My Pitch Wars Mentor Wish List

Hi there! My name’s Brian and I’m glad to meet you!


Who am I? Just a YA mentor, standing in front of a group of prospective mentees, asking one of them to give me a novel I’ll love to pieces. So, you know, nothing big. Yeah, right!

First, let me congratulate you. You wouldn’t be looking at this bio—or any of the other mentors’ bios—if you didn’t have a completed novel handy, so kudos to you for getting that far because there are loads of would-be writers who never complete a draft. You are way ahead of the curve already.

Second, you have come to the right place, because Pitch Wars is an unbeatable experience and I applaud you for planning to enter. You’re going to meet many, many wonderful members of the writing community here, so I’m excited for how much you’re going to get from this experience regardless of whether you get selected by a mentor or not.

Finally, thanks for checking out my bio. This is my first time as a mentor, and I’m stoked! I was selected as a mentee last year, and my mentor, Holly Faur, got my novel and pitch into such good shape that I landed my agent–the fantastic Laura Crockett with Triada US Literary Agency–a few weeks after the agent round took place. A Silence Worth Breaking was my sixth manuscript, so perseverance really can pay off! None of this would have happened without Pitch Wars and I hope you’ll have a great story to tell about this experience once it’s over.

So, a bit about my background. I studied English and creative writing in college, have edited novels and short stories, interned with publishers, and now work for one in addition to my own writing, so I definitely have a love affair with reading, writing, and publishing going on. I read while walking around the block on lunch breaks, and I’m still peeved that Gavin Kwong won our fifth grade book reading contest after I’d won the previous three years, so hopefully you have an idea of how much I love books!

As a mentor, here are some things you should know about how I plan to work with you. I will have an edited version of your novel back to you close to the selection date (ideally within a few days), as well as an edit letter with more general points to consider for strengthening your book (a quick tip: look for crutch words in your novel right now and get rid of as many as possible!). I want you to have as much time as possible during our two months together to work on your book; I’m hoping we’ll be able to do two significant edits of your book, so I hope you’re ready to work! I was fortunate not to have to give my novel a drastic overhaul last year, but that doesn’t mean I won’t suggest one for your book if I think one could make your book awesome, so I hope you are open to this possibility.

I’m going to be looking for a story that is polished, at least to some degree. If you’ve just ripped through a first draft and are submitting it without having done serious work on it, we’re not going to be a good fit. Some typos here and there aren’t going to be deal-breakers for me, but if I’m having to stop every sentence to figure out what’s going on, or if you haven’t at least run your novel through Spellcheck at least once, I’ll be passing pretty quick.

I’ll be available via email, Skype, social media, and maybe text in a pinch, so we’ll have chances to connect whenever you need help with anything. I won’t always be immediately available (say, during work hours!), but I’ll be responding ASAP as often as you need me to. Bounce ideas off me, get clarification on suggestions I’ve made, tell me how much you hate working on your 50-word pitch (you will) and need a shoulder to cry on (I did); I’m going to be here to help, so never worry that you might be inundating me with questions or whatever—that’s why I’m here. We’re on the same team (we’ll need to come up with a good Twitter team name, by the way, so bring your thinking cap!) and I want you to succeed!

All right, so now that all of that’s out of the way, here’s what I’m looking for in a YA submission:

–Literary/Drama (not melodrama)



–Friendship stories/some Romance (but nothing smexy–not my thing!)

–Magical Realism


–I’d love a YA version of a big ensemble story like Love, Actually







–Erotica (I’m a YA mentor, so this should go without saying, but just in case it’s not clear…)

–Stories with tired tropes (milquetoast hero from middle of nowhere saves the world, love triangles that are as manufactured as the Kardashians are)

If I haven’t covered any genres here, feel free to ask, but if it’s not coming to my mind then chances are good I’m not going to be super open to it.

It’s also worth noting that if your book has any of the following details in it, we won’t be a good fit:

–Child abuse/death, especially infants and toddlers (I don’t care how essential it is to the storyline, I can’t handle it)

–Animal abuse

–Holocaust romances, which have apparently become a thing

–Extended religious bashing, regardless of the religion; this goes for religious bigotry as well

Here are some of my favorite books regardless of genre, target audience, etc., so you can get a sense of some of the kinds of stories/writing styles I like:

Wonder Boys – Michal Chabon

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Waiting – Ha Jin

Sky Blue – Travis Thrasher

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

The Legend trilogy – Marie Lu

The Dominion trilogy – Robin Parrish

The Maze Runner trilogy – James Dashner

One Day – David Nicholls

The Princess Bride

The Lord of the Rings

Harry Potter

The Chronicles of Narnia

So whaddayasay? Are we a match? I hope so! If you have questions about what I might or might not be interested in, you can find me on Twitter at @Brian_C_Palmer.

Good luck!

Oh, and I have a blog hop letter for you scavenger hunters out there:

Oregon O

<!– beginning of export.  owner: brenleedrake, postid: 05Jul2016a, columns: 3, mode: link –><table width=”100%” border=”0″><tr><td class=”blenza-td” width=”33%” align=”left” valign=”top”>1.






















</td><td class=”blenza-td” width=”33%” align=”left” valign=”top”>23.






















</td><td class=”blenza-td” width=”33%” align=”left” valign=”top”>45.






















</td></tr></table><p style=”border: 2px solid #000000; text-align: center; padding: 4px; color: #000000;”>Powered by… <a target=”_blank” href=””>Mister Linky’s Magical Widgets</a>.</p><!– end of export –>


I’m going to be a Mentor in this Summer’s Pitch Wars!

You read that heading right! After having an awesome experience as a mentee last year, now I get to be a mentor in Brenda Drake’s awesome Twitter contest this year! I am so stoked!

All I’m allowed to say right now is I’m going to be mentoring in the YA category, so I’m looking forward to this. If you’re a writer and you’re looking for an agent, you’re going to want to give this contest a look, trust me! General information can be found on Brenda’s website, with more specific information to come in the next couple months.

To keep up on things, follow Brenda on Twitter (@brendadrake), or me (because Lord knows I’ll be talking about it!) at @Brian_C_Palmer, or check the hashtag #PitchWars.

As two lovable knuckleheads once said…

This is gonna be cool

How the Rock Band The Joy Formidable Reminded Me about the Complexity and Power of Art

A little over a month ago I had the chance to tick an event off my bucket list: seeing The Joy Formidable in concert. In an age where rock and roll has largely become homogenous, shallow, and forgettable, this Welsh rock has blown my mind over the course of three English-language studio albums (some Welsh releases are out there for the lucky few who can find them), and seeing them in concert exceeded my expectations.

But this wasn’t just one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to (I rocked out the whole time and was feeling it the morning after, believe you me), it was also a perfect example of the amazing power and complexity of art in all its forms. A few things happened which spoke to me as a writer:

  1. At one point, singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd came down into the crowd and performed an acoustic song. I was right behind them, which was pretty cool, but as I looked around during the performance, I was more struck by the mile-wide smiles I saw on several faces, as if this one moment was making the fans’ entire year. They looked blissfully happy that these two were sharing this moment with them like this. I want my art to do that for even one person, not because it will be some feather in my cap, but because something I have created will have touched a person that much. This power is real, and it needs to be harnessed and channeled so others can experience it too.
  2. On a related note, the trio had PHENOMENAL stage presence, and the way they fed off each other and connected with the audience was outstanding. They joked with the audience, had full-blown conversations a couple times about completely random things, and every last second of it worked. These three were just rock stars on a stage shooting the breeze in between songs as naturally as if they were having a beer with their mates. They didn’t just shoegaze on stage either, they played to the crowd, they engaged them, they reminded us that they were happy to have us there. Are you doing this with your fans? If not, you should try to. It doesn’t take much to let your readers know they matter to you and that you’re thinking of them even if you don’t personally know most of them. Build some trust with them, and they will return the favor and stick around for the ride, believing it’s completely worth it, and isn’t that part of the point? Going on a flippin’ fantastically awesome journey together?
  3. The final thing I learned is they aren’t afraid to do the unexpected, and you shouldn’t be either. I was shocked that they didn’t play two of their bigger hits–“This Ladder is Ours” and “Little Blimp”–but their absence did not make the concert a waste by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, in a way it was refreshing because they felt free to play other parts of their catalog. Similarly, their just-released new album, Hitch, is a sonic departure for them that a lot of people aren’t jiving with as readily as their previous releases, but I give them five thousand kinds of props for their decision to do some risk-taking in an effort to explore new facets of the creative streaks that are inside them. We as writers should be doing this as well, no matter how scary it seems. If you aren’t stretching yourself, what’s the point? One of those worst pieces of writing advice I’ve ever heard is “Write what you know.” Bollocks. START with what you know, if you like–that makes perfect sense–but if you stick with things you know, your art will suffer, and readers will suffer by extension. Don’t be afraid to try something new; after all, you can’t please everybody.

Art has the power to be something spectacular. Rock music, paintings, books…all of these creative avenues can help us express who we are, learn more about ourselves, and connect with others in ways no one else can. Being an artist is an enormous responsibility, but it’s also an enormous privilege, and as The Joy Formidable showed me (on April Fool’s Day of all days!) it’s something that can bring people together and blow their minds in the best way possible.

Now what’s not to like about that?

Deal Announcement: Jared Reck, YA Contemporary

An awesome story from my agent about a massive sale she made today. Congratulations go out to her, Jared Reck (can’t wait to check this one out!), and all of the Triada US family! I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I did! Here’s to the Anti-April Fool’s Day shenanigans!

Scribbles & Wanderlust


Deal Announcements feature my most recent deal as an agent and the story behind it. Writers and readers should experience how an agent knows when they’ve struck gold and sign an author, the beginning of the journey to publication.

I’m excited to announce the publication of Jared Reck’s You’re the Nerds!

Erin Clarke at Knopf has preempted two YA novels by debut writer Jared Reck. The first of two stand-alone titles, You’re the Nerds, tells the story of JV basketball player Matthew Wainright and what happens when he falls for his childhood best friend, Tabby. Publication is scheduled for fall 2017; Laura Crockett at TriadaUS negotiated the six-figure deal for world rights and Uwe Stender will handle film rights.

Once upon a time…

One mid-January day, I received a query from Jared. He jumped right into the heart of the book, not wasting any time to capture my attention. I…

View original post 238 more words

An Interview with Bestselling Novelist Summer Lane

Summer Lane

Trust me when I say you are going to want to stop what you’re doing and read this interview.

Summer Lane is the author of nearly a dozen novels and novellas, the latest of which–State of Destruction–officially releases today and is the seventh entry in her #1 Bestselling Collapse Series. Lane took time out of her busy schedule to chat with me recently about the Collapse Series, her experiences with indie publishing, and what we can expect from her next.

You’re the author of the bestselling, post-apocalyptic Collapse series. How did you come up with this idea?

I have always been fascinated and intrigued with post-apocalyptic stories. I think I just love the idea of having to survive off the land, and putting characters into situations where they’re almost stripped of their humanity and forced to make tough choices.

I had the original idea for the Collapse Series when I was fresh out of high school, and I ended up writing the first book a couple of years later. I was inspired by a simple headline on a television: “President Declares a State of Emergency.” It made me think: everybody can identify with fear, and the will to survive, so why not write a book about it?

Between all the action scenes, war motifs, and foreign languages alone, I imagine a lot of research has gone into this. What has your process been like in that regard? Does any of this come from your own experiences or knowledge (i.e.–weapons training, surviving in the outdoors)?

I like my books to be well-researched and believable. If my characters do something badass, then you bet it’s going to be a realistic move. I have done tons of military research and reading, and I grew up in a household that was surrounded by military and law enforcement influences. It made a big impact on me, and besides that, I love adventure stories. I love it when people do cool things and kick major butt.

I am very familiar with the area where the books have been set so far – the Sierra Nevada Mountains and California – and I enjoy visiting the range for some simple target practice as much as the next person. I used little tidbits of personal experience to supplement verified and thoroughly researched information that I put into the books.

State of Destruction–the latest entry–and its predecessor, State of Vengeance, are the darkest entries in the series thus far. Has it been difficult writing these narratives where everything seems so completely hopeless especially given the inherently hopeful nature of heroine Cassidy Hart?

Certainly each installment in the series is more challenging than the previous, but I love being challenged, so it works out for me. I actually enjoy writing about dark, gritty situations and subsequently finding the bright spot in the story. I love asking the tough questions of characters, the battle of the inner conscience, the wrestling of morals when civilization has fallen, and the character development when someone is pushed to the brink of destruction.

Writing about stories like this is my way of dealing with a very real, and very scary world that we live in today. My cast of characters has expanded from two to around thirty, which gives me the opportunity to really examine the collapse of modern society through the eyes of so many different people.

The last couple of books have woven the character of Elle, from your Zero Trilogy, into the story line. Was this something you had planned from the start? And her bomb-sniffing dog, Bravo is getting his own book this spring; can you share any details about that?

I brought Elle into State of Alliance because I wanted a girl and a dog to become a part of Cassidy’s team. I loved her so much, I decided to give her a trilogy of her own before she was even introduced into the Collapse Series. I knew where she was from and where she was going.

As for Bravo, he has easily been the most beloved character among readers by a large margin. I’m writing a series of shorter novels about Bravo’s adventures in the military with his handler, Nathan Ingalls, and his survival in the apocalypse. I thought it would be so incredibly fascinating to look at such a bleak situation through the eyes of a fearless German Shepherd. I’m hard at work on the first installment as we speak, and it will probably release late Spring 2016.

Harry Lydell, Veronica Klaus, the entire Omega organization as a whole, are diabolical. An absolutely formidable–and seemingly insurmountable–foe. But even amidst the relentless action and destructive sequences in this new book, you have begun to sprinkle a bit of humanity into Omega. Can you unpack this decision a bit for us?

I have taught a lot of writing classes, and I always tell my students that there are three major types of character conflict: Man versus Man, Man versus Self, and Man versus Unfeeling Force.

In the case of my series, Omega is a hugely terrifying unfeeling force, but I wanted to add some humanity and personality to the enemy by giving our heroes some specific bad guys to spar with, people like Harry Lydell and Veronica Klaus. I feel that, in writing, evil is so much scarier when it is personified in someone you know personally; it makes it scarier, more realistic.

Veronica is a villain I have wanted to bring into my books for a very, very long time, but I had to wait for the right moment to introduce her into the series. As for Harry, who knows what’s next for him? I have spent so much time poring over Harry’s motives and character that I want to make sure his fate, whether good or bad, is suitable for him.

On a less serious note, be honest: Cassidy is possessed by a litter of cats, right? She’s escaped death so many times in this series that I think the cats are getting jealous of how many lives she’s used up.

All good heroes must be good at evading death, otherwise you’ve got a pretty dull story on your hands. Cassidy Hart has escaped death either because she’s got luck on her side or because someone has saved her butt (that someone being Chris Young or her other comrades). I give Cassidy a strong team to protect her, and by giving humanity to some of the villains, she has opportunities to make quick escapes.

Cassidy is like a lot of real-life heroes. She survives despite the odds. I love that about her. She gives me hope.


You’ve mentioned before that this is a New Adult series. What has the response been like? A post-apocalyptic adventure series isn’t something you see a lot of to begin with, let alone in the NA world, so it’s certainly unique. What, if any, challenges has this posed for you?

Yeah, it’s a New Adult/Young Adult crossover. I’ve got readers from 12 years-old to 89. I say New Adult because my characters in Collapse are older – 19-30 years old. Cassidy is the youngest in her early twenties. Chris is older at 29. I wanted older characters because I wanted a mature supporting cast who would help Cassidy grow up quickly and show her the way. I also identify a little more with a Cassidy who is in her twenties, since I am, too.

The response has been enormous. I cannot believe how many people pick up my books on a daily basis. I’m not sure why there aren’t a lot of NA post-apocalyptic stories out there, because I think people really identify with a survival story like that. Everybody can identify with the will to live, and the will to protect the people you love. It’s an examination of society, a war of morals, everything all rolled into one.

If anything, the biggest challenge has been simply keeping up with the demand for getting books published and finished for readers. I write as fast as I can, and get them out there. Readers devour them, and for that I am immeasurably grateful.

You’ve self-published all your books over the past few years. Why self-publishing, and what has the experience been like?

The opportunity presented itself. I came into indie publishing when it was first taking off, and now it’s rolling away like a steam train, picking up momentum. It gave me the chance to put my work out there and see what people thought of it – and guess what? I was lucky enough to score big with a hit series.

I’ve been working in publishing since I was 17, and I’ve seen things fluctuate in the industry incredibly quickly. It’s a tough, tough business. I’ve learned a lot just in the last year – you never stop learning. Indie publishing – in order to make it work – requires total dedication and border-line obsession. * wink * But seriously. It’s a hard job, but I love it, so that makes it all worth it.

This is book seven in the series. How many entries are left?

There will be ten books in the Collapse Series. Collapse chronicles the fall of civilization and the warfare that tears the post-apocalyptic world apart. I will be writing another series following the timeline of Collapse, but with a new storyline. That release has yet to be determined.

You can buy State of Destruction on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.

To keep up to date on all the happenings with Summer and her work, visit her website.

What Do Your Readers See When They Read Your Book?

I work for a small publisher in Oregon. It’s located on the second floor of a community-style building whose ground floor features (among other things) a pizza place, a concert venue, and a coffee shop. As I walk through these areas every morning and head to the stairs at the back, I pass walls on both sides which feature elaborate murals depicting scenes of people enjoying various activities out in nature (we’re like that in Oregon). I’ve been working here for almost a year now, but it took me until about two months ago to notice I was looking at one particular image on one of the walls all wrong.

There is a long table with a number of people sitting at it in various states of enjoyment. People are laughing, someone is standing and gesticulating as though in the midst of a great story, and off to the far right is a woman sitting with her elbows on the table, her hands at her temples. For the longest time I thought this was the artist’s representation of someone who was, for some reason, embarrassed by the spectacle taking place at the other end of the table. She looks like she wants to crawl into a hole and die, so I thought she was actually the butt of some joke.

But she isn’t.

In looking more closely at the painting completely by accident the other month, I paid more attention to the man sitting in the chair in the foreground with his back to us. Between him and the woman is a chess board. It appears to be her turn and she is concentrating on her next move. I stopped in my tracks when I saw this because somehow it had escaped my notice all the other times I had looked at it.

Art of any sort–music, writing, painting–offers myriad opportunities for realizations like this to occur. You can hear a song dozens of times before accidentally discovering a very subtle instrumental layer that’s buried beneath the more overt sounds and vocals. You can see a painting plenty of times, as I did, before something new pops out at you. And similarly, you can read a book or story multiple times and have a completely different reaction each time, or learn/see something new, whether because you are paying more attention to the minutiae of the book or your life experiences have made you more able to process certain elements now that maybe you couldn’t earlier.

But you need to be aware of this as you’re writing. Try and make your work as deep as it can be, because you never know who’s going to pick up on those details, or when, and you have no idea how much that little detail might help shape the way they view the reading experience; and if they are writers themselves, who knows but that your extra effort might give them a wild spark of imagination for something they can try in their own work. Readers are rarely–if ever–going to view your work exactly the same way you do, so you might as well make it so deep that people can pick up new things with each time they (hopefully) reread your work.

If nothing else, consider this movie poster which appeared in advance of the release of the film adaptation of Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys:

If you’ve seen the movie (and you should), or if you’re paying close attention to the poster’s various details, you know that Michael Douglas is the star of this film. Having said that, when my boss was walking past me a while back while I was reading this, he stopped and said, “Hey, is that Michael J. Fox?” I had never ever considered this previously because I’d never had a reason to; however, once my boss asked the question, and I started to look more closely, I could see why he would ask this in passing. Douglas does look rather like Fox here, and rather like my experience with seeing the picture of the woman in the mural from a new angle, I’m reminded of just how many different things someone can pick up fro a picture, a song, a story.

Your readers have the opportunity to see and experience many things with your work. What are you giving them?

Art is Beautiful, and so are the People Who Engage in it (Or, Why Old Navy can Kiss My Grits)

So I was working on another blog post and was going to end this year’s blog journey with a more upbeat, possibly insightful (depending on your perspective) writing-related post, but then I saw this tweet tonight:

I’ve spent the last thirty minutes listening to the first half of Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart” on repeat and trying to look at this rationally, but I’ve pretty much been feeling like this the whole time:

giphy (5)

I’ve had a little time to calm down though, so here goes.

First, please follow the man who posted this tweet because it is the best. You sir, are a gentleman and a scholar.

Second, to Old Navy, shame on you. Way to take a beautiful life choice and try to make all those who don’t aspire to it, but actually live it, feel less than, to say nothing of the tens of thousands (if not more) of young people who might wish to do something artistic. The fundamentally misguided notion at the center of these images is the belief that you cannot do something great, or even worthwhile, unless you choose to be one of these other things. This is, of course, false to the nth degree, and a classic case of bullying, but thanks for trying–that is, unfortunately, the American way to some extent. Way to try and make money off of tearing others down in the name of capitalism. It’s not even tearing someone else down so you can feel better about yourself and what you do, because only a handful of people on the planet combined have been, or are, Presidents or astronauts, so neither profession is one a significant number of people engage in, and I’ll bet my life not a single person who buys these shirts falls into either category. No one is going to be wearing these shirts to make themselves feel better than an artist, so you’re doing this for no other reason than to make money.

Third, to any artists who are reading this–painters, photographers, sketch artists, musicians, writers of any ilk, etc.–if you aren’t already aware of it, this is just the way we are going to be treated by certain segments of the population. Ignorant, shallow, eyes-blinded individuals all over the world believe this; even worse, some people won’t even blink at this because they’ll think it’s clever. Don’t buy into this for a second, because what you do is every bit as valid as what anyone else does. Your work inspires people. It makes people feel something real. It stirs people’s hearts, souls and minds. It makes our world a better place. You have a chance to touch the world with your art form just as easily as the President has the power to lead the world, and an astronaut has the power to explore space beyond our world to see what else is out there. Your work is valuable even if it is not always obvious how much. Not just anyone can do what you do, so don’t for a second think that what you are doing isn’t important.

And finally, artists, strike the word “aspiring” from your vocabulary, or at least your frame of mind. You are a writer right now. You are a painter right now. You are a musician right now. You are a photographer right now. Right. Now. You may aspire to be better at your craft, and maybe you aren’t published, signed, contracted, etc., but you already are this thing you want to be! Keep at it, improve, and never give up, but don’t forget to remind yourself (as often as necessary) that you already are this thing you want to be! You’re letting your creative streak run wild, rather than thinking about it or just talking about maybe doing something artistic at some point.

You. Are. An. Artist. Be proud of this!

A final note to Old Navy. I will confess that many, many years ago you did something–once–with one of your often inane ads that actually didn’t make me want to throw my shoes at my television–you put Ingrid Michaelson’s “The Way I Am” on in the background. Excellent song. It’s ironic, though, that by producing t-shirts like these, you are stating that you do not feel like taking artists as they are, and that’s to your shame and discredit. But more than this, you have finally found a way to make me like your ridiculous ads by comparison because at least those were just vapid and generally inoffensive. These t-shirts are something far worse, however. Be ashamed, Old Navy. Be very ashamed.

A final note to artists everywhere: take yourselves the way you are, like the wise Ingrid says, and make sure to keep doing your thing, knowing that others who will take you the way you are are going to love the hell out of you for what you do.

The Most Important Books I Read in 2015

Okay, so after my awesome agent showed me the error of my narrow-minded ways yesterday with respect to my reasons for not posting a list of top books for 2015, I’m writing a post about the books that impacted my life the most this tear. You’ll notice I didn’t say they are the best books, or that they are even from this year. I was awful about reading new books this year, so most of these titles will be at least a year or two old (and some quite a bit older than that!), but for better or worse, and in no particular order, these are the ten(ish) books that had the biggest effect on me and my writing this year:

Chabon Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon

It had been a few years since I’d last read this, so I was due. Yes, Chabon has too great a love for using words only five other people on the planet use in real life for his own good, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t know how to paint a good picture. Consider this snippet from page 20: “The midnight disease is a kind of emotional insomnia; at every conscious moment its victim–even if he or she writes at dawn, or in the middle of the afternoon–feels like a person lying in a sweltering bedroom, with the window thrown open, looking up at a sky filled with stars and airplanes, listening to the narrative of a rattling blind, an ambulance, a fly trapped in a Cole bottle, while all around him the neighbors soundly sleep. This is in my opinion, why writers–like insomniacs–are so accident-prone, so obsessed with the calculus of bad luck and missed opportunities, so liable to rumination and a concomitant inability to let go of a subject, even when urged repeatedly to do so.” Reading this book reminds me of what I want to aspire to in my own work: creating something that readers will want to keep coming back to, even if only once every few years, because let’s be honest–a lot of books don’t get repeat reading.

TolkienThe Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

I’m cheating twice here because: a) it’s a trilogy, and b) I’m still reading it at the moment, but this book is beyond special. There’s little I can write here that hasn’t been written thousands of times before by others more qualified than I am to judge its greatness, but as I work on my next project I am taking to heart much of what I see in Tolkien’s remarkable knack for world-building. You need to do some level of world-building in anything you write, but a series like this has it in spades. Also, like Chabon, Tolkien has a profoundly miraculous way with words. I believe this will be the fourth time I’ve read the series, and I am still struck by a moment in the book where Tolkien uses the word “stuff” instead of a more particular description, because it seems like the one place in the entire trilogy where he used a placeholder word and simply forgot to replace it with a better one during the revision process. I want to write well enough that people are struck by my choice of words, whether for good or bad.

LeeGo Set a Watchman, Whoever the hell is running Harper Lee’s affairs and forced her to release this book

Far and away the worst book I read in 2015. I knew it wouldn’t be as good as To Kill a Mockingbird on quality alone, and I knew I couldn’t possibly enjoy it as much as I did the other because there was no way this book could possibly come close to meeting the hype that surrounded its release. I was bound to be disappointed, but I had no way of knowing I would be so utterly and completely let down. There is a reason Watchman was never meant to see the light of day–Lee wrote it before To Kill a Mockingbird, and she and her agent both knew it was crap. For all intents and purposes, Watchman is a first draft of an idea about a novel. There are significant portions of the book where nothing happens. At all. In any way. The voice is schizophrenic, the switch from past to present is rocky at best, and the characters’ arcs are all but nonexistent. I hate Lee’s estate or whatever went for a cash grab here because they have somewhat tarnished Lee’s literary legacy with this festering pile of garbage.

DoescherWilliam Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return, Ian Doescher

With Star Wars fever returning to this part of the galaxy again (I can’t see it until Sunday though, so nobody post spoilers!), I figured there was no better way to get stoked again by essentially reading Return of the Jedi in iambic pentameter. It’s every bit as glorious as it sounds. It was a fantastic fun read!

DekkerA.D. 30, Ted Dekker

Dekker2Hacker, Ted Dekker

Cheating again by focusing on two books, but hey–my blog, my post, my rules, so nyah, nyah, nyah! Outside of perhaps Frank Peretti there is no bigger name in so-called Christian fiction than Dekker, who has supplied us with many an interesting yarn over the past decade-plus. But Dekker’s act was wearing thin (his recent tag-team series with Tosca Lee, The Books of Mortals, was so poorly constructed–it even cribbed heavily from his best-known work, The Circle Trilogy–that I couldn’t even finish the second book) and I was ready to write him off. But then he did something different. A.D. 30 was his first foray into historical fiction, and good grief did it draw me in. I was captivated by his descriptions and the emotional, political, social, and religious landscapes he depicted leading up to the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth on the scene  were breathtaking and completely unlike anything I had ever read from him. His book had life in it, and it made me feel things–deeply. Hacker was similar in that it evoked strong emotional responses from me even though this book was more in line with his previous work (some out-there sci-fi about being able to essentially hack into your brain, a tactic a main character uses in order to stave off a terminal diagnosis). I saw some of plot points coming, but the denouement was exquisite in its execution. The point here is that beyond evoking seriously great responses from me, these books reminded me that it’s never too late to make truly worthwhile literary additions to our global library, and I hope to have the sort of career where I’m inspired by every last thing I’m writing, and am seeking to give my readers something to respond to on the deepest level possible.

DashnerThe Eye of Minds, James Dashner

The first entry in Dashner’s first post-The Maze Runner trilogy. Proof that there is life after a breakthrough hit series. Simply put: I’m hooked.

SnicketThe End, Lemony Snicket

Still cheating. Never underestimate the author’s power to do exactly what he tells you he is going to do almost from the start of a series, even though you completely don’t believe he’s going to do it because there’s no way in hell an author would be that cruel, and no way a publisher would allow him to do it because his readers would hate him forever. Writers want to evoke a response from readers, even if that means pulling the rug out from under them in ways they will loathe. Snicket did that here. I hate the way this series ended, but I’m still thinking about it and talking about it, so Snicket did his job.

NichollsOne Day, David Nicholls

Another reread, and proof that you can’t just have a nifty concept for the book (each chapter takes place on July 15th of every year that the story’s central characters–Dex and Em–know each other), but you have to have characters people are going to give a crap about. Dex is a self-absorbed narcissist of the highest order, but he is deeply flawed and much more than his ego and bombast would suggest to the casual observer. Em’s bookish and mousy while also possessing a fire in her bones that is palpable on the rare occasions when she ends up letting it out in the story, and her internal struggle to have the balls to chase after her dreams and stop settling for less is highly universal. A bit of a summer read as some might call it, but it’s a strong love story through and through because these character aren’t caricatures, and their narratives are compelling. Again, something to aspire to with my own work.

ThrasherSky Blue, Travis Thrasher

I’ve read this book several times over the years, and in truth this book’s tone, emotional levels, occasionally jarring narrative structure and voice, and introspective sensibilities are far and away the biggest influence any book has had on A Silence Worth Breaking. I read it again when I was knee-deep in Pitch Wars mania, revisions, etc., and it helped get me in the right head space to make some of the additions and changes I made with my mentor. Thrasher runs his main character through the emotional ringer after the loss of his wife in a tragic accident, but the payoff is absolutely worth it.

LuThe Legend Trilogy, Marie Lu

Cheating. Yet Again. Somebody stop me. Seriously. There are many dystopian series I have not read, but of the ones i have read, the reason this one sticks out so much to me is because the series doesn’t just end, leaving you feeling hollowed out. The Hunger Games? There’s no happy ending here, folks. The Maze Runner? I won’t spoil it for folks who haven’t finished that series yet (and on a side note, the first two films they’ve made so far for this series…egad!), but no one’s happy. So it is odd that Lu’s futuristic tale, where America is more like Civil War-era America by way of North versus South Korea than anything we know today, does more than simply get to an end and call it good. There is actually hope springing forth from the ending, and you get a conclusion that, while unexpected and perhaps not as idealistically happy as readers might like, makes sense and doesn’t make you feel like the author just ran out of steam. Again, I’m reminded of how I want to try and do something with my books that will resonate in these and other ways.

If you made it to the end, congratulations! Let me know your thoughts on these or other books you read this year which struck you. Thanks for reading, and if I do not post again before January, I hope you all have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year!

An Interview with YA Author, Ryan Dalton, about His Forthcoming Book, The Year of Lightning

Okay, so I’ve been meaning to do some interview features on this blog since I started it on New Year’s, but somehow haven’t gotten around to it. That all changes today with my first guest on Tripping the Write Fantastic: Ryan Dalton. He has written an action-packed YA time travel sci-fi novel called The Year of Lightning–due out on January 12, 2016 via Jolly Fish Press–and is the first entry in the Time Shift Trilogy. Check out the book trailer below, then stick around for some questions and pay close attention to the other links I’m including at the bottom!

How did the idea for The Year of Lightning come about and how long did it take for you to complete this first part of the trilogy?

One scene popped into my head and ultimately inspired this story. I pictured walking by an abandoned house with no doors, no way in or out, and then seeing a face staring at me through the window. It felt so creepy, and once it was in my head I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I kept asking questions about why the person was there, how they got there, what they were doing. As I answered them, the story of The Year of Lightning was born. It’s been described as “Monster House meets Back to the Future.”

With respect to making the science fiction elements of this novel as strong as possible, are you naturally adept at understanding and applying scientific principles and was it easy for you to weave them into the framework of this novel? Or did you have to do a lot of research to come up with plausible scenarios?

I’ve always been a science geek, so I went into the story armed with some of the knowledge I needed. As I got deeper, though, I did have to read more about things like quantum physics and meteorology. Since the book features time travel, there’s a healthy dash of science fantasy, but I wanted to at least extrapolate the fiction from actual science in some way. These are things I would be reading about anyway, so it’s the fun kind of research.

In the acknowledgements you mention having received help with everything from French grammar to military procedure while writing this book. What was this process like for you and how did that help shape the characters and the story?

I was fortunate enough to have friends who are experts in the subjects I needed. These aren’t major parts of the story, but they’re in there enough that I wanted to represent them accurately. Little details matter. If all the real-life factual stuff is on point, readers are usually more comfortable buying into the fantasy.

Readers will notice nods to a number of classic science-fiction characters, books and movies: Emmett Brown High School, a character named John Carter, the main protagonists being named Valentine and Malcolm of Ender’s Game and Serenity/Firefly fame. There are even hints of The Faculty splashed throughout. Did some or all of this happen organically, or were these specific aspects of the story and the world of The Year of Lightning intended as a sort of homage to some of your own favorites from the science fiction world?

A bit of both. The name of the high school is a subtle nod to Back to the Future. I thought it’d be fun to reference a time travel story inside another time travel story. Joss Whedon is a huge writing inspiration to me, so Malcolm is definitely an homage to Firefly. Valentine wasn’t deliberate, actually. I just liked the name and thought it fit, and didn’t remember until later that it’s also a character in Ender’s Game. The John Carter reference has a specific function in the book that I won’t spoil here. I see all this as one of the perks of being an author–getting to share the things I love with fellow readers and geeks, even if it’s just in subtle references. You find little nods like this in movies pretty frequently, so I figured why not do it in my novels? It was great fun coming up with them!

When you look at the finished version now, is there anything about it that surprises you? Are there certain aspects of the story that went in ways you never would have expected, or did you ultimately take some chances along the way that you hadn’t expected to take with this story?

The story has definitely evolved since the beginning. Much of the original concept is there, but over time it grew into something better and more layered. As I wrote the characters, they grew into such dynamic people in my mind. The story became more emotional as I got to know them. As I refined my concept of time travel, that also had a profound effect on what I could and couldn’t do with the story. Overall, it feels like The Year of Lightning started as a fun idea and matured into something that I’m very proud of.

As the author, you’re naturally going to feel a certain amount of closeness to this project. It’s your baby. But is there a particular scene, a character, an aspect of the book that you are most struck by?

My favorite scene happens near the end, so I won’t spoil the specifics here, but an underestimated character does something unexpectedly awesome and I had a blast writing it. As for characters, I love them all in different ways–even the villains–but Fred Marshall is a side character who became so fun to write. On the surface he’s a buffoon, but by the end he shows a surprising amount of depth. Also, I’ve always loved lightning storms, so it was fun to feature them as part of the plot.

Which part of the book was the hardest for you to write?

As much as I love good fight scenes, they are by far the hardest parts to write. Every fight took several times longer to write than other scenes. It’s fun to block and choreograph them, but it takes multiple revisions to make them clear and concise while also conveying the right beats and emotions at the right moments. They’re also emotionally taxing since I really have to live in that moment until the fight is over. They’re a labor of love, though, and I’m exhausted afterward.

Conversely, which part was the funnest, or flowed the best?

I love dialogue and snappy character interactions. Those scenes flowed onto the page so naturally and so quickly, as if the characters were talking to each other and I transcribed the exchanges. Over time, their chemistry continued to grow until it felt like old friends and family really were in the room together.

Do you relate to any of these characters more than the others?

There’s a piece of me in each of them, I suppose. I tried to give them all real struggles and believable talents. More than anything, I wanted their brains to be better weapons than their fists. I’ve always respected stories where the protagonist beats the villain with mind first, fists second. Anyone can throw a punch or shoot a gun, but to match wits with a worthy opponent? Now that’s fun to read. That’s a big part of my preference, and it’s reflected in the main characters.

What does writing mean to you?

With writing, you’re only limited by imagination and skill with a pen (or keyboard). Building worlds and characters, helping them live and grow, then sitting back as they surprise me with something new and awesome–it’s deeply satisfying. Then, there’s no feeling like giving those stories to someone and seeing how it touches them. When someone laughs at a joke, gets protective of a character, comments on something in the story as if it’s real to them, it feels amazing to have reached their heart in some small way.

A big Thank You to Ryan for taking the time to talk with us about The Year of Lightning, Mikayla Rivera and the fine people at Jolly Fish Press for connecting us, and to everyone who read this interview. I hope you enjoyed it!

To learn more about Ryan and his work, visit his website, Goodreads page, or catch him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The Year of Lightning is available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

I have an Agent!

I’ve been sitting on this news for what feels like forever, but I have finally signed with a literary agent! I am thrilled to announce that Laura Crockett with TriadaUS will be representing me, A SILENCE WORTH BREAKING, and hopefully  other projects down the road. There are several reasons why I chose her, but perhaps the biggest one is this tweet she sent out a couple weeks ago:

Writers dream of having people respond to their books like this, so when a prospective agent is the one having this type of response, it’s hard not to be drawn to that. We want someone who will champion our work, who “gets it,” and who loves it as much as we do. Laura is that person, and TriadaUS is absolutely the perfect fit  for me as a writer.

Big thanks go out to Holly Faur for mentoring SILENCE in this year’s Pitch Wars competition and helping me reach this point, Brenda Drake for putting on Pitch Wars, and Lynnette Labelle and Brighton Walsh for helping make sure Holly saw my submission in the first place.

And an even bigger thanks goes out to my wife, who made sure I never gave up on finding an agent (it’s been a long road!), and that I took some serious time to write this book last year when this idea really started to take root in my mind. Thanks baby!

I can’t wait to see what happens next!