Tag Archives: edit

A writer’s manifesto for 2012. Read this and get to work

Sometimes I like to pretend I’m writing “to” novelist Chuck Wendig. It helps me cut the crap when self-censorship creeps in. I love Wendig’s writing voice, and I just feel freer to speak my mind on the page when I’m in his literary presence.

What you’re about to read was actually blogged by Chuck Wendig last April. Who cares? If your manuscript or writing goals are in need of a New Year’s resolution-esque shaking of the collar, a smartening up, or a come-to-Jesus, you need to dig in and read these excerpts.

25 Things Writers Should Know by Chuck Wendig:

1.You Are Legion

The Internet is 55% porn, and 45% writers. You are not alone, and that’s a thing both good and bad. It’s bad because you can never be the glittery little glass pony you want to be. It’s bad because the competition out there is as thick as an ungroomed 1970s pubic tangle. It’s good because, if you choose to embrace it, you can find a community. A community of people who will share their neuroses and their drink recipes. And their, ahem, “fictional” methods for disposing of bodies.

2.You Better Put The “Fun” In “Fundamentals”

A lot of writers try to skip over the basics and leap fully-formed out of their own head-wombs. Bzzt. Wrongo. Learn your basics. Mix up lose/loose? They’re/their/there? Don’t know where to plop that comma, or how to use those quotation marks? That’s like trying to be a world-class chef but you don’t know how to cook a goddamn egg. Writing is a mechanical act first and foremost. It is the process of putting words after other words in a way that doesn’t sound or look like inane gibberish.

3.Skill Over Talent

Some writers do what they do and are who they are because they were born with some magical storytelling gland that they can flex like their pubococcygeus, ejaculating brilliant storytelling and powerful linguistic voodoo with but a twitch of their taint. This is a small minority of all writers, which means you’re probably not that. The good news is, even talent dies without skill. You can practice what you do. You practice it by writing, by reading, by living a life worth writing about. You must always be learning, gaining, improving.

Read the post in its entirety here

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts

Editing Fiction for Intelligent Readers (No Spoon-feeding Allowed.)

Kristen Lamb just hit me over the head. I’ve been contemplating an issue with my fiction writing lately, namely the balance between “poetic” description (of scenes, characters’ appearance, sex, etc.) and maintaining straight-forward clarity to allow my reader to build her own visual as the story unfolds.

Often I think I’m illuminating my reader, when merely I’ve employed “qualifiers”—See below why qualifying is akin to spoon-feeding the reader.

Sure, we’ve all been transported by lush, decorative (adjective-heavy) explorations of setting and of senses awakened (and wouldn’t we love to leave such a lasting impression on our beloved reader?)

And not so coincidentally, there have been fast-moving stories, tightly wrought and to the point, and when we put the book down, we walked away with a firm idea of character and place, without the author ever having spelled it out. How can we, as fiction writers, achieve balance?

As Lamb points out, “Editors are like engineers. We look at a writer’s race car (the manuscript) and look for parts that will cause drag, slow down momentum, or cause so much friction that a fiery crash or a dead engine is inevitable.” Those superfluous words slow the reader down—the adverbs and qualifiers, and nasty instances of showing instead of telling—amount to treating the reader “like a moron,” Lamb says in her post, Deadly Sin #7.

Lamb throws us a bone, bless her; “I would wager that most of us do not sit up all night thinking of ways to treat our readers like they’re stupid.  Yet, it is a common
problem, especially with newer writers who are still learning the craft. All of us can slip into these nasty habits, if we aren’t mindful.”

Let’s look at highlights from Kristen Lamb’s post:

Offender #1—Adverb Abuse

Here is a news flash. Not all adverbs are evil…just most of them. Adverbs are notorious culprits for stating the obvious. “She smiled happily.” Um, yeah. “He yelled loudly.” As opposed to yelling softly? To be blunt, most adverbs are superfluous and weaken the writing. Find the strongest verb and then leave it alone.

The ONLY time an adverb is acceptable is when it is there to denote some essence that is not inherent in the verb.

For example: She whispered quietly. Okay, as opposed to whispering loudly?

Quietly is implied in the verb choice. Ah, but what if you want her to whisper conspiratorially? The adverb conspiratorially tells us of a very specific type of whisper, and is not a quality that is necessarily implied by the verb.

Offender #2—Qualifiers

It is really unnecessary to qualify. We get it. Using qualifiers is similar to adding in needless adverbs. If we have just written a scene about a heated argument, trust me, our characters don’t need to “slam the door in frustration” (yep…got it) or “scowl with disapproval” (uh-huh) or “cry in bitter disappointment” (gimme a break).

The qualifiers add nothing but a cluster of extra words that bogs down the prose.  If someone slams the door right after a heated scene of arguing, the reader gets that the
character is angry, frustrated, upset.

Like adverbs, it is perfectly okay to use qualifiers, but it’s best to employ them very sparingly (and only ones that are super awesome). Allow your writing to carry the scene.

Dialogue and narrative should be enough for the reader to ascertain if a character is angry, hurt, happy, etc. If it isn’t, then forget the qualifiers and work on the strength of the scene.

What are your thoughts? What makes you put down a book? What methods transport you?

Kristen Lamb’s best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. Lamb’s methods teach you how to make building your author platform fun. She helps writers change approach, not personality.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts

Using Dirty Fighting To Escalate Tension In Your Story

Great books are filled with conflict, and great characters who learn important lessons.

Writer and all-around-funny Jenny Hansen’s clever tips for Dirty Fighting Techniques can be applied to your main character’s friend, family member or a significant other…whoever he or she is in conflict.
Hansen asserts, “Every entry on the Dirty Fighting List is guaranteed to make the other person see red.” If you’re writing fiction, anger and tension is a fantastic vehicle to move your story quickly and appropriately introduce backstory. The following are excerpts from her post.

One difficulty with reading about dialog is that every character is unique and, even though the examples may be excellent, your characters would not necessarily say those things. How do you think of creative things to say that would apply ONLY to your character?

One answer is to make him or her fight.

Since gratuitous fighting in a story is like gratuitous sex (kinda boring if there’s no real connection or reason for it), the author needs to find a great reason for the fight. The easiest way to pave the road is to discover what your characters really want. Then dig down for what they really, really want.

DON’T give it to them.
Or at least, don’t give it too soon.

Then flake away more layers to uncover what your character really fears. Then what they really, really fear. DO give it to them!

This is where things get interesting. You not only have characters who are upset, you’ve also found myriad ways to slide everybody deeper into your story. To do this, ask your character questions:

  1. What matters most to this character? (What is he or she most afraid to lose?)
  2. Who matters most? (This is usually the person they are most afraid to lose.)
  3. How did the character’s parents fight?
  4. How did the character’s parents interact with him or her?
  5. What does this character wish he or she had gotten in childhood?

All of these questions can provide you with cues about where your character is “broken” and give you ideas about fixing the broken part (i.e. Fix = Lesson).

Now it’s time to unleash that fight! BRING IT ON.

Below are Jenny Hansen’s top five Dirty Fighting Techniques for adding tension and plotting options to your story. (Get ready to flex your sarcasm muscle – which is always used in a dirty fight.)

#1 – Triangulating: Don’t leave the issue between you and your
conflict partner (could be a family member, friend or love interest), pull
everybody in. Quote well-known authorities who agree with you and list every family member whom you know has taken your side (and lie about the ones you haven’t spoken to, yet).

Uses: Triangulating is incredibly useful in fiction because you can expand the discussion to more characters and stir up some real drama. Let’s not keep this issue between just us, one character says to the other. Oh no, lets involve everybody.

If you have extreme Dirty Fighting Talent, you can stir the pot and then step back and play a new game called, “Let’s watch the other two people fight.” Good times.

#2 – Escalating: Quickly move from the main issue of the argument
to questioning your partner’s basic personality, and then move on to wondering whether the relationship is even worth it. Blame your partner for having a flawed personality so that a happy relationship will be impossible.

Uses: Excellent tool for keeping two love interests apart. But, the fight better be about something that really, really matters.

Escalating also allows for plausible use of Back Story. When you’re moving from the main issue to what the REAL issue is (often happens at the end of Act 2), escalating the argument will make someone lose control enough that they blurt out something juicy. Way to go, Author!

#3 – Leaving: No problem is so big or important that it can’t
be ignored or abandoned all together. Walk out of the room, leave the house, or just refuse to talk. Sometimes just threatening to leave can accomplish the same thing without all the inconvenience of following through.

Uses: My favorite use of this is employing it when the two characters really need each other. It completely ups the betrayal factor: I can’t depend on you, I don’t trust you, you’ve let me down.

You noticed how dirty those last three statements were, right? Not a clean fight to be found anywhere with “leaving,” which is fantastic for your story! The farther your character falls, the harder the journey is on the way back up, right?

#4 – Timing: Look for a time when your partner is least able
to respond or least expects an argument.

Uses: Think about this from a story point of view. A really great time to pick a fight is just before the main character embarks on a journey, has a new murder to solve, is called on to save the world. Anything
with high stakes. Be sure the character ambushing them is a likeable one so the reader REALLY gets drawn into the conflict.

#5 – Rejecting Compromise: Never back down.

Uses: This is a kickass Dirty Fighting trick to use on the main character. If there is only one winner, there is automatic conflict involved for the person who “loses.” The solutions are endless, but here’s some scenarios that come to my mind.

The main character could:

  • Realize the universal truth in fighting: the person who says “no” always has the power. Perhaps your MC will change their motivation so that the other character’s “no” doesn’t bother them so much.
  • Learn never to accept “no” from someone who doesn’t have the power to say “yes.” In other words, your MC could learn to stand up for they really want and find a way around their primary obstacle.
  • Find a way for there to be two winners. This a continuation of the point above

What do you think? What are some other ways you could use a good fight to help your character grow or advance your story? Do you use any of the five techniques in your own life…come on, you can tell! Let’s hear your fabulous Dirty (Fighting) Thoughts!

Jenny Hansen’s creative life is filled with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, and short stories. Find Jenny on Twitter @jhansenwrites, read her blog or look for her over on the Writers In The Storm blog.

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Fiction Writing: 7 Elements of the First Page

First pages are like first dates. No, worse. First pages are more like the ten seconds it takes your blind date to come into sight and walk toward your table. It’s often a make-or-break deal, and in many cases, a delusive representation of what follows in chapters behind.

Or am I jaded? More often than I care to admit, a book’s finely-crafted opening pages evoke lovestruck stars in my eyes, much as one too many nervous cocktails over tentative introductions. But when I dig deeper, get to Chapter Two–or the second date, as it were–the luster of those brilliant opening lines fades to a dull incompatibility. But, we can discuss second dates/chapters in another post!

The dating world and the publishing world share a urgent requirement to hook the bait from that first glance. Below, a guest post from  Linda R. Young’s W.I.P. It blog shows us the seven elements a first page should include. (I’m tempted to share seven first date tips, but then you’d have to “red-mark” me for digression.)

1. A distinctive voice. A unique voice is essential to capture the imaginations of the readers and pull them into the story. Voice will make your novel stand out above the rest.

2. A strong character. Readers will engage with strong and interesting characters.

3. A sense of time and place. This grounds the reader into the story. They should be able to recognise the story’s genre in the first page. These should be markers only. Avoid wads of descriptions.

4. Questions. Don’t answer all the reader’s questions at once. Don’t give them everything they need to know about the characters, the history, the setting. They don’t need paragraphs of backstory. They don’t need–or want–everything explained too soon.

5. Intrigue. More than simply holding the cards to your chest, tease the reader into wanting to know more.

6. The point of change. The story should start at the point of change. This
change should reflect conflict. Note: the conflict doesn’t have to be explosive.

7. No wasted words or throw-away lines. Keep it tight. Every word should have a reason for being. Try to avoid redundancies.

Can you think of other essential elements in the first page?
How many times have you rewritten your first page?

Lynda R. Young writes fantasy and science fiction short stories, and is working on two Young Adult novels. One is an Adventure Fantasy set on the High Seas and the other is a Steampunk Fantasy. She also writes Christian articles and maintain a Christian Devotional Blog: Fearfully and Wonderfully.
Also, please read this article, Something Has to Happen. (Seriously, this is important. Something HAS to happen in the first 250 words of your story.)
Let’s connect on Twitter? @TheRJLacko

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts

Critiquing Other People’s Writing: 7 Tips for Making Manuscripts Better

“Just shoot me now.”

A good critique may begin with this response, but soon the scolding red marks reveal overlooked obstacles to your work’s potential.

When you make friends with the red pen pointing out weak story points, redundancy or grammar errors, you give yourself the opportunity to grow as a writer and refine your final product. But is the job of the red pen wielder easier than that of the writer?

Mark Nichol of the Daily Writing Tips blog advises you make clear whether you’ve offered to evaluate a brief sample as a guide to help the person extrapolate what they should look for when they revise their draft. (If you’re asked to critique an entire book in-depth, Nichol says, you should do so only for pay or as part of a bartering arrangement, because you’re being asked to devote dozens of hours of your time.)

Let’s make one thing absolutely clear before we go any further: Critiquing is not the same as editing.  If your critique partner is “editing drastically,” the result is no longer a critique but a rewrite.

According to Nichol, the chief purpose of a fiction critique is to enable the writer to improve a manuscript by getting rid of:

  • unnecessary exposition
  • character inconsistencies
  • pointless dialogue

Thoughtful critiques from other writers can help the writer focus on essentials.

  • What exactly is the writer’s purpose?
  • Who is the protagonist?
  • What does the protagonist want?
  • Does each chapter advance the plot?

Here are seven tips for a positive, productive critiquing experience:

1. Tolerate the Task
When you write, you don’t have to be an aficionado or expert to produce an article or a story on a given topic. Editors don’t need these qualifications, either, and they don’t have to be enamored of the writer’s voice or technique. The same goes for someone conducting a critique: Don’t turn down a request for feedback just because you’re not interested in the subject or you don’t like the writing style. Help the writer succeed in reaching the audience they are writing for. (But don’t hesitate to express your opinion if you think the approach is flawed.)

2. General House-keeping
The manuscript sample you receive should appear exactly as it would look when it’s ready for submission to a publishing professional. Hard copy should be double spaced and must be free of handwritten annotations or emendations. An electronic document should be professionally formatted and at least mostly devoid of the writer’s notes to self.

  • If you’re reviewing an electronic copy, activate change tracking and edit it. Insert notes using the comment feature or by entering them in brackets, highlighted in boldface or with colored type or background, so they are easily located and distinguished from the content.
  •  If you’re working on hard copy, use a pen or a colored pencil for brief notes, and write or type your detailed queries and comments on a separate sheet of paper or in a computer document.

3. Evaluate the Writing, Not the Writer
Compliments and complaints alike should focus on the product, not the producer. Refer to the sentence or the section, the character or their actions, the narrative flow or the exchange of dialogue rather than to the person who requested your help.

4. Start — and Stop — with the Positive
Begin by lauding the strengths of the sample, and reiterate your positive feedback when you summarize your critique. Refer to strengths, not weaknesses, and use positive language: “stronger,” “more interesting,” “a better approach.” Be frank but diplomatic: Even people who can take criticism need to hear that they’re doing something right, and that’s what you should start (and end) with.

5. Craft Your Critiques
Be specific, not vague. Be active, not passive. Point out problems, but suggest solutions. Your goal is to clearly communicate to the writer about how they can more clearly communicate to their readers.

6. Invite Questions
Set up a time to go over your critique after the writer has had a chance to review it. Welcome the writer’s requests for clarification and discussion. If the writer becomes defensive, mention that you have offered your perspective, and that they are free to act on your critique as they see fit.

7. Know Your Limits
It’s reasonable for a writer to ask you for a second light look at the piece after they have made changes in response to your comments, or to request that you provide a general impression about a revision based on your in-depth critique. But establish boundaries about how much time and effort you intend to offer on the writer’s work.

Check in with the writer. No matter how careful you are about being diplomatic, the writer may feel a bit battered, and part of your unwritten contract should include a clause requiring you to keep in touch about the project.

Want to read more? Check out this article  at DailyWritingTips.com: “Critiquing” is not “Editing”. Mark Nichol is a freelance editor and writer and a former editing instructor for UC Berkeley’s Extension program, edits trade and academic books for various publishers and publishes occasional articles about the Golden Age of Hollywood at Yahoo!’s Associated Content.

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10 Simple Ways to Support Authors You Love, and Love the Readers Who Support You

I’ll admit it, I’m a fangirl.

When an author’s amazing book inspires awe, when an agent teaches a class with the intention of improving and inspiring our burgeoning manuscripts, or either write a blogpost containing encouragement and advice for other writers–well, I want to return the favor of their generosity and give them a (virtual) hug.

I can’t get enough of author Jody Hedlund‘s blog, a vast compendium of rational, well-thought-out, organized and helpful advice on the craft of fiction writing. (She MUST teach a writing class. She must.) Her advice is so thorough, so intelligent, and in many cases so refreshing, that I began reading her books–I wanted to witness the application of Hedlund’s fascinating writing theories.

It is in the spirit of gratitude that today’s guest-post features excerpts from Jody Hedlund’s 10 Simple Ways to Support Authors You Love. “Before I was published,” says Hedlund, “I didn’t realize how much authors appreciated readers taking the time to publicly support them. In fact, I didn’t know my support was important. And even if I had known, I wouldn’t have had a clue what kinds of things would help my favorite authors the most.”

What kinds of action can we fans take to lend support? “Yes, THE best support is actually reading the author’s book,” contends Hedlund, “But, if you enjoyed the book, you’ll do the author a big favor by taking the support one step further. That one step can make a huge difference.”

Here are Hedlund’s ideas for choosing which “one step” feels right for you:

1. Write a book review and post it on Amazon. If you’ve ever ordered on Amazon then you’re eligible to post a review. It’s very simple to do and incredibly helpful (if it’s a good review!). Jody’s book, The Preacher’s Bride, has garnered several #1 slots on Amazon’s Kindle store due to the positive ratings readers have taken the time to write. [Side Note: If you’re a writer, use your author name when writing reviews. This can give your name extra exposure. For example, Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont, put the first review for The Preacher’s Bride on Amazon (and she did a fantastic job with the review!). Now her name and book are the first that people see when they visit the Amazon page for The Preacher’s Bride.]

2. Copy and paste your review onto other online bookstores. There’s nothing wrong with copying your Amazon review and using it on other sites, like GoodReads, Shelfari, Barnes&Noble.com or CBD.com.

3. Click the “Like” button on a book’s Amazon page. (You’ll find it near the top of your fave book’s page.)

4. Click on the “Tags People Associate With This Product” on Amazon. If you scroll down on The Preacher’s Bride Amazon page, you’ll see approximately 32 tags. The more tags and the more clicks, the better a book will come up in search results.

5. Tweet about the book. Recently Pamela Trawick tweeted a noteworthy tweet about The Preacher’s Bride. In 140 characters she managed to capture the essence of her reading experience: The Preacher’s Bride is outstanding. Great tension, good pace, fabulous plot. Read it.

6. Make a short comment of praise about the book on Facebook (or copy the one from Twitter). Twitter streams move quickly, and so tweets come and go. But on facebook, news has the ability to stick around a bit longer.

7. Pass along the book to a friend or to family. And ask them to pass it along when they’re done.

8. Buy the book as a gift for friends and family. Publishing houses keep track of every book sale. And each purchase is important to an author.

9. Ask your local library to carry the book. First check if they have the book (you can usually look it up online). And if they don’t, next time you’re at your library, personally request the book.

10. Make an effort to pass on your love of the book. Somehow, someway tell someone how much you liked the book. Word-of-mouth is the best way to help support an author! The more times a person hears about or sees a book, the greater the chances that they’ll pick it up and read it.

What other practical ideas have you done to help support authors? Have you taken the time to publicly support a book or author you’ve liked? Or haven’t you given it much thought before now?

Marketing is part of the job description of the modern author. Whether we’ve gone with self-publishing, small indie press, or the traditional route, all authors must market. However, writers tend to be happier working quietly, alone.

How can we avoid turning our marketing and promotion efforts into a litany to ourselves? Here are Jody Hedlund’s three ways:

1. Connect With Readers: Pay attention to what they’re saying on our blogs, facebook, and twitter. Be available. Make sure do the best we can to answer personal emails and messages.

2. Engage Readers: Don’t stand on the sidelines. Instead jump into social media conversations. Ask questions on Facebook or Twitter. Discover what people think or how they feel about issues.

3. Care For Readers: Find ways to let them know we appreciate them. Offer encouragement. Be real and open so they feel comfortable sharing their concerns and problems with us.

In one word: LOVE. Yes, love your readers.

If you love your readers, they’ll promote the heck out of you.

I’m sure we can all think of an author we’ve met online (or in person), one we’ve grown to admire and respect because of how personable and kind they are. I know it makes a huge impact on me when an author is down-to-earth, chats with me, retweets something I say, leaves a comment on my blog, etc.

I may have already liked that particular author. But my admiration rises even higher when they take the extra effort to connect with me.

On the reverse side, our admiration for authors diminishes when they act too busy for us, don’t respond to something we say, or only chat within a certain circle of author friends.

My point is that if we as writers grow to appreciate other writers/authors who connect with us, imagine how much that means to our readers when we make an effort to relate to them.

Marketing 101: Start by loving the readers we already have (including followers on social media sites). We may want more. But first we have learn to take care of those that are already sitting in our stadium. We need to figure out ways to bless and encourage the audience that’s before us.

When we’re loving and taking care of the readers and followers we have, they’ll WANT to support us. They may even go out of their way to help us and shout out the news about our books. They’ll be excited to promote for us, essentially taking a large part of “self” out of self-promotion.

We won’t need to toot our own horns so loudly because our readers will do the tooting for us.

What do you think? Have you supported authors because you’ve learned to like and appreciate them? Is “loving your readers” a good strategy? Or do you think it’s lame? If so, what do you think can work better?

Isn’t Jody Hedlund fantastic? If you would like to read more of her ideas, I’ve posted Hedlund‘s 5 Transformational Story Elements here. She offers a goldmine of excellent advice for polishing your WIP until story shines.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?

Reflections of an author’s year of revisions

This morning I stumbled upon Nova Ren Suma‘s refreshing blog post: The Year I Revised My Novel Seven Times. Is it simple enough for me to say that I’m touched by her tender and satisfied account of her hard work?

Like every writer, I want my finished manuscript to be my very best work, my heart, and if seven revisions is what I’m required to give, I will tip my hat respectfully to Ms. Suma and dig in. Cheers to her, and to every writer aiming to produce his or her own pride and joy. Here are excerpts form her post:

The first draft of Imaginary Girls was finished on January 1, 2010. I then went on to revise the manuscript over the course of this year SEVEN TIMES. One revision before showing my agent. One more revision after showing my agent. Then five more revisions with my editor. Some of those rounds of revision felt—and I think they were—pretty massive. I put my heart into that book. Then I tore it out and put it in again. I worked with an editor who really knew how to dig it all out of me, and the book that stands at the end is one I can honestly say I’m truly proud of… and I’m very hard to please.

All I know is that I’m going to look back on 2010 and be able to say—to myself, without any exaggeration—that I’ve never worked so hard on my writing in my life. I wrote the way Sugar said we should. For the first time ever in my life, I really did.

(I also started two new novels in 2010, which is miraculous now, looking back on all that time I spent in revisions.)

There’s more to this revision story, and maybe one day I’ll tell you why I ended up revising the book so many times. But I think the lesson here is that it is worth it to work hard to make the book as good as it can be. Even if you’re tired. Even if you think you can’t do it. (And I was tired, and I admit I thought I couldn’t do it.) It’s worth it to put your all into this again… and again… and however many times it takes. I have to tell you now, standing on the other side of it, it feels incredible.

Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls, her debut YA novel, is coming out from Dutton in June ’11, with a second novel to follow. She also wrote the tween novel Dani Noir, out now from Simon & Schuster.

What was the best thing that happened to you in 2010? And what was the hardest thing you did in 2010?

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Filed under Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Who is Writing What?