The Author and the Creative Writing Class

It’s rewarding to walk into a classroom and have a student say, “You’re the published author.” For someone whose dream is to write for the young adult audience, it’s especially thrilling.
I would know. I do. And it happened to me.
The next words from this thrilled student’s mouth? Care to guess?
“What did you write again.”
Yep. The face was memorable but the book title was not.
Although, several students recognized the cover of the book I had discussed with them in November, months before.


And then there was the creative writing class.
What I Expected
When the middle school English teacher gave me “freedom” to teach whatever I wanted to her creative writing class, I smiled. Maybe I sent the clouds scurrying from the radiant beams of joy.
“We’re finishing up a unit on mystery and suspense,” she wrote. “They have stories to read to the class.”
Long stories. I was impressed.
The fact many of the stories read more like horror? Not as impressive to my anti-scare self.
Based on the reaction from the regular English students (noted above), I expected the writers to fall all over me.
Not even a smile when I mentioned I was a published author. Oh-kay.
I did get a positive reaction when I told them we wouldn’t be moving on to the poetry writing unit. Cheers all around.
When I offered to comment on their rough drafts to see if they might want to make changes before they turned the story in two days later? Not a single taker.
My published status meant nothing to these young writers.
“I would have flipped if a published author offered to read my stories,” a little voice inside me whined.
Reality Bites
The forum the teacher used for sharing the stories invited only positive comments once the author finished their reading.
“I liked the description.”
“Loved how real the characters were.”
“You did a great job building tension.”
Sometimes what they said was even true.
I itched to mark up these stories. Several of them had great premises. Others were a mashup of every police show and horror movie the student had seen.
My lips were sealed.
And I didn’t get to comment on even one story of the nine that were read over the first two days I worked in the room.
Happily Ever After
None of these stories had a happy ending. Apparently, suspense stories involve the narrator dying (in two cases), lots of minor characters’ deaths (in over half the stories) and fathers who were really mass murderers (in three instances).
Yikes! Should I report this to the authorities? Perhaps these stories had a hint of auto-biography in them.
I offered the class two choices for our Friday writing activity. As I expected, they chose the “finish the story” write around.
I selected nine young adult genres (not mystery or suspense), and wrote down a first line. Most of these I took from published books of that genre. A couple leapt from my imagination reservoir.
And they wrote.
But the suspense unit was still too fresh in their minds. With the exception of a few stories, the variety of authors chose to steer the contemporary diary toward suicide and murder. In fact, the actual horror story was less horrifying than some of the others.
On this occassion, however, a few of the students asked me to “finish” the stories that didn’t find resolution.
There were three. Two of them didn’t involve murderous parents or homicide in any form.
It was great fun pulling all their threads together. My favorite? The fantasy, of course. Although the steampunk story had a more interesting plot line.
An author teaching creative writing might not be the smooth fit you’d imagine. Even if imagining is what you do for a living.

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Check out Finding Focus and my other books. You’re sure to find something worth reading.
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NEW YA Fiction: SUMMONER RISING


I am so excited that SUMMONER RISING by Melanie McFarlane releases today and that I get to share the news!
If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book by Author Malanie McFarlane, be sure to check out all the details below.

This blitz also includes a giveaway for a DVD of THE CRAFT, US Only courtesy of Month9Books. So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

About The Book:

Title: SUMMONER RISING
Author: Melanie McFarlane
Pub. Date: March 28, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 300
Excerpt from, The Book of Summoning:
Law One: A summoner is responsible for all creatures it lets through from the netherworld.
Dacie Cantar wishes someone had explained the Laws of Summoning to her before she watched a shadowy creature crawl out of a painting at the local arcade. At least it explains the strange things she’s witnessed since moving in with her great-aunt, after her mother’s untimely death. But who wants to be followed by shadows the rest of their life? Add that to being stalked by a strange boy at school, who just might be her Tovaros (aka soulmate), it’s about all Dacie can handle in her new life.
As she nears her seventeenth birthday, will she be ready for her new responsibilities, or will the shadows that stalked her mother until her death, finally consume Dacie, too? And then there’s Law Two…
Excerpt:
When we pull up at the front of the house, everything is dark. Katya must be out. I stay quiet as I close the door and walk onto the front porch.
 
“Don’t be mad,” Tryan says grabbing my hand and pulling me back against his chest. He looks down into my face. “Demons aren’t trustworthy,” he says. “Just remember that.”
 
I relax my body against his and Tryan leans down and kisses me. His lips are soft and gentle, and I melt against him. The stress of this last month
melts away.
 
A shiver runs through my body and Tryan mistakes it for a chill. “Let’s go inside,” he says, pulling my hand toward the door.
 
As Tryan grabs the handle, the door creaks open. It’s not locked? He looks back at me with a frown creased across his brow. I push past him into the house.
 
“Katya?” I call out into the darkness. Nothing. Lights flicker into the kitchen through the open patio doors on the other side of the house.
 
“Come on,” Tryan says pulling me outside with a finger to his lips. “This way.”
 
We slowly creep around the side of the house, following the flickering lights to the back yard. Between the tall fence and the wooden siding of the
house, we’re sitting ducks. We slow down as we reach the back corner and Tryan grabs my hand.
 
“Let me go first,” he says. “Please. Trust me.”
 
I nod and hold back as Tryan passes in front of me. He peers around the corner, then holds up a hand for me to stop as he disappears into the backyard.
 
I shuffle around the corner, but Tryan is nowhere to be seen. Lights are hanging along the fence to the back of the property, flickering on and off.
 
“Tryan?” I whisper. No answer. I look back. Where is he?
 
 “Tryan?” I call out a little louder this time.
About Melanie: 

Melanie McFarlane is a passionate writer of other-wordly adventures, a little excitable, and a little quirky. Whether it’s uncovering the corruption of the future, or traveling to other worlds to save the universe, she jumps in with both hands on her keyboard. Though she can be found obsessing over zombies and orcs from time to time, Melanie has focused her powers on her YA debut
There Once Were Stars, and her YA urban fantasy Summoner Rising.

She lives with her husband and two daughters in the Land of Living Skies.Website | Twitter | Facebook | InstagramGoodreads


Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive a DVD of THE CRAFT, US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

 

Welcome the Author of DAMAGED GOODS

The second book in the Blank Slate series, DAMAGED GOODS,  has finally been released into the world. Today, I’m chatting with the author of that YA Dystopian series.

Welcome, Jennifer!I’ve read both of these Blank Slate books and the universe intrigues me. I especially liked viewing too much online interaction as “evil.”

I’m insistent with my kids that we don’t have technology out while we’re having a family dinner, but it seems like texts, notifications and other things distract us from each other at every other time. What gave you the idea to have cell phones cause brain tumors and be seen as a “big evil” by The Vestal founder?

I’m addicted to my smartphone as much as the next person. In fact, I’m probably more addicted because I’m on social media so much. Turning off my phone and paying attention to the people in front of me is something I struggle with, but I try hard to be a good role model for my kids. They aren’t old enough for iPhones yet, but when they are, I don’t want them to copy bad habits.

The idea about phones and brain cancer came to me when a friend was describing what it was like visiting her old sorority house at college. At my college, everyone had normal dorm rooms, but at her sorority house, there was a sleeping room. One person was in charge of waking everyone up at the allotted time, that way there wasn’t a gazillion alarm clocks going off all morning. My friend was shocked when she visited because nowadays, instead of a person on duty waking people up, all the girls just slept with their cellphones right on their pillow with silent alarms. She wondered if that was safe, having Bluetooth, etc. right next to their brain matter. That’s what gave me the idea for GENESIS GIRL and the cancer epidemic.

I find the billboard advertising in the series somewhat ironic. In a totally tech society, shouldn’t advertising in that way be extinct?

In my imagination, they were more like digital billboards, with changing screens. In real life advertising infiltrates our lives at every possible moment. There’s Disney Princesses on my daughter’s chicken noodle soup! But in the future, who knows how advertising will evolve? It will be exciting to see.

Of course, Blanca’s attraction to the billboards is also interesting. I always loved reading them when we traveled by car. They seemed more “honest” than TV commercials to me, but why would I think that?(rhetorical question) And why does Blanca see being exposed there as acceptable while online media revelations are dirty and evil?

Blanca’s okay with the billboards because they are approved advertisements from the companies the Vestals represent. She wants complete control of how her image will be shared. So if McNeal solar shares a picture of her, Blanca is excited. But if a total stranger snaps a shot of her standing at a bus stop, Blanca would freak out. It’s kind of like how some people never want their friends to share pictures of them online unless their hair and makeup is perfect.

A major theme in the new book is trust. It’s interesting that Blanca keeps big secrets and doesn’t trust the right people but doesn’t see those things as a lack of trust or even a problem. What are you hoping your teenage readers take from this?

Knowing who to trust is one of those hard lessons everyone must learn on the path to adulthood. Don’t be the first person to fall asleep at a slumber party, for example. But for Blanca, trust is exceptionally challenging since she grew up in a controlling environment where she was brainwashed. My hope is that teen readers take inspiration from Blanca’s commitment to survive, think for herself, and follow her instincts.

Thanks so much for writing such “page turners” and for taking time out to stop by my blog. And now for a totally “fun” question. If you could have a super power, what would it be? Why would you choose it?

Thank you for having me! I would love to be able to fly—or make dog poop disappear. Either one!

Check out my FOUR STAR review of the book on Goodreads.

Read more about DAMAGED GOODS and don’t forget to enter the giveaway.

DamagedGoods_Cover

Title: DAMAGED GOODS (Blank Slate #2)
Author: Jennifer Bardsley
Pub. Date: January 17, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
Pages: 300
Find it: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | TBD

Blanca has everything she ever wanted, a hot boyfriend named Seth and the loving support of her foster father, Cal. She’s finally escaped the abusive control of her birth father, Barbelo Nemo, and her tortured childhood at Tabula Rasa School.

But the scars of Blanca’s Vestal upbringing run deep, especially when the FBI start asking questions. Blanca feels abandoned by Seth who is hunting for Lilith, Blanca’s only blood relative. The Defectos, a support group of Vestal-Rejects, offer Blanca comfort instead.

While the Vestal order crumbles, Chinese rivals called the Guardians rise to power and wrest control of important Tabula Rasa contacts. Now Blanca’s life is in peril once more, and this time, Blanca struggles to recognize friend from foe.

About Jennifer

Jennifer Bardsley, authorJennifer Bardsley writes the parenting column “I Brake for Moms” for the Sunday edition of The Everett Daily HeraldShe also blogs at Teaching My Baby to Read with the mission of sparking a national debate on the important roll parents play in education. Jennifer is a graduate of Stanford University and a member of SCBWI. She lives with her husband and two children in Edmonds, WA.

The first novel in this series, GENESIS GIRL, released in 2016 and is about an 18 year-old girl whose lack of a virtual footprint makes her so valuable that she is auctioned off to the highest bidder. Jennifer is represented by Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Literary Agency LLC.

Follow the Jennifer on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.

Giveaway Details:

(1) winner will receive a Perfectly Posh, Posh To Meet You Set ($20 value), US Only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

DAMAGED GOODS_banner

Tour Schedule:

Week One:

1/16/2017- The Avid Book Collector– Excerpt
1/16/2017- Sammeh Lurves Reading– Review

1/17/2017- Lisa’s Loves(Books of Course)– Guest Post
1/17/2017- I am not a bookworm!- Review

1/18/2017- Sharon Lee Hughson, Author– Interview
1/18/2017- Bookish Hollow– Review

1/19/2017- Hidden Worlds Books– Guest Post
1/19/2017- Taylicious Reads– Review

1/20/2017- Bibliobibuli YA– Interview
1/20/2017- Abooktropolis– Review

See the rest of the tour schedule here.

New Today! In the Shadow of the Dragon King

My author friend J. Keller Ford releases her debut novel today. Dragon fans and fans of young adult adventure won’t want to miss In the Shadow of the Dragon King.

Ms. Ford and I are more than writing acquaintances. More than Facebook friends. I’ve actually spoken to her on the telephone about her beta comments on my still-to-find-a-publisher young adult fantasy novel.

She’s seen my own criticism on an early draft of the sequel to this debut novel. Surprise, surprise, she even found it helpful.

So when she needed people to read and review this book before it released, I was happy to do it. As long as she still let me purchase an autographed copy from her (and she did! I have it!).

The electronic ARC arrived post-haste. I couldn’t wait to read it.

My Summary

IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING eBook Cover 2700x1800In the magic, medieval land of Fallhallow, Eric wants to get noticed. Isn’t he more than a squire? When the dragon king attacks, all of Eric’s dreams and plans get a quick makeover. His knight disappears, accused of treasonous acts. Eric will find the Paladin and save the kingdom.

Then people will notice him. Finally.

In Tennessee, David and his best friend Charlotte are enjoying the last days of summer vacation. Until several strange visits reveal news David can’t believe. A magical creature whisks him and Charlotte off to a world of dragons, nights, sorcerers and sorceresses.

Apparently, David has some great destiny in this place. If he doesn’t accept his role and learn the basics of magic, the darker forces might destroy him – and all of Fallhallow.

It’s a story of friendship and faith. The characters struggle to grow up and give up on beliefs that no longer hold true. A coming of age tale for readers of our generation to connect with in the same way I connected with To Kill a Mockingbird.

My Review

David and Charlotte have a unique relationship which drew me in right away. I couldn’t relate to his circumstances (rich orphan) but she seemed down-to-earth and quite relatable.

What do you do when your best friend is the opposite sex? What if one of you wants to move beyond the friend zone? Do you risk the friendship in hopes the romance will last? I counseled my sons to steer away from converting friendships to romances until they were adults (or at least ready for a serious and perhaps permanent relationship).

This is an authentic problem many teenagers face. It will help readers love David and Charlotte as much as I do.

As for squire Eric, he rubs me the wrong way. Still. Even after he grew up some in the story.

First of all, he’s supposed to be older than the other two, but he acts more immature on many levels. Which didn’t make sense to me since he was in a land where childhood is forfeited early. His actions from the start seemed like something a younger kid would fall into.

Secondly, he acted like a sidekick with his best friend, rather than taking a leadership role. And he wonders why the knights have no confidence in him? Later, he seemed like a spoiled child, and I didn’t see how that would ever be a default reaction. His blacksmith father didn’t seem like the type to permit such behavior. A knight wouldn’t desire it from his squire.

Later, he runs amok without thought to anyone’s feelings but his own. Rather than trying to seek out people he knows and loves, he determines to find this mystical Paladin, who might be able to save the kingdom from the dragon king. There’s just nothing there for me to admire – but at least half of the story is from his perspective.

It was one of those books when I was dreading returning to a certain narrator.

I enjoyed the story. There was magic and mystery and action galore. Ford introduces some fascinating species in her world, and I’m looking forward to meeting more of them. The ice dragon with feathers is my favorite so far.

The magic system seemed shallow. While the rest of this setting seemed complete, the magical portions failed to compel, interest or convince me.

Why? It didn’t take much practice for David to master the spells introduced to him by a sorceress. Was there a drain from using the magic? Not that I noticed. Hopefully, we’ll learn more about how magic works in Fallhallow in the next book.

Check out the blog tour, including opportunities to win prizes, by clicking on the tour button.Chapter-by-Chapter-blog-tour-button

My Recommendation

I give the novel 4.2 out of five stars.

The plot and characters were compelling, but not universally so. Some of the events seemed a little “convenient” for rescuing the characters rather than being organic to the story itself.

Anyone who enjoys adventure stories similar to Percy Jackson will find this novel entertaining. The dialogue and interaction between David and Charlotte rival what you’d find between Percy and Anabeth in the early Percy Jackson books.

If you’ve been waiting for a good dragon tale, you’ll definitely want to latch on to this book. The nemesis dragon king is terrifying and overwhelming, bitter and fierce. My mouth went dry every time he entered a scene. And did I mention the smaller dragon with feathers? I love him to death.

In the Shadow of the Dragon King will transport you to a magical realm and pump you full of adrenaline for the trip.

Get your copy here:  Google Play | BAM | Chapters | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | TBD | iBooks

Now, I’m off to read my autographed copy. See you in Fallhallow!

NEW: Ashes in the Sky

Fire-in-the-Woods-CoverIf you’re new to the Fire in the Woods series, stop reading. Click here to read my review of the first book, then go pick up a copy and read it first. You won’t be sorry. I promise.

Fire in the Woods can stand alone. It tied everything up in a neat package. But there’s a sequel (or three).

Why would anyone want to read on? Isn’t a series supposed to leave loose threads to guarantee readers keep buying the books?

If you’ve read many of my reviews, you’ll know I ding books that don’t have a clear problem that is solved by the last page.

And even though there is another book about Jess and David after Ashes in the Sky, Eaton ties up this story in a satisfying package. Just like the first one.

My Summary

AshesInTheSky.v6-Book2-Final.v3.BNAfter a summer of army interrogations and media appearances, Jess wants life to get back to normal. It’s her senior year. She’s got college applications that need submitting.

When the photographic opportunity of a lifetime comes her way, Jess leaves normal behind. Again. This time, she’ll be shooting aboard an alien spaceship.

Much to her delight, she also gets to see David. But things are different when he’s not wearing the false human skin she knows so well.

Different isn’t a bad thing, but try convincing a hard-headed alien of that. When Jess’ camera catches sight of something she was never meant to see, she and David have to run again.

This time, it’s an alien in pursuit. And rather than fleeing on foot, they’re in a spaceship. And the alien who’s after them is not afraid to eliminate anyone who stands in his way.

My Review

The book started out with Jess, her snarky voice hadn’t been shredded by her awful summer under scrutiny. She and her dad have become closer, and he’s in over-protective mode from page one.

Which causes conflict. And creates irony when he ends up being the one who needs rescuing.

We move deeper into the father-daughter issues but then they get tossed into the back seat while Jess hops aboard a spaceship. By the end, though, this relationship moves beyond one of its stumbling blocks.

The central issue of whether Jess and David can have a future together sprouts in the reader’s mind. More and more roadblocks are revealed. A strange connection goes unexplained (but there’s another book or two).

Once again, the character issues are wrapped into a life-or-death race against time. Although there were some boggy moments in the first half of the book, the story escalated to incredible heights. The bottom dropped out a few times. Things look even bleaker for Jess than in the first book.

Jess doesn’t need rescuing. She actively finds a way to confront the bad guys. This is one of the reasons I adore her so much.

As in the first book, the theme of inter-species interaction gets center billing. For a teenager (like Jess), it’s all about the feels. Unfortunately, there are plenty of grown ups who have more authority and influence over her choices at the moment.

This is the question that remains unanswered. It’s a deep question and an easy resolution would cheapen its significance. I’m ready to read on and find out how Jess can change David’s mind, when all the facts seem to be on his side.

My Recommendation

This book series is for romance lovers. Yes, Ashes reads like science fiction, much more so than the first book. However, the author does an excellent job of dropping in just enough description to ground and interest the reader, without deadening the frontal lobe with too much scientific mumbo-jumbo.

If you like alien stories and cool space technology, you’ll adore this book, too. Even though the relationships are central, there is an excellent adventure element to Ashes in the Sky. Adrenaline junkies won’t be disappointed.

If you haven’t done it already, buy Fire in the Woods and Ashes in the Sky. You won’t be able to get enough of Jess and David.

Like me, you’ll be drumming your fingers and demanding, “When is the next book coming out?”

Some things are worth waiting for. That was true of Ashes in the Sky, and I’m sure the third book will prove to be, as well.