Archive for November, 2012

I first met Gretchen McNeil in October, 2011 at her Stages on Pages YA Tour  at Vromans.

With Author Gretchen McNeil at her TEN book launch

Gretchen was bubbling with energy when she spoke about her affinity for the stage during the panel. I thought it was so cool that she was a trained opera soprano and a singer for the L.A. based circus troupe, Cirque Berzerk. I was also very intrigued by the teen exorcist concept for her debut novel, POSSESS.

Since then, I’ve bumped into Gretchen at various SCBWI events, and book signings. Most recently, I had the pleasure of attending her book launch for her latest suspense novel, TEN.

And now I’ll train the spotlight on POSSESS & TEN’s talented author, Gretchen McNeil.


Author’s Bio from her website

 Singer ~ Writer ~ Clown

I write.  Scary stuff, mostly. My YA horror/paranormal POSSESS debuted with Balzer and Bray for HarperCollins in 2011.  My second novel, TEN – YA horror/suspense about ten teens trapped on an island with a serial killer – will be released September 18, 2012, also from Balzer and Bray.

I’m a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4’s Code Monkeys and I currently sing with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk. I’m a founding member of vlog group theYARebels where I can be seen as “Monday” and an active member of both The Enchanted Inkpot, a group blog of YA and middle grade fantasy writers, and The Apocalypsies, a group blog of 2012 children’s book debuts.


 The Talented Gretchen McNeil


1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourself.

Despite currently girliness, I was a huge tomboy growing up.  My dog is named after Mozart.  I am a massive San Francisco Giants fan.

2. A genie has granted you three wishes. What would these wishes be?

The continued ability to do what I love: write awesome stories that people want to buy.  A long healthy life for my friends and family.  Universal tolerance of religion, race, gender and sexual orientation.

3. What books and movies inspired your love for horror/suspense?

The most influential books in this genre were the ones I devoured in high school: Christopher Pike and Agatha Christie, mixed with a heavy does of gothic like LeFanu, DuMaurier, Shelley, Poe, Collins and the Brontes.

4. Why do you love writing scary books? Would you ever consider writing a book in another genre?

Oh, I have!  My first book was actually a rom com, and I have a YA historical spy adventure sitting on a shelf somewhere.  But I think I’m drawn to horror and suspense because I love crafting tension: the setting, the tone, atmosphere – it all combines to create a visceral reaction of fear in the reader.

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

I started writing about five years ago. I was going through a difficult time in my personal life, and I was floundering a bit. I woke up one day and said, “I’m going to write a novel!”  I did.  And it was horrible.  But I got addicted to the process of storytelling and before I knew it, I was reading every book on writing I could get my hands on, and plotting my next book.  That book landed me an agent. 


6. Does your training as an opera singer ever influence your writing?

 In several ways, I think. First, the idea of having to WORK at your artistic endeavor is very important.  Singing – like writing – is hard work. You’re always improving, changing, adapting.  You can never just sit back and feel like you’ve made it.  Second, performing opera is storytelling to the extreme.  You’re telling a story in a foreign language, and in a mode that is slightly archaic to the modern viewer.  It’s important to really show the story, your character, her motivations, her obstacles, and her actions to overcome them.  It’s the same in writing, just on the page instead of on the stage.


7. Do you have a playlist when you’re writing? What were some of the songs you listened to while writing POSSESSS or TEN?

 Actually, I can’t write to music!  I know, crazy.  But my musician’s brain kicks in and suddenly I’m focused on the music, not the writing.  Instead, my favorite thing to write to is sports.  It’s like slightly interactive background noise.


8. Where did you get the story idea for your first novel, POSSESS?

I wanted to write something scary and the thing that scares me the most is the idea of demonic possession and exorcism. I started doing some research on it, and BOOM!  The plot bunnies got to work.


9. What inspired you to write TEN?

My editor, actually.  We were talking about what my next project should be, and she mentioned that one of her favorite things about my style is my ability to write scary, suspenseful novels.  Then I started thinking about why I enjoy writing that genre.  Basically, I’m a junky for a good mystery and anyone who can spin me along on a tenuous thread of suspense and expectation, turning the screws and upping the ante with every page.  Agatha Christie and Christopher Pike were huge influences on my writing and clean, direct style of storytelling.  And of course, the masterful cinematic storytelling of Alfred Hitchcock.   Put those pieces together and you have TEN!


10. Tell us about your path to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?

Publication is a tough road.  I just want to put that out there.  The book that landed me an agent didn’t actually sell, so I had to write another – POSSESS – before I actually had a publication deal. 

As far as my favorite thing about being an author?  Definitely the other authors I get to meet and hang out with!

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

Until recently, I worked full time, so my writing “day” was really the two hours or so I could squeeze into an evening.  No rituals or quirks, really.  I’m more untilitarian.


12.  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?  Any hobbies, sports, or crafts you like to spend time on?

I’m a social kinda girl.  So I’m out a lot with friends and family.  I also love live theater, opera, concerts, museums, and road trips.

13. Are you currently working on any other projects?

My next book (Fall 2013) is another stand alone, sci-fi horror this time.  It’s called 3:59 and it’s about two girls who are the same girl in different dimensions, who discover that their worlds connect every twelve hours – at 3:59 – for one minute.  When they decide to switch places for a day, all hell breaks loose. Literally.

After that I just sold a two book series, also to Balzer + Bray, for 2014 and 2015.  GET EVEN and GET DIRTY are books one and two in the Don’t Get Mad series about four very different girls who have formed a secret revenge society, getting back at bullies and mean girls who have terrorized their classmates, which all goes well until one of their targets turns up dead and the society is implicated in the death.


14. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?

Get used to criticism, because you’re going to get a lot of it.

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

You can do anything you put your mind to. I honestly believe that.  I decided I wanted to be an author.  I worked at it, I learned from my failures, I adapted, I improved.  It’s not easy, but if you’re willing to put the work in, I firmly believe that you can accomplish anything.


Visit me again on Friday. I’ll be giving away a copy of Gretchen McNeil’s POSSESS!

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While everyone else is featuring YA Author Gretchen McNeil’s latest book, TEN, I’ve opted to do a review on her awesome debut novel POSSESS.


Possess by Gretchen McNeil

400 pages, Hardcover

Genre: YA Horror, Ages 13 and up

Published on August 21, 2012 by Balzer + Bray

ISBN-10: 0062060724

ISBN-13: 978-0062060723



Fifteen-year-old Bridget Liu just wants to be left alone: by her mom, by the cute son of a local police sergeant, and by the eerie voices she can suddenly and inexplicably hear.  Unfortunately for Bridget, it turns out the voices are demons – and Bridget has the rare ability to banish them back to whatever hell they came from.

Terrified to tell people about her new power, Bridget confides in a local priest who enlists her help in increasingly dangerous cases of demonic possession.  But just as she is starting to come to terms with her new power, Bridget receives a startling message from one of the demons.  Now Bridget must unlock the secret to the demons’ plan before someone close to her winds up dead – or worse, the human vessel of a demon king.



My Review

First Lines:

Bridget stared at the clock on the wall and cursed its painfully slow progression toward three fifteen. Was the big hand even moving? She slipped her cell phone out of her backpack for cross-reference. Damn. Seven more minutes. It was so like a Catholic school to make Latin the last class of the day. Institutionalized Purgatory.

These first lines don’t give a clue as to how much excitement this story really has, but it does give us a taste of the main character’s witty sarcasm and her unique voice.

And Bridget Liu is unique in so many ways. First, she’s a fifteen year-old girl who has no best girl friends. Instead, she hangs out with a geek whose crush on her borders on stalker, her gay best friend, and his crush of a jock. Second, she’s half-Chinese and half-Irish—and completely Catholic. Third, she’s had to deal with her dad’s mysterious murder, and lastly, she’s a teenage exorcist.

I don’t see too many Asian main characters in YA, so I was quite glad to discover that Bridget was part Asian. I could totally relate to Bridget’s school life, having gone to a Catholic school myself. And while I knew a little bit about the Catholic rites of exorcism, I was still pleasantly surprised to learn a few new things while reading the book.

Bridget is an intriguing character, one that all teens can easily identify with. Author Gretchen McNeil does a great job with dialogue and word choice. She makes Bridget sound exactly like a 15 year old, albeit, one who has to deal with a lot of things, including her mom’s dating life and her own newly discovered ability to talk to and banish demons.

San Francisco is the perfect setting for this paranormal story, what with all the fog and cold. Many scenes are set outside of Bridget’s house and school, so readers can get a feel for just how nightmarish the city can get. I was particularly creeped out by the scene set in the doll shop. Dolls in themselves are not at all scary, but combined with the author’s mastery of suspense and description, they can be really frightening.

The story in itself is fast-paced, and the plot twists and turns are ones which I could never have predicted. Even if I’m a big scaredy cat when it comes to the horror genre, I found myself actually enjoying the story. It helped that there were light, funny moments scattered throughout, and that the usual YA love angle kept me on my toes.

If you’re looking for a Paranormal/Horror YA to get your pulse racing, this one’s for you. Suspenseful, mysterious, creepy and yes—fun, Possess is a book you need to read under the covers, preferably on a dark and stormy night, with a steaming mug of hot chocolate to warm your bound-to-be chilled insides.



Tune in this Wednesday for the 2nd installment in this Spotlight series, where I feature an interview with author Gretchen McNeil!

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Setting Up Shop Part 4: A Writer’s Computer

Every craftsman needs his tools in order to create his masterpiece.

Writing is a craft and as such, every writer needs his own set of instruments to begin the arduous task of putting to paper what only exists in his mind.

I started out thinking that the only thing I would ever need to begin my career as a novelist is some paper, a few pens and my own creative imagination (and yes, my writing muse).

It wasn’t too long before I realized that being an obsessive-compulsive, way too organized freak was going to get in the way of actually writing. I needed to have the tools of my trade before I could even get my ideas down on paper.  More than that, once I actually started writing, I got distracted with other things–like looking for supplies and various objects which would help me write better.

So I attempted to list down all the tools/instruments/gadgets which may make my life as a writer more comfortable. 

I began my Setting Up Shop Series about two years ago. Somewhere along the way, I got busy with other topics and completely forgot about it. 

I’ve decided that before this year ends, I will finally complete the series. So I’ve designated this November as my Setting Up Shop, where I’ll feature tools important to writers, and other gadgets which might be completely unnecessary, but which I think are cool.

 Check out the previous posts in this Setting up Shop Series:

1. Part 1 –  A Writer’s Space

2. Part 2 – A Writer’s Desk

3. Part 3 – A Writer’s Chair

 And now, I present Part 4 of my Setting Up Shop Series: A Writer’s Computer

We live an age where technology advances at such a fast rate. As soon as we buy the latest version of any gadget, a newer version pops up five seconds later. (Okay, maybe not, five seconds. More like five months.)

Whether or not we like them, computers have become the most important tool in our writing arsenal. Computers are valuable in all stages of our writing – from writing the first draft to editing it to querying to submitting our manuscripts.

The first thing any writer needs to figure out is what kind of computer to buy. 



Dell Desktop, Image from

Desktops are powerful computers with the capacity for easy upgrades. You can any writing software on your desktop, and you’ll have no trouble connecting to the Internet (especially if your computer is hooked up directly via the Ethernet cable, or near the wifi connection).

And if you’re running out of memory space, thanks to all the research materials (music, images, videos, documents) for your upcoming novel; it’s a simple matter to add on a memory card to your CPU (central processing unit).

You can also choose the size, shape and specs of the monitor you wish to go with your CPU. A big screen is comfortable to use and easy on the eyes (Especially when the words start blurring after 8 hours of straight writing).

But desktops also require a lot of desk space. Your CPU, monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers might eat up so much of your desk, you’ll very little space to spread your notes, research materials and reference books.

And if you feel like writing in a nearby café, you can’t exactly carry your desktop with you. 



Macbook Air, Image from

Speaking of portability…If you want to be able to write/edit/email anywhere, at any time, laptops are for you. They take up very little space. You don’t even need a desk or chair to use your laptop. All you need is a flat surface like—maybe, your lap?

Laptops nowadays have the computing capacity that most desktops have. You can run writing software, go online, print and attach your laptop to whatever other office peripherals you might need. 

You can easily spend a whole day in your favorite coffee shop or writing nook, typing away on your laptop. As long as you’re plugged into a nearby electrical outlet, of course.

And even when you’re not near an electrical socket, you can still use your laptop. Laptops have batteries that will last anywhere from 8-14 hours. Perfect for a writing on the train, during your daily commute or in a library. You can also bring your laptops with you to writing conferences, retreats and seminars—allowing you to work on your manuscripts during breaks, or free time.

The lack of upgrading capacity/ memory space might be an issue for laptops, however. But you can easily remedy this by using external/portable hard drives to store all your data/media in. 

Another issue is with laptops is the lack of customizability.  Sure you can customize your laptop’s skins or its cosmetic look, but you’re stuck with your original screen size and keyboard.  No matter what you do, you can’t stretch your 17”screen to match your sister’s new 27” desktop.



ASUS Eee PC, Image from

Netbooks are smaller versions of laptops, with screens ranging from 7 – 10 inches.

Extremely portable, these netbooks make it easy for you to write anywhere. Sometimes carrying a laptop can be a hassle, too. Netbooks are about the size of a hardcover and can fit in almost any bag. If you work a dayjob that requires you to travel a lot, or wait long hours, a netbook might be the perfect solution to your writing problems. I have a laywer friend who writes on her netbook while waiting for her court cases to start.

These mini-computers are able to run whatever software programs your laptops can run. The drawback is if your software program happens to be on a CD/DVD. Since they’re so small, netbooks don’t have CD/DVD drives. One way around this is to get a USB connected external CD drive.

The memory capacity of netbooks is much lower than laptops (only 2 GB), so you can’t really store as much data in it, as you’d like. An external portable hard drive would be a good solution for this problem.

Another issue with netbooks, is that the keyboards aren’t as comfortable as regular sized or even laptop-sized ones. If you have big, clumsy fingers, you might get frustrated when you mistype a word every other line. 



Steve Job holding up the iPad, image from

Tablets are great media devices. You can watch a whole variety of shows and movies, listen to music, play games, email and access the internet.

Tablets are even more portable than netbooks and many users have no problem carrying them everywhere. 

When you’re doing research for a novel, you can access the internet quickly, and some apps allow you to make notes, and save files, images or links.

You’ll be able to type up your manuscript using a simple document application, too. But you won’t be able to use any other writing software like ywriter or scrivener.

Large files and documents, plus a lot of apps can also slow down your tablet. If you’re the type of writer who uses online sites such as google, or while writing, you’ll have a hard time switching back and forth from the internet to your manuscript.

Editing your manuscript can also be a headache for tablet-users.  All that highlighting, cutting, copying and pasting will make you  miss your computer mouse.

Typing on a flat glass surface can be very uncomfortable,too, unless you buy a keyboard for your tablet. The ipad and some android tablets have compatible keyboard add-ons, but other tablets might not have this capacity, so be sure to check before you buy one.



Dell Axim PDA, image from Boston Lifestyle blog

PDA’s (Personal Digital Assistant) such as the Motorola ES400 1 GB , Palm T|X or the Sony CLIÉ PEG-SJ22 can also be great writing tools.

The main purpose of a PDA is to act as an electronic organizer for personal information such as your contacts, appointments, calendars, and  to do lists. PDA’s also allow you access to the internet, with some even running GPS systems and other multimedia software. 

In the beginning, PDA’s were pen-based, and used a stylus for input. These days, you can find either keyboard-based PDA’s or touchscreen PDA’s.

PDA’s are even more portable than tablets, as they can easily fit into your shirt/jeans’ pocket.  As such, they can be valuable tools for note-taking, or for recordring those story ideas or poems that always seem to show up when you have no access to pen and paper whatsoever.

The iPhone 4, image from Apple’N’

SMARTPHONES in today’s world seem to have replaced PDA’s as the top electronic organizer, however. Smartphones (like the iPhone or other Android cellphones) combine all the abilities of a PDA with the capacity to run various applications/apps just like a tablet. On top of this, of course, smartphones have the awesome ability to connect you with people—just like a regular  phone!

The lack of memory space and a proper keyboard to type on is the biggest drawback of these devices. While PDA’s and Smartphones allow you to quickly record sudden story inspirations, they won’t allow you to write them. Your thumb and/or forefinger will cramp up before you even finish a quarter of your two-page chapter. The difficulty of switching from document to the internet is also a big issue with these smaller devices—looking up one word on might take forever, depending on how strong your wifi signals are.

If writing a novel one these devices is difficult, editing is downright impossible. PDA’s and Smartphones don’t have available writing software, and trying to edit without a mouse or a keyboard is mental suicide.









PROS * powerful hardware, capacity for easy upgrades* ability to choose  screen/monitor size for comfort and ease of reading/working * very portable * has the computing capacity of desktops
* capable of running various writing software and attaching  to other external peripherals such as printers, scanners, etc.
* extremely portable* can run writing programs, internet, etc* capable of running various writing software and attaching  to other external peripherals such as printers, scanners, etc. * extremely portable*has access to the internet/apps that can help you with research * extremely portable* Useful for on the spot note-taking/ for jotting down sudden story ideas while on the go
CONS * eats up a lot of desk space* lack of portability *lack of upgrading capacities, and memory space add-onlack of customizability in terms of screen size, and keyboard *lack of upgrading capacities, and memory space add-on* keyboard may be too small for some people*has no cd/dvd drives*low memory capacity compared to laptops & desktops * large files/docs can slow your tablet down*Switching from document to app can be frustrating*Editing can be difficult on a tablet*Writing can be difficult on a tablet, especially without a keyboard * Writing a novel, is difficult without a keyboard or a big memory space*Editing is impossible without a mouse or a keyboard, and other helpful writing software 



After figuring out the kind of computer you want, you’ll have to decide on the kind of specs you want it to have.

Here are some things to consider when choosing your computer software:


CPU with Memory Card Chips, image from

While researching for our stories, we might need to save a lot of images, links, music, videos and other documents for reference. While a 300 page manuscript doesn’t require an enormous amount of memory space, all the research needed to write it, might.



Microsoft Word processor screenshot

Many writers are happy with using Microsoft Word or Linux as their word processors. But if you want to use writing software like yWriter or Scrivener, you’ll have to make sure your computer is compatible with them. For example, PC’s can run yWriter and Scrivener, but Macs can’t run yWriter just yet.

Other helpful  software useful for brainstorming/plotting/writing editing like, yEdit and Anthemion Cafe Writers Storylines might only be compatible with certain platforms like PC’s.



Internet modem, image from

In the old days, writers had to go to libraries to do some valuable research for their novels or articles. Today, information is ready at the touch of our fingertips.

Access to the Internet is a must for every writer nowadays. And it’s not just because we need Google for our research, or to look up words. Other important parts of the writing process such as querying agents, submitting manuscripts, interacting with blog followers, and other fans of your book will all require the use of the Internet.

Choose a computer that allows you to access the web with speed.



Your computer has to have the capacity to play any type of media. Whether it’s so you can listen to music while you write, or so you can download pictures of actors who resemble the characters you have in mind, or so you can play games when you need a break from writing.

Research is made easy by videos, too. Say your character is supposed to know martial arts, but you don’t practice it yourself. The simplest solution is to go on and look for martial arts demonstration videos so you can write the fight sequence more easily. Your computer has to have a decent videocard and soundcard so you can play videos.



WD Home Book, External Hard drive, image from

 Everything about your novel will be stored in your computer, so you need to have a good hard drive for backing up your work. It might actually be a good idea to have a backup for your backup.

Desktops have the capacity to store as many as 5 hard drives, so you can have 6 backups in case one of your hard drives croaks. If you’ve chosen a laptop for your writing needs, it would be ideal to have external hard drives as backups.

You can also consider saving your work and other research materials on a cloud drive. Cloud Storage systems like Amazon, Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive and Microsoft Skydrive allow you to store from 5- 7GB worth of data for free. With paid memberships, you can store even more.

I actually save all my important documents and media on my WD Passport portable hard drive. It’s just slightly smaller than an actual passport, but it can store 1 TB worth of data. I bring this with me everywhere, and as long as I have access to a computer, I can also have access to all my novels, research material and even writing software.


WD Passport Portable Hard Drive, image from



 Other things to consider when choosing a computer include:


Price is of course a big consideration when buying a computer for your writing needs. Make sure you’re able to buy a computer that has all you need and is within your budget.

Shop around for online and store deals and compare models and prices before you buy anything.


Sometimes it’s best to buy a newer model. If your computer ever gets into an accident, spare parts will be easier to find if your computer is newer.


Buying the latest computer model with all the awesome new add-ons might sound like a dream, but if you’re not savvy with all the new tech, it might just end up being a burden to your writing career.  You’ll spend more time trying to figure out each new program/ computer function than writing. Or if you are tech savvy, you might have too much fun playing around with all your computer’s cool features, that you’ll end up forgetting about  that novel you’ve been meaning to write.


Your computer is your most important writing tool. Before you spend money on one, be sure that you’ve done your research. 

Make a separate list for the things you want in a computer, and the things you really need. This might come in handy when you need to consider price and make that final decision.


Other Helpful Articles on Computers for Writers


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