Truthwitch

#TenDaysOfTruthwitch

The first novel of the Witchland series is ALMOST HERE! Join me to celebrate the launch of Truthwitch! Starting tomorrow, I’ll be discussing stuff like best friends, new years resolutions, and of course, fantasy books, tv and movies! And all in the spirit of Truthwitch, of course!

There’ll be free prizes! And fun parties! And did I mention the free prizes?? 😏

The basic plan is to celebrate #TenDaysOfTruthwitch, starting on the US release date (January 5th) and ending on the UK release date (January 14th). Starting on January 9, I’ll be challenging YOU ALL to join in! And each day, I’ll pick a random participant to win a signed copy of Truthwitch as well 2 other YA novels!

Check out the graphic to the right or the full schedule below!

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#TenDaysOfTrutwitch

 
Prizes: Beginning January 9th with the Reader Challenges, I’ll be giving away a copy of Truthwitch + two more novels EACH DAY!

Rules: For the Reader Challenges, entries must be posted by 9pm ET on each date below. Winners will be chosen every night at 10:30 pm ET. International entries are accepted!!!

Schedule:

TenDaysOfTruthwitch21/5: Truthwitch publishes in the US!!! #TruthwitchParty + a quick celebratory Twitter chat at 9PM ET! Make sure to use the hashtag #TruthwitchParty to join in! And there might be some prizes given away DURING the chat!

1/6: A live google hangout chat with moi & Alex Bracken at 8PM ET! Use the hashtag #PassTruthParty to ask Alex and me questions. We’ll each pick 10 to answer during the chat, and then we’ll take 5 more during the chat!

1/7: Reddit AMA on r/Fantasy! Drop by the forum any time during the day to ask whatever question your heart desires!

1/8: Misfits & Daydreamers giveaway + behind-the-scenes cover story! Learn how the cover for Truthwitch was crafted in my newsletter, and also enter an EPIC giveaway!

1/9: Reader Challenge #1: #ResolutionsFor2016! Show your bravery and share a truth! What do YOU want to accomplish in 2016? When posting, use both hashtags #Resolutionsfor2016 and #Truthwitch!

1/10: Reader Challenge #2: #BestFriends! Best friends 4eva! Friendship is at the heart of any adventure. Celebrate friendship by posting a pic of you and your Threadsister/brother using both hashtags #BestFriend and #Truthwitch!

1/11: Reader Challenge #3: #InTheWild! Getting that post-holiday shopping in? While you’re out, snap pics of Truthwitch by Susan Dennard in the wild and share online! Use both hashtags #InTheWild and #Truthwitch!

1/12: Reader Challenge #4: #Shelfie! Winter is…finally here. Post pics of your your fantasy book shelf, and you get a double entry if Truthwitch is on there! Use both hashtags #Shelfie and #Truthwitch!

1/13: Reader Challenge #5: #Recipes! Party treats time! Share a recipe for a fun snack inspired by your favorite novel, show or movie. You get a double-entry if it’s inspired by Truthwitch! Make sure to use the hashtags #Recipes and #Truthwitch!

1/14: Truthwitch publishes in the UK!!! Party time again, this time with #ClanChat!  Join me and the #Witchlanders on twitter at 10:00 AM ET to celebrate the UK launch of Truthwitch! Clans, fans, and fellow authors will get together to talk about their favorite fantasy novels, shows and movies. Make sure to use the hashtag #ClanChat to participate!

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So there you have it, my dear readers! #TenDaysOfTruthwitch. It starts tomorrow! Finally. I am so sick of talking about this book, and I am SURE you’re sick of hearing me talk about it. 😉

I hope to see you in the Twitter-verse, and if not there, then perhaps on the #PassTruthTour!

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How to Craft Characters: Deepening with Backstory

Character3This is the third post in this series on crafting characters. To recap, here are the components I consider when crafting my characters–and these are in order of importance:

Today we’re discussing backstory and history.

Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering WHY history/backstory is #3 on my list. I mean, a person is the sum of their past, right? It should be the most important thing!

Yes…but no.

A Tale of Two Bros

Let’s say you’re on the bus, and a bro with a cap sits next to you. He talks like a bro (his “voice”), and when the bus gets stuck in traffic, he complains like a bro.

“Man, I’m gonna be late for class.” He tugs his Gators cap even lower. “This blows.”

Ah, well, now you know his external need (to get to class on time) in addition to his voice. And as you start chatting with him, you discover what’s at stake: he’s going to miss the final exam if this bus doesn’t hurry the hell up. Worse, he’ll fail the class if he misses the final exam, and in turn, he’ll lower his GPA and LOSE his scholarship! WHOA, the poor guy!

And, double whoa: you have a story. You don’t need to know ANYTHING about where this bro came from to understand what he wants and what’s at stake if he doesn’t get it.

Basically, you could write a complete story with a strong beginning/middle/end without any history ever coming into play. Bro needs to get to class on time–will he or won’t he?

Let’s say, though, that while you’re stuck in traffic, you notice the bro texting someone. This someone is a real jerk, and he’s saying stuff like, “Don’t fail that final, dickweed.”

The bro catches you staring at his screen and flushes. “That’s just my older brother. He’s a jerk.”

“Where is he?” you ask.

“New York. He graduated with honors two years, and one of his frat brothers got him a hot shot job in Manhattan. My dad’s from Manhattan, so he always wanted us to end up there.”

“Are you in a frat?” You think this is a polite question that might, perhaps, distract the poor bro from his current troubles.

But he only glowers and slouches lower in his seat. “Naw. I tried for the same fraternity as my brother, but there was some rumor going around that I…” He leans in and whispers something TRULY awful into your ear. “But I didn’t do that,” he hastens to add. “That’s just what someone said, and it ruined my chances of anyone letting me join.”

You believe the bro didn’t do what that rumor said–and you can’t help but suspect that perhaps his older brother is the one who started that terrible tail.

Backstory Adds Dimension

Now, how did learning about the bro’s family history change things?

It certainly deepened the story (and perhaps increased your emotional investment in it). It also humanized the character. He’s not “just a bro” anymore, right? He’s more 3D with this tangible backstory that we can all relate to in one way or another.

If you’re like me, though, you don’t necessarily know the backstory/history of your character until you start writing. That said, I don’t approach a book with a TOTALLY blank slate. I usually know the bare minimum about a character.

For example, when I started Truthwitch I knew these things about Safiya, one of my heroines:

  • She grew up in a mountainous region that’s part of a big, Austro-Hungarian-like empire.
  • She and her uncle don’t get along. He’s a drunk and pretty emotionally abusive.
  • She’s been trained to fight by her childhood bodyguard and that bodyguard’s husband (both men, in case you’re wondering).
  • She has been in school for a few years and away from her uncle.

That was what I knew. I had no specifics, and I didn’t need them.

You see, part of the joy of writing for me is having those in-scene SPARKS–those little snippets of a childhood or experience that you can suddenly insert and that you didn’t know had happened.

But remember: it’s those LITTLE details that matter most.

It’s All in the Specific Details

Show don’t tell, right? That’s what we’re taught, and it’s an invaluable lesson to have.

Small details and specific memories are HOW we show a character’s history.

So, here’s an example of a tiny detail that came to me as I drafted a scene between Safiya and her uncle (pardon the roughness of the writing):

“No,” he cut in. “This is not a drunken scheme.” Eron splayed his hands on the glass, and old burn scars on the backs of his fingers and knuckles stretched taut.

Safi hated those scars. She’d stared at the white pocks and holes a millions times growing up. In Praga. In Veñaza City. In any town large enough to boast a decent taro game, Safi had watched those hands fan out cards while Eron waited for her signal to fold or pursue.

“You have no idea what war is like,” Eron went on, tone hazy as if his mind drifted across the old scars like his eyes did.

could have simply said,

Safi’s uncle was a drunk who always forced her to use her magic in his taro card games.

That took fewer words, but…Well, I hope you can gauge which example works better. Which feels more real.

Of course, you can’t ALWAYS show critical backstory or information. That can get unwieldy or slow pacing to much. I have a post here on how to weave in more the expository-type information.

Alright, I’ll leave you on once more example. In this snippet, I introduce a critical piece of my pirate prince’s character. I could’ve simply said,

Merik’s homeland was starving, and as such, he was a careful young man–never wasteful.

But instead, as I wrote the scene, I realized he had his backstory could actually give him a fun character quirk that I could use again and again throughout the series.

Merik’s furious gaze dropped back to his plate. It was scraped clean. Even the bones had been swept into his napkin. Several of the other guests had noticed—he hadn’t exactly hidden it when he used the beige silk to pluck the bones from his plate.

Merik was even tempted to ask his nearest neighbors if he could have their chicken bones, most of which were still untouched and sat surrounded by green beans. Sailors never wasted foodnot when they never knew if they would catch another fish or see land again.

And especially not when their homeland was starving.

This was a different approach. In the first example, I used a physical feature to trigger emotions and specific memories of the past. In the second example, I used a specific action (a funny one) to hint at my character’s history. Either way works, and there are certainly OTHER options for weaving in these tiny, specific details.

You tell me: How do you discover backstory? How do you insert it into your story?

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Pub(lishing) Crawl: Crafting an Ending that Sings

Endings

Last week, I got a tough  question in the Misfits & Daydreamers forum:

I usually have a beginning and middle, but endings are torture for me. I can never ever find one that lives up to my standards or really fits with my vision. Some writers just have an ending in mind and I don’t understand that T_T. How do you choose your endings and how do you know it won’t disappoint your reader?

That’s hard for me to answer for 2 reasons:

  1. Everyone is different and what works for me might not work for you.
  2. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I DO. Ahem. Which meant I needed to sit down and figure out my process.

Fortunately, I am in the middle or rewriting an ending that sucked. So analyzing my method couldn’t have come at a more convenient time. (Thanks Sue! ;))

An Anecdote on Messing Up (we all do it!)

See, I decided to completely gut the last 1/3 pages of Truthwitch. Yep. You read that right. 300 of 465 pages were polished and ready for my editor. I was just awaiting feedback from a CP (critique partner) on the last chunk of the book.

Well, when I got her notes on a Friday afternoon, they were not as positive as I’d hoped. Plot-wise and setting-wise? Great! Character arc and romance? Pfffffftttt….*

(*She didn’t say it like that. She is much too nice and supportive for that. But that’s what my heart felt like hearing her criticisms.)

For those of you who are writers, you know how much it sucks to get less-than-positive feedback. Especially because endings are the easiest and most incredible writing experience for me. I LOVE endings. The momentum of drafting hits its stride right before the climax, and suddenly I’ll just SEE how all the plot threads and character arcs are going to gel together.

To find out that this ending, which I’d also written in a flurry of joy, lacked a HUGE component of that (emotional resolution and power)…I was, well…I was crushed. And very angry with myself for not seeing what my CP so easily noticed.

But part of being a writer is always striving to make the best book you can, right? So I hunkered at my usual 5AM work time on Saturday…and realized that simply addressing comments scene-by-scene wasn’t going to cut it.

It turns out that in the course of writing the book, I had lost touch with my characters. In my defense, I took a looooong break while the first 150 pages were on submissions (many months of breaj). When I tried to wade back  into the book once it had sold, I was disconnected from the characters. Totally disconnected–which has NEVER happened to me before. But I muddled onward anyway, finished the book, revised it thoroughly, and sent it off to my dear CPs. First 300 pages? Great! But the rest? Oh boy, there was something missing. It all worked on a plot level, but the story could be so much deeper and have so much more KAPOW.

But since I’d lost touch with the characters, I needed to go allllll the way back to the beginning of the book. Then  I needed to separate out each POV (of which there are 4)…and then I needed to reacquaint myself with each character and make sure all of their dominoes were falling in the simplest, most logical way. More importantly, I needed to ensure those dominoes toppled and fell toward an ending of sheer awesome.

Dominoes, whaaaa?

Look at Your Dominoes

Remember when I talked about the Domino Effect here? Well, in that post, I said:

 I once heard someone compare the scenes in a book to dominoes–our inciting incident sets off the domino chain, and each scene is a direct result of the scene before…[but] the dominoes don’t represent specific events so much as our protagonist’s emotional journey through the events, and the dominoes also represent how events shape/affect the primary goal.

Each new scene will show our character reacting in some way to what happened before.

Because I’d been away from Truthwitch for so long, I didn’t have a handle on my dominoes anymore. Character reactions were falling flat, characters were acting out of character, and there was no emotional resonance at the book’s close.

But when I went back to the beginning, separated out each POV, and looked at individual dominoes, I was able to see how things should’ve fallen. I was able to rediscover the 4 POV’s voices and make sure that each step they took was a direct result of what they’d done/felt in the previous scene.

Then I rewrote the ending. Yep. Threw out >150 revised pages and rewrote them completely–new dialogue, new setting backdrops, new trajectory and choices. And AHHHHH, it felt good. The words poured like they normally do! More importantly, I sent the new ending to my dear CP, she flailed exactly as I’d hoped she would. I’d nailed it–thank goodness!

SO, all of that anectdote was to simply show you what I mean when I say: look at your dominoes before you write an ending. Look at the plot events–see how each domino hits the next until the climax. What event would need to come next based on all that has come before?

More importantly, make sure that your characters’ emotional dominoes fall in a logical, ever-growing way. Characters change, right? They start out one way and by the end of the book, they’re someone new (and hopefully someone better too). When the character reaches there “new self”, if all the emotions have been leading up to that, then your story will SING.

It’s just like watching a super-satisfying domino display–it all fell where it was supposed to fall, even if we couldn’t quite see that ending from the beginning.

You tell me: how do YOU write endings that sing?

Speak up:

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New book deals + a newsletter thingy!

I know I was supposed to give you guys the final steps of the Productivity Pyramid this week, but I found out rather suddenly that we were going to announce my new book deal today (instead of later this spring, as planned)…so DUH, new book deals took precedence!!

Of course, learning we were going to announce also led me to dancinglikeacrazyperson around my office (and then almost fainting because I’m so out of shape), before I hunkered down to get a few things wrapped up that I had planned to launch alongside the new series announcement.

But….LET ME ANNOUNCE TRUTHWITCH because if I have to type one more sentence without typing I SOLD A NEW SERIES, then I will probably die.

I sold a new series, guys!

And not just any series, but the one you all have heard me talk about, tweet about, and pin stuff for for the last year. This is my epic fantasy series that currently has more followers on Pinterest than my actually published series, and the same goes for my Spotify playlist! I think there’s just something more universally accessible and appealing to epic fantasy. Maybe it’s the scope and sweeping scale of the stories or the new, enormous worlds…Or maybe it’s just that swords are badass and everyone wishes they had one. 😉 Either way…

Truthwitch is coming out in fall 2015!

tor-books-logo-thumbObviously, I’m be freaking-out-excited about selling a new series, but what makes this SO SPECIAL is that it was acquired by Tor. TOR. As in the most well-known publisher of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror! And guys:  Tor is probably my most favorite publisher of all time. When I glance at my shelves, half the books have the awesome Tor logo on their spines (and what a logo it is! All Mount Doom craggy epicness).

But look, here’s more info on the deal from the print version of Publishers Weekly (or you can read the article online here):

TruthwitchAnnouncement

PLUS, Tor UK also bought Truthwitch in a separate deal, so I’ll finally have a book out in the UK!!!! That may not seem like a huge deal to all of you, but for me, it’s enormous for me. My whole goal is to reach more readers, you know? To connect with more people, so this is already a huge step in that direction! Poor Something Strange & Deadly just didn’t appeal to foreign publishers–it’s such a niche genre and I totally understand that. Just being epic fantasy has served Truthwitch well already.

True story: I might have started sobbing hysterically when I read the press release for Tor UK. I am so proud of Truthwitch and reading what my new editor thought of the series sent my emotions into the most happy, emo tailspin. Also, in case you want a slightly more thorough summary of the book, here’s the copy from the UK announcement:

In Truthwitch, expect intrigue, action and conspiracy, with some wonderfully tense romance woven into the excitement. On a continent where everyone is born with magic, witchcraft is failing as people are corrupted by their own magic. Unrest also grows as a twenty year truce ends between three warring empires, meaning trading treaties cease and war threatens. Only a mythical pair of witches can heal the taint in the land and bring balance. But the two young friends are yet to discover their fate, even as their world heads towards chaos.

Anyways, I won’t bore you with details of my sobbing and dancing and screaming. CLEARLY I am over the moon about selling Truthwitch, and it is all VERY surreal. So go add the book to your Goodreads shelf (if you’re so inclined) and follow me down to the next point of business…

The Misfits & Daydreamers!

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Remember what I said, like, two paragraphs up? About wanting to reach more readers? Well, that’s the purpose of The Misfits & Daydreamers.

Basically, this will be a chatty newsletter PLUS a forum where I can interact with my fellow Misfits and friendly Daydreamers. 🙂 I’m hoping to connect with you all on a more personal level, and this newsletter/forum is the best approach I can find for that.

I love my blog, I try to post as regularly as possible and with as much high quality + helpful content as I can create. But there is a built-in distance here. Even with comments and emails, I don’t feel like I know you all well enough–and I’m not sure you know me. You know about my writing advice, but I rarely delve into other things.

So here’s my goal for 2014 and beyond: I want to know my readers better and I want you to know me. I also want to  be able to give content (free extra scenes, book updates, behind-the-scenes publishing insight, etc.) to you directly–and I also want to know right away if you enjoyed that content or if it missed its mark.

Now, in case you’re wondering about the name–Misfits & Daydreamers–I’ll explain. The Misfits was a name thought up by a fabulous fan for readers of the Something Strange & Deadly series. The Daydreamers are what I’ve decided to call  readers of my blog and fans of my writing advice.

As such, the Misfits forum and part of each email update will be for fans of my stories and books–things like teasers, cut scenes, interview, giveaways, etc. I’m hoping to share Strange & Ever After teasers along with Truthwitch teasers and any other fun stuff I have very soon!

Then the Daydreamers forum and a portion of the emails will be for fellow writers and aspiring authors (or published authors too!). You can see my writing process in action, I’ll answer questions about writing, and I’ll basically offer insights and updates that I don’t offer here, on my blog. One really cool thing I plan to offer (or I think it’s cool) is a behind-the-scenes look at traditional publishing. Since I recently sold Truthwitch, I am in the very early stages of its publication process. That means I can share each step–from finishing a draft to revising with my editor to cover design and beyond–as it happens.

And of course, I’ll want to hear from you guys–either in the forums or via email. 🙂 That way it’s a conversation and I can learn more about YOU over time.

If you’re interested in becoming a Misfit or a Daydreamer (or both!), then subscribe below or in the sidebar. Plus, register for the forum, if you life. 🙂

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Okay, I am heading out now to eat leftover snickerdoodles and celebrate. I hope to see you soon, fellow Misfits and Daydreamers!

party

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