Musings of Melissa Bashardoust


Face Your Fears, Find Your Flaws
by Melissa Bashardoust

How do you design a character’s flaws? The answer, like most things, lies in Star Wars.

As Yoda tells us, the root of the dark side is fear. Fear is what makes us lash out. Fear can motivate us or hold us back. Fear can bring out the best and worst in your characters. If you want to find out a characters flaws, figure out what your character wants, what motivates them, what’s important to them. Their family? Their status in the social hierarchy? Freedom and justice?

Great—now threaten to take that thing away from them.

Put your character in a position where they’re about to lose the thing they’re most afraid of losing, and imagine their reaction. Would they become ruthless and destructive? Would they retreat and give in to despair? Push a character hard enough, and eventually they’ll show you their worst impulses. Force a character to confront their worst fear, and you’ll find out what demon they need to overcome, what’s holding them back and what’s driving them forward.

Okay, but what if a character’s response is a mature and healthy one? You can work with that, too, because there’s a flip side to every coin, after all. Every good quality can become a flaw if it’s too extreme. A cheerful attitude can become an unwillingness to confront the heavier parts of life. A calm sense of detachment can become an inability to connect with others. Anakin Skywalker would never have fallen to the dark side if he didn’t have the admirable quality of caring so much about the people he loves…and if he weren’t so afraid of losing them. (It always comes back to Star Wars, I’m telling you.)

Even just knowing what a character is afraid of can lead you to their flaws. To take an example from…let’s say…Star Wars, we have a scene from The Force Awakens where the antagonist (Kylo Ren) very conveniently tells us what the protagonist (Rey) is afraid of. “You’re so lonely, so afraid to leave,” he tells her (and us). On the surface, Rey’s afraid to leave the planet where she was abandoned as a child, because she’s worried her family won’t be able to find her if they ever come back for her. But really, she’s afraid to leave because that would mean admitting that her family isn’t coming back for her. From this core fear come her flaws: stubbornness, self-imposed isolation, a refusal to move forward. Her fear of abandonment causes her to initially choose stagnation and isolation when given opportunities to expand her horizons and make new connections.

If you’ll allow me a more self-indulgent example: In Girls Made of Snow and Glass, one of my main characters, Mina, is afraid that she’s unlovable, that anyone who truly knows her will reject her. By working from the inside out, I can take that fear and translate it into flaws. Mina can be guarded and distrustful, ruthless and manipulative, because she believes

that she has no one to count on but herself, and that if anyone sees the real her, she’ll never be loved. Desperation—that mixture of fear and desire—makes her flaws manifest.

Knowing my character’s fears and flaws helps me know how she would react to both positive and negative events in the plot. The worse the event, the more likely she is to retreat into herself, to reject others before they can reject her. She doesn’t have to have any of those flaws. There’s no one set path from fear to flaw—but tracing out of one of those many paths will make the flaws feel organic and will help readers empathize with the character even when they’re not at their best. We may not all relate to each individual flaw, but we all understand fear, and the influence that fear can have over our actions.

You don’t have to know your characters’ flaws from the start. One of the most satisfying parts of writing is seeing your characters develop on the page, watching them go from vague skeletons in your head to fleshed-out people. Flaws are the thorns, not the roots. The roots are the characters’ hopes and dreams, their upbringings—and yes, their fears. Water those roots and the thorns will grow on their own.


About Melissa

Melissa Bashardoust received her degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, where she rediscovered her love for creative writing, children’s literature, and fairy tales and their retellings. She currently lives in Southern California with a cat named Alice and more copies of Jane Eyre than she probably needs. Girls Made of Snow and Glass is her first novel.

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Girls Made of Snow and Glass

Girls Made of Snow and Glass

Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber in this feminist fantasy reimagining of the Snow White fairytale

At sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

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Thank you so much to Melissa for writing this wonderful post and sharing it with us. I know from experience that sometimes character flaws and growth are the most difficult parts of writing and what really divides a good book from a great book!

As always, thank you to everyone who has participated in this feature! Your words and advice are always happily devoured, and we love you all for helping us.

We hope you all have a wonderful rest of your week!



Musings of Candace Ganger


The Inevitable Collision of Birdie & Bash Inspiration
by Candace Ganger

The Inevitable Collision of Birdie & Bash is loosely based on a tragedy that occurred in my family circa 1979. Though I wasn’t born yet, my mom kept newspaper clippings that I kept going back to. I couldn’t imagine going through anything like this and felt a tug in my heart to fix it (whatever that meant). The whole incident, and images used in those papers, haunted me for many years. Knowing what I know now, and seeing how strong my family managed to be in the wake of something so horrific, I couldn’t ignore that pull to do something. I just wasn’t sure what that something was, until these characters sort-of popped into my mind one day. I tinkered with storylines (so not to be exact with the facts), landing on a skeleton of a different version of Birdie & Bash—one way more depressing—that I decided could be cathartic, if done right.

With trusted readers and thoughtful notes, I transformed B&B into vaguely what it is now—one with a through line of hope. Sensitivity to my family’s wounds have always been at the forefront of my mind, but I knew no matter what, I’d give them the ending I felt they deserved.

In pulling from this event (while fictionalizing; I can’t stress this enough), as the connecting thread between Birdie & Bash, it’s definitely helped me work through my own pain and losses, while also rewriting a history that never was, but should’ve been.

About Candace

Candace Ganger is a mother, blogger, contributing writer for sites like Teen VogueTWLOHABustleRomperXO Jane & Hello GigglesShe’s also an obsessive marathoner and continual worrier (yay!). Her debut YA novel, THE INEVITABLE COLLISION OF BIRDIE & BASH, will be out via St. Martin’s Griffin July 25th, 2017. Aside from having past lives as a singer, nanotechnology website editor, and world’s worst* vacuum sales rep, she’s also ghostwritten hundreds of projects for companies, best-selling fiction and award-winning nonfiction authors alike. Candace—aka—Candyland—has a severe** Milky Way latte addiction + eats way too many*** donuts/doughnuts but all things in excess, amiright?

FYI: She’s TOTALLY awkward in person (#sorrynotsorry).

*she was okay, at best.
**what counts as severe?
***don’t judge me

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The Inevitable Collision of Birdie & Bash

The Inevitable Collision of Birdie & Bash

Birdie never meant to be at the party. Bash should have been long gone. But when they meet, a collision course is set off they may never recover from.

Sebastian Alvaréz is just trying to hold the pieces together: to not flunk out, to keep his sort-of-best friend Wild Kyle from doing something really bad, and to see his beloved Ma through chemo. But when he meets Birdie Paxton, a near-Valedictorian who doesn’t realize she’s smoking hot in her science pun T-shirt, at a party, an undeniable attraction sparks. And suddenly he’s not worried about anything. But before they are able to exchange numbers, they are pulled apart. A horrifying tragedy soon links Birdie and Bash together—but neither knows it. When they finally reconnect, and are starting to fall—hard—the events of the tragedy unfold, changing both their lives in ways they can never undo. Told in alternating perspectives, The Inevitable Collision of Birdie & Bash by Candace Ganger is a beautiful, complex, and ultimately hopeful teen novel that will move you to the very last page.

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Thank you so much to Candace for sharing her story with us. Sometimes we all find inspiration in the oddest of places, and it only takes opening ourselves up to the possibilities in order for it to hit us.

As always, thank you to everyone who has participated in this feature. Your words of advice and stories never fall upon unappreciative writers.

We hope you all have a wonderful rest of your week!



Musings of Leah Henderson


Advice for Young Writers
by Leah Henderson

There is so much writing advice out there about what to do or what not to do. A lot of it is very helpful but to be honest, most of it is overwhelming. So the first thing I will say is focus on what speaks to you and what you need at certain moments in your writing journey. Everyone’s experience with writing is different, but there are definitely some universal themes that resonant with all of us at any given point: doubt, frustration, excitement, confusion, fear, fatigue, hopelessness, hopefulness, love, hate, envy, relief, elation. The list can go on and on. But the one thing that every writer should remember whether they are a beginner writing their first sentences, or a pro with shelves of published books, we each need to believe in the power and wonder of revision!

No story has ever been perfect on a first draft. Yes, there can be nuggets of brilliance, and gems to marvel, but I’d arch an eyebrow if a writer told me they’d never written a crappy first draft or at least one that needed a little extra love and attention.

Stories are built on layers.

There is nothing better than diving back into a beloved book only to find new elements and clues to explore. Many of these added details come through revision.

For me, I try to settle into the story in the first few drafts—figuring out characters, scenes, and the overall arc. Then I start focusing on specifics whether it’s about a character’s mannerisms, subplots, or adding a bit more texture to a place. I attempt to color in the lines of what I sketched in my early versions. And I keep smearing color, intensifying shadows and deepening contours with each read. This might sound like a lot of rewriting and adding, and frankly sometimes it is, but I don’t worry about that while I’m knee deep in my mess. I focus on getting every thought out of my head and onto the page. Some of my ideas work, though many of them don’t, but I won’t know unless I’ve tried. I might attempt to say something ten different ways before deciding which is the strongest. And I’m okay with putting in that effort because I know:

Revision is magical.

When I come to the final drafts of a project I’m always a bit amazed at how much certain moments and characters change, grow, and develop. In early drafts a lot of these aspects couldn’t even have been envisioned because I was too focused on other details. And it wasn’t until I got those details just right that I could free my mind for other possibilities to take shape.

So trust in the power and wonder of revision and trust in your imagination to get you through. Don’t rush either because with patience and thoughtfulness you will see the true pearls of your story shining brighter and brighter with each attempt to get it just right.

Wishing you all the best with your writing & your revision!

About Leah

Leah has always loved getting lost in stories. When she is not scribbling down her characters’ adventures, she is off on her own, exploring new spaces and places around the world. One Shadow on the Wall (Antheneum/Simon & Schuster) is her debut middle grade novel. Leah received her MFA at Spalding University and currently calls Washington D.C. home.

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One Shadow on the Wall

One Shadow on the Wall

An orphaned boy in contemporary Senegal must decide between doing what is right and what is easy as he struggles to keep a promise he made to his dying father.

Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined.

With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?

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Thank you so much, Leah, for sharing your advice about layering and revisions with all of us. You’re so right, that the best stories are built upon revision after revision, adding layers, characters, growth, and everything else you can imagine to your story. The best stories are the ones we revise a thousand times because sometimes those first fifty tries just aren’t enough. =)

As always, thank you to everyone who has participated in this feature. Your words are invaluable to all of the writers who are trying to get their feet on the ground. We are always so appreciative of you.

We hope you have a wonderful rest of your week, and remember to keep writing and revising!


Musings of Cale Dietrich


Do you believe that writing from your real life makes a better story?

by Cale Dietrich

Hi! First of all, I have to say that I’m super happy to be here, writing this. This is actually the first blog post that I’ve written since The Love Interest was released, so it’s kinda cool to document this moment in time.

So, answer time. I think this is a really interesting question, because I think all writing is intensely personal, even if it isn’t drawn from direct life experiences.  That said, The Love Interest is actually heavily influenced by my own life – I was going through the early stages of coming out as I was writing it, and I was working through my feelings by writing the book. It’s interesting, because it was also a really reflexive process. I was writing TLI to work out my feelings, while at the same time writing an unapologetic gay empowerment story was shaping my feelings. Honestly, working on TLI increased my confidence so, so much. So the two are incredibly linked, which is a super weird (and awesome, imo) thing.

I can’t say if that makes the story better, as that is 100% up to readers to decide. But from a writing standpoint, I think it made it way easier. For me, it’s not really about taking events that directly happened in my life and putting them in a book though. Very few of the events in The Love Interest have directly happened to me. Although side note: I think my Mum thinks they did and I just never told her, robots and all.

I think the thing that made it easier to write was that I’d experienced many of the emotions, and I sort of tried to write scenes where Caden feels how I felt when a similar thing had happened to me. So like, while I may have literally never gone on a drive late at night with a Bad boy rival, I TOTALLY know how realising you have a crush on a guy feels, especially when you’re not sure the guy you like is gay and you’re hoping he is but also worried he isn’t and etc etc.

So I think the thing that made it easier was recalling those feelings and then giving them to Caden, even though the literal events that happen in the book are different from what happened in my real life. When I mesh those two things, the end result tends to be the writing I am proudest of (and that readers seem to connect the most too).

14541076.jpgAbout Cale

Cale Dietrich is a YA devotee, lifelong gamer, and tragic pop punk enthusiast. He was born in Perth, grew up on the Gold Coast, and now lives in Brisbane, Australia. The Love Interest is his first novel.


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31145148.jpgThe Love Interest

There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: the boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: the brooding, dark-souled guy who is dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose the Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be—whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

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A huge thank you to Cale for sharing his story, obstacles, and advice for us! Drawing from real life experiences and feelings can help your story to become amazing.

As always, a huge thank you to everyone who has participated in this feature. Your words and stories never fall upon unappreciative writers.

We hope you have a wonderful weekend.


Musings of Sandhya Menon


A Difficulty in Your Writing Journey and How You Got Past It
by Sandhya Menon

Writing is such a funny endeavor.

At the beginning, when you’re sequestered away in a room, you write only for yourself. At that point, it didn’t even occur to me to be concerned about other people. I wrote all kinds of things—short stories, poetry, novellas, plays, non-fiction essays.

As time went by, though, and I learned more about the craft, I got serious about getting published. I went the indie route at first, self-publishing novels and serials for readers. It was thrilling. The bad reviews were hard to take, but at least people were reading my work and talking about it.

Then my agent found me—ahhh. I was thrilled, humbled, ecstatic. It felt like a whole new world. I wrote stories and discarded them; I felt like I had to get everything just right. A novel of mine, previously self-published, was accepted by a major publisher for their digital line. When that one came out, only a few people read it (it’s one of my favorite stories, but it just isn’t what they call ‘high concept.’ I suspect the editor who acquired it took it on solely as a labor of love, for which I’m very grateful).

My confidence dipped very low. I began to wonder if I would ever find readers again. I’d been writing seriously for a good four years at that point, with my two little children at my feet, and I was really tired. “Maybe I should get a real skill,” I thought. I’d always had a passion for psychology—it was my major in college—so I decided to go to graduate school to train as a therapist.

I got accepted into my program right around the time the offer for When Dimple Met Rishi came through.

The hilarious thing is that I look back on my journey and wonder if I would’ve done anything differently to avoid that awful writing slump where I just about threw in the towel. And I’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t anything I could’ve done. I think getting really low and contemplating giving up is just a natural part of the creative person’s journey.

For writers (especially writers on social media) it can feel like an onslaught of people getting agents, getting book deals, going on tour, getting starred reviews, and hitting the bestseller lists. If you’re also high, this is great! More people to celebrate with! But if you’re in a slump, it can feel like the entire world is moving forward while you’re mired in your own untalented quicksand.

I don’t have the cure for this, but I do have a suggestion: The next time you feel “slumped,” remind yourself that it’s normal. Not wanting to write is normal. Feeling like a talentless hack is normal. Wanting to scream, “It’s not faiiiir!” is normal. If you need a break, take it. Take the opportunity to refill your well before you come back to your desk, ready to begin anew. I promise you, your stories will wait.

Sandhya Menon With Filter_443x375

About Sandhya

Sandhya Menon is the author of When Dimple Met Rishi (May 2017). She lives in Colorado where she’s on a mission to (gently) coerce her husband and kids to watch all 3,221 Bollywood movies she claims as her favorite.


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When Dimple Met Rishi

When Dimple Met Rishi

A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

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A huge thank you to Sandhya for sharing your stories of highs and lows with us. We all feel a roller coaster of emotions as writers, and sometimes we just have to struggle through the lows and experience the trials in order to just make it out okay on the other side. All of our successes will come at our own times, and we can make time to care for our own mental states while we wait. =)

As always, thank you so much to all of the amazing writers and publishing individuals who have been fundamental in keeping this feature going and continuing to share your advice with writers who need it. We appreciate you all more than you know.

We hope you have a wonderful rest of your week!


Musings of Julie Shepard


Reader Questions – Why You Want Them!
by Julie Shepard, author of
Rosie Girl

Before you read this, I have a job for you: Pick out a book on your shelf (or in your Kindle!) and read the first few pages. That’s it. Then ask yourself: What am I wondering about? What has the author mentioned that’s piqued my curiosity? What questions do I want (or better yet—need) answers to? Because if you don’t have any, chances are you won’t be reading any further. It will become a part the dreaded “set aside” books. And do you really want that to be the fate of your book?

Let’s analyze Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow:

We find our main character in a rehab facility. I’ll even mention the fact that Ms. Glasgow holds off for several pages before telling the reader her name (Charlie). Bonus points for that! We’re wondering a lot of things, simply because this girl is in a hospital. Why is she there? How did she get there? As we read further, more questions take shape because the author begins to give us more information. That’s a good thing: More information shouldn’t just tell the reader things—it should cause the reader to ask more questions. And more questions mean more pages read. And more pages read mean your entire book will get read, which is your goal. (Reviews are another thing!)

So, back to Charlie. She lived on the street. She kept company with a bunch of guys and a girl named Ellis. You may not even realize you’re asking questions, but your brain is firing off tons of them: What was the relationship between these people? Who was good, bad, friend, or foe? Was someone jealous, beautiful, a train wreck? You’re also seeking answers to more subtle issues: Do I like this main character? Do I want to hop on this journey with her? Is she—aside from whatever personal demons led her to end up in a hospital—basically good? Does she have to be in order for you to want to follow her story? Is she a victim, a con artist, a drug addict? Do you even care?

You thought your goal was to write a book. It’s not. It’s to write a story that creates questions like these for your reader. Sprinkle in answers while creating new ones. Just as we start to get a sense of the relationship Charlie had with Ellis and these boys, the author mentions Charlie’s mother, which unleashes a whole new set of questions. Where is she? Did she hospitalize her own daughter? What’s their relationship like? You always want your reader wondering, searching, hypothesizing. By creating questions, you’re creating actively-engaged readers.

Here’s a challenge: Share your first five pages with someone who has not read any of your manuscript, and ask them to jot down at least three questions (the more, the better!) they already have at this point. These could be plot-related or character-related. They’re equally important, because people read for a variety of reasons and tune into different elements that pique their interest—the promise of love, the suspicion of murder, the heartache of loss. Then ask yourself: Have I answered their questions, and when? There’s a fine line between satisfying a reader’s curiosity too soon and frustrating them by making them wait too long for a payoff.  

Few of us would admit it, but I will. There are books I haven’t finished. It’s not because they weren’t “good”. It was because I either stopped asking questions or stopped wanting answers to the ones I still had. Take a moment to reflect on those books you partially read. Do you remember what captured your interest? How did the author lose it? Perhaps the answer will be just what you need to make sure your book never becomes a part of anyone’s dreaded pile of “set asides”.   

Julie Shepard_author photo

About Julie

Julie Shepard began her writing career on a Smith Corona typewriter, hammering out dark stories like the twisted tale about homicidal identical twins who conspire to get away with murder. She earned a degree in English Literature from the University of Florida and a teaching degree in Middle Grades English from Florida International University. While in the classroom, she developed a keen ear for adolescent drama and knew that young adult fiction was the path her writing journey would take. She lives by the beautiful beaches of South Florida, where sunny skies often beckon her outside to do her writing on a lounge chair. Rosie Girl is her debut. You can find her at

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Rosie Girl

Rosie Girl

Little Peach meets We Were Liars in this haunting YA debut about a troubled teen searching for her birth mom who uncovers disturbing family secrets along the way.

After her father passes away, seventeen-year-old Rosie is forced to live with her abusive stepmom Lucy and her deadbeat boyfriend, Judd, who gives Rosie the sort of looks you shouldn’t give your girlfriend’s step-daughter. Desperate for a way out, Rosie would do just about anything to escape the life she’s been handed. Then she finds a letter her dad wrote years ago, a letter confessing that Rosie’s birth mother isn’t dead, as she believed, but alive somewhere—having left them when Rosie was a little girl for reasons he won’t reveal.

Rosie resolves to find her birth mom, and she’ll put everything on the line to make that happen. She hires a PI paid for by her best friend, Mary, who turns tricks for money. Unlike Rosie, Mary’s no delicate flower and when she sees the opportunity to make some cash and help out her closest friend, she takes it. Romance blooms when the PI Rosie hires hands the case off to his handsome nephew Mac, but Rosie struggles to keep her illicit activities with Mary a secret. Things begin to unravel when Rosie starts getting creepy anonymous texts from johns looking for Mary. And then there’s Mary, the one person Rosie can count on, who’s been acting strangely all of a sudden. As Rosie and Mary get closer to finally uncovering the truth about Rosie’s mom, Rosie comes face to face with a secret she never saw coming. With the ultimate unreliable narrator and twists and turns around every corner, Rosie Girl is an unforgettable tale of identity, devotion and desperation.

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Thank you so much to Julie for writing this post! Sometimes questions can be hard for us all to listen to as authors and writers, but in reality, questions are the best occurrences that could happen to us. They not only help us improve, but they keep our readers engaged, and our books out of the “set asides” pile. =)

As always, thank you so much to everyone who has participated in this feature. We appreciate your words of advice more than you will ever know.

We hope you all have a wonderful rest of your week!


Sailor Moon x Truthwitch = Moon Witch?

It’s no secret that I am in love with Sailor Moon and Truthwitch and Windwitch by Susan Dennard.  It’s also widely known that Susan also loves Sailor Moon, which is why I decided to cross the two and write this blog post.  The idea actually came to me when I posted these two Instagram photos for a book photo challenge.
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Musings of J.C. Davis


Adding Fanfiction to Your Writing Tool Belt
by J.C. Davis

Pick a fandom, any fandom, and there’s probably a community of fanfic writers and readers camped out there and having fun.  For those that haven’t heard the term before, fanfic is short for fan fiction and refers to written stories of any length inspired by books, movies, video games, television programs, music and/or celebrities. That’s a broad spectrum of fiction and the internet is riddled with it.

But why would an author writing original fiction want to consider reading and writing fanfiction as well?  Fanfic is actually a useful tool you can add to your arsenal. There are two broad areas where fanfic is useful: first as a creative catalyst and second as a research tool.

Fanfic And Creativity

Almost every writer has had moments when you hit a wall on your work-in-progress. Call it writer’s block, call it brain fog, call it a momentary blip in your creative genius. Either way – the words aren’t flowing the way you’d like them too. Fanfiction can be a great way to take a break, but still flex those writing muscles.

Pick a fandom you love, or even better, one your target readers also love, and write a flash fiction piece. Write a short story. Have fun! Indulge every ship, every pairing, every dramatic or romantic or ridiculous thought and potentiality that you like. Write until you’re smiling so big your cheeks hurt. Then take a step back and read over your work. What about it makes you happy? Yes there are characters and worlds that you love in there, but beyond that – what themes do you see? What situations? Would any of those work in your original writing?

You can use fanfic as just a break, a chance to blow off creative steam. Or you can use it to find what sparks might reignite your passion for your own work-in-progress. Either way, if you’re having fun, it’s worth every moment. Just make sure you do get back to that work-in-progress before too long!

Fanfic As Research

As of this article, An Archive of Our Own (one of the largest and most active fanfiction communities online) has close to 25,000 fandoms represented, over 115,000 users and over 300,000 works posted. More are added every day. That’s a lot of information in one place and if you know who your target readers are and fandoms that appeal to them, it’s a great way to get a peek inside what they’re passionate about!

Head over, pick any fandom you like, and sort the results by the most popular. Look for common themes. Go read the comments on a few of the most popular pieces – what are the readers saying? What are they most fired up about? What storylines seem to get the most interest? Why? What do you think makes those stories stand out (beyond good writing)? Read a few fanfic pieces and see if they spark any ideas for your own work.

Whether you use fanfic as a way to shake off the writing-blahs or as a jumping off point for your next big idea – it’s definitely worth having a look!

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About J.C.

A programmer by day, J. C. Davis writes Picture Books, MG & YA. Her debut novel, a YA Contemporary entitled CHEESUS WAS HERE, was released in April by Sky Pony Press. J. C. is an unrepentant book addict and always has a spare book tucked in her bag for emergencies. Her hobbies include photography, crafting, chasing her kids around the house and obsessing over her pet hedgehogs.

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Cheesus Was Here

Sixteen-year-old Delaney Delgado knows miracles aren’t real—if they were, her kid sister wouldn’t be dead. So when the image of baby Jesus appears on a Babybel cheese wheel, she’s not buying the idea that God’s got a dairy obsession. Soon, religious signs begin turning up all over Del’s hometown, tiny Clemency, Texas. Overnight, news vans fill the streets and religious pilgrims start searching for God in the discount aisle of the grocery store.

Hell-bent on proving the so-called miracles are fake, Del convinces her best friend, Gabe, to help her find the truth. While Gabe’s willing to play detective, as a preacher’s son he’s more interested in finding evidence that supports the miracles. But when the whole town becomes caught up in religious fervor and even the late night talk show hosts have stopped laughing and started to believe, finding the truth might cause more trouble than Del can handle. This novel is neither pro nor anti-religion, and will appeal to fans of contemporary YA novels that explore deep themes with an element of humor. The voice and characters are funny, strong, and full of heart. This is a book for anyone who loved the movie Saved!

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A huge thank you to J.C. who was so patient, and was able to touch on a topic that is so quickly talked about, but never truly acknowledged! So many of us got our starts on reading or writing from fanfiction. There is definitely no denying that it can spark creativity and make you learn form your mistakes. =)

As always, a special thank you to everyone who has participated in this feature! Your words of advice are so much more appreciated than you will ever know.

We hope you all have a wonderful weekend!


Musings of Katie A. Nelson


There are no new stories: Taking a classic and making it my own
by Katie A. Nelson

I was sitting in the theater, watching an animated movie, when I had one of those mind-blowing experiences. It was the summer time and though I was a little older than most of the audience, I went to see The Lion King, excited for a couple of hours of mindless entertainment and a king sized box of Junior Mints.

About half way through the movie, around the time Rafiki found Simba and he had his vision of his father in the stars– it hit me. This was the story of Hamlet. Okay, so technically it was set in Africa and had some pretty catchy musical numbers as well, but the basic plot was the same: prince has to decide to avenge his father who was murdered by his uncle.

Once I’d made the connection, I began to see other parallels: seeing the ghost of the dead king, the childhood girlfriend (Ophelia/Nala), the former queen (Gertrude/Sarabi), the king’s advisor (Polonius/Zazu), even the hilarious Timon and Pumba had seeds in Hamlet, as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. By the time the ending credits rolled and Elton John sung his last note, I was totally convinced of my brilliance and dying to share my theory with everyone around me.


We weren’t even out of the theater when I shared my theory with my boyfriend. His response: “Oh yeah. Cool.” Not exactly the reaction I had expected. Even then, I guess I was a little obsessed with stories.

What I later realized was that it didn’t matter if the story we were watching (or reading) had roots in another story. What mattered was the way it was told, and if the reader (or viewer in this case) had made a connection.  And we had. We both loved it, and have since watched the movie dozens of times with our kids (Yep! I married him!) and we even attended the Broadway show.

So if there are no new stories, how does a writer take a familiar story and make it their own? Or at least make it feel new and different and compelling enough that a reader will want to experience that story, even when they know and love the original? This is a question I’ve been asked several times, as my debut YA novel is a retelling of The Great Gatsby, which most people either love or hate, thanks to decades of high school English teachers and the phenomenal team of Baz Luhrmann and Leonardo DiCaprio.


For writers, the first step is to analyze the classic you want to retell, and distill it down to its basic elements. What is the basic plot? Who are the characters? Where is it set? What point of view is it told from? What are the important themes?

The next step is to start asking questions. What would happen if the main character were a princess instead of a prince? What if it was set in space instead of medieval times? What if it was told from the point of view of the villain? What if? What if?

Once one element of the story is changed, others naturally follow. If a story is moved from Prohibition era New York to modern day Silicon Valley, CA, how will it be different? Will the American dream be more attainable? What would a Gatsby-scale party look like, especially if the characters are in high school? How will the female characters be different? And so the story begins to become something new, something different, something that’s yours.

And who knows? Maybe someday, someone will be sitting in a movie theater, watching your story on the screen. In DFX. And Dolby sound. Maybe that person will connect your story to the original that inspired you. Maybe that person will just eat their popcorn and enjoy the show. Either way, if you make a connection with your reader (or viewer), that’s all that matters.

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About Katie

Katie Nelson has always loved words and stories. Formerly a high school English and Debate teacher, she now lives in Northern California with her husband, four children, and hyperactive dog.


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The Duke of Bannerman Prep

The Duke of Bannerman Prep

Words are weapons. Facts can be manipulated. And nothing is absolute—especially right and wrong.

Tanner McKay is at Bannerman Prep for one reason: to win. The elite school recruited him after he argued his public school’s debate team to victory last year, and now Bannerman wants that championship trophy. Debate is Tanner’s life—his ticket out of scrimping and saving and family drama, straight to a scholarship to Stanford and a new, better future. When he’s paired with the prep school playboy everyone calls the Duke, Tanner’s straightforward plans seem as if they’re going off the rails. The Duke is Bannerman royalty, beloved for his laissez-faire attitude, crazy parties, and the strings he so easily pulls. And a total no-show when it comes to putting in the work to win.

As Tanner gets sucked into the Duke’s flashy world, the thrill of the high life and the adrenaline of the edge become addictive. A small favor here and there seems like nothing in exchange for getting everything he ever dreamed of.

But the Duke’s castle is built on shady, shaky secrets, and the walls are about to topple.

A contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, Katie A. Nelson’s taut debut is perfect for anyone who’s struggled to survive the cut-throat world of competitive high school.

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Thank you so much to Katie for writing this post. I know there are quite a few authors who are rejoicing and learning right now, reading your words and understanding your story. You’re all not alone, and your ideas have to come from somewhere! Just make sure to make it your own, and your story will find it’s place. =)

As always, a huge thanks to everyone who has participated in this feature. Your words never fall on unappreciated eyes, and we always look forward to the next piece of advice and story you’re willing to share.

We hope you have a wonderful rest of your week!