Xchyler Publishing

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#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.

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

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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.

 

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Kingdom City author on writing

Recently, we saw the exciting cover reveal of KINGDOM CITY: REVOLT — the gripping sequel to the dystopian thriller KINGDOM CITY: RESURRECTION. Don’t you love getting lost in a good series? Don’t you wonder how authors keep us wanting more — book after book? Today we talk with author Ben Ireland and celebrate the release of the second in his series. Be sure to enter the awesome giveaway, too!

First, about REVOLT . . .

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If you missed the first in the sequel, check it out: KINGDOM CITY: RESURRECTION.

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Now, let’s hear from Ben about his writing process:

What is your preferred writing genre?

I lean towards fantasy, especially urban fantasy. I get a rush when someone isn’t only smart enough to solve their problems, but they can also solve them with fire. Lots and lots of magically invoked fire.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved creating. Probably the worst thing that happened to me is when I took a creative writing class in college. The professor told me that my story was the best thing he’d read “in a long time.” I’ve been spiraling since then. That story ended up being a scene of Kissed a Snake, in Xchyler’s A Dash of Madness short story anthology.

Where do you actually write? Do you write on a schedule?

We recently moved and I managed to get an office in the new house. It’s actually a storage closet. But it has a map of Kingdom City on the wall and Slifer the Sky Dragon above my desk, so that’s all I need.

I don’t have a specific time to write. I’m still on the ‘wait until the kids fall to sleep and write until I fall to sleep’ schedule.

What is your writing drive? What keeps you going when writing gets difficult?

My brain is full of story ideas and it hurts when I don’t let them out. Writing isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion.

What is your advice to writers?

Figure out who to listen to and who to ignore. If you don’t have people in your life who challenge your creative work, then you’re handicapping yourself. Peter Jackson and George Lucas stopped listening to people that challenged them, and the result is the Hobbit movies and Star Wars episode 1-3. No matter how successful you get, listen to your trusted critics.

What’s up next for you?

Kingdom City part3. Working title is Retribution. The original working title was Redemption, but that sounded way too optimistic for Kingdom City.  

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Bookminder author on writing

Today we’re talking about writing with author M.K. Wiseman — whose novel BOOKMINDER is fresh off the press. So many readers want to know about the writing process, which is different for every author. I love hearing from authors who not only build a captivating story but also include elements of magic and fantasy. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway — 3 $20 B&N gift cards! Before we get to the Q&A, here’s a bit about the book:

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Let’s hear from the author about her writing process.

How did you come up with the concept of your story?

In 2004 I had a very vivid dream that, afterward, wouldn’t leave me alone. Said dream basically detailed out one scene from the story, something so different and captivating for me that it stuck. Now, it must be noted that I was not writing at that time, nor did I intend to write in any professional capacity. But as this one nugget of an idea would not let me be, I started to form a story around it – Why were these people doing what they were doing? Who were they?

I think that working in the Preservation Dept of the campus library system had bled into my subconscious and that is where the magick system that rules The Bookminder developed.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

That was a sort of slow shift for me. I mean, I started writing pieces of significant length in 2004 but really did so without any specific “I want to be a writer” aim. I was just compelled to try it out, I suppose. At that time, what I really wanted to be (and still do!) was/is an animator. But both are storytellers so it’s not that big a leap. I think I finally knew what I wanted when it came clear to me that my work is actually publishable. Then I found that I had a burning desire to keep going with it, wanting to add to libraries rather than just “worship” them as a reader.

Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment?

Before you read this answer, remember this question cites unlimited resources. . . My answer presumes unlimited patience from my family, as well. That said, there are a handful of places that I’ve been that would be really interesting places to write and it’d be lovely to have access to each as the impulse takes me. Ideally, I’d like to take a bit of time and write from Santa Fe, NM, up where even the heady smell of books pales in comparison to the piñon-sweet air. I’d like some time in Boston by the gas light district. I’d like to try to write an entire novel while sailing from Point A to Point B . . . I think keeping things fresh and adventurous is my ideal.

Where do you actually write? Do you write on a schedule?

I actually spend a lot of my writing time in a big, orange, overstuffed armchair. Or, if I need a little more ‘action’ around me, I head off to a coffee shop to immerse myself in a slice of Life. As for any sort of schedule, I don’t have set hours or word counts or anything—that tends to mess with my muse’s office hours. Sometimes there are publishing deadlines to keep but that’s as tangibly schedule-y as I get.

What is your writing drive? The power that keeps you going when your writing gets difficult?

Deadlines. 🙂 More seriously, though, early on I feared that I’d only ever have One Good Idea. I now have a pile of “Work in Progress” manuscripts sitting on my hard drive and they cover a host of different genres and intended audiences. It is now almost impossible for me to hit a wall because of the breadth of those projects. So if I bump up against something in a project that seems unsolvable, I take a step back and work on something else until I lose my frustration at the first roadblock. I do admit that it takes some discipline to keep from bouncing aimlessly between projects. So my power is persistence, even if it involves a writing detour.

How does writing impact other parts of your life?

I tend to get a little lost in my worlds. My work follows me home because it lives there. That’s been a bit of an adjustment, defining borders of when and when not my brain can go to work. If I allowed it, I’d probably just work continuously without sleeping, eating, and whatnot, just because I have the ideas. I have awoken in the middle of the night and hastily hid myself in another room to type out a quick story outline before it flees into that sleepy realm of forgotten ideas.

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KINGDOM CITY: REVOLT cover reveal

New release by Xchyler Publishing — the 2nd in the KINGDOM CITY dystopian thriller series.

Kingdom City by Ben Ireland

The gripping sequel to KINGDOM CITY: RESURRECTION

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About Author Ben Ireland

Ben Ireland

Ben churns out his prose from his home in Southeast Texas, where he lives with his wife and three children, and works in IT. When he isn’t writing, he’s either thinking about writing, or he’s driving his wife insane talking about his novel ideas. His work has appeared in two X-anthologies: “Kissed a Snake” in A Dash of Madness: a Thriller Anthology (July 2013), and “Fairykin” in Moments in Millennia: a Fantasy Anthology(January 2014). His first novel, Kingdom City: Resurrection was published in February 2014.

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Recently pressed…local ink!

Two new books of note by local grads

Johannah Davies Spero of LG & Marika McCoola of GF

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

Two native writers — Johannah Davies Spero, Lake George Class of 1991, and Marika McCoola, Glens Falls Class of 2005, have new books targeted at Young Adult readers and presented by professional publishers coming out, this week and next. Here’s a look at what’s to come.

Johannah Spero: ‘Forte’

Johannah Davies Spero, the Lake George grad, writer and teacher, moved back to this area with her family last year.

Her new book Forte launches with a party at Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga on Tuesday, July 28, at 6 p.m.

It is a Young Adult tale with elements of magic and fantasy that is set in Whitehall — here, back to its original name of Skenesborough.

Johanna Davies Spero and her book Forte.

“Sami is a 15-year-old musician who moves from New York City to a small upstate town,” Ms. Spero told The Chronicle.

“She’s the new kid, and the last thing she wants is to hide behind the piano. She’s tall and athletic, and the coach really wants her to join the Volleyball team. Coach takes her by the shoulders and she gets this jolt of magic, and she’s suddenly able to play really well.

“They’re all drinking this potion on the team. It looks like blue Gatorade, and it makes them play better. But it turns out, the next time she goes to the piano, she cannot play. It’s really drawing on an ancient legend, about who she really is, the DNA and the values, what does she believe is important, the piano or her newfound success and popularity in school? At the same time, there is the ancient rivalry, the artistic versus athletic, that is heightened by the magic.

She’s the one who has to make it better for herself, and the town.”

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The story was inspired by Lake George volleyball coach Cathy “Panic” Stanilka.

“Everyone would say, ‘Play for Panic,’ Ms. Spero says. “My entire story was inspired by this play on words. But I was not going to make a villain out of such a beloved coach from my high school. So I changed her name, and then I had to come up with a new name for the book. Forte, has the double meaning of something you’re good at, your strength, and a musical term for playing with power.

Why Whitehall? “My husband and I used to live on the North Shore of Boston, so we’d come up this way to visit my parents (Jim and Janet Davies). I always thought it was a good town for a story, with Skene Manor on the hill, and the canal. It’s this ordinary town with a splatter of grandness.”

And then, there’s this: “We were both working full time and going to school for our Master’s degrees, and we were planning to get married but didn’t have the time to get a marriage license in New York. I called the town clerk in Whitehall and asked if we could get it after hours and she did. She met us as we were coming through town at 8 o’clock one night.”

The book is available to order on amazon.com. The official launch is Saturday, July 25. Find other events — including the Chronicle Book Fair on Sunday, Nov. 8 — online at jdspero.com.

Ms. Spero self-published her first book, Catcher’s Keeper last year, using professional designers and editors she paid herself, she noted at the time.

Catcher’s Keeper imagines what would happen if Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye were a real person who learned ahead of time that Mark David Chapman planned to assassinate John Lennon, somehow spurred by his book.

“I had planned on self-publishing again, using everything I learned the hard way on Catcher’s Keeper,” she says. “Then a friend who was doing publicity for this publisher Xchyler (‘schuyler’), said I should try it with them. Even if they said yes I could always decline.”

They offered to take the book, she says, and with a royalty percentage that she found especially fair.

Working with a publisher this time, Ms. Spero says, “I realized quickly, maybe I really have more to learn. I’d done a few drafts and already worked with some editors, but they tore it down — and built a mansion.”

Right away, she says, the editor identified a problem character — Sami’s mother — and helped “make the character real,” she says. “They asked really tough questions. It’s mine to create, but it has to make sense. In Young Adult books, a lot of time, the mother is just absent. But here, the mother is there enough it filters into the main character’s experience.”

Ms. Spero says, “It was really interesting. They do everything online, through Google Chat, emails, Facebook messages. I never had a conversation on the phone with them. Everything is documented, in writing, online. It’s been a real learning experience for me.”

More help came from her brother, Jim (also an author).

“I was never really into fantasy or magic books,” Ms. Spero says, “but I grew up right next to this person who was a huge Dungeons and Dragons aficionado. I give him huge kudos. When I had problems I had to get over, like how to do the magic, how can it make sense, what are the rules of my world? He would just tell me, It’s your world. You make the rules.”

Ms. Spero is already on her third book — in a different genre, but with again a teenaged character at the center. Now a full time writer and stay-at-home mother to three young boys, she was formerly a middle school English teacher.

“This new one is about a good boy who makes some really awful mistakes, and the only one who knows is his little brother.”

She laughs, “It looks like I’m so prolific, but all these books were in process for a really long time. This one (Forte), I started almost four years ago. I can’t even describe the feeling of waiting for it to come out, now.”

Marika McCoola: ‘Baba Yaga…’

Meanwhile, twentysomething Glens Falls grad Marika McCoola scored a major book deal with the major publisher Candlewick Press for her debut title, Baba Yaga’s Assistant. The book comes out on August 4. Events are planned around Boston beginning this month. Northshire Books in Saratoga hosts an event on October 2.

Marika McCoola

(Disclosure: Marika is a close friend of this writer, who knew her since she was 4.)

Ms. McCoola went to Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore for illustration — and got her MFA in writing for children from Simmons College in Amherst, Mass. — but this first book is illustrated by another artist, Emily Carroll.

Baba Yaga’s Assistant grew out of an MFA project — and, in fact, Jen Linnan, the outside mentor assigned to Ms. McCoola for the project, offered to become her literary agent two weeks after graduation.

Ms. McCoola says, “My style of illustration didn’t fit with this story. I do three-dimensional mixed media which is quirky and sometimes a little dark. So much in this book depends on the facial expressions. She added, “I was blown away by Emily’s illustrations, especially how she used the color palette as the story progressed.”

“The book came to me as an image of the first spread you’ll see in the book, people telling stories of Baba Yaga and what she does. It had to be a graphic novel because of the iron teeth she has, and her house that stands on chicken legs.”

Baba Yaga is a popular Russian folk character, known for eating bad little children but who also appreciates anyone who can outsmart her, Ms. McCoola explained.

Her own story is about a young teenaged girl who was raised by her grandmother after her mother died young; her father has been mostly absent and is about to remarry to a woman with a young, troublesome daughter. The young protagonist, Masha, runs away and apprentices with the old witch.

It’s a pretty dark tale, Ms. McCoola says. The take-away? “We are all trying to search for a family in which we belong, and it’s not necessarily our biological family.”

Her target audience is kids ages 9 to 14 “who like mythology,” she said. “I also love the idea of a character who rewards those who trick her, being smart and using what you have to the best of your ability.”

She said, “Writing a graphic novel is like writing a movie script, only more.” Besides the words, she plans out all of the drawings — even as another artist will do the illustrations. “You have to describe everything that is going to be on the page. You determine how many panels are n a page, where the page turn will be, you describe what the character looks like and track the props.” Even as a new author, she had veto rights on the choice of illustrator and the drawings themselves.

Ms. McCoola lives in Boston, and is currently working on several more book projects, and circulating two more picture books with publishers. She also teaches online through Empire State College, and works in a bookstore. Find info on her book tour online at marikamccoola.com.

Find Baba Yaga’s Assistant at regional bookstores and online at amazon.com.

Copyright © 2015 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

writing

WDC in NYC

This past weekend, I attended the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City. Having just launched FORTE, it was not only an opportunity to hone my craft but also to continue the celebration. The best part about it? My brother, Jim Davies, flew in from Ottawa to attend the conference with me.

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Jim & me in Times Sq

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bryant Park. Our digs, courtesy of my husband Anthony Spero, held amazing views of both water and Times Square from the 34th floor. The 6:35 am Megabus dropped me a few blocks away, and when I got to the hotel at 10am, I pushed the elevator button for the lobby and…there was Jimmy!

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View of Times Square

We dropped our bags, checked the map, and headed toward the Roosevelt Hotel for the conference check-in. My sleep deprivation got the best of me, but my misguided confidence convinced Jimmy I knew where I was going. Our hour-long detour didn’t deter our fun — and got us some cool photo opportunities and a yummy lunch.

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Jimmy in some Kinky Boots!

We made it in time for registration and the first session, Pitch Perfect by Chuck Sambuchino (nothing to do with the movie but everything to do with pitching literary agents). And so it began…

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WDC15 name tag

Some gems from the workshops:

Don’t pigeon-hole yourself! WRITE EVERYTHING! – Jonathan Maberry (Keynote)

Take off your pants and write using the hybrid approach of “plantsing” – Jeff Somers

It’s the small things that break your heart. – Rebecca McClanahan on Word Painting

Writing is both mirrors and windows. – Jacqueline Woodson (central keynote)

Slip the pill in the liverwurst. – Jon McGoran on Exposition & Economy


In addition to the workshops, I attended the Pitch Slam — where I pitched my latest book to 8 or 9 literary agents and came away with lots of genuine interest. Hooray!

We met lots of other writers, including a fellow Xchyler Publishing author! It was a miracle we found each other. There were 1000 people at the conference, who all squeezed into the lobby area for the mixer. I felt like I was back at college at a keg party.

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Me and Jamie Potter at Saturday’s mixer.

Jimmy and I write in somewhat different genres, so at times we attended different talks throughout the conference. Years ago, Anthony and I attended a Forensics League competition which was being judged by my one-in-a-million grandmother — Grandma Honey. Being newlyweds, we were hesitant to leave each other’s sides, no less let go of each other’s hands. But Grandma Honey insisted, “You need to split up, go experience different things, so that when you come back together you have lots to talk about. And you end up with twice the fun!”

I shared this wisdom with Jimmy, who agreed. So we coined a new term (which wouldn’t fly on the Scrabble board, but would sure make Honey smile): Splitskis!

It became our mantra and moniker. At times, we’d have to find each other among the sea of writers passing in the halls between sessions. I could be heard calling above the crowd: Splitskis!

“Which session do you want to go to next? All right, I want to go to this one. Okay, Splitskis!”

My favorite sessions were those we attended together, however. And I benefitted as much from our whispered side commentary as I did from the speaker’s. It’s way cool my brother and I have this writing thing in common. I’m pretty sure we were the only brother/sister team there. What’s more rare is the heartfelt support and encouragement we give each other — without a smidge of competition.

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At networking mixer Saturday night

I can honestly say that — by far — the best part about the conference was spending quality time with my bro. Our final Splitskis was a melancholy one.

 

 

 

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Ready, set, READ!

Today is the day. FORTE launches into cyberspace. After four years of hard work, it’s finally out in the world. Those who had preordered woke up to a fresh read on their Kindle this morning. Those die-hard traditionals can finally order a paper copy. My blog tour starts tomorrow. My book promoter is developing ads. Wheels are in motion. It’s happening.

This is a dream come true, for me. The fact that a professional publisher, Xchyler Publishing, believed in the book and invested in me is a huge validation of my writing. I feel like I should be running around the streets with a bugle, my boys behind me with cymbals — a marching band! I want to shout into a bullhorn for all the world to hear: My book is here! My book! My book! 

But that’s not happening. It’s a launch of a book, not a rocket. It’s mostly virtual. Online. Through social media, etc. I’m not even sure if our local favorite, Northshire Bookstore, has it yet (well, I kind of do — since my launch party is in just 3 short days at that venue)! I posted a picture of blue fireworks on my Facebook author page in honor of the event. I’m getting lots of likes and “congrats” messages. It’s good stuff, but it’s quiet.

It’s life as normal. I went to the dry cleaner and grocery store this morning. I haven’t even showered yet. I’m planning a double birthday party at a bowling alley for tomorrow afternoon — which also happens to be my husband’s and my 12th anniversary. While all this great life stuff is going on outside, inside my stomach is doing cartwheels. My book is here! And my nose is stuck on my phone screen, to the dismay of my family — my loving, supportive family who has LOTS of important milestones to celebrate this weekend.

Something tells me it’s okay, though. Once they read it, they’ll forgive me.

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Countdown to LAUNCH!

A month from today, on July 25, 2015, my second novel — FORTE — will make its way into the world, officially.

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COVER REVEAL!

It will be my first novel launched by a legit publisher, Xchyler Publishing. After starting the book nearly 4 years ago, I’m ridiculously eager to see it in print. In November of 2014 I signed with Xchyler after a friend who did publicity for them urged me to submit. As I mentioned in my blog post — It Takes a Village — I was hesitant, sure I would once again self-publish. I had gone through multiple revisions and alternate titles, hired 2 content editors on my own, and enlisted my trusty line editor to start the final touches when Xchyler’s offer came through.

Many have asked specifics about what it’s like to work with a team of editors in a publishing house. Let me give some examples.

Before we actually started work on the story, the team filled out a manuscript assessment, answering questions like: What is the major dramatic question and how is it answered? What are the strengths of the author’s voice? Weakness? What is the major conflict? How is it resolved? Strength/weaknesses of protagonist/antagonist… The list goes on.

I filled out a detailed character timeline to show how events overlap, even before the time in which the book is set. I wrote a detailed backstory about the Mom character — details that never made it into the book but indirectly helped make Mom’s character more realistic. My editors came at me with dozens of smart questions about how the story worked, revealing gaps or inconsistencies. After explaining how the magic and prophecy works, my editor had me back up and spell it out more clearly for the reader. That called for a new chapter.

Then I got to work revising.

After content revision, I uploaded each chapter individually to our shared Google drive.  For each chapter, my content editor and I had a back and forth dialogue in track changes. She pushed me. Hard.

When my content editor felt it was ready, she’d hand off the chapter to our line editor. Then, my line editor and I had the same back and forth track changes dialogue to polish each line.

At some point during the process, our editor-in-chief advised me to consider changing the title. Once we decided on FORTE — the title came to me in the shower! — our designer created my gorgeous cover. And my editor-in-chief perfected the ever-important blurb.

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New bookmarks!

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Author deets on other side!

When my line editor felt it was ready, it went on to the editor-in-chief for final approval. From there, it went to our proofer. Occasionally, I would be asked to change a line or something small, but mostly, my work was done. And I kind of missed it. Actually, I missed it a lot. From there, it went to our formatter, etc. I can’t wait to hold it in my hands.

Meanwhile, I got to work on the marketing plan. I worked on my press kit, contacted local papers and magazines, and reached out to some industry contacts to find ARC reviewers. I ordered new bookmarks and business cards, working with our awesome designer (same who did the cover).

JD Spero card front

My new business card – front!

books on back of business cards

My books featured on back of my new cards

Thus, July 25 will be a day to celebrate — FORTE’s book birthday — for years to come. And will add to the endless celebration already in my life in late July. This year, my youngest turns 5 July 23, my book launches July 25, our 12 year anniversary is July 26, and my oldest turns 10 July 27, and my official launch party is July 28. Bring on the champagne!


UPCOMING EVENTS

Stay tuned for details about the online blog tour. Also we have some cool launch events that should be super fun.

July 28, 2015 — Official launch party at Northshire Bookstore, Saratoga, NY

August 28, 2015 — Reading and signing at Jabberwocky Bookshop, Newburyport, MA

September 17, 2015 — Book club, Glens Falls, NY

November 19, 2015 — Authors & Artists at Samantha’s Cafe in Glens Falls, NY

See you there!

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It takes a village

My children will probably never have a traditional upbringing: growing up in the same house, markers of their growth lining the closet door, surrounded by familiar neighborhood kids, rooting for the same alma mater kinder to senior. Our first two boys were born in Massachusetts. Our littlest, in Indiana. We called Texas home for two years and are now living in upstate New York. More than likely, we’ll be moving again in the near future. Are we giving them an unstable home life or character-shaping adventures?

When I was fifteen, my parents moved me from my childhood home. I was so devastated, I wouldn’t help Mom pack. Not even my bedroom. And I wasn’t even changing schools. My grief turned to gratitude soon after we settled into our beautiful lake home. Years later, my parents moved again. This time, I wasn’t living at home but at college. Still, it was bittersweet. But when a friend made the comment that it must be hard to leave our lake home, my brother replied: “Home isn’t a place. It’s where your family is.”

Today, my family of five shares a home with my parents who live there part-time, half the year. It’s not a fancy house, nor is it lakeside. But, right now, it’s home. We share this house not due to financial strain or mid-life crises, but because it makes sense for us. Not only does it make sense, it’s been an absolute blessing. My children are growing up directly alongside one set of grandparents, and just a day-trip away from their cousins and another set of grandparents. They are surrounded by family. They are surrounded by love. This is obvious. The less obvious benefits have been revealed over time.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. My boys’ lives have become so rich in experiences, moving and traveling across the country. And now, living with my parents, their lives are enriched in another way. My mother brought them to the theater when I feared they might disrupt the onstage drama. My father talks physics and math-y stuff with my oldest while I’m allergic to numbers. My brother — who lives within driving distance — has introduced role-playing games to all the boys, gets them to make their own board games, and creates art with them. These are minor examples. The list goes on…

Our other “home” is at the beach, where my boys learn from their Nunu about ocean safety and how to be neighborly. They talk about books with their grammy and are lovingly folded into the glorious chaos of their cousins’ home as if they were more-the-merrier siblings within the eight-person-family.

No, my boys won’t have the traditional one-home-forever upbringing. But what they have is pretty great. Maybe better. Our boys will grow to be better, smarter, stronger, happier, and more confident — because they have a vast collection of love and experiences shaping who they are.

The end result is always better when you have a team behind you. Isn’t it?

Like with, say, BOOKS!

Last night at a book club discussion, I was asked the question: “How is it different working with a publisher versus self-publishing?” I get this question a lot.

When I self-published Catcher’s Keeper, I agonized over my story in solitude. Sure, I hired a myriad of editors, a cover designer, a formatter. I enlisted the help of many an author friend. I networked online and at writing conferences. I had a huge amount of support from family and friends. I certainly wasn’t alone, per se. But when it came down to it, it was up to me and me only to make it great. To make it flawless. Was it ready to be published when I finally uploaded it and — egads — people started ordering it? Was it as good as it could be? Aghhh! I hope so.

When I signed with Xchyer Publishing for FORTE, I couldn’t appreciate the expertise they would bring. I was hesitant. I’d been through the process. I’d learned so much. I’d self-published successfully and my attitude was: “What could you do for me that I couldn’t do myself?”

Well, let me tell you. I humbly stand corrected.

My team at Xchyler Publishing (my X-team) has scrutinized every single word of each line, each chapter. I had a team of five talented individuals who had a vested interest in making my manuscript the best it could possibly be, which sometimes meant rewriting scenes multiple times, writing lengthy character sketches and/or timelines that would never be included directly in the story, and examining dialogue and relationships to convey realistic characters. I was far from alone. Not only that, I was boosted up.

Granted, there were times when I’d see track-changes comment from my editor: “Not enough. Falls flat. Needs more tension.” I’d grunt at my screen in frustration, go through a short-lived cycle of denial/anger before coming to accept it and rework the scene. At times it would take hours. At times I’d have to throw the whole thing out and start anew. At times I had to add entire chapters to show what I thought was already pretty clear. In the end, the scene was always better.

Not only that, but we worked together to come up with a new title, a stunning cover, and a marketing plan. And, to my utmost delight, they took care of the critical and notoriously hard-to-write back-cover blurb. (I’d rather write an entire book than a back-cover blurb!)

LOCK 12 - original cover

Original cover and former title of FORTE

Forte_Bookcover_front

New FORTE cover design from Xchyler Publishing

 

Just yesterday, I sent what I was told had to be “absolutely the last go-around” version, and I’m thrilled with it. I have to say, the end result is so worth the effort. It’s so much better than it had been when I thought it was done. Frankly, I cringe to think of publishing the book without their input.

My “baby” launches July 25, 2015. It takes a village to launch a book. So many people have made FORTE rich in so many ways — I’m brimming with gratitude.   The best part? My boys can’t wait to read it. And the adventures continue…