Friday, December 15, 2017

Writing Exercise #21: Winning in 2017

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

Next month, many of us will set goals for 2018. We'll use fancy words like 'resolution' to show our friends and family just how serious we are about losing five pounds or finishing a book or taking down the Christmas lights.

In truth, I'm not overly big on resolutions. I set goals, but I'm kind to myself and I let things slide if life happens and things of higher priority need to be addressed. But something I try to do every December is remember.

When the end of the year rolls around, I like to look back and take stock of where I've been and what I've done. The moments that surprised me. The days that went just as they should have. The weeks that, well, didn't. And though I like to think back on every area of my life--I've found these December reminiscing sessions can be particularly helpful where my writing career is concerned.

It's far too easy to reach the end of the year and despair of all you didn't get done. To wish you'd made it farther down the road. To mourn a rejection or a failed project. The negative feelings about all the things that didn't happen this year can overwhelm the truth of what you DID accomplish. And despair is no way to close one season and open another.

So today, for your final writing exercise of 2017, I want you to make a list. Only this one won't be for Santa. It will be for you. To remind you that you did stuff that mattered this year. You grew yourself and your writing. You filled your head with stories that will forever change your voice. You embarked on adventures and are all the wiser for it. You closeted yourself away when necessary, to think, to be, to write.

Whatever it is you've done that has furthered your writing career/hobby/experiment--add it to the list. Every positive moment. Every win. Jot it down. Use the comments section here, okay? So we can all celebrate with you. And then come back throughout the weekend to cheer on your friends. 2017 was a difficult year for many of us. We need one another. Never forget how important your encouragement is to other writers.

Why don't I start? I'll leave my list here for you all. Perhaps it will remind you of some accomplishment you've forgotten.

Finished and edited and polished a manuscript.
Wrote nearly 50 blog posts.
Taught a ten-week mentoring class for jr high and high school students.
Taught my first teen track at a writing conference.
Took my first solo road trip in over a decade.
Met with my agent in person.
Attended five book signings.
Deepened relationships with my local writer friends.
Explored the Lost Cost.
Got better at writing outside my own office.
Grew my Instagram following.
Recorded my first video blogs for Go Teen Writers.
Go Teen Writers was listed as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writers Digest.
Expanded my podcast listening repertoire.
Coordinated a couple Go Teen Writers Instagram challenges.
Had new headshots taken.
Built a new author website.
Learned that the rights to my second book, Broken Wings, sold in Poland.
Upped my book purchasing game--one way I support authors and the industry.
AND, I read more books this year than I did last year--which is saying something because the first quarter of 2017 was murder on my reading life.

 Now, it's your turn! Make a list and check it twice. It'd be a bummer to leave off a win.

REMEMBER! When you participate in our writing exercises you can enter to win an opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a question for one of our upcoming writing panels. Once you leave your response to the writing prompt in the comments section, use the Rafflecopter below to enter. Next week, Rafflecopter will select one winner and we'll contact you for your question via email. Happy writing, friends!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The "Meet Cute" aka Boy Meets Girl--My Top Five YA Fiction Moments

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She had a podcast/vlog at You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

The meet cute. This is a Hollywood term for when a future romantic couple meets for the first time. It can apply to friendships as well, but this is a must-have moment in the romantic comedy genre and in any romance story. My new WIP has a romance thread, so I've spent the last few days working hard on that meet cute moment, trying to get it just right.

The options are pretty much endless for how you can engineer this first encounter. Some common tropes involve:

-A mistaken identity like in the movie Ever After when Danielle thinks the prince is a horse thief and pelts him with apples and a tongue lashing.

-Incorrect assumptions of character like with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

-A bad first impression like in Bringing Up Baby when Katherine Hepburn's character continually annoys and eventually begins to stalk Carey Grant's character until he can't help but love her. Or how Buddy annoys Jovie in Elf. She says, "Go away," and he just keeps talking.

-Making the attraction obvious like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where Toula can't stop staring at Ian. This scene always makes me laugh, so I thought I'd share it with you.

Here are my top five meet cute scenes from the YA books on my shelves:

5. Prince Haegan and Thiel from Ronie Kendig's Embers. After crippled Haegan's sister makes a pact to switch places with him, he flees the castle with working legs. As guards are chasing him through tunnels beneath the castle, he collides with someone. This person helps him up and propels him along with a small group of others, all running from the guards chasing Haegan. This person turns out to be Thiel, the leader of a ragtag group of commoners and a girl and . . . so much more. (But I can't say. Because spoilers.)

4. Princess Alia and Prince Wron from The Piano Girl by Sherri Schoenborn Murray. Princess Alia has been trying to reach the kingdom of her betrothed, but on her journey, she catches the swamp pox, which makes her face hideous. To make matters worse, she gets put into prison for hunting on the king's land. While she is in the dungeon, Prince Wron comes down to question her about her about another prisoner. They have their first conversation, and Prince Wron has no idea that he is speaking to his betrothed.

3. Marty and Abby from Replication. This is my book, but I can't help it. I've always loved this scene. Marty, a clone, has escaped from Jason Farms in the back of one of the doctor's pick-up trucks. This story takes place in Alaska in winter, and it's very cold outside. Marty sneaks into the house and into one of the rooms upstairs. Abby's room. She later comes in and finds him, and starts yelling at him. She thinks he is JD, a boy from her high school, and thinks that JD is playing a joke on her. Until JD calls her on her cell. Marty is not JD, but they do look identical.

2. Eleanor and Park from the book of the same name. Eleanor meets Park when she can't find a seat on school bus and everyone is waiting for her to sit down. The other students are so mean! And Park finally scoots in and tells her to sit with him. At the time, he thinks she's a total loser, but it's an "Awww" moment for Park as his compassion overrides his cool.

1. Katie Parker and Charlie Benson from In Between by Jenny B. Jones. They don't meet until the end of book one (their romance carries through the trilogy), but this is just about the best meet cute ever. Katie has been dragged along on another one of Mad Maxine's crazy adventures. (Mad Maxine is Katie's foster grandmother.) This time, Maxine has Katie up a tree, looking through the window of Trudy Marple's house, trying to find out if her boyfriend Sam is cheating with Trudy. Katie tells her Maxine that she sees Sam dancing . . . with a guy. Before the situation is fully understood, the tree branch Katie is perched on cracks, and she falls into the swimming pool. Maxine vanishes. Sam comes out and rescues Katie, drags her inside, where she finds out that Sam was here getting a dancing lesson from Trudy's grandson Charlie, a boy who attends Katie's high school. Ahh... So fun.

How about you? Do you have a favorite meet cute from a book or a movie? And if you're not into romance stories, how about a best friends meet cute, like how Harry and Ron met on the train or how Achan and Shung met while competing against each other in a short sword and shield match at tournament? Share your favorite in the comments. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Three Rules For Creating Art That Matters

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.

I don't often talk about my personal life on Go Teen Writers. Our focus here is always writing, and yet today is one of those days that I can't deny that my personal life and writing life are woven together. This fall, due to circumstances outside of writing, I've often felt drained and uninspired

Last week, when I confessed to my friend Roseanna that I was struggling to stay focused, she did that lovely thing that good friends do and validated how I was feeling. She told me, "That makes sense, considering..." And then began to list the circumstances that have surrounded me the last few months. My father has an aggressive and rare form of cancer that he's currently battling. I've been deeply disappointed by a close friend of mine. I've had a conflict with extended family that has kept me awake and crying at night. I have a two-year-old who's the size of a one-year-old, which has led to an appointment with a specialist in the next few days. And I have a book that's due to my editor in a few weeks. With all of the above sitting on my shoulders, it's been the hardest book I've ever written.

As Roseanna and I talked about our mutual lack of motivation right now, she said the old adage to both of us. "Butt in chair, and all that."

Rule One: Show up

Yes, I thought when she said that, I'm at least doing that. 

All semester long, when my family has been hit by one stressful situation after another, I have maintained my butt-in-chair discipline that's so crucial to creating. I have shown up.

Even when you don't feel like it. Even when it truly feels like your life is crashing around you, as mine has often felt these last few months, the discipline of just showing up every day will help you, as Shannon so beautiful put it, to create an author and not just a story.

But my bigger issue has come after I put my butt in the chair.

Rule Two: Be Authentic

I recently had the chance to visit  the Georgia O'Keefe museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Georgia O'Keefe is famous for her paintings of large flowers and skullssometimes painted togetherbut I was surprised by many of her other subjects. Skylines of New York City, where she lived for a long time. Mount Fuji. Churches in the southwest. Views from airplanes. The inside of a tent, looking out.

Something struck me as I was there at the museum, and then again as I sat here at my computer thinking, "I'm too run down to put a blog post together." Georgia O'Keefe did not try to divorce her art from her life. Rather, her life informed her art. The art was created from the riches and trials of her life, not separate from it. When she was in the southwest or reminiscing about it, that was reflected in her art. Same as when she was in New York, or anywhere else.

Yet I have tried so hard to keep my messy, stressed-out self off the page, off the blog, and off social media.
I wanted to leave all that stuff outside my office door and create worlds that were independent of what I'm currently going through. Today I wanted to bring you neat, easy-to-follow, pinnable writing advice, but all I feel capable of right now is shrugging at you and saying, "I don't know either."

Last summer, a darling young writer put her copy of The Scorpio Races into my hands. "I would like your signature and your number one piece of writing advice."

I kinda froze, to be honest. Many other Big Deal writers had already signed the book, including Stiefvater herself. I wanted to write something really good, especially because I know and like this young writer, and she'd asked me to put my thoughts on the page there with other YA authors I love and admire. If I remember right, I wrote something about, "Follow your curiosity" which is advice from Elizabeth Gilbert.

I knew it was the wrong choice even as I wrote it, and I've thought about that moment many times since then. "Follow your curiosity" is fine writing advice, but it's not my number one. I mean, I hadn't heard it until this spring, and somehow I had managed to be a happy writer for over a decade, so how could it be number one?

If I could have that moment to do over again, I would write this in her book:

Show up.

Be authentic.

Repeat daily.

That's a recipe for creating art—for creating a lifethat matters. Not just showing up sometimes, or occasionally being authentic. But showing up faithfully, being authentic always, and repeating the process every stinking day.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Gift of Empathy

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

Writing accomplishes considerably more for authors than simply putting money in their pockets. In truth, for most writers, the money is more sporadic than you'd think and little more than icing on the cake. We write for more reasons that I can enumerate, but it boils down to this: we write because we can't not.

We'd love the hours spent at our computers to be more career and less hobby, but long before storytelling resembles a dependable money-making endeavor, dedicated writers are receiving gifts. Gifts that the writing itself imparts to the author.

No wrappings, no bows, nothing tangible to slip under the tree, but if you're working with any sort of consistency you might notice certain invisible attributes cropping up in your creative soul.

You begin to master things like people-watching, problem solving, impatience, procrastination, working when you don't feel like it, finishing what you start. I could go on and on--the disciplines that develop out of the daily grind are many and, strangely enough, they're treasures you dig out of your own chest.

Of all these hard-earned gems, the one I value most is empathy.

Reading has a way of developing this in us as well, but the act of creating a character, giving her a mind and a will, insecurities and faults, regrets and talents, a family history and a place in the world to inhabit--the time spent poring over and pouring into this creature can grow you.

The trick is to do it honestly.

Give your character dilemmas to solve, unsettled relationships, mountains to climb. In my own writing I've found that once I have the semblance of a character sculpted, certain things make sense for this character to do as she navigates her life and certain actions wouldn't make any sense at all.

On occasion, I'll get an email from a writer pal and it'll look like this (usually with a hint of panic attached):

So. I need my main character to poison her brother. But she loves her brother! Still, it has to happen. Only, why would she do that? Help! I need a reason.

And so we get to work. We begin to develop a motivation. Most likely this reason will change the character in fundamental ways. An adjustment that can be both difficult and helpful to the writer.  The lesson is this: there must be a reason for everything a character does.

Because there is certainly a reason for everything you and I do.

It's not always an intelligent reason or a moral reason. Often it's flawed and desperate. I find that most of my characters do things out of fear. That says a lot about me, I think, but it also helps me slide into the shoes of real-life human beings making decisions because they're afraid. I can empathize because in so many ways my characters are showing me what it's like to go, to do, to act, and to hurt out of a dark, terrified place.

It's a gift, friends. The ability to empathize.

And if you make it a habit to write honestly, the penning of a story will compel you to search out empathy--not just for your characters, but for those around you making choices you don't understand.

And right now, if there's anything this world needs more of, it's empathy. A willingness to climb out of our worn-in, cozy sneakers and into another's. We might be uncomfortable there. We might not like the roads those shoes take us down, but if we practice writing honestly, perhaps we'll remember to live honestly. In that way, the gift of empathy can lead us to build bridges. Not just in our stories. But in this great wide world.

A world that is sometimes very hard to understand.

Can you think of a gift your writing has given to you? We'd love to hear it.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

3 Things I Did in the Name of Book Research

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She had a podcast/vlog at You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

Authenticity has always been important to me as a writer. In fact, it's a pet peeve of mine when I'm reading a book or watching a program and something happens that I know is wrong or impossible. It bothers me that the authors didn't take the time to research the situation and get the details right. When authors don't bother to do their research, it's lazy. It tells me they don't care about their readers. My opinion, perhaps, but it's partly why I'm so steadfast in doing my own research.

Now, most research is fairly boring. I'm reading books or reading things online. And sometimes I'm interviewing someone on the phone, which is fun, but not really worth tell you all about.

But there have been a few stories of times when my research went into test mode. Times where I felt the need to experience something or get a good visual on something for my story. Today I will share three of those stories with you.

1. Spencer rappels off a cliff, handcuffed to two girls.
In Project Gemini, the second, full-length book in the Mission League series, my spy kid Spencer is in Okinawa, Japan. He was following some bad guys and got caught. But then he and two girls managed to escape. The problems are these: a) Spencer is handcuffed to each girl, b) there is only one one rappelling harness, c) bad guys are chasing them, so they have to act fast, and d) they need to rappel off a hundred-foot cliff to a getaway boat, anchored in the ocean below.

I wrote this scene, and my editor ripped it up. He said it didn't make sense and he couldn't picture how this thing was working. Spencer is six foot four. Both girls in the story were fairly small. And it just so happened that my husband is six foot one and my children, at the time, were fairly small. What a coincidence! I created a reenactment in my living room.

I used handkerchiefs to tie my husband's wrists to my children's wrists, then I made my kids climb on my husband, the way I pictured the girls holding on to Spencer.

Dad got quite squished and beat up, and our kids had a blast. There was much laughter. I didn't take any pictures, but I did manage to see where everyone's hands were and jot down lots of notes. I was able to rewrite the scene, and it turned out much better. Here's part of the scene from the book. It's a long scene, so I'm only sharing a portion of it. This is a first person book, told from Spencer's point of view.
          “You ready for this, Tiger?” [Beth asked.]
          “I was born ready.” Then I met Beth’s gaze—her eyes looked like pools of black through the goggles. “I don’t know what I’m doing, Beth.”
          “You’ll be fine. Stay in a sitting position and use your feet to walk and bounce down the rocks. The boat is directly below us. Keep your brake on, and you can’t fall.”
          “But the girls could.”
          “Nope, they’re tied onto you,” Beth said. “So, unless you forget the brake . . .”
          My head lolled back at the stars. “Fine. Let’s do this.” I crouched and picked up Mary, setting her over my right hip like a mother holding a small child. “Sixty-three, huh?”
          She swatted the back of my head with the hand that was hooked to Grace’s.
          I crouched for Grace, and she jumped onto my back. I resituated her leg over Mary’s on my right but could do nothing to hold Grace on my left as my left hand was attached to Mary’s and holding the main ropes. This wasn’t so bad. I had a pretty good grip on the ropes and Mary. If Grace could hold on—
          “Tiger,” Beth said. “Right hand. You’re not holding the brake.”
          Figs and jam!
          “Mary, you’re going to have to hold on,” I said. “Use your arms and legs.” I let go of Mary and found the brake rope.
          “Got it.” I was thankful for the handcuffs and ropes. Although I didn’t relish the idea of either girl falling, at least they were sort of locked/tied on.
          “Hold on tight, girls,” Beth said.
          They were. I felt like I was in a chokehold at the dojo. And both the girls’ legs around my waist hurt my bruised abs. Too bad I couldn’t tap out.
          I hadn’t bothered to look over the cliff. With a name like Suicide Cliffs, it couldn’t have been an encouraging view. I crept back and felt my heels go off the edge. I kept the ropes braked and leaned back. My toes gripped the rock edge as I let out the rope an inch at a time. A bead of sweat trickled from my forehead down my nose.
          Three lights flickered in the field beyond the mangrove tree. Flashlights. They were coming.

2. Levi shoots his rifle at a transformer to kill the power in the Safe Lands.
For my dystopian novel Captives, I needed to have Levi do something to shut off the power. I know nothing about such things, so I went to my then gun/hunting expert for help. His name is Greg and he taught me how to pull apart a bird (which Sir Caleb showed Achan to do in To Darkness Fled), and Greg also brought me one of his huge daggers and explained what Achan would have to do do kill a bear that was attacking him in From Darkness Won. Greg has done a lot to help the authenticity of my books over the years.

I told Greg all about my story and what I wanted to have done. At the time, my plan was for Levi to make some sort of pipe bomb to blow up the dam and kill the power that way. But I didn't have any logical reason for Levi to know how to make pipe bombs. Greg asked me why he wouldn't just shoot out the transformers at the power station.


As Greg explained that, yes, my story should have power stations, even if the power came from a dam, I realized this made much more sense, since Levi is a rifleman. This was definitely how he'd get the job done. So Greg brought over his rifle and taught me to use it, let me look through the scope at my neighbors houses across the river, told me what Levi would think and how he'd breathe. Here are some pictures I have of that very fun day.

And here is how the final rifle scene turned out:
          The distant substation was a tangle of gray metal on a field of black maybe three hundred yards out. The four gleaming spotlights that towered over the station didn’t cast their glow far.
          “Nowhere to hide,” Zane said.
          “We won’t be here long enough to need to hide.” Levi jumped down onto the roadway and crossed to the inner wall. It came up to his waist. He lifted the strap of his rifle over his head, set the rifle on the wall, and crouched to look through the scope, turning the zoom until the substation glowed in the lens. After locating the row of transformers, he tried to figure out which way they ran. If he could hit the first transformer in the series, everything else would go out.
          Levi pulled back the bolt and loaded a round into the chamber. “Keep an eye on the studio’s location, and let me know if it goes dark.” He flipped off the safety and took aim at the transformer on the far left. One deep breath, and he pulled the trigger.
          The shot cracked around them, echoing off the concrete walls of the dam. Through the scope, Levi saw no sparks or evidence that he’d hit anything. He glanced up at Zane.
          “Prospector apartments went dark,” Zane said. “All the way to . . . Wow, that’s weird. The power went out in the Highlands all along the edge of the Highland – Midland wall.”
          “It’s an arch.” The first one must be the other end then. Levi chambered another round and aimed for the transformer on the right end. Just as he pulled the trigger, Zane spoke.
          “Someone’s coming.”
          The shot rang out, but Levi knew he’d missed. He cocked the gun and straightened, looking where Zane was pointing. Two sets of headlights were heading their way from the other side of the inner wall. They’d just passed the other Highland substation.
          Levi crouched and aimed for the transformer again. “Don’t talk.” He took in a deep breath and held it, then fired. He straightened to glance toward the city below.
          Zane yelled, “You got it!”
          Levi tucked the rifle strap over his head. “All I needed to hear. Let’s go.”

3. Achan loves wine.
In, From Darkness Won, the final book in my Blood of Kings trilogy, Achan is in a fowl mood, and one of his poorer influences, gives him a bottle of wine to lift his spirits. I wanted Achan to love the wine so much that he ended up drinking the whole bottle. The problem? I pretty much detest the taste of alcohol. But I needed to write this scene, so I asked my husband to buy a bottle of wine. I'm pretty sure he bought the cheapest wine ever made. We poured the wine into the glasses we used at our wedding (for our sparking apple cider), and sat down to try and enjoy it. I took one sip of that stuff and gagged. I ran into the bathroom and spat the stuff into the sink. My husband didn't like it, either. It was nasty. We laughed and laughed, but I was no better off from where I'd started. No WAY could I describe that stuff as tasty. What was I going to do?

I had a friend who loves wine. I recalled her talking about going to a winery, tasting and smelling the different wines and trying to guess what was in them, etc. I emailed her and begged for help. I asked her to please write me a paragraph of what a good glass of wine might taste like to someone who'd never tasted it before but really likes it. She asked me if it was red wine or white wine.


The conversation went back and forth. She pried out of me the necessary information, then wrote me a paragraph. And I used parts of that paragraph to write the scene. Whew! Thank goodness for friends. Here is the part of the scene from the novel From Darkness Won in which Achan first tastes the quality wine and likes it.
          [Achan] brought the bottle to his mouth, worked the cork free with his teeth, and spat it on the ground. He smelled the contents, expecting the briny smell of mead, but the tangy combination of currants and cedar filled his nostrils.
          Had Kurtz meant to give him wine? Achan had wine with dinner most nights, so it wouldn’t matter to drink some now. He took a sip. Robust sweetness filled his mouth. He swished his tongue around, tasting the flavor as long as it would linger. Blazes, that was good. Much better than what Lord Eli had served in Mirrorstone.
          Yet when the taste faded, the wine left his mouth dryer than before. So he took a longer drink and wished he had some food. The wine seemed to point out just how hungry he was. He should go back to his tent and eat.
          Instead he took another drink.

The moral of these stories is: Go the extra mile and do your own hands-on research. It's an adventure, it's usually fun, and it will in the end, make your story better.

What strange things have you done in the name of book research?