Friday, July 14, 2017

I Have Another Book Coming Out!

I’m so excited to talk about my new novel. It’s called Monster, Human, Other. I love the cover.

Here's a bit about it:

Wren is human. Isaac is not. Having switched places at birth, they now live with each other’s families. Growing up among a different species is difficult—for Isaac, who has to keep many secrets, and for Wren, who is teased for her lousy human senses. They’re told it’s necessary, though. The exchange is the first step in an ambassador program meant to ensure peace.

But not everyone wants peace. There are creatures that live deep underground, coming up to the surface to feed. For them, war means food. They have a plan to stir up trouble, and so far, it’s working. In the end, it’s up to Wren and Isaac to prevent a looming war and to save both their kinds.

The book is recommended for children ages 8 to 12, but I officially give permission to older people to read it, too. It comes out in September 2017, but you can pre-order it at AmazonBarnes & Noble, or your local bookstore.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Reviews For MONSTER, HUMAN, OTHER Are Here

As a published author, I obviously have a very thick skin. I don't care about reviews. Even the snarkiest comments won't bother me.

That's what I like to pretend, anyway. The truth is that with the release of my second book approaching, I've been nervously waiting for the reviews to start trickling in. And now they have.

These lines made me smile.

"Sympathetic and winning, Isaac and Wren star in alternating, fast-paced chapters until they come together for the exciting conclusion." — Kirkus

"The author cleverly uses the familiar changeling theme, allowing readers to explore their own feelings of being outsiders in their families and the worlds they inhabit." — School Library Journal

MONSTER, HUMAN, OTHER hits bookstores on September 19, 2017, so you can read it and form your own opinion then. If you're the impatient type (like me) you can
 pre-order it now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore. Pre-orders are awesome.

I nervously totally calmly await your review! 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Amazing School Visit

This week, I was thrilled to visit Chief Old Sun Elementary School in Siksika, just southeast of Calgary. It's by far the farthest I've traveled for a school visit! And it was worth it. One of the classes had read Dead Boy, and they selected the book for their big art project of the year. While I was there, I got to see them perform scenes from the book. It was absolutely amazing!

Here's a picture of one of the kids dressed up as Crow, wearing his Halloween costume.

And here's a picture of one of the kids dressed up as the monster from Dead Boy

Isn't the costume fantastic? They let me try it on. 

If you're interested in having me visit your school, email me at 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Naming Characters and My Obsession with Birds

The main character in Dead Boy is a boy named Crow. One of the main characters in Monster, Human, Other is a girl named Wren. Can you tell I like birds? 

I'll be the first to admit that Crow's name is perhaps too fitting. A (more or less) dead boy beloved by his parents named Crow Darlingson? Yep. I like the name Crow. The birds are sometimes associated with death, but they're also intelligent and charming—just like Crow.

Of course, there is an obvious problem with naming a character after characteristics developed long after birth. Crow's parents did not know that he would become undead. They could have hoped he'd be clever, though, and sometimes people do end up fitting their names in curiously apt ways. Wikipedia has an article on this phenomenon, called aptronyms. The article gives many examples, including Michael Ball, a football player, and Amy Freeze, a meteorologist. I wouldn't want to name all my characters this way, but I'm happy with Crow's name.

More often, names will reflect the parents' personalities. Are the parents conventional? Give the character a conventional name. Are the parents more out there? Come up with a unique name. Do the parents love to travel? Maybe something like Paris, London or Sahara will work nicely.

Names can also reflect the culture of the character, whether it's a real-world culture or a fantasy one. Wren's name fits the naming conventions of the non-human family that's raising her. 

The age of the character is important, too. When I'm coming up with names, I often consult lists of baby names, like the ones from the Social Security Administration. The trick is not to use the current year's most popular names. Instead, figure out when your character was born, and use a name from that year's list. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

I Have a Facebook Page!

I now have a Facebook page.

Yes, this means that until now, I have not been on Facebook. I know, I know. I might as well have been living on the moon. 

You can see my Facebook page here. I don't know how often I'll update it, but I'll try to post any exciting news as well as events that are open to the public. For more frequent updates, follow me on Twitter. I'm also on Quora and GoodReads

It seems like a lot, but I'm still only scratching the surface of social media options available. 

As a writer, I want to connect to readers, and of course I also need to promote my book. But I need time to write, too, and I'm not talking about status updates. From my conversations with other writers, I know I'm not the only one who struggles with this. 

But that doesn't mean I can't do social media. It just means I have to learn how to manage my time there. It's worth it because, as I said, I really do want to be accessible to readers. 

And that means being on Facebook.  

Many people depend on Facebook to connect with others and to keep track of events, so after a long time of putting it off, I've added Facebook to my list of social media sites. Who knows? Maybe I'll love it.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Should You Write or Procrastinate? Let the Flowchart Decide!

You're at your computer, ready to write some killer pages. But the internet's right there, tempting you with games to play, social media to check, and pictures of cute animals to "aww" at. Should you buckle down and get to work this second, or should you procrastinate a little? Use this flowchart to find out.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Do Authors Lose Control in Traditional Publishing?

Authors have two main options when it comes to getting their books out there: self-publishing and traditional publishing. Both paths have their own advantages and disadvantages, and proponents on either side will argue that their way is better. I can understand both sides, but I take issue with one claim that always seems to come up in support of self-publishing. The claim is that traditionally published authors lose control of their books.

But is this true? Do traditionally published authors give up control over their books?

As a traditionally published author, I've never felt like I was giving up control. Sure, some of my ideas were nixed. For both my first and my second book, my original titles were shot down. But when it was time to pick a new title, I was part of the conversation. I liked the title Dead Boy when it was suggested to me. I'm the one who suggested the title Monster, Human, Other. (Unless you don't like the title. Then let's pretend someone else came up with it.)

Before the cover art was started, I was asked about any ideas or preferences I had. Before the back copy was created, I had a chance to give my input. I had more chances to chime in before these pieces were finalized.

My editor had notes for both manuscripts. (Oh boy did she have notes!) But I got to decide how to fix issues, and if I disagreed with something, we could discuss it. The story remained mine—but it was better than what I could have produced on my own.

I never felt like I was giving up control. Instead, I felt like I was getting help from experts who had a vested interest in making my book successful. Authors who sell their books to traditional publishers will be expected to collaborate, but in my experience, they won’t be expected to sacrifice what they love about their books.

And I’m not sure complete control is always a good thing. Most authors don’t have years of experience designing covers or marketing books. Isn’t it better to put an expert in charge of these aspects? It gives authors more time to write, which is exactly what I want.   

Monday, February 6, 2017

How to Plan Your Novel: Plotting Versus Pantsing

There are two basic ways to write a novel: you can plot it or you can pants it. If you plot your novel, you work out the plot before you start writing. If you pants your novel, you start writing with an idea in mind but without a developed plot. You write by the seat of your pants. You wing it. You improvise.

It’s best to think of these two options as opposite ends of a spectrum. Your personal style may lie somewhere in between. It could even vary from project to project.

There are pros and cons to each side.

Plotting your novel ahead of time means you don’t have to worry about writing yourself into a corner. You’re far less likely to realize you need to cut fifty pages or eliminate a character. Foreshadowing is much easier when you know what’s coming. Although you’ll still have revise your work—there’s no way to avoid that—the revisions will generally be less intensive and less painful if your manuscript was plotted ahead of time.

If you’re a published writer and want to pitch your agent or editor before you’ve finished a project, plotting is essential. Yes, your plot may change a bit as you go, but you need something substantial to show others.

But pantsing has some advantages, too. Some people don’t like plotting and will drag their feet through the process. They may find that discovering the story as they write is what keeps the passion for the project alive. Once they’ve plotted it, they know the story, and they’re no longer interested in working on it.

Other writers may opt for pantsing because they want their characters to dictate the story. If writers force their characters to follow pre-determined plots, some of the decisions and motivations may seem unnatural and, well, forced.

My debut book, Dead Boy, was pantsed. I started with an idea for the character and a few vague ideas for the plot, but I didn’t know how the story would end, and much of the middle was pretty hazy, too. I was working on the project for fun after another project fell apart. I had a lot of passion for it, but not much else.

This resulted some pretty major revisions as I figured out the plot. Characters changed. Backstories got replaced. It was a lot of work, and I think it would have been easier if I’d done more plotting ahead of time.

These days, when I start a new project, I write a summary. It’s usually around one to two pages long and tells the story from beginning to end.  It may include some subplots, but not all. It includes most major developments, but the order is flexible.

As I write the project, I adjust the summary as needed. By the time I’m about fifty pages into my project, I’ve worked out any issues, and the summary is finalized. At this point, I’m confident in the story, and I have fifty pages and a summary to show others.

I’m not going to tell you how you need to write your novel. Writing is an art form, and each artist approaches it differently. If plotting works for you, great. If pantsing works for you, keep it up. If you’re having trouble, though, it’s smart to look at other options, including something in the middle.

Friday, December 16, 2016

What Would Your Character Do?

Imagine this situation. You're reading a book. (Not too difficult to imagine so far.) It's about a girl named Kathy who's really into science and nature. She likes new stuff, especially if it's weird, and she doesn't mind getting dirty. A boy shows her a neat bug he found, and she gets grossed out. You get mad and throw the book against the wall. 

Or you're watching a television show, and the vegan who's obsessed with health food is shown snacking on one of those convenience store processed meat sticks. Or maybe it's a movie. It doesn't matter. The important thing is that a character did something that character would never do, you know it, and it ticks you off. 

A good character feels as real as a good friend. When good friends act out of character, you get worried. When characters act out of character, you get angry at the writers.

So how can you avoid writing inconsistent characters?

By getting to know your characters, of course. 

The trick to writing realistic characters is to get really deep into your character's mind. One of my favorite ways to do this is to ask how your character would respond to different events.

After you’ve covered the basics—age, job, appearance, hobbies, and so on—start thinking about what your character would do in various situations. They don’t have to be things that will come up in your book. The point is simply to get a better understanding of your character. 

For example, what would your character do if he found a wallet? This never happens in my children's novel Dead Boy, but I still know how the various characters would react. Crow would promptly return the wallet to the owner. Melody would go through it to learn about the owner, just in case he's a spy or a werewolf or something interesting like that. Mrs. Darlingson would leave it—it's really none of her concern. Luke, I'm ashamed to say, would pocket the cash and throw everything else away, although perhaps Crow's positive influence will change this. 

Here are a few more situations to get you started.

What would your character do if a rude stranger bumped into him?

What would your character do if told the planet was about to be destroyed by an asteroid?

What would your character do if he was wrongly accused of a crime?

What would your character do if a kitten started following him?

What would your character do if he was running late for school or work?

What would your character do if he accidentally damaged another person’s property and no one witnessed it?

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Amazing Origin of Ideas Revealed

Where do you get your ideas?

It’s a question that authors get asked all the time, and it’s one that I’m never quite sure how to answer. I feel like people expect an interesting response, like my ideas should have some amazing origin. Sorry. They don’t.

I don’t know where I get my ideas. I get them from everywhere—every show I watch, every book I read, every picture I see, every conversation I hear. I get them from nowhere—they pop into my head without introduction or invitation.

My ideas often come in bunches, which is quite annoying, honestly. The file I keep my ideas in currently contains 15,065 words and dozens of story ideas, and there simply isn’t enough time to write all of them.

I’m not sure why I tend to get a lot of ideas at once, but I have two theories. The first is that certain moods lead to ideas. I think up new things with I’m intellectually bored, or maybe when I’m intellectually stimulated—I’m not sure which.

The second theory is that idea generation leads to more idea generation. Creativity is a muscle, and once I start exercising it, it’s hard to stop. I think this is true, even if there are other factors at play. I believe people can become more creative through practice, through brainstorming and writing prompts and the like.

I don’t always know where my ideas come from, but I do know how they develop. The ideas always start out small: I picture one character, one scene, one problem, one something. Then I flesh it out by asking questions. Why is this happening? What will happen next? Why? What does this character want? Why? Why? Why? You could call it the Socratic method of story generation.

In my experience, people have one of two problems: too many ideas, or none. There’s no in between. For those with no ideas, I suggest you flex your creative muscles. Brainstorm ideas, even if they’re boring and unoriginal at first. Keep coming up with ideas until you create ones you like, and then develop those into bigger ideas.

For those of you with too many ideas, I have no advice. I think you are doomed, like me, to keep ever-growing files full of ideas you’ll never have time to write.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Three Reasons to Give Thanks for Books

It’s been a hard month and a hard year. Staying positive can be a challenge in times like these, but yesterday was Thanksgiving, and despite everything I have a lot to be thankful for. I’d like to take a moment to explain why I’m especially grateful for books.

I’m thankful for the magical doors books open. My favorite genres are fantasy and science fiction, and I'll admit it: my reading tends toward escapism. Don’t we all need an escape sometimes? Books give me a chance to join an exciting adventure, one that I would never agree to take on in real life, and one that makes most of my actual complaints seem trivial in comparison.

I’m thankful for the lessons books teach us. When I read and write, my main purpose is entertainment. Nevertheless, I cannot deny the educational value of books. I’m not talking about facts, although it’s possible to learn those from books, too. I’m talking about empathy. Books let us slip into the shoes of another person—another gender, another race, another socioeconomic class. There’s no better way to understand people who are different from ourselves.

Finally, I’m thankful for my own career. I adore being a writer. Everything about it—from being able to work from home to getting paid to make things up to seeing my work in bookstores—is amazing. So thank you to everyone who reads this, and to everyone who reads my books.