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Beautiful Books — NaNoWriMo Character Interviews and more!

Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? It’s a month-long writing event in November that challenges participants to write 50 000 words during that time period. You can learn more about it at the NaNo website. I am going to be participating in NaNo this year and although I probably won’t make it, I’d like to try. If you want to learn more about my NaNo novel, read on! I’m participating in a link-up hosted by Cait @ Notebook Sisters and Sky @ Further Up & Further In called Beautiful Books. To learn more, and to participate, click here.

1. What comes first for you: characters or plot idea? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

For me, it was definitely the plot. I want to write a fantasy novel about a) gypsies, b) court intrigue, and c) magic. I plan to take a well-known story (lost-lost royal identity, etc) and twist it a little…or a lot. We’ll see how it goes.

As for the plotter or panster part, it depends. I tend to start novels with no idea of where I’m going but at about the 10K part, I really get into plotting what will happen next. For this book, I will be a combination (planster?). I have the first couple of chapters figured out really well, but the middle is a bit of a mystery and I haven’t a clue how it will end.

2. Do you have a title and/or a “back-cover-blurb”?

Yes! The working title is “Paper Crowns” (although this will almost certainly end up changing). I didn’t have a blurb, so I’m going to make a rough one up on the spot. Here you go!:

For seventeen years, Adelaide and her gypsy family have lived on the fringes of society. Addie loves her carefree life–until one day, soldiers ride through the town her family is performing in and captures her. She is quickly brought before the King, and learns she is the daughter of a long-dead member of his court.

Addie is quickly thrust into the unfamiliar and ruthless court life of dance, politics and treachery. Just as Addie is beginning to adjust, she learns a secret that causes her to question those closest to her…and her newfound identity.

3. What wordcount are you aiming for when your novel is finished?

Around 50-65K in total.

pint4. Sum up your novel in 3 sentences.

A gypsy girl learns that she is the daughter of a deceased advisor to the King, but not all is as it seems. Everyone thought she was assassinated by rebels sixteen years ago along with her family…and it doesn’t seem like the rebels have given up their pursuit.

5. Sum up your characters in one word each.

The King (currently unnamed): Ruthless

Adelaide: Adventurous

Devlin: Umm…complicated.

I have several more characters, but these are the main ones for now.

6. Which character are you most excited to write? Tell us about them!

I’m definitely the most excited to write my MC. It is probably predictable to say that I’m excited to write about her, but it’s true. Addie is adventurous, stubborn and a dreamer. I can’t wait!

7. What about your villain? Who is he, and what is his goal?

My villain is the King. As I mentioned in one of the questions above, he is ruthless. He is willing to sacrifice innocent lives to achieve his goals, and even though he is the king, he is power-hungry.

8. What is your protagonist’s goal? And what stands in the way?

Adelaide wants her freedom and at the beginning, she only desires to return to her family. Once she arrives in court and learns more about her biological parents, she is torn. Addie wants to go back to her carefree life, but she also yearns to know more about her parents.

9. What inciting incident begins your protagonist’s journey? When he notices Addie’s face, scar, and newfound magic abilities and begins to piece everything together, the King takes Addie to the capital with him, and tells her the truth about her history.

Addie’s family runs a side business of telling fortunes, although they have no real power. They set up their caravan in a small city’s marketplace and when a man accuses them of fraud, the supervisor is summoned. He is about to sentence Addie and her family to a whipping when the King rides through in his carriage, and offers a deal. In exchange for their freedom, one of the family members (Addie) must “read” him.

10. Where is your novel set?

In a fantasy world that I’ve tentatively titled Ithica.Participant-2014-Square-Button

11. What are three big scenes in your novel that change the game completely?

This is really hard. The first, of course, would be the inciting incident which I have already mentioned. The second will be a scene that should be about 60% into the book in which Addie discovers the truth about her father and how he died. The third…geez, I don’t know. I will know when I get there, I suppose!

12. What is the most dynamic relationship your character has? Who else do they come in contact with or become close to during the story?

Addie has very different relationships with different people. At the capital, she becomes friends with a young female courtier named Maggie (short for Marguerite). She has a complicated relationship with the King (she hates him for his cruelty, and how he is taking advantage of her magic abilities). There is also a small romance thread with the prince, whom Addie barely tolerates at the start.

13. How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

Um…she learns about the amazingness that is chocolate? Gah, I don’t know yet.

14. Do you have an ending in mind, or do you plan to see what happens?

I don’t have an ending in mind. We’ll see how it goes.

15. What are your hopes and dreams for your book? What impressions are you hoping this novel will leave on your readers and yourself?

Ideally, I’d like for it to be published. Since that seems rather unlikely at this point, I just want to end up with a book that I’m glad I wrote.

Questioning AUTHORity: Merrie Haskell


Questioning AUTHORity is a weekly blog feature here at Bookish Serendipity involving—you guessed it!—YA and MG author interviews. This week’s featured author is Merrie Haskell, author of multiple MG books, including The Castle Behind Thorns.  Thanks so much to Ms. Haskell for participating!

Merrie Haskell grew up half in Michigan, half in North Carolina. She works in a library with over 7 million books, and finds this to be just about the right number.

Ms. Haskell won the Schneider Family Book Award in 2014 for HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS, and was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature in 2013 for THE PRINCESS CURSE. Her third book, THE CASTLE BEHIND THORNS, is a Junior Library Guild Selection. Visit her website at

Q.  What inspired your latest novel, The Castle Behind Thorns?

A.  There’s never any one inspiration point for a book, but I do remember when the first shot across the bow happened–I was trying to sell my then tween-age stepdaughter on reading Howl’s Moving Castle.  And as I was explaining to her how much I love stories in which a protagonist is put into a filthy, ruined place and has to spend time putting it to rights, I realized–all those stories are about girls doing the putting to rights.

Why couldn’t a boy be in charge of this very female task of salvaging a home?  On a practical level, I knew I needed my character to have either wood-working skills or blacksmithing skills, or possibly stone-masonry. I had been eyeing blacksmithing classes for some time, and creating a smith character gave me the chance to indulge. Learning how to do some blacksmithing created a lot of energy and ideas

Q.  Can you tell us a little about the publication process of The Castle Behind Thorns? How was the experience different from when your previous books were published?

A.  I had initially signed a three book contract with HarperCollins, and The Princess Curse was the only book specified in the contract.  So when I started noodling on what became Handbook for Dragon Slayers and The Castle Behind Thorns (I had both of those initial ideas around the same time), it was simply a matter of asking my editor, “This is what I’ve got so far, will it work?” and being told yes.

The difference with Castle ended up being that I lost my marvelous editor at Harper, and was given a new but also marvelous editor, who challenged me to anniversary Castle with Handbook (so Castle would come out exactly a year after Handbook).  So. I had been playing with the draft of Castle for a long time, and had to settle down to work and produce a finished draft in record time. And somehow, I did.

Q.  Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

A.  My grandfather was a font of fun stories when I was a kid, and I just absolutely loved listening to him. When I finally learned to read, it was just as magical. And I remember sitting down at my little childhood desk one day after we moved away from my mom’s family when I was seven–I think this was an act born of missing my grandfather’s stories–and wrote a little story for myself about a princess and a dragon.

I remember standing up from that desk with the complete story in hand and feeling this incredible and deep sense of satisfaction.  I didn’t have any real sense at that time that writing could be a career or that publication could be a goal; I just knew I wanted that feeling of satisfaction for the rest of my life.

  • Q.  Who are your favorite childrens’ writers? Are there any particular authors who inspire you to write?

A.  Oh, I love so many writers, it would take pages and pages to list them all.  I think talking about which authors inspire me to write leads to a much shorter list, however. Lots of writers leave me feeling satisfied and content when I’ve finished their work; it’s the ones who leave me with an urge to write that are in shorter supply.

Over the years, that list has included Madeleine L’Engle, Robin McKinley, Tamora Pierce, Kristin Cashore, Sharon Shinn…

  • Q.  What advice would you like to give to teen and aspiring writers?

A.  Be so patient and kind to the world and to yourself. Give yourself time to discover the world and to learn how to write about what you see. Give the world time to discover your writing. There’s no timetable.  Most of writing success is trying and persisting, and the only time I felt like I was failing was when I was failing myself when I wasn’t trying or persisting.

Write the words. Finish the stories. Seek feedback. Trust your instincts because your instincts are what makes your writer’s voice and your stories unique. Trust reader reactions because you can’t make anyone read something through your lens. Know who you’re writing for. I write to my thirteen-year-old self. She’s a great audience.

Thanks so much to Ms. Haskell for agreeing to be interviewed!

Why Can’t Authors Write Faster?

Hello! YWC bookish ponderings

Warning: Rambling, randomness and multiple GIFs ahead. 

I strongly dislike when readers rant about authors not releasing their books faster. ” I want the latest book in the [ insert popular series name here] series. Why can’t the author just write faster?” I mean,  I am impatient for certain books too. Darn cliffhangers! (*cough* Percy Jackson). But it isn’t the author’s fault. They write as quickly as they can, and they also need to things like sleeping, and eating and (if they are lucky) having a social life.  I am not saying that you do this, because many people don’t and since you are reading this blog, you’ve probably figured out a thing or two about how publishing works. It is  my bookish pet peeve, I suppose, and it annoys me to no end when people say that.


Step One (3-10 months)

First, Mrs. Famous Writer writes the book. If it is Young Adult, that means anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 words. Whoa, that’s a lot of words, right? Remember that most authors have day jobs, so it can take months or years to complete this stage. If the author is successful enough to write full-time, this can still take many months. After the first draft, Mrs. Famous Author will rewrite the novel and create a second draft. She may even rewrite it a third time. Or a fourth. Or a twenty seventh. Writers will do what it takes to reach a satisfying draft.

Step Two (1-4 months)

Once the Mrs. Famous Writer has a solid manuscript, she will send it to their agent for review. The agent may do several more revisions before sending it to Mrs. Famous Writer’s editor. Mr. Editor and Famous Writer will intensely revise the manuscript. Fixing plot holes, restructuring paragraphs, doing line edits…there are many stages to the editing process, but I am not going to delve into that just now. This stage can take several months as well, because Mr. Editor will be working on other projects at the same time.

Step 3 (3-6 months) 

This is the stage in which the entire book comes together. The designers will create a cover and design the interior of the book. Once the book is put together, the department will spend the next 3-4 months organizing promotional events, setting up author interviews and sending out ARCs to reviewers to help build early buzz for the book. During this time, the book will be sent to the press for printing and will be shipped to stores before the release date. Since most of this is out of Mrs. Famous Author’s hands, so she may begin her next book. YWC divider As you can see, the publishing process doesn’t have much with how quickly the author can write. Much of the time is actually spent putting the book together and promoting it. Mrs. Famous Writer is not the only author that the publisher is working with, so it takes time for the publishing process to move along. Most books take a year or two (or three) from first draft to bound, printed copy. Consider Rick Riordan: the Heroes of Olympus series is huge (around 150K per installment) and at least one novel in that series releases each year. Can you imagine how long and hard he must work to do that? Yet people are still complaining he should write faster. gif 1 Instead of saying “I wish [insert author here] would write faster,” you can say “I wish a time machine was invented so I could travel into the future, dash into a bookstore to buy [insert author here]’s latest novel and hurry back to the present and read it before everyone else and take over the world.” Or something like that…

The publishing process, at its fastest, is still a slow-moving machine. Editors, literary agents and people in the industry work long and hard to produce a high-quality product. Publishing houses that release hundreds of books each year can take even longer, because their employees are working on multiple projects at a time. There’s more to it than it looks.

What do you think about this? Do you agree or disagree? Let me know!

On Writing Nonfiction




As some of you already know, I am taking a class for teen writers! The sessions (8 in total) have been very fun and informative and I am sad today is the last one. It has been amazing!

Anyhow, one of the previous classes was about writing non-fiction (which I adore, by the way). This is something that I have been thinking about a lot lately so I figured that I would share what I have learned so far with you. I had fun researching this post so I hope you find it useful!

YWC PAGTWhat makes a good topic? I am sure there are plenty of other reasons but in my opinion, a good topic is one that I am interested in. I wouldn’t write a science article about geothermic energy because I have zero interest in that area. Zippo. Nada. If I am not passionate about a topic, why would anyone read my piece? When I am reading a non-fiction article, I can usually tell whether the author is really into the topic they are writing about or not. I am going to be bored if the author is bored.

If you are writing a non-fiction essay for school you will not always be able to choose your own topic. That’s fine! Try coming at the subject from a fresh angle. Perspective is everything when it comes to non-fiction. Do you agree with what someone is doing? Why or why not?

According to me, here are the five major types of non-fiction writing:

Biography: The entire story of someone’s life, written by a person who is not that someone.

Autobiography: The entire story of someone’s life, written by that person.

Information: An article about a researched topic. Includes how-to pieces. (for example, an article about lions in Africa)

Newspaper article: A current events article that is largely focused on a particular event. (for example, a newspaper article about a neighbourhood fundraiser to build a new park)

Reference: Something that is used to learn about a topic, uses facts and numbers.

YWC research

I admit it: I am a research nerd. Or a geek. Or a research superhero!


Don’t judge me.

When I get interested in a topic, I get really interested. Like, I Google the subject until I am certain I have read every single web page on the topic. When I decided that I wanted a hamster, I filled two whole notebooks with research. No joke.

One of my favorite parts of writing non-fiction is doing the research. I adore flipping through books, reading web pages and generally finding out as much about a topic as I can. So here is my advice to you: do your research! The more research the better, and be sure to make a bibliography of all the sources you used. Here are three ways that you can research your topic:

1. Read A Book: In my opinion, books are the most reliable resources you can find. If it is published by a traditional publisher, you can almost guarantee the information was verified to be true.

2. Internet: The Internet is probably the most convenient because when you turn on your computer, you have millions and millions of websites brimming with information at your fingertips. Just make sure to fact-check your information with at least two other sites!

3. Ask A Pro: It never hurts to ask an expert on the subject. Or a teacher. They can explain the more confusing areas of the topic to you as well.

YWC write

I think the most important part of this all is to write! Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and let the words flow. I like to write down the major areas of the subject that I want to cover, in order of importance. Here is a checklist for writing your article or piece:

1. Include all major points from your research

2.  Use important vocabulary terms for the subject

3. Write clearly and concisely

4. Remember that just like a story, your piece should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. When you get to that end, you will be feeling good. Very good. Maybe even awesome. Something like this:

Yep. So, have you written non-fiction before? Do you want to in the future? Is that despicable me GIF as distracting as I think it is?

Review: So, You Want to Be a Writer?

book ReviewPublisher: Beyond Words Publishing

Audience: 10-14

How I Got It: Personal Purchase

So YOU WANT TO be a writer

About This Book:

Designed to inspire creative expression and help aspiring young writers achieve their dreams, So, You Want to Be a Writer? takes readers through the fulfilling step-by-step process of becoming a professional writer, from learning how to generate ideas to getting published and promoting their work.

Aspiring writers will learn how to tackle writer’s block, improve technique, approach publishers, and more. A detailed list of magazines, websites, contests, and book publishers looking for young authors will keep readers reading with eyes on the prize, while exclusive interviews with bestselling authors and young published writers will keep them engaged and inspired.
So, You Want to Be a Writer? includes exclusive insights from well-known authors, such as the late Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton and fantasy author Amanda Hocking, who self-published her first novels to huge buzz. And profiles on young writers who are out there working right now, from a Vanity Fair blogger to a lyricist give a real-time perspective to the dream profession.

My Review:

In early December, I found this book in (yes, seriously) a toy store and I was immediately smitten. After *ahem* hinting that I wanted it, I received this book as a Christmas gift and read it right away. I really enjoyed this book and I found it very helpful. I already knew much of the information because I have read other how-to guides for young writers, but I still learned plenty!

My favorite feature in this book was the interviews with authors, many of them who are young authors. I enjoyed learning about the different types of jobs available to writers, from being a novelist to book reviewer to non-fiction author or even a songwriter. The interviews also convinced me to attempt different types of writing, even though my efforts haven’t amounted to anything (yet!).

So, You Want To Be a Writer? is written in a kid-friendly style and includes headings, sidebars and Try This! features. The vocabulary is appropriate for 10-14 year olds and even has a glossary at the back for industry terms that kids won’t already know, like acquisitions editor and query letter.

So, You Want To Be a Writer? definitely focuses on the business side of publishing. This book informs young writers about the Where, What and How of submitting work to publishers and  includes sample submission guidelines and an example of a successful query letter. While most of its focus is around submitting to magazines, there is also multiple pages devoted to book publishing. There is little information on the actual writing process, just a What Genre Is Right For You? quiz and a chapter devoted to overcoming writers’ block. If you are looking for a how-to-write book, this isn’t for you.

This non-fiction book is extremely informative, clever and useful and I would recommend it to young writers interested in learning about how to get published. You should most certainly check it out. Four stars! You can purchase it on HERE.

About The Authors

Vicki Hambleton is a verbal tutor for students in grades 9-12. She was a project editor and writer on Benchmark Education, specializing in books for grade K-8. Her writing has appeared in numerous children’s publications including Cobbleston, Calliope, and Footsteps.

Cathleen Greenwood is a teacher, published writer, consultant for the National Council of Teachers of English, and veteran presenter at national and local professional conferences on teaching and writing. She has helped countless students successfully submit writings to magazines, publishers, and contests.

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