Scribbler!

I’ve been itching to try the Scribbler subscription box for writers since it was first released. But alas, there’s the issue of budget that never allowed me to sign up. May I take a moment to say “Yay Christmas Bonuses!” Because I get to share my very first Scribbler box with you!

So I intended to take pictures if each item, and my Logan knew it. Hence, we get pictures like this.

The first thing I spotted when I opened my Scribbler box was a near magnetized dry erase board. I used it immediately to write a love letter.

The author of the month this month was YA fantasy author Evelyn Skye, who had a short story in the Sucker Literary anthology I was promoting around here a few years ago. The book that accompanies this box is Circle of Shadows. It is her third book, an epic fantasy. The book includes a signed bookplate.

Not only is the book included, but there is also a separate pamphlet that offers an inside look at the editing process. She shows us a scene from Circle of Shadows that was cut in edits, and walks us through everything that has changed since, including a whole storyline that was cut.

Evelyn also wrote up a great collection of tips and tricks for writing fantasy—mainly focusing on building magic systems and how it figures into and impacts world building.

This sticker gives me life.

An invitation to an exclusive chat with Kristin Rens, Executive Editor at Balzer + Bray, was also included, but, as is always my luck, it lands on the day and (believe it or not) exact time of a seriously important doctor’s appointment, so I won’t be able to attend. 😦

There was a great little notebook with a sturdy cover, built for the kind of writer that writes on the go. You can work on the writing prompt they sent in that adorable little notebook.

And lastly, this warm scribbler beanie, perfect for the snowy weather I’ve been trudging through–as modeled by Logan.

So, what did I think of my first Scribbler box? I loved it! Just having a bunch of cute things that relate to my life as a writer, while also relating to my life loving YA novels is just perfect. I do wish the writing chat was something I could attend—for instance, not in the middle of a normal workday—but other than that, every single piece included is going to get a lot of use from me.

I can’t afford to do this every month, but I think there are more of these in my future.

To sign up for a Scribbler box, go here!

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Book Review: Monsters of Verity by Victoria Schwab

It’s a funny cycle and it goes like this: I write a book. When marketing said book for potential agents, having comparison titles can be very helpful. I go looking for comp titles from comp title extraordinaire, Megan Manzano. She does it for me for free because she’s my husband’s little sister, and I spent hours when she was a kid playing pet shop with her stuffed animals, so she owes me. She does charge for the service as well, so you should check it out. The next step in the cycle is to read the books she recommends and make sure I agree and know what I’m talking about when an agent says, “what in particular did you think was similar to the book?” That would be a really bad moment to gape like a fish. Anyway, I read, I love, I gush to her in annoying ways via FB Messenger, and then I write one of these. The Monsters of Verity series by Victoria Schwab was recommended to me mostly based on tone, family politics, and monster battles, but I stayed for so much more.

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Book Summary: Below is the jacket copy for the first book of the duology, This Savage Song. I will not include a summary for Our Dark Duet, because that would be spoilery as all get out.


Kate Harker wants to be as ruthless as her father. After five years and six boarding schools, she’s finally going home to prove that she can be.

August Flynn wants to be human. But he isn’t. He’s a monster, one that can steal souls with a song. He’s one of the three most powerful monsters in a city overrun with them. His own father’s secret weapon.

Their city is divided.

Their city is crumbling.

Kate and August are the only two who see both sides, the only two who could do something.

But how do you decide to be a hero or a villain when it’s hard to tell which is which?

Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.
Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They’re gonna come and eat you all.

What I enjoyed: I have to really stop and think about this, because on a knee jerk, I want to think I enjoyed everything, but I want to be more specific. This was definitely a novel that swept me up and through me through the dryer in the best possible way, so I’m still a little dizzy over it. Okay, deep breaths.

For starters, the characters–generally my favorite part of the book, I loved these characters. Kate was difficult to love, and at first you kind of loved to hate her, but by the end of her arc, I was blown away by her. She was a complex and truly wonderful character. August was a character I loved from the beginning, but his journey was a gripping ride, as he came to terms with who he was, what his role could be and what it should be. The villains ran the gamut between disturbing (the monsters) and oddly understandable and still disturbing (the human villains).

The mythology of this world was surprising and inventive. The monsters here are born of violent acts, meaning each act of brutal violence creates a monster. Dealing with your own demons is a big theme in this book. I was intrigued by the breakdown of differences between the monsters, and the creation of the war-divided city of Verity. I applauded her use of music as a way to draw forth a soul for devouring in the Sunai. This was a completely unique monster concept to me, and I loved the way this played out, especially in the end. The writing in itself is downright poetic. Like the music from August’s violin, it drags you in and holds you in its comforting lull or pulls you into pieces, depending on the moment.

The tone of the story was another lovely point. It was gritty and real and lived in. No punches pulled.

What I’d avoid:

There were a couple of things I didn’t love about the story, although they definitely weren’t as prevalent as the things I did. Schwab delivered a new and inventive world, and I understood that she wanted to leave some room for speculation, but there were a couple of threads I felt were left hanging. Things like “what happened to the US to create a city like Verity?” or “What happened to certain characters Kate and August weren’t able to maintain contact with?” just kind of never get answered, even though they felt like they would be. They aren’t integral to the plot, but it nagged me a little bit. Bigger questions, like “why are the Sunai SO DIFFERENT from other monsters, and from each other?” could have been purposely left open as something for the reader to suss out and theorize about, but I felt a few more clues would have been very much appreciated.

Would I recommend it:

I actually just did. I hope my husband is enjoying his audiobook of it right now! And I will continue to. I really enjoyed this story.

What can I learn from it:

I’ve been struggling with the bittersweet ending of one of my novels, wondering if I’d gone the right way with it. The Monsters of Verity series, along with its popularity, made me feel much better about this choice in my work. It also helped me trudge forward without fear in my latest work, which does have a gritty backdrop and a slightly selfish heroine. This story is a class in “Write what the story wants, the rest will fall in place” and I love that.

Despite my few tiny gripes, this series had me from the very first line and held me. And, it helpfully works as an addition to my list of comp titles. One of my favorite things about looking for comp titles is discovering new authors and new stories. Have any of you ready This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet? Any recommendations of similar books?

 

Extremely Last Minute Announcement…

Hello all,

I’m usually better about giving you guys notice when I’m going to be somewhere or do something, but my 9-5 work life has been absolutely insane lately, which basically meant I worked until I came home and knocked out from sleepiness and stress. However, there is an important thing going on today, TODAY, that I would love for you guys to attend from the comfort of your own home.

Today at 5PM EST, I will be appearing on the first ever live stream over on the YouTube channel Craft Quest which you should totally subscribe to. Craft Quest is a great YouTube channel, looking to help writers, which we all know is my bag. So today, together with Craft Quest team Maria Tureaud and Ari Augustine, YA Fantasy Author Vivian Reis, and one of my Inkwell Council co-runners, Megan Manzano, we will be discussing starting your story–beginnings.

It will be a live stream, so you can send in questions and pick our brains. I’m so excited to hear what questions you have waiting for us, and to get to sit on this virtual panel with so many great people in the writing community. So come check us out, that’s 5PM EST on the Craft Quest Youtube Channel.

Oh, and you should subscribe to their channel, because they will be giving away three copies of Scrivener, an awesome writing software, once they hit 300 subscribers.

Hope to see you there!

Out with the Old, In With The New

2018

When I started 2017, I was feeling seriously optimistic. I teamed up with my husband, Ismael, and his sister, Megan, to create a free editing service called The Inkwell Council. Our trio had also united with Ismael and my son, Logan, to create a YouTube channel, The Geektastic Manzanos. I had written a new short story. I had finished a massive positive revision of The Order of the Key, my YA Fantasy novel. Everything felt like it was looking up. Megan and I had numerous conversations stating that this was our year. 2017 was gonna be awesome.

As it turned out, the year ran about fifty/fifty.

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The Inkwell Council has been a tremendous success. We’re helping the literary community and we love every minute of it. What was initially supposed to be one 3-chapter edit of a fantasy novel a month, spread into two a month, novels or short stories of any genre. We’ve got a bit of a following and we’re having a great time doing it. Follow us on twitter here. To see more about what people are saying about us, visit here.

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The Geektastic Mazanos, however, flopped. From the start, we saw the issues, but we figured we’d try it for a year and see where it went. This had been Logan’s idea from the beginning and Logan really wanted to make it happen. But Logan also has ADHD and that didn’t really make for cohesive video shoots. Also, we would have needed much more expensive equipment to shoot in the evening with any kind of visibility, and we had maybe two days where we had daylight time. Add to that increasing homework loads, and just how painstaking video editing actually is, and you’ve got a fun project that eats entire weekends. Logan’s spontaneity was being tamped down for when there was better lighting, and our enthusiasm just died a slow death. It didn’t help that, even with a giveaway, our subscribers didn’t make it over the 30 mark. That’s just sad. In the end, what remained was our love for taking loads of doofy geektastic pictures for our Instagram…so we’re keeping that.

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The short story sold. Blue Ice was included in the Spring 2017 issue of the Corvus Review. It’s a big time favorite of mine, and I was so happy to see it land a home. Even better, I actually re-sold another short story, Choosing to Stand Still, to Fiction on the Web in August. All good news!

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The Order of the Key, however, did not fare well. After years of revising and contracts with questionable publishing companies, and queries to loads of agents and publishing companies, I haven’t gotten much of anywhere. I love Order, and I still stand by it. It’s a great story and I love its characters, but I don’t believe the market is right for it at the moment. Though I still await contact from a few outstanding queries (whom I’d be very happy to work with, should I hear back with a positive result), I’ve mostly dealt with the idea that it’s time to put The Order of the Key on a shelf. Just for now.

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This is mostly because I’ve completed my new YA Romatic Comedy with fantasy undertones, Never Say Never. It’s fun and so very different from Order. I’ve fallen deeply in love with these new characters, and I hope you will, too. I’m currently in final revisions of Never Say Never, before I start putting this new baby out into the world, searching for acceptance. It’s a very exciting time in my life, and I hope you grow to love Brynn, Adam, Nina, Gabe, and Val. They are hopefully going to be meeting you someday soon.

So, that’s where I’m heading in the new year. 2018 will continue to be a year of determination, it will continue to be a year of meeting my goals. However, much like the outlines I make of my books, there’s always room for a little tweaking.

What are your plans for this year? Let me know in the comments.

Camp NanoWriMo 2017!

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For anybody who doesn’t know, I’ve spent the last month doing Camp NanoWriMo. Now, most people know about NaNoWriMo. It takes place in the month of November and writers, or people who want to try something new sign, up to write 50,000 words of one novel in a month.

Camp Nano is a bit different. The writers who join up can set their own word count, hours worked, or even pages edited. It doesn’t have to be spent working on one thing either. And it takes place in April and July.

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I decided to work on my new YA Fantasy novel, Never Say Never. For a look at what the project is about, you can check out its project page on the Camp NaNo site.  Things came up, and I ended up devoting about 35,000 words of my word count to the new novel, about 10,000 to a new first chapter for The Order of the Key, and about 5,000 to a new project called Not Just A Headache–a letter to my teenage self about how to cope with migraines that I wrote for an anthology I’m hoping to be accepted into.

I’m gonna go ahead and toot my own horn here. This month of writing came with a sinus infection that wouldn’t go away for two weeks, a surprise trip to the emergency room (I’m okay, I promise), and both medical and emotional ups and downs for other people I hold dear. To say I’m tired would be putting it lightly.

But I’m not going to stop working, because I’m crazy. And also, a life without writing for me, is no life, so I’ll persist. 😉 For the next couple of months, I will continue working on this book, continue querying the one before, and clean up my outline for the new book, which my writing this month made irrelevant in some places. In the meantime, I’ll find space for some blog posts and social media, because I always do.

Then…I’ll be back to Camp Nano in July.

Thanks, as always, for sticking with me on this incredible journey.

~Justine

 

 

 

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.

My Take: Team Urban or Team Epic?

 

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Hi all,

Today is the final day of Entangled Teen’s Team Urban vs. Team Epic Fantasy Promotion, and in honor of the conversations of this week, I would like to elaborate on a statement.

Earlier this week, I clearly declared what side I was on. Now I’m going to tell you why.

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I have always loved fantasy novels of any kind. A popular theme here on the blog is that I like weird stuff. I like to read it, I like to watch it, I like to write it. So I enjoy most stories in which something out of the ordinary occurs. Fantasy was a natural interest for a person like me.

There is nothing wrong with epic fantasy. There is a beauty to the pure inventiveness, the creations of entirely new worlds, languages, people. For the early part of my childhood, I was raised on fairy tales, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. My father even had a Tolkien calendar. My favorite video game was The Legend of Zelda, and if that isn’t an epic fantasy loving gamer’s dream, no game is.

But at some point, things shifted. As I grew up, I became exposed to television series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it touched me in a way no other series, or anything else for that matter, ever had. I was absorbed, completely moved. I fell in love with these characters, saw myself in them, saw myself in their weekly trials. I tried to decide which one I was more like. It didn’t matter if they were dealing with real life troubles, the monster of the week or some deep seated evil that spanned seasons. They felt more real to me.

The reason for that is that they were grounded in my reality. I could see myself going to school and having to deal with my principal as I snuck out to fight a demon. I could see myself sacrificing my social life to devote my life to something bigger. And somehow, those metaphors for life that were present in every fantasy novel struck a chord within me. Suddenly, I saw the challenges in my world as monsters to be defeated, the lessons to be learned as my spell book.

And ever since then, I found myself leaning towards Urban Fantasy, because if Buffy was a book, that’s exactly what it would be. I still love Epic Fantasy, but not with the ferocity with which I devour stories about real people dealing with their supernatural problems in concert with real world troubles. Killing monsters while dodging police. Hiding magical abilities from their parents. Having nobody believe them about who they are. Coming to terms with the strange in such a normal society.

I’d take a thousand magical societies hidden in plain sight over a dragon flying over head any day.


Thank you for hanging out with me for Entangled Teen’s Team Urban vs. Team Epic Promotional Event! Don’t forget to enter the giveaway and check out all of the books we discussed this week!

I’ll be back next week to discuss the difference between outlining a short story and a novel. See you then!