Friday, May 27, 2016

Dear Diary: Writing Activism Into Fiction

When I come up with a new story idea, I get excited. I jot down the early snippets on whatever paper is handy (or, now, on my iPhone's handy Notes app), even if it means pulling over to the side of the road or excusing myself to write in a bathroom stall. (I've done it!) I know you all do these things, too, because writing is stimulating and our passion. It's who we are.

Not long ago, I realized that there is a common through-line in all my new story ideas. Now, I write across genres all the time. My primary manuscript project right now is a classic re-telling with romance and a steampunk twist, but my other two works-in-progress are speculative fiction, and a fantasy satire. Everything's very different on the surface. But at the heart of the stories, you can find...well, you can find my heart.

My through-line is I work the social causes and issues I am passionate about into my plotlines and character development in a big way. I'm a very vocal animal activist and so, two of my three WIPs have none-too-subtle statements about animal captivity and our role in how we treat the natural world we live in. I believe that we have no choice but to take action now if we want our planet to survive the onslaught of threats we humans have imposed on it. So my characters are often concerned with these issues on some level, and I even include animal characters to help personalize and add impact to my message.

(My third book, the fantasy satire, is poking at marijuana legalization, poverty and crime... so I'm not ONLY all about animals and earth-stuff. I do care about social issues, too! But talking about that particular WIP will require its own post... ha ha.)

I guess I could be using fiction purely as escapism. I think that could be fun, on some level, and maybe some time I will write a fun middle grade book, or a pure romance... However, I think this is just who I am. I am an activist. I love to write. I love stories. And I love throwing all of that into the creativity blender and seeing what comes out.

I'm curious what you other writers do when it comes to making statements through fiction. Do you write about specific issues, and if so, what ones, and how do you weave them into your stories?

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pre-Pub Adventure: April/May

It's check in time with our authors for Pre-Pub Adventure!
Pre-Pub Adventure is a post we do once a month where we check in with authors to see how they're doing between publishing books. What do they actually do? Write? Prepare for book launches? Let's find out!


How do you feel that your book is in readers' hands?

Amazing! I mean this is what getting your book published is all about - putting it out into the world and knowing it's reaching so many different people.

Do you have any events coming up? How do you prepare for those?

I had an event last week and another coming up in early June. Besides setting them up and making sure that I have enough bookmarks and other swag on hand, I generally don't do all that much except prepare to have a good time!

What are you reading now?Last night (very very late at night) I finished UPROOTED by Naomi Novik. It was one of those books where I literally could not put it down... even while realizing I was going to probably regret that decision come morning.



Follow Kate on TwitterFacebook and her blog.


How does it feel to have your book out in the world?

It always feels surreal to have a book out there for sale, on real-life book shelves. But I also feel a great relief whenever I have a book release, like: it’s out there now to swim on its own, with the readers to guide it. My favorite thing about having a book out is finally getting to talk to readers about it.

Sometimes writing can take up your whole day so be honest, how often do you wash your hair?

For real—sometimes I skip a shampoo. And it goes deeper than that, I also end up skipping a few hours of sleep and a few REAL meals (assuming that rice cakes with almond butter doesn’t count as a “real meal,” haha).

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m wrapping up a revision on YA contemporary novel (can’t share details yet), and will very shortly be revising a novel for adults. I am almost always drafting something new.



Follow Alexis on TwitterTumblrPinterest, and her blog.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tuesday Topic: Guarding Your Writing Time

 How do you protect your writing time? Do you have set times of the day that you always write and no one is allowed to talk to you? Do you have to lock yourself away or go to a coffee shop to ensure you're undisturbed? Or are you more unstructured, stealing minutes whenever you can?

I steal minutes when I can! Though I try to be structured about it, setting aside particular times of the day or weekend to write and not allowing anything to intrude. There isn't a pattern to those times however, I set aside what I can for that week and see how I go!

Lisa A:
I need to sequester myself away from my family, friends and pets if I am going to get any real writing done... so coffee houses are my go-to places now for writing. Unfortunately, I've been busy with other pursuits and writing's taken a backseat, so I don't have set times where I write, but in the future if my drive to write comes back I plan to schedule something like, "Every Wednesday night and Saturday morning, I'll be at the coffee shop for 2 hours."

Because I'm self-employed, I have the luxury of adjusting my work schedule as necessary to get my writing done. I do most writing between about 8-9 am, after my husband leaves for work. I try to turn off distractions like Facebook and Twitter during that time. My weekends are pretty unstructured, but if I have a deadline or something I really want to make progress on, I'll go to a coffee shop.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Dear Diary: Misguided Reviews?

I love reading.
I love writing.
I love reviews. Don't you?

And it's okay to receive not-so good reviews once in a while, because come on . . . we learn from them. Well, well learn from the good reviews too. But right now, I'd like to talk about misguided reviews that miss the point. 

You know the kind: 

"OhMahGosh! I can't believe Harry Potter knew Edward Cullen! I don't understand why they didn't give us closure in HP and explain that he didn't really die. No guys! He became a vampire!" — Umm, two different series with one actor appearing in both movies. But okay.

Or say:

"I didn't read the first book in the series, and even though the author did a good job at explaning what happened previously, I wasn't familiar with the world in the beginning. I felt too lost to enjoy it. 1-Star!" — Yeahhhh, so . . . one, would think reading the books in order would help. But what do I know?

Or even:

"There was too much romance in that book! I wanted more action!" — You mean the one with the cover of the hot couple making out? With hearts all over it? That says it's from a Romance Bestselling author? That one? I can't believe it had too much romance! Shocker. o_O

All right, so you get the point! Ever read one? Ever scratched your head over them? Like, it's fantastic to receive reviews. We all need them and love them. But when you see a one-star review on books because the person skipped the description, the previous books, or hates a genre . . . well, you have to laugh it off! :D

And if you have one more minute to spend on me . . . would you watch this quick "Reviews That Make You Scream!" trailer? 

At Writers After Dark, we're looking to showcase examples of this, for laugher of course! No bashing, no hating, no complaining! Just a quick line or three from a review that was way off the point of your book and a response from you. It could be: in comments below, email (, and it could even be anonymous! But but but, you can also send us a clip of you reading and reacting—we'd love that!!! Plus, you get to plug your books so win-win, I say! — If you comment below with one, let me know if you'd like it to be included in our video—if not, share anyway! I'd love to laugh & won't use any material without consent. ;)

BTW, for those who've asked: we've been on hiatus because we've revamped the videos. They're shorter, and I dare say hilarious. But we're giving all the A-Z'ers a couple weeks to recover—because we're nice like that! Thanks for the interest and the support!!! And for watching!!!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tuesday Topic: Talking About Tropes

Every genre has them... and they're often popular for a reason. They're tried-and-true ways to hook readers and keep them hooked, and many authors love them. Today, we pondered tropes in our own writing. What are the current tropes in your chosen genre that you enjoy, and what tropes drive you crazy?

Have you ever found yourself adding them to your own work... or do you take special care to avoid them? We'd love to know, so please feel free to add your own opinions in the comments. 

I write women's fiction, and that's such a broad genre that I'm having trouble thinking of tropes that drive me crazy. One common trope is women going back in time/getting a second chance to fix things, but I'm basically addicted to that. I want to read them ALL!

Another common trope is a woman moving back home after a divorce/break-up to reset her life (and, of course, finding love in the process). That's not a storyline I've been interested in writing, so I haven't had to worry about avoiding it or marketability. Mostly, I just write what I want, and let my agent worry about marketability when the time comes. :-)

Amy P.:
I write romance, so I actually LOVE tropes. If a writer can put his/her own spin on a trope to make it unique, then why not? I have a new contemporary romance series (first book released two weeks ago), and I am all about the tropes in this one. The first book has best friends to lovers. Second book is relationship of convenience with a ticking clock. Third is brother's best friend. Fourth has both exes returning when the hero/heroine start falling for each other. I find tropes a great way to cook up conflict in a romance. They become tropes because of how often they are used, and to me that says they tend to work if done right, with an author's own personal twist. :)

Amy T.:
I adore tropes when done right. A lot of romances I read use the same formula over and over and it tends to bore me after a while. My new ms has an "enemies to lovers" trope and I tried to think of all the ways I could put a twist on the idea to make it different from the norm. I think the last thing you want is someone to say your book is formulaic. 

Tropes are tricky for me. On one hand, I understand the appeal and logic of using a formula that will keep readers' attention, but if I'm reading a novel and I can predict every turn in the plot and/or character arc for the MC because the author has plugged tropes in all over the place, I'm likely to give up on that book and go read something else. For example, I definitely can't stand "meet cute" scenarios in NA novels (like a clumsy girls stumbles into a handsome guy on the subway and awww, now they are in love), or the good-girl-falls-for- bad-boy thing, so my books don't have those elements. I try to find ways to do the unexpected in my own storytelling. At the moment, my first draft is being written mostly for my own amusement so I don't care yet what is marketable... Maybe in my rewrite stage I'll feel a lot different, though! ;-) 

Friday, April 29, 2016

THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN Q&A with Roshani Chokski

2016 has been a pretty good year for me in terms of reading. I've picked up some stellar books, and there haven't been any that I've been disappointed with or didn't finish. Still, when I went to pick up the ARC of THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN that I received from St. Martin's (THANK YOU SO MUCH), I was in a strange place. I wasn't in a reading slump per say, because I had been reading great stories. I guess I was in a I-don't-know-what-to-pick-up-next slump. I'd scrolled through my Kindle a million times, and while there were a ton of books on there that I knew I wanted to get to, none of them were jumping out like they were the next "one." Then this book came in the mail.

With so much always going on in my life, I usually have to read on my Kindle. It's not a choice but a requirement. So when this REAL LIFE book came in the mail, it kind of called to me. I was about to embark on a trip for a writing retreat (see my heartfelt post about it here), so I was going to have a lot of time to sit around with a book (my favorite part of traveling). Therefore, I decided to dive in.

I was so quickly sucked into the world of THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN that I ended up finishing my packing for the trip at like one AM in the morning because I was so sidetracked. I continued to drown in it while I waited for both flights, and when other retreat attendees picked me up from the airport, I pushed down every urge to pull it out of my bag and keep reading (I'm sure they, of all people, would understand, but still...RUDE).

Needless to say, the story was amazing, the romance was fiery, and the world-building was envy-worthy. Roshani truly has a way of wielding words to her will. In her Q&A, she mentioned a companion novel, and I would absolutely love to return to the world and the characters. This is definitely one you want to pick up in 2016!!!

Want to learn more about the wonderful author behind this epic novel? Read more below for some Q&A questions right after this quote sneak peek!

Q&A With Roshani Chokski

What/Who were your biggest inspirations for the characters in The Star-Touched Queen? Which character in The Star-Touched Queen did you personally relate to the most and why? 

For Maya and Amar, they were inspired by the Hades/Persephone. But I imagined those two mythological characters a little more differently. In Maya’s case, I knew that ambition was her defining trait, but I wasn’t sure whether that would manifest as seeking emotional or material fulfillment. Turns out, it was a bit of both. Kamala was inspired by my love of fiendish side characters like Mogget from Garth Nix’s SABRIEL and is probably the character I relate to the most. Her sense of humor can be a little abrasive. But she’s fiercely loyal to her friends. Other people in TSTQ were inspired by a collection of people whom I met/knew/heard of growing up.

Have you always been drawn to Mythology and what are some of your favorite mythological tales? What myth specifically inspired Star-Touched? 

Always! I was raised on mythology. It was one of the most important outlets for me to connect to my Filipino/Indian heritage. My favorite Indian myths are Shakuntula, Nala and Damayanti, and Savitri. My favorite Filipino story is the Igorot tale of the Sky Maiden. My favorite Western myth is Hades and Persephone. TSTQ was specifically inspired by Hades & Persephone.

Let's talk inspiration.  What Indian folklore inspired The Star-Touched Queen and where could someone who might be interested in reading and learning more about it and other Indian  stories (cough, me, cough) learn more? 

The main Indian folktales/myths that inspired TSTQ or particular scenes were: Shakuntula (plays on the idea of memory and forgotten loves), Savitri & Satyavan (bargaining with Lord of Death, wily females!) and Narasimha (the fourth avatar of Lord Vishnu who defeated the demon king Hirayankashipu). Honestly, most of these were stories I heard growing up with my family. But my favorite thing to read when I was younger were the Amar Chitra Katha comics! They’re these illustrated tales from Indian mythology and I love them so so so much.

What scene in THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN was your favorite to write? 

Definitely the scene where Amar and Maya are working together in the constellation room. I think it’s an important scene about interpretation, which, to me, is a major theme in TSTQ.

Did you listen to any music while writing this book? If yes, what would you say was your MOST played artist or song? 

Sometimes I listen to music when I write. It just depends on whether the song is distracting me or fueling some weird atmospheric part of the scene. Sometimes it’s just one song on repeat. I listen to a lot of hip hop. And when I pretty much rewrote TSTQ in February 2015, I felt furious. Not with anyone. But just with the story. Like it was itching to be told right and I was failing it. I think the songs I listened to the most with TSTQ was either Kid Ink’s “Show Me” or Kendrick Lamar’s “Poetic Justice.”

What is your dream movie cast for STAR-TOUCHED? 

LOVE this question. I’ve always envisioned Lakshmi Menon (the Sri Lankan model) as Maya-esque. Amar has some definite Arjun Rampal undertones (swoons forever). Gupta is kinda cheeky and nerdy, and reminds me of Imran Khan (actor not Pakistani cricket player). Gauri is cheeky, but fierce, so definitely Preity Zinta or Deepika Padukone. Nritti: Aishwarya Rai. And Mother Dhina: Rekha.

What is the most exciting part about publishing your first novel? 

Interacting with readers. Talking to the YA community gives me so much life.

How did you build your world and keep everything straight for STAR-TOUCHED? 

Flashcards, charts, webs, etc. I know everyone has their own tricks! Flashcards, backs of receipts, corners of napkins. Which is to say, I did not keep things straight at all. This is why you have beta readers. To throw virtual tomatoes at you and point out that given the rules of your world, you cannot do the thing you just did.

What is your next project? Is it in the same world as STAR-TOUCHED? 

I just finished the companion novel to TSTQ! So, I’m hoping to get started on edits soon. I can’t wait for y’all to read it. I love it so much.

What is the one thing you want readers to walk away from STAR-TOUCHED with? 

I hope readers see a little of how fairytales and folklore celebrate our shared experiences across cultural spectrums. And I hope their dreams are a little star-touched and that they close the book thinking they’ve tasted fairy fruit and walked through more than one life.

Buy the book now on Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Your local indie!

About the Author

ROSHANI CHOKSHI comes from a small town in Georgia where she collected a Southern accent, but does not use it unless under duress. She grew up in a blue house with a perpetually napping bear-dog. At Emory University, she dabbled with journalism, attended some classes in pajamas, forgot to buy winter boots and majored in 14th century British literature. She spent a year after graduation working and traveling and writing. After that, she started law school at the University of Georgia where she's learning a new kind of storytelling. More information on the author can be found at

Friday, April 15, 2016

Dear Diary: Pop Culture in Books

I admit it. I'm guilty. I like to push my favorite things on others. By day I am a high school librarian, and when I put in my pre-order for Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven King, I finally settled on ordering four copies so the students and staff I'd--encouraged to read The Raven Cycle series would have a library copy on or near release day. That doesn't count my copy, as I'll be doing it on Audible, or another coworker's copy who has already pre-ordered her audio version. That also doesn't count my student who is going to buy her own copy through a local bookstore when Maggie comes to Chicago as part of her book tour.

The point is, if I like something and think you might like, then I will encourage  you to like it too.

The same goes for my books. I like to sneak my favorite things into the stories I write. If a reader digs that same thing, then maybe he/she connects to the book on another level than just liking the story (but first and foremost please like the story). If I mention Firefly or Dr. Horrible, I imagine my fellow Whedonites nodding along. That A.J. She gets me. And if the reference moves you not, that's okay. It was just a blip on a page, a shout-out, if you will. Just me saying, "Hey. I like this thing. You might like it too."

I don't worry about my references being dated because the fact is that something I like now might not be my favorite five years from now, but I'll always remember it fondly. Some of my references aren't even popular culture. I framed my first book, IF ONLY, with quotes from E.M. Forster's A ROOM WITH A VIEW. And my hero and heroine, while so rudely pulled apart by yours truly, have to perform a scene from Shakespeare's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING where they play Beatrice and Benedick in the scene where they kiss. I'm pretty sure a novel written in 1908 and a play penned in 1599 probably don't qualify as pop culture, but they are two of my favorite things that I encourage others to try.

So, for fun, let's see which of my favorites have earned page time so far. I'm going to try to remember them all.

If Only : A Room With A View; Much Ado About Nothing; The Princess Bride; Pride and Prejudice

What If : Gilmore Girls; UNO

I Do: Rocky; Pride and Prejudice; UNO

One Night: The Vampire Diaries

One Life: The Vampire Diaries; Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

The One That Got Away (releasing 4-18-16): The Monkees

I promise, if you are not fans of any of these references, you will barely notice they're there. But if you read one of my books and find we share a common fandom, then yay. Let's play a game of UNO while singing "I'm a Believer" and watching The Princess Bride the next time we meet.

And...if you want to find out what part The Monkees play in my upcoming contemporary romance release, I hope you'll check out my first book in a new series, The One That Got Away! Also, feel free to comment and tell me some of your pop culture faves!

How far will one man go for the woman he's loved since high school?

Jamie Kingston has been Brynn Chandler's best friend since middle school. Only once was their friendship tested—when Brynn gave Jamie a single kiss. Since then, they've had an unspoken agreement never to cross that line again, and she’s ready to let go of the past and move on.

But Jamie has loved Brynn for as long as he can remember, and now that he's ready to tell her, she has her sights set on someone else. Knowing this is his last chance, he asks Brynn to go on a two-week road trip. But their time alone brings old hurts to the surface, and Brynn has to decide if the one that got away lies at                                                         the end of the journey or if he's been by her side all along.