Featured Post: Darby Karchut on Writing

Darby Karchut has stopped by for a guest post, and the reality of writing a book!

Book World Reality
Darby Karchut

Let me be right up front with you—there’s no easy way to write a book. There’s also no correct way to write a book. You can outline or you can make it up as you go. You can write it backwards. You can write it from the middle and work outward. You can write just the action scenes and fill in around them. Use any system that gets you to the magical The End.
Which, of course, is really The Beginning. Almost everyone who writes a book wants to get published, too. A Very Cool Thing. So, I thought I’d share some of the stuff I’ve learned about publishing and the publishing industry:

Finish your book – No matter how terrible you think it is, do not stop writing until you reach the end.

Nothing—and I do mean nothing—will ever teach you more about a writing a book than writing your first book. Worried that it stinks? Remember, you can always fix your writing. You cannot fix a blank page. One of the best ways to complete the first draft is to guard your writing time. Teach yourself to write when you have a 15 minute (or more) block of time. I wrote my first six books while working full time by writing on my lunch break and in the evenings. Here’s an old trick: stop in the middle of an exciting scene where you know exactly what’s going to happen next. That way, when you pick up your manuscript again, you can jump in without that warming up period. By the way: save and back up everything. Early and often. Minimum: hit the save key at the end
of every page. Be that person whose work is on the Cloud, two different flashdrives, and even email a copy to yourself. I take one of my flashdrive with me when I leave the house in case my house burns down. Paranoid, much?

Read to Write

Read as much as you write. Read all the time. In your genre and out of your genre. Know
comparable books to yours. You will be asked to craft a book proposal at some point and will need at least three titles that are similar to yours. One title can be a classic, but the other two should be within the last few years. Ideally, you should mention comparable titles in your query letter.

Work It
Speaking of querying. Submitting your manuscript to agents or editors takes time and effort. Start making a list of those who might be interested. Keep adding to it. One great place to start is Twitter’s #MSWL (that stands for Manuscript Wish List). You can also Google agents and editors. I would recommend narrowing your search for the last 24 months. Writer magazines (The Writer and Writer’s Digest are two examples) often have a list of editors and agents in the back.
Set Up for Success
Keep your manuscript within the sweet spot for word count, especially if you are a new writer:

Middle Grade: 20,000 — 60,000
Young Adult: 55,000 — 90,000
Romance: 70,000 — 100,000

Mystery & Thriller: 80,000 — 110,000
Literary Fiction: 80,000 — 110,000
Sci-Fi & Fantasy: 80,000 — 120,000
Stay Within The Lines (At Least, For Now)

Every agent and editor has a detailed submission page. Read it. Make sure that particular editor or agent is seeking your kind of book. Then, follow the submission directions exactly. This is one way many of them cull out potential authors. Who wants to work with someone who can’t/won’t follow straight forward directions? Believe me, this will put you ahead of 80% of the rest of the writers.

Live like Churchill
Never, never, never surrender. Keep trying. Assume everything is a yes until it is a no. You never know what the day will bring. That next email may be a response to your query letter asking to see more.
It’s A Small World
The book world is, indeed, a small world. And it’s even smaller within genres. Everyone knows everyone, and editors and agents and authors and reviewers talk to each other. Never, never, never be anything but gracious and professional. If you act like a jerk, word spreads quickly. Editors and agents and fellow authors and bloggers are people, too, and they don’t want to work with jerks. Don’t be that person. It will destroy your career.
Join at least one professional writing organization. This shows editors and agents that you treat your art as a profession. If you write MG or YA, I would recommend SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Each state or region has their own branch. By joining SCBWI, you automatically become part of your regional branch at no extra cost. But, it is expensive – $80.00 a year. One cool thing about that: editors with Big Houses are often interviewed and they allow SCBWI members to submit to them for a short window without an agent.

The Dreaded “P” Word
“P” stands for Promotion. And promotion is a fact of life for authors. No one will care about your book as much as you do. Ever. No matter what they say. You are the most important factor in your book’s success. But promotion will differ depending on you and your genre. Adult books tend to take off like a rocket—you have about a three month window to make an explosion—then it levels off. MG and YA tend to start slower and build an audience over time. A longer shelf life, don’t you know. Have a website at the minimum. Participate on social media however you can. Editors and agents do check to see how active you are on social media. Blogs versus websites? Depends on your genre. Newsletters are becoming popular right now, so that might be a better fit for you than a
blog. To be successful, you must decide early on what promotion looks like to you and your genre. With my Middle Grade and YA books, social media is one part of my promotion strategy. Facebook and Twitter are fun places to hang out with friends and fans and fellow writers, and occasionally, I throw in some stuff about my books. The best part is that I’ve met some amazing folks who’ve become friends. *Grins and waves at Starr.*
I also contribute articles to Owl Hollow Press and Spencer Hill Press (two of my publishers) and Writing from the Peak (the Pikes Peak Writers’ blog), as well as articles for magazines such as VOYA and Sweet Designs Teen Magazine. I’ve also done some radio interviews and podcasts.

However, my main focus is literacy/educational conferences, book signings, and author festivals. School visits are my sweet spot (in person and Skype); places where I can connect face-to- face with my young audience. Speaking of school visits…

Bless the Children
If you write for children and teens, never pass up an opportunity to talk with them. Face to face, eyeball to eyeball. Say yes to every school visit you can. Say yes to every library event you can. The more you fire up kids about the magic of books, the better for all of us. Sure, you’ll sell books, but more importantly, you’ll be inspiring kids to read. And kids who read grow up to be adults who think and feel.

More Than You Can Imagine
I once thought being a published author would be amazing. I had all sorts of delightful little daydreams when I first started writing and querying and learning about the publishing world. The reality is way, way better. Maybe not in the way our society labels success, which is mostly determined by fame and money. My “success” came in November of 2011. I was still teaching 7th grade social studies and the last half hour of each school day concluded with a study hall period. If a student was finished with their homework, they could read silently. I was helping another student when I noticed one of my boys put away his work and pull out a paperback book. Good on him. He was leaning forward over the book, one elbow resting on the desk. He laughed at something on the page, then glanced at me and held up the book so I could see the cover.
It was my debut novel, Griffin Rising.


Thank you Darby, for taking the time to stop by the blog! I am looking forward to reading more of your books and I am so grateful for our friends. *Waves*


Always Shine!


Featured Author: Top 7 Reasons to Read The Iron Druid Chronicles

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #1)

As I stated in my last post, I have started to re-read The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. And everything is coming back to me, all of the things that I love about the series and the characters. I thought that I would share with you all some of those reasons, and encourage you all to pick up the series if you haven’t already.

1. Oberon and Atticus’ mental bond- Oberon is one of my favorite characters in the series. He is a dog and his joys are simple. But, listening to their banter is hilarious.

2.  Somehow Atticus borrows trouble left and right. Though it’s always big trouble, it doesn’t always come to pass immediately. It’s never boring with him.

3.  There is a mixture of supernaturals that make an appearance, and somehow they all work together to make the story fun. You have a druid, the fae, witches, werewolves and vampires.

4. Familiar and comfortable- Each book feels as if you are spending time with longtime friends.

5. Nothing is ever what it seems. Just when you think you know a character they do something you never saw coming.

6. Throwability- I can’t remember if it was  Hammered or Tricked,  but I do remember being so mad that I threw the book. But I had to know what was going to happen so I immediately walked across the room to retrieve it and finish reading.

7.  Good Times- each book is fun to read. Regardless of what is going on, you can count on humor, never-ending danger and sausages to get you through.


In all seriousness, this is a fun series. And it is well worth your time. In fact, this is the perfect time to start as the final book is due out in April of 2018!


Always Shine!


December Featured Author: Kevin Hearne

I know that I have a couple of featured posts that need to go up for November, I think I am going to roll them over for something else. This month, I am featuring Kevin Hearne on my blog. He is the author of the Iron Druid Chronicles, and the new Fantasy series, The Seven Kennings. I will be re-reading as many of his books that I can this month. But to kick it off, I am going to share an interview with Kevin Hearne.

A Plague of Giants (Seven Kennings, #1)

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #1)Hexed (The Iron Druid Chron...Hammered (The Iron Druid Ch...Tricked (The Iron Druid Chr...Trapped (The Iron Druid Chr...Hunted (The Iron Druid Chro...Shattered (The Iron Druid C...Staked (The Iron Druid Chro...Scourged (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #9)












Now For the Interview!!
TLP: Did you always want to be a writer? If not, what did you want to be? How did you get into writing?

KH: No, I originally wished to be a graphic designer, but the desire to write came along in college. I wrote plenty of terrible stuff and learned a lot until I finally got the hang of it and sold my first novel at age 39. I kept my day job for three years after that.

TLP: Would you mind sharing some writing rituals/traditions that you have while working on a project?

KH: I wouldn’t mind sharing them except that I don’t really have any. Routine doesn’t work for me; I get bored with doing the same thing all the time. I work in different places at different times of the day, always seeking something fresh. Doesn’t mean rituals are awful or anything; they just aren’t my cuppa joe.

TLP: Are you a pantser or plotter?

KH: I’m a hybrid. I use an outline but don’t feel bound by it. The drafting process usually brings up better ideas and I follow them.

TLP: Which book was the easiest to write? The hardest?

KH: Easiest book to write was STAKED, book 8 of the series. I wrote that in four and a half months. Hardest book to write was SCOURGED, the series finale, book 9. That took more than a year. When you’re trying to make sure everything’s wrapped up, it’s a bit of a juggle.

TLP: Which character is your favorite? Why?

KH: Owen Kennedy, the archdruid who came forward in time two millennia to join us here, is probably my favorite because he is so disoriented by the choices we’ve made in the last two thousand years as a species. I enjoy his perspective on our modern world and his struggle to acclimate.

TLP: The final book in the Iron Druid Chronicles is due out in 2018. What can we expect?

KH: Ragnarok, but not the Disney/Marvel version. Sausage and other meats. Karma and comeuppance. Plus a sloth.

TLP: A Plague of Giants is vastly different from the Iron Druid Chronicles. What was it like writing the two?

KH: It was like discovering that there are other flavors of ice cream besides vanilla. Very cool and delicious.

TLP: Are any of your characters based on real people?

KH: The widow MacDonagh is based on my own grandmother, but that’s the only one.

TLP: Who is the most interesting person that you’ve had the chance to meet?

KH: Egad, I can’t pick just one. That would be a disservice to all the other glorious folks I’ve met. In general, I find folks who aren’t like me (that is, a white dude) to be most interesting

TLP: Do you have any secret projects that you can tell us about?

KH: No secrets, but I have a new project coming out next year with Delilah S. Dawson called KILL THE FARM BOY, the first in a new comedic fantasy series called the Tales of Pell

TLP: What are some tips that you can share with aspiring writers?

KH: Finish your work. You don’t know what it takes to write a novel until you finish one, and once you finish one, you’ll know you can do better next time. If you’re looking for specific writing advice, however, Chuck Wendig is much better at putting that in words than I am. I recommend his writing books, The Kick-Ass Writer and Damn Fine Story, without reservation.

I want to thank Kevin Hearne for taking the time out to do the interview.  I love his works and he is an author that I highly recommend. If you have not had the chance to read any of his works, you can join me as I re-read The Iron Druid Chronicles and The Plague of Giants.

Always Shine!


Featured Post: Series to Complete- Jasper Dent

This is a series that my nephew told me about.  I read the first one  a long time ago, but I remember really enjoying it. I didn’t continue with the series because I had to wait for the next two books to come out.  But, now that I own all three I will be reading this series in the next couple of months.

This series is about a kid who’s father is a serial killer. Everyone looks at him as if he is going to be a serial killer, and Jasper carries that fear with him. When a new serial killer is discovered, Jasper gets involved to clear his name.

I’ve Read:

I Hunt Killers (Jasper Dent, #1)

Click image for Goodreads Summary.

I still need to read:

Game (Jasper Dent, #2)

Blood of My Blood (Jasper Dent, #3)

Have you read this series? If so, should I move this trilogy to the top of my pile?

Always Shine!

Feature Post: Books Similar to Dear Martin

This month’s featured book is Dear Martin by Nic Stone. I have already shared my thoughts about this book. While I thought that the book needs a lot of work, I also believe it is an important book to read. I think that it is a great way to get the conversation started. To continue the conversation, I have found books that were similar to Dear Martin in content. I have not read these books yet, but I do plan to get to them before the year is out.  I will be sure to share my thoughts here about each one.

How It Went Down

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon 

October 21, 2014 -Henry Holt and Co

In this story, 16 year old Tariq Johnson is killed by two gunshot wounds. Tariq is black and the shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.  This is written from the perspective of the community trying to understand what happened.  (Goodreads Summary paraphrased by me. )

All American Boys

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely 

September 29, 2015 –  Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Book

Rashad is a black student, who is known for his graffiti art, is accused of stealing. He is brutally beat by a police officer. Quinn, a white student and the best friend of the cop’s younger brother witnesses this. Quinn has to decide what to do when the story is bogged down and twisted with various opinions and agendas. (Goodreads summary paraphrased by me. )

The Hate U Give

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas 

February 28, 2017 – Balzer + Bray

Starr Carter is 16 and attends a fancy prep school while living in a poor neighborhood.  She has to balance these two worlds, and this becomes even more difficult when her friend Khalil is fatally shot by the police. This makes national headlines and upsets her local community.

Again, I haven’t read any of these books. But I am interested in them, interested in what they say and the perspective that they share. Dear Martin is not original in the subject matter that it tackles, but it is part of the conversation that we all need to participate in.

Featured Review Post: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Dear Martin

Dear Martin by Nic Stone 

October 17, 2017 – Crown Books for Young Readers

Purpose: Review, Black Writers Matter

Source: Publisher, by request

I was given a copy of this, free, in exchange for my honest opinion. 

2 Stars 

Goodreads Summary 

I have a lot of feelings about this book, I requested it because I knew that this was going to be an important book. I still believe that this book is an important book and I would still recommend that people read this, be a part of the conversation. was

Initially, when I finished reading this book my instinct was to separate my feelings from the review of the book. At that point, my rating was 4 stars.  I wanted to do this because I felt that my reaction to the book was not being fair to the intent of the book. I wrote out a review that stood in contrast to my reaction. A small part of this is simply because I felt bad, and uncomfortable. After the warm welcoming of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas,  Dear Martin will either be rolled into this avalanche of praise or it will be rejected as a knock off.  I’ve already seen positive reviews of this book, and I can understand it. But, in truth, I think this book is very one-sided and slanted which makes it very dangerous.

I know and believe that the author has every right to write the book any way that she wants to, especially since it is a work of fiction.  I think it is dangerous because of the times we are living in today. The racial climate is tense, divisive at best and simmering at worst.  Now that I have made all of those disclaimers, on to the review. (I am going to bypass talking about what the book is about, if you don’t know you can click the Goodreads link.)

Justyce is the main character, and he is someone who doesn’t fit in completely at school or in his neighborhood. In his neighborhood, he is rejected because of the school that he attends- a private school usually reserved for the well off. In fact he lives on campus and occasionally comes home. He doesn’t fit in at school, because he is one of the few black students in a predominately white school, and I believe that he is there on scholarship.

There is a lot of discussion about race, thanks to the socio-something class that they are in, the only class that they attend since they never seem to go anywhere else.  There is also the fact that friendships are also racially charged, and up until the ending you’re convinced that most of them were for social reasons.  I think that it’s great that the book is dripping with all of the racial discussions; how race plays into friendships, how race plays into the police interactions, how race affects education etc….  All of these things are important and worthy to be discussed. My issue with the discussion is that they are one-sided. Even the opinions and thoughts that were supposed to come from the white characters sounded as if it was what a black person thinks a white person would say.

Friendships in this book came in all varieties. Some got more attention than others. Some were better developed than others. As someone who grew up being the only black person in groups of white people, almost everywhere I went, I have a problem with the friendship between Manny and Jared.  See, being one in minority in a group it is easy to know who is your real friend and who isn’t. You learn the ins and outs of that person and where you stand with them. It seems that Manny and Jared were friends for a long time, long enough for Manny to know that Jared was or wasn’t the real deal. I get that we weren’t supposed to know that in the beginning. But, it appears that even Manny doesn’t know it. He was easily persuaded by Jus, when in reality Jus is an outsider to Manny and Jared’s friendship.

I wanted to like the relationship between Jus an SJ, I really do. But in truth, this is a relationship that is filled with issues that should have been worked out beforehand for it to be successful. I was optimistic about it, until a comment SJ made at the end.

These are the most glaring issues that I have with this book. The rest are mine and can be summarized with me saying that I wanted more.  There wasn’t enough to fully flesh out the discussions or the relationships. Everything stayed just around the surface, and I wished that Stone had dug just a bit deeper.

While this book is excellent as a conversation -starter, it shouldn’t be the only book read for this purpose. This book is like trying to build a bridge. Instead of both sides working together, it’s one side building on one side and then running to other side to work on it. That’s a lot of work for one side to do, and it’s not fair. This book is dismissing those from the other side who is willing to together to build the bridge. The racial issues may have begun from the wrongs of one side, but it continues and perpetuated by both sides.

And before someone comments about how I just don’t understand- I am black and I am in an interracial relationship. I get it. Jus’s story highlights issues that are way too common and is a story that is hauntingly familiar. It is one that hits too close to home, one that must be told.  But this is not the overall black experience, and cannot be viewed as such.  But it is also a story that can’t be dismissed. While I am not sure of the author’s intent and I would not dare say that she was attempting to reveal what’s behind the curtain of the black experience. I will say that this is a great way to begin discussing issues and thoughts. I think it’s a great tool to use to be reflective of our own ideals and beliefs.

Honestly, I am not sure if I was clear with all of my thoughts. I enjoyed this book, I think being inside of Jus’s head gave the story a unique perspective with its own set of challenges and limitations. But, even so I found that it wasn’t an original story and it left me wanting more – so much more. But it also made me feel a lot of different things while reading it and that shouldn’t be discounted.  I think in the moment, people are going to feel a lot and that may cloud their judgment of the book in both positive and negative ways. But we can’t stay there in those moments. It’s not healthy or productive. I know that the feelings that stayed with me were the strongest feelings that I had while reading. I had issues, but I also enjoyed the story. Maybe it was because of the seeking, or the desire of Jus’s to understand and to grow.  Whether you agree or disagree, like this book or hate it. I hope you see how important  this book is.

Always Shine!

Featured Post: Supplemental Materials

I was hoping to have actual trade books read to recommend this month,, but that did not happen.  So for this post, I want to talk about a couple of items that I’ve had a chance to look at and will be using in my homeschooling adventures.


The Scary States of America

The Scarey States of America by Michael Teitelbaum 

July 24, 2007 – Delacorte Books for Young Readers

I found this at the annual clearance sale that Half Price Books puts on.  I picked this up because I came up with a great way to use this to teach local geography. There’s a story about something weird or scary for every state in the US. Instead of using  only a map to learn the US geography, I thought that learning a local tale would make learning the states a little more interesting. While I haven’t read all of the stories, I have an idea for a game. (When that is finalized, I’ll be glad to share it. )


Discovery Kids Travel Through the Amazing World of Wild Animals: Discover the Facts! Do the Activities!

Discovery Kids Travel Through the Amazing World of Wild Animals: Discover the Facts! Do the Activities!

This is just one of the many books on many different topics that Discovery Kids has available. There’s a factivity book for Dinosaurs, Space  and loads of other topics.  For this particular book, the pictures are fun and engaging. The activities are simple but relevant and fun.  I do plan on getting more of these books, I found this one at Ollie’s, a local bargain store.


Do you have any supplemental materials that you have come to love or have unexpectedly encountered?

Always Shine!