Monday, October 24, 2016

Cover reveal for Kellye Garrett's Hollywood Homicide

I'm so thrilled to share my friend Kellye's cover reveal today! She's an incredibly talented writer and an all-around darling of a person.  Go one-click this baby. I promise you won't regret it.

Without further adieu, here's the cover for Hollywood Homicide!

Hollywood Homicide 
Book 1 in the Detective By Day Series 
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Release Date: August 8, 2017

Book blurb:

Dayna Anderson doesn’t set out to solve a murder. All the semi-famous, mega-broke black actress wants is to help her parents keep their house. After witnessing a deadly hit-and-run, she figures pursuing the fifteen-grand reward isn’t the craziest thing a Hollywood actress has done for some cash. But what starts as simply trying to remember a speeding car soon blossoms into a full-on investigation. As Dayna digs deeper into the victim’s life, she wants more than just reward money. She’s determined to find the poor woman’s killer too. When she connects the accident to a notorious Hollywood crime spree, Dayna chases down leads at paparazzi hot spots, celeb homes and movie premieres. She loves every second—until someone tries to kill her. And there are no second takes in real life.

Kellye Garrett spent 8 years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for the CBS drama Cold Case. People were always surprised to learn what she did for a living—probably because she seemed way too happy to be brainstorming ways to murder people. A former magazine editor, Kellye holds a B.S. in magazine writing from Florida A&M and an MFA in screenwriting from USC’s famed film school. Having moved back to her native New Jersey, she spends her mornings commuting to Manhattan for her job at a leading media company—while still happily brainstorming ways to commit murder. Her first novel, Hollywood Homicide, will be released by Midnight Ink in August 2017. It’s the first book in the Detective by Day series.

Connect with Kellye

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Blog 

You can pre-order the e-book and print edition on Amazon.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

#PitchWars Bio & Wishlist

Welcome, #PitchWars hopefuls! 
I'm resurrecting the blog just for you. 

Come over here and sit for a spell.

I'm so excited to be co-mentoring again this year with the beautiful and badass Kes Trester, who was my very own #PitchWars mentor back in 2014. Her guidance helped me land an agent, and we hit it off so well during the contest that we became CPs and, eventually, co-mentors. She's the Dorothy to my Blanche, the Poehler to my Fey, the Lorelai to my Rory (although she could only be my mama if she'd been gettin' bizzy way too young). 

Here we are at The Writing Barn together last fall.
Best. Workshop. Ever.
You can read about that experience here.

We make an excellent duo, and trust me, you want to be on our team.

Reasons you should sub to us:

-Our 2015 mentee went on to sign with an agent. 

-We bring a variety of experience to the table: from Kes's film industry background and my medical background, to our combined years of writing experience.

-We have varied cultural seasonings: 
Kes brings Hollywood, I bring the dirty south.

-We balance each other out in taste and approach.

My bio:

The basics
I'm a Sagittarius. INFJ. Enneagram Type 4. 
Card-carrying Slytherin. (Think Snape, not Malfoy.) 

My day job: 
I work as an editor for Author Accelerator--a book coaching program designed and operated by professors of the UCLA Extension Writer's Program. I've been trained by some of the most incredible teachers in the science of story. My education is in healthcare (I'm a nurse), but five years into that endeavor, I realized I was miserable and would never truly be happy unless I was writing. So I made a huge career change, and I'm so glad I did. (And hey--if you've written a ms with medical details, I can tell you if they're correct!)

I write YA magical realism (with healthy doses of kissing). I'm a double-finalist for the 2016 YARWA Rosemary Award for my YA mss FALSE START and THE LANGUAGE OF CHERRIES. 
FALSE START is also a 2016 RWA Maggie Award for Excellence Finalist. I've had short works published in literary magazines, including The Decameron Journal
I'm a member of RWA, YARWA, and SCBWI.

Things I love: 
My family. Baking. (I fix a mean cherry pie.) Porch swings. Kissing. Sweet tea. Jane the Virgin. Swimming. Antiques. Poetry. My record player. Random acts of kindness. FOOTBALL. 
The beach. Sam Cooke. Climbing trees with my boys. Hiking. 
Tim Riggins (aka the holy grail of characters). My ukulele. Lipstick. The F word. Everyday magic (it exists!). My Great Dane. And of course, books.

Be sure to check out Kes's bio HERE.

And finally, here's what we're looking for:

1. Contemporary 

Especially with elements of diversity. We want to see marginalized voices and stories we haven't seen before. Teach us something new!
We also love dark subjects that reflect honest teen experiences. You won't scare us away with stories that contain alcohol or drugs or sex or profanity. We also love kissing. Girls kissing. Boys kissing. Pretty much anybody kissing.

2. Magical Realism 

Now, keep in mind that magical realism and fantasy are not the same thing. Magical realism contains subtle touches of inexplicable magic in a world we know. If you have questions about what this is, or if your manuscript fits the genre, hit us up on Twitter.

3. Thriller/Mystery 

We especially love unreliable narrators! Everyone wants a YA Gone Girl, and we are no exception.

Please do NOT send us: horror, dystopian, or mss with a racist or misogynist narrator. We also do not want stories depicting cruelty or violence to children or animals, nor do we want stories with gratuitous rape scenes.
*Please also note we are not accepting SFF this year.*

This will be our reaction if you send us anything on our DO NOT SEND TO US list.

Our ideal mentee is someone who wants help taking his/her ms the final stretch, and is willing to work hard to get there. (If you're in this for a head pat, go ahead and query! Pitch Wars is for writers who need mentoring.) A sense of humor is pretty important, too. We love to laugh, and hope you will, too.

For a more comprehensive list of our favorite books, please visit Kes's post HERE.

You'll also find the letter clue within her post!

Good luck to everyone entering! And please interact with us on Twitter if you have questions about whether or not your entry fits our wishlist! We love to interact. Plus, it makes it that much easier for us to stalk you. Ahem. I mean, check out your profile.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

5 Authors For Your Black Friday Shopping List

Isn’t Thanksgiving the best? I'd be a big fat fatty if I ate like I did yesterday more than once every 365 days, but I do wish we had more than one designated day per year to reflect on all the things we're thankful for. 

While hubs and I were cuddled up in our food coma last night, discussing how grateful we are for our cozy little corner of life, we got on the subject of books. We bond over books in the Hawkins hizzle. I read everything I can get my hands on. He reads mostly graphic novels and comics. Sometimes there's an overlap in our tastes, and I love the conversations we have when that happens.

If you're reading this, babe, you're way more Prince than Beast.

Since both of our boys were born, we've read to them before bed. And we’ll keep doing that until they get old enough to think we're lame. Characters become household names around here—we consider them friends, or enemies, or arguing points. (Nobody in my house will ever agree with me about Peeta Mellark, but I don't care. I still hate him.)

2015 has been a great year for discovering absolute author gems, so I thought I'd share some of my book gratitude with y'all. Of all the books I've read since January (32 according to Goodreads, but I know there's more since I only log the ones I love), I've chosen the top 5 authors I’m most thankful I read this year, in no particular order. Complete with buy links, for your shopping convenience. Add them to your Black Friday list. Trust me, you'll be glad you did.

1. Jaye Robin Brown

I read No Place To Fall right after the holidays last year. What an amazing debut for a lovely author. I still think about Amber and Will every time I hear an Avett Brothers song (which is often, because I adore the Avetts). The setting felt like home. I grew up in upstate South Carolina, so I spent a lot of weekends on those western North Carolina trails with friends. The characters seemed like old friends. Their struggles were authentic and relatable. The beautiful sense of nostalgia hit me right in the feelers. 

I loved this book so much I handed it to a complete stranger in Barnes & Noble a couple of months ago. I grinned like a maniac while I snapped a picture of it on the shelf so I could tweet it at Jaye, but the lady standing next to me gave me a funny look. Because I care way too much about what people think of me, I took it off the shelf and handed it to her while I explained. Somehow, that turned into me gushing about how awesome it was for an awkward amount of time. Oh, the irony of acting like a complete creep to convince someone I’m not a creep. Long story short, she bought the book. That's when I discovered my superhero alter-ego: I am Book Fangirl.

Seriously, though, the B&N lady probably bought it because she was terrified of what would happen if she didn't take my suggestion. I can be... passionate. I bet she wishes she knew my name so she could get more book recommendations from me now, though. Just saying.

The companion novella for No Place To Fall is called Will’s Story, and it releases April 5, 2016. Not to brag, but I already pre-ordered it. You should, too.

2. Neil Gaiman

Yes, I know this guy has been around for a long time, and I'm probably the last person on earth who waited until 2015 to read his work. But in the event that you’re reading this post after crawling from under a rock, I am going to trumpet, anyway. Just for you.

Bod Owens went on a road-trip vacation with us to Sedona this summer. Every night before bed, we read The Graveyard Book aloud to the boys until midnight or later. Maybe it was the energy vortices of Sedona, but this book sprinkled magic on our little family. Total bonding book. The four of us sat in a café at The Grand Canyon talking about the actors we’d cast as characters. (Obviously Alan Rickman should be Silas.) It was such a special experience. I had to choke back tears when I read the final chapter. Hubs tried to pretend it was allergies, but we were in the desert; there was nothing to be allergic to. As soon as we realized there was a graphic novel version, we bought that, too.

I tried to follow it up with M is for Magic to read to the kids at bedtime, but uh… that one’s not really good for that. The cover and title fools one into thinking it’s little-kid-appropriate. Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book of creepy short stories, but there’s a graphic description of a troll penis that popped up (heh heh) out of nowhere in the one titled “Troll Bridge.” I had to fake a coughing fit so I could regroup and skip that part without the kids noticing. Could have been super awkward.

American Gods was a killer read (see what I did there?) and a wild ride. Also not for kids. I stayed up so late reading it that I overslept the next morning and made my kids late for school. Oops.

I wish I'd read Gaiman sooner. Currently tearing through his list.

3. Matt de la Peña

This is yet another one of those how-have-I-not-read-this-author-before-2015?! scenarios. 

When I stumbled upon his short story “Angels in the Snow” in the My True Love Gave To Me compilation last winter, I made it my mission to read everything he’s ever published. I could easily make this entire blog post a love letter to his characters, because they are worthy. But for the sake of avoiding Book Fangirl creep status, I will attempt to keep it brief.

We Were Here made me ugly cry. Best book I’ve read all year, hands down. I bought it twice (Kindle & paperback). I read it twice. I will probably read it again before the end of the year. The thing I love most about de la Peña's characters is that the line between hero and villain is barely penciled in. Everyone sits in a gray area. They're all so beautifully fucking human. I don’t know how to write a synopsis about all the things that wrecked me about this book without spoilers, so I’ll just say READ IT. Enjoy the poetic acupuncture.

I Will Save You made me feel like a genius, because I figured out a pretty big reveal halfway into the book, and then I raced through it to prove myself right. Mental illness was drawn with a deft hand in this story, which was especially impressive. I hereby challenge you to read it and come talk to me when you get to the 50% mark. 

I adored Mexican WhiteBoy so much that I’m going to put it in my former-baseball-player Hubs’s Christmas stocking (and make him read it so we can talk about it). He played baseball in college and did a stint in the minors, so I have zero doubts he will dig Danny and his passion for the game as much as I did. I'll give it to my 10-year-old when he gets a little older.

Ball Don’t Lie made me care about basketball, and I haven’t given a shit about basketball since the ’92 Bulls. (Am I the only one still mourning Michael Jordan’s retirement?) Anyway, Sticky made me care. I recoiled from daylight after finishing that book, like I’d been sitting in that smelly dark rec center the whole time. The book hangover left me emotionally bankrupt. Also, apparently this one has been made into a movie (with Ludacris and Nick Cannon!), but the producer has yet to release it. Um. Puff puff give, Hollywood. We need this movie in our lives.

The Living and its sequel, The Hunted, were both one-sitting reads. The characters are living, breathing works of art. I just needed Carmen to be my BFF, but I also kind of wanted to steal Shy from her. Predicament! Also, I will probably never get on a cruise ship EVER after reading this. It’s like a modern-day cross between Titanic and Outbreak, except with better characters & a Walking Dead thriller-y vibe. The plot details are flawless without being forced. As a matter of fact, Romero disease intrigued me so much at the beginning of The Living, I stopped reading to Google it, convinced it was some hemorrhagic filoviridae virus I’d never heard of. I’m a nurse, y’all. I can’t even watch Grey’s because it’s so far-fetched on medical details most of the time, but this badass made up a disease and made me think it was real. I bow down. Seriously.

And finally, Last Stop On Market Street is a precious picture book that my kids adore. My 4 year old wails, “Read CJ again, Mama!” when he’s trying to avoid bedtime. Hubs and I have it memorized. We can read it without looking at the pages at this point. My 10-year-old's assessment of it was, "That's kind of deep, Mom." Huzzah! He gets it. It’s another family bonding book, which makes me extra grateful.

So, yeah. I'm a fan. Patiently waiting for this author to write more books.

Shut up and take my money.

4. Emma Mills

I devoured Emma’s debut, First & Then, after two of my favorite people in the world recommended it to me. Holy crap, it was hilarious. And sweet. And heartfelt. And had a Tim Riggins-esque football player love interest. SOLD.

You know I can't write a blog without a Riggins gif.

Pretty much every other line made me squeal and highlight it and wish I’d written it myself. So swoony. There was this one line about how football was a religion and people were “baptized by the floodlights” and I just went…

I loved sweet little Foster. I wanted to cuddle him to my bosom and tell him everything would be okay. I wanted to snap Ezra in the hiney with a rolled-up towel, locker-room-style. I wanted to punch Cas in the throat (I had a Cas when I was in high school, too). Devon was the kind of girl I could root for. And I did, the whole way.

If you want to laugh and swoon and cry a little bit, go get this book.

As a side note, Emma Mills has a hilarious Vlog here. (Thanks for telling me about it, Michella!)

5. Ta-Nehisi Coates

This is a bit of a diversion since the other authors I listed write fiction, but I can’t neglect to mention Between The World & Me, and not only because it just won the National Book Award for non-fiction. I firmly believe that everyone should read it. (And if you don’t take my word for it, Toni Morrison says so, too.)

I walked through a world that didn’t belong to me as I read this beautiful letter from a father to his son. Coates writes in such a way that even a person with a massive shortage of imagination and/or empathy could settle into his shoes. He’s a poet, and it shows. It rattled me in a necessary way, and made me want to do something to change all the ugliness in the world, the lies we all tell ourselves. Until we, as a society, figure out what that something is, I’ll just keep telling people to read this book. 

Read this book. And pass it along to a young person. Or any person.

So, there you have it, folks! 5 Authors for your Black Friday shopping list.

Every single one will be an auto-buy for me from now on. Getting published is a Sisyphean task. I’m so grateful these authors didn’t give up, because the world needs their words. They inspire me. They’ll inspire you, too.

Now go forth and one-click.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Writing Barn in Austin, TX: Takeaways from my workshop experience

I always wanted to attend an event at The Writing Barn in Austin, because 
a) Austin, 'nuff said, and 
b) I’d heard about its awesomeness through word-of-mouth in my writing groups. 

In theory, attending seemed like a great idea. It's only a 2.5 hour drive away. But I have two kids, and my hubs travels constantly for work, so it became one of those Maybe Someday scenarios.

Last December, I reached a good place in my writing journey. After riding the Pitch Wars high, I was suddenly fielding agent offers, rather than rejections. I’d practically changed my name to Smug. Things were finally happening, so I was just gonna sit back and enjoy it and read for fun again. All smooth sailing from here, folks! Ha.

I picked up a copy of My True Love Gave To Me, an anthology of holiday-themed YA short stories, at the recommendation of my go-to-girl for books and music. Once again, she was right. The book was adorable. I skimmed the stories until I got to “Angels In The Snow.” That one made me sit up and pay attention.

You need this book in your life.

This character, Shy, was alive on the page. He was different from the YA characters I normally read, because he reminded me of the boys I grew up with. He made me laugh and cry in the space of about ten pages. He was such a relatable character, with insecurities that made me want to crawl into the pages and hug him. I think that’s the first time a short story ever extracted such a visceral reaction from me—because, well, short stories are short. There isn't a lot of room for character development. But this one? I was blown away by the charm.

I flipped back to see who the author was. Matt de la Peña.  I typed his name into Amazon and discovered he’d written a handful of critically acclaimed, award-winning books. How had I not heard of this guy? I downloaded the first novel in the search list, a book titled We Were Here, and started reading it right away. That’s when my holy-shit-o-meter really cranked to tilt.

My God, that book wrecked me. Like, full-on-demolition-derby-in-my-heart wrecked me. Beyond the raw and real characters, there was this powerful social commentary threaded into the tapestry of the story. These kids on the page demonstrated something I’ve known (and lived) myself: kids without means have just as much to say and contribute as the kids who have it made. They want and deserve to be present, too. I told everyone who would listen to read that book. (And then I agonized for weeks over the fact that my own characters were missing the it factor these characters had. How the hell did he make it look so easy to write like that?)

Fast forward to February. The Writing Barn posted an event for October 2015. When I read it on my Facebook feed, I spilled coffee down my shirt. There would be an Advanced Writer Workshop in October, focusing on narrative depth and characterization, with Matt de la Peña as one of the teachers.


I had to try to go, if for no other reason than to hang out in this guy’s shadow and learn how he developed his craft. I applied with a rough work-in-progress, not expecting much. But then I got an acceptance email a short time later. 

Cue the freakout.

Jeremy took the days off work, so that I'd be able to go. (Best, most supportive hubby ever.) I called Kes—my mentor and friend—and asked her to meet me in Austin in October. Though I felt like I’d known her for years after our Pitch Wars experience, I’d never actually hugged her in person. This would be my chance to do that.

Between February and October, though, I barely managed to add 5,000 new words to my WIP. I learned how slow the industry moved, and I had a few stall-outs after months and months between revisions on my previous manuscript. My former smugness evaporated when I hit the wall. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I had a literary agency contract. Validation! Why was nothing happening? Why had I suddenly forgotten how to write?

As excited as I was about the upcoming workshop, I started getting really nervous that I was in over my head. How was I supposed to show up and do this thing when I couldn’t even write a paragraph without wanting to set my laptop ablaze? I made excuses for my lack of discipline and pretended I was okay with it. 

I don’t think it fully hit me that “Advanced Writer” meant actual advanced writers until I got to The Writing Barn on the first day. Realizing you are the least educated person in the room is like realizing you wore a tutu to a toga party, mmmkay? As the wave of introductions circled the room, words like published and grad school and MFA echoed in my head like a gong truck crashing into a ravine.

So me, my technical college education (in an unrelated field), and my rookie tutu tried to blend into the scenery and not talk. Which was impossible, because I got called out for it almost immediately. Amanda Jenkins (Printz Honor Award recipient) was the other faculty member, and she had no problem forcing me into the conversation. She's fierce! It’s moments like that when I wish I’d taken that public speaking class a little more seriously.

As I bumbled around the podium that first night, muttering some nonsense about my dog, and how I suck at math (who knows what the fuck I even said!), it occurred to me what my problem had been. I was a fraud. When getting an agent didn’t turn me into someone who could write without even trying, I figured that meant I was just a blind monkey who tripped and fell into a pile of bananas. Total dumb luck. I started believing I didn’t really belong in the writing community.

Imagine my surprise when these BFDs at The Writing Barn scooped me into the fold and convinced me that I do belong. And some of them, I discovered, had the same fears as me.

Attendees, faculty, & interns with our lovely host, Bethany and precious little Taru.

The weekend was full of inspiring lectures, narrative-sharpening exercises, and a true sense of community. The workshop portion terrified me, because I didn’t know until a few weeks beforehand that everyone would be reading and critiquing what I’d submitted. (rookie) But it actually turned out to be the most enlightening part of the whole thing. I got to bounce ideas around with these talented people, about their work and mine. They were more down to earth than I ever would’ve guessed. That didn’t stop my internal monologue from getting stuck on just be cool, just be cool the whole time, though.

There was this moment on Friday night, though--I was sitting on the screened porch at the barn with Carrie and Claire, listening to the cicadas. We were tipsy and talking about shamanism (you'd have to be there to understand why this is not weird at all), and I was like whoa. I'm one of the cool kids right now. A wine shaman, if you will.

Here are my top three take-aways from my weekend at The Writing Barn:

1.     Believe you can, and then do it.  I wish I could tell you I learned that validation doesn’t matter. That getting an agent, or receiving positive peer notes, or having one of your heroes compliment your work doesn’t affect who you are as a writer. But that would be a big fat lie, because I may or may not have laminated my notes from Matt and Amanda. We’re all just putting our insides on paper, so of course we want people to love it and validate us. The caveat to that is this: the validation doesn’t do the work. You still have to do that part yourself. Constructive feedback definitely helps. Go to a workshop, people. The experience re-lit my fire.

2.     Be disciplined. Matt talked in his lecture about “clocking-in” and writing every day. That’s something I absolutely have not been doing until this week. When I got back from Austin, I resolved to treat writing like a real job. Every day this week, I sat down and worked from the time I got back from taking the kids to school, to the time I had to leave to pick them up again.  Then at night, I put them to bed, and I stayed up to write. Yes, the laundry is suffering. But screw it. The closets aren't empty yet. And that discipline resulted in the most prolific week of my entire writing life. I wrote 21,469 words between Sunday, October 4th and today, October 9th. That’s more than four times what I’ve written since February. My manuscript is over 50k words now.

3.     Have patience with your characters. This one is the hardest for me, because patience is an enormous pain in the ass. Last time I prayed for patience, I found out I was pregnant with Jax, my youngest child--the wild one. God’s got jokes, y’all. Anyway, one of the recurring notes in my feedback was that I get in the way of my characters. I get impatient and start talking to the reader as “the writer,” instead of letting my characters tell the story they want to tell. Total a-ha moment, because now I notice every time I start doing it. Apparently I also thought it was necessary to foreshadow everything. (Spoiler alert: it’s not.) 

You're singing Guns N Roses now, aren't you?
I learned so much during those four days, and I made a lot of great new friends. Best of all, my muse woke from a long hibernation.

If you have the opportunity to go to a workshop at The Writing Barn and/or hear Matt de la Peña or Amanda Jenkins lecture/speak, trust me when I say this: DO IT. I feel really fortunate that I got to meet and work with them.

Did I walk away with some Holy Grail secret recipe to creating characters that resonate the way Shy and Miguel and Danny so effortlessly do? No. But at least now I’m actively working on it. :)

Here are a few pictures from the weekend: 

I arrived to chocolates on my pillow at The Book House. <3

I got my hug. <3 Love this girl. Best roomie ever.
These sweet babies live at The Writing Barn & greeted all of us every morning.
I bought a hard copy & got it signed. 
Did not go all fangirl like that time I met Johnny Damon, thank God. 
I wanted to, though.