Monday, March 24, 2014

Harvester by Rachel Russel: Blog Tour Interview

As part of the Harvester Blog Tour I've had the pleasure of interviewing the wonderful Rachel Russel. Rachel Russell is published by Entranced Publishing.

Alex: What inspired you to write Harvester?
Rachel: A whole lot of little things added up to inspire HARVESTER. I have a complete obsession with Sidhe faeries and human magic-users. I started thinking about ways our world would be different if a secret mage civilization existed belowground. I also took inspiration from the lore of the Gaelic people and even Shakespear’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Really, it’s hard to pinpoint anything too much. My inspiration for books usually amounts to a melting pot full of various ideas, images, songs, drawings, and so on forth.

A: Catalina sounds like an interesting protagonist. Describe her in 5 words:
R: Headstrong, passionate, short-tempered, loyal, and compassionate.

A: Should we expect more books in the Harvester setting and story?
R: Maybe. I have a tentative idea for Book 2 and Book 3. I’m considering having Book 2 be told from Catalina’s best friend’s POV. Her name is Una and it’d pick up right where Book 1 left off. I don’t have any solid plans at the moment, though.

A: Describe your writing process, are you an architect or a pantser?
R: I’m an architect all the way, baby. My writing process involves me writing out a story outline, then breaking that down chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene. I fill out index cards for each scene and put them in order on a corkboard. Only once I have everything plotted out do I begin writing.

A: Tell us about your favourite writing space. Do you have/need a specific place or are you a kitchen table/coffee shop/subway/nightclub/situation room kind of writer?
R: My specific writing nook is basically anywhere in my house with my laptop. If I had to choose a most common writing area, it’d probably be my bedroom where it’s the quietest.

A: You work in the writing/books industry, can you tell us what you do?
R: I work as the Submissions Coordinator for Month9Books, and also as an Editorial Assistant. As the Submissions Coordinator, I handle sending out titles to submissions interns, gathering up their reader reports, compiling a weekly report of all submissions received for that week, and in general keeping house tidy with sending manuscripts along to the proper editor or filing folder. As an Editorial Assistant, I mainly just do copy edits, proofreading, and light formatting of manuscripts.

A: Has it helped or hindered your journey? How?
R: It has definitely helped. I see a ton of submissions on a weekly basis and know what’s trending, what publishers are looking for, and what editors are excited about or sick of.

A: What’s next for you as a writer?
R: I’m going to keep working on other novels and hopefully be ready to query literary agents with something new and awesome later this year.

A: What’s your favourite flavour of ice cream?
R: Triple chocolate. I’m a firm believer that chocolate ice cream must also have bits of chocolate brownie in it. It’s the one true way to eat ice cream.

A: If you could go back in time and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?
R: To take my time and realize that publishing isn’t a race. Everyone’s path to publication is different and that’s all right.

A: Thank you for doing this interview!
R: Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Alex!  

This blog tour runs from 17th March 2014 until 30th March 2014.

You can add Harvester to your to-read list on Goodreads.

You can find more about Harvester on the Entranced Publishing Website.

About the Author
Rachel is a YA author who likes dirty martinis and pickles on her pizza. Her stories tend to be either @RachelxRussell), or playing make-believe with her two daughters.
horror or fantasy, or a strange amalgamation of both genres. She works at Month9Books, LLC as both the Submissions Coordinator and an Editorial Assistant. When not reading or writing, Rachel is marathoning anime, becoming one with Twitter (

You can find and contact Rachel here:
Website. Facebook. Twitter. Goodreads.

There is a tour wide giveaway for the blog tour of Harvester.
Here's what you can win:

- One white leather infinity bracelet
- One e-copy of Harvester

Enter the rafflecopter below for a chance to win.
Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Shatner Comma

As anyone who's ever read my writing pre-revision (or even after 3-4 passes of my own) can attest: I have a serious problem with Shatner Commas.

Let me explain first what a Shatner Comma is, and second, why I have such a problem with them.

Shatner Comma (n): Improperly placed commas that serve no grammatical purpose and thwart the rules of proper punctuation. They instruct the reader to take unnatural and illogical pauses, much in the way William Shatner so famously delivered his lines in Star Trek (TOS).

Why do I have such a problem with them? Because I was instructed (as were most people) to put commas where I would naturally pause in speech. That's right, I pause frequently and illogically in my regular everyday speech.  In my case it isn't something I do to create a sense of drama. As best I can tell the problem traces back to my childhood stutter.

To be clear, my stutter wasn't as horrible as in The King's Speech, and I wasn't endlessly teased for it (though I was dreadfully self-conscious about it).

I reminisced about it recently with my grandmother and she recalled that even at the age of 7 I worked endlessly to eliminate it. I'd sit playing on her living room floor reciting and repeating any sentence or word that I'd stuttered on until I had it silky smooth, at least so far as the stutters were concerned.

In their place came the pauses. To give my brain time to work around the hitch I think I subconsciously inserted a pause. That pause lingers to this day.

I spent many a Saturday morning on that same floor at my grandmother's watching re-runs of Star Trek:TOS, so maybe a bit of Shatner's delayed speech and odd timing crept in as well. We'll never know.

With the help of my Critique Partners and a LOT of hard work I'm edging towards eliminating reducing the Shatner Comma from my writing, but I can make no guarantees. As for the pause in my speech? It lingers to this day though I'm working to lessen it now that I'm fully aware of it. And it wasn't a cure-all for my stutter, which can still be found in diminished capacity any time I get overly excited about something.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cover reveal for Harvester by Rachel Russell!

Here's a slightly different blog update. I'm lucky enough to not only have Rachel Russell as a CP, but I also get to reveal the absolutely beautiful cover of her forthcoming book! I'll also follow this post up with an interview on March 24th.

So, without further ado:

Harvester by Rachel Russell
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: March 17th 2014

Sixteen-year-old Catalina has never seen the sky. As a mage, it's illegal for her to leave the underground city she lives in. The sun and moon are only fantastical stories of a land far away. So when Catalina stumbles upon a tunnel leading to the surface, she can't resist the temptation to see the surface world.

But instead of enjoying a night beneath the stars for the first time, Catalina emerges upon the scene of a savage murderer harvesting faery body parts. She's nearly his next victim, but is rescued by a grim boy named Will who has a troubling connection to the killer.

Even more disquieting is Catalina's criminal status upon returning home. Someone with political clout has framed her for the vicious slayings. Now on the run from the law, Catalina must uncover Will's tie to the serial killing of faeries, as well as stop a bloodthirsty murderer to prove her innocence, or face a death sentence.

You can add Harvester to your to-read list on Goodreads

The last person caught smuggling medicine had disappeared, never to be heard from again, after Marshals whisked him away for interrogation. It wasn't a reassuring thought to have as Catalina stood in line and gnawed on the inside of her cheek. With each step she took toward the Arch, the glass vial hidden within the inside pocket of her vest grew heavier. She'd trafficked medicine into the city before, but it always felt like the first time. She supposed there were just some things you never got used to. Knowing the Arch wasn't designed to detect her precious cargo didn't stop her palms from sweating or her stomach from flip-flopping.

"Next." A scowling guard dressed in a black trench coat with a stiff, upturned collar waved her through with an exaggerated wave of his arm, as if she'd been dawdling.

Catalina sucked in a breath and stepped beneath the Arch. It wailed, shrill and loud, like a cat in pain. She startled, her eyes widening.
"Hands in the air!"
Oh no. No, no, no, Catalina thought. She held up shaking hands. My luck cannot be this crappy. She'd passed through the Arch dozens of times with the medicine on her and the alarm had never gone off before. Maybe it was a malfunction.

Another guard stepped over and passed a plain, black rod over her, starting at her head and traveling down. It glowed white when it neared her vest pocket.

Catalina's stomach bottomed out. They'd updated their equipment. For once, the law was a step ahead of her. The guard flipped open her vest and reached into the inside pocket, plucking out the vial. He held it up before his face, arching an eyebrow. Within the glass vial swirled clear liquid filled with glittering particles. The guard pulled out the stopper and sniffed.

Catalina caught a faint waft of honeysuckle flowers.

"It's faery elixir, all right." The guard put the stopper back on. "Take her to the interrogation room. The Marshal will want to speak with her."
The other guard stepped behind Catalina and twisted her arms behind her back. She needed to get out of there. If she could buck her head back hard enough to break the guard's nose, maybe Then metal pinched the tender skin of her wrists. She tried to wriggle her fingers. Her knuckles hit cool iron. He'd encased her hands in mitten handcuffs, the only sure way to keep a mage from weaving a spell. Catalina sighed. Now it really was too late.

"Come on." The guard grabbed Catalina by the elbow and led her through a blue door off to the right.
Their booted steps echoed down a hallway with overhead lights so bright they whitewashed the walls and floor. Catalina squinted beneath the harsh glare. The guard led her to the end of the hallway and stopped in front of a dull door with black paint curling at the edges. Again, she was struck with the near-overpowering drive to bolt. She'd heard horror stories of Marshals using magic to strangle hearts near to bursting point till they got what information they wanted. The hinges on the door whined as the guard opened it. An empty room with a table and two chairs lay beyond. A cold chill rushed down Catalina's spine. Odd how such a sparse room could feel so menacing.

The guard shoved her into the room. "A Marshal will be with you shortly."
Catalina stumbled into the room and whirled to face the guard, only to be met by the door slamming shut. A click came from the other side of the door as he locked it.

She turned and strode to the table. "Great. What the hell am I supposed to do now?"

About the Author:
Rachel is a YA author who likes dirty martinis and pickles on her pizza. Her stories tend to be either horror or fantasy, or a strange amalgamation of both genres. She works at Month9Books, LLC as both the Submissions Coordinator and an Editorial Assistant. When not reading or writing, Rachel is marathoning anime, becoming one with Twitter (@RachelxRussell), or playing make-believe with her two daughters.

You can find and contact Rachel here:
- Website
- Facebook
- Twitter
- Goodreads

Monday, February 17, 2014

Querying Like a Madman

Apparently that's what I'm doing. Not because I'm firing off dozens of queries from my automatic query-cannon (I have one, it's got an extended magazine and a techno-gadgety scope thingy), but because I'm not sending out dozens.

I'm sending five.

Five at a time is apparently whack-a-doodle crazy numbers and I'll "never" get an agent that way. That's what I've been told by an anonymous agented third party (who I'll allow to remain anonymous for the sake of their um, anonymity).

I'm not sure when querying became about simply getting an agent, any agent. That doesn't fit with my (possibly misguided) view of how things should work. Querying, to me, is about finding the right agent. Finding an agent that fits well with how I work, what sort of stories I want to tell, and most importantly, finding an agent for my writing career.

It means I can't take just any agent. It means I have to stalk research each agent and carefully select who I query, then personalize that query to them. That takes a LOT of work on my part. It's a similar amount of effort as to what I put into building a character backstory and system of rules for the world I'll set a book in. 99.999% of that effort never touches the finished pages, but I need it there nonetheless.

I can't imagine doing it any other way, I think the stress of having more than five queries out at the same time would kill me. If that makes me some sort of oddball, so be it. I'll get an agent when I do. And not just any agent, but the right agent.

- Alex

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Don't Ever Stop!

So... This little thing called PitchWars happened. It's what triggered this particular post, but it's not what this post is about so I'll cover it very briefly.

It's a contest where writers submit their first ~250 words and a Query to the four mentors of their choice and hope to get selected. In short (because I'm rubbish at being brief) I was selected by the Awefantabulous Renee Ahdieh.

Renee is exactly what I want and more importantly need in a mentor. Her feedback has helped me add layers of depth to CROW'S BLOOD that I knew were missing, I just couldn't see where. I've learned some of my pet phrases, identified some comma issues I have, and so much more, and I've exterminated them with prejudice.


Seven weeks later, our part in PitchWars wrapped on January 22nd as it went to the Agent Round. The first 250 words were posted with a 35 word pitch (here in case you're interested), in hopes of Agents commenting and making requests.

It's those requests that bring me to the point of this post. I had 0 requests. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Let me tell you a bit about how this little writer's ego works: I'm a brash, cocky, confident bastard. Except when I'm not, which is often. The key is that I try not to let that side show to the world at large too much. The only person who sees that side of me most often (my wife) does a great job of propping me up so I can continue being the confident bastard that I am.

I'd be lying if I said getting zero requests didn't sting. It cut pretty deep. Those are my words! Right there, with that zero looking me in the eye, I could have quit. Packed it all in and reclaimed my TV and video games. I could have given up the dream and driven my wonderful wife insane.

I could have listened to the mean voice in the back of my head that kept whispering "Zero, that's how many people give a damn about your words. That's what they're worth. That's what your worth. Give it up. Go home. Loser!"

I've heard that voice before. That's the voice that comes around any time I put myself out there, whether I'm public speaking, writing, tweeting, or posting on my blog. I don't like that voice. I made the decision long ago not to listen to that voice. That voice is an asshole. The things it says aren't true and are designed to cut us where it hurts the most. That voice is borne of fear.

We all have that voice. The difference between those who go on and those who fold isn't a matter of skill, or worth, or ego. It's a matter of will.

So here's what I have to say, not only to those who didn't get requests in PitchWars, but to those who have ever queried, or submitted, or done anything that brought around that voice:

Don't. Ever. Stop.

Do what you love, whether it's writing, drawing, dancing, singing, building life-size models of X-Wings out of Lego, whatever it is, as long as you love it (and it doesn't hurt anything).

As for PitchWars... Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! I've learned so much, and met so many wonderful, dedicated, and helpful people.

Until next time, I'm going to go write and revise, because that's what I do, and I love doing it.

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me." - The Bene Gesserit

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Movie List (Updated)

I keep a movie list on the site, ranking theatrically released movies I've seen through a calendar year. 2013 is now locked in (and there are still 2013 movies I'd like to see) and 2014's list has begun.

Have a quick peek and let me know if I missed any major movies coming out in 2014 (that you think would fit my tastes based on the lists that are there).

A quick note on my number 1 movie of 2013: Pacific Rim
It wasn't the most plausible story. Giant physics defying robots fighting giant physics defying monsters. It required a good deal of suspension of disbelief, which is something I'm quite adept at (thank you Star Wars and Star Trek). There were plot holes (though not any showstoppers). There was some scenery chewing (looking at you Idris Elba and Max Martini) but it was AWESOME scenery chewing.

But here's the point: I had a BLAST watching it (IMAX 3D helped I'm sure). It was quite simply the most fun I've had watching a movie in theatres in a LONG time (and I see a LOT of movies in theatres that are good fun). I got invested in the characters and their struggles. That's what it takes to make #1.

Happy New Year, let's make 2014 fun.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

An Open Letter to all PitchWars Mentors and Mentees (from a Mentee)

For the past few years Brenda Drake has run a crazy level contest (over 2,700 submissions/675 entrants)  on her blog called PitchWars. Let me just steal some words from her description:
Pitch Wars is a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions to shine it up for agents. The mentors also critique the writer’s pitch to get it ready for the agent round. Writers send applications (query and first page of manuscript) to the four mentors that best fit their work. The mentors then read all their applications and choose the writer they want to mentor for the next five weeks. Then we hold an agent round with over a dozen agents making requests.
Sounds pretty awesome doesn't it? Well, as someone who was cherry-picked by a ninja-Mentor this year (the AMAZING Renee Ahdieh) with CROW'S BLOOD, I can confirm that it most definitely is. I'm hard at work based on her editorial/critique notes. It's keeping me quite busy.

Here's the thing: I've seen a LOT of Mentors tweeting and commenting that they hope their Mentees don't hate them for being too harsh or nit-picky with their notes. I have a single word response to that: Impossible!

So, Mentors:

First: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I say that from the bottom of my heart. Even if you're not my Mentor and we're technically competing against each other: Thank you! You're awesome, amazing, and wonderful people to be doing what you're doing.

Now, onto the rest of it.

Don't pull your punches! We understand that they're thrown with the best intentions (ok, so maybe that's not the greatest metaphor). Keep giving it to us straight and professional, we can handle it. We're not made of fine gossamer glass.

You have to trust that we know our work isn't perfect, or we wouldn't have entered PitchWars in the first place. Moreover we know that you know our work isn't perfect. You got a look at it before you picked us. In many cases you saw more than the 5-page sample from the original submission.

You're giving your time and effort, not to mention expertise and insider knowledge to help us get our work into the best shape possible in a limited window of time. There isn't time to pussy-foot around playing nice. We need to get the job done.

On the flip-side: Mentees:

First: Congratulations, you were selected by a Mentor as either a primary or an alternate. That means you've got some chops. Take a few moments, pat yourself on the back, and inflate your ego.

Done? Good. There's a lot of work to do.

There's a certain level of trust every Mentee should be bringing to the table. Trust that we're in good hands and that every note that comes across that table is an effort by our Mentor to improve our work.

That said, the bulk of the hard work should fall on our shoulders. It's our book. This is our shot. We can't afford to miss it. Every last one of us should be taking this opportunity and holding on to it, squeezing it for all it's worth to get at the soft golden centre.

If your mentor gives you some hard truths that's a good thing, they're paying attention. We all have our natural talents, those bits of writing that just flow, those aspects of the work that we could sink ourselves into for days (plotting, dialog, world building, description, etc.). But we all have our weaknesses that we can only compensate for with craft (Shatner Commas, making that character that we know inside and out feel real, punctuation in general >.<).

Craft = Work. In many cases Craft = Hard Work. That hard work is why you're here. If your writing was perfect you wouldn't need a Mentor. So if your Mentor shines a light on the rust and broken bits of your story, don't complain.

Roll up your sleeves. It's time to get to work.


P.S. Renee has been fantastically professional, if the other Mentors are half as good as she is there's going to be one hell of a fine showing at the Agent round.

P.P.S. I'm aware I could use the word protege, but Mentee is a word, regardless of what my browser, word processor, or operating system say. There are many reputable sources.

P.P.P.S. At some point we need to have a long talk about split infinitives.