Thursday, May 30, 2013

What Makes a Story?

The other day I was rattling off to my husband my favorite books of 2013. These weren’t necessarily the ones I expected to be my favorites and some I knew would never become best sellers. But they were books that spoke to me and lingered in my mind for days afterwards.

So what makes a story become a great story?
A picture book I love reading to my students, THE BEST STORY by Eileen Spinelli, really hits the arrow into the bull’s eye. The character in this story tries to bring in all the elements of great storytelling:
·         Humor
·         Romance
·         Action
·         Heartbreak

In the end, the girl realizes her story is horrible. She’s trying to put together all of those elements and it only becomes a jumbled mess. Finally her mom speaks up and tells her that the best story “comes from the heart.”

It sounds cliché, but it really rang true to me. Because we can put all the correct words down and write exactly how the manual “How to Write a Book” tells us to, but if it doesn’t have heart, if it doesn’t hold the passion, then it is nothing more than a jumbled collection of words.

So today when you are sitting down to write, put aside all the head knowledge clamoring in your mind on how to write your next scene. Instead, let your heart speak to you and write those words because they are real and alive.
Christina Farley's debut YA, GILDED, releases spring 2014 by Skyscape/ Amazon Children's Publishing. She is represented by Jeff Ourvan of the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency, LLC. She blogs and vlogs about writing and traveling, and is often found procrastinating on Twitter

Friday, May 10, 2013

Our first contest winner makes it big!

Hi everyone,

Way back in July 2010, our little critique group revamped and moved our blog. To celebrate, we held a tagline contest. We had (if I remember right) over 35 entries. We were all so impressed with all the entries, but one quickly stood out and eventually was picked as our winner. 

The winner, Susan Bradley, won a free ten-page critique from each of us. Susan's opening pages were really riveting. I couldn't wait to find out what happened! And now I don't have to. Because (drum roll please....) Susan's book, Unraveled, has been published by Evernight Teen!!!  

To help her celebrate, I interviewed Susan (who goes by S.X. Bradley as an author). I hope you enjoy hearing about her book as much as we enjoyed being a very (very) small part in "discovering" it. :-) 

Can you tell us a little about your book?
Unraveled is a young adult mystery novel that centers around the relationship between two sisters. When Autumn finds her sister’s, Celeste, body she uses her gift for math and love for forensics to investigate her sister’s murder. She eventually discovers her sister’s killer and sets up a deadly trap to obtain a confession.

Was it difficult to get inside the head of a character whose sister is murdered?
I cried when I wrote the opening scene. I lost a dear friend in my late 20’s and really used that experience to tap into Autumn’s grief. It was emotionally draining at times, but that’s what makes writing such a personal, amazing experience.

Were you a “math geek” like your MC, Autum, when you were a kid? 
I was a total math and science geek. I still am. I’m not gifted like Autumn is, but I sure did love math and chemistry class.

Kirkus called the book “A heartbreaking, impeccably plotted mystery.” What can you tell us about the process about writing mysteries? Did you work with an outline? How did you keep track of all the details?
I’m a panster. I have a beginning and ending in mind, then let everything unfold in the middle. A more organic process works for me. There are times when I feel like I write myself into a corner, and it can be fun to write the unexpected in order to get out of it. Because I write mysteries, I want to make sure I close all my loops. I track them in my head, then make notes when revising to make sure everything is explained.

Did you work with any police or FBI experts to get the details right?
I did meet with two local detectives. They were extremely informative and it was nice to talk to them after I’d written the scene to see what I had gotten wrong. It allowed me to get the emotion I wanted on the page without thinking about the correctness of everything. I put research placeholders in when I write so I know what I need to add. I also spoke with an FBI agent and read several books. Everyone is always so nice and willing to talk to you. Although I always wonder if they think I’m crazy.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication? 
When I finished Unraveled, I sent out queries to agents. I got close, but ultimately didn’t get an agent. For the next year, I sent it out to publishers and got feedback that it was too dark. I put the manuscript away, and started working on my thesis. Last November, I saw an open call from Evernight Teen. They were looking for dark, gritty fiction and I thought Unraveled would be a good fit for them. About two weeks later, I got an acceptance email, then we moved very quickly after that.

Are you working on anther book at the moment? Care to share any details?
I am working on the sequel to Unraveled. It’s also my master’s thesis. I’m close to being done, then I have an idea for another young adult mystery set in the art world.

What book (or books) are you reading right now?
 I just finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and I’m about half-way through Veronica Roth’s Divergent. I don’t get to pleasure read too much while I’m in school, so I have to put a lot of books on my To Read list or listen to the audio book.

Tell us one really interesting or unusual thing about yourself that most people probably don’t know.
 I have a total obsession for Sharpies. They make me happy.

Where can readers find you online? My website is
On my website, you can find my Facebook and Twitter page.

Thanks again for visiting us today, Susan! And congratulations on your book!