yeah, I lost it in a bet.”

“Jordan! Coach is going to kill you.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” He gave his mom a peck on the cheek and hurried out of the room. He had to see what was happening next door. Grabbing his binoculars, he opened his window shade.

Every muscle in Jordan’s body froze. Across the way, Coach Long stared back at him with angry eyes, his yellow and purple, number twenty-two jersey squeezed tightly in his fist. Mom was right. Coach was definitely going to kill him.

Promotion and the Telephone Game

I can now officially check the box off for published author of a novel-length story. Woo hoo! And I have to say that thanks to all the friends I made on Facebook, my launch party was a success, as were my initial sales. Now, comes the hard part. The part that is completely out of my hands. And it’s called the telephone game.

If you’ve never played this game in grade school, I’ll explain the rules. You stand in one long line. The teacher whispers a phrase into the first child’s ear. That child whispers it into the next child’s ear, then they whisper it into the next child’s ear, down the line, until you reach the last child, who says the phrase out loud. What makes this game so fun is how messed up the phrase gets by the end of the line.

At least that’s what I thought made it so funny. When I was in 2nd grade, I happened to be the last person in line. It was Christmas time, so the phrase was “Santa climbed down the chimney.” I wanted to be a comedian. I figured, hey, no one is going to know where the message mixed up. There’s twenty of us! So I changed it to something like “Santa fell down the chimney.” Of course, the person who whispered it to me instantly yelled out, “That’s not what I said!” There went my great plan of anonymity. And it didn’t really help that we were working toward a prize as a class if we got it right. Yeah, I wasn’t voted most-loved student that day.

So after that drawn out example of me making a fool of myself, let me explain how the game of telephone has to do with promoting my book. You see, I have about 1,000 Facebook friends. Of those 1,000, probably 100 see my posts, which means my ads/teasers only reach a hundred people. The same hundred over and over. I’m sure they’re getting tired of seeing them, and I’m not making any new fans that way. Enter the telephone game.

How it works is that any of the hundred friends who have read The Glass Ceiling (and liked it), would then tell their Facebook friends, “I just read the most awesome book. You NEED to read it!” Then those friends would tell their friends, and thus, you’ve made a large game of telephone spider-webbing in all directions. It kind of reminds me of a graph you’d see in the case of an epidemic. Of course, this is a happy epidemic, not a zombie apocalypse, world is over, epidemic. It also looks eerily like a pyramid scheme. But we won’t bring that up. (Another epic fail of mine.)

epidemic-world-represents-globalisation-disease-and-infected-100288906

This “telephone game” is what every debut author counts on, especially those that come from a small publishing house (like me) or are self-published. We don’t have our agents tweeting about us ten times a day or a large publishing house pushing our book out to major reviewers. We will only be known by WORD OF MOUTH. And as we’ve seen with many self-published authors, word of mouth works! In fact, it works quite well. It’s just a matter of getting the telephone chain started.

I ask you, friends who have become new fans, to help start the chain. If you like my book, tell people. Your mailman, the waitress, your son’s English teacher, your local librarian, and yes, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads,or whatever social network site you prefer. It all starts with YOU. You’re my front line, hacking and slashing through the millions of other books out there, to get Heart and her friends to the top. To get her story known.

Okay, that may be a tad melodramatic. But I’m a writer. What did you expect?

So do you, my fine knights, accept the quest? Virtual cupcakes for everyone who steps forward! Yay!

Launch Party-Woo Hoo!

Okay, so I haven’t updated my blog in a while. I’ve been so busy organizing my Facebook launch party that I’ve been neglecting it. Shame on me! I have some news though fresh from my publisher tonight. Due to last minute details, The Glass Ceiling will only be available for “pre order” this coming Friday. Boo hoo! The good news? We’re still partying on Friday like it’s 1999, well, 2015. Wow, has it been that long?

prince

I have five guest authors lined up:

Michelle Argyle (writes YA and NA)

Iris St. Clair (writes YA, suspense and erotica)

Haley Whitehall (writes YA and historical romance)

Lee Ann Ward (writes YA)

Kristina Rienzi (writes paranormal)

I’ve beta read for two of these authors (so you know their books will be good ;)) and have read the books from the others. We’ve got a good group of authors here and they’ll be available for 30 minutes each to talk more about their books and answer questions. And I’m sure they’ll be offering prizes. 🙂

We also have two book giveaways:

Shannon Eckrich (Kissing the Devil)

Crit Kincaid (A Wounded World)

I hope you can join us for the launch party. There will be cupcakes, cats, and prizes. What more do you need on a Friday night?

Click Here for The Glass Ceiling Launch Party

COVER REVEAL FOR THE GLASS CEILING

The time is here to reveal the cover for my YA Speculative Fiction, THE GLASS CEILING. The book is not slated to come out from Frost Book Group until early 2016, but with such a thrillingly gorgeous cover, who could wait to reveal it? I’d like to thank my cover artist, Melody Pond, for being such a gem to work with. She took all my concerns into consideration and created great solutions. If you’re in need of a cover artist, check out her website at: http://melodyypond.weebly.com/

And without further ado, meet Heart, the main character in THE GLASS CEILING.

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Sixteen-year-old Heart escapes slavery in the tunnels, but merely trades her small prison for a larger one. A world controlled by a madman bent on genetic perfection. In searching for a way out, her rebellious nature pits her up against the Guardian, who stops at nothing to protect his secrets. Human skulls atop crude sticks serve as a warning: treason is punishable by death. When her new friends are held captive, and escape is only an arm’s reach away, Heart must decide. Take the freedom she so desperately wants or save her friends’ lives?

Prize Details:

Retweet or Share on Facebook to be entered into a drawing for a $25 Amazon Gift Card! Winner to be announced on Friday.

A Review of GUARDED and a Special Announcement

This review has been a looooooong time coming and I’m so sorry I waited until now to write it. Wedding stuff took up a lot of my time, but it’s back to business!

As you know, Carmen Fox is a master manipulator of words, a plot genius, and a heroine of description. Oh, you didn’t know that? Well, shame on you! You need to get with the program. Carmen has gone from a nerd reading physics books (for the fun of it!) to an Amazon bestselling author in two months. In fact, she’s #1 in both Werewolf & Shifter Mysteries and Vampire Mysteries. Wow, how’d she do that, you ask? You don’t pay attention, do you? See first sentence of paragraph.

I am lucky enough to have Carmen as a mentor. Now mind you, she’d probably say it’s the other way around being the humble Englishwoman she is, but I assure you, she’s the brains of the operation. And GUARDED showcases her talent one hundred percent.

So let me start by being square with you. This book is not a beach read. Or an airplane read. Or for that matter, a kid napping read (not meant to be confused with “kidnapping”). This is an “I want to challenge my brain read.” Now what does that mean? It means Carmen’s books are like onions. Her plots contain layers upon layers that you need to pull away. Can it be confusing? At times. But some of the best plots are born from early on confusion. Then when the fog clears, the reader can say, “Oh, I get it now! I never saw that coming!”

GUARDED is a spicy urban fantasy that has a little bit of everything for everyone. It has mystery, paranormal elements, contemporary life (MC is a private investigator), humor, romance, and scenes to make you blush. The story pulls you in from the beginning and there are plenty of good looking men to keep you company on the way.

Reader Tip: To keep track of the characters (i.e., suspects) and the multiple intertwining plots, it may be a good idea to keep your own notebook on the side and try to solve the mystery alongside the main character, Ivy. You could be like a Junior Nancy Drew! I keep notes on books I’m reading all the time. Mainly because my memory is so horrible. But in this book there are a lot of characters to keep track of, so it may be helpful to jot down a couple of notes like Greg = hot human, Waylon = hot demon, Lathan = evil demon, etc.

With thousands of sales, and “currently” 48 awesome reviews on Amazon, GUARDED is finding a home with many readers. So what are you doing sitting there and reading this blog entry still? Go buy it, silly! And be sure to spread the word. Books sell best through word of mouth. To purchase a copy of GUARDED, click this link. Oh, but don’t forget to come back for my special announcements below!

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Back yet? Awesome.

I’m proud to announce that first and foremost, I officially became Mrs. LaVoie (not just a pen name anymore) on September 5th. I’ll be sure to post wedding pictures in a future blog entry!

Second, the first round of edits are complete for my early reader chapter book, THE CASE OF THE PLANT KILLER. It’s coming along nicely and I’m two-thirds of the way through writing the next book in the series.

Third, the cover is DONE for my YA Dystopian, THE GLASS CEILING. The grand reveal will happen later this week so stay tuned! Here’s a hint. Think eerily beautiful. Bet you never thought those two words could go together. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. Absolutely gorgeous.

Be sure to check out Carmen’s book and I’ll see you later this week! Go Team Flo!

Marketing Strategies for Authors

Probably the worst part about being an author is having to market your work. In my experience writers are introverts. People who prefer their own company to others’. People who are humble and live a simple life. So when a writer is forced to move out of their hermit-like comfort zone and peddle themselves to the public, it’s like asking someone afraid of heights to go mountain climbing. It doesn’t come easy. For the past ten years I’ve kind of “hoped” I wouldn’t succeed. I hoped my books wouldn’t get taken on by publishers and that agents would pass me by. Of course this little seed of hope was stuffed into the back of my brain, overpowered by my other hope of sharing my stories with the world. And now that I’ve had one of my books picked up, and publishing is becoming a reality, I need to seriously step into the intimidating world of marketing.

And a world it is. Larger than I could have ever imagined. Facebook and Twitter are stuffed with other authors, many who are self-published and who have no one but themselves to get their name out. It’s like a circus filled with colorful clowns. Everyone has their makeup piled on, and are performing their best tricks to attract an audience. But without the spotlight of a huge publishing firm or top agent shining on me, how can I possibly be seen in the shadows? This is the problem I’m facing. The problem all authors face. And I have a plan… kind of.

First of all, a couple of months before The Glass Ceiling comes out, I’m hiring a web-based promotions company. These are author-friendly companies who set up blog tours, contests, interviews, and create online banners you can use in social media. The prices can range, but the one I’m looking at is about $150. I think it’s well worth it. What good is writing an awesome YA, if the only people who read it are your editor, mother, and a couple beta readers?

The second thing I’m doing, and have been working up to over the past three months, is growing my online presence. I try to blog when I can, post in Facebook, Goodreads, and very rarely Twitter. Social networking is not my favorite thing to do. I think it’s a time drainer, and you’re reading a bunch of thoughts from complete strangers. But for a debut author, it’s necessary.

Last, I came up with this amazing idea…that’s quickly become a flop. But I’m hoping when the time is right I can take advantage of it. I created a shop on Etsy. You can view my shop here. Etsy is to crafters like Facebook is to authors. Ridiculously packed. I’ve had 32 items listed for over a month with no sales. Why? Because no one sees them. Unless you pay for the advertising, your products are placed in the back of list…on page 856. But all is not lost. There is a method to my madness. There are “some” authors who have succeeded in posting autographed books on Etsy. However, since Etsy doesn’t consider books “handmade” you run the risk of having them removed. Thus, I needed to have an established store on Etsy before putting up my autographed books. AND, I have another niche. Daisy chains play a large role in my book. They symbolize the friendship and create conflict between a few of my characters. Along with a signed copy of the book, I intend to include a handmade beaded daisy bracelet. I figure I can put a link on my author site directing fans to my Etsy shop. Of course, this only works if my publisher puts my book out as paper as well as kindle. Fingers crossed.

daisy bracelet 2             daisy bracelet 1

What marketing strategies have you used that have worked for you?

My Journey to Publication

pot of goldHuzzah! It’s happened! Now I’m just like those other lucky writers who get to write their pot of gold post at the end of the rainbow. “The Glass Ceiling,” my YA speculative fiction/dystopian has found a home with Midnight Frost Books. It’s been eleven years since I grew serious about my writing. Here is my journey:

2004 – 2005 – I took one of those writing tests you see in magazines and was accepted into the Institute for Children’s Literature, an online writing program. After passing with high scores, I submitted some of my class assignments to children’s magazines with no bites (this was back in the day when submissions were still sent snail mail!)

2006 – 2007 – I shifted my focus from children’s books to adult, specifically a paranormal romance, and joined Absolute Write. I learned a lot, and I mean A LOT about the craft of writing, querying, agents/publishing, and even blogging tips. I found a circle of writers and we beta’d for each other.

2008 – 2009 – I started querying my paranormal romance and got a revise and resubmit with a small press. They didn’t really give me any specific guidance with regard to changes, just said it wasn’t quite there yet. Left with a shelved book, I got back on Absolute Write and decided to beta a few projects. Beta reading is really the best way to improve your own writing! It was here I met my writing partner. We clicked, our writing meshed, and we decided to branch out into the YA world of writing together. We created a fun series that ended up being more tween than teen, but it was good stuff, and commercial, as well. After querying the first book (and in the middle of writing the second), things changed in our partnership, and we split. That series became shelved as well, which is a shame because months later, I found a revise and resubmit in our shared inbox – this time with guidance.

2010 – 2011 – Absolute Write became my best friend again as I licked my wounds. Twice now I’d been close to publication and thought the world was out to get me. A little dramatic, but writers usually are. I was now on the rebound, and in search of another writing partner. I’m going to tell you now, it is FUN writing with someone else. To blend ideas, negotiate scenes, and share responsibility, gives a writer motivation to keep going. After all, your partner has as much invested in the book as you do. In my first partnership it worked out great. I’m a huge plotter, and she gave me free reign to do whatever I liked with the story. Her job was to make it sound pretty on paper. But that was a unique situation I’ve never been able to find again. But what I did find that year was an awesome critter partner. A woman was reaching out on Absolute Write, asking for an honest opinion about her writing. If I’m anything it’s honest…to a fault. So I read it, and it was good. And we’ve been critter partners ever since. It’s a little odd at times because she writes adult Urban Fantasy and I’m YA, but the craft of writing is the same no matter what genre. (Shout out to Carmen Fox.)

2012 – I got back on the writing horse and took another look at my adult paranormal romance. I decided to rewrite it cover to cover. But about halfway through, my life shattered into a million pieces. I quickly found myself divorced, a single mom to three boys, and trying to sell my house via short sale. Of the three, I honestly can’t say which was worse (short sales are brutal). I pulled away from writing and didn’t talk to my critter partner for months. Things finally settled down and I met my now fiancée, a man who supports my writing a way my ex-husband never did.

2013 – 2014 – I turned my focus back to YA again. I have a young voice and mindset that just seem best matched for that genre. I came up with the story line for “The Glass Ceiling” on my commute home from work one day and started writing it. In 2014 my critter partner secretly submitted my work into contests on my behalf. So you can believe my surprise when I got a phone call from YARWA (what was a YARWA?) when my first three chapters finaled in their annual contest. I thought she was trying to sell me a timeshare! My family insisted I fly to San Antonio in July for their conference, which the travel was an adventure in itself since my aunt didn’t make any reservations. But I got to hear Ally Carter and Jay Asher speak in person and actually sit with Agent Kevan Lyon. It was a pretty exciting experience.

In August, I began querying the book to three tiers of agents. I had a whole system worked out and a spreadsheet for tracking. Unfortunately, since Hunger Games and Divergent came out dystopian is to agents like garlic is to vampires. So much so, that I rebranded my genre as speculative fiction, hoping I could sneak it in that way. Still no bites but a lot of personalized rejections, which as writers know are valuable for the sheer reason agents thought your work good enough to spend their valuable time writing you. And every response was pretty much the same. It’s not a fit for me at this time.

After three months of querying agents, I started querying small presses. One of these presses had an active call. Can you guess what it was for? Dystopians! I couldn’t believe my luck. Instead of trying to shove my square manuscript into round holes I decided to try a square hole this time. And it worked! After a month, I heard back from Midnight Frost Books with a contract offer. Wowsers! Of course, I did my research and decided they would be a great match for me. I emailed them back and said I was interested. Then waited. And waited. Two weeks and no contract. Did it usually take that long? By this point, I’d friended the president on Facebook and decided to reach out to her. After a couple messages back and forth I discovered the contract had been attached to the original email! It had been labeled “The Glass Ceiling” which I had assumed was a copy of my MS. When will I ever learn my lesson? As my fiancee so wisely says, “To assume means to make an a** out of you and me.” Two weeks I wasted. Argh! But all is well now and I’m a happy writer on her way to being a published author!

I always enjoy hearing how authors got their first break. I hope my story has given you hope that your break could be just around the corner, too!

 

Switching Gears

I am currently in Query Land with my YA speculative fiction novel. As all writers know, instead of stalking agent blogs and obsessing over whether no news is good news, you should be writing your next book. So that’s what I started last week. A YA contemporary about what, I wasn’t sure yet. I had the hero pinned down, but the MC not so much. As I was talking through plot possibilities and ARCs with my writing partner, I found I wasn’t making much ground. Finally, she said, “You’re not passionate enough about this project. You should only write what you’re passionate about.” She was right. I felt like I was grasping at plots that felt forced. I can’t rush something like this so I’m stepping away until my magic writing fairy whispers the perfect plot into my ear. (Yes, that happens quiet often.)

We then talked about the other projects I have in the works, or are done, but need revising. I have an adult paranormal romance based loosely on Romeo and Juliet that I’d like to rewrite as a YA. However, rewrite is being too kind. I’d have to completely knock it down and build it up again. So then I told her about an MG that’s more than a quarter of the way done. It’s a Native American speculative fiction novel with alternating girl/boy POV. She didn’t seem too interested in me pursuing this project until I sent her the first forty pages. Then I got this back in my inbox:

Stop everything you’re doing and write this! This is the one. I have to know what happens next. How have you had this GEM in your drawer all this time and not finished it? Sometimes I wonder what’s wrong with you woman.

Well, geez, with that kind of a response, of course I’m going to choose that one! Thing is, it’s been three years since I did all my research on Chippewa tribes and reservation life in Wisconsin. I’ve looked everywhere and can’t find my notes. Argh!!! Guess I’m starting from the drawing board.