Kick Ass Girls of YA ~ Jacklyn Madison


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I was invited by my friend, Libby Heily, and her publisher, Fire and Ice YA Books, to participate in their Kick Ass Girls of YA Blog Hop. For this Blog Hop, I was encouraged to discuss a YA character close to my heart, either already existing, or one I’ve created. Having already discussed my love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer in previous blog posts, I figured it was a good time to introduce my own character, Jacklyn Madison, the main character of the manuscript I’m querying to agents as we speak, The Order of the Key.

Why is Jacklyn a kick ass girl? Well, for one, she kicks ass. Literally. After accidentally unlocking her long dormant Aegis, Jacklyn discovers she is a Body Key with supernatural strength, speed, senses, and healing. The leaders of the Order of the Key capitalize on her abilities by teaching her how to fight the inter-dimensional monsters they are sworn to defeat. Jacklyn quickly takes to her new superhero lifestyle and becomes a valuable member of her new group. Not only that, but she makes the group her own, working to make it a better place for everyone involved.

Self-esteem? Jacklyn’s got it, despite having been a geek with a bully problem. She’s an athlete, and her mother works nonstop, so she’s largely responsible for her younger brother and sister. Who has time to worry about what the kids at school think? She’s got things to do. And it’s not a problem anyway, because Jacklyn isn’t just tough, she’s fast-witted and sharp-tongued and she doesn’t intend to suffer any of your crap.

OK Media Pitch 1With all of this, what really makes her strong is her compassion. Jacklyn is torn by the fact that she must kill to protect humanity from inter-dimensionals. Not only that, but she quickly realizes she might have to kill members of the Order to protect the people she loves. Her younger brother and sister are her world, and she would do anything to help them grow into productive members of society, let alone to protect them.

Jacklyn Madison is kick ass, but not perfect. She’s got a temper. She’s prideful. She struggles to trust. And she can sometimes hide behind a good quip.

That’s why I love her. She possesses what I look for in all of my kick ass heroines–strength, but also humanity.

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If you’d like to know more about me, Jacklyn Madison and The Order of the Key, follow my blog or sign up for my mailing list, here.

To visit all the other blogs in the blog hop today, click here for a complete list. And for the chance to win some great books from Fire and Ice YA, click here to enter their Rafflecopter.

The Elusive Nature of Inspiration

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“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question I often get when I’m discussing the nature of my latest story, usually with a person who does not write. Any writer knows that writers don’t know where their ideas come from. In his writing book/memoir “On Writing,” Stephen King said, “There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

It’s true. We have no idea. However, we often remember our line of thinking when we’ve come up with some of our ideas. So where have some of mine come from? How different are their origins? Do some story elements come from different places? Let’s talk.

I’ve had stories arise from concepts I wanted to explore. The Order of the Key was about me trying to create a strong female hero from a geek who has been raised loving superhero media. Lucy Dies in the End was really solely about that concept–I literally just thought about the title and how cool it would be if Lucy herself was the one to say it. I’ve always been drawn to Greek mythology and Aphrodite in particular, which led to Never Say Never. My interest in past lives played into my ideas for the mystery behind Living in the Past.

I’ve had stories arise from dreams. Often when I have these, they play out before me like movies. Legally Insane was about a dream I had about a hidden relationship in a workplace. The present day tale in Living in the Past comes from a very vivid dream I had about a woman strongly connecting with a man and coming home with him, only to stumble into a mystery involving his son.

I’ve had stories arise from mundane reality. Like the lead character in The Order of the Key and Legally Insane, I am a geek. Legally Insane is largely about work in a law firm, which happens to be my day job. The concept of Lucy as Lady Justice in Lucy Dies in the End came from staring at Lady Justice during various court case searches at my job. My parents’ divorce heavily inspires some of the debates on long term relationships in Never Say Never. Dating experiences of my friends helped inspire other portions. And the characters work in an ice cream shop. My first job was at a Carvel. Choosing to Stand Still was a sort of wish fulfillment, regarding a pair of best friends I knew that I thought belonged together–if you’ve read that one, writing it made me realized they were right never to pursue that route.

17760096_1325475264199099_8399109544035762431_nI’ve had stories arise from conversations. The backbone of Legally Insane involves the main character visualizing a character from her favorite television series prodding her to be strong in the face of a major life change. This came from a joke that was made when chatting with fandom friends about Jack O’Neill, a wise-cracking character from Stargate SG-1. My friend said, “I wish I could take him around in my pocket to smack some sense into me.” From there, the idea was born.

I’ve had stories arise from fears. Without spoilers, the fear of losing a child played into The Keys & Guardians series plan heavily. Things You Can Create arose from the fear of the kinds of torture I could carelessly visit upon my characters. It is, unsurprisingly, my first short story.

I’ve had stories that arise from past trauma. One Percent is an exploration of my descent into anxiety prior to spinal surgery. One Headlight was born of the death of a friend, one who died in a car accident on the way to college. Tunneling dealt with my experiences with dealing with alcoholics. The Peace of Completion and Release dealt with some wish fulfillment regarding the aftermath of my sexual assault. Blue Ice dealt with the issue of domestic violence, handled by a third party, looking in.

What does this tell you? Stories come from so many different places. Some of the things on this list were planned. Some were things that spilled out of me once I began to write. But all of it were things I drew upon to create stories that meant a lot to me.

What does this mean for you? It means inspiration can come from anything. It can be a mix of many things. So collect writing prompts. Collect interesting factoids. File away tidbits about the people you meet. But most of all, experience. Live your life with a keen, attentive eye and look at all you see around you. Every bit of your life experience, even the bad things can be weaved into the fabric of a story.

So how do you find the elusive creature known as inspiration? The answer is simple. Live.

2017! The Year of the Manzanos!

As the holidays approach and I sit down to write my last blog post of 2016, I’m reminded of just how erratic my year has been. Politics were the pits, tons of celebrity favorites died, and a general malaise settled over the world. Things were not looking so shiny. We took some personal hits this year as well. My Uncle Bobby died after a long and grueling battle with cancer. My son was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety disorder, which has really kicked up recently and has us struggling to find the answers. My husband and I had our own respective health issues, one that landed me in the hospital having a small, but not fun, surgical procedure. I ended my publishing contract with no book to show for it.

But there was light toward the end, at least with my career. There was Pitch to Publication, two short story publications, and an Editor’s Choice Award. And there was the prospect of next year on the horizon. Next year, when I start to query The Order of the Key again, in hopes of finding an agent who will love it. And next year when I embark on two new projects that aren’t exactly about my writing, but have some interplay with that career.

Allow me to introduce you to my two new projects. Or should I say OUR two new projects.

geektastic-bannerGeektastic: My son, Logan, wanted to be a YouTube sensation. My husband, Ismael, missed doing reviews. My sister-in-law, Megan, wanted to start a BookTube review channel, but didn’t know where to begin. I wanted a way to show off how damn random we all are, and wanted to have a place to openly be meta about geeky things.

This is what lead to Geektastic. We put our minds together, and decided to create a YouTube channel/blog where we could openly discuss all of the wonderful things that make being a geek so kickass…and so that we could offer an alternative to adults. Fun, kid-filled YouTube channel with gaming, toys and memorabilia, that speaks about some more sophisticated television, books and movies, but in a way that’s totally family friendly.

We’re still working on our first video, but it will be available in January. In the meantime, you can view our website and go follow us on our social media links, because we want you along on our adventure. Check it out at www.geektastic-manzanos.com.

inkwell34434The Inkwell Council: After leaving my work at Fantasy Works Publishing behind me, I was told by one of the writers there that they would miss my editing work. I am also constantly asked by my close circle of writer friends to read their stories, to help polish them up. I came to realize, I could help new writers. Maybe not with entire manuscripts, but I could read their first three chapters, and offer suggestions. It wasn’t about money. It was about giving back to a writing community that gave to me.

A discussion with Ismael revealed he missed writer’s workshops. Last to join was Megan, who was trying to make a living doing freelance edits, but didn’t have enough exposure and wasn’t sure how to build a client list. Moving forward together, we created The Inkwell Council, a manuscript editing service with specific rules. Basically, if you have no writer’s critique group, and you want someone to polish up the first three chapters of your Fantasy manuscript (we could only do one genre we could all agree on) we’ll be there for you. For rules and specifics of our program, please visit us at http://www.theinkwellcouncil.com/. Submissions officially open in January. Please also follow us on social media, which is linked on the website.

Add these two amazing projects to querying The Order of the Key, writing a new short story, and brainstorming on three other novels, and there is a busy year ahead. And the best part of it, is I will get to work with a big chunk of my family, whom I adore.

So, what’s new with your year? Anything exciting to look forward to? New projects? Let me know in the comments.

Either way, here’s to you and yours in the new year. May 2017 be a bright, shining light, leading as far away from 2016 as possible. 😉 Happy Holidays!

#p2p16 Editing Journal – Wave 2 

Please enjoy the continuation of my editing journal for #p2p16. To learn more about it and see how wave 1 did, check out my previous post here.

Sunday, November 20, 2016:

Today, I received my second wave of edits from Kaitlyn! I am very excited to dive into them. The main bulk of them are line edits, because apparently, she thinks I did a great job listening to notes in her previous edits and making the corresponding scenes and changes to scenes to make it work. However, there were a couple of things that needed to be discussed and punched up in certain places. A main issue was diversity, and the reason is embarrassing. 

In my mind, I envisioned a very diverse group of people for my Keys and Guardians. This was a group that should look like a cross section of this great planet we live on. There are Anglo, Irish, Hispanic, Black and Asian characters (there is a big cast), a gay character, and in book 2, which I have already started writing, there is also a bisexual character and a disabled character. So, I am not actually short on diversity. It’s been there in my sketch of the characters the entire time. 

The problem is, I chickened out. I became frightened of writing descriptions, because I worried they would offend someone. I wasn’t sure I knew how to do justice to characters of color coming from the position of a woman who is pretty much every kind of white there is. So, obviously, I had done something very wrong, because now, my reader had no idea there was any diversity. She thought I had written a stark white cast.

A big issue, upon researching this, was that my characters can’t have a culture of their own. They are born and raised together as Keys and Guardians, so they are pretty much all homogeneous when it comes to culture, although there were enough of them before The Great War that they aren’t exactly homogeneous when it comes to appearance. So, I struggled to give descriptions that weren’t heavy handed or worded in a way that would offend people, because descriptive words can be unwieldy things and people do not like to be described as food flavors for very good reasons. I wasn’t sure if there were other rules that needed to be followed just like that.

Diversity is important to me. Having representative characters means something. I mean, my skin color was thoroughly represented as a child, but I still went and bought the Barbie with the brown hair and any doll with glasses, because that was the closest look to my own. I still loved Belle because she loved to read and looked the most like me. Why shouldn’t other people have that representation, and why shouldn’t a teenager discover someone who looks like them when they read my book? 

Still, as a Social Justice Warrior (I love when people say that as an insult, when it really makes you sound like a badass superhero), I wanted to make sure I did that correctly. In my research, I found the most amazing and helpful page, Writing With Color to help me avoid any pitfalls and allow my readers to feel represented without inadvertently insulting them with something I probably should have known already, but I will be the first to admit that I have some ignorance and privilege and welcome whenever I have the opportunity to learn more.

And so, I strike out on my 2nd wave of edits, looking to describe all of my characters in stronger ways as well as clean up some other smaller issues along the way. 

Kaitlyn has also informed me that she will be touching base with me about my query and my synopsis by the end of this week, and all of the edits will be due back to her by December 2, 2016. Thusly, here begins another two week whirlwind of edits. 

Monday, November 21, 2016:

Today I worked through Chapter 1 and 2 line edits on breaks at work. I also started the process of reintegrating my descriptions back into the piece as well as solving a couple of other issues through clarification. 

For Chapter 3, I worked to clarify the timing of events that happened before the start of the story. It was difficult to fit in without it being an info dump, but I tried, and found a place without being too ham fisted. 

I’ve worked all the way  through to part of Chapter 6, but I’m not feeling too well. I’m going to turn in for the night and wake up early. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016: 

I woke up at 4AM this morning (after going to sleep at 8:30 last night) and got to work. I made it through the rest of Chapter 6 and the beginning of 7 before it was time to take my little nugget to school. Not bad. 

Was very proud today to find a note saying something bothered Kaitlyn about my character that I put there on purpose. It may not be noticeable on the first read, but it was on the second, and that’s good, because it’s a lead in to where Book 2 is going. 

I changed a chalkboard to a whiteboard in an attempt to make the classroom setting in the story a little more modern, and I only changed it in one place. Every other instance still said chalkboard. ARGH!

That moment you realize you’ve been formatting ellipses wrong for all time…whoops.

I’m turning in early again tonight, but on Chapter 13. This round is moving along much quicker!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016:

I woke up early today to get some editing in, yay! Today is an odd day, with a shortened work schedule, and the opportunity to go see my boy in his Judo class, plus I need to bake something for Thanksgiving tonight, so I’m not sure how much I’ll get done, but I’m going to do my best to make a dent! 

Today, reading Kaitlyn’s notes, I realized I had telegraphed something for Book 2, but in the wrong direction, so I’m working through my edits to make sure I redirect that in the right way, so people aren’t confused and don’t expect something different. That’s not to say that something unexpected can’t happen, but for this, I need the progression to make sense, and if the reader expects what Kaitlyn did, they may be disappointed. So, a few line corrections to make, for clarification.

Thursday, November 24, 2016: 

A lovely day at my father-in-law’s house, with lots of Turkey and sides and desserts and no editing. Ah, well.

Friday, November 25, 2016: 

Nasty migraine all day, but still managed to shuffle my way through two chapters. I’m almost done though.

Saturday, November 26, 2016:

Though my morning was spent at the mall, I made a huge dent in the manuscript. I also received an edited synopsis and query letter from Kaitlyn. 

I have learned I ellipsis too much. I must ellipsis less, even if my characters are speaking in a halting manner. It doesn’t seem to read well. 

Reviewed Kaitlyn’s edit to my query letter. Wow, her blurb describing the book was so much better and more compelling than mine. I just hadn’t thought some of the stuff she mentioned was important, but now that I’m looking at it, I guess it would help along the lines of marketing. She’s sort of a genius. Okay, she’s not SORT OF a genius, she IS a genius. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016:

I’ve completed my edits! I can’t believe we finished with more than enough time. I don’t describe people much past the first introduction to them, focusing instead on facial expressions and mannerisms than physical appearance, so the corrections I hoped to make to make the diversity of my cast more apparent weren’t huge, but they are there. I’ve never been big on describing characters so much, as that’s one of the major things I enjoy leaving up to reader’s imaginations. However, I remain open to criticism if it is at all necessary, and hopefully that makes me a good enough ally. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016: 

I have officially handed in my finalized materials for the agent round! Keep your fingers crossed for me! I’ll post about how it goes. 

Editing Journal: Wave 1 #p2p16 Edits

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The tweet announcing my #p2p16 win! YAY!

The below is a collection of my most important thoughts through the first wave of edits I received for #p2p16, or Pitch to Publication 2016. This is just the first set of edits, so we’ll see what’s to come, but so far, the general view of this process is a very excited two thumbs up. Read below to take the journey with me.

Friday, November 4, 2016:

Today, my edits came in from Kaitlyn. I read her reader’s guide, had a momentary panic, paced around my desk for a second, sat down and typed out an email with some legitimate questions and thoughts. She wrote back super fast with helpful and insightful commentary. Yes, there are big changes that need to be made, but nothing that hits the core of my story and nothing that compromises me artistically, so I’m much happier already than with my previous editing experience. Plus, Kaitlyn is so encouraging and excited about my project, it’s hard to feel anything but excited, too. Also, checking out her individual opinions throughout the document, rather than the overview, made it much clearer how I could go about instituting some of the changes. I was still afraid about the word count getting higher, as it’s already at the limit of where the book could be…until I worked on the first chapter and it came in a couple hundred words shorter, after I added some voice and a bit of extra geeky flavoring. So, that word count situation is feeling much better. I even decided to alter a scene she didn’t ask me to, because I felt it clearly gave her the wrong opinion of a character, and that meant I needed to rework it. Something I was communicating went wrong. In the end, the most important lesson I learned is that, though I have plans for a series, I need to focus on what benefits this book, and then worry about Books 2-6 when I get there. Yes, I can plan, but if there’s something in Book 1 that takes away from it, I have to pull it and figure out how to fix that mess with Book 2. I can alter my canon if nobody else knows it yet. The rest is up to my creativity. I’ve often preached not getting too attached to your outline, and staying flexible, and I’ve been doing the opposite. That changes now. I need to make this book the best it can be. I can’t do that with a closed mind.

Kaitlyn has given me until November 18th to return my revised manuscript to her so she can start another pass. That’s going to take some pedal-to-the-metal speed. My son is going to miss me for the next two weeks. 😛

Saturday, November 5, 2016: 

Today involved a lot of weirdo moments. I realized quite a few things. For one, I realized that half looks like it’s spelled wrong if you look at it too long. I also determined that my left knee is shitty, and I messed up my already post-surgical mess of a bionic back (scoliosis – had a double rod spinal procedure at 15. Hooks and rods and steel, oh my!) with just a few hours of editing at home. This has taught me that I need a more ergonomic typing situation than sitting on my couch and balancing my laptop on a pillow. I probably should have already realized this. What is wrong with me? Also realized? My computer screen needs a cleaning. I just mistook a smudge for an extra period and kept trying to erase it.

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WTAF???

I also faced the very random occurrence of the edit document randomly switching to French several times while I was working! Thank you to this site for saving my life.

I worked through Chapters 2 and 3 and part of 4. Only cut about 30 words from Chapter 2, but I cut about 400 words in 3. This is good, because I have a few things to add, and had no room to add them.

Another thing I’ve noticed: Once you get a note that makes you rework a line, it makes you rethink all the unnecessary words in that entire paragraph. A lot of the cutting I’ve done have just been about me tightening things because I’ve zeroed in on a paragraph.

Well folks, my mother has arrived. She needs help with some computer stuff she needs done, as she doesn’t have one. So, off I go. I’ll write in my journal again tomorrow.

Sunday, November 6, 2016: 

Woke up with a migraine and some serious allergy bullshit this morning, so this should be fun. My head hurts, my nose is stuffy, my throat hurts, my aforementioned knee and back are killing me, and I feel like a slug. On to editing!

I got to invent a couple of brand new scenes for the purpose of altering a certain narrative thread that wasn’t working. That was fun. I managed to get through Chapters 4-6 in this one day. And cut a few hundred words. I’ve gotten through the first 100 pages. YAY!

Monday, November 7, 2016: 

I’m not working at my work desk because it’s a slow day. Nope. Not at all. For Chapter 7, I had to rewrite almost the entire chapter due to a change in the plot point. Chapter 8 is complete as well. Between the two of them, I have cut three whole pages. We’re getting somewhere! I discussed some of what I was working on with Kaitlyn and she was, again, awesome and gave me great feedback and helped me to make sure I was on the right track. I may have to hand her every book I write forever. Seriously.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016: 

Things were going relatively well until I got home and proceeded to watch election results. Then, there was no working.

Wednesday/Thursday, November 9-10, 2016:
Yeah, I tried to work, but nothing got done. Without going into politics too far, I mourned. I cried. My artistry got squashed a bit. It took a lot to recover.
Friday, November 11, 2016:
Today is a very good day. Not only is it a day of honor and respect pledged to our veterans, but it also happens to be my best friend’s birthday, and spending time with her always manages to rejuvenate me. I struggled through my day, but managed to get through a couple of chapters. Then, I got to participate in a very successful surprise party for this awesome, inspirational person (I’m not being hyperbolic. The lady is a hero. She saves lives for a living). I feel ready to attack tomorrow.

Saturday, November 12, 2016:

Woke up with a migraine again! Have I mentioned that I have three cats and they are all over eight years old and I just recently discovered I’m allergic to cats. Meaning . . . that’s not going anywhere because my cats aren’t.
I did finally pull myself together by around 1 PM and continued working through the night. Then I shocked myself by making it through five chapters! I even shot a question off to Kaitlyn, who quickly answered and told me my suggestion on a fix for an issue was on point. So I ran with it. And got pretty far.

Sunday, November 13, 2016:
And that’s it! With seven chapters to go, I managed to finish just in time to watch The Walking Dead. I’m kinda shocked. She gave me until the 18th! It just went so smoothly. Once I decided what I wanted to do to help cover the edits she requested, it was easy sailing and I felt so much better and more confident about the story. Plus, I got my enormous word count under 100,000 words! That made me happy, because it helped open up my options a little more, in case I don’t land an agent in the agent round. Either way, I’m a happy chica. Time to crash and await more edits from my editing partner.

If you’re looking to hire an editor, I highly recommend Kaitlyn. Check out her website at http://www.kjohnsonfreelance.com/ or email her at k.johnson.freelance@gmail.com.

 

#p2p16 News!

Hey there, my friends! I am in the very fortunate position of having more good news to report to you today!

About a week ago, I entered The Order of the Key into a contest called Pitch to Publication, or #p2p16. To learn more, go here. Each contestant submits their query letter, along with the first five pages of their novel to three of the participating editors. The editors ask for more as needed.

If selected by the editor, the author gets 5 weeks of free editing work with that editor, and then moves on to the agent round.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I waited one panicky, edge-of-your-seat week, and guess what?

I won! I was selected by the wonderful Kaitlyn Johnson! I already love her and can’t wait to work with her.

It looks like my new NaNoWriMo novel will have to wait…but for a terrific reason!

Once again, thank you guys for all of the support. I can’t wait to get to work.

With love,

Justine

A Sad But Hopeful Announcement

Hello friends! 
Many of you may have noticed that The Order of the Key…well, it isn’t out yet. There are many reasons for that, some of which I take the blame for and some of which involved circumstances beyond my control. All of which lead me to today’s announcement. 
As of yesterday, I have ended my contract and my working relationship with Fantasy Works Publishing. It’s a very long story, as all of the really good ones are. But at the end of the day, FWP and I disagreed about the direction of my series and in the end, I had to stick by my vision for the art. 

That is not to say I don’t owe FWP and its staff and authors a huge debt, or that we end on bad terms. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the owner, the staff and the authors, and I will always be here helping to promote them. The books they produce are great books and my book is much better for knowing them. 

However, as Vince Lombardi said, “The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.” So, I’m rising. In the coming month, I will be tidying up the latest version of Order and putting it out there again. I’m excited about the road ahead. 

I hope to have good news for you all soon. Thanks as always for standing by me in this journey. Onto the next open door.

Justine