Secrets of PEACE Release Date, Cover Reveal, and Other News

As some of you may know, I recently decided to self-publish my novel, Secrets of PEACE. This was a huge step for me and honestly, I’m still freaking out a little about the whole thing, but in a good way. Today, I wanted to share some more information with all of you about the book.

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Here is the cover. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I really like the minimal color scheme for this story and I already have ideas on how to tie the cover for the second book into this one, so that will be good. I hadn’t originally intended to put any of the characters on the front, but once I threw a demo version of this together, I just couldn’t get it out of my head. Here is the blurb, which may or may not be tweaked a little bit as I get closer to publishing.

Nearly 30 years ago, the PEACE Project rose from the ruins of a global war to take power over a new America. Providing stability in exchange for absolute authority, the Project controls every aspect of citizens’ lives through each of its five units:

Protect
Enforce
Advance
Control
Eliminate

Raised in the Project since infancy, eighteen-year-old Zira has been trained as an assassin under the stern guidance of unit E-2’s Chairman Ryku. After she makes a careless mistake on an assignment, the chairman partners her with Jared, the best operative in her unit. Their partnership transforms into friendship as they work together and learn to rely on each other. But when misinformation causes a solo mission to backfire, Zira’s deepest loyalties and strongest relationships are tested in a place where even a hint of doubt can be perceived as treason.

The life she knows is falling apart, and nothing will ever look the same again.

And that brings me to the release date. I’ve thought a lot about this and held off on really committing to a date because I wasn’t entirely sure how much work the story might need. Formatting is also a big concern since I’ve never done it before, so that’s going to take some time. After hearing back from a few beta readers and evaluating how much more time this is likely to take me, I think I can safely say that I’ll be publishing Secrets of PEACE on July 27, 2016.

I like this date for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s in the summer, which means I will be done with school and have plenty of time to focus on getting everything ready. More importantly, though, it’s Zira’s birthday. It probably seems a little crazy that I even care about something that trivial, but her date of birth was included in the original draft(s) of the book for Plot Reasons™. That part of the story ended up being changed drastically, but I still remember that it’s her birthday and figure that’s as good a day as any to release the book.

I finally finished putting a real website together. I’m making a few last minute tweaks and then I’ll officially publish that for everyone to see. I also recently joined Instagram. I haven’t posted anything yet since I’m always a little intimidated by new social media platforms, but I plan to start putting up some more stuff about Secrets of PEACE there at some point. I’m still holding off on the Facebook page because I’m a loser and scared to tell my real-life friends and family that I write for no apparent reason, but that will definitely happen eventually, too.

Let me know what you think! Does this look like something you’d be interested in reading? If you’re a writer, what are some things you would have liked to have known before you published your first book?

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An Announcement

For those of you who have been following me on Twitter or deviantART, you may know that I recently rewrote one of my novels (again). I’ve been doing a lot of research to try to decide what my next step should be: self-publish, or start working on trying to get traditionally published.

After much deliberation (and by that, I mean this has been consuming my every thought for weeks), I have decided to self-publish. This was a huge decision for me. Two years ago, I never even would have considered self-publishing. Things change, though, and that seems especially true with writing and the publishing industry. The more I’ve thought about it, examined the pros and cons of each side, and consulted with other authors, the more confident I am that self-publishing is right for me and for this story.

The novel is a new adult dystopia set in a future america which will be titled, Secrets of PEACE. It’s the first book in a planned duology. The second book is untitled but already drafted (though it will need to be extensively rewritten to accommodate changes made to the first book). The story follows 18 year old Zira, a strong-willed but reckless new assassin who works for the government, known as the PEACE Project.

PEACEseal

This is something I have been working on for the better part of five years now, and it feels good to finally have a solid plan for it. I have a release date in mind but won’t say when until I know for sure whether or not it’s doable. I want to go through it one more time myself, probably starting this week since I have spring break, and then send it to a few beta readers. Depending on how that goes and how much more work it needs, I may be able to start planning a release date then.

In the mean time, I am slowly putting together an author website and facebook page. That’s honestly the scariest part of this whole thing because it means announcing to people I know in real life that I’m a writer, which is something I’ve always tried to avoid (with the exception of a few close friends). Don’t ask me why; I’m well aware of how silly that is. Once that’s all up and running though, I’ll probably just abandon this blog since I’ll have one on my author site. I’ll let you all know when that happens.

I’m a little terrified about what lies ahead, but also excited. I’m sure it will be a great adventure and I’m eager to learn everything I can.

5 Things I’ve Learned from Writing and Illustrating a Picture Book

As some of you may know, I’m currently focusing my creative attention on a picture book titled Cody’s Wild West Adventure, which I hope to publish sometime this coming summer. It’s long overdue. I wrote Cody for my high school senior project back in 2007-2008. I always intended to finish it someday but kept putting it off. See, my writing has always been intended for an older audience. I never really considered writing for small children. The only reason I decided to write a picture book in the first place was because of that senior project. There was a scholarship involved and I knew it was something I’d have to spend a lot of time on, so I wanted to do something that A) I would enjoy and B) I was good at. Basically, something involving writing, which was kind of terrifying. I was 17, painfully insecure, and scared that if people found out what I really liked to write, I’d be forever shunned and scorned by my peers. I almost never told people that I wrote and actively tried to hide it most of the time. However, one thing people did know about me was that I could draw. Writing and illustrating a picture book, then, was a “socially acceptable” project for me to undertake – one that people wouldn’t question too much. Also, because it wasn’t something I cared about as much as my other writing endeavors, it wouldn’t matter if it turned out to be a disaster and everyone laughed at me behind my back.

I realize how ridiculous all of that sounds now, but that was my thought process at the time. High school, teenagers – you know how it is. The point is that I never would have even seriously contemplated writing a children’s book if it weren’t for that project. I learned a lot about writing picture books then as part of the whole process, but some of it has only really sunk in now that I’m older, more experienced, and more involved with getting this thing ready for publication. I wanted to share some of the most important lessons I’ve learned through it all.

  1. The balance between words and pictures and the importance of illustrations
    This is probably the biggest thing that sets picture books apart from other kinds of stories. It seems a little obvious once you think about it, but it wasn’t something I had considered until I had to write the research paper for my senior project. A lot of people seem to think (including myself, before I started doing this) that the illustrations in a picture book simply mimic what the words say, which isn’t necessarily true – or at least, it shouldn’t be. A good picture book will rely on its illustrations to tell the story just as much as its words, and by taking away one piece or the other, the story will have lost an essential part of itself. It’s a balance, and both parts are equally important. We’ve all heard the saying that “a picture is worth 1000 words” and that’s certainly true here. The illustrations can carry just as much weight in a picture book as the words, if not more. That’s important when you’re working with such a limited word count. Which brings me to my next point…
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  2. Limited word count
    The general rule of thumb when writing a picture book is that the story should be no more than 1000 words, and 500-600 is generally considered more appropriate. That’s pretty restrictive, but there are a few good reasons for this. The target audience – young children – tend to have short attention spans and may not sit still to listen to a longer story. Also, picture books are often meant to be read aloud, so the words and sentences should all be relatively simple, clear, and concise so that the children listening will be able to understand. Finally, good illustrations will be able to convey a lot of the story on their own, so you don’t need to take up valuable words with detailed descriptions of character appearance and setting. A lot of times, you don’t even need to go into great detail about the action taking place as the illustrations can show that to some extent. When I first wrote Cody, it was about 1200 words. I managed to pare it down to 900 by the time I finished my senior project and I was sure that was as short as it could possibly get. I was wrong. Last week, I finalized the story at something like 730 words, and I can see how much better it is now than it was back then. I’ve allowed the illustrations to take over and show parts of the story that I thought needed to be told by the words themselves. The bottom line here is: Keep your audience in mind, and don’t underestimate the importance of good illustrations. Let’s be honest – the kids probably pay a lot more attention to the pictures anyway.
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  3. Realistic expectations
    A common assumption seems to be that writing books for children is easy and that anyone can do it. I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying or say that you can’t do it, but I do think it’s important to point out that the idea of picture books being simpler or easier to write than books for older audiences is misleading. For all the reasons I’ve mentioned above, writing a picture book is in some ways more challenging than writing other types of stories. You can’t go into it thinking that it’s going to be easy. It’s important to push yourself to think outside the box and find creative ways to express your ideas in a way that kids will understand and enjoy. If it’s not challenging you in one way or another, you’re probably going about it the wrong way.
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  4. Storyboards and dummy books
    This part really only becomes an issue if you are self-publishing and working with an illustrator or illustrating the book yourself, but it was an important lesson for me, so I’ll go over it briefly. Once you’ve finished the text (at least to a point where you won’t be making any major changes) and you’re ready to start working on the illustrations, it’s a good idea to create a storyboard and/or a dummy book. That way, you’ll be able to lay everything out and see how it all looks. A storyboard is basically just a miniature outline of how the story should look. I found this one when I was working on the updated version of Cody‘s storyboard. It’s 32 pages (standard for a picture book) and scales to the size I intend to print at. Then I just went through and filled it in. Here are a few sample pages so you can see what I did:storyboardsampleAs you can see, it’s all pretty basic, but it at least gives me an idea of what I’m planning on doing. You can easily make your own template if you can’t find one or need more pages or whatever – by hand if that’s easier. The other option is to make a dummy book, which is basically the same thing, but in a miniaturized book format so you can turn pages and everything. I made one for my senior project from paper and tape that I then sketched vague illustrations on to see how it might look. I highly recommend that you finalize this step before illustrations are started, particularly if you have someone else doing the artwork for you. It’s one thing to change your mind or make a mistake that just affects you, but imagine how obnoxious it would be to start working on illustrations and have the author then change their mind about the size or orientation or some other aspect of the book that completely derails your hard work.
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  5. Considerations for publishing a picture book
    (A disclaimer, before I launch into this: I haven’t looked into traditional publishing for picture books for a couple of years now, so this is all based on old information and what I can remember. A lot of it is just my opinion, and you should definitely do the research yourself if this is something you’re considering.)
    Once you’ve written a picture book, you may want to publish it, which then raises the question of whether to self-publish or traditionally publish. There are pros and cons to each, but let me just share a few of the things that led me to decide to self-publish Cody and any other picture books I may write in the future. My first instinct was to publish traditionally. That’s what I am trying to do with my short stories and intend to do with my novel, once it’s finished. It’s a good route to go. Traditional publishers pay you right up front and do some of the marketing for you. There’s the potential to reach a wider audience. Also, there may be a little more recognition and “prestige” if you go that route; some people argue that self-publishing isn’t  really quality-controlled since anyone can publish anything, regardless of how good or bad it is. That’s true enough, but there have been plenty of awful books put out by traditional publishers, so you’ll have to decide for yourself how much water that argument holds. Also, the whole “quality-control” thing means going through submissions to agents and then publishers and getting rejected (a lot), which I can tell you from experience isn’t exactly a walk in the park. It is worth it if that’s what you’re after, though. The other important thing to know about traditional publishing is that the editor will want to match you up with an illustrator of their own choosing unless you’re a professional illustrator yourself. There are a few other exceptions, I’m sure, but for the most part, they just want the story from you. They don’t want illustrations from your friend Susan-who’s-an-artist or even descriptions of illustrations. Just the words. Depending on you and your story, that can be a good thing or a bad thing. If you’re not an illustrator and don’t have the money to hire one, publishing traditionally and having the editor handle that for you might be fantastic. For me, it ended up being the deciding factor that pushed me towards self-publishing. I’m an artist, but I wouldn’t call myself a professional by any stretch of the imagination. I figured that if I did manage to sell my story to a traditional publisher, I likely wouldn’t be doing the illustrations myself. That was a deal-breaker for me. I’ve had a very clear picture in my head of how I wanted the illustrations to look from the moment I got the idea for the story, and to give up creative control over that aspect of the book was just not something I was willing to do. Hence my decision to self-publish. The benefit is that I keep all the rights and control over my work. The downside is that I have to do all the other work myself – formatting the book, marketing, finding readers, etc. All that stuff that isn’t writing. There are parts of it I’m definitely not looking forward to, but it’s also kind of exciting to have that freedom and control over everything. If you’ve written or are working on a picture book, I urge you to look into all your options extensively before you make a decision.

I hope this helps some of you who are thinking about or are in the process of writing a picture book. Feel free to ask questions or let me know what you think in the comments!

My Favorite 2015 Reads

Hello everyone! I hope you’re all having a great holiday season. I know I’ve missed the last few posts I was supposed to do. I had finals for school, which ended up being a lot more overwhelming than I anticipated, and holiday stuff has also taken up a lot of my time. Anyway, since the year is almost over, I wanted to talk about some of the best books I read this year and what my favorites were. Here they are (in no particular order).

books1

1984 by George Orwell

This was one of those books I read because I kind of felt obligated to, but I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. It was very thought-provoking. The world George Orwell creates here resonates with some of the things we see in the world now, sometimes coming frighteningly close to present-day reality. Even though the year 1984 has come and gone, this is definitely a book that will remain relevant for decades to come.

 

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I had never read anything by Neil Gaiman before I picked up this book, which introduced me to a new favorite author. Of course, I then went and read a whole bunch of his work, and I had a hard time deciding between this and Neverwhere for this list. Neverwhere is a good, fun read, but American Gods was the book that stayed with me for months after I’d finished it. Shadow became one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. He was so easy to relate to and I became very emotionally invested in him and his story early on. The story itself is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. The ending–the whole book, arguably–was kind of sad, but I’m a sucker for bittersweet endings. I loved this book. It’s one that I could read again and again and find something new each time.

books3

The Alecto Initiative by Owen R. O’Neill and Jordan Leah Hunter

I picked this book up on a whim because it was free and looked interesting enough, but I honestly wasn’t expecting much when I started reading. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved the characters and the story. It’s fast-paced and the protagonist, Loralynn Kennakris (Kris), is very engaging. The other characters are equally well-crafted and I ended up finishing the story in four days, despite being super busy with school at the time. I also read the second book in the series, The Morning Which Breaks, but I really liked the brisk and more to-the-point writing in The Alecto Initiative. I’m looking forward to reading the next books in the series in 2016.

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Ronan by EJ Fisch

I’m a huge fan on the Ziva Payvan series, so I was super excited about the release of the third book this past summer. The events of this novel are even more intense than in the first two books as the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been before. As always, it’s the characters that really make this series great. All the intricacies of various relationships that have been carefully woven together over the previous books really pay off here, especially when it comes to main characters Ziva and Aroska. I know I’ve recommended this series about a hundred times before, but seriously people–if you like exciting stories and great characters, you need to read these books.

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On Writing by Stephen King

This was another book I read more out of a feeling of obligation than for enjoyment, but I did actually enjoy it more than I thought I would. It’s constantly recommended to writers, and for good reason. It changed some of my perspectives as a writer and made me realize what things I might need to focus on more in order to improve my writing. Some of it was stuff I knew already and there were a few things I didn’t necessarily agree with 100%, but I valued the information and could see how it might be useful nonetheless. One of the best pieces of advice I got out of this book was to read more, which I tried to do through the end of the year and will continue to work on in 2016.

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Vertigo by GS Jennsen

This is another indie book series I’ve really come to enjoy. I’ve read the entire Aurora Rising trilogy, but this is easily my favorite of the three. The sci-fi/romance blend is something I haven’t seen much of before (i.e. any), but it works here. It’s interesting to see Alex and Caleb’s relationship progress as the story goes on, and I liked how all of the secondary characters developed and became more important in this book, too. The plot was fast-paced and kept me turning pages as quickly as I could. I loved some of the ideas that were explored here and in the other books regarding aliens and artificial intelligence, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series next year.

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Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

I just recently did a full review of this book, so I won’t go into too much detail here. This was kind of an odd choice for me since I don’t usually read non-fiction, but this reads more like an actual story than a history or a textbook. The fact that it’s not made up just makes it even more incredible. There were a lot of parallels to George Orwell’s 1984 and the book talked about some interesting ideas surrounding North Korea, its history, and the people who live there.


 

To see what else I read this year, check out the full list here.

What to do When Your Plot Hits a Wall: Part 2

In my last blog post, I talked about introducing new conflicts by taking away your characters’ resources. This week, I want to discuss a similar method for getting your plot going again when you’re stuck.

Strategy #2: The Spider Web

Like the previous method, this also relies on coming up with new conflicts and backing your characters into a corner. It’s a more visual method, which might work better if you’re like me and have an easier time understanding things if you can see them. Hopefully, it will help you see all of the potential directions you can take the story and make connections between different ideas or events.

You remember those spider-web diagrams you probably had to do at some point in elementary school? It’s the same basic idea. I’ll give you an example, using the example of the very terrible first novel I ever wrote. It was a fantasy novel about your typical orphan-turned-hero(ine) who goes on a grand adventure and saves the world, filled with enough cliches and plot holes to make even the most undiscerning reader cringe. But it will work as an example.

Here’s the spider-web diagram I constructed for it this evening:

AliaDSWeb

It’s kind of a mess and very basic, and obviously a little harder to understand if you don’t know the story. But I think you can kind of see where I’m going. A lot of times when you get a story idea, you only have a few ideas and maybe don’t know how they are connected or what comes next. That’s where the spider-web diagram can be helpful. You can just plug your ideas into the first outer section (the orange boxes in the above diagram) and then try to think of all the different things that might happen as a result. You just keep building outward. You don’t have to use everything you add to the diagram, but this is a good way to brainstorm. If you’re just struggling with one plot point, you can also use this strategy on a smaller scale. Just put that one plot point in the center and then try to think of what would happen as a result, or how it would impact the characters involved. Build out from there as before.

After that, you can sometimes make connections between ideas. For example, the main character in my story was a half-elf, half-human orphan who never felt like she belonged in her human hometown. She wants to leave, and when a group of dragon-slayers arrive in pursuit of the monster that destroys the town, she decides join them. This raises a few problems, not just because she’s only fifteen years old (which was shamefully never really addressed as a problem in the story when I wrote it), but also because of her race and the long-standing conflict that has existed between humans and the elf/dwarf alliance in the world I created. The question – and conflict – then becomes: Why do the dragon-slayers eventually allow her to join their group? Not everyone will agree, so the decision is bound to cause some tension in the group. How? I could have easily built the web outward from there, but I think you get the point.

I know it’s a really simple strategy and maybe something you’ve already tried before. Still, I’ve found it helpful on several occasions and it’s one of my go-to strategies for figuring my plot out when I get stuck. Having a visual like this helps me see how all of the different ideas and events are connected so that I can make sure all of that is reflected in the writing. It can also help organize a bunch of scattered ideas into something that makes sense. It might be simple, but sometimes that’s all you need.