Archive for March, 2011

A-Z Blog Challenge

You’ve probably noticed this big logo floating around in my sidebar:

This means that I, like many others, have joined the A-Z blog challenge.

In case you don’t know what all the fuss is about, here’s a gist of what the A-Z Blogging Challenge is, from the man who started it all: Arlee Bird, of the blog Tossing it Out:

How does the Challenge work?

The premise of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge is to post something on your blog every day in April except for Sundays.  In doing this you will have 26 blog posts–one for each letter of the alphabet.   Each day you will theme your post according to a letter of the alphabet.

You will only be limited by your own imagination in this challenge.  There is an unlimited universe of possibilities.  You can post essays, short pieces of fiction, poetry, recipes, travel sketches, or anything else you would like to write about.  You don’t have to be a writer to do this.  You can post photos, including samples of your own art or craftwork.   Everyone who blogs can post from A to Z.

How can this Challenge help you?

Ask someone who did it last year.   I invite any of you who Blogged From A to Z in April 2010 to leave a comment below telling how the challenge helped you as a blogger and otherwise.   Some of the benefits that I have seen mentioned and personally experienced were improvement as a blogger and a writer, greater self-discipline,  finding new blog friends, and increasing followers to each of our own blogs.

The following people are co-hosts, and veterans of the A-Z challenge.   If you haven’t already, check out their blogs. They are all blogging wizards. What’s more, if you’re interested in joining –these people have a lot of tips about how to make your A-Z experience less stressful and more productive.

Arlee Bird’s Tossing It Out
Jeffrey Beesler’s World of the Scribe
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Jen Daiker at Unedited
Candace Ganger’s The Misadventures in Candyland
Karen J Gowen at Coming Down the Mountain
Talli Roland
Stephen Tremp’s Breakthrough Blogs

I was the 313th person to sign up for the A-Z challenge. I thought, okay, so there may be 500 bloggers joining. I can handle that—I can visit 500 blogs within a month and leave comments and get to know other bloggers. Easy.

But when I last checked the list, the last number was 888. By the end of the day, the number will probably reach a thousand, since today is the last day of March.

And that’s why it’s called a challenge.

I’ve got a long, busy month ahead of me. I have a blog post to write everyday of the week except Sundays, a thousand blogs to visit, and comment on—on top of the usual load of work and flurry of writing-related activities (writing group duties, plotting the next book, synopsis writing, querying).

I have a funny feeling I’ll be staring at the computer all day, every day for the month of April. Well, I have to find a way around this particular problem, as April also happens to be the month of many events such as the LA Festival of Books, the Renaissance Faire and my birthday.

Some bloggers have already started writing their articles, scheduling them for each day in April. I didn’t have time to do that this March, but what I did do is make a chart that looks something like this:

In short, I made a list of possible topics, based on the assigned letter for each day. My plan is to write at least two posts a day, and more if I can hack it.  I also plan to visit and comment on as many co-challenger blogs as I can everyday. If this means I have to go without brushing my teeth or taking a shower then so be it!

Okay, so maybe I’m not THAT crazy. Hygiene is something I prize dearly and I will NOT give up showers and teeth-brushing for anything.

By the end of April, I’m probably going to end up looking like this guy:

Or this woman:

But it will all be worth it, I’m sure.  There will be online friends to meet,  more writers to connect with, and tons of articles to read and learn from.

Wish me luck, friends. You know I’ll need it!

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Three Sundays ago, our group met at the Torrance Airport Meeting Room.

LeeAnne Krusemark, our guest speaker, spoke about how to build up publishing credits.

LeeAnne Krusemark is a journalist, author, and owner of an award winning southern California public relations business since 1988. LeeAnne is a Chamber of Commerce past president and has been asked to speak at a Senate-sponsored business conference as well as for the Department of the Army. Her in-person lectures are offered at more than 200 facilities nationwide, including Purdue, and her online publishing class is offered at more than 1,000 facilities worldwide, including Harvard Adult Education. The inspiration given to others in her comprehensive workshops has even been compared in writing to Oprah.

She started the session off with a writing activity. She gave us three words: summer, breeze and ocean, and gave us five minutes to write anything with those three words in it.  While we wrote our poems, essays, or story beginnings, she gave out handouts for the lecture.

When our five minutes were up, we shared what we wrote.  The activity made got put us in a creative mood, and we eagerly soaked up what LeeAnne had to share with us about  getting published.

LeeAnne emphasized that getting published is one part writing, one part timing, one part luck, and a few parts experience. She stressed that getting published is  more often than not, about climbing the ladder of publishing success, it’s about starting out in smaller, easier publishing markets and building up from there.

The entire session focused on easier first publishing markets, which we writers can submit to, in order to gain publishing credits. LeeAnne enumerated six of these, and went on to give examples:

1.      Fillers
2.      Greeting Cards
3.      Contests
4.      Newspapers
5.      Editorials
6.      Alternatives (Newsletters, In-House Publications)

Fillers are short pieces which newspapers use to fill gaps on their pages. Some readers just want a quick, easy read and fillers are a great way to put a lighter touch on a dull page, and generate reader involvement. LeeAnne says writing fillers is a great way to start off your writing career and get some publishing credits in. Examples are some the Reader’s Digest materials such as “All in a Day’s Work”, and other segments which deal with humor.

Greeting cards are a normal part of our lives, and yet we don’t stop to think about who makes these cards. There is a good demand for writers who can come up with good greeting card materials—whether it’s witty one liners, poems, jokes or quotes. This particular industry needs to come up with new material all the time.

Joining writing contests is a great way to get publishing credits. It doesn’t really matter what type of contest it is, as long as you get to flex your writing muscles. The prizes don’t count either. LeeAnne told us that once, she entered an essay contest which asked the question “What would you do if you won the lottery?” Her essay won second prize, and she got several lotto tickets for free, but the most important thing was that her essay was published in a newspaper.

Submitting articles or writing freelance for newspapers can help get your writing career started. Major newspapers such as the LA Times might be quite as eager to publish your pieces, but your local newspapers are often in need of these freelance articles. You might not get paid at all, but the payment comes in the form of another publishing credit you can add to your list.

Letters to the editor are another way of earning those writing brownie points. Write a controversial letter that will get a good debate going, or write something that you feel strongly about. The more readers can relate to or react to your piece, the higher the chance that the editor will pick your piece to get published.


Lastly, LeeAnne encouraged us to take advantage of whatever writing opportunities our current jobs might present us with. In house publications such as flyers, posters, brochures, company newsletters, correspondence letters, and so on are a useful way of flexing our writing muscles, and also one way we can earn those publishing credits.

We ended the session with a question and answer portion. We asked LeeAnne whatever questions popped into our minds about the publishing industry, and about writing. She answered all our questions, and afterward, presented us with some books which we could purchase from her at a low price. These are books which she had written about various topics such as writing, finance and real estate, business, and even ways to make money with a computer.

I thought the session went well, and tied up nicely with our previous session on Query Letters. In that session, we had talked about the author bio, which comprised the third paragraph of a query letter. A lot of us were worried about not having any writing-related credits to put in that paragraph. LeeAnne’s helped us understand what publishing credits we could use to fill out that paragraph. She even gave us a few tips to help us make our author bios more marketable—such as how to word our author bio paragraph so that our publishing credits, no matter how small they are, can seem impressive.


* I just wanted to remind everybody to check out the MONSTER MOON SURPRISE GIVEAWAY CONTEST. We are giving away an AUTOGRAPHED COPY of Book 1 CURSE AT ZALA MANOR.

The book is such a spook-tacular read, that even Muffin is helping me promote it:


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Monster Moon Week: Surprise Giveaway!

Monster moon week has been so much fun. I’m pretty sure I’ll do this again when the other books in the series come out.

I did promise a surprise this Saturday, and here it is:

That’s right, I’m giving away a FREE copy of CURSE AT ZALA MANOR, BOOK ONE in the mystery/adventure series by BBH McChiller.

No, the cat doesn’t come with the book. Muffin just really liked the book, and she decided to help me promote it.

And it’s not just any copy, mind you, it’s an AUTOGRAPHED COPY with fun (and spook-tacular) words from the authors themselves.

Winning a copy is easy peasy. All you have to do is follow this very simple rule: Leave a comment below and say you want to join in.

That’s it. I’ll pick the winners based on a random draw.

But Wait. For those of you who have a competitive streak, or for those who just really, really, really want an autographed copy of the book for free, there’s an opportunity for you to increase your chances of winning.

All you have to do is encourage your friends/followers to follow my blog via the Google Friends Connect widget on my sidebar. Of course, they have to let me know that you sent them here. Once I see their profile pop up on my Awesome Friends list, I’ll add another slip of paper with your name on it to my drawing bowl. See, it’s easy! The more friends/followers you introduce to me, the more chances you have of winning.

And who knows, if a lot of people show interest in winning a FREE copy of Curse at Zala Manor, maybe we can convince the authors to give away another copy of their book to a second lucky winner? Heehee.

This is a wickedly fun read—and something your kids, grandkids, nephews and nieces will even enjoy reading with you. Just think of how many fun story-telling nights you can have with them!

So go ahead and leave your name on the comment form below.  I’ll pick the winner’s name from my drawing bowl a week from now, and announce the winners on Monday, April 4th. Good Luck!

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I first met 2/3 of the wonderful trio known as BBH McChiller on Sept. 25, 2010.  Kathryn and Lynn and I were critique group mates at SCBWI- LA’s Working Writers’ Retreat.

Of course, with Kathy and Lynn there, our group (Critique Group 4) rocked. During the course of the retreat, I became a fan of both Kathy and Lynn’s work. So when they told me they had a book out, I grabbed at the chance to review it.

It’s too bad they live all the way in the Valley, otherwise I’d have met Maria personally. But thankfully, technology has made the world a smaller place and through emails I also got to cyber-meet Maria.

When I told them about my plan for Monster Moon Week, they were ecstatic. They happily (and patiently) answered all of my twenty (Yes, 20) questions and promptly returned it to me.

So without further delay, here’s my interview with the authors of the spooky-licious Monster Moon Series– Lynn Kelley, Kathryn Sant and Maria Toth:


Maria Toth, Lynn Kelley, Kathryn Sant

The Spook-tacular BBH McChiller,

authoresses of the Monster Moon Series

1.  As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Kathy:  Everything. At various times, I wanted to be an artist, a scientist, a writer, a world traveler, a peace corps volunteer, an astronaut, a spy, a historian, an adventurer/explorer, a doctor, a veterinarian, a genealogist, an inventor, and a mother. Probably influenced by the books I read!

Lynn: I wanted to be a teacher. I loved school and had some great teachers, but instead I became a secretary and later a court reporter. I was a clown-magician at a few kids’ parties and had a desire to go to clown college, but it wasn’t a practical career for raising a family.

(Note: It’s funny that Maria has a clown past, too. She took clowning classes and did parties.)

Maria:  I dreamt of having my own cartoon TV show just like Baby Daphne. In the ‘60s, she was the grooviest, hippest witch on morning TV. My kooky dream came to fruition when Kathy and I did two episodes of “Homework Hotline” on KLCS, PBS-Los Angeles. We were the quirky “Literary Witches of Craggy Cove.” Kathy played Batsy and I was Frizzelda. We didn’t get to show morning cartoons, but we taught kids how to cook up suspense in their writing and how to brainstorm story ideas (in a graveyard with our sidekick Brain—a pet brain on a leash!) Off camera, Lynn was our cue card girl.

2.  What books have influenced your life the most?

Kathy: As a child, I loved the classics. But Little Women was one of my very favorites and Jo March was my favorite character.

Lynn:  I loved the Oz books,  “Call of the Wild,” and sci-fi. In seventh grade we had to read “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck. It was one of my favorites. When my kids had to read it in high school, I read it with them and fell in love with Olan and Wang Lung all over again.

Maria:  On library day, my ghost-o-meter pointed me straight to the bookshelf where ghost stories beckoned. Even as a grown-up, I still love a spooky tale that keeps me on the edge of my seat!

3.  When did you know you were going to be a writer? What prompted you to take  your writing seriously?

Lynn:  I had planned to write when my kids were grown and life wasn’t so hectic, but when Amy was in third grade and struggling to get her Accelerated Reader points, I started reading aloud to her. In the middle of “James and the Giant Peach,” I was so captivated by Roald Dahl’s amazing storytelling that I decided I wanted to write for children, too, and soon after began studying the craft of writing.

Maria:  I was watching an episode of “Little House on the Prairie,” the one titled, “The Legacy,” and I began to wonder what legacy I’d leave for future generations. Then I blurted out, “Words. I’ll leave words. For children.” I’ve been writing ever since.

Kathy:  I’ve wanted to create stories since I was a kid, but it has taken many, many years of reading and writing, and I’m not sure I’m serious enough about it yet.

4.  Tell us how BBH McChiller got started.

Maria:  It was Halloween and some of us at critique began talking about our childhood fears—monsters, witches, spiders, masks, clowns. After awhile, we knew what we had to do…write a story about a boy who is afraid of monsters, but who is also a monster magnet. In a bat’s eye, we had a main character with a problem. And once the monsters were on the loose, there was no turning back.

Lynn: I’m not sure who came up with the pseudonym of BBH McChiller. “McChiller” sounded like a kid-friendly name for a spooky mystery, and BBH is an acronym for Books Born Here, the name of our critique group.

5.  What inspired you to write “The Monster Moon Series”?

Maria:  During our brainstorming sessions we’d toss out so many great, fun, spooky ideas, we soon realized we had a series.

6.  How do the three of you go about writing the books in your series?

Maria:  Just like any mad scientist, we concocted a formula. We plot each chapter/scene, then each of us writes an assigned chapter. The rule is to write no more than five pages. The chapter must include the plot points and end with a page-turner hook. We also have a green light to fill in the gaps. We come up with some pretty crazy stuff that sparks more ideas. How many times did I say “chapter” in this paragraph?

Lynn: We meet at restaurants and coffee shops. Once the skeleton of the whole manuscript is done, together we comb through it line by line and weave it together into one storytelling voice.

For “Curse at Zala Manor,” it took about nine months to finish the first draft.  Then we locked ourselves in a suite at the historic Mission Inn in Riverside, CA, and revised and tweaked our little monster from sun-up to midnight.

Kathy: We tossed out complete chapters, wrote new ones, punched up sentences, picked stronger verbs.

A private late-night tour of the catacombs beneath the Mission Inn gave us a realistic and spooky atmosphere for the dark tunnels and recesses under the fictitious Zala Manor.

7.  Which character in “Curse at Zala Manor” did you enjoy writing the most and why?

Lynn:  It’s a toss-up between AJ and Aunt Zsofia. I loved getting into AJ’s head and relating to all the scary situations he had to face. Poor kid had to deal with one pickle after another. On the other hand, Aunt Z is eccentric and oblivious as to what AJ has to deal with. She’s just “out there,” so it’s fun writing about her. I have to add that it was a hoot writing about the bullies, especially at the end!

My favorite character in “Secret of Haunted Bog” is AJ’s prankster friend, Freddy ‘Hangman’ Gallows. Oh, and Dr. Fu’s voice is always popping up in my mind—Ah-ha!

Maria:  For me personally, I love all of the characters, but I especially have a soft spot in my heart for Vlad, the pirate rat. And the school bullies in “Curse at Zala Manor” because they are so darn mean, we wanted our readers to leap out of their chairs and cheer when Calvin, Dirk, and Runt get what they deserve in the climax of the story. Here’s a hint—RATS, lots of ‘em. YIKERS!

Kathy:  I love Vlad, who is in every book of this series. I enjoy his quirky antics, his pirate dialect, his singing, his arrogance, his smarts, his snarkiness, and last but not least, his sensitivity. He truly is a well-rounded rat.

8.  Where do you get ideas for your books?

Maria:  Most of them come from our three cobwebby brains. LOL!

Lynn: I get my ideas from real life people and events, then add the “what if” aspect. With Kathy and Maria, we bounce ideas off one another, which leads to another idea, and another, seemingly into infinity, infinity, infinity. Honestly, we’ve come up with so many ideas that we’ll never find enough time to write all of them. Dang!

9.  How long did you work on your first book? How many rewrites did you do before you finally felt it was ready?

Maria:  Coincidently, we completed the first draft of “Curse at Zala Manor” in nine months. Only instead of a baby, we gave birth to our first book in the series—well, at least the first draft of our manuscript. We lost count of the revisions, but let’s just say oodles and poodles of rewrites.

10.  Tell us about your path to publication.

Lynn:  We submitted to Stargazer, a small, independent press in Corona, California. Stargazer focuses on books for the educational publications market, both fictional and nonfiction. Our manuscript was acquired with the stipulation that we’d write a teacher’s manual to accompany the book.

11.  How has your life changed since you got published?

Kathy:  I was first published before going to medical school, so I didn’t change what I was doing. My life became classes, lots of reading of medical texts, exams, and clinical rotations. There’s probably a book idea hidden somewhere in that experience. Probably among the corpses in the anatomy lab.

Maria:  Not much. I’ve been involved with our local “Reading Buddies” program, so I’ve been doing school visits for years. The only difference is that I have a published book to take along with me to school visits now, which is quite nice!

Lynn:  I wish I could say I’m making a living at writing, but that’s not the case, and I knew all along that I wasn’t going to get rich as an author. For me, the rewards of writing for children come in doing school visits and interacting with the readers, promoting literacy, receiving fan mail, and doing book signings.

12.  What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

Kathy:  I usually write in a comfy chair in a quiet place, using my laptop, with my dogs sleeping on one side and a Coke Zero on the other side.

Maria: Quirky is my middle name. Since I love spooky stories and Halloween is my ultra favorite holiday, I keep my Halloween stuff all around my work space. My screensaver is the Haunted Mansion from Disneyland! And our dogs’ names are Jack and Sally from “Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Lynn: Sometimes I think I should have followed through with my clown aspirations because my life is a three-ring circus. I don’t have a strict writing schedule. I write when I can. At times I’ll only get a paragraph or a page written. On a good day, I can produce twenty pages. I work on more than one project at a time. Life events like weddings, births, illnesses, and funerals take precedence over writing, of course. It’s quite a juggling act (pardon the cliché).

13.  Do you encounter challenges in your writing life? What are these challenges and how do you overcome them?

Maria:  My biggest challenge is finding “balance.” I can get so involved in writing that I sometimes neglect friends and housework. Dishes can wait, but relationships are important, so I’m working on that, and so far so good.

Kathy:  For me, getting an idea is easy, but putting it down the way I visualize it is much harder. It takes revision after revision after revision! And then some! It’s hard to get it right! But, working together in a writing group makes it much more fun, especially when we’re throwing out wild, crazy ideas for scenes and characters.

Lynn:  I tend to use the same old blah words over and over again. I call them my “training wheel words.” After spending hours in the thesaurus, which interrupts the flow of writing, I learned to leave the training wheel words alone for the first draft and revise later.

Another challenge is “creative tension,” where I worry about being able to write the next story as well as or better than the last one. With Kathy and Maria, creative tension is minimal. I’m confident that whatever problems crop up, we’ll come up with a solution, especially once we start joking around and brainstorming together.

14.  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Lynn: When I’m not writing, I like to read, work on altered art books (a type of scrapbooking), garden, do school visits, and hang out with family and friends.

Maria:  Recently, I’ve discovered scrapbooking. I’m having a ball tapping into that creative side of myself.

Kathy:  Anything I can! Ha! Actually, I’ve always loved travel, reading, gardening, exploring bookstores, and spending time with family.

15.  What have you learned from writing “The Monster Moon Series”?

Maria:  I learned to stay out of graveyards at midnight! And in “Secret of Haunted Bog,” I now run the other way when I see signs that say, “DANGER: Do not enter!”  But, seriously, working on both books was better than any writing workshop we could have taken!

Kathy:  Working together on the series with such talented co-writers has been like a professional writing course. I learned so much by our discussions. The more we discussed our writing, the better the scenes became!

Lynn: Writing with my ZomBuddies (a term coined while working on Zala Manor), I’ve learned from their strengths. For example, Kathy taught me to set up the beginning of each chapter to reorient the reader where the prior chapter left off. She also stresses that words with the most punch or intensity should be placed at the end of a sentence, and, likewise, at the end of a paragraph.

We call Maria the Queen of Metaphors. She’s trained her brain to think in similes and metaphors. So, I learned how important figurative language is from her. Unfortunately, we can’t use all the great descriptions she comes up with because too much gets distracting, but just the right amount enhances a story. She also has a great sense of humor and is a kid at heart. She reminds us how important it is to get in touch with our inner child when writing for children.

I’ve also learned that when we work together, I can be my silly, goofball self and not hold back on expressing wacky ideas. When your inhibitions are gone, the creative spirit is free to soar. I guess that’s why creative tension isn’t a problem when we work together.

16.  Your books deal with frightful and scary monsters. Can you share with us your scariest experience?

Maria:  Oh, did I mention eccentric is also my middle name? Years ago, a writer friend and I decided to write a book about haunted houses. Imagine Lucy and Ethel meet the ghoulies. One of the haunted houses we stayed at was a three-story, renovated bed and breakfast from the prohibition era. At midnight, we followed a woman who claimed to be a medium up the staircase to the third floor. No flashlights. Just a flickering candle. Did I mention that we were stupid, too? During the séance, the medium began to speak in a gruff male voice. I giggled and the spirit or whoever yelled, “Why are you laughing at me?” My friend’s eyes grew wide. I froze and replied in a Scooby-Doo/Shaggy-type voice, “I’m not laughing.” I pretended like I was coughing. The spirit must have bought it, because he went on telling his story. Oh, did I mention, it was a foggy night and our car’s engine cut out as we arrived at the mansion? Talk about a red flag! By the way, we never wrote the book.

Lynn: I was a teenager. One night my friend took off with some guy and left me alone in the back seat of a car in a vacant parking lot with the guy’s friend, a Charles Manson-type dude. He flipped out when I wouldn’t kiss him and put a curse on me, predicted terrible things that would happen in my life, and said he’d always be watching me. He even kicked me in my back once I got out of the car and was leaving with my friend. I’m fortunate that’s all he did to me.

Kathy:  I don’t really have a scariest experience, but as a child I always imagined something was under my bed. Also, back when I was a little kid visiting grandparents, everyone had to use an outhouse on the old family farm, and once again, I imagined something creepy lived inside the outhouse hole. Now, if you’re a kid, alone, at dusk, and gotta go, that’s pretty scary! Funny what our imaginations can do!

17.  Are you currently working on any other projects? How many more books do you have planned in the series?

Lynn:  We’ve just started the next Monster Moon book, “Trapped in Pirate Time.” After that comes “The Legend of Monster Island.” Another five titles are planned, plus more ideas on the back burner.

As for my own projects, I just sent out a chapter book, “The Curse of the Double Digits,” and am in the middle of the first revision of “The Pink Bus,” a YA novel.

Kathy:  I’m always working on other projects, but not all of them are writing. Like many writers, it is hard to find time to write as much as I should, but, actually, I’m working on a couple different middle grade novels inspired by my travels. And, of course, we’ve started the next book in the Monster Moon Series.

Maria:  Aside from working on the series, we each work on our individual projects. I recently completed my middle grade novel, “Butterfly Hollow,” and just started a new project about the RMS Titanic.

18.  Who designs your awesome book covers?

Maria:  Greg Martin. He’s ultra talented and has a long list of credits to his illustrating career, including Disney Studios and Hanna-Barbera. Greg has also taught at the Pasadena Art College of Design. You can visit his website at

19.  What advice would you like to give to aspiring writers?

Kathy:  NEVER give up! Tell the stories you HAVE to tell!

Lynn:  Learn to be thick skinned and be open minded to constructive criticism. If you’re writing to get rich, you might be in for a big letdown. If you’re passionate about writing for children, continue to study the craft of writing, practice refining your skills, and make perseverance a priority.

Maria:  Read as much as you can. Find a good critique group, then commit to it. I’ve learned the most from all of the great writing that comes from the talented members of our Riverside critique group. We’ve been meeting every other week for eight years. And most of all—don’t ever, ever give up.

20.  What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

Kathy:  READ! READ! READ! It will open the world up to you and to your imagination.

Lynn:  Read what you’re passionate about, even if it’s comic books. The more you read, the easier it gets. Kids are able to listen to someone reading to them at a level a couple grades higher than their reading level, so get your mom or dad to read aloud to you. Also, try taking turns reading to each other. There are so many great stories out there, so I hope you don’t miss out!

Maria:  Believe in your dreams—and never stop reading!


For more information about the authors, you can click on their websites:

Maria Toth,

Lynn Kelley,

Kathryn Sant

Thank you to the fabulous witches of Craggy Cove for the interview.  Stay tuned this Saturday for a surprise ending to Monster Moon Week!

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Once in awhile, I find the time to do a book spotlight week, where I feature a book review and a matching author interview to go with it.

This week, I’m very happy to announce, is Monster Moon Week!

Why am I happy? Well, one is that I enjoyed reading the book immensely, and two, I had the pleasure of being critique groupmates (Wohoo, Critique Group 4! You gals rock!) with two of the writers of this wonderful series at last year’s SCBWI-LA Writers’ Retreat. (Watch out for the author interview this Thursday, it’s going to be a whole lot of fun!)

So, to kick off Monster Moon Week, here’s a review of the first book in the series.

A summary of the book from the series’ Monster Moon Mysteries Website:

“Monsters on the loose…end of a bloodline…”

It’s almost Halloween, and twelve-year-old AJ Zantony’s world is threatened by an ancient curse that releases wicked pirates who had been trapped for centuries in his Aunt Zsofia’s creepy mansion, Zala Manor.

The pirates–a vampire count, a pegleg skeleton, and a zombie–have three goals: to find a lost treasure, unleash the restless dead from their graves, and to settle a very old score by destroying the Zantony bloodline.

AJ has to stop them before midnight during Aunt Zsofia’s annual Halloween party. Except he has a big problem–monster phobia! He’s scared to death of monsters. But if he doesn’t act fast, the streets of Craggy Cove will be crawling with zombies.

Will AJ overcome his fear and stop the monsters or bail out? Will Craggy Cove become Zombie Central? Who will be alive when midnight tolls?

My Review

The first book that really got me reading was the Nancy Drew Mysteries. You remember those hardcover books with the yellow spines and the ginger-haired sixties girl on the cover?

Yup, those ones. I picked up one book on a whim and was hooked from then on. I would devour the books in a flash and pick up the next one. The librarian was probably amazed to see a third grader visit the library everyday. (It helped that the library was right next to our classroom).

Then I discovered fantasy books. I abandoned Nancy Drew for Harry Potter (sounds like a love triangle!) and completely forgot my love for mysteries and suspense.

Curse of Zala Manor brought back my love for mysterious events, ominous clues, and scary hidden villains.

One of the Amazon reviewers described the book as a cross between the Hardy Boys and Dracula. I beg to disagree. While the book has scary elements, it’s not so frightening as to scare the living daylights out of anyone. Dracula would leave you sleeping with the lights on, or jumping at every sound—It’s the kind of book you read outside on a sunny day, preferably with a group of tough friends around. Curse of Zala Manor is the kind of book you can read with a flashlight under the covers, and a cup of hot cocoa on your bedside table.

If I were to make a comparison, I would say that Curse of Zala Manor is more of a cross between Hardy Boys and Coraline. Adventure, mystery, and fantastical elements are all rolled into one entertaining and exciting read. The book has everything from dead pirates, to ghosts, to vampires and zombies, all set within the backdrop of a shadowy town.

Children love to be scared, and the authors have managed to get into the minds of kids and make their fear of monsters come to life. At the same time, they manage to show kids how to deal with such fears through the actions of their very brave protagonists AJ Zantony, Emily Peralta, and Vlad the talking rat.

A few science facts are also scattered throughout the book. Parents can read Curse of Zala Manor to their restless children who are dying for a good story (and an excuse to cuddle with their folks).

Teachers can most certainly use the book as a great learning tool for teaching history, comprehension and recall. The book can easily grab kids’ attentions—and keep it. The publisher is also working on a manual that will assist teachers in using the book as a teaching device.

The best part about this book? It’s only the first in a series! That means more mystery, mayhem, suspense and action from AJ Zantony and his gang of Zombuddies.

The second book in the series, The Secret of Haunted Bog will be out this year, and thanks to BBH McChiller, I’ve already had the pleasure of reading it. (Go ahead, be jealous J). I’m planning to do a book review on it, of course, but in the meantime, let me just say it’s just as deliciously suspenseful as the first one.

If you want to know more about the books, go to their website You can learn more about the planned books in the series, the authors and the characters there.

And–stay tuned for my interview with the literary witches of Craggy Crove (also known as the fabulous BBH McChiller).

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Perspective, and Japan’s Tragedy

“A writer lives, at least, in a state of astonishment. Beneath any feeling he has of the good or evil of the world lies a deeper one of wonder at it all. To transmit that feeling, he writes.”   William Sansom

My blog is mostly about pleasant things, such as books and writing and happy events. But to be a writer is not to bury oneself in writing, but to be a part of the world and to write about it.

Unless you happen to be living in a cave somewhere (in which case, I doubt you’ll even have the internet capacity to read this blog), or unless you are a bug scuttling about in the jungles somewhere, you would have read or watched or heard about the recent tragedy that has befallen a nation.

On Friday, March, 11, 2011, a devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake rocked Japan to its core.

It was the 5th largest earthquake ever recorded to hit the world. It was so big, in fact, that it shifted the entire planet’s axis by 6.5 inches and shortened Earth’s day by 1.8 microseconds.

A nation of advanced science and technology, and a country so used to earthquakes, Japan has built earthquake proof buildings that ride along with earth’s vibrations and disperse its energy. But even they were unprepared for the disasters that followed. The quake unleashed a ferocious tsunami. 23-foot high waves slammed into the coast of Sendai, and more than 50 aftershocks many of them a magnitude 6 followed.

Satellite pictures taken before and after the tsunami reveal the extent of the damage. Fires broke out in several areas, buildings collapsed and cars were tossed around like paper boats.

Now 50 men, who refuse to flee from danger, are racing against time to stop a Nuclear plant from unleashing an even greater disaster.

While these numbers are all interesting to note, the most important numbers are still rising by the hour.

The number of those who died or are unaccounted for has exceeded 15,000—more than 5,400 deaths and nearly 9,600 missing, while some 380,000 are still staying in about 2,000 shelters in eight prefectures, the National Police Agency said, based on its noon tally. Around 2,000 recovered bodies were identified Thursday in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, of which 870 were returned to their families, according to the NPA.

According to studies, the earth will be unrecognizable by 2050 due to overpopulation, and some people say this is mother nature’s way of culling the population. Other people say this is the sign of coming apocalyptic times. Still others say this is all part of the Grand Design, the Circle of Life.

Whatever this is, this is most definitely a tragedy. It is a disaster that should give us a greater perspective on the fragility of life, and the importance of making every moment count.

On July 16, 1990, a 7.8 magnitude quake struck the central part of the Philippines. I lived through that quake, and though I understood just how scary it was, I was too young to understand just how many lives were affected by it.  Now that I’m older, I realize the magnitude of these things. I have friends and loved ones who hail from Japan, and they have relatives who are undoubtedly affected by this recent tragedy in some way. This recent event has reminded me just how grateful I should be for every second I am alive. And more than anything, it has given me precious perspective.

While I fret about writing a smashing query letter, and worry about rejections from agents, and wonder about whether I shall get published or not–

380,000 people have lost the homes they have worked hard to build. Unemployment is the least of their problems as they struggle to find food and water to survive, and strive to keep their composure in the face of dead family and missing friends.

I am awed by the strength and courage of the Japanese people. The amazing thing is that the stories that come out of this terrifying calamity, are stories of loyalty, of bravery  and of composure.

We haven’t heard stories of looting or stealing, or killing or violence despite the hardships they face. Instead, we hear stories of compassion and kindness, of impeccable politeness, and the indestructible calm of the Japanese spirit.

Perspective is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. We must realize that it is not enough that we watch fascinating and terrifying videos of the earthquake or the tsunami. It is not enough for us to sit and watch tragic events unfold. While it is good to gain perspective and be grateful that we have the good fortune of being alive and well, it is not enough.

Thousands remain homeless and in need of food, clothing and warmth.

They huddle in the dark in refugee camps and houses, gathering around a single candle, waiting for news of survival or rescue, and taking comfort in each other.

We must reach out and help.

We must find a way to aid them in our own little way. Whether it’s going to restaurants that donate a part of their profits to the relief efforts in Japan, or clicking on the links below and giving a dollar or five, every little thing counts.

American Red Cross

Global Giving

Mercy Corps

Network for Good

Salvation Army

World Vision

*The Huffington Post also lists other legitimate venues for sending your donations.

We cannot bring back the dead, but we can help the living.

“You must write every single day of your life…You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads….may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” Ray Bradbury

It is my hope that this blog post, no matter how simple, can at least tug at one person’s heart.  If I can convince at least one soul to donate a little bit of her time and money to the Japanese relief efforts, then I’ll know that my love for writing can indeed remake a world. More than that, I will have done my share in reaching out to a nation in need.


If you know of any other legitimate organizations accepting donations, please feel free to share links in the comments section below.

* If you want to read news updates and watch videos about the disaster, here  are a few links:

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Characters Count Contest Winners

My blog is mostly about happy things, such as books and writing and happy moments. But in light of the recent calamity in Japan, I thought I’d take up a little space to mention the victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

I’ll probably do a longer post on my feelings about the recent disaster, but for now this little “ad” will do. I feel it’s necessary to help in any way we can. Here are some legitimate venues to send your donations.

American Red Cross

Global Giving

Mercy Corps

Network for Good

Salvation Army

World Vision

The Huffington Post also lists down other legitimate venues for sending your donations.


Okay, now that that’s done, I want to try and bring out a little sunshine through these gloomy times.

Today I’m announcing the winners of the first ever blog contest—the Characters Count Contest

I spent half the day going through each post and tallying points. Being the anal-ytic person that I am, I made sure I had the proper tally sheet:

Based on that tally sheet, here are the winners!

In first place, and winner of the fabulous Archetype Cards:

Lynn Kelley

In second place, and winner of the awesome Birthday Book:

Jennie Bailey

Because I’m feeling generous, and because I saw how hard these people worked to help me get more followers, I’m adding a third prize.

In third place, and winners of (very useful) Starbucks Gift Cards:

Elena and N.R. Williams

And just so you can see how hard these people have worked to get their prizes,  here’s a breakdown of their points:

Lynn Kelley
Follower 4
Referred New Follower 5
Comments 18
Shared on FB/Twitter 4
Jennie Bailey
Comment 5
Old Follower 4
Side Bar 2
Referred New Follower 5
Blog Post 6
Gave me a Blog Award 6
Comment 4
Side Bar 2
New Follower 3
Shared on FB/Twitter 2
Blog Post 6
N.R. Williams
Gave me a Blog Award 6
Blog Post 6
Comment 2
New Follower 3

Lynn commented everyday since the contest started and referred a new follower.

Jennie was my first follower, and gave me my first ever blog award, shared my contest link on her blog, and sidebar and referred a new follower

Elena shared the contest link on her blog, sidebar and on facebook.

And Nancy gave me my second blog award, and shared the contest link on her blog.

So WINNERS, I’ll be emailing you my own personal congratulations.  Of course, you’ll have to respond and give me your actual address so I can send you your prizes. :)

Congratulations again to the four of you!

A big Thank you to all who joined the contest. This was definitely a lot of fun, and I’m pretty sure I’ll have more of these in the future.

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The Bully Archetype

My character counts contest, will end this Monday, March 14, 2011. In order to remind you again of the fabulous prize, and because I did promise to do a series on archetypes, I now present a blog on one of the popular archetypes in media:


*NOTE: Expect this introduction at every archetype spotlight article. It’s a great way of reminding us what we can gain when we study archetypes.

Just to refresh your memory, let me define archetypes again. An archetype is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype after which others are copied, patterned, or emulated; a symbol universally recognized by all.

Archetypes are scattered everywhere in media. Many writers use archetypes because they provide a guide for the readers to understand the storyline better. As writers, it’s important that we understand the many archetypes out there. Why? Because when we understand the definition and function of an archetype, we may:

  1. tweak the definition to suit our storyline
  2. break the rules of what a particular archetype is supposed to do to spice up our story
  3. apply a particular perspective to the archetype according to the message of our story. For instance, we may have an anarchist Mentor, a feminist Knight or a Freudian Hero

(If you are so inclined and have time at your disposal, might I suggest that you read or re-read my article on Archetypes and Characters?)

Now that you have a good idea of how archetypes can help us writers, let’s get to know the Archetype in today’s spotlight.

The Bully

There is really nothing even remotely amusing about bullies. They pick a target (usually one who they know will never fight back) and abuse the poor person repeatedly. They may employ one or all of the three forms of abuse—emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. Bullies may also have a posse—lieutenants who are only to eager to assist him in his show of domination and power.

Mean Girls

Often plaguing schools, the bully may also appear anywhere were humans exist—in church, in the neighborhood, the workplace, and even at home. Bullies have an authoritarian nature, combined with a need to control or dominate.

The bully’s motivation for bullying can be varied. He could be envious or resentful of his peers. He could simply be arrogant and narcissistic—seeing himself as superior and everyone else as fodder for his domination. He might be a bully because he wishes to boost his self-esteem—by demeaning others, he feels powerful. Or, he could also be using his bullying power as a tool to conceal shame or anxiety. Perhaps he himself is a victim of bullying at home.

Bully Functions

Caroline Myss, author and creator of the Archetype Cards (which I happen to be giving away as a prize for my Character Counts Contest), describes perfectly the function of the Bully as an archetype:

Bully (Coward)

The archetype of the Bully manifests the core truth that the spirit is always stronger than the body. Symbolically, our physical bodies can “bully” our spirits with any number of reasons why we should back down from our challenges, which appear to overwhelm us by their size and shape. Your relationship to this archetype should be evaluated within a framework far more expansive than evaluating whether you “bully” people. Consider whether on your life path you confront one experience and relationship after another that appears to have more power than you and ultimately leads you to ask, “Will I stand up to this challenge?” People are often called to take on bullies for the sake of others, as David did Goliath, and this is another criterion of your connection to this archetype.

Conventional wisdom holds that underneath a bully is a coward trying to keep others from discovering his true identity. Symbolically, the Coward within must stand up to being bullied by his own inner fears, which is the path to empowerment through these two archetypes.

Films:Matt Dillon in My Bodyguard; Jack Palance in Shane; Mel Gibson in Braveheart; James Cagney in The Fighting 69th; Bert Lahr in The Wizard of Oz.; Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets.

Fiction:The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Vincent Benet.

Fairy Tales:Jack and the Beanstalk; Jack the Giant Killer

Our stereotype of bullies usually involves a big man/boy—a dumb brute lacking in social graces, but not in physical strength.

Biff Tannen, Back to the Future Movies

But this is not often the case. Girls, even smart ones, are also capable of bullying.

Patty, Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Bully Types

Dr. Carol Watkins, Board Certified in Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychiatry and in private practice in Baltimore, MD, explains the different types of bullies:

Sadistic, narcissistic bully

Lacks empathy for others. Has low degree of anxiety about consequences. Narcissistic need to feel omnipotent. May appear to have a high self esteem but it is actually a brittle narcissism.

Johnny Lawrence,  (original) Karate Kid

*Johnny Lawrence, played by Billy Zabka is a great example of the narcissistic bully.  Behind his seemingly high self-esteem lies a boy who just wants to be appreciated by his martial arts master.

Imitative bully

May have low self esteem or be depressed. Influenced by the surrounding social climate. May use whining or tattling or be manipulative. Often responds well to a change in the culture of the classroom or social setting. If depressed may need other intervention.

Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter

* Draco Malfoy, is a classic example of the Imitative bully.  Taking his cue from his father Lucius Malfoy, Draco often employs manipulates his posse Crabbe and Goyle into doing his dirty work for him. He also gets Harry and his friends in trouble by tattling to their teachers, or making up stories about them.

Impulsive bully

He is less likely to be part of a gang. His bullying is more spontaneous and may appear more random. He has difficulty restraining himself from the behavior even when authorities are likely to impose consequences. He may have AD/HD. He may respond to medications and behavioral treatment and social skills training. He is also likely to be bullied.

Warren Peace, Sky High

* Steven Strait plays Warren Peace in the movie Sky High. I consider him a good example of the impulsive bully. He doesn’t go looking for trouble, but often lets his anger and compulsion to aggression get the better of him. In the end, however, with help from other people, he becomes one of the good guys.

Accidental Bully

If bullying is a deliberate act, this individual might not be included. The behavior may be offensive because the individual does not realize that his actions are upsetting the victim. If someone patiently and compassionately explains the situation, the individual will change the behavior. Sometimes social skills need to be taught. There is some overlap with the impulsive bully.

Townswomen in Practical Magic

* The townswomen in the movie Practical Magic comes to mind as great examples of accidental bullies. Afraid of what they can’t understand, their minds filled with scary stories about witches, they bully Sally and Gillian Owens, as well as their strange aunts. However, at the end of the movie, they come to the sisters’ rescue once they overcome their fear and the situation is explained to them.

Bully Mine

The antagonist in my own story, is a bit of a bully himself.  Like most bullies, his trauma starts from childhood. And like most bullies who end up in jail as adults, by the end of this series I envision my bully as a full blown villain. Or not. We’ll see what happens as the series is yet to be complete.

Now that you have been acquainted with the Bully Archetype, look back at your own story. Do you have a bully character? What type of bully is she/he? How does this bully affect your protagonist’s journey?

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Last Saturday’s meetup was the biggest yet, with 19 people in attendance. We met at our usual meeting place – Borders, Torrance (thankfully not closing).

The usual round of introductions made it clear that our group was a diverse and varied one. While most of us where children’s book writers, there were also adult fiction writers in attendance. Our genres of interest ranged from non-fiction to fantasy to historical fiction and thrillers.

After a few announcements, where I plugged in upcoming events for our group, I asked my fellow scribblers to do something before we started our main discussion. I instructed them to pick three books that are similar to the books they are writing, or are trying to sell.

When everybody had returned to their seats with three books in hand, I began the discussion.

Most of my materials came from the following amazing ebooks:

Noah Lukeman’s HOW TO LAND AND KEEP A LITERARY AGENT can be downloaded here for $12.99 as a PDF file or for $9.99 on the Kindle Store.

Noah Lukeman’s HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER is likewise FREE, and can be downloaded here.

Elana Johnson’s FROM QUERY TO THE CALL can be downloaded for FREE on her website.

All of these ebooks were amazing sources of information for writing a query letter. The tricky part was figuring out how to use the wealth of knowledge presented in their pages, and arranging them in a logical and comprehensive manner.

I took it upon myself to organize all the information in these ebooks, along with other information I’ve gleaned from my research on query letter.

In the first hour of our meeting, we discussed the following topics:


A. What is a Query letter?
B. Who do you query? Publisher vs. Agent.

10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Query A Publisher Directly

10 Reasons Why You Need An Agent

When To Query A Publisher Directly

C. Steps To Take Before You Write A Query Letter

1. Research/ Make a list of 50 Target Agents

  • You must make a list of at least 50 agents which you wish to query
  • landing an agent is a numbers game
  • a person who mails out 200 resumes has a huge advantage over the person who  mails out 5. Same is true for landing an agent
  • Research is important. Make sure they represent your genre.

13 Factors To Consider When Evaluating An Agent

2. Gather more information about the agents on your list.Create your own database containing the following details:

  • Full name of agent
  • Mr/Mrs/Ms
  • Literary Agency information – name, address, website
  • Submission Guidelines
  • Email address/ physical address
  • What agent is looking for/ What genre he represents
  • List of clients he represents and their books
  • You can use the following programs to create your database

3. Prepare the common tools of querying

a. First 10-20 pages of your work

b. Synopsis

I gave everyone handouts on the above discussion, along with 26 FREE and 11 FEE based sources of resources for writers who wish to research literary agents, which Noah Lukeman outlined in his book HOW TO LAND AND KEEP A LITERARY AGENT.

Here’s a sample of what could be found in the handout:



2– (contains 3 resources)

5 – 8. (contains 4 resources)

9. Agency Websites

10. Search Engines

Noah Lukeman only outlined 24 free resources but I added two which I found on my own search:


26. Literary Rambles by Casey McCormick

One of our members, Madison, also added a couple of websites, which she found useful in her own research.


Aside from and,, Noah Lukeman also mentions other sources of information on agents, such as :


Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents

Writers Digest Writers Market

Jeff Herman’s Writer’s guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents

Literary Marketplace

Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market by Alice Pope


Poets & Writers

The Writer

Writer’s Digest


* The key in choosing a conference is finding out in advance which agents are attending, how many of them will be attending, and the ratio of agents to writers.

Example: 2 agents for 500 writers vs. 10 agents for 200 writers

* Downside is that conferences can be expensive. Attend if you have the money to spare.

Examples of good conferences for children’s book writers:

Big Sur Writing Workshop by Andrea Brown Literary Agency

SCBWI Summer/Winter Conference

SCBWI Agents Day

SCBWI Writing Retreat

PART II of our workshop covered the formula for writing query letter based on Noah Lukeman’s Three Paragraph Rule, gleaned from his ebook  HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER.

Noah Lukeman’s THREE PARAGRAPH RULE states that a query letter should fit on one page, and should consist of only three paragraphs.

A. The first Paragraph is the introduction, in which writers should make a personal connection with the agent.

Examples of introductory sentences are:

“ I am writing to you because your client, John Smith, recommended I do so”

“I saw you speak at the SCBWI-LA Summer Conference last August, and I liked what you said about the importance of research in historical fiction.”

”I am writing to you because you represented TITLE by AUTHOR, and I feel my book is similar.”

Noah Lukeman, being a literary agent himself, says that a way to grab an agent’s attention is by making the letter about the agent, and not about yourself.  Referencing a title he has represented accomplishes this, and also shows the agent that we have researched him well before we even approached him.

B. The second paragraph is the Plot Paragraph. This paragraph should be limited to three sentences and should offer a short description of the plot and nothing else.

Noah Lukeman outlines common mistakes to avoid when writing a plot paragraph, as well as 4 positive traits to have in a plot paragraph. Using his book as a guide, we discussed these topics:

3 Common Mistakes to Avoid in your Plot Paragraph

1. Don’t exceed one paragraph

2. Don’t name names

3. Don’t mention subplots

4 Positive Traits to Have in Your Plot Paragraph

1. Specifics

2. Time Period

3. Location

4. Comparison

C. The Third paragraph is the author bio.

4 Common Mistakes to Avoid in Your Author Bio

1. Don’t list minor credits

2. Don’t include irrelevant information

3. Don’t be overly personal

4. Don’t forget the visuals

8 Positive Elements to Include in your Author Bio

1. Publication Credits

2. Track Record

3. Subsidiary Rights

4. Strong Industry Connections

5. Awards, Grants, Fellowships or other laurels

6. Writing-related education or prestigious residencies

7. Potential endorsements

8. Insider knowledge

PART III of our Workshop focused on the PLOT PARAGRAPH, which is actually the most important paragraph in a query letter.

Before we discussed this however, I asked everyone to read the back cover/blurb of the three books they had picked out. I gave them a few minutes to study the blurbs.

When they were done, I asked them what they noticed about the back cover. A lot of people suggested answers. I explained that book blurbs accomplish one thing: They sell the book. They make the browsing reader want to buy the book and take it home.

I had asked them to pick out three books most similar to their own for several reasons:

1. I wanted them to realize that in the same way that the goal of the book’s back cover blurb is to sell the book,  the goal of a query letter is simply to SELL THEIR STORY.

2. I wanted them to understand that there are in fact, several books out there similar to what they were writing. This might give them an idea of which agents to approach for their own book.

3. I also wanted them to get an inkling of the elements that make up a successful plot paragraph. They could study the blurbs and apply what they have learned to their own query letters.

After this BOOK BLURB EXERCISE, we proceeded to part three of our workshop.

In this part of our workshop, we discussed two techniques or guidelines for punching up our plot paragraph.

A. The first one, is derived from agent Mary Kole’s article on how to write query letters. In this article, she listed several questions which serve as guidelines for writing the plot paragraph:

  • WHO is your character?
  • WHAT is the strange thing going on in their life that throws them off their equilibrium and launches the story?
  • WHAT (or who) do they want most in the world?
  • WHO (or what) is the main character’s ally?
  • WHO (or what) is in the way of them getting what they want most in the world (their obstacle)?
  • WHAT is at stake if they don’t get what they want?

B. Elana Johnson’s ebook FROM QUERY TO THE CALL was an amazing source of information for writing the plot summary, and most of part III of our workshop on Plot Paragraph was taken from her brilliant work.

Her technique consists of four elements that need to be included in the plot paragraph:

a.   The Hook

Your hook should:

1. Sum up the novel in one sentence

2. Propel the reader to read the whole letter with interest

b. The Setup

In the setup, you have a few goals:

1. Provide a few details about who your main character is. You’ve hooked the agent to find out more about your main character, so give them what they want.

2. World-building information if pertinent. For fantasy and science fiction, a little taste of the world would go in the setup section of the query. For mystery, horror, thriller or other genres, including the setting here wouldn’t be a bad idea.

3. The catalyst that moves the main character into the conflict. In each of the examples below (which are numbered to go with their hooks from the first part of this section), I’m going to expound on what each sentence brings to the table as far as setup. The same as in writing, what you include in the letter should have a purpose for being there.

c. The Conflict

So you’ve hooked and setup your query letter. Now to the part that everyone wants to read—the conflict. Every novel needs it. In fact, the more conflict, the better. In the query letter, you want to highlight the main conflict, not every single one in every single chapter. You can’t even do that in the synopsis, so don’t try.

Main conflict [meyn kon-flikt]: The central thing that prevents the character from getting what they want. If you didn’t setup what the character wants in the setup, you can do it during the conflict. In the examples section, I’ve included the hook and the setup so you don’t have to go back and find them.

d. The Consequence

The final element you need in your query letter is the consequence. What will happen if the MC doesn’t solve the problem? Doesn’t get what they want? Will evil forces achieve world domination? Will her brother die? Is it a race against time across Antarctica to find the long lost jewel of the Nile? What’s the consequence?

Elana Johnson also gives us several examples for each stage/ element of the plot paragraph:

This sample is taken from her own query letter:


1. Hook: In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces.

Setup: After committing her eighth lame ass crime (walking in the park after dark with a boy, gasp!), Vi is taken to the Green, a group of Thinkers who control the Goodgrounds. She’s found unrehabilitatable (yeah, she doesn’t think it’s a word either) and exiled to the Badlands. Good thing sexy Bad boy Jag Barque will be going too.

Conflict: Dodging Greenies and hovercopters, dealing with absent-father issues, and coming to terms with feelings for an ex-boyfriend—and Jag as a possible new one—leave Vi little time for much else. (she’s got problems. Lots of them.) Which is too damn bad, because she’s more important than she realizes. (Whoa. She’s important? How so?) Vi’s main conflict is that she doesn’t know who and/or what she is. How important she is. But everyone else does. And it’s not something she’s going to

like…. This is all established in a mere 42 words.

The final blurb/plot paragraph which includes the 4th element of Consequence looks like this:

In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces. When secrets about her “dead” sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled.

Elana Johnson also posted links to several successful query letters, which I copied and gave as handouts to my members. I also printed copies of Elana’s free worksheets, along with a worksheet on creating a logline, which I had compiled.

In PART IV of our workshop, we discussed other things to keep in mind when writing a query letter,such as the 7 common mistakes of query letters, The 4 musts of submitting queries, 3 things not to do when submitting queries, Email queries and of course, formatting basics of a query letter.

Throughout the workshop, members asked questions, and gave their own suggestions and tips based on their own experiences.

All in all, the workshop was a smashing success. Everyone left with more handouts and worksheets than they bargained for, and an eagerness to apply what they had learned.

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Surprise Celebration

Last Wednesday, my two best friends took me out to dinner.  They were probably tired of hearing me complain about how I still haven’t found the time to celebrate the fact that I just finished the 7th and final draft of my novel.

Knowing I love me some steak every now and then, they took me to Union Cattle Co. in Hermosa Beach.

It was raining tigers and wolves when we got there, but it did nothing to dampen our happy celebration. We got a nice table by the window and ordered some good food.

Bread and Butter

Steak Dinner


Sea Bass



My two besties Maiko and Lena spent several minutes showering me with congratulations at my great achievement. They were with me throughout my writing process and they knew just how difficult it was.  They saw me reading endless books and articles on writing, slogging through draft after draft, and pulling my hair in frustration when the story just didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Maiko gave me a nice congratulations card.

Congratulations Card

It was the perfect memento for the wonderful milestone.  I was so happy and so grateful that she and Lena had taken the time to treat me out for a fantastic dinner, I though the night couldn’t get any better.

And then my two sneaky besties pulled out the big guns.

This is what they surprised me with:

Opening my surprise present

Shocked! What a surprise!

I was so happy, I wanted to scream and dance! Of course I couldn’t, being that I had to act appropriately in a public place, so I contented myself by peppering them with hugs and kisses and squealing like a little pig-tailed girl every now and then.

I’ve been wanting a netbook since I first heard about it. I had thought about all the wonderful opportunities it would open up to me. I could take it with me anywhere—which also meant I could carry all my writing programs with me and write anywhere, anytime. It would make it easy for me to post every day for the A-Z blogging challenge. There was so much I could do with a netbook that I’ve been drooling with desire for it for the last few months. I’ve been telling anyone who cared to listen that I was saving up for it, and that I had even done my research and knew the exact thing I wanted to get.

Unknown to me, my crazy, amazing, awesome, wonderful, fantastic (I can’t think of enough adjectives, but you get the idea) friends were listening. They found my wishlist on amazon and just bought the thing for me. They had been saving their big present for my birthday next month, but they couldn’t wait.

Lena even gave me an awesome external dvd writer and a netbook sleeve to go with my new toy.

Bestie Lena, resident I.T. expert

Samsung external dvd writer

Targus netbook sleeve

She even gave upgraded my netbook software for me free of charge. (It’s amazing what happens when you have a friend in the I.T. department!)

My new netbook

I was overcome with joy, to say the least. I told them this was all too much and that they shouldn’t have gone through such trouble, as all I really wanted for to celebrate was a nice dinner.

Maiko said they wanted me to be able to use it right away to further my writing career. She said that they’ve seen how hard I work, and they know I’ll use the netbook to its full capacity. More than that, they believe in me so much, that they see this as an investment.

And that’s what really got me. The netbook was a superb surprise, but their profession of faith in my abilities as a writer was what really got to me. It made me want to work harder, and strive even more to reach my writing dreams. These people staged this whole surprise just to show me just how much they believe in me. They know that my success will be their success, and my family’s success as well. There is nothing more inspiring than that.

Now people know why I work hard at my writing. It’s because I have loved ones like Maiko and Lena behind me, pushing me on. They crush my inner critic and propel me to reach for the stars.

I am ever so grateful, and so humbled by their faith in me. I know I can’t let them down.

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