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Month: March 2016

Weekly Recap

Hi, friends! I’ve been radio silent for the past few weeks dealing with an avalanche of deadlines and a tyranny of promotional events (including for the stellar A Tyranny of Petticoats anthology, in which I have a story)! So this weekly recap will actually be for the past few weeks. Mea culpa.


The Past Few Weeks In New Releases


The Past Few Weeks in Cover Reveals

(I know I missed a TON, so I apologize!)


These Past Few Weeks in Internet Reading

Moneyball for Book Publishing – Reader habits data and what it could mean for how books get produced down the line.

What Authors Can and Can’t Control in Traditional Publishing

On writing a “middle-finger book” from Nova Ren Suma. I feel this deeply.

“I just don’t identify with the character” – an in-depth look at how editors and publishers perpetuate homogenous identities and experiences in children’s literature, and how they can create lasting and meaningful diversity.


These Past Few Weeks in Writing

(ie, why I’ve sucked at blogging lately)

Finished line edits on A Darkly Beating Heart! This was a mad, exhilarating sprint and I’m in such a better place now about this book.

Finished up a slew of freelance work.

Loads and loads of fun promotional events for A Tyranny of Petticoats!

Write some fun bonus material for a forthcoming promotional effort for The Witch Who Came In From the Cold. More information soon . . .

Great progress on Ghosts of Grimley, my first foray into middle grade.

I’ve finished the outline and I’m full steam ahead on my next YA project, which will also be my Camp NaNoWriMo draft for April.

…And finally, I’m writing a Valentin POV story as a gift for everyone who signs up for my newsletter on or before April 19th, to celebrate the paperback releases of Sekret and Skandal! (There’s loads of other goodies in the #SekretSkandal giveaway too, so don’t miss out!)

P.S.: If you’d like to keep up with me and all my wild writing pursuits, plus use a great project tracker for your own writing, join me on My Write Club!

The Past Few Weeks in Reading


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Sekret & Skandal Paperback Promotion

I’m so excited to announce that my first series, the SEKRET duology, is going to be out in paperback in just under a month! To celebrate, I’m going to be hosting a giveaway and releasing a bunch of cool content, including teasers, dossiers, and even–for those who sign up for my newsletter–a new short story from the POV of someone I know you all love. WINK. WINK.


To enter the INTERNATIONAL giveaway:

Tweet, Tumbl, or Instagram anything related to Sekret & Skandal–pictures of the books in the wild, fan art, your favorite quotes, and more–and use the hashtag #SekretSkandal. Brownie points if you also link to my website.

I’ll respond to your post to let you know I’ve recorded your entry for the giveaway. If you don’t hear from me within a couple of days, @ me or contact me privately to make sure I saw it.

Multiple entries from the same person will get you an additional entry but it has to be new content (no reposting).

I’ll close entries on Sunday, April 24th at 11:59pm EDT and select the winner via Randomizer shortly thereafter.

The more entries I get, the more prizes I’ll add to the pack, but it’s starting with THREE signed books (US only) or THREE hardcover books from The Book Depository (Int’l) and some printed artwork, all of which will be revealed in the weeks ahead . . .


I look forward to seeing everyone’s entries!


To buy SEKRET:

IndieboundAmazonBarnes & NobleChapters The Book DepositoryPowell’sKoboiBooks



IndieboundAmazonBarnes & NobleChaptersThe Book DepositoryPowell’sKoboiBooks


KURSED, a digital-only prequel novella:

Amazon (Kindle)Barnes & Noble (Nook)Chapters (Kobo)Kobo iBooks

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Game Theory, Plot Twists, and the Velocity of Media (Part 2)

Earlier, I talked about how game theory works, and hinted at the way writers might use it to inform how they design their plot twists. So today, let’s look a little further at how that all plays out!

Once upon a time, audiences were almost always playing the storytelling game at Level 0–which is to say, they had no idea they were participating in the game at all. They had no idea a big plot twist was coming their way. So they weren’t even knowing that they should expect any wild twist, much less ones about sleds named Rosebud or about Luke’s parentage.

But nowadays, we generally expect for something in the story to not be what it seems. We are aware that storytelling is a game, and at very least, we are all playing at Level 1. It can be as subtle as an ally actually being an adversary, or as juicy and gratifying as . . . well.

When a story presents itself straightforwardly and carries along to its natural conclusion, to modern consumers’ perceptions, it’s too flat. Too unsurprising. Most people are going to be playing at at least Level 1. That’s just the nature of media these days.

Hell, even certain twists have become so common as to be unsurprising. The farmboy was the Chosen One all along. The butler didn’t do it (except for when he actually did). The boat sinks. John dies at the end. The island was actually purgatory. (Uhhh. I think.) These are so common that they’ve become “tropes,” and once you’ve become a trope, you’re really a few dozen repetitions away from a cliche. If you want to really, truly surprise readers, you need to look for a twist or a surprise beyond the basic staples.

You need to play the storytelling game at Level 2.

Let’s say you’ve got your characters set up, and they need to pull off a heist, or some sort of mechanically complex heist-like scenario.

Level 0: They plan the heist. They execute the heist. Maybe some slight hiccups but more or less it goes as planned. Yawwwwnsville.

Level 1: They plan the heist. They execute the heist BUT all is not as it seems. The princess is in another castle! The boss’s right-hand lady was plotting to lock them in the vault! The sinister Count Moneytits is sitting in the vault, awaiting them all! &c.

Level 2: They plan the heist, at least partially off-camera from the audience. (NOTE: this is usually a big clue that things are going to work out as they planned it, I’ve noticed. If we hear the plan, that almost always means things won’t go to plan.) Suddenly, it looks like everything has gone off the rails. Oh, sweet bazooka, this looks really bad–BUT IT ACTUALLY ISN’T. IT WAS THE PLAN ALL ALONG.

Personally, I love Level 2 plot twists. They aren’t so outlandish as to be completely implausible and incomprehensible, but they also show that the creator cared enough about their audience to take the extra time and craft to come up with something really fresh. They didn’t latch onto the obvious twist, the first idea that popped into their head. They probably rejected a few potential setups (it was the sister all along, they thought he died but he actually didn’t) as too Level 1.

But you will still find critics of these twists. Frequent readers are very, very savvy, after all, and  they’ve seen so much media that even the Level 2 permutations become commonplace to them. They’re often going to be looking for a Level 2 twist.

So you might be tempted to play into their hands. To up the stakes even further and play the game at Level 3.

But that way lies nonsensicalness, poor foreshadowing, chaos, and consternation from everyone but this rarefied crowd:

It can work. It usually doesn’t.

My advice, then, is two-fold:

  1. Look for those Level 2 opportunities. Rather than reaching for the obvious twist, lay out something a little subtler and less crucial that will make readers feel rewarded whether they are surprised by the twist (didn’t see it coming) but also if they anticipate the twist (they picked up on foreshadowing and get to feel clever).
  2. Don’t make incorrect guesses about the twist the very crux of your story, unless that is really, truly what you want your book to be about. That’s okay if so! But the entire experience should be rewarding, both before the twist and after. The twist should generally, in my opinion, build toward a larger issue rather than serve as the large issue itself.

For example: In Sekret, an identity exposed gives Yulia some vital pieces of information in order to succeed in her goals. The mere fact of the exposure doesn’t solve anything or confound anything. It’s what the protagonist does with it that makes the difference. I expected a rough split between readers who anticipated it and who didn’t, because ultimately, what was important was what Yulia did with the twist that drove the plot. Hopefully whether people guessed it or not, they felt satisfied at the surprise or at the confirmation.

But I have a few more thoughts on tropes->cliches, plot twists, and straightforwardness in storytelling, particularly with what it means with regards toward understanding your audience and how they play the game–whether we’re talking about readers’ age or their relative storytelling savvy. And for that, we’ll need to discuss the velocity of media in Part 3.

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Game Theory, Plot Twists, and the Velocity of Media (Part 1)

I know, with a title like that, how could you NOT click? /sarcasm And yes, this will be a multi-parter.

Let’s talk about media consumption. Specifically, the fact that we are living in a veritable golden age of choice in media. No niche untapped. Whether you’re into shapeshifter billionaire bear porn, psychic teenage Russian spies, cute fluffy middle grade blackmail series, or anything else–there is probably a book there for you.

We are consuming more media than ever before. And it’s making readers so much savvier and so much more discriminating than ever before. For writers, this is a double-edged sword. You can tell whatever story you please, and, in theory at least, connect with those readers across the globe who are craving just the kind of story you’re telling.

However, this presents two challenges. The first is beyond the scope of this series, and that is: FINDING those readers. (I still suck at finding people for whom “psychic teenage Russian spies” lights up all the right dopamine chains. When I figure this one out, I’ll let you know.) The second is making your work matter to those who have found it: standing out for a readership who has, at an exponentially growing rate, BEEN THERE and DONE THAT and ALREADY READ LIKE SIXTY BOOKS WHEN THAT GENRE WAS ALL THE RAGE THREE YEARS AGO FFS.

(At least, most of them have. But more on that later.)

Writer, you are playing a game with your readers. It is a battle for their attention, their interest, their willing suspension of disbelief. And like any game, there are levels of competency that can completely change the game, even if they aren’t written into the rules. This is sometimes referred to as the “meta-game,” which is based on people’s understanding of how others play the same game they’re playing. But it’s more commonly known as game theory.

I am going to use a ridiculously weird example that gives insight into my ridiculously weird little mind-cage, but bear with me, here.

Game Theory: The Bladder Games

Say you’ve got to visit the restroom. You head into the restroom, maybe at school or work, somewhere that it’s not necessarily the cleanest but also not the grossest. You’re the only person there. All four stalls are available to you.

Game Level 0:
You pick a stall at random. Hope it’s clean!

But maybe you make the conscious decision to choose what you hope will be the cleanest stall. Now you are playing the game.

Game Level 1:
You choose the stall you think has probably seen the least use. Maybe Stall No. 4, furthest from the door. It seems logical, after all, that Stall No. 1, right next to the door, would be the most-used, because most people don’t want to expend the effort to walk all the way to the end. Look at you, being clever!

AHH, BUT WAIT. Maybe you are a veteran game-player. Perhaps you are a fan of Mythbusters, and you think to yourself–SELF! I have seen a Mythbusters episode in which they explored this very issue. They actually counted how many times a given stall was used throughout the course of the day, and they found that the stall closest to the door was actually the least-used stall. Further, they state that it is possible that this is the case because so many people play this game at Level 1 that Stall No. 1 actually becomes the least-used.

Game Level 2:
You anticipate the decisions made by people who are playing The Bladder Games at Level 1, and foil them with your dastardly foil of foiling. You use your meta-gaming knowledge confirmed by an outside source to deduce that actually, Stall No. 1 is the least-used. TRICKSY, TRICKSY.

But now . . . doubt seeps into your heart, and into the increasing levels of PSI exerted on your poor bladder. The spectre of poor choices hangs over you, and the dire consequences of a potentially icky stall await. You are entering dangerous levels of meta-gaming, where space becomes time and life becomes death. How many people saw that Mythbusters episode, you wonder? What was its TV market share? How many people remember? How many people, too, are playing at Level 2? And so you find yourself trapped.

Game Level 3:
Anything can happen here. You run actuarial calculations in your head, trying to guess the likelihood of others playing the game at levels 0, 1, and 2. A lifetime of anxiety and uncertainty await.

And so on and so forth.

Now, weird example aside, perhaps you can see how these questions of game theory and uncertainty of what level others are playing at can feed into the way you decide to construct your plot. You must create something new and fresh–something at a higher level of gaming than you anticipate your readers to be playing if you want to surprise them or offer them something fresh.

But what level is the right level? How does your intended audience affect which level you choose? And how does the proliferation of media in our modern culture affect the meta-game of storytelling?

Stay tuned for Part 2, on PLOT TWISTS.

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A Tyranny of Petticoats Now on Sale!

A Tyranny of Petticoats
A Tyranny of Petticoats

From an impressive sisterhood of YA writers comes an edge-of-your-seat anthology of historical fiction and fantasy featuring a diverse array of daring heroines.

Crisscross America — on dogsleds and ships, stagecoaches and trains — from pirate ships off the coast of the Carolinas to the peace, love, and protests of 1960s Chicago. Join fifteen of today’s most talented writers of young adult literature on a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own course. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They’re making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell.

With stories by:
J. Anderson Coats
Andrea Cremer
Y. S. Lee
Katherine Longshore
Marie Lu
Kekla Magoon
Marissa Meyer
Saundra Mitchell
Beth Revis
Caroline Richmond
Lindsay Smith
Jessica Spotswood
Robin Talley
Leslye Walton
Elizabeth Wein


IndieboundAmazonBarnes & NobleChaptersThe Book DepositoryAudible

I am so thrilled to be part of this wonderful, heartfelt, inventive anthology. When Jessica Spotswood approached me about contributing to an anthology about girls across the span of US history, I was ecstatic. I looked at a lot of different time periods, but ultimately settled on the homefront experience during World War II, about the City of Angels and how it became a city of women while all the men were at war. Evie came to Los Angeles seeking work as a screenwriter, but she finds something else entirely when she gets mixed up with the charismatic, larger-than-life Frankie, another girl at the airplane factory. Between building airplanes and gathering scrap metal for the war effort, they both have much to learn about women’s ever-changing roles in America and about themselves.

I’m still working my way through this anthology, but a few other standout stories I loved:

“Madeleine’s Choice” by Jessica Spotswood, an exploration of the quadroon balls and antebellum New Orleans life for the free people of color

“Rise of the Panthers” by Kekla Magoon, about a farmgirl in 1960s Indiana whose life is forever changed when the Black Panthers come through town

“The Red Raven Ball” by Caroline Richmond, as a debutante would rather hunt for Confederate spies at her grandmother’s fete than hunt for a spouse

“The Whole World Is Watching” by Robin Talley, chronicling a group of protestors taking a stand at the 1968 Democratic National Convention

“The Journey” by Marie Lu, a mystical voyage across pre-American Alaska under the watchful eyes of the Inupiat spirits


If you’re in the DC area, you can join Jessica Spotswood, Caroline Richmond, Robin Talley, and myself for a launch party on Friday, March 11th, at One More Page Books! For West Coasters, the University Bookstore in Bellevue is hosting J Anderson Coats, Marissa Meyer, and Leslye Walton tonight.

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