Writing

Apple falls up

A talented writer in his own right, my oldest son AJ has been named Student of the Quarter twice in a row for WRITING. Last year in fifth grade, he wrote a short fantasy story for school that blew me away. The title is “Eugallado” and, after begging him to allow me to share it, I’m thrilled to post a sneak peek at the opening:

Eugallado. Chapter 1. The Cave.

It was a day like any other when the secret world was discovered by two ordinary boys.
The trees and the ground were covered in prestigious, sparkling white snow, and the sun made everything shine so bright it was almost hard to look at it. We gazed at the beautiful trees, sprinkled with glistening sugar-white powder, longing to explore the woods. My mom said we could never go in, but she wouldn’t tell us why. Of course we wanted to find out.
“Let’s go,” my best friend Ryan said excitedly . . .

People like to say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and all that jazz, but I think it’s the opposite. In our case, the apple falls up! And writing is just one of his many talents. I’m so proud of this kid. He inspires me. He’s an inspiration to our whole family.

QMS Student of the Quarter

Excellence Award in Writing

On my school visits, I always tell students that the best way to improve your writing is to READ. Read everything. Always be reading. AJ is proof of that. He’s participated in the Battle of the Books program at school since third grade. He’s usually got at least 2 or 3 books going at one time. He reads books he likes, and books he dislikes. And maybe it’s his youth, but he seems to remember EVERYTHING!

I’m honored AJ is such a fan of my books! He read Forte twice — and after reading the first draft of its sequel, he gave me feedback that will be cherished forever: “I loved your book so much! I loved the description, and I felt like I could really feel the characters. I loved the combonation of music, magic, and mythology. Definetly one of the best books I’ve ever read! – AJ <3”

YA magical realism Concerto

AJ almost done with Concerto

When Concerto was published several months after he read the first draft, he was eager to read it again (gotta love this kid). Now 12 and dealing with middle school antics and LOTS of sixth grade homework, he found the time to read my book. It was my gift to see him peek out with a smile from behind my book as I tucked him into bed. As soon as he finished, he wrote a review on Google docs and shared it with me.

*Warning: contains spoilers!* (But too precious not to share!)

Concerto Review By AJ Spero

Mom, I thought your book Concerto was absolutely amazing! And I’m not saying that just because you’re my mom. If I went to Barnes & Noble and bought your book and read it, I’d say, “WOW! This book is so cool!!” First thing: I thought the characters were awesome! They were so real, I felt like I could really feel and connect with the characters. I also really liked how there was some suspense that made you ask questions that really kept you turning the pages! I always wanted to see what happened next. And the drama between the characters was really good! I felt like it was emotional but not over-the-top, you know? For instance, When Sami started to date Miles, I was like, “No! What about Jason?” Then when she went to visit Jason, I could really feel the awkwardness. I was cringing myself! Then when Jason gave Sami a pat on the back, oh man. Total cringe fest. Then at the end, I loved how they finally started to get back together again. I didn’t really like how they broke up in the first draft, though, it was even painful for me! I know I have a big, long, rambling list of all the things I loved about your book, so I’ll wrap it up with one more thing. I loved the sneak peak chapter of “Cadence”! I want to read it so bad now! I love how you see the other side of that conversation Lauren and Sami had. Sami seemed so oblivious! I also like Lauren’s fun personality, and I can’t wait to find out more about Lauren. I felt like, in “Forte,” I couldn’t really connect with Lauren as a person, but I like how I’ll find out her side of things. Overall, I thought your book was SO GOOD and I can’t wait ‘till “Cadence” comes out! 

 

Hello February.

December 2017 was a climactic, exciting month. My third book was published early in the month — Concerto — which prompted glitz and fireworks to an already happy, busy, holiday season in our new home. The book itself is a thrill. I may like the story even more than the first in its series, Forte. Not soon after its release, I was already started on book #3. Actually, I started before the release. At the end of Concerto, readers will find a teaser chapter for the next — currently titled Cadence. This was my #JaNoWriMo project this year.

For those unfamiliar, JaNoWriMo is a version of NaNoWriMo — where writers give themselves a daily writing quota in a month-long writing challenge. I choose January instead of November for reasons I’ve outlined in a previous blog post.

So how’d it go? 

I’m happy to report, Cadence is well under way! I only had a teeny head start — just that 1200-word teaser chapter. January 31 snuck up on me, but my total word count as of today (Feb 2) is 22,390 – ! The story is cranking and the ideas are flowing. Structure is kind of falling to the wayside as I’ve tried to keep pushing the story forward rather than overthink what should happen and when. This is something I’ll have to fix. But, for me, to keep my enthusiasm up for a project, I need to keep writing. Even if it means more work in the long run. Plotting scenes on note cards just doesn’t excite me. The project would fizzle. And what a shame that would be. This story may be my best yet!

So, yay! I’m a happy writer.

What was different this year? 

I didn’t write every day. I skipped weekends. I accepted those lunch dates with friends that were a no-go last year. I kept up on bills and other domestic responsibilities, which kind of suffered last year (sorry, honey). So, this year was about balance. Besides, I may have needed a sort of break after working so hard to get Concerto out into the world. And I look forward to continuing to work on it. Can you say #FebNoWriMo? Ha!

What’s Cadence about, you ask? Ahhh… 

Not to keep you in suspense, but that’s a subject for another day, another post. Stay tuned!

Polar Bear Prints

My youngest son just finished a unit on polar bears in art class. His teacher just posted this beauty to Artsonia.

Polar Bear Prints

Polar Bear Prints by 7 y/o Chaz

I love this artwork for so many reasons.

Some of you may be surprised to learn polar bears inspired the concept of Concerto.

For those of you who are familiar with Forte, you’re probably wondering how the sequel could have anything to do with these beautiful arctic creatures. Forte is about music and magic . . . an ancient rivalry and a mysterious prophecy to fulfill. No lions or tigers or bears of any kind.

Its follow up, Concerto, is also about music and magic — but also about extreme weather personified by power-hungry gods of the sea and skies.

Sure, my latest may not involve animals, but it does involve their habitat.

Years ago I watched a documentary about polar bears that made me cry. With their habitat melting away, the problem seems insurmountable. And that’s just one example. Climate change. Global warming. Beyond these buzz words in the political arena, when I think about the kind of environmental problems we are passing on to the next generation, my mama-tiger claws come out. But then, despair hits. What can I, a writer, possibly do?

Write this book.

But this book is not a political statement. As the book evolved, the magic created an otherworldly twist that doesn’t translate to what’s happening in our environment. Sami, my main character, is charged with fighting extreme “natural” disasters and the evil force behind it. However, considering all the crazy extreme weather happening in the world lately, it seems timely. Wouldn’t it be cool if music could magically affect the weather?

I’m not hoping my book will trigger an environmental miracle. I do hope that it helps raise awareness, though. I also hope my son’s precious artwork is not someday seen as a study of a glorious animal that had become tragically extinct.

 

Best Launch Party

Concerto is now available!
Order your copy today to take advantage of special introductory pricing!

Hooray! It’s finally here! I think Xchyler Publishing and I set a world record with our aggressive editing schedule for this one. It was just August 21 when Xchyler gave me the first round of feedback on the manuscript as a whole. I managed to turn those edits around in less than three weeks. Then, there was a back and forth with the editing team: more content edits, then line edits, then grammar and proofing — for each chapter individually. I’d say we went through a minimum of 4 rounds of edits per chapter. (I think the most was 8? Maybe 9?) I’d often wake up in the middle of the night to see more edits in my queue and a whir of excitement would keep me up to work on them into the wee hours of morning. What’s that you ask? Sleep? Who needs sleep when you have a book to launch! At Thanksgiving, I had to beg out of conversation with my in-laws, “Sorry, I don’t know how to talk about anything but my imaginary characters and the made-up world they live in.”

It was such a whirlwind, I didn’t have time to set up a launch party. And being so close to the holidays, I didn’t really want to. But, look what my family did for me? My boys made me homemade cards, my husband brought home flowers and champagne. What more does a girl need? My heart is bursting.

Forte magic returns with Concerto launch

From my ten-year-old. “Straight up AWESOME!”

 

Concerto YA fantasy is now available

So much love in these “Congrats!” cards from my boys.

Sometimes the best launch parties are right at home surrounded by your loved ones.

Concerto YA fantasy now available

Best fan club ever.

 

YA fantasy new release ebook sale

Order your copy on Amazon today & take advantage of special introductory pricing!

Concerto — Cover Reveal!

It’s finally here! Concerto, the spell-binding sequel to Forte, will launch December 1, 2017 — less than two weeks away! It’s been a whirlwind of a year. Lots of hours and lots of love poured into this project. I’m so proud to work with Xchyler Publishing once again to get this out into the world. And today, I’m thrilled to share the final cover design.

Concerto, Book 2 of YA fantasy series - Forte - releases Dec 1

Concerto, Book 2 of Forte series, releases Dec 1

What’s it about? 

Samantha McGovern sacrificed her magic to save her home town. Finally, after more than two years, stirrings within her whisper of a reawakening. However, nothing can offset the misery of parting with her boyfriend. How can she keep Jason when he’s moved on to college life, but she’s still trapped in high school for another year?

In Boston, Sami’s new friends help her rediscover her power, and, reunited with an old crush, he now seems into her. Sami struggles to ignore the intoxicating charms of Miles Eichen, but with Jason’s increasing distance, it feels like a losing battle.

When her strange visions begin to come true, Sami discovers a new purpose to her magic—magic stronger than she could ever imagine. Millions of lives are in danger, and only she has the power to foil a great evil. However, it will take a different kind of magic to repair the rift between her and Jason.

Cover reveal YA fantasy series CONCERTO releases Dec 1

Full spread – Back and Front – CONCERTO Cover Reveal!

Insomnia

It hits me off and on. At least once a week. This morning, I awoke at 3 AM, thought about going back to sleep for about one minute, then bounded out of bed with a surge of adrenaline. Why? Because I’m approaching the finish line to launch my upcoming release CRESCENDO, the sequel to Forte. Up and at ’em to work on content edits to send to Xchyler Publishing by 6 AM. I rock.

But not every 3 AM bout of insomnia is that happy or productive. Most times, my mind plays cruel tricks on me and I’m sick with worry about anything and everything. Sometimes, I go completely Macbeth and feel like I’m losing my mind altogether. It happened this past summer and I wrote the following passage in my journal — bleary and exhausted, messy and scribbling in all directions. It’s raw and unedited and, hopefully, strikes a chord.


Can’t sleep
Worrying about cars and dogs
Regret tugs — losing my patience
I want to be happy
It should be easy
Why am I so anxious?
Lots to do, wasted Sunday
Summer’s too short. Why was I so eager to fill it?
Hopes smack against fears
Spider crawling down the wall
Haven’t written in awhile
Does this count?
Is it enough to be a mom?
and wife
Hope for yes tempered by guilt
Worry fears losing what we have
Do I love too much?
Why can’t I be kinder? Why do I get so irritated? Why is smiling hard?
Are we missing something?
Is it slipping away?
Am I trying hard enough?
Am I succeeding?
Where did my babies go?
Are the memories safe? Are the moments captured?
Big, fat black ants
too much stuff — for what?
Time slipping too fast
Too busy, not busy enough
my loves keep them safe please
vacuum broke again.
My hair gets everywhere.
My stomach sticks out.
I get angry easily.
I don’t know why he loves me so much.
I’m alive.
Every moment is precious. Why waste it with worry?
Can’t sleep.
Stopped trying.
Tomorrow is here.
I’m not ready.

#Janowrimo Report

It’s time to officially report on my first ever JaNoWriMo challenge! My goal was to write 1000 words (approx 2-3 pgs in Word) every day for month of January. So, how’d I do?

Break it down: On December 31, I had 19k words for my WIP (Forte‘s sequel). It was good to have this head start. The story was already progressing and it didn’t feel like I had to create something from nothing. My average daily log turned out to be 1200 words — a good length for a solid scene or even a chapter. Lowest day = 600s. Highest was over 1800. I wrote *every day* except one toward the end, and even on that day I was plotting out my next scene in my mind. I logged my progress on Twitter, which helped me stay honest and focused. And being able to post my daily success felt like a small reward.

Although I’d recruited some writer friends to join me in JaNoWriMo, I didn’t hear from many throughout the month. With one exception: fellow Xchyler Publishing author R.A. Smith of the Grenshall Manor Chronicles. Russell and I connected via Twitter almost daily, and I believe we inspired each other to keep writing every January day. Thank you, Russell!

So, now it’s February. And my WIP is at . . . drum roll please . . . 53922! Already a legit length for a YA novel, I have at least two or three more chapters to pen before it’s done. It’s so close, I’ve been trying to keep up my daily writing routine until the draft is complete.

There’s one problem with that routine: I’m kind of boring when I’m writing.

Seriously. The days are cold and I’m hibernating with my computer. Even if the writing part only takes an hour or two, the rest of my day is consumed by thinking about it. Momentum is so important, which requires consistency and focus. It’s like an obsession. On a rare lunch out with my bestie, when she wanted to catch up, I had little to offer.

“I’m, like, hyper-focused on my writing. That’s all. I’m doing the mom thing and I’m writing.”

“So, tell me about your writing!”

“No! I’m too superstitious. I have to get the draft done first.”

You can imagine how riveting the rest of our lunch conversation was. My poor husband. I’m sure he’s eager to have me back.

But here’s the thing — the story I’m working on? It’s exciting! But I’m the only one who’s experiencing it. I can’t wait to get the draft out to my beta readers so I can finally talk about it!

Want to know what it’s about? Here’s a draft blurb of Forte’s sequel:

It’s been two years since Sami neutralized toxic Aquamarine on Skene Mountain, the scar on the hill now a stark reminder of what she’d destroyed. Hoping to make amends, she vows to use her magic to rebuild earthly devastation — to heal the world with her music. Problem is, her magic is lost. Her boyfriend Jason is lost too, as he’s left for college. When Sami attends a summer music program in hopes of finding her magic, she finds her childhood crush Miles is also in the program. Caught in a love triangle, Sami begins to have visions of tragic natural disasters close to home. When these visions turn into reality, it seems the superstorms are not random but caused by someone with specific powers — and an evil agenda. It’s up to Sami to figure out how to use her new magic to halt the next superstorm before everyone she loves is destroyed.

writing journal

My brainstorming journal. (Gift from Mom) My loyal writing companion. Its pages would make no sense to anyone but me.

Reclaiming Twitter

Twitter is getting a bad rap. Every news station is splashing Donald Trump’s latest tweets and using it as fodder for news. No one would be surprised to hear that Trump’s tweeting is not exemplary in any way shape or form. He’s not doing himself any favors by creating all this social media noise. Even his wife has said she’s tried to talk him out of tweeting late at night but . . . (fill in the blank on that.)

Twitter does not have to be a channel for wannabe politicians to bully others or spew their offensive propaganda. It can be useful. I’d like to help rebrand it a little. Here are the ways I’ve been able to make it work for me:

1.Find your lane.
For me, it’s writing and publishing. I joined Twitter in March 2013 in preparation for launching my debut novel. It was part of my book launch plan, along with establishing platforms on all social media. I’m sure to some extent I hoped joining Twitter would ultimately result in book sales, but what’s it done for my writing career has brought unexpected benefits.

I don’t follow celebrities. I follow authors, publishers, agents — big and small. It’s provided a community of support and encouragement, but also it’s offered valuable information. I find more articles on writing, the writing process, writing tips than I do through Facebook. I’ve also found really cool contests that exist only on Twitter, like #PitMad or #Pitmas and I really can’t say enough about the awesome and revolutionary #MSWL (Manuscript Wishlist) Their Twitter feed and also their website has redefined the query process.

Other fave writer’s hashtags: #amwriting #writerslife #writingtips

And my most recent faves: #WIPjoy (celebrating our works in progress throughout the month of January) and of course #janowrimo (January Novel Writing Month)

2.Craigslist on crack.
Through Twitter, I’ve found more than one editor to help bring my book(s) to the next level. Recently, Twitter helped me find a great query reviewer — Christy Morgan — who has opened my eyes to what my query was missing. (Guys! find her @xtymorganbooks or her go to her website)

Another awesome content editor I’ve hired TWICE for two different books is the very talented @cassdunn Cassandra Dunn. 

3.Accountability.
Writing a novel is a huge task. It can feel overwhelming. For most of the process, you’re completely alone — living with the story in your head and on your computer. It may be *years* before it gets to beta readers and you can finally talk about it with someone. That’s why we need to set ourselves up with small rewards along the way.

I’ve heard author Jonathan Mayberry‘s keynote speech at more than one writing conference, and one takeaway for me was how he held himself accountable. He would reward himself after reaching his daily word-count goal. Early on, he’d put some money in a jar and when his first draft was done, he’d take his wife out to a nice dinner. Now that he’s a huge success, he moves money into a special account and when the draft is done, his wife gets a nice vacation. (Something to aspire to, gang!)

I’m not putting money in a jar or moving money, but I am using Twitter to keep myself honest. It doesn’t really matter that not many people will see my tweet. The fact that I put it out there to the world, makes it matter somehow. I’ve recorded it, documented it. It makes it official. I’m happy to report that my tweets do seem to be gaining some traction. Other writers are liking. It doesn’t hurt that my publisher is my most avid retweeter. Shout out to Xchyler Publishing.

Which reminds me . . . sometimes the best connections you find on Twitter are those you already have. Just another way to keep in touch, perhaps.

Let’s reclaim Twitter and make it work for us in a positive way.

 

Week one – done!

With one week of #JaNoWriMo under my belt, I’m happy with my progress thus far. I started at around 19k words on my WIP and I now check in at 26,430. Hooray! My story is getting so exciting, I’m having a hard time thinking about anything else.

So, here’s where I’m supposed to tell you how hard it’s been to fit in my writing. As we all can relate, our lives are busy here in the Spero household. I’m a mom of three boys who each have different after school activities. While they’re at school, I do all the shopping, cooking, cleaning . . . and teach yoga three times a week. You may wonder how I could fit in all this writing. (It takes about two good hours to crank out 1000 quality words — and “quality” is all relative).

Aside from having the most supportive husband in the world, it’s almost like I have to do it. It’s not a chore and it’s not a luxury. It just is. And what a gift January has been! Every morning, I feel a jolt of adrenaline knowing I will write 1000 words that day. If I don’t get to it until the afternoon, fine. But knowing that I will give myself that pocket of time dedicated to something that feeds my soul — fuels me through whatever else is going on. And after the writing is done, after the scene is down on paper, it’s like my endorphins are on high. I can breathe more deeply. I smile more easily. I’m more patient with my family. Dare I say, it’s  better than yoga.

So, yeah. I think JaNoWriMo has been a success so far.

BTW: After tweeting my first successful day of JaNoWriMo, I clicked on the hashtag to find . . . #janowrimo is a thing!

Apparently, I did not invent the January replacement of November’s NaNoWriMo. Apparently, lots of other writers think January works better for writing productivity, too. There’s already a community out there! So, yay! Also #WIPjoy celebrates our works in progress all through January. Double yay! Here’s a nice breakdown.

Yes! #WIPjoy #janowrimo #writerslife #amwriting

Oh, and I also broke the 1000-follower benchmark on Twitter this week, so I’m on my way to rule all of social media. Ha!

Here’s to January, folks! It may just be my favorite month of the year.

JaNoWriMo — GO!

Okay, folks! Time to declare our New Year’s Resolutions for 2017. Statistically, most resolutions don’t last beyond January, so mine perfectly applies. I’m not giving up sweets or wine. I’m not promising to workout more. I’m going to write.

Perhaps you’ve seen my post about why I won’t ever do NaNoWriMo since the month of November is jam-packed with holiday festivities and preparations. In that post, I suggested January as a better month to focus on a daily writing routine. JaNoWriMo: January Novel Writing Month. I’m starting 2017 with a pledge to do something I love to do most in the world, every day: write.

I plan to work on my first draft of the sequel to ForteWith 15k words under my belt, Sami is back! She uses her music magic for a much different — altruistic — purpose…only to run up against the most surprising adversary. Throw in a love triangle and a new, urban setting, and you have the makings of a future page-turner. I’m so excited to get my first draft done. If you don’t have a WIP, start brainstorming today for your JaNoWriMo project!

JaNoWriMo will work somewhat differently than NaNoWriMo. There isn’t a website for it. There’s no submission form to log your word count. There won’t be badges to celebrate accomplishments. I’m not starting a national, non-profit community. I’m starting small (with, um, me). But I’d love company! Here are the rules:

  1. Comment below if you’d like to participate, declaring your personal daily word-count goal. For Nano, the idea is to complete a 50K-word novel. For Jano, let’s be realistic but also push ourselves a bit. My daily word count goal will be 1000 words.
  2. After you complete your writing goal for the day, tweet about your accomplishment with the hashtag #JaNoWriMo (and use my handle @jdspero). You will receive e-kudos for your hard work. Not on Twitter? Email me!
  3. In February 1, 2017, one “winning” participant will be chosen to guest star on my blog to share a synopsis and a teaser of their project.

At the end of every week, I’ll post some handy writing tips or a funny story about how I managed to squeak out my quota of words while juggling the schedules of three busy little boys. My job will be to offer inspiration, humor, and wine (ahem…or whine).

That’s it. Easy peasy!

Let’s do this. Who’s with me!