Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Using Power Words

As I was formatting the last round of Pass Or Pages posts, one comment in particular caught my eye. Agent Tricia Skinner noted on one of our entries that writers weren't ending their sentences with "power words." To see the example, check out this entry, comment TS2. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Well, as I was working on that post, I was mulling this idea over and over in my head. How could I use power words to my advantage?

Then I finished the post, and moved over to Scrivener to work on my WIP. As I was reading over the work I'd done the previous night, I realized that there was a perfect example (of what not to do!) right in my own writing! And because of Tricia's advice, I was able to fix the sentence to end on the power word. This is a great example, by the way, of how Pass Or Pages can help writers whether they write in the the featured category/genre or not. Let me show you how it helped me:

In my WIP, the main character hunts ghosts with her two friends. This brings her into the path of a boy she used to be best friends with, and the more she hunts ghosts, the more she sees him. Her friends encourage her to talk to him, so she finally works up the courage to send him a message. The night before this little scene, the MC and her friends tried contacting a ghost through a Ouija board, and the ghost laughed at them (in a scary way, not a cute way). That's all you need to know to understand this sentence:

I'm trying to emphasize that even though she hunts ghosts, talking to a boy she likes is way scarier for this character. This sentence ends with the qualifier "the night before." Is when the ghost laughed at her the important part? No, of course not. So I tweaked this sentence to end on the word that gives the sentence the most power:

It's such a little thing, but it makes a big difference. Using power words correctly to help your individual sentences have greater impact is definitely an advanced writing craft tool, but you can learn it and use it to your advantage. It just takes practice.

Do you have any examples of how you've edited to use a power word? I'd love to see them in the comments!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

THE WRITERS' BLOCK: Exercises for Overcoming a Creative Slump (#3: Favorite Scenes)

In this new series, Operation Awesome is providing exercises to help you break out of writer's block, or a creative slump. Too often, we get stuck with writer's block because we believe when the words don't flow organically, or when the sentences don't come out perfectly structured, or when the plot has holes, we've failed. Usually, it just means you're having an off day, and forcing yourself to write on these days can perpetuate the feeling of being stuck. It can really help to take a day off from writing, but that doesn't mean taking a day off from working on your book. These exercises will help you work on your book when you're not actually writing.

So, none of our exercises involve narrative writing, per se. Instead, they require you to think, daydream, talk to your characters, and CREATE. You can jot down notes as you go, or you can record yourself talking through the exercises, or you can keep everything in your head.

For Exercise #3, we're going to focus on FAVORITE SCENES. You know how there are certain scenes in books and movies that you read/watch over and over? They're so beautifully portrayed, or tons of fun, or they evoke an emotional response, or all of the above. Creating great scenes that keep readers turning the pages is a big part of writing, one that can take years to perfect.

But The Writers' Block isn't about craft - it's about brainstorming. So take paper and a pen, or your computer, set a timer for 20-30 minutes, and brainstorm at least ten scenes you want to see in your book. You can use a basic outline you might already have for your novel, or you can start from scratch. The main rule for this exercise is to brainstorm big, colorful, significant scenes. Nothing is off-limits here... do you want to send your main character to the circus? Into outer space, even though it's a contemporary romance? Do you want a scene where your characters get locked in a mall? Go crazy, knowing that all these scenes might not make it into the book.

Once you have your list of scenes, and you've eliminated the ones that you might write for fun, but might not end up in your book, put them in the order that makes the most sense. That might be chronological, or if you're planning a non-linear narrative, it might be the order that makes the most sense for character development.

Then, start thinking about how to flesh out the details between the ordered scenes. You'll likely need some transitions, some additional scenes, and to explore how your characters are getting from Point A to Point B.

Then, when you're ready, pick a scene, either starting from the beginning or choosing the one that seems the most fun, and start writing! The scene list is a great way to structure a brand-new story idea, but it can also help kick-start a project that has stalled.

Did you enjoy creating a scene list? What scenes did you add to your list from this brainstorming session that you might have never considered before?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Pass Or Pages September 2017 Entry Form

We are now accepting entries for Pass Or Pages! Before you enter, be sure to check out the rules. This month's round of Pass Or Pages is for Middle Grade Science-fiction and Fantasy novels. The entry window closes at 6pm Eastern time on Wednesday September 13th. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility!

Friday, September 8, 2017


I am not a fanfiction reader. For me, I'm content with the worlds the original author created, and don't have any interest in reading another person's spin on it. But there are lots of people who are passionate about fanfiction, and love that it allows them to stay in the story worlds that they adore, long after the final book has been published. And that it totally awesome!

What I have found that I like though, are books about the fanfiction community. I've only read two, but liked them both immensely:


I'm actually getting ready to read Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (sitting by my keyboard as I type this), which is based on a fanfiction story that Cath (the main character from Fangirl) wrote. I loved the snippets of Carry On that were shared in Fangirl, so I can't wait to dig into a novel inspired by fictional fanfiction. (okay, my brain is starting to hurt, lol!)

What are your opinions on fanfiction? Love it, dislike it, or write it?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

THE WRITERS' BLOCK: Exercises for Overcoming a Creative Slump (#2: Character Questionnaire)

In this new series, Operation Awesome is providing exercises to help you break out of writer's block, or a creative slump. Too often, we get stuck with writer's block because we believe when the words don't flow organically, or when the sentences don't come out perfectly structured, or when the plot has holes, we've failed. Usually, it just means you're having an off day, and forcing yourself to write on these days can perpetuate the feeling of being stuck. It can really help to take a day off from writing, but that doesn't mean taking a day off from working on your book. These exercises will help you work on your book when you're not actually writing.

So, none of our exercises involve narrative writing, per se. Instead, they require you to think, daydream, talk to your characters, and CREATE. You can jot down notes as you go, or you can record yourself talking through the exercises, or you can keep everything in your head.

For Exercise #2, we're going to focus on CHARACTERS. Specifically, getting to know your main character, the antagonist, the love interest, and any secondary characters you want, by using a Character Questionnaire. Examples of these questionnaires abound online, but you can keep this simple and see where your creativity goes with it. You won't use the bulk of the answers directly in your story itself, but knowing your characters well makes it easier to build fully-fleshed out people.

First, pick a character you want to get to know better. Use a notebook, think through the answers in your head, or talk to your character out loud (probably don't do the latter option in a public place). Ask your character the following questions, and see how much better you can get to know them!

1) Full name (including middle name, maiden name, aliases, etc.) Have you looked up the meaning of your character's name? This can also help inform personality traits.

2) Birthday. Have you looked up the astrological meaning of your character's birthday? This can also be an interesting way to add personality and life events.

3) Where has your character lived? One place? Many places? If many, why did they move? How did your character react to moving?

4) Family/upbringing: Two parents? One? None? Siblings? Other relatives that lived in the house when your character was a child? Pets? How did everyone get along? Were they rich/poor/in-between? Were the parents strict, easygoing, loving, neglectful?

5) School: What level of education did you character achieve? Were they an attentive student? Did they enjoy studying or hate it? What were their favorite subjects? Extracurricular activities? Did they have a lot of friends or were they a loner? What significant events happened during your character's school years?

6) Friends: Who were your character's friends as a child? Are they still friends? If not, why not?

7) Love interests: Did you character have relationships as a teenager? What happened to them? What is your character's current relationship status? Ever been divorced? Ever had their heart broken? Ever broken someone else's heart?

8) Travel: Did your character get to go to many different places? If so, why (business trips, vacations, moving, etc.)? If not, why not (money, etc.)?

9) Careers: What kinds of work has your character done? Are they lucrative? Did they enjoy them? Are they respected at their job? Did anything significant happen at these jobs?

10) Fears: What does your character most fear? Have they told anyone? What does this fear stem from? Does the fear impact how they live their life?

11) Hopes: What does your character want out of life? Have they told anyone? What are they doing to accomplish these things?

12) Physical appearance: What does your character look like? Hair color, eye color, skin tone, height, build, and also things like notable scars, tattoos, piercings, etc. Are they athletic? Clumsy? Graceful? Do you picture a celebrity or someone you know when you picture your character?

13) Voice: What does your character sound like? Do they have any notable auditory characteristics, like a barking laugh or a beautiful singing voice?

14) Social: Is your character an introvert, and extravert, or somewhere in between? How do they react in social situations? Would they rather go to parties or read at home?

15) Children: Does your character have children? Want children? Hate children?

16) Hobbies: What does your character like to do when not working?

17) Food and Drink: What are your character's favorite foods and drinks? Least favorite? Are there any memories attached to these preferences?

18) Music, movies, TV shows: What are your character's preferences for entertainment?

That's enough to start with. Have fun interviewing your character and try to apply what you've learned about them to their story!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Meet Nick Wilford in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Black & White: Book One of the Black & White Trilogy

1- What's your favorite bit of random trivia right now?

I really like the idea of “witch bottles”, which were featured in Sean McLachlan’s story in the recent IWSG anthology. An old bit of European folklore, they were ceramic bottles with the face of an old, bearded man carved into them that were said to capture witches’ spirits. I’d never heard of them before and was fascinated.

Cool fact! My favorite bit of random trivia is knowing that TODAY is National Read a Book Day!
And Friday is International Literacy Day.

Celebrare #ReadaBookDay and #LiteracyDay #ILD with Operation Awesome! Share this image to remind everyone.

2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words

Loyal, patient, hardworking, creative, kind

3- Have you ever used the thesaurus to find a "smaller version" of a "big" word?

I can’t remember doing this, but I should try it. I have a tendency to use needlessly elaborate words if left unchecked!

4- What's your favorite part of the #atozchallenge for bloggers?

Definitely getting to know a whole host of new and wonderful bloggers and learning about all sorts of things that I knew nothing about, as well as hopefully making long-term connections.

5- What ignited your passion for writing?

I dabbled in writing at school, penning short plays and sketches for the drama club, and joined a journalism group at college (16-18), but it wasn’t until I travelled round the world at 21 while keeping a journal that I decided to be a writer. That’s when my eyes were opened to all the stories and characters that are out there.

6- You joined the IWSG in May 2014. How has that impacted your writing and helped you as an author?

It’s impacted my writing immeasurably. Offloading problems and issues to do with my writing is not something I want to be doing all the time, so it’s a great to have a space that’s dedicated to that. The comments always pep me up and I’ve put the advice received into action many a time.

7- What's your favorite invention from the past two years?

That’s a tough one. I’m a bit of a Luddite and not too up on modern technology!

8- Would you share a picture with us of your dogs?
Meet Nick Wilford and his dogs in this Debut Author Spotlight

With five of them, you can imagine it’s hard to get them all in one place for a photo, so how about a nice collage? As you can see, they like to snuggle. L-R: Pippa, Rudi, Tobi, Charlie, Benji (that’s also the order we got them).

9- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

Short-term – finish writing, editing and publishing my trilogy.

Long-term – work on some of the other ideas I’ve had piling up. This series has occupied a great deal of my attention over the past five years, and while it’s a lot of fun spending time in that world, I’m ready to tackle my next big project! Eventually, I’d love to go back to my roots and have a go at some form of screenwriting, whether that would be a movie or a serial. A lot of research required, but I’d enjoy it.

10- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

I’d have to say my biggest fan is Kyra Lennon, an awesome author who I first met in the A-Z Challenge back in April 2012. She’s critiqued nearly everything I’ve written and of my current series, she says: “I found myself drawn in every time I picked it up. The characterisation is exceptional - very strong characters with distinct voices.” Thanks, mate!

11- Would you please tell us more about your campaign to get a dedicated specialist college built in Scotland?

That campaign was started to help my stepson Andrew, who had cerebral palsy. He was leaving school and there just wasn’t a higher education facility in Scotland that could give him the dedicated, one-on-one attention he needed to thrive, as well as the specialist equipment required. If we hadn’t fought for him, he would have attended a mainstream college where he would have just been on the fringes of the system and actually doing things that were going backward in terms of his development – the most exciting thing they offered was making collages. Andrew had secured a place at a fantastic specialist college in the north-east of England, with state-of-the-art equipment, where he was set to study film editing.

Unfortunately, he passed away in November 2013, before he had a chance to start. It took the wind out of our sails and our focus shifted, but we always advocate for those with disabilities whenever we get a chance.

12- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

I hope my book will inspire a feeling of empathy. My world is “the haves and the have-nots” taken to the extreme, and when the two young protagonists visit the society of the “have-nots” they see things that are the complete opposite of everything they’ve experienced. I also hope the reader will root for them to make things right.

13- Will you try your hand at song writing in the future?

Never say never. The lyrics were pretty much the worst kind of teenage poetry. I would probably do something with much more of a narrative now!

14- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

I have to say, soaking up the amazing amount of knowledge from all the other writers I’ve met. Before I started blogging, the number of writers I knew was zero. It’s a game-changer, for sure!

15- #DiversityBingo2017 Which squares does your book cover on the card?

That’s a pretty neat thing. Now I want to read more books that cover these categories.
I’m kind of sorely lacking, but I do have an immigrant or refugee MC!

16- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

My character Ezmerelda is very level-headed and sensible, but given to bursts of emotion when it comes to something she feels strongly about.

17- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

It’s not the cover – I’m not a massively visual person, although of course it’s good to have something nice to look at. A blurb that offers something new that I haven’t seen before will invariably hook me in.

18- What do you think is the most underrated book of all time?

A few years ago, my family were in a project where we received ARCs of books aimed at school-age children. The best one was Mavis’s Shoe by Sue Reid Sexton, set in the Clydebank Blitz in Glasgow in 1941. Told from the perspective of a girl who survives the bombing and then finds a shoe belonging to her younger sister, the rest of the book consists of her never-ending efforts to find her. Never less than engaging, the narration is spot on, and it’s a human story that I can’t imagine anyone not being able to relate to. But only three Amazon reviews! Many more need to read this.

19- How will you measure your publishing performance?

Of course I’d like to reach a lot of readers, but I don’t measure success in terms of numbers. You have no way of knowing when someone might get round to reading your book after buying it. If a review tells me that I’ve made a positive impression on at least one other person, or made them think differently, I’ve done my job.

20- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I’ve been self-published so far but I’m considering targeting small presses in future. Having total creative control and being able to publish pretty much anything, in any shape or format, is pretty sweet.
Unless Lorax EcoWarrior

21- UNLESS -- Could you give us one eco-warrior tip?

A pretty simple one, but not taking the car for short trips. Too many people do this in my town, driving to the shops or to take their kids to school even though these places are five minutes’ walk away. If billions of people followed this tip, it would make a massive difference.

22- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

Imagine you had a hidden talent you were yet to discover. Ideally, what would that talent be, and what would you do with it?

23- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Black & White

Meet Nick Wilford, author of Black & White, in this Debut Author Spotlight

What is the price paid for the creation of a perfect society?

In Whitopolis, a gleamingly white city of the future where illness has been eradicated, shock waves run through the populace when a bedraggled, dirt-stricken boy materialises in the main street. Led by government propaganda, most citizens shun him as a demon, except for Wellesbury Noon – a high school student the same age as the boy.

Upon befriending the boy, Wellesbury feels a connection that he can’t explain – as well as discovering that his new friend comes from a land that is stricken by disease and only has two weeks to live. Why do he and a girl named Ezmerelda Dontible appear to be the only ones who want to help?

As they dig deeper, everything they know is turned on its head – and a race to save one boy becomes a struggle to redeem humanity.


Meet Nick Wilford in this Debut Author Spotlight

Nick Wilford is a writer and stay-at-home dad. Once a journalist, he now makes use of those early morning times when the house is quiet to explore the realms of fiction, with a little freelance editing and formatting thrown in. When not working he can usually be found spending time with his family or cleaning something.



Amazon USA Black & White
Amazon UK

Black & White: Book One of the Black & White Trilogy

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


Today is an exciting day! My CP, Laura Heffernan, has a new book out! It's the second book in her Reality Star series, and you should DEFINITELY read it!


Jen Reid's life after walking off a reality show has been great--she's gone from being a broke twenty-four-year-old Seattleite with no love life and no job to the twenty-five-year-old who got the guy, moved to Miami, and is starting a bakery with her best friend. She thinks her showmance love might be about to propose. And with mouthwatering goodies based on everyone's favorite shows, her business, Sweet Reality, is destined for success.

That is, until a killer competitor opens right across the street. If she's going to save Sweet Reality, Jen has to come up with a secret ingredient--like the recipe that won Totally 80s Bake-Off. Jen can get it--if she steps back into the spotlight. Soon she and her boyfriend are out to sea on a cruise ship full of reality stars, including her nemesis, Ariana; her lying, cheating ex; and some wicked producers looking to bring the drama. Separate cabins, "surprises" from her past, and scenarios tailor-made to spark fights are just the beginning. But with her self-respect, her business, and her future on the line, the fallout from this made-for-TV plotline will be all too real . . .

SWEET REALITY got a 4-star review from RT Book Reviews!

Enter the giveaway for a $20 Amazon Giftcard (which you should totally use to buy Laura's book!)

Buy Sweet Reality on Amazon by clicking here!

About the Author

Laura Heffernan is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off. When not watching total strangers get married, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, helping with writing contests, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the Northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.

Connect with Laura

Newsletter Sign Up: http://bit.ly/2tXagfL

Facebook Author Page: http://bit.ly/2s3Cq7J

Goodreads Author Page: http://bit.ly/2sySwcP

Twitter: http://bit.ly/2tCbFsT

Instagram: http://bit.ly/2wEDilT

Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/2sJNQz8

BookBub Author Page: http://bit.ly/2umbMwF

Monday, September 4, 2017

September 2017 Pass Or Pages Agent Panel

Meet the agents who will critique your Middle Grade Science-fiction and Fantasy entries!

Emily S. Keyes joined Fuse Literary in 2013 after working as an agent at the L. Perkins Agency for 2 years. Before entering the world of agenting, she worked in the contracts department of Simon & Schuster, Inc and graduated from New York University’s Center for Publishing. She uses her knowledge of contracts, copyright and the publishing business to benefit her clients and the Fuse team.

Emily is a particular lover of all types of young adult and middle grade books. She wants to represent the kind of stories that will resonate with kids for the rest of their lives. She loves strong voices and unique characters, not knock-offs or trend chasers. Some of her favorite authors include Deb Caletti, Laurie Halse Anderson, Gary D. Schmidt, and Megan Whalen Turner. She thinks books are best when they make you laugh but have a lot of heart.

Emily is currently closed to queries, but is open to requesting work from Pass Or Pages entries that catch her eye!

Meg LaTorre-Snyder likes to think of herself as an avid book nerd with an exceptional taste for mac and cheese. She is an editor, writer, as well as a literary agent apprentice at the Corvisiero Literary Agency.

Currently, Meg is open to unsolicited submissions in the following age groups and genres: YA/NA/A fantasy, historical fiction, romance (with magical elements), space opera, steam punk, and thrillers (with magical elements).

Please be aware: For now, Meg will limit the MG manuscripts she considers for representation to those pitched to her at conferences or through Twitter/blog contests. (To view upcoming conferences Meg will be attending/taking pitches at, click here.)

To learn more about Meg, visit her bio on CLA's website:

Before joining the L. Perkins Agency, Ben worked all over the publishing industry. He started out at a small publishing company in Salt Lake City and proceeded to do internships at three literary agencies before his most recent position as the assistant at JABberwocky Literary Agency. He decided he wanted to be an agent after his first internship, and is excited to start actively pursing clients.

His tastes gravitate towards middle grade fiction of all types, and is particularly on the lookout for exceptional author-illustrators who write middle grade or young adult. He has a penchant for young adult science fiction and fantasy, particularly weird or slightly dark stories (à la The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater). Thanks to his time at JABberwocky, he loves epic fantasy and science fiction, and although his focus is on middle grade and young adult, he won't say no to a great fantasy or sci-fi. He is also interested in pop culture non-fiction for authors with established platforms.

Details for September 2017 Pass or Pages:

Entry starts: Monday, September 11th, 2017, at 6 a.m. Eastern
Ends: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017 at 6 p.m. Eastern
Category/Genre: Middle Grade Sci-fi/Fantasy
How To Enter: Fill out the entry form on the contest post when it goes live.
What Is Required: Your query (NO BIO or personalization for agents), your first 250 words, a complete and polished MS.

You can also read more about the rules here.

The winning entries with agent commentary will be posted on Operation Awesome the week of September 25th, one entry each day. If you aren't comfortable with having your entry (which will be anonymous) shared on the blog, please don't enter Pass or Pages!

If you have any questions, please ask in the comments or tweet @OpAwesome6. Also, feel free to chat about the contest with fellow participants on the hashtag #PassOrPages.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Flash Fiction Contest #35

In honor of Labor Day in the US (can I hear a woot-woot for a 3 day weekend?!), write 50 words describing someone working. Any type of jobs apply: office work, manual labor, etc. Deadline is Sunday 09/03 at noon, with the winner announced later that evening. Rules can be found here.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

THE WRITERS' BLOCK: Exercises for Overcoming a Creative Slump (#1: Setting the Scene)

In this new series, Operation Awesome is providing exercises to help you break out of writer's block, or a creative slump. Too often, we get stuck with writer's block because we believe when the words don't flow organically, or when the sentences don't come out perfectly structured, or when the plot has holes, we've failed. Usually, it just means you're having an off day, and forcing yourself to write on these days can perpetuate the feeling of being stuck. It can really help to take a day off from writing, but that doesn't mean taking a day off from working on your book. These exercises will help you work on your book when you're not actually writing.

So, none of our exercises involve narrative writing, per se. Instead, they require you to think, daydream, talk to your characters, and CREATE. You can jot down notes as you go, or you can record yourself talking through the exercises, or you can keep everything in your head.

For Exercise #1, we're going to focus on SETTING. A great setting engages all the readers' senses, and more. It's of course important to create a rich visual setting, but don't forget all the other senses while you're at it. And go the next step: think about the emotional (and sometimes even physical) impact the setting has on your characters.

Close your eyes, or go into a dark, quiet room, and put yourself into the setting of your story world, or any given scene from your novel. Can you describe your story world in terms of all five senses, along with the emotional impact on your characters?

VISION: What colors permeate your world? What objects are situated around the landscape? Are you outdoors or indoors? Are there natural or manmade structures? Are there plants, animals, other people? What do the other people look like? What kinds of clothes do they wear? Does your main character find the land beautiful, the people attractive, or the opposite?

HEARING: Setting aside the characters' voices, what other sounds exist in your world? Birds chirping, leaves fluttering, typewriters clacking, bedsheets rustling, TVs droning, machines whirring? Sometimes, authors get so caught up with visual description, they neglect to show the auditory richness of their story. Close your eyes and listen to your world.

TOUCH: Is the setting cold, hot, rainy, snowy, or a combination? Is the air thick with humidity, or does the wind move your characters' hair? If your character runs her fingers through the grass, are the blades stiff, pliant, wet, or sticky? When your character kisses his love interest for the first time, do their lips feel soft, slick, chapped, or dry? We are incredibly tactile creatures, so don't forget to take advantage of that when imagining your world.

SMELL: Odors can be very powerful, both the delicious ones and the disgusting ones. Bread baking, freshly-mown grass, and burning incense can all evoke positive thoughts and emotions. Smells like garbage, dead animals, and spoiled milk can all do the opposite. Play with what your world smells like.

TASTE: This is probably the least utilized sense in writing, but it can work for you. When your character bites into a steak, how is that taste different from biting into a chocolate bar? What about your character tasting her first-ever alcoholic drink - remember what that tasted like? What about a vile, disgusting taste - spoiled food, or something like Marmite that many people don't enjoy?

EMOTION: Does the setting evoke memories? Sense memories (such as hearing an old song, smelling bread baking, etc.) can be powerfully evocative. Does some aspect of the setting evoke strong emotions in your characters, whether it's anger, sadness, happiness, etc.? Does it drive them to action?

How'd it go? Were you able to better actualize your story setting?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Meet Mark J. Engels in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Always Gray in Winter

1- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words

Sojourner. Husband. Father. Railroader. Otaku.

2- Can you share a story from your life that shows who you are as a person and why you are a writer?

I live an obsessed life.

At an early age, trains became my focus to the exclusion of everything else. I wanted to know everything about them, be around them, planned to work with them when I grew up. In my teens I came to feel likewise about anime, manga and anthropomorphics. My fellow otaku and I played table-top roleplaying games throughout university where I studied computer technology and electronics. After earning my bachelor's, I got married, chose railroading as my career, started a family.

Decades later working night shift testing signal systems on a rail transit job site, my book's main character showed up, slashing away at my subconscious. I tossed and turned all day long at the hotel trying to ignore her. But Pawly makes a *very* convincing argument with fangs and claws, and she wanted out of my head. Weeks later, I caved and began writing.

A few years later now and my first book is published. My series outline, detailing travails of three generations of Pawly's family from the height of the Cold War to the present day, suggests I'll need two more books to tell their stories. Maybe three? The same obsession drives me--share Pawly's tale with the world. She deserves to have it told.

When I finish in the next couple of years, I'll gladly go on with life and obsess over something else. I'll have accomplished what I set out to do. And I'll encourage my son to do the same.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

I wanted to tell stories about things I'm knowledgeable in or excited about. Something that works me so much that I can't help but share with others. That's why I wrote fan fiction for various anime, manga and anthropomorphic comics beginning in the late 90s. I came into the fandoms too late for the APAs, but oh, there was Usenet! With small, supportive communities of raving fans who dug the same things I did, wrote things I enjoyed reading, and enjoyed the things that I wrote too. Fun times. I did not write often, though, as I really had to feel the burn before I did. That the creators left money on the table, rolling the credits on the series finale before telling us the "whole story." Or not tilling what I thought fertile ground in "the space between", the months' or years' worth of time skips. Where I felt so moved and saw gaps I wanted to see filled, I set out to do just that.

The trend continued as I began writing articles for railroad and rail transit industry trade publications, focusing on my specialty--signal & communications systems design, construction, testing and maintenance. Having been a train buff since my boyhood and an electronics geek since my dad convinced my mom I could wield a soldering iron without burning the house down, I was once again writing about topics I knew about, enjoyed immensely, and wanted to share with others. The fiction bug struck again on a job site back in 2013 in the form of Pawly. And you know the rest already.

4- What's one fact about furries that people should know?

We're a large and diverse group. Including many intelligent, creative, enjoyable people.

5- Would you share a picture with us of your book with your dog?

Meet Mark J. Engels in this Debut Author Spotlight

6- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

I'm writing the next book of my werecat family saga series now and should finish around New Year's. My series outline suggests I'll need at least three books to tell all the stories I wanted to about Pawly and her family, going back three generations to the height of the Cold War. Might go four if resolving all my plot threads bloats the third book's word count significantly above genre expectations. I plan a year or so to draft each book; I'll be switching back and forth between it and editing its predecessor. So all Pawly's stories should be out to market within the next three or four years.

What then? Who knows. To quote fellow author Hannah R. Miller's Twitter profile "I didn't write these stories to become an author. I became an author to tell these stories." (@HRuthMiller) After I "green off" all the lines in my series outline, assuring me I've told the whole story I set out to tell, I have no idea what I'll do next. Aside from enjoying a long rest, that is. Because I don't have the urge to write, per se. I *do* have the urge to tell the stories within my heart to tell. Will I hit upon another one I want to tell every bit as much as this? Will I venture forth into other storytelling mediums, such as webcomics or graphic novels? Hard to say. Guess we'll all have to wait and see.

7- Are you a Green Bay Packers fan?

Not particularly, no. I cite the fact that I'm a Sconnie transplant, born and raised in the Detroit area. I'm not all that interested in most professional sports, either. Football, baseball, basketball all earn a "meh" from me. Now ice hockey, though, well that's a whole 'nuther story. Two words--GO WINGS!

8- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

Oh, geez, answering that's like asking a parent with a house full of kids which one they love the most. Or someone with a lot of pets just which is their favorite. I'm fortunate to have a number of supporters and caregivers, including those who do me the honor of allowing me to support them in their creative endeavors--as they have mine. When I put this question to them, they credited me with having fully developed characters, gripping backstory, detailed and well-researched settings along with heart-stopping action sequences. About fell over when one woman shared she felt compelled to take her laptop along on a family Fourth of July fireworks outing, just so she could finish reading my story's climax.

One in particular I'd like to recognize is the fellow who did most of the substantive editing on my book for Thurston Howl Publications. He goes by Hypetaph on Twitter but is listed as "C. L. Methvin" in my novel's Acknowledgements page. Though THP's founder and editor-in-chief Jonathan Thurston told me he'd stayed up the whole night reading to the end of my book before sending his offer letter, he was quick to point out Hype has been my most avid supporter in-house. That came as no surprise, given how he frequently said how much he loved my book as we worked through the edits. Which was quite affirming indeed. In answer to your latter question, he writes:

"If I had to choose anything, it would be Pawly's conviction in what she does. While I won't spoil too much in my answer for a prospective reader, her decisions are tough to make, but she makes the hard choices at the benefit of others and sticks with them. She receives a lot of questions, confusion, and criticism for the decisions she makes, but that does not stop her from defending their intentions. She is a strong woman (both characteristically and physically because, duh, she's a werecat), and I'm always appreciative of a powerful female protagonist."

And my other supporters agree, complimenting me on depicting Pawly's clarity. She navigates through doubts and despair with a kind of realism I'm told makes the rest of the worldbuilding feel so much more legitimate.

9- Your Twitter feed has several tweets about the importance of book reviews.
#LeadByExample About how often do you leave a review for the books you've read?

The landslide majority of books I've read recently have been from self-pubbers or small presses. I've made it a point to review every one of those on Amazon and tweet about them afterward. Soon I'll go back and do likewise on Goodreads, because I hadn't set up an account until my own book was released. Plan to do likewise for the forseeable future. Aside from buying the book, leaving reviews in public forums is the single best way I know to help an author and their publisher (especially if it's themselves.)

I do, however, reserve the right *not* to review a book if it has hundreds of reviews already. Because what affirmation or criticism might I share that hasn't been a dozen or more times? Since I too read reviews before I buy, I find seeing so many off-putting for my buying the book in the first place. Though I suppose for books and their publishers, it might be something of a good problem to have...
#quote  Aside from buying the book, leaving reviews in public forums is the single best way I know to help an author -Mark J. Engels

10- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

Empathy, mainly. Empathy for flawed people who make rash decisions without a firm grasp on the facts. Who make judgements about reality and their place in it based upon their own biases, their own myopic points-of-view. Just like I'm wont to do, in fact.

I still cry at the end of Dory's visit to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. And if my readers do likewise? Well, sorry/not sorry.

11- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Two things tied for first, to my mind. First is being a member of a real-life writer's group (Allied Authors of Wisconsin). I'm grateful for my critique partners but they come from a somewhat niche group of speculative fiction writers and fans. Members of my real-life writer's group come from a wide variety of backgrounds spanning the writing spectrum: non-fiction, memoir, journalism in addition to genre fiction. They give me a well-rounded perspective that I wouldn't have been able to avail myself to otherwise.

The second I picked up as a recommendation from the Awesome Indies web site. While I debated whether to self-pub or seek out an agent/publisher, I reviewed their site to find a recommendation in their submission guidelines authors edit their work using the principles outlined in Browne & King's "Self Editing for Fiction Writers." I bought the book, read it, swore at it, swore at my manuscript, swore at myself. Then I sat down to fix All The Things. I'm confident my book improved immensely as a result. Or, at least, that's the delusion I labor under given how stinkin' LONG it took me to do so.

12- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

I can't say what will stick out in my readers's minds, but to me it was Hana's hair chewing. In both her human and tigrine forms.

13- #DiversityBingo2017 What's your favorite book that covers a square on the card?

ILAVANI, the first of Kaelan Rhywiol's "Ilavanian Dreams" series.

Though I'm excited too for my TBR list's latest addition: THE OTHER PLACE by Elizabeth Roderick.

14- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Hana, a weretigress and one of the main antagonists. She's waifish yet lethal.

15- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to potentially benefit hundreds of other authors or readers?

Believe in someone. Give them reason to believe in themselves. Reason to believe in their words. Offer a hand up and a shoulder to cry on to my fellow writers, regardless of where they are along their creative paths. Show my belief in tangible ways. Buy their books. Review their books. Plug their books. Demonstrate that yes, I have confidence in them. Show them they're worth my investment of time and money and energy and effort.

And then, maybe, they'll go forth and do the very same for others. Hundreds of others. Just like so many have already for me. (To all of you, "thank you.")

16- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

Is the book something like another book I'd read and enjoyed? Or is the book about something I want to learn more about? More and more, though, I buy a new book because I've met the author through social media or at a con. Or perhaps they're a friend of someone I have. After meeting them and becoming invested in them, I invest in their book. And get a great read out of the deal. What's not to like?

17- How will you measure your publishing performance?

I'd be lying if I didn't admit to stalking Sales Rank Express. That old line from "It's a Wonderful Life" about an angel getting its wings comes to mind every time I see a spike on the chart. A book's been sold! Someone else has placed their trust in me to tell a good story! Reviews are a measure how well I did just that, so both are important. And I'm glad for them all.

But the real success comes when I start getting emails and mentions from people I don't know telling me how the book impacted them. What impressions it left. Asking after the next one. Or strangers start showing up at my genre convention panel discussions and book signings to tell me themselves in person. I would have written the next books in my werecat family saga series anyway, if only to tell the story to myself. But if I finish this journey with a group of friends and fans bigger than when I began, I'll know my endeavors have been eminently worthwhile.

18- What was the deciding factor in your publication route with Thurston Howl Pub?

That THP serviced one of the primary market segments from which I intended to seek out my book's audience. They had also been around a couple of years by the time they offered too, suggesting they had staying power. They had published other shifter and furry books as well. I concluded my book fit well within their existing catalog. At the time they were soliciting submissions similar to my book, leading me to believe they planned to grow that part of their catalog too. And they have! Have made some great new friends from amongst my THP stablemates.

19- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

How can each us, as readers AND writers, help one another indentify and engage our books' respective audiences? Even if an author's book may not suit our particular individual interests or tastes, how can we get their book in front of the people we know who would LOVE it?

20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

A distant daughter. A peculiar device. A family lineage full of secrets. When were-lynx protagonist Pawlina Katczynski resurfaces, location previously unknown to those closest to her, her welcome is as frosty as a midwinter’s night. Follow Pawly though dark ops and ancient inter-clan feuds across three continents, trailing a secret device that could save her people from their lethal bloodlust—or doom them all. “Always Gray in Winter” is 180 pages of non-stop action and intrigue, perfect for anyone seeking a fast-paced read through a shadow society dwelling just beneath the surface of our own.


Boyhood interests in trains and electronics fostered Mark's career as an electrical engineer, designing and commissioning signal and communications systems for railroads and rail transit agencies across the United States. Along the way Mark indulged his writing desire by authoring articles for rail and transit industry trade magazines. Coupled with Mark's long-time membership in anime, manga and anthropomorphic fandoms, he took up writing genre fiction. Growing up in Michigan, never far from his beloved Great Lakes, Mark and his wife today make their home in Wisconsin with their son and a dog who naps beside him as he writes.

Mark is a member of Allied Authors of Wisconsin, one of the state's oldest writing collectives. He also belongs to the Furry Writer’s Guild, dedicated to supporting, informing, elevating, and promoting quality anthropomorphic fiction and its creators.

Social Media

Twitter= twitter.com/mj_engels
Facebook= facebook.com/mark.engels.39
DeviantArt= mjengels.deviantart.com
Website= mark-engels.com

Goodreads= goodreads.com/book/show/36008025-always-gray-in-winter

Always Gray in Winter

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

September Pass Or Pages Details

It's time to announce the category and genre of our last Pass Or Pages contest of the year! In September, Pass Or Pages will focus on Middle Grade Science-fiction and Fantasy. These are books for kids, not teens, and do not include chapter books or early readers.

Here are the important dates for this round:
September 4th: Agent panel announcement
September 11th-13th: Entry window (via a form here on our blog)
September 25th-29th: Feedback reveals!

For a recap of the rules and links to previous rounds, click here.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Short Story Submissions

Do you have a couple of short stories hanging around that you don't know what to do with? Or feel like writing one within the next several months?

Jaylee James is accepting submissions for an anthology called Love & Bubbles, which mixes romance with under-the-sea.

And Writer's Digest has their annual Short Story Competition underway. There is an entry fee of $25 (or $20 if you register by the early bird deadline), but if you win, you could come away with $3 grand!! Not too shabby...

For more information and the rules, check out these links:

Love & Bubbles
Writer's Digest

P.S. I've previously worked with Jaylee James when my short story, Prina & the Pea, was accepted in a another anthology of hers, Circuits & Slippers. She was super nice, and very professional!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Didn't Make it Into Pitch Wars? Here's What To Do Next

The mentor/mentee pairings for this year's Pitch Wars will be announced tomorrow. Through the grapevine, I've heard that over 3000 writers entered this year, competing for between 200-250 slots. Those are tough odds, and it means a whole lot of talented writers with excellent books won't be getting in.

So if you're one of the 2500+ who don't make it into Pitch Wars, what do you do next? Here are some ideas:

1) Take a day or two to resign yourself to the rejection, if you need to. There's nothing wrong with feeling upset about not getting in. Take some time away from Twitter, if it hurts to see everyone celebrating. But don't unfollow mentors and mentees - you can mute them for a while if it's tough to see them pop up on your stream, but they're all good professional connections to keep. And don't forget to congratulate any of your critique partners, Twitter friends, or real-life friends who may have gotten in. You'd want them to do the same for you, right?

2) Once you feel up to it, collect the feedback you may have gotten from the mentors you submitted to. Figure out if/how to incorporate this feedback into your manuscript.

3) If you didn't get any feedback, or you feel you want more, find a few new critique partners. The Pitch Wars Hopefuls Facebook groups are great for this, and you'll be able to find a lot of writers in your shoes on these groups. Exchange first chapters with a few people to see who might be a good fit. Then, exchange manuscripts and get as much feedback as you can.

4) Once you have a good pool of feedback, go through your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb and figure out how to incorporate it. This might mean changing your beginning, changing your ending, adding or deleting characters, changing the plot, etc. Be open to really changing your book, if you feel it will make it better! But remember, you don't HAVE to take all the feedback you're given. If more than one person has the same comment, that's a good indication you need to change that aspect of the book. But it's your book, and you get the final say.

5) After you've got a revised manuscript based on feedback and your own revisions, consider sending it to another one or two beta readers. Make sure the revisions work.

6) Once you can't revise any more, you can start querying agents. Or, you can enter any of the other upcoming contests (Operation Awesome's very own Pass or Pages in September, Pitch Slam in the early fall (http://pitchslamcontest.com/), #pitmad in early September and early December (http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitmad/) and many others).

There are many, many avenues to becoming an agented author. Pitch Wars is a great one, but it's not the only one. You took a huge step just for applying, and whether or not you make it in, you've got a lot of options ahead of you!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight and Giveaway

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

1- How's life been treating you lately?

Awesome! Thanks! Since stepping down as a regular contributor to Operation Awesome last year, I've been spending a lot of time writing short stories, working on my novels, homeschooling (a new adventure!) and reading slush at Flash Fiction Online.

A couple of my recent short story publications:
Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum
Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum
Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

2- With which Winnie the Pooh character do you most identify?
#Tigger image Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

Tigger. And not just because I'm constantly doing something, bouncing from one project to the next. Anyone who's watched The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh as much as I have (it was one of my kids' favorites when they were little) knows that the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is that I'm the only one, which is a good reminder for writers as well -- that no two people see the world in the same way, and each of us has unique stories to tell.

3- What's the best road trip you've ever been on?

I grew up taking frequent road trips, and now that I have kids of my own, I've been able to share that love with them as well. We've traveled everywhere from Canada to South Carolina, from the Atlantic Coast to Yellowstone National Park. In this next year, we'll be embarking on a trip to California, which is new territory for me.

With so many trips, I don't know that I'd be able to pick out one favorite one, but the trip we took earlier this year -- 4000 miles from Utah to the Midwest and back -- was quite epic. The variety of landscapes in the United States never ceases to amaze me.

(Question for the readers: How many of the places below can you identify?)

Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

4- What ignited your passion for writing?
When I grow up image Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

I've always been interested in writing. In fact, I recently happened across this document from when I was in the second grade about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I haven't written a set of 55 books yet, but I'm working on it!

My passion was re-ignited soon after my second son was born. Prior to that, I'd been working as a teacher and was a hobbyist photographer on the side. But with two kids under the age of two, it was difficult to find the time or energy to go out on excursions to take photos -- not to mention the extra hands needed to carry kids and photography equipment. When a local library ran a writing contest, I tried my hand at it and discovered that writing was just the creative outlet I was missing: something I could do from home, with the equipment I already had, while my kids were napping or in bed.

5- Would you share a picture with us of your book cover with a cup of tea?
#book and #coffee image Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

Can it be coffee? I'm personally a fan of both, but Elise, my main character in this book, is more of a coffee gal. As a professional time traveler, she spends a lot of time in the past, where it's not always so easy to find a good cup of joe, so when she's in the present, she takes advantage of any chance she can get to enjoy her favorite beverage.

6- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

Short-term, I'm working on drafting a new fantasy novel that explores some of the varied ocean-based mythology from around the world. I've also been working on revising some follow-up novellas that would follow different characters that we meet in THE CONTINUUM.

Long-term, I spend a lot of time in libraries and would love to have a whole shelf of books there with my name on them.

7- If you could only pick one, would you rather time travel to the past or the future?

The past. As the characters in THE CONTINUUM learn, knowing too much about the future can cause a lot of trouble. Plus, I'm a big history buff, so I'd love an opportunity to see some of the places and things that I've only been able to read about.
#timetravel image Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

8- #DiversityBingo2017 What's your favorite book that covers a square on the card?

SFF w/ Disabled MC - I recently read Mishell Baker's Borderline, and absolutely loved it. It was a different take on urban fantasy than what I'd read before, featuring a main character who's a double amputee with borderline personality disorder and a diverse cast of fascinating and complex side characters. The writing is sharp and clever, the plot pulled me right in, and I loved how it blended fantasy elements with the modern-day Hollywood film industry.

9- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

I'll admit, I'm a super picky reader. I've been known to check out an armload of books out of our local library, take them home, and only finish one or two of them. Once I've found an author whose books I enjoy, though, I eat them up like candy.

Things that always catch my eye: time travel (of course), unique fantasy elements, eerie and secluded settings, family secrets, and my favorite historical eras and events.

10- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

You can sign up for my newsletter HERE. I also use Facebook and Twitter to announce my latest news.

THE CONTINUUM will be released on January 23, 2018, but you can enter to win a free paperback Advanced Reader Copy at Goodreads from now until September 6. It's also being offered in a Sci-Fi Six Pack reward bundle as part of World Weaver Press's Kickstarted for a Solarpunk Anthology Translation. Check out the awesome deal HERE!
Solarpunk Anthology Translation

Genre: sci-fi time travel novella
Publisher: World Weaver Press
Release date: January 23, 2018

Book Description:

Elise Morley is an expert on the past who's about to get a crash course in the future.

For years, Elise has been donning corsets, sneaking into castles, and lying through her teeth to enforce the Place in Time Travel Agency's ten essential rules of time travel. Someone has to ensure that travel to the past isn't abused, and most days she welcomes the challenge of tracking down and retrieving clients who have run into trouble on their historical vacations.

But when a dangerous secret organization kidnaps her and coerces her into jumping to the future on a high-stakes assignment, she's got more to worry about than just the time-space continuum. For the first time ever, she's the one out-of-date, out of place, and quickly running out of time.
Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

Author Bio:

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she's left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Daily Science Fiction, Nature: Futures, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella, The Continuum, is forthcoming from World Weaver Press in January 2018.


Goodreads The Continuum

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Continuum by Wendy Nikel

The Continuum

by Wendy Nikel

Giveaway ends September 06, 2017.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

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