Tag Archives: middle grade

The Truth About Giving Up on Writing

17 Jan

Have you ever considered giving up on writing?

I know I have. 

Though I’ve been writing stories as long as I can remember, I consider myself as having two true starts. 

1) When I was eleven, my mom died unexpectedly, and I told myself that day I would spend my life pursuing my dreams, no matter how short my life would be. 

2) Around my senior year in college, I decided I wanted to pursue publishing again after a major break from writing. For a few years after that, I wrote for two indie publishers, and then made the decision to try to get an agent. I got one! Then I lost one. 

Now I’m out here writing again. Dreaming again. Wondering where my future will take me. 

Over the past few weeks, I have had a lot of serious decisions to make. Do I want to write in the same genre? Age category? Pursue the stories I’ve trunked or left otherwise unfinished? Do I even keep writing?

That last question is one I know most writers think about at least some point in their career. I certainly have, though I admit that I eventually realize that the question isn’t whether or not I want to keep writing. I always write. Even when I don’t want to, I find a pen in my hand. Writing is my gravity. The real question is if I want to continue pursuing publication. And that’s a whole different can of worms writers have to contend with. 

Do I want to keep pursuing traditional publishing, or do I want to find another method? Do I want to share my words with the world at all? Why do I feel the need to?

These questions are important for all writers to ask themselves. Why? Well, because of surrender. 

Giving up isn’t a giant Aha! moment, where you throw your pages in the trash and set it on fire, declaring your rage-freedom. 

It’s a culmination of a million little moments, where you prioritize this over that, miss deadline after deadline, trunk project after half-written project, until a striking amount of time has passed without much done. It happens. Sometimes, it happens again and again and again until you no longer remember the last time you gave yourself an afternoon to weave words together. Maybe one quiet morning you find time to sit, only to find all your old weavings in tatters, old files corrupted, versions unsaved or lost. Time now shows the errors you couldn’t once see. Which is just more reason to sigh and click delete, delete, delete until you’re staring at a blank page and have no self-confidence to begin anew.

Why write, you think, when you can buy perfectly good books at the store? There’s no point in making your own. It’s a waste of time and resources. You can simply enjoy what others have made. And yes, maybe you would be happy with that. And entertained. But would you feel pride? 

That’s what I am chasing. 

Pride. Not ego. But rather, feeling proud of myself for pursuing the life I always wanted. The dream I cultivated. Worked hard toward, year after year, no matter what stood in my way.

Writing takes a lot of momentum. For me, it’s not difficult to take breaks, but it is difficult to get started again. Which is why I’m so weary of pauses, especially long ones. During those pauses, I sometimes wonder if I’ve been chasing the dream so long, I don’t even know if I’m dreaming anymore. Have I gotten so used to this chasing that it has become an accepted chore? Is writing more habit than happiness?

Writing used to bring me such joy. Such high. There was nothing like sneaking pages of my romance novels between taking notes in biology class. Nothing like passing pages along to my best friend and chat-giggling about them over the phone late into the night. It was fanfiction of my own imagination. Wild ideas and even wilder characters. Dreamy as they were flighty. Emotions high. Secrets higher. 

The structure of what I’ve learned over the years has broken that all back down. 

Now I look at the Timely Death trilogy—a series I first wrote when I was 14—and wonder if I’d create two-faced, sword-dwelling, Midwest magic teens now. 

Probably not. 

Too bizarre, I’d think. Not in line enough with the market. 

Besides, my teens skip school, and students are on lockdown nowadays. Not to mention the homework on paper rather than take-home laptops.

I feel so out of touch sometimes, I think, who am I writing for?

Years ago, I set out to write for kids like me, but do kids like me still exist? Not really. 

Even the book I am currently writing—a personal story about a child affected by the opioid crisis—would hit differently now than when I was young and needed it. When I was eleven and my mom overdosed, it was unheard of in my neighborhood. I got picked on for it. I didn’t know another classmate whose parent died until I was 16, and that was from cancer. I didn’t know another classmate whose parent died from a drug overdose until I was well into college. And by then, my classmates were overdosing, too. 

Most recently, I’ve written poems about her skipping from pharmacy to pharmacy to fill the same prescription over and over again—and now, there are laws in place that prevent that. (Thank God.) But by God, my truth died with her. Of course there will always be universal truths—grief and all that. But the details of the moment are so dependent on the environment that I fear being unable to connect with the audience I once promised myself I would go back and write for. 

I was 11 and lost in the bookstore. There are still 11-year-olds lost in those stores. But can I help them? Reach them? Will it matter or make a difference?

I have to believe I can. I have to believe in myself. I have to believe that I’ve turned writing into a habit, because it takes dedication to succeed. And honestly, it still brings me a lot of joy. 

Most importantly, to this day, I have yet to find a book that was made for a kid like me. (Though I’d highly recommend “Hey, Kiddo” by Jarrett J. Krosoczka.) 

I cannot put into words how much it would’ve meant to me to see a book in the middle grade section that covered what I was going through. And though I still made it in real-life without those sorts of books, I wish I could tell you about the many kids I met who didn’t make it. But their stories aren’t mine to tell. I can only tell mine. And for now, I haven’t given up.   

I am still writing. I am still pursuing publication. 

For 11-year-old me. For other 11-year-olds like me. For that college senior who knew she wanted something different out of life. For me now, who still enjoys the written word over much else. Who now chat-giggles about her work over ZOOM with her writer friends.

Giving up may not be a giant Aha! moment, but neither is deciding to continue the pursuit. 

It’s a decision you make every day. It can be undone. It can be remade. 

The choice is up to you.

For now, I am still here, writing, dreaming, doing my absolute best. Tomorrow, I hope to make the same decision to continue. 

~SAT

2021: The Year of Dramatic, Unfinished Change

20 Dec

Every year, I take time to reflect on where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. Last year was deemed The Strangest Writing Year (Hopefully?), and this year, I’ve decided to call it The Year of Dramatic, Unfinished Change. (Though, that may be too dramatic in itself.) Onto why that is (and also unfinished)… 

At the beginning of this year, my agent was taking my young-adult-turned-adult sci-fi novel out on submission. I was rewriting a different adult science fiction novel and halfway through writing an adult fantasy novel. At work, I had just been chosen to attend the Doniphan Leadership Institute at William Jewell College, and in my personal life, my fiance and I were considering buying a house. 

I end the year in a very different place. For one, I’m no longer agented. My agent decided to leave agenting back in the fall, so I’m now free to query. That said, I haven’t yet begun. Mostly because I’ve had a lot of other things going on. 

  1. I attended and graduated from the Doniphan Leadership Institute at William Jewell. 
  2. I was chosen to mentor in Pitch Wars with my longtime critique partner and friend, Sandra Proudman. We’re now mentoring D.S. Allen, a middle grade writer, on her horror until the agent showcase next year!
  3. SCBWI KS/MO also hired me to teach at the Middle of the Map conference in November. I taught How to Write a Series, and it was so much fun! I offered critiques to writers, and I will be mentoring a young adult writer in 2022. Announcements go up in January. 

Did I mention my personal life?

In 2021, I got married, and we bought our first home together. We’ve been renovating, too. And traveling a bit more. (My favorite trip was when we went ziplining through the Ozarks.) I also turned the big 3-0. 

It truly has been a joyous year. 

Writing-wise, I finished rewriting that adult science fiction book…only to shelve it. I also added 30,000 words to that adult fantasy book…only to put it on pause at 77k. I switched gears to re-read one of my old adult fantasies, made a plan to revise, and then…put it down. Between all that, I worked on a dozen other ideas and outlined a few of them in full, which is exciting. But mostly, it was the year of the unfinished piece. Not that I can’t finish something. I totally can. What happened was that so many life changes made me redirect my path that I ended up half-traveling down a few opportunities to try to make the best decision about which one to commit to. 

Overall, I estimate that I wrote over 100,000 brand-new words, rewrote 50,000, and outlined 30,000. (And that’s not including this blog or other platforms.) Now, at the end of 2021, I can safely say that I’ve made a decision. 

I am focusing on a middle grade verse novel that is super close to my heart, and I hope to query it in 2022 once I finish revising. (Please send me ALL the good luck and well wishes.) 

Maybe I’ll find the perfect agent to champion my work. Maybe I won’t. But I’ll never know if I don’t try! 

There are so many dreams I am already chasing going into 2022. Hence why I’m calling this year unfinished. I still have so much to do. 

Other than what is to come, my trusted almost-eight-year-old laptop died in November, so I had to say goodbye to it. After all the projects I’d completed on that computer, it was hard! But now, it’s the era of Rosie, my new laptop. I also finished uploading Took Me Yesterday to Wattpad and guest spoke at Kearney High School’s creative writing class and at the Lake Waukomis Women’s Club. I created a Teachers & Book Clubs page for readers to use, and it’s been utilized a handful of times. One of my favorite moments this year was when I was interviewed by Austin Gragg for Space and Time Magazine. It is so incredibly neat to hold a printed interview in my hands—and in such an incredible magazine. 

I was also lucky enough to teach Starting a Writing Project for Mid-Continent Public Library (twice)! For those of you who are interested, I’m teaching it again on January 12, 2022. You can learn more here. It’s virtual, open to anyone in the world, and free.

2021 was not what I expected. But then again, neither are any of my past years. 

Publishing is an unpredictable game. Maybe that’s why I like to roll the dice. I never know what’s going to happen, but I know something will as long as I keep trying. 

Here’s to all the surprises to come in 2022. 

~SAT

Want to see what’s happened throughout my years of blogging?

Behind the Scenes of Pitch Wars with Team Stellify

15 Nov

In case you missed it, Team Stellify announced our 2021 mentee for Pitch Wars! (But more on that below.) Since announcement day has come and gone, I thought it would be fun to give everyone a behind-the-scenes peek at what went down with Team Stellify.

This year, Sandra Proudman and I decided to mentor a middle grade writer. You can reference our original wishlist by clicking here.  

Here’s our stats: 182 submissions

  • Sci-Fi:
    • Cyberpunk: 1
    • Space Opera: 2
    • Other: 5
    • Military: 1
    • Soft: 3
    • Dystopian: 1
    • Near future: 2
    • Time Travel: 3
  • Fantasy
    • High/Epic: 19
    • Urban/Contemporary: 22
    • Portal: 27
    • Science fantasy: 7
    • Historical: 3
    • Paranormal: 9
    • Magical Realism: 11
    • Other: 25
  • Mystery: 4
  • Horror: 13
  • Adventure: 8
  • STEM: 6
  • Historical: 1
  • Contemporary: 6
  • Thriller/Suspence: 2

Trends We Saw:

–       Parallel universes/multi-verses

–       Portal fantasies 

–       Grandparents 

–       Disappearances 

–       HUGE word counts and TINY word counts. We had one that was under 10,000 words and another that was 100,000 words.

Team Stellify had a blast! We loved reading through everyone’s pages, and we felt so inspired by all the stories. It was so, so, so hard to choose our mentee. 

So how did we break it down? Sandra and I followed the same steps we did last year. We split our submissions in half. She read 1-91, and I read 92-182 with the goal of each of us coming to the table with five each for our top ten. I ended up coming to the table with six. Sandra brought seven. (What can we say, we truly loved so many books!) In our top thirteen, we had 2 adventures, 1 science fiction, 1 horror, 2 portal fantasies, 2 other fantasy, 3 urban fantasies, 1 science fantasy, and 1 epic fantasy. We then met on ZOOM and dwindled them down until we decided to request seven full manuscripts with three questions for the writer. From there, we read the first 50 pages and reconvened. After discussing which ones we wanted to keep reading, we went back and forth on Twitter chat to talk about options.

It was a hard choice!

There was so much incredible talent, and we definitely would’ve taken on more mentees if we could have. If you submitted to us, thank you for trusting us with your words! We truly enjoyed reading our submissions. 

Now for a fun Q&A: 

What was the biggest difference between reading submissions last year and this year?

Sandra: I don’t necessarily know if there was a huge different reading subs this year than last year. I can say what wasn’t different was how amazing everyone’s stories sounded. There wasn’t a single sub that I read where I didn’t think the story concept was fabulous! So much talent!

Shannon: Last year, we were mentoring young adult fiction, so the age category is obviously going to be the biggest difference. It always surprises me to see what is trending in any given season. Last year, we had a rush of elemental powers. This year, it felt like some version of the multiverse theory (which I think is sooo exciting). In the end, I definitely felt the way Sandra did. There truly was so much incredible talent. I had to remind myself that we weren’t looking for a perfectly polished piece, but rather a piece that we knew how to revise and mentor.

Do you have specific writing tips for this cohort?

Shannon: Read a lot of middle grade before writing middle grade, especially if you are converting a young adult manuscript into a middle grade book. There were a lot of fantastic submissions that I felt were originally YA but didn’t have a lot of changes. Voice is different in YA and MG. So are word count expectations and themes. Take a step back and come back to your book with fresh eyes. That can help you see those places that need a little extra fixing. 

Sandra: Oh gosh, let me think for a moment. Well, I guess a couple of specific writing tips that I can offer this cohort of writers is to always be extra careful that you’re writing in a middle school voice, with the syntax of a middle grader. Also, to remember your word counts, which is something I tend to talk about a lot! Especially right now, agents and editors don’t have huge bandwidth to delve into stories that might not be the right word count for your age group. There are a lot of epic stories right now with giant word counts in both middle grade and young adult; however, not all agents and editors are open to stories having inflated word counts when they hit their inboxes and prefer to control word count after signing a story!

How about publishing tips for this group? 

Sandra: My biggest publishing tip right now is to diversify! If you’re planning to have a long-term career in publishing, you’ll notice how lots of full-time writers are writing across genres and age groups. If you’re working on a middle grade manuscript and you plan to query it for six months, perhaps the project that you work on while you query is young adult. That way if you sign with an agent, they’ll be able to not only take your middle grade out on submission, but once that’s off and away, they’ll also be able to send your young adult manuscript out once it’s ready! You might have two, three, etc., projects out on submission at once! Another tip is to stay positive! Publishing was a tough industry before COVID, but now it’s even more so. But keep writing, keep going, keep fighting for your dream!

Shannon: Pay attention to word counts. We had a HUGE range this year. A few were near 10k; others were near 100k. Broadly, middle grade tends to be between 20,000-55,000 words. Fantasy can go a little higher than that, but the higher you go, the harder it can be to sell as a debut. Beta readers always help me figure out where I can cut or add. If you haven’t had a critique partner go through your work, I highly recommend it. (Plus, you can make the bestest of friends that way.) 

What are we most excited about?

Working with our mentee, D.S. Allen! She wrote such a fun, spooky horror story that we both immediately ate up. It has a magical flute, old revenge, family, friendship, and parallel universes. What more could you need? Give her a follow on Twitter and stay tuned! (Fun fact: D.S. Allen’s submission was #118!) 

Writing About Grief

4 Oct

As someone who usually writes science fiction and fantasy, I decided to take a sharp turn during these last few months of 2021 to write my first contemporary. It’s a verse novel, centered on the loss of my mother when I was 11. (For those of you who are new to my blog, she died from a drug overdose, and I struggled to find books for kids like me in the middle grade section.) I finally want to try to make that happen. Granted, it’s going to be a while before I finish, but I’m halfway through and thought it was time to talk about the lessons I’ve learned while writing about grief. That isn’t to say you must be writing a contemporary novel centered on grief. Grief can be present in any novel in any genre, but these tips are designed for someone who is writing a novel that is exploring grief as the central theme. 

First and foremost, when grief is the central theme of your work, it’s important to keep track of your emotions, especially if what you’re writing about is deeply personal or based on real-life. Check in with yourself. Give yourself permission to put your work down and come back at another time. Have something else to write on the side. Whatever you need to do to stop yourself from rumination. If you’re trying to write about a tragedy that recently happened, that’s okay, but I would caution you to take time to grieve before you dive into writing a book about your grief. Let time give you space to heal.

Now for writing advice:

Read Other Books About Grief

I know this might sound counterintuitive. Too much grief might be too much grief. But for me, I decided to lean onto other works of art. I picked up some nonfiction and fiction that centers on the topic I’m covering, and I’m still combing through them right now. Seeing how others covered grief in their stories helps me see which events in my life will work for a story rather than a diary entry. It can be extra helpful if you can find books in the same age category. That will help you with voice, but also give you some possible comp titles, so that you can pitch your book knowing where it will land on the shelf. 

Balance the Sad with Happy

Even though I’m writing a book about an extremely dark time in my childhood, I still remember happy slices of life. Granted, when I started writing this book and took a step back, I realized those were missing. It takes another muscle to my brain to recall those happy moments that took place in the dark. Though, I think that’s perfectly normal. When you’re dealing with grief—especially the death of the loved one—guilt can be associated with happiness. That might happen in your writing, too. Be prepared to stumble along the way. 

Take breaks. BIG ones. And don’t forget your resources.

You may get overwhelmed, and that’s okay. I made a promise to myself that I’d stop writing any time it started to feel like too much. During those pauses, I liked to search through some resources, such as The Grief Toolbox: How to Write About Grief in a Story or Novel. There’s lot of fantastic articles out there that I’d recommend. Give yourself some time to research others’ methods. 

Finally, it’s okay to get inspiration from real life, but remember that you’re writing a story. My mom’s death didn’t happen in a neat little package that fits on a storyline arc. I didn’t follow the traditional five stages of grief in order, jumping from one period of growth to the next with clear transitions. Life doesn’t work that way. Instead, I am using these events and emotions to write, and it’s okay to write messy, especially on a first draft. From there, it’s my job as a writer to get an actual plot out of it all. 

The biggest surprise for me? Grief can feed off other grief—and spark more inspiration. 

Writing about my childhood grief also brought up my teenage grief. Two tragedies in my life really fed off of the other. I didn’t know why I kept thinking about my teenage years when I was trying to think of my middle grade years, but I realized my teenage years was when I started to come to terms with it, and there is no writing about one without bringing up the other. Not for me. So, I opened up a fresh document and began writing a YA verse novel at the same time. I’m often flipping back and forth between the two with little idea which one I’ll finish first. But at the end of this, I know I’ll have a book about grief. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll make it to the shelves one day, so a kid like me can see it and know they aren’t alone in their grief. 

~SAT

Pitch Wars 2021 Wishlist!

11 Sep

Hello, Pitch Wars hopefuls! For a downloadable, plain-text PDF version of this post, click hereThis year I am partnering up with the fabulous Sandra Proudman to mentor a middle grade science fiction or fantasy writer for Pitch Wars. We are Team Stellify. Stellify means to change or be changed into a star. It’s associated with myths and magic, and we are ready to channel all of our magic to stellify our mentee! We’re going to work hard and fight hard for you and your book, but we’re also here to have fun and be supportive.

If you want more information about Pitch Wars, check out pitchwars.org for more info. If you’ve somehow arrived at my blog first, please take a minute to go visit Sandra Proudman’s blog, where she talks about who we are, what we’re about, and lists the movies, TV shows, and books we absolutely love! Who knows? You might find a good comp title in there 😉

Below, you’ll find our mentoring style as well as our official wishlist! 

WHAT WE BELIEVE WE CAN HELP OUR MENTEE WITH:

  • Character development
  • Dialogue
  • Line edits
  • Pacing
  • Stakes
  • Query letter
  • World building 

If you’ve won a critique from us in the past or know us from social media: Please feel free to still submit to us! We’ll be removing names from submission items to be as impartial as possible.

Our Communication Style:

We’ll be with you every step of the way during your Pitch Wars journey. From explaining why we might be offering a certain comment/suggested change to guiding you through the querying process if this is your first time entering the querying trenches. Our goal is that by the time the showcase comes around, you’ll feel confident querying your work, whether you get one request for pages or thirty. 

We talk on Zoom a bunch, so we are always open to hopping on a Zoom call. If you’re not into video conferencing, we can always hop on the phone or chat online. We’ll work with you at your comfort level! We believe in equal access, and we’re willing to be flexible with deadlines. 

What We Are Looking for in a Mentee:

We are looking to work with a passionate writer who is dedicated to making their story the best it can possibly be, even if this means a possible complete rewrite. Be positive and ready to put in hard work. There is, of course, a temptation to say ‘yes’ to be selected even if you don’t think your novel needs lots of work; if you truly know that you would not be open to major revisions, we may not be the best selection for you. 

CATEGORY: MG 

GENRES: 

  • Fantasy (portal, magical realism, other)
  • Adventure
  • Horror
  • Steampunk
  • Sci-Fi (space opera, near future, dystopian/post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk, soft, time travel, other)
  • Retellings
  • STEM
  • Romance (sci-fi, fantasy)
  • Contemporary with a dash of speculative

And now….

OUR WISHLIST:

Diverse characters written as the heroes of their own stories written by diverse writers. Sandra is Latinx, so Latinx (especially Afro-Latinx) stories hold a special place on our wish list. 

Stories by LGBTQIA+ writers also hold a special place on our wishlist. Especially by writers of color.

Lush or strange fantasies with a diverse cast of characters set anywhere! Contemporary fantasies are our specialty!

Stories about found family and friendships, witty banter a plus!

Retellings, especially with a diverse twist and/or unique tales/myths/creatures.

Immersive settings and awesome world building!

Horror with twists and turns at every corner. We want witches/brujx, ghosts, haunted forests, bloodline curses, all of it! Give us your spooky tales, your ghosts, your monsters, your nightmares that come to life.

We love sci-fi, though tend to lean toward fantasy stories for Pitch Wars. If you do want to send us sci-fi, we specifically love space/androids/robots/AI and parallel universes, or any stories revolving STEM. We would love to see all the genre-bending sci-fi fantasy stories.

Fierce girls that don’t need a hero to save them and who rebel against the life others want for them. 

Epic action scenes reminiscent of the Agni Kai scene between Zuko and Azula in Avatar the Last Airbender! 

What we’re likely to pass on:

  • Most importantly, we are not a good fit for stories with themes of terminal illness or explicit scenes of sexual violence or assault. Please no stories that would require a heavy trigger warning. 
  • We are not mentoring Adult or YA books. Don’t waste a slot sending us your book if it’s in these age groups! *Okay to send us a YA book that you want to age down.
  • We are not the best fit for sports books or hard science fiction with a lot of technical aspects. There will likely be a lot that we couldn’t comment on or help with.
  • Please eliminate as many typos as you can prior to sending as they can often distract from getting into the story!

We cannot wait to read your submissions and no matter what happens, you finished a manuscript, you are amazing!

With all our support, 

Shannon & Sandra

Pitch Wars 2021 Middle Grade Mentors’ Wish Lists

  1. Tracy Badua
  2. Eric Bell
  3. Julie Artz
  4. Shannon A. Thompson and Sandra Proudman
  5. George Jreije and LQ Nguyen
  6. Darlene P. Campos
  7. Rebecca Petruck
  8. Graci Kim and Karah Sutton
  9. Shakirah Bourne
  10. Kim Long and Jennifer L. Brown
  11. Adrianna Cuevas and Sarah Kapit
  12. Sylvia Liu
  13. Cindy Baldwin and Amanda Rawson Hill
  14. Erin Teagan
  15. A.J. Sass and Nicole Melleby


Click here to view all Pitch Wars 2021 Mentors’ Wish Lists. To view the wish lists by genre, visit this link.

What Writers Can Learn from Reading Their OLD Work

30 Aug

I’ve been writing stories ever since I learned how to write. I’m not kidding. My first pieces of work go back to when I was 4 years old. My first story was a 5-page rambling piece about my new husky throwing a party so that the two older dogs would attend and possibly befriend him. (Totally based on a true story. But more on that below.) 

Lots of writers have stories like mine. That first attempt in grade school. Then, the first REAL attempt. You know, the one where you wrote wayyyyy too many words over a span of years. Maybe you finished; maybe you didn’t, but you *think* there’s a copy of it somewhere on an old laptop or shoved in a dresser drawer somewhere. If you have it, I encourage you to go find it today. 

I’m a big believer in keeping old work. I’m a bigger believer in re-reading it. Not just to evaluate where you started and who you’ve grown to be, but also to simply enjoy it. 

Those words brought you joy at some point, and I think you’ll be surprised to find they still do (even if your writing wasn’t exactly what you’d call “seasoned”). You might also learn a thing or two about yourself that you weren’t expecting. 

Let’s take my dog story as an example. I wrote it because we had literally just welcomed a new husky puppy to the family. We had two other dogs. They had to learn to get along. BAM. Storytime. At least, that’s how I saw it at the time. Looking back, the theme of friendship isn’t lost on me. As someone who moved around the country every two-ish years while growing up, I was a very lonely kid, and stories often were the only things to keep me company. My characters were some of my best friends. They still are, in fact. (I certainly spend more time at my computer desk than at brunch catching up with buddies.) Friendship was something that always eluded me and, honestly, it still feels that way most days. I often write about that feeling in my current novels. What surprised me, though, was my four-year-old self considering it. Even before I knew what a theme was, I had threaded it into my storyline while also expressing my own wants and fears. And isn’t that what storytelling is about? Personal expression?

I bring this up because I think it’s quite common to lose sight of storytelling basics the more you learn and grow. In an industry where you constantly hear that’s been done before; everything’s been done before; why is your story unique?; why should we care?, it’s easy to start tweaking plot to add more action; changing characters to shift dynamics; moving or cutting whole scenes to keep up the tension; and before you know it, the story feels stale, and you cannot for the life of you figure out why (especially after twelve revisions).

Maybe—in all those revisions—you accidentally lost track of why you wanted to write the story in the first place or why the story mattered to you. Maybe you cut out that theme of friendship in favor of a romance subplot you’ve been told would be more popular. Worse, you can re-read your new version a 1,000 times and never see what’s wrong because it isn’t there anymore. 

That’s why you keep old work and old versions. It reminds you of why you began and what you were trying to express. In fact, I’ve been re-reading a lot of my old work for this purpose. I’ve even been asking myself what I want out of my stories as a whole.  

Call it an existential crisis brought on by the pandemic, or writer’s block, or self-discovery, or whatever. But I decided to do a deep dive into all my old work. 

Some of those ideas I came up with in high school were brazen and wacky and just plain old rubbish. But they were fresh. So fresh, in fact, that I doubt I could come up with some of those ideas today. Back then, I wasn’t worried about writing to hit a trend or fulfilling genre expectations. (Both of which aren’t inherently bad things to keep in mind while writing professionally.) I simply wrote, and within those writings, I found some shiny pieces. Things that, if I came up with today, I might outright dismiss because “no one will want to read that.” I’m re-learning how to love that wild freshness again.

This past month, I sat back and re-read the Timely Death trilogy. (Yes, my own books.) It felt weird at first. Certainly egotistical. (Why spend time reading my own books that are complete and published when I could spend time reading others’ novels or re-reading a WIP that has hope for the future?) Trust me, I thought the same thing. But the books had been nagging at me for weeks. I just had this feeling that I wanted to dive back into that world and re-experience it. 

Some things I learned from reading my own work:

  1. I did not remember large parts of my own trilogy. It’s been so many years, it was almost like reading a book someone else wrote. This helped me judge it from a third-party perspective (and enjoy it)! I tried to take note of which parts of the book I loved and which slowed me down. They were surprisingly different than I remembered! 
  2. I can certainly see where I’ve grown—my word choice is stronger, my transitions are swifter, and my dialogue feels more natural. I also think my world building ability has grown, not just the literal world, but also how it is introduced and why. That’s a good feeling! 
  3. I can see where I regressed. Granted this point is a little bit more complicated. I have to be careful not to compare a final, published piece with my current WIPs, but I still feel like my characters were more vulnerable back then than they are now. They certainly have more imperfections and layers, and so do their relationships. I think there’s a lot of pressure right now for characters to be more “perfect” than they were in the past. For example, if a character thinks or feels something controversial, it can be seen as the author’s opinion, especially if another character doesn’t correct them, and I (personally) think that’s a slippery slope. Many of my characters act and think in ways that I do not. I’m just trying to tell a story, and sometimes stories follow controversial people or situations, especially in fantasy where the rules of that world do not align with the rules in our world. I think it was Will in Cassandra Clare’s book that said, “Requited love is ideal but doesn’t make much of a ballad,” and I feel that way about stories in general. If my characters acted or thought “correctly” all the time (or, in the case of the quote, loved each other correctly), it would become a very boring book. But that’s probably another topic for another day! Basically, I feel like I regressed in the darker parts of my books and characters. I’ve held a lot of their vulnerability back out of fear for how it would reflect on me. And I hope to break that mold again. 

As an extra, re-reading definitely rekindled that flame for the books. I spent a week or so outlining an adult followup for the trilogy, and it was so much fun!

My biggest takeaway:

Looking back on all my old books and manuscripts, I realized I have the same central theme threading through all of them—except for the ones I’m struggling to connect with. It was a EUREKA moment for me. This theme, which I’d rather keep to myself for now, is an essential part of who I am as a writer. Somehow, somewhere, I lost sight of that. I lost that feeling. Now I’m working on getting it back. 

Have you ever read an old work of yours and realized a truth about your writing?

~SAT

P.S. There won’t be a blog post on Monday, September 6th. It is Labor Day, and I will be taking the weekend off. The next blog post will be the Pitch Wars blog hop, which takes place on Saturday, September 11.

For those who didn’t see the announcement, I am returning to Pitch Wars this year as a co-mentor with Sandra Proudman! We’re Team Stellify, and we’re going to mentor a middle grade writer. We’re so excited to meet our mentee! For more information, visit pitchwars.org. You can see my Pitch Wars profile here.

If you’re a middle grade writer interested in this mentorship program, I encourage you to come to the Pitch Wars Middle Grade Mentor chat this Saturday, September 4 at 12 PM EST! Click here to add it to your YouTube watchlist.

My Favorite Books of 2018

15 Dec

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 160 books this year. I read more so than usual, not going to lie, mainly because it was one of the only activities I could do between my job changes and the move. I also started working in a library, which helped my ability to find new books, try more genres, and just explore overall. (This generally happened during “processing,” which is when we check all the books that patrons turn in for damages and such. I saw all kinds of books I wouldn’t have seen if it weren’t for processing.) So this year I wanted to share more of my favorites than I did last year, and in more categories. Just like last year, though, these are books I read this year, not necessarily books that released this year. If you want a complete list of books I read, check out my Goodreads challenge.

I hope you find a read to check out!

Favorite Adult Romance

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

The Kiss Quotient is a diverse romance, full of plenty of fun twists and hilarious interactions between Stella (an algorithm experiment, who also has Asperger’s) and Michael, an escort. Think Pretty Woman, but gender-swapped, more diverse, and a lot more sexy. Even better? There’s a sequel releasing next year! I believe it’s also being made into a movie.

Adult Thriller

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

Not for the faint of heart, this unique thriller connects a suicide in a book store with Lydia’s dark, twisted past, including an interaction with a serial killer. I don’t want to say much more, because this book deserves to be read without any prior knowledge. You’ll figure out many of the twists, only to realize the author wanted you to figure it out just so that he could surprise you with ones you weren’t considering. If you love thrillers full of strange puzzles and family secrets, this is well worth the read.

Choose Your Own Adventure

My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran

Choose your own adventure is on the rise in publishing, even for adults, which is why I had to check out one this year. And it didn’t disappoint. Another romance, this novel allows you to choose who the main character falls in love with, and it takes you on a wild ride across countries (and gives many possibilities). It’s such a hoot to go back and change your mind, too. If you like romance, definitely check this one out.

Favorite Graphic Novel

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

This is basically the cutest graphic novel ever. Staring a dressmaker who secretly makes dresses for a prince in disguise, this graphic novel is about discovering yourself and being kind to others, not to mention following your passion. And the artwork is beautiful.

Middle Grade

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

This spooky middle grade about a girl who sees ghosts brings a unique twist to the horror genre, especially for kids. It’s refreshing, creepy, funny, and action-packed. Not to mention that it’s set in Scotland!

Favorite Picture Book

Unicorn (And Horse) by David W Miles

I read a ton of picture books this year, trying to find books for storytime at the library, and I honestly never realized how fun they can be, not to mention how beautiful the artwork is. This was my favorite, both for the artwork and the hilarious story. It’s about a preppy unicorn and a grumpy horse, total opposites, and how their lives intertwine.

YOUNG ADULT SECTION

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Sci-Fi

Wildcard by Marie Lu

This is the sequel of Warcross, my favorite novel that was published in 2017 last year. If you’re into near-futurism, definitely check out this series. The plot twists are to die for.

Fantasy

To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

Confession time: I’m not a huge fan of fairytale retellings. This one, however, is a huge exception. It’s every bit brutal and monstrous that I’ve always wanted from a dark fantasy retelling.

Historical

The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen

The prose in this historical is to die for. And it covers a time period rarely explored in young adult fiction. If you like puzzles, journeys, and secret identities, I recommend this one.

Contemporary

Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter

I’ve been reading Ally Carter since I was a preteen. She is one of my ultimate favs, so it comes to no surprise that her latest stole my heart, crushed it, and put it back together again. This save-the-president’s-son book takes place in Alaska, and it’s badass. Also, super clean for those parents and educators out there looking for that perfect transitional book between MG and YA.

Humor

Kill The Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky

I wish we had more humor books in general. (They’re so hard to find!) While I know everyone’s humor is different, I really loved this book. It’s about fangirls getting together, accidentally kidnapping a member of a boyband, and the following chaos. It’s absolutely ridiculous to the point that it’s believable, and I couldn’t stop giggling throughout.

Biggest Surprise

The Loneliest Girl in The Universe by Lauren James

This book is about a girl on a spaceship heading for a new earth, but everyone else is gone. She’s all by herself. And the following story is really surprising. I don’t want to say much, because it’ll ruin it, and this book deserves to be read without prior knowledge. I absolutely loved it.

Debut

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

This African-inspired fantasy is super lush and exciting! Not only is the plot adventurous, but the cast is also fresh. It’s a big book, so give yourself time to really sink your teeth into it, because it’s quite the start to a new series.

Continuing Series

Giant Days by John Allison

Okay, okay, so I’m cheating a little bit since Giant Days is a graphic novel series (and get this: it’s shelved in the Adult section in a our library, while the novelization is shelved in the Young Adult section), so I’m not sure if this is perfect category, but it deserves major recognition. I love this graphic novel series. It’s about three girls going through college, and it’s priceless.

Series Conclusion

This Towering Sky by Katharine McGee

It’s over! The Thousandth Floor trilogy has ended, and my heart just couldn’t take it. Not only is this series’ ending exciting, it’s perfect. All the characters’ conclusions make sense and give you this “of course” feeling that is so satisfying and rare.

Top Three Honorable Mentions

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland is about a girl stalked by Death, literally. (Or is it literally?) You’ll have to read and make that conclusion for yourself.

Winner Take All by Laurie Devore is about two very intelligent (and destructively competitive) teenagers who accidentally fall in love. It’s not a rosy-romance, but rather an honest portrayal of examining your strengths, weaknesses, and toxicity, even to those that you love.

S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett almost won the “Biggest Surprise” for me, mainly for the last few pages. Not only is the book unsettling, it’s also exciting, and quite the examination of “tradition” in regards to high society education. And those last few pages! EEK. I wish there was a sequel. 

My Ultimate Favorite!

The Good Demon by Jimmy Cajoleas

You know those horror movies about exorcisms? Well, this is what happens afterward—except Clare never wanted her demon exorcised. She loves Her, and she will do anything to get Her back. This book is incredible. It’s one of the most atmospheric reads I’ve ever had the pleasure of stumbling across, and it sucked me in from page one. Clare’s voice is maddening, delicate, and brutally honest. I cheered her on and also became incredibly frustrated with her, but most of all, I always believed she was real, flaws and all. And I haven’t even mentioned the unique subject matter of this book. I’m normally one that avoids religious-type books altogether. (Yes, including exorcisms.) But this one felt explorative and emotional, even in its small town setting. I highly recommend this book to anyone, if not for the seductive pull of the demon’s presence, then for the plot twists, atmosphere, and prose.

#SATurdate: Signed Books, Cherry Cookies, Everything Everything, & The Lizzie Borden Chronicles

20 Feb

The book signing in Barnes & Noble went so well! I met so many great readers, and I was able to share that experience with amazing authors. If you would like a signed copy of The Timely Death Trilogy, e-mail me at shannonathompson@aol.com. The Barnes & Noble has a few copies left, and they will ship the books to you! To those of you I had the joy of meeting, thank you for coming out!

What I’m Writing:

Bogart judged me harshly this week.

Bogart judged me harshly this week.

I’m 30,000 words into Take Me Yesterday, and yes, I’m still handwriting this entire novel, which has been quite fun. I handwrote enough this week that I was able to start typing more onto my computer, so I did that—which of course has me changing and shifting things and driving myself mad. This was a delight to me. I like driving myself mad. This was the first week in a LONG time that I was able to go to my favorite coffee house and really type it all out. Well worth the trip.

What I’m Publishing:

This week’s #1lineWed preview theme was “texture.”

Shadows dripped off the bumpy texture and pooled into the center of the living room.

Fun story about this #1lineWed preview. For all you fans of The Timely Death Trilogy there is actually a “shade” in Bad Bloods. Her original name was Kati, but it was changed to Violet or simply Vi in the editing process. This is a description of her coming down from the ceiling as a shadow. I like to connect all of my novels, so keep your eyes open! You might see something from previous works that new readers won’t.

Add Bad Bloods to Goodreads: November Rain and November Snow

Visit the Facebook, Pinterest, and the Extras page.

What I’m Reading:

currentI started to read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon…and then I finished it in one sitting. I literally never put it down. I knew I had to buy this book when a Barnes & Noble employee passed me and said, “You’re really enjoying that, huh?” Apparently, I was blissing out. Everything, Everything is an intimate, insane, and intricate exploration of love and life and all of the fear and joy in between. It is a heartbreaking exploration of family, friendship, health, and identity. Oh, and humuhumunukunukuapuaa. It is…everything. Read my full 5-star review by clicking here. My favorite quote was, “Sometimes you do things for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrongs ones and sometimes it’s impossible to tell the difference.”

I am also reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland on a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, and I love it so far! This novel was actually recommended to me by the Barnes & Noble event coordinator in Wichita, Kansas, and I always love recommendations. I thought I’d also share the other two books I bought while in Wichita: Dreamthief by Tamara Grantham (a CTP novel) and The Republic of Pirates: Behind the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down by Colin Woodard (because who doesn’t want to know more about pirates?)

What I’m Listening To:

Railroad Track by Willy Moon is still my inspiration for my writing life right now, so that’s about all I’m listening to.

What I’m Watching:

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles! I know, I know. It’s totally speculative and fiction, but I loved this show. It’s twisted, dark, and filled with horror and delight. (Can I say horror and delight in the same sentence?) Well, it’s on Netflix right now, and I have Netflix again. (Eep.) I must resist watching too much, but I definitely recommend this show if you love horror and loving the villains.

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I also watched The Way of the Gunbecause going back to the year 2000 can be fun sometimes. And bloody. Really, really bloody.

What I’m Baking, Making, and Drinking:

I made dark chocolate chip cherry fill-in cookies for Valentine’s Day! NOM. 

What I’m Wearing:

PINK. I wore a lot of pink for Valentine’s Day. I actually like the color pink, but I don’t like wearing the color pink. It feels too bold and bright for my vampire lifestyle, but I am trying to be more…shall I say, colorful?

What I’m Wanting:

I mean, who wouldn’t want a bunch of Sailor Moon collectibles? I’d be happy with Luna, Artemis, and Tuxedo Mask…and Saturn…and Jupiter…and oh wait. I want them all. Look at them here.

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What I’m Dreaming Of:

I had this really strange—very realistic—dream that someone broke into my house…and started making espresso. They even brought it upstairs and gave it to my roommate in the dark, and I was VERY confused. I wanted to scream, but I also wanted some espresso, so when they started to hand me something, I was excited. But they handed me a bunny. An adorable, fuzzy, kicking bunny. That was it. (I swear, there is no way dreams ALWAYS mean something. I mean, sure, I think they can symbolically mean something some of the time, but my dreams are too consistent and crazy…unless that means I’m consistently crazy, which is a possibility.)

What Else Is Going On:

At the Barnes & Noble book signing, I’m pretty sure there was a glitch in the Matrix. We had SIX Sarahs (all spelt with H) come up in a row. I believe all the authors had a great giggle over that…so thank you, Sarahs!

~SAT

Have you checked out this amazing gift basket Clean Teen Publishing is giving away this month? It has over $130 worth of goodies including a Kindle Fire, several print novels, sweets, swag, and more! Enter to win here.

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If you would like a signed copy of any book in The Timely Death Trilogy, e-mail me at shannonathompson.com. Barnes & Noble in Wichita has a few copies left, and they will ship you one.

Minutes Before Sunset: book 1: FREE 

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Seconds Before Sunrise: book 2:

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Death Before Daylight: book 3:

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