Monday, January 28, 2013

Turning a Writing Corner

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

I've always been kind of happy that I can watch TV shows without descending into writing nitpicks. I mean, sometimes you just want to watch a show without obsessing about the details, right?

Well, lately, the husband and I have enjoyed watching old episodes of A Touch of Frost, an old police-detective series from the BBC. We like the BBC and we like mysteries - so this is a good match. We've really been enjoying the show, despite the face that they killed off one of our favorite recurring characters at the end of Season 4 (kill your darlings anyone?) and came perilously close to my #2 pet peeve, killing a dog (they didn't, the dog lived, rest easy).

As a writer of crime fiction, I've been able to turn off that part of my brain. But last night, I think I turned a corner.

The episode starts with Frost facing a pile of bills, having his utilities disconnected for non-payment, and bemoaning "expenses," so he takes in a renter to help cover the costs. But, but, but...

Frost's wife died in Season 1 after a long illness where he had to pay for home health care. We're now in Season 5. He hasn't changed jobs. There's been no mention of pay cuts at work. So why is he only now having financial trouble? Just boom! out of the blue he can't pay the bills? No mention of this before? Really?

Then, a government health official throws an expensive leather jacket over a barbed wire fence to break into a meat packing facility after hours? What mid-level government official does that - no matter what nefarious business he thinks the company is up to?

When I mentioned all this, my husband looked at me and said, "That's really bugging the crime fiction author in you, isn't it?"

And it hit me - I can't dissociate the two parts of my brain. The writer part and the watcher/reader part.

I can't read a book without hitting a clunky part of dialog and wincing, or wanting to applaud a particularly well-written exchange. Character actions, conflict, climax, plotting - all of it gets the authorial treatment. If it worked for me, why? If it didn't, why not?

I can't decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it's good because I think it shows I have a new awareness of these things - which can only help my own fiction. On the other hand, I run the risk of over-analyzing everything I read, and potentially destroying the primary reason I read fiction - to escape and not have to think.

But now that I've noticed this, I can't turn it off - for better or for worse. At some level, I know I'll be constantly analyzing the writing, picking apart the things that delight and the things that, well, don't. And I guess that's just part of being in the fiction realm. But one thing's for darn sure.

I'll never look at a critique group the same way again.

What about you? If you're a writer, do you analyze what you read - especially works in your preferred genre?

Image from Flickr used under Creative Commons

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Power Play Day with Stacy Juba

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

So just what is "power play day?" Well...

A "power play" in hockey is when one team is playing with one or more players than the other as the result of a penalty. And hockey is very much front and center in Stacy Juba's young adult book, Face Off. The book, a re-issue of the original, deals with twins Brad and TJ, whose rivalry isn't limited to the action on the ice. Who will come out on top? You'll have to read (or listen) to find out.

In my book, Power Play, Jaycee has to deal with a political grab for power by an unknown person. That unknown person is going to play a big part in the series, as Jaycee's repeated visits to the game world of Mallory challenge her to find out who this unknown enemy is and stop him.  I visited Stacy's blog; you can read the interview here.

Take two young adult books, two authors, two interviews, shake well, and that is "power play day."

Here's Stacy!


Why did you decide to do a hockey-focused sports book - are you a fan?

I wrote this book many years ago when I was 16 years old. I had discovered hockey during the 1988 Olympics and then started following NHL hockey. I was an avid reader and loved to read, however the only hockey books I could find at the library were biographies of 1970s hockey players. I wanted to read a fiction story revolving around hockey, but they seemed in short supply. I always loved to write stories, so initially Face-Off began as a way to entertain myself. I did have aspirations of publishing it, though. I entered it in a contest for teen writers and it won a publishing contract with a major publisher. Twenty years later, I brought it back into print and released e-book and audio editions also, as I still think there is a shortage of juvenile and teen novels about hockey.

Sounds like there's some sibling rivalry here. Do you have siblings? If so, how did your relationship with them influence the relationship between TJ and Brad?

I actually don't have siblings, but I used to wonder what it would be like to have them. I watched a lot of TV shows about siblings, like Growing Pains, Family Ties, and even The Brady Bunch, and I observed friends with siblings. I wanted to convey how siblings can be irritating, and how it's pretty typical for competition to arise, but how they stand by each other and can have a special friendship.

A lot of people talk about twins as having a special “connection” – almost like they can sense what the other one is doing. Do Brad and TJ have that kind of connection and how do they deal with it?

Brad and T.J. had a special connection when they were younger, but they drifted apart when their parents put T.J. in private school and they became rivals. Once they wind up on the same hockey team again, and are playing together on the same line, they can't deny that they still have that connection and that they can almost read each other's minds on the ice. Once they deal with their rivalry and get past the need to outdo each other, they realize that they want to have that connection off the ice also. Their parents are separating, and their younger brothers have trouble dealing with the family breaking apart, and the twins need to pull together to help their brothers as one thing the family doesn't need is more arguments.

Sounds like Brad resents/is jealous of TJ more than vice-versa. Is that true? In what ways is TJ jealous of Brad?

It was about equal until a few chapters into the book, when they find themselves in the same school and on the same hockey team. Their rivalry started when T.J. was sent to a private high school a few years earlier. T.J. felt a lot of pressure to excel academically, and resented that Brad was allowed to go to public school. Although he grew to like his school, T.J. still felt that Brad had more freedom to be himself rather than always having to please their parents. Meanwhile, Brad felt resentful that T.J. was known as the smart one. Brad has a secret, which is that he writes fiction, and it irks him that people only see him as a jock. When the family's financial situation forces them to put T.J. in public high school, Brad's resentment intensifies as now his twin brother is invading his turf. Brad's friends like T.J., and the coach is thrilled to have another star hockey player on the team. So once T.J. switches to public school, that is the catalyst for Brad's resentment escalating. At this point in the story, T.J. feels angry that his twin brother is acting so unsupportive. Their rivalry gets so intense that is starts to hurt the team.

You write in a lot of different genres. How is that challenging to you as a writer?

I write whatever story idea is the most pressing one on my mind. Sometimes it's an adult book, sometimes it's a children's story, and sometimes it's a young adult novel. I've enjoyed learning about different genres and meeting writers from different genres. I've been in various organizations over the years, such as Sisters in Crime, the Society of Children's Book Writers, and in various romance writer groups. It keeps me well-informed and versatile in today's constantly changing publishing industry. Writing adult books comes the most naturally to me, though. I have a couple YA sequels in the works, but expect most of my future novels to be for adults. My current work-in-progress is a light romantic comedy and I'm having a blast writing in that genre.

What do you find different, and intriguing, about writing for young adults opposed to an older audience?

Young adults are on a journey of self discovery, and need to find the confidence to be who they are amidst peer pressure. They want to fit in, and now with all of this technology and social networking available to them, they not only want to fit in at school, but they also want to "fit in" online on sites such as Facebook and Instagram. I think this is a difficult time to be a kid as they are growing up too fast nowadays. I want to get them away from their social networks and texting, and tell them a story, a fun entertaining story that takes them away from the Internet and the daily stress of being a teen. I also want the book to remind them that other kids are facing the same insecurities and problems that they are dealing with and that it's important to be true to yourself and find who you are - which isn't necessarily what others want you to be.

You won the Malice Domestic Grant for new mystery writers. What was that like and tell us about the story that got you the award.

That was a wonderful experience! I won it in 2005 for my novel-in-progress Sign of the Messenger, about a hands-on healer and psychic who gets involved in a mystery. I still would like to finish the book, but I wound up getting sidetracked by rewrites of my other books and then by promotion of my published novels. And then I got another, more pressing, book idea that demanded to be written. It's fully outlined though so I plan to go back to it. As far as winning the award, my husband came with me to the Malice Domestic Convention outside of Washington, D.C. I got to attend the conference and the award was presented at the Agatha Awards banquet. I loved meeting so many other writers and mystery lovers, and the other grant recipient, Hilary McGowan, became one of my closest friends. I used the $1,000 grant money to take online writing classes, and these classes were instrumental in helping me to reach the next step in my career.

You have a background as a journalist. How do you think that has helped your fiction writing and how is fiction different?

Being a journalist has helped me a great deal as I do a lot of research for my books, and sometimes I'll do an interview to get details that will enrich a novel. Journalism taught me those skills and it also taught me how to weave in details without making the story dry and boring. Newspaper articles need quotes to spice up a story and fiction needs dialogue and interesting narrative. If you just dump in a huge paragraph of information, it's boring and takes you out of the story. The one problem I had with switching gears was that in journalism, I was trained to write short and concise. With novels, I had to practice writing longer as if it's too short, the book is a novella and not a novel.

About Face-off
Head-to-Head, Skate-to-Skate, It’s Winner Takes All! What might have been a dream come true has turned into a nightmare. Brad’s twin brother T.J. has gotten himself out of the fancy prep school his father picked for him and into the public high school Brad attends. Now T.J., the bright light in his father’s eyes, is a shining new star on the hockey team where Brad once held the spotlight. And he’s testing his popularity with Brad’s friends, eyeing Brad’s girl and competing to be captain of the team. The whole school is rooting for a big double-strength win…not knowing that their twin hockey stars are heating up the ice for a winner takes all face-off. Re-issue of the hockey classic, originally written when Stacy was 16 and published when she was 18.

The Hockey Hall of Fame’s Junior Education Program – Recommended reading list for the junior and intermediate levels.

Best Books for Young Teen Readers: Grades 7-10 by John T. Gillespie -Recommended in the sports category.

Available at:

Amazon, Barnes&Noble, iBookstore, KoboSony Reader Store, and Audible

Check the website,, for additional retail information.

About Stacy:

Stacy Juba has written about reality TV contestants targeted by a killer, an obit writer investigating a cold case, teen psychics who control minds, twin high school hockey stars battling on the ice, and teddy bears learning to raise the U.S. flag: she pursues whatever story ideas won’t leave her alone. Stacy’s titles include the adult mystery novels Sink or Swim and Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, the children’s picture books The Flag Keeper and the Teddy Bear Town Children’s Bundle (Three Complete Picture Books), and the young adult novels Face-Off and Dark Before Dawn. She is also the editor of the essay anthology 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror: 52 Authors Look Back. She is a former journalist with more than a dozen writing awards to her credit.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Review: Alligators Overhead

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Author: C. Lee McKenzie
Personal Rating 4/5 stars

When Pete Riley loses his parents and is shipped off to live with his Aunt Lizzie, he doesn't think life can get much worse. Hadleytown is down-right boring. The only excitement comes from pranks and hanging with his friend Weasel. That is, things are boring until the Hadley Mansion, which hasn't been seen in 100 years, appears out of nowhere. Now Pete is hearing Harriet Hadley's voice in his head, making wishes come true, and talking to alligators. And what is all this about Aunt Lizzie being a witch?

I know, you may think that orphaned boys discovering magical powers has been done (Harry Potter anyone?). But Alligators Overhead is a delightful take on a familiar theme. Every young person is searching for identity. And while I have no personal experience, I'm sure most orphans are searching for a new sense of "home" and "family."

There are a couple of things that really made this book engaging for me. First, there doesn't seem to be a huge conspiracy among Hadleytown's witches, called "tellers," to hide. I mean, they aren't living right out in the open, but they also aren't using magic to hide themselves (unlike the great extents that wizards go to hide themselves from Muggles). They live perfectly ordinary lives - a baker, a craft shop owner, etc. This immersion feels very natural and makes the magic blend in well. It's just something they don't talk about.

Next, there is Weasel. He is not a witch (or warlock, as he so accurately points out). He's just a normal guy. And once he gets over the shock of having a warlock for a friend (although Pete's ability to wish food into existence is pretty cool), he adds real value to the story. He's not just some dippy non-magic sidekick along for the ride. Weasel is smart, probably smarter than Pete, and he uses those smarts to help his friend reason his way out of trouble. It's a partnership that works.

Perhaps one of the most delightful twists on the familiar "witches and wizards" trope are the alligators. No black cats or owls here. No, it is the alligators that serve as the familiars in Hadleytown. It is the oldest alligator, The Elder, who guides Pete through his most trying moment - the most critical point in is youthful wizard career.

All told, Alligators Overhead provides a delightful diversion for young readers and is a book that would especially appeal to boys. Pete is a friend whom they can related to, and who they can root on in his quest to save the Ornofree.

Alligators Overhead is available from Amazon (paperback and Kindle), Barnes&Noble (paperback and Nook), and Smashwords (ebook only).

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes. The review above is entirely my own and receipt of a complimentary copy in no way influenced my review.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cover Reveal - Laura Howard's THE FORGOTTEN ONES

Title: The Forgotten Ones

Author: Laura Howard

Genre: NA Paranormal Fantasy Romance

Expected release date: May 15, 2013

Age Group: New Adult

Cover Designer: Stephanie Mooney 

Book Description:

Allison O'Malley just graduated from college. Her life's plan is to get a job and take care of her schizophrenic mother. She doesn't have room for friends or even Ethan, who clearly wants more.

When Allison's long-lost father shows up, he claims he can bring her mother back from the dark place her mind has sent her. He reveals legends of a race of people long forgotten, the Tuatha de Danaan, along with the truth about why he abandoned her mother.

Share on Facebook and/or Twitter and you could win a $50 Amazon (or B&N) Gift card!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Author Interview with the Mysteristas

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

I was invited to visit with a group of crime fiction writers, the Mysteristas, at their blog today and answer a few questions - including some about Hero's Sword.

Please come visit and ask your own question!