The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence

This time I want to talk about a historical I read recently based on a real woman. The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is a good read for those interested in 15th century Florence and the painter Botticelli. The story is about Simonetta, Botticelli’s muse and the woman who may have been his inspiration for Venus in his famous Birth of Venus painting.  I couldn’t pass up the chance to read about Botticelli’s muse and a woman rumored to have been Giuliano Medici’s mistress. I’d never heard of Simonetta before and I love reading historical fiction about real people, especially well-researched stories. Plus the cover is gorgeous.

Most Beautiful Woman in Florence

Big warning on this one: Simonetta’s story ends in tragedy. I don’t want to give spoilers, but if you only like happy endings this isn’t the book for you.  However the ending added to the tragic romance aspect of the book in a way that tugged at my emotions. I appreciated that the author kept the tragedy true to life and didn’t trade it in for a happier ending. Out of everything about this book, the ending is what will stick with me. Continue reading

The Greatness of Libraries

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I love my library. I moved from a small town with a small library to a city with a huge local library and I love it. I’m a huge reader but can’t afford to buy the large amount of books I read a year. My library keeps me on budget and lets me indulge without worrying about money. If I want to do some research for my writing, I visit the library to find out what I need. And the best part about libraries these days? You can “visit” without physically going to your library. I will have more in-depth posts coming later this year about how to get the most out of the library as a writer and published author, but for now here is a peek at how awesome libraries are.

My library has thousands of ebooks, which means I can hop on OverDrive and download some books or place holds or make returns without stepping foot in the physical library. Some books my library only has physical copies of, but I can check the catalog and place holds on my laptop or Kindle instead of having to go to the library. When my hold comes in they email me and I go pick it up. However, ebooks take the pain out of having to go back to the library to return. I like to walk to my library, so I’m less likely to check out material during winter when I don’t want to walk so far. In that case I stick to the dozens of ebooks on my wishlist. Continue reading

Meet an Author: Lindsey Frydman

Lindsey was a proud 2016 Pitch Wars Mentee and thoroughly adores being a part of the wonderful writing community. Lindsey writes about heart-stopping romance, rule-breaking heroes, and everyday magic. THE HEARTBEAT HYPOTHESIS is her debut novel. Lindsey is represented by Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary Agency.

Your book HEARTBEAT HYPOTHESIS is your debut novel. In the book Audra walks in the footsteps of Emily who died too young. I feel like a lot of us wind up knowing someone who died too young. Did any personal experiences inspire the story?

Actually, no. There was no personal experience that inspired the story, though I have known a few who’ve sadly died too young. The story was actually inspired by a news article about a fifty-something-year-old woman who received a twenty-one-year-old’s heart after she died in a car wreck. Afterwards, the older woman set out to complete the young girl’s bucket list so at least her heart could experience all the things she’d wanted to do. Continue reading

Wintersong

I don’t normally do reviews on my blog, but I do review most books I read on my Amazon account. However, I recently finished reading WINTERSONG by S. Jae-Jones and let me tell you, I loved this book so much I need to talk about it. There is going to be a sequel in 2018 called SHADOWSONG and I can’t wait to read it. The story is beautiful and haunting and I know I won’t forget it anytime soon.

Wintersong

So some information on WINTERSONG before I talk about what set this book apart for me. WINTERSONG is set in 19th century Germany where Lisel’s sister gets spirited away by the Goblin King. Her grandmother had always warned her to follow the old laws, for every year on the longest night of winter the Goblin King will emerge into the waking world in search of his eternal bride. Lisel must save her sister, but when she does she is faced with an impossible choice: go home with her sister and let the world fall into eternal winter, or sacrifice herself as the Goblin King’s bride to save the world. Continue reading

Meet an Author: Dawn Ius

Meet Pitch Wars mentor Dawn Ius, a short-story author, novelist, screenwriter, professional editor, and communications specialist. She is co-founder and senior editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Assistant Managing Editor of the International Thriller Writers’ e-zine, The Big Thrill, and the author of ten educational graphic novels published by the Alberta Canola Producers Commission.

Dawn also writes young adult thriller and paranormal fiction under the last name DALTON. Her short story, THREAD OF THE PAST was included in the SPIRITED anthology (Leap Books, 2012), and her novel, KILLER’S INSTINCT (Leap Books, 2013), co-written with Judith Graves, was nominated for the Silver Falchion award. As well, her short story DRUNK was published in an Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired anthology, FALLING FOR ALICE, April 2015, by Vine Leaves Press.

When she’s not slaying fictional monsters, she’s geeking out over fairy tales, Jack Bauer, Halloween, sports cars, and all things that go bump in the night. Dawn lives in Alberta, Canada, with her husband, Jeff, and their giant English Mastiff, Roarke.

 DawnYour latest book, OVERDRIVE, is a young adult novel about pulling off a big car heist. Are you very knowledgeable about cars or did you have to do a lot of research for the book?

When I was 16, my stepfather had a ’69 Camaro that I desperately wanted drive—but it was a standard. The deal was, if I took my driver’s test on a stick shift, he’d let me behind the wheel. So, I did—and the day after I got my license, he had to sell the car. I only drove it once, but it was enough to give me an appreciation (obsession?) for old sports / muscle cars. I AM the girl that drags her friends to car shows, or drools over the ’67 Mustang at the end of our street. I’m also the girl who isn’t afraid to shout out the window “nice car!” when something catches my eye—which might be somewhat embarrassing for my husband.

Writing OVERDRIVE was truly a labor of love—a combination of all my favorite things. But…I realized fairly quickly that I didn’t know everything (especially how to hotwire a car) and so I did extensive and very specific research about each of the cars in the book. And, I had an amazing copy editor who also loves cars, and caught some important things I’d missed. I feel fairly confident that a muscle car expert wouldn’t challenge too much of what I wrote.

Are you a big fan of car shows and movies like The Fast & The Furious?

Oh yes. I’m usually first in line at the theatre for those movies. But I also love Drive, Gone in 60 Seconds, and all of the Oceans 11 films (I love a great heist!) When I was young, my favorite show was Knight Rider—if I ever own a Trans Am (ha) I’d totally name it Kitt. Currently, I have a 2009 RX-8, named Anne after “my” Anne Boleyn in Anne & Henry.

You also write educational graphic novels. What’s the biggest challenge in writing a graphic novel compared to novels?

Toning down the description! I work with a very understanding illustrator, who doesn’t get offended when I give him a script with way too much text. I sometimes forget that he’s allowed to (and should!) interpret a scene or character without me shoving my vision down his throat. After 16 books, we’re now great at compromise, and I actually love handing him a script and seeing how he translates it into art. (He’s incredibly talented.) It’s surprising how in sync we are sometimes.

Let’s talk about your contemporary young adult book Anne and Henry. I love historical fiction and books about the Tudors. What inspired you to place the love affair between King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in a modern high school?

My stepdad (again) was a huge Anne Boleyn fan, to the point where my mom was a little jealous. So, I grew up hearing about Anne, and became fascinated by her relationship with King Henry. But so many stories have been written about the Tudors that I couldn’t think of an original angle—except to make it contemporary…in a U.S. high school.

It was a tricky book to write, but I had so much fun with it. I’m going back to history with my third book. LIZZIE (out April 10, 2018 from Simon Pulse) is a contemporary YA retelling of the Lizzie Borden hatchet murders. I really enjoy weaving historic facts into a modern setting, and I’m excited to see how this book is received—it’s still such a talked about mystery!

With all the different genres and age groups you write in, do you ever have trouble switching between them?

Yes. And no. There are certainly days I am more in the “mood” to write one genre or age category over the other, such as after writing a few chapters of LIZZIE, needing to shift gears into something “lighter.” But if I’m on deadline, I’m pretty good at wiping the slate clean and getting into the zone of whichever project needs my attention.

As a professional editor, what made you decide you wanted to get involved in Pitch Wars?

I’ve been really lucky to have a number of great mentors in my writing career. Bestselling authors who have taken time to guide me, give me pep talks in times of writerly doubt, and provide emotional support at every stage of my publishing journey. I know how hard it can be out there—and I want to help, the way I was helped. Pitch Wars is an incredible contest that gives me a great outlet in which to do that. Last year, I was blessed with an amazing mentee—Kimberley Gabriel is not only talented, but one of the hardest working and most generous people I know. I couldn’t be prouder of her, and I’m honored to have been part of her journey so far. Working with her was one of the most rewarding experiences of my writing life. (Also, her book is brilliant!)

Do you have a specific method for picking your mentee and sorting through your Pitch Wars submissions?

I really pay attention to the first five pages. It doesn’t need to be perfect (I rewrote the first chapter of Anne & Henry about a dozen times before it even got to my editor) but I’m looking for a voice that grabs me, a cliffhanger ending that begs me to turn the page, and professionalism. A few typos, grammar glitches, etc. aren’t cause for concern, but I want—at least for Pitch Wars—to work with writers who understand the basics of craft. (Bonus points if they’ve read Stephen King’s memoir, ON WRITING.)

Have any advice to Pitch Wars mentee hopefuls on tackling revisions?

Breathe. Editorial notes can be daunting, especially when they’re attached to a deadline. Once you go through the suggestions, you can start to create a plan—the overarching issues to address, the gaps to fill, the sections to delete, the character development to flush out, etc. As soon as you have a plan, you can go through the manuscript methodically and without (as much) emotion.

Revisions are actually my favorite part of the process. I turn in some embarrassingly rough drafts, but through revision, the book really starts to come alive, and there is no more magical feeling. But to get there…you have to breathe. If I can help my mentee do even that, it’s a skill that will help them through the publishing trenches.

Want to know more about Dawn? Visit her website.

OverdriveGone in Sixty Seconds meets Heist Society in this edgy novel about a crack team of teenage criminals on a mission to learn to trust, build a life, and steal a wish list of exotic cars.

Jules Parish has screwed up.

After three years of boosting cars, she got caught. She’s too good to get caught, but she let her (ex)-boyfriend talk her into a questionable job. And now she and her little sister, Emma, will be kicked out of their foster home, left to survive on the unforgiving streets of Las Vegas alone.

Unless.

Eccentric, wealthy Roger Montgomery wants to open up his mansion to Jules and Emma. The only catch? Jules must steal seven of the rarest, most valuable muscle cars in the world…in seven weeks. Even worse, she’s forced to put her trust in three complete strangers to help her do it.

First there’s Chelsea, the gorgeous redhead with a sharp tongue and love for picking locks. Then there’s Mat, who hasn’t met a system he couldn’t hack. And finally there’s the impossibly sexy car thief Nick, whose bad attitude and mysterious past drive Jules crazy.

With nothing in common and everything to lose, can Jules and her amateur crew pull off what could be the biggest car heist in history? Or will things spin out of control faster than a Nevada dust devil?

You can find it on Amazon

The Writing Editor

Some editors are also writers while others are happier to stay on the editing side and find they don’t enjoy writing or have the chops for it. And that’s totally okay. It’s just like how some agents write, but others prefer to focus on championing and selling books rather than writing them. However, I’m an editor who also writes. For me writing came before editing and inspired me to try out a career in editing. Pair them both with my love of books and I can’t let either one go.

I find that writing helps with my editing and vice versa. I think you can’t truly understand what authors go through when they get their revision letters or edits unless you’ve been in the same spot. Edit letters can be scary, especially when you are a new author not used to getting revision feedback. It can be overwhelming to see all the fixes and changes your book needs and it can be easy to feel like you’re writing isn’t good enough when you see your manuscript all marked up. By writing and getting revision feedback, I put myself in the same shoes as the authors I edit, and I go through all those tough emotions that so many authors have to work through when they get an edit letter. Going through it myself helps me to have a sympathetic understanding of what my authors are going through when we begin edits. Continue reading

Meet an Author: Michael Mammay

Meet Michael Mammay, science fiction author and Pitch Wars mentor alongside Dan Koboldt. He is represented by Lisa Rodgers of JABberwocky Literary Agency. His book PLANETSIDE is coming summer of 2018 from Harper Voyager

Michael Mammay

Your book PLANETSIDE is coming out summer of 2018 and is about an officer being pulled out of near-retirement to investigate the disappearance of a High Councillor’s son at the active war front on a distant planet. Not only do you write about soldiers, but you’re former a soldier yourself. Do you ever find your soldier characters to be more similar to you than you intended? And do you use many of your own experiences as a soldier as inspiration for your writing?

This is an incredibly complicated question, and I will write a few thousand words about it someday. The short answer is that I apply a lot of experiences in general, but not too many that are specific. The military atmosphere, what it feels like to be in certain combat situations…those are based on experience. But as far as specific experiences, those are pretty limited. It’s more a feel I’m trying to convey. When I am writing about soldiers in combat, I’m trying to put the reader there. Hopefully some of that comes across.

In PLANETSIDE will we get to see any cool new war tech?

As far as sci-fi goes, I’m pretty low tech. I try to bring more of a modern feel to it because of my experience. But absolutely I’m throwing in some things I see in the future of warfare. It’s certainly not a re-definition of the way we fight. More like taking what we’ve got and turning the amp up to eleven.

Care to tell us a fun fact about the distant planet in your novel?

The planet is Cappa, and the area in the war zone is kind of loosely based off of a combination of the Nevada/California desert and the high plains of Colorado. There’s no particular reason for that other than I thought it would be a cool place to stage a war. Silver is a key element in the economy of my galaxy, and Cappa has lots of it.

You recently became an English teacher. Did your love of writing help inspire that career path? Do you think your experiences in the classroom might someday influence your future writing?

Honestly if I didn’t write, I’m not sure I would have got the job. I don’t have an English degree or any particular qualifications that make me special. It’s a military school, so certainly my educational and service background helped. Will it affect my writing? Who knows, right? The ideas come from wherever they come from. I don’t plan for it to be a key element in my future books, but who knows how it will change me?

The first time you entered Pitch Wars you didn’t get in, but you persevered and got in the next year in Pitch Wars 2015. You often tell people not getting in was more important than getting in. Why is that?

Yeah, I entered in 2014 and I didn’t get in. I didn’t even come close. I discovered the online writing community on July 24th, 2014. I had a novel that I’d just started querying…I’d never shared it with any other writers. I didn’t know that was a thing. Hint: Don’t do this. Somehow I stumbled over Pitch Wars and it seemed great, so I joined Twitter and started figuring it out. Brenda Drake was my first Twitter follower. Seriously, you can look it up on my account. There was like one day until the submission deadline and I skimmed the mentor blogs and picked four people. One of them was Rebecca Yarros, who was mentoring YA that year and is a romance writer. I literally picked her because she wrote about military people (in her romances) and was married to a soldier. Again…and I can’t stress this enough…don’t do that.

As we were waiting for mentors to pick their mentees, I started to meet people. That year Michelle Hauck and Mary Ann Marlowe created a forum where you could post your query and your first 250 words (Almost exactly like the new Pitch Wars Forum) and I got involved there. I put my page up and an author named Janet Wrenn critiqued my first 250 words. Thirty seconds after I saw that critique I knew I wasn’t getting into Pitch Wars. I had SO much to learn. So I set out to learn it. I traded chapters with everybody who would trade—like eight to ten people. I found three critique partners who are still with me today: Colleen Halverson, Red Levine, and Rebecca Enzor. If I didn’t meet them, I wouldn’t be here. It’s that simple. I spent a few months learning and in November of 2014 I wrote the first chapter of what would become Planetside.

What piece of advice do you wish someone had told you before your first Pitch Wars?

Truth? I’m glad nobody told me anything. Because if I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t have entered, and things would have worked out differently. But if I was giving one piece of advice to people on the fence now it would be this: Get involved. I know it’s hard to put yourself out there, but that’s how you grow as a writer. It’s scary and it’s nerve-wracking and you want to puke, but push through and do it. Talk to that mentor on twitter. Swap that chapter with another potential mentee. You never know what could happen. Take every opportunity you can find. There’s one universal truth about this business, and that’s this: Everybody’s path is different, and nobody knows what your path looks like. All we know is that if you’re not where you want to be on that path, you have to take another step.

As a mentee, which one was more nerve-wracking: getting your first edit letter from Dan or experiencing the agent round?

You ask the best questions, because they’re hard. Truth? Neither was very difficult for me. (Yes, it’s acceptable to hate me for that.) Here’s why: Before I got Dan’s edit letter, I’d had one from my critique partner Colleen Halverson. Dan has been very, very helpful to me in my developing career. But he’s not nearly as terrifying as getting an edit from Colleen. She’s a badass, and she and I tear each other’s stuff apart. You know that axiom where when you’re doing a critique and you say two good things for every bad thing? Yeah…we don’t do that with each other. We call each other on our BS, and it’s pretty no nonsense. It’s also incredibly effective for both of us, and we wouldn’t change it. Dan’s edits were really useful, but I’d gone through harder stuff before that.

As far as the agent round, in 2015 as an adult SF writer, there weren’t a lot of agents participating who were looking for what I wrote. Dan was really up front about that with me, so I knew what to expect and had prepared for it. I was hoping to get one request, and I got exactly one. But Dan had helped me develop a query strategy, and it all worked out because I ended up with Lisa Rodgers at JABberwocky, and she is the perfect agent for me.

You mentored for the first time in Pitch Wars 2016 alongside Dan Koboldt. After being a mentee the previous year under Dan, what surprised you the most about being a mentor?

The most surprising thing was how hard it was. As it turns out, I’m super bad at choosing between manuscripts. We got about 140 submissions, and if it was up to me I’d have picked about 15 of them. Why? Because I could help them. I could see what they needed and they were pretty close and I could work with the mentee to make them better. And if it was up to me, I’d probably still be paralyzed, looking at those same 15 manuscripts and wanting to work with all of them. Of course that’s impossible. This is one reason why a co-mentorship fits me really well. Dan and I both bring different things to the table. False modesty set aside, I’m a really good editor. And I love editing. And I want to edit everything. I probably critiqued a dozen books last year, most of them just because I enjoy it so much. Dan can edit too, but he’s also extremely well versed in the business of writing and the SF/F world as a whole, and he’s much more level headed when it comes to that. It’s a perfect partnership. Some have called it a #dreamteam. Just sayin. And I joke about that, but when you get Dan and I, you really do get a team. You get us, but you also get all the people we know. And we know a lot of people. We’re going to help you from the start of your revisions right through marketing as your book releases.

Finally, you’ve claimed to be useful in a zombie apocalypse. So if a zombie apocalypse broke out, what’s the first thing you’d do? Do you already have a full plan of action decided just in case, you know, an unexpected zombie epidemic breaks out?

Well the first rule of being prepared for a zombie apocalypse is to not talk about your preparations for the zombie apocalypse. Because it’s coming. I’ll say this. It’s all about location. And knowing how to make explosives. Or beer. See? Now I’ve said too much.

Want to know more about Michael? Visit his author website and goodreads page.