Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How I Write: Research

Welcome to the third installment of the How I Write series, brainchild of Ansha Kotyk.  A group of writers are writing about how we write – scheduled for Wednesdays through August.  Please check back weekly. And click here for the list of all the writers participating and links to their blogs.

This week's topic is Research.

Now, most of us are writing fiction. Some might ask who needs to do research when you're writing fiction? Duh, we do!

My book, THE SWEET SPOT, currently on query to agents, is about a teenage girl who plays golf.  Because I played golf as a teenager, the research has been fairly light in that I know the basic terminology, the game itself, and the environment of the golf course.  But, I've still needed to look up rules, the current state of junior golf, and some details about course management.  I'm fortunate in that my parents managed a golf course in the 1980s and I have resident experts just a phone call away.  But that's research!  Depending on the topic, you might have to converse with an expert, read a similar book to yours, or do traditional information based research.

For nonfiction, I usually start by using to find pertinent research materials -- then I request the titles from my local library.  It's a great and fast way to narrow down your resources.  And of course there are gazillions of websites to browse -- if you're doing general research for fiction that doesn't need to be footnoted or double checked, feel free to Google liberally.

On the other hand, if you're doing real, honest-to-goodness, it-has-to-be-100%-accurate research for a non-fiction project, you should stick to primary resources and steer clear of websites that rely on public input like Wikipedia.  You can find primary resources online (I used the NASA site a lot when I wrote my last work-for-hire title about space), but just be careful and make sure they're legit.

My new WIP might or might not have a revolutionary era ghost-type character.  Or it might be an astral projection of an out-of-body love interest.  I might need to do a bit more research for this one. :)

What kind of research do you need to do on your WIP?

Monday, June 28, 2010

HP7 Deathly Hallows

Deathly Hallows is my favorite in the HP series -- and not only because Ron and Hermione finally get together.  I hope the movies do the book justice.

The trailer was just released --

I've got to find time to reread it before December...


And the winners of my first contest ever...the CynthiaJenniferCynthia Contest are...

Aubrie, winner of the Eternal/Wonder package

Sarah B., winner of the Rules/Wonder package

Congrats Aubrie and Sarah -- I'll be emailing  you privately to get your mailing addresses.

Thanks to everyone who participated, tweeted, blogged, and commented.  I appreciate all the new followers and I hope to see you around the blogosphere!

Remember to check back on Wednesday for the How I Write blog series -- Research is the topic this week.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Audiobooks: Great sounding middle-grade books

We absolutely love audio books in our house, so I wanted to share this blog post.  We listen to middle grade books more than we watch television.

Audiobooks: Great sounding middle-grade books

Enjoy the article!

Last Day to Win Signed Books

This is the last day of my first contest -- link here to win Cynthia Leitich Smith's Eternal and Jennifer Carson's To Find A Wonder and Cynthia Lord's Rules.  It's also the last day of Laura Pauling's fabulous middle grade contest -- win To Find a Wonder and Kate Messner's The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z and an ARC of Kate's Sugar and Ice.

Both drawings will be held over the weekend and prizes announced on Monday.  For an extra entry -- tweet about both contests, but please be sure to tell me in the comments of the contest post AND add @KristineAsselin to the tweet.

Have a wonderful weekend!  I'll be profiling the ARC of Kate Messner's Sugar and Ice next week, so check back.  Also, the How I Write Blog Series on Wednesday is all about researching.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shannon's Newest Contest

I've only run one contest that hasn't ended yet (click here), but I don't know how Shanon Whitney Messenger runs so many, blogs all the time, coordinates fabulous onlines conferences (see sidebar) and finds time to write.  She must be superwoman.  She also makes cupcakes.

Here's the link to her latest contest.  Shannon's contest.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How I Write - Character and Plot Development

Welcome to the second installment of the How I Write series, brainchild of Ansha Kotyk.  A bunch of talented writers are writing about how we write – scheduled for Wednesdays through August.  Please check back weekly. And click here for the list of all the writers participating and links to their blogs.  (Oh, and there's still time to enter the CynthiaJenniferCynthia contest -- click here to win SIGNED copies of Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith, To Find A Wonder by Jennifer Carson, and Rules by Cynthia Lord.)

I have a complete YA novel of approximately 68K words.  It is largely inspired by my own teenage years growing up on a golf course.  It's always easiest for me to "write what I know."  I am inspired by my family and friends—in other words, people I know really well and love dearly.  It’s easy to write realistic fiction using characters you know. Character traits and habits, quirks, mannerisms – are all things that make a character real.  And are all things that are easily observed in daily life.
For example, an important scene in my novel takes place during a rainstorm – the boy comes to the rescue of the female protagonist who is wearing a white T-shirt and drenched (and we all know what happens when you wear a white T-shirt in the rain, right?).  This happened to me in “real” life (long, long ago) –and the chivalrous boy of my teenage dreams grabbed a spare shirt out of his bag and tossed it to me.   


It’s ever so much more exciting if he actually removes his shirt, isn't it?  In my story, because of the setting (a golf course) he can’t be shirtless.  My husband has always had a quirky habit to wear an undershirt under a golf shirt or polo shirt.  So it made sense for Scott to have this quirky habit as well – it allows him to take his shirt off without exposing himself.

Make sense? Use the personalities of people you know! 

Once I know who my characters are, I list their likes and dislikes, details about their lives, habits and nuances.  Sometime they surprise me.

As far as plot development, I sometimes struggle with that.  I've been using a sort of modified snowflake method. I start by writing a short sentence of the plot, followed by a longer synopsis, and then (hopefully) weave it into some semblance of something interesting. ;)

How do you come up with your characters and plot?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Interview with Jennifer Carson

Jen Carson is a good friend and crit partner -- Her first book, a middle grade fantasy called To Find A Wonder, was released in September 2009 by L & L Dreamspell.  To win a copy of To Find A Wonder, click here, and follow the instructions to enter.

Jen is also the guest blogger today on Laura Pauling's blog, Exercising the Write to Ramble. Thanks, Jen for joining me today!

Kris: To Find a Wonder is your first published book.  Is it the first book you wrote?  Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?

Jen: TFAW is the first book I ever wrote, but it went through many re-“vision”s. When I first wrote it I wanted to write a picture book, but Percival (one of the main characters) wouldn’t let me. He kept telling me more about his story and, really, just wouldn’t shut up. So, I kept writing more. In the first versions, Percival was the main character and Mortimer was the secondary character, and a peddler. Then I was attending an SCBWI conference in New York , and I stayed with my cousin Michael, We were talking about stuff and I remembered he was in the military, and a very smart guy, so I asked him some questions about what people look for in a leader. Which sparked the idea to make Mortimer a knight, instead of a peddler. In all, it took about six years to get to the version that is published, and I worked on other things in between to hone my craft.

Kris: I love it when characters speak to us!  What made you start to write seriously?

Jen:  I told you, Percival wouldn’t shut up! Ha! No, I’ve always been a creative person and I thought I wanted to tell stories through pictures—through my art work, but the world that came out on the drawing page, wasn’t as rich as the world in my head. So, I switched to words and art dolls, instead of pushing myself into frustration with illustration.

Kris: (Seriously, Jen is a very talented artist!)  Can you tell us anything about your current work-in-progress?

Jen: The story, called Edge of the Wedge, is about the littlest Hapenny, which is already a race of little people, discovering her guardian’s plot to let the forest trolls invade their community and what she does about it. It’s also a story about friendship and neighbors sticking together when times get tough. And I can tell you that it is sitting in the office of two major publishing houses and I’m working on the sequel while I impatiently patiently wait to hear back from those editors! = )

Kris: Congratulations on having EOTW on fabulous editors’ desks! 
You chose to go with a small press for Wonder – was that a conscious choice? Can you tell us about it?

Jen: It was a conscious choice. I was impatient to be published, like Mortimer was impatient to become a knight. I had great marketing stuff in mind, a built in audience through my other work,, and Faerie Magazine (where I’m an editor) behind me all the way. It was a good first step in learning how the book publishing world works, and to teach myself how to market for when I get a larger publisher. And I say when, not if! There were a few little disappointments, but all in all it was a good experience. The best part was the fact that I got to work with a good friend and artist P.A.Lewis, who did the illustrations and let me be a big part of deciding what illustrations were going to be in the book.

Kris: It seems like so many of us in the writerly blog world are focused on getting an agent.  Do you have an agent?

Jen: Sadly, no. I think I’ve given up at the moment. No agent seems to be interested in my warm-hearted characters right now. Fortunately I’ve made good contacts in other places.

Kris: Sounds like you’re doing just fine without one!  Very inspirational!  Where do you find your inspiration?

Jen: Everywhere! The Edge of the Wedge was inspired by a picture book I wrote a long time ago. A friend and crit partner said to me—you know, this could be a picture book, but I also see a synopsis for a middle grade novel. Well, thanks, Deb! Why didn’t I think of that? It took me about 8 months to write, but the story had been there all along. Sometimes I get ideas while driving, in the car, something I read will spark a question, which will lead to a story, which is what happed with the sequel for Edge of the Wedge. And, I’m a movie hound, so I’m constantly inspired by movies.

Kris: Are you a full-time writer? What is your non-writing life like?

Jen: I’m not a full time writer, but my other work feeds my writing, both monetarily and inspiration-wise. I design and publish sewing patterns for fantasy characters, creatures and soft animals as well as make one of a kind, limited edition, and custom order faerie creatures ( I write and edit for Faerie Magazine and I have a column beginning in the September issue of Soft Dolls & Animals called Bestiary 101 about designing animals.  I also have four boys, 8,10,13, and 15 so they keep me busy with lessons, practices, games and performances. I’m the mom carrying a bag of stuffing or toting a laptop!  My work just has to fit in with my family schedule. I will say, having a laptop is a dream, but a pen and notebook works too.

There was a man at the last NE-SCBWI conference who was whining about finding time to write—none of his kids were little-bitty (which is the only time you are allowed to whine)—If you are whining about finding time to write—you aren’t using the time you have. Instead of sitting at the doctor’s office twiddling your thumbs, bring your notebook and write. Even if it’s just 15 minutes, it’s 15 minutes more than you had yesterday!

Kris: I know To Find A Wonder is being turned into a live stage production this summer. Congratulations on that!  How much have you been involved in that process?

Jen: I’m going to be very involved--- because that’s just my personality = ) I wrote the stage script and I will be making the puppet for the Frog Prince while the real puppeteer, Jay Mead, formerly of Bread and Puppets, will be concentrating on the larger than life puppets—Percival, the dragon and Lady, Mortimer’s horse as well as the phoenix. The puppets will actually have the actors in them—and these are all very hard-working kids ages 11-17.  The children will also be learning about puppetry as they will be working alongside Jay and I in the creation of the puppets. I’m very excited! I’ve always wanted to be a part of the Henson Company, and this will be a little taste of what it’s like! Of course, I wouldn’t write a straight play, To Find A Wonder is going to be a musical! No, I’m not writing the music, but two very talented Princeton graduates are—David Holtz and Brandon Lowden.

Kris: That is so cool! I love musicals! What is your biggest challenge with your writing?

Jen: My biggest challenge—internal dialogue. I’m horrible at getting that on the page. Because I’m such a visual person, I think, I go off of visual cues and I kind of expect my readers to do the same thing.  I’m working on it! I know you guys aren’t mind readers! In fact one of the manuscripts I’m working on the main character is blind—so I can’t give visual clues. Now that is a challenge!

Kris: What are your favorite books?

Jen: I’ve got lots! Of course = )
For picture books, The Errant Knight, Bigfoot Cinderrrrela, The Magic Hat and Roger the Jolly Pirate are four favorites that come to mind. I love Anne of Green Gables, The Camulod Chronicles by Jack Whyte, Crossed by Nicloe Galland, Goblin Hero by Jim C. Hines, and the dragon books by E.E. Knight.  A recent favorite was The Total Tragedy of a Girl named Hamlet by Erin Dionne.

Kris: Do you have a favorite “guilty pleasure” you can share?

Jen: York peppermint patties and dressing up in Renaissance Garb. = )

Kris: And she is adorable in her Renaissance Garb!  Thanks Jen for being here today.  Good luck with all your endeavors and thanks for sharing your story with us!

Follow Jen at Jennifercarson's Blog.  And check out Jen's ETSY Page for a peek at her fabulous creations.  Click here to win a SIGNED copy of Jen's book.

Friday, June 18, 2010

My First Blog Contest...EVER

My first blog contest ever…hip, hip, hooray! 

I call it the CynthiaJenniferCynthia contest.  I'll be giving away two book packages:

One lucky winner will receive SIGNED copies of: To Find a Wonder by Jennifer Carson and Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith


Another lucky winner will receive SIGNED copies of: To Find a Wonder and Rules by Cynthia Lord


1. Follow my blog and leave a comment on this post with your email address.
2. For extra entries twitter or blog about the contest and leave an extra comment (below) for each with the link.  If you have a preference for your winning package, please indicate it (no promises).
3. Must have a United States mailing address.

Contest ends Friday, June 25th at midnight eastern time.
Winners announced on Monday, 28th.

Come back here on Monday, June 21st for an interview with the fabulous and talented Jen Carson.

Head over to Laura Pauling’s blog Exercising My Write to Ramble for another fabulous give away!
And Ansha Kotyk’s blog has even more details on Jennifer Carson!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

To Find A Wonder - Jennifer Carson

Jennifer Carson, aka the Dragon Charmer, masterfully weaves a sweet and powerful story about a squire discovering what it takes to be a knight. Young squire Mortimer wants nothing more than to be a knight, but his liege refuses to knight him unless Mortimer can return with a Wonder, in 5 days no less. Knowing that most knights never find a single Wonder through lifelong quests, Mortimer heartily agrees and takes his trusty mount, Lady, on the journey of a lifetime.

Not only does Mortimer return with multiple Wonders, he creates one or two of his own along the way. He also learns the power of friendship, loyalty, and honor. Memorable characters such as Percival, the fire breathing dragon; Goon, the minstrel; a bumbling Wizard; and a frog prince pepper this lively story. Kids, young and old, will enjoy the adventure. “May your heart be true and your sword be loyal.”

I encourage you to check out To Find A Wonder.  Jen is a member of my critique group and I may have a signed copy (or two) of Jen's book to give away.  Check back tomorrow to find out!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How I Write - Idea Creation

HOW I WRITE is a blog series where writers of different genres discuss how they go about the business of writing a book.  Like snowflakes, writers are unique and we have unique ways to produce our creative product, our books. So walk with us, learn from us, and help us become better writers in the process.

Simply click here for to link to our contributing writers!  If you would like contribute to the blog series just email Ansha Kotyk.  Happy Writing!

When Ansha asked me to participate in this blog series, I jumped at the chance. And then I saw the list of topics. *Panic*  Not really, but sort of.  Only because I haven't ever really thought about how I write.  I just write.

But pen in hand…or rather hands on keyboard, I decided it would be interesting to think about it. So, thank you Ansha for making me consider my writing. First off for the series: Idea Creation.

This should be easy. 


Here goes. 

Thus far, my creative writing has been inspired by my family and real life events.  My WIP is a realistic contemporary YA novel w/ a touch of romance. Almost everything that happens to my protagonist is fictional; but her emotions, family life, and environment are inspired by my own teen years during which my parents owned and managed a small golf course in Massachusetts.   Clearly, "write what you know" came into play here.

Earlier WIPs were picture book manuscripts, completely inspired by my daughter as a toddler--things she said, things she did, things she liked.

So idea creation for me comes from my life. 

I try to listen to people. I'm not good at keeping notes, but I need to get there. I have a number of ideas “in the hopper” inspired by phrases I’ve overheard or things I’ve witnessed.  I think you can find inspiration around you every day.  For example, last week, I saw three full-grown swans in my town lake.  They were elegant and beautiful and perfect. And while I can’t imagine a circumstance where I’d write a story about swans, I can certainly imagine a scenario where my main characters witness the same scene I did that day.  However, the swans might be fodder for the imagination of someone who writes fairy tales.

In other words, the ideas are there – you just have to know where to look. Or rather see them, when you see them. And use them to your advantage.  Grab a notebook and start jotting down those  ideas.

Of course, it is easier said than done.  I need to start a new WIP.  And I don’t know where to start.  Maybe I should take my own advice. *wink*

Link to other blogs participating in the How I Write blog series.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

FREE Writer's Conference!!

I've had such great experiences at writer's conferences - and now some of my favorite bloggers are coordinating a FREE Online Writer's Conference -- check it out at  Seriously these ladies are awesome -- check out their great contributors!  They've got some awesome talent on board!

Hope to see you there!  (Also see the cool count down thingy on the left? You can grab that and put that on your own sidebar too!)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Authors that Inspire

I had the pleasure of hearing the prolific and lovely Cynthia Leitich Smith speak at the 2010 New England SCBWI conference back on May 15.  I knew of Cynthia's famous blog Cynsations, but I had never spent much time there. And since I've never been a fan of gothic fantasy, I hadn't read her work. (Okay, feel free to boo me or throw stuff.  I'll wait.)

First of all, Cyn's speech was funny.  And that's important for a Saturday morning conference presentation.  She talked about her adorable husband, her life as a law student, and the epiphany that came when she decided to start writing for children (as I recall, it had something to do with ducks.) ;)  And I loved her immediately.

Second, I love that she took a huge risk in changing careers.  She basically jumped off the cliff into writing for children.  And it took some time, but she didn't give up.  She also isn't afraid to write in very different genres.  She started writing stories about the life and culture of Native Americans - and she was good at it. Now she writes gothic fantasy - and she's good at that too!  Wow.  So write what you love - whatever you love - and do it well.  And don't be afraid to shift gears.

Cyn shared a scary writer's tip.  Basically, don't be afraid of the delete key.  She writes a complete first draft and deletes the whole thing.  Let me repeat that: THE WHOLE THING. Throws it up on the screen.  And then deletes it completely.  Starts over with a fresh page and writes the whole thing again.  I don't think I could EVER EVER EVER do that -- but it's an interesting concept.  Get the demons out...and then start for real.

I actually went back to my notes from her keynote when I started to write this post and do you know what I found?  Nothing.  Nada.  Not a note.  I wrote nothing.  I was so absorbed in Cyn's comments, her power point presentation, and being awestruck -- I didn't write a darn thing down.

Now, Cynthia would undoubtedly have been smarter than that.  She does, in fact, have one of the best writer/reader/parent websites around.  She's got authors and illustrator interviews, readers notes, notes about awards, reviews, and writer resources.  She also has an active blog component.  And did I mention that her latest book ETERNAL debuted at #5 on The New York Times paperback bestseller list?  Well it did.

And I really want to read it.  And I have an autographed copy.  But I can't because I'm saving it for something special.  Something that might be announced on my blog this Friday.  Something that you might want to check back about...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Swan Lake

So how can I relate writing to the swans I saw this week in our town lake?

I have no idea, but aren't they gorgeous?  At the moment, I write realistic contemporary YA and nonfiction middle swans aren't really part of the repertoire...but, hmm, they might have to be.

Three mornings a week, I get up at 5:30 and walk with a neighbor.  This was a treat for us this week.  There are some perks (very few, I might add) to getting up at the crack of dawn.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Middle Grade Books

Middle grade reading lists have been a hot topic lately in my life.  Lo' and behold! I recently discovered a new blog written by a group of Middle Grade Authors for parents and writers celebrating all things middle grade.

From the Mixed-up Files...of Middle Grade Authors

They are also hosting a fabulous contest to celebrate their first post -- and I'm sharing not only because I'd love to win the books they're offering, but because I thought lots of people who read my blog would be interested.


Friday, June 4, 2010


One of my favorite authors and friends, Jennifer Carson, is having a contest! 

Purchase a copy of To Find A Wonder and send a photo of yourself with the book, in front of the bookstore to jennifercarson{at} thedragoncharmer{dot}com. If your entry is chosen you and the bookstore will win a handmade Booknook dragon, a prize valued at $75.00. Winners will be announced here, on her blog, on November 22nd! Be sure to include in your entry your name and contact information, as well as the name and location of the bookstore. Good Luck!

This is a great book -- let me know if you buy it and enter Jen's contest...stay tuned to my blog, there might be an opportunity to win a copy of To Find A Wonder in the next few weeks...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

On Querying

Shannon Messenger did a great guest post on the Query Tracker blog last week - read it here - about knowing when you're ready to query.  I'm at that crossroads right now.

Her three main points to consider are:

Your Draft:
Mine's been read by family and friends and my critique partners, and parts of it have been read by industry professionals.  The concept is unique and fresh, the writing is good (if I do say so myself), and I've tweaked and tweaked until I feel like I can't tweak anymore. 

Your Query:
I've got a good one.  It's been critiqued by an agent and my critique partners, and gets the thumbs up.  It has already garnered me a bit of interest.

Am I ready to face rejection?  Is this the best possible manuscript I can write? Hmmm.  I think so.  I love the story.  I think it's the best work I can possibly produce at this point in my life.  Could it be better?  Well, probably. Things can always get better (isn't that a song?  Yup, Howard Jones). 

I've got a few beta readers still reading - and their feedback will be helpful in making my final decision about when to actually send the query letters that are burning holes in my hard drive.  I'm contemplating sending to my top 6 or 7 agents and evaluating my response rate.

Check out Shannon's guest post, and tell me: How do you know you're ready?