2015: Looking Back!

Dec 19, 2015 Main blog 20 comments

What a year it has been! I got a little farklempt drafting this post because I couldn’t help remembering this time in 2014. That December, I was beyond burnt out and discouraged from the endless, maddening cycle of querying, revising, and entering contests, and I’m pretty sure this week was the week I texted close writer friends to tell them I was giving up on traditional publishing at last. I simply didn’t have what it took.

“If it was meant to be,” I told them, “then it wouldn’t be this hard.”

If I ever publish an autobiography one day, it would be titled “Close, But No Cigar: The Julie Dao Story.” There is nothing that punches the heart harder than getting riiiight up there to that elusive door, and then having it slam in your face, over and over and over. Honestly? I would have preferred not getting into every contest I entered. I would have preferred form rejections over R&Rs that never panned out. At least then, I would have known what to fix. I would have been able to move on. It drove me CRAZY that I was clearly doing everything right, I had a query letter that worked, and I had written a tight manuscript, and still couldn’t get over the hurdle for some reason.

This Adele song, “Chasing Pavements,” was my freakin’ anthem in 2014.


Should I give up
Or should I just keep chasing pavements
Even if it leads nowhere?





There is nothing quite like being a depressed writer… unless it’s a depressed writer with a broken leg. Last winter was quite possibly the worst winter of my entire life, and keep in mind I am a native New Englander. But there is nothing anyone can do to prepare for EIGHT FEET of snow. It was nor’easter after nor’easter, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some Bostonians broke out into hives at the words “winter storm warning.”

And, because snowbanks twice as tall as me weren’t enough, there was also plenty of ice! Yay! I was on my way to work when I became a landing cushion for a woman who had slipped. Let me rephrase that: my left kneecap became a landing cushion for a woman who had slipped. Luckily, I worked at a hospital, so a doctor checked it out right away. My x-ray showed a horizontal crack right across the patella. My first broken bone!

I am so grateful I didn’t need knee surgery, though. I just had to shuffle around with a brace (to keep the two pieces of the bone together, and prevent them from cracking apart further) and go to physical therapy. And I’m happy to report that my knee is pretty much back to normal, except for the fact that I still can’t kneel on a hard floor. Found that out the hard way when I dropped a pen under my desk… OUCH.




I won’t go back into this story, because you guys know all about it. Suffice it to say, I was in a state of complete and utter disbelief for two weeks. I kept pacing, panicking, and wondering how I had tricked these incredible agents into liking my book and liking me enough to offer. They were supposed to say “no” like everybody else! I was 100% sure they would back out and say, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to offer to you. I confused you with someone else.” But they didn’t. They opened the publishing door for me.

The day I posted this on Twitter felt unreal. I remember it took me three whole days to respond to all of your comments and messages on Twitter, Facebook, email, and this blog, because I wanted to make sure you all knew how much I appreciated your words. Luckily, I was snowed in and couldn’t go to work because the trains had been shut down all over the city (big surprise), so that was what I spent my time doing! It was glorious!





I dove into final revisions with more enthusiasm than I ever thought I’d have, considering I had read this manuscript approximately 85 billion times. But this time, I had Tamar to tell me if I was screwing up or not. What a world of difference that made, to not have to go it alone anymore.

It also hit me then that this was getting pretty real. Like… I was one step away from literally achieving my dream. (Well, not one step, technically. But still a LOT closer.) So I kept doing what I was doing with my online “platform,” or whatever (meaning I messed around on Twitter when I should have been brainstorming my new project). And, after Googling myself and finding a hundred other Julie Daos, I officially added my middle initial on all of my social media.

And then this happened in April:



What Happened In My Head
Friend: So, why are you going to New York again this weekend?
Me: (casually picks at nails) I’m trying on bridesmaid dresses with my cousin, and catching a Broadway show. Oh, and I might grab coffee with my agent. No big deal.
What Happened For Real
Friend: So, why are you going to New York again this weekend?
Me: (incoherent babbling)


Yes, I am a dork and I get REALLY excited about things that other people probably just take in stride. I’ve actually been criticized before for being too cheesy and sappy and rose-colored-glasses-y on my blog. But you know what? That’s who I am. When big things happen in my life, I am going to celebrate them to the fullest. Life’s too short to be cool and collected, and my writing road has been too hard. So I took my over-excited self on a train to NYC and got to meet Tamar and Laura and tour their office!




This year has been a phenomenal one, but also a really hard one in different ways. (See: autobiography title above.) My manuscript and I reached a point that some writers never, ever get to. After all this time, I was getting signs that… maybe I do have what it takes. I wanted to give my full attention to my next project, FOTL, and just get it written. The idea had been in my head since I was 13, but I had never felt ready enough to write it. Now, at last, I had the confidence to try. So I made the choice to do something a little crazy and maybe not so smart, but something I needed: writing full-time for a short while.

After consulting with Tamar, I also decided to post PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS on Wattpad. It terrified me because I wrote this book when I was still learning how to write well. The thought of posting a beginner effort for the public was scary, but having it languish away on my hard drive made me sad because I love it so much.



Well, it turned out to be the right move because within months, it got Featured Story status on the front page of Wattpad, hit #39 on the Teen Fiction list out of millions of books, and got almost 150,000 views. Those numbers, and the overwhelming response I’ve gotten from teen and tween readers (the people for whom I actually write!) gave me the boost of confidence I needed. Many of them have been kind enough to jump onboard and follow me, saying they’d buy a print copy of PPP or anything else I publish. I knew if I could convince them to like a book I had written years ago, I might be able to write something else they’d also enjoy, now that I’ve spent all this time learning the craft.



In August, I got another boost of confidence. I went on the Ireland Writer Tours trip led by Susan Spann and Heather Webb, and their feedback on my early pages of FOTL was amazing and smart. Heather told me that when my pages came in, she called Susan and they discussed how much they loved the story on the phone! I did have to tone it way down, though, because they thought it was adult epic fantasy (it’s YA). And then Susan gave me the idea for the ending of Book #1 and helped me figure something out that I’d been stuck on for months. I returned home with a better understanding of my characters and the whole arc of the series I’d envisioned. I am hoping I get the chance to write the second/companion book one day!

Also, this is a thing that happened over the summer:



If you know me at all, you know I am the BIGGEST Maggie Stiefvater fangirl. It’s no secret that I think she’s one of the greatest YA writers living today, and SCORPIO RACES ripped me apart and changed me as a writer. Basically, she is just a little below J.K. Rowling on my list of author heroes, and that’s saying a lot. I won a sheet of her Tarot card illustrations on one of her Twitter contests, and she mailed it to me with a gracious note, and has been following me ever since! I sometimes wonder if she’ll catch on to the fact that she never unfollowed me and has been seeing all of my annoying inspirational tweets and Instagram pics littering her timeline…




I was a dutiful Pitch Wars mentee to N.K. Traver and Stephanie Garber, and gave them what they’d always wanted: a GRAND-MENTEE! Yes, I added the lovely and talented Lorien Hallama to our little writer family tree. Her query and full manuscript knocked my socks off when I was in Ireland. I got so many amazing entries that I wish I could have picked them all, but in the end, I chose Lorien.

What an experience it was to help someone through the hurdles I’d jumped myself just a year ago. To this day, I still email Nat and Stephanie in a writing crisis, and I knew just how important it was to have a mentor and friend who’d gone through the same thing. I wanted to be that for someone else, which is why I jumped into Pitch Wars mentoring. And I intend to do it again next year!



Finally, just short of 95,000 words, I finished the rough draft of FOTL. I have been revising ever since (read: rewriting almost everything because I didn’t really figure the true plot out until I finished drafting) and will do one more read-through before I hit “send.” Self-imposed deadline is end of 2015!

In summary, this year has been pretty great. Things happened that I honestly believed never would. And amazing things happened to many close writer friends, too: several of them snagged agents and/or book deals, some self-published, and one scored an enormous book deal AND movie deal. So if you are in the boat I was in last year, just remember: next year could be your year. Anything can happen.

After all this time, I’ve at last learned not to make goals based on things I can’t control. So my resolution is to write three brand-new books next year — I’m planning two middle-grade books and a YA — and to make them as great as possible. I’m going to go back to work, but even though writing will once more happen only on nights and weekends, I am determined to accomplish this goal!

Thanks, as always, for sticking with me and my blog. I will never forget how much you guys have helped me! Here’s to a bright and happy 2016 for all of us!

DIY: Giving Thanks With Framed Quotes!

Nov 25, 2015 Main blog 15 comments

So, this is my blog’s SEVENTH Thanksgiving! It is definitely an old lady in blog years, and I am proud that it’s still around and kicking.

One of my goals is to use this blog to show my progression from baby writer to better writer, to agented writer, to published writer (come on, universe!). Those types of blogs always encourage me the most because they show that 1) getting better at writing takes a ton of time and hard work, and 2) it can be done. And isn’t it fun to read someone’s early blog entries and discover that they, too, struggled with querying/revising/coming up with an idea/typing words?

The one thing you’ll find out about me is I am disgustingly optimistic. My positivity is a cockroach that can’t be killed. Each time I sink into a puddle of misery and anxiety, I bounce back even more determined than before. So I’m still holding out hope that I will achieve this blog goal. Only time will tell…

Anyway, every Thanksgiving, I talk about things I am thankful for. And even if I don’t mention them, my writer friends are always near the top of the list. They keep me sane and afloat, talk me off ledges, push me to finish my new projects so they can read them, and believe in me absolutely.

They treat my successes as their own, and trust me, that is hard to find. The friends I choose to keep around are the ones from whom I never have to hide good news. And I refuse to rain on my own parades anymore in a business where the parades are few and far between!

This year, I wanted to return the favor to my writing buddies. I wanted to show how much I believed in them, and to give them support and encouragement. So I took one day off this weekend from revising (I know, shocker) and spent it doing something fun and crafty for some of my pals!



The DIY Framed Quotes Project!


I am obsessed with inspirational quotes, as you can tell from my Pinterest board HERE. I pin them, I write them on sticky notes, and now… I frame them.

I found these cute mini wooden frames at a craft store nearby (scroll down to see), and they gave me the idea for the project! I searched Pinterest and Google for quotes I loved and made me think of the friends I had in mind for one reason or another.

Once I had my list, I traced the wooden frames on cardstock (I had postcards!) and then hand-lettered the quotes with black and/or purple gel pens. The ink kept smudging, which was annoying, but I think the trick is to let it dry a bit between steps next time.



I also think I’ll use colored cardstock next time, instead of using colored pencils because that also made the ink smudge (even after waiting a good long while for it to dry!). But I still really like the way they turned out, especially after I cut around the frames, leaving half an inch around the border for glueing purposes.



Each frame was pretty thin, so I had this idea that I would glue two framed quotes back-to-back. So if my friends got bored with one quote, they could flip the frame over! Voila!

I used a glue stick, because I didn’t have anything else on hand, but I would definitely use liquid glue next time. Hopefully the frames are staying together… they’re in the mail right now.



And here is what the finished product looks like! Cute, right?!



I flipped them all over and here are the quotes on the backs:



I had so much fun with this project, and I think it’s a nice, unique way to say “Thanks!” and give encouragement to writer buddies in turn.

Let me know if you try anything similar, because I want to see pictures!

Happy Thanksgiving if you are celebrating it this week. I hope you get to spend it with people you care about, and also some delicious food!

Recharging Your Writing/Revising Batteries

Nov 19, 2015 Main blog 9 comments

Here’s the thing about writing as a full-time job: it never really ends.

I love waking up every day excited to work. I love it so much, I’ve been writing all day, all night, and almost every weekend. And when I’m doing other things, like eating, showering, or (gasp!) being social, I’m feeling antsy and guilty about not writing.

But that’s a recipe for burnout, right? And today the burnout hit. I’m currently revising my fantasy, which is super, super fun because of the world-building and character-expanding that I get to do. But as excited as I was to rewrite my chapter, I found when I sat down that I felt… tired. Restless. Stuck.

So I gave myself permission to take the rest of the day off, seeing as I haven’t really done that in weeks. I told myself that other typical full-time jobs don’t require working around the clock, nights and weekends included. Plus, it’s healthy to get away from the manuscript.

I still feel a tiny bit guilty, but it’s not like I need to be in front of the computer to be working.

I can be productive and recharge the creative juices in other ways:


  1. I can work out. For some reason, I make a lot of breakthroughs at the gym. I’ll be on the elliptical or running on the track, listening to inspiring music, and whatever plot problem’s been bugging me suddenly becomes clear. I really think getting up and moving around helps my writer brain work in different ways.

  3. I can read a book. I like to keep a variety of books on my nightstand, and switch it up whenever the mood strikes. Right now, I’m reading my agent sibling Laura Andersen’s BOLEYN KING, a stunning alternate history about what might have happened if Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII a son. I’m switching it up with Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels trilogy, which is high fantasy, and am also rereading Maggie Stiefvater’s SCORPIO RACES. So just among those three alone, I have inspiration for court politics, epic storylines, and atmospheric settings. All of these are part of the book I’m currently writing.

  5. I can watch a movie. I just rewatched “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” for the inspiring fight scenes and the star-crossed love story. And I definitely jotted down some notes about random things like clothing, furniture, weaponry, and food! Counts as research!

  7. I can color. My lovely CP, Melody Marshall, bought me this coloring book as a little pick-me-up present. I haven’t colored in a long, long time, but I’m glad I’ve started again because it seems to have the same effect as working out. While my body’s focused on a repetitive motion, my brain is wandering and finding corners of my story I hadn’t considered before. It’s also calming and stress-relieving.

  9. Talk it out with a writer buddy. Even if I’m just telling my CP about a scene I wrote that day, their reaction and comments can be invaluable. And I can store them up for my next writing session.

  11. Blog. I know blogging isn’t so hot anymore, because hardly anyone keeps up with it, but I still love it! And I still get good traffic, even if most people lurk without commenting nowadays. (That’s fine, I don’t judge!) I find writing about writing to be relaxing and inspiring, and it usually does the trick.


What do you do when you’re recharging? What do you find to be restful and inspiring?

Stretches For Writers!

Nov 11, 2015 Main blog 8 comments

Back in June, I blogged about taking a temporary “sabbatical” to focus on writing full-time.

Now, into my fourth month of the experiment, I can confirm that it is 1) amazing to have only my story occupying my thoughts from morning til night, 2) sometimes really stressful to have only my story occupying my thoughts from morning til night, and 3) pretty damn hard on the body. Especially the, uh, lower body.

Okay, I’ll just say it… my butt muscles hurt from sitting too much.

As successful as the experiment has proven (seeing as I typed “The End” on my rough draft last Tuesday), it has also been more stressful on my joints and muscles. Before I traded in blazers for sweatpants, I would at least get up to go to the cooler, or walk to the cafeteria with a coworker, or shepherd my students around the hospital. When the weather was nice, we’d walk a few blocks to Starbucks or watch people play Frisbee with their dogs on the quad.

Now I’m just at my desk constantly. I go to the gym three times a week, but those are only 1-2 hour spurts of exercise. The rest of the time, it’s butt-in-chair-hands-on-keyboard.

So, I’ve been making a point to do a 30-minute stretch routine after every long bout of writing, usually 2-3 times a day. Most of the stretches were recommended by my physical therapist, who helped me get back up and running after I busted my knee in January. I can report that I feel a LOT better after each stretch break, and more energized and focused. And, it’s a nice excuse to get away from that glowing screen!

I thought it might be fun to share a few of my stretches with you guys (and timely, because of NaNoWriMo).

I stretch on a yoga mat, but you can probably just do these on a nice open floor space anywhere.




Hamstrings get SUPER tight when all you do is sit all day. Here are a couple of stretches that target these muscles behind your thighs.
Hurdle Stretch: Sit on the floor. Stretch both legs in front of you. Bend the right knee sideways, pressing the bottom of your right foot against the inside of your left leg. Reach for your left toes and hold 30 seconds. You should feel the stretch on the back of your left thigh. Switch legs.
Bed/Sofa Stretch: Standing about a foot away, rest your right heel on the bed or couch. Lean forward and touch your toes, holding 30 seconds. Switch legs.


This is my favorite butt stretch (that sounds so weird).
Adapted Pigeon Stretch: Lie on your stomach. Bend your right knee sideways and underneath you, so your chest is resting directly on it. Stretch your other leg out behind you. You should feel the stretch in your right glute. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs. (Here’s a picture of this stretch.)


Hip Flexors
These muscles also get super tight from sitting. If you have knee issues, do this on a soft, folded-over blanket.
Hip Flexor Stretch: This is like a kneeling lunge. Kneel on your left knee. Lean forward by pushing your right foot forward on the floor, keeping your back straight. You should feel a stretch on the front of your left thigh. Hold 30 seconds, then switch.


This is a good stretch if you have access to stairs. Hold on tight!
Step Stretch: Stand with both feet together on a step. Holding onto the railing, place the toes of your right foot on the edge of the step, and lower your right heel down. Hold 30 seconds, then switch.




You can do this while standing or sitting. Be REALLY gentle with these stretches and don’t put too much pressure on your neck.
Side Neck Stretch: Tilt your right ear toward your shoulder. Place your right hand on the left side of your head and apply gentle pressure. You should feel a stretch on the left side of your neck. Hold 15 seconds, then switch sides.
Diagonal Neck Stretch: Same as above, but this time, lower your chin to the right side of your chest. Apply gentle pressure to the back of your head. Hold 15 seconds, then repeat by lowering chin to the left side of your chest.


This one’s perfect if you have access to a doorway. It looks a little strange (someone once caught me doing it, looked around, and said “Where’s the camera?” because it looked like I was awkwardly posing/modeling) but it’s sooo worth it.
Pec Stretch: Stand in an open doorway. Brace your left arm inside the doorway and step forward with your left foot. You can put your right hand on your hip if you want. You should feel this in your left armpit and left side of your chest. Hold 30 seconds, then switch sides.


Hand Stretches
You can do this standing or sitting. Again, be super, SUPER gentle with these stretches. We’re writers. Our hands/wrists = our livelihood, so you don’t want to pull too hard and hurt yourself.
Palm Out: Stick your right arm straight in front of you, palm facing out like you’re directing traffic. With your left hand, GENTLY bend your right fingers and thumb backward until you feel a stretch in the wrist. Hold 15 seconds, then switch.
Fingers Down: Stick your right arm straight in front of you, fingers pointing down to the floor, palm facing you. With your left hand, gently bend your right fingers and thumb toward you. Hold 15 seconds, then switch.
Reverse: Stick your right arm straight in front of you, fingers pointing down to the floor, palm facing out this time. (Like you’re about to backhand some deadlines.) With your left hand, gently bend your right fingers and thumb toward you. Hold 15 seconds, then switch.


If you give them a try, let me know what you think! (And if you find my directions too confusing, you should be able to find pictures of these online.)
Happy writing/stretching!

A Little Write Music #33: Loreena, Penny Dreadful, Adele

Nov 01, 2015 Main blog 6 comments

Happy November!

I can’t believe how fast October flew by. At the beginning of the month, my draft of FOTL was 11,000 words heavy. Earlier this week, I crossed the 87,000 word mark. I still have a few scenes left to write, so it looks as though this first draft will end at close to 95K. That’s 10K longer than my estimate, but no big deal… just gonna roll with it!

I’m pretty happy with how this draft has turned out! I’ve said this before, but no matter how much I try to plot beforehand (and it does help, clearly, because I threw down over 75K in one month), there are things that just need to be written first before I can figure them out.

For instance, I knew how my world was laid out because I drew a map, but I didn’t know the exact details until I traveled through it with my characters. I knew where I wanted my main character’s general arc to go, but now I get it even more because I’ve spent 300 pages with her. I laid out the rules of magic before I began writing, but now that I’ve seen characters use it, I understand them better.

I’m wrapping up this rough draft in a few days, and then I’m taking a week off to do research, reread the manuscript, and make a plan of attack for revisions.

I remember feeling this confident before I revised ELEGY for the last major time… and it got me an agent! I really feel like I’m getting stronger as a writer with every manuscript. I pour everything I have into studying what works and what doesn’t, and listening carefully to all of the critique I get, even if I don’t quite agree. There’s a nugget to be taken from every piece of feedback, which is why the best thing we can do for ourselves is to listen. Getting defensive is a reflex, but it’s also a crutch… an excuse not to get better. And what’s the point of writing if we don’t think we can/should get better?

So that is my plan for the month of November.

That, and cheering on my wonderful Pitch Wars mentee this week! Her MG mystery, BITS AND PIECES, is going to be featured during the Agent Round and I’ll be support-tweeting like crazy! Check out Lorien’s blog here.

And without further ado, here is some music that has been inspiring me as I wrap up this draft:



I’ve been a fan of Loreena McKennitt since I heard her music in the “Mists of Avalon” movie (terrible adaptation, btw. Read the book instead!). Her music and Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble have been heavy influences on FOTL since the planning stages. They always successfully transport me somewhere far away.



I am obsessed with Penny Dreadful and Abel Korzeniowski’s haunting score. There is one character I am studying relentlessly, because they do horrible things, yet they’re one of my favorite people on the show. It’s a lesson that the darkest characters can get away with anything as long as your audience feels deeply for them.



And of course, the queen… Adele! The lyrics in her new song are perfect for my two lead characters.

What are your plans for November? Are you doing NaNoWriMo, or are you hanging out with me in the revision cave?

My Halloween Read Recommendations!

Oct 28, 2015 Main blog 5 comments

Halloween is only a few days away!

If you’re still looking for a creepy, spooky read, I got you covered in all categories. Here’s a list of my recommendations for end-of-October books:




THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson. This is my all-time favorite scary read. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT read this after dark if you scare easily like I do. There is one scene in this book that made it very difficult to sleep for a few nights. The book features a group of  investigators who move into the abandoned Hill House and quickly discover it has a mind of its own. There is psychological disturbance and unreliable narration… two of the best plot devices when it comes to horror. Who do you trust when you can’t trust any of the characters?
THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova. This is a massive tome of a book, and from what I hear, you either love it or you hate it. I personally loved it. It’s the story of a girl whose father’s disappearance launches her into a search across Eastern Europe for the truth about her family’s past. And it might just link up with her dad’s research on Vlad Tepes, the infamous inspiration for the legend of Dracula. Gorgeously written and well-researched, and there was a scene on a train that creeped me out for a long while after.




ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake. This book was equal parts creepy and oddly touching, and features a believable teen male protagonist who puts troublesome ghosts to rest for a living. It’s when he comes across Anna, the vengeful, angry spirit of a brutally murdered girl, that he begins to question who his true adversary is. I recommended this to a CP who writes horror, and he loved it too!
MARY: THE SUMMONING by Hillary Monahan. This is another one you should read during the daytime, and far away from any mirrors. If you ever locked yourself in a bathroom with friends to play the “Bloody Mary” game (I did, and we never made it past saying her name twice before getting the hell out), you’ll know exactly why this premise is so terrifying. What happens if you not only summon Bloody Mary, but she begins to stalk you through every mirror and reflective surface you come across?
LONG LANKIN by Lindsey Barraclough. If you’re a fan of the classic ghost story or Gothic haunted houses, check this one out! It’s moody, atmospheric, and dark (my favorites!) and features two girls sent to live with a crotchety old aunt who is hiding troubling secrets in the shadows of Guerdon Hall. Be warned there are creepy ghost kids, so if that’s not your thing, you might want to read this with all the lights on.




DOLL BONES by Holly Black. I’ve been recommending this book to everyone who will listen. It’s amazing! Poppy, one of the characters, is haunted by the ghost of a murdered girl. Her spirit is trapped inside a doll, which was made from her ground-up bones. Poppy and her friends must find the girl’s grave and bury the doll to put her at rest… or be cursed for all time. Wrapped around the ghost story are themes of growing up, growing apart, and letting go. It’s just so gorgeously written!
NIGHTBIRD by Alice Hoffman. If you’re not into scary stuff, this book is a great Halloween-ish read without the frights! It’s a good one to read to kids, too. NIGHTBIRD is the story of Twig, who lives in an autumnal, magical New England town reputed to be the home of a monster. There is a family curse, a witch, and two star-crossed romances that intertwine later on in the book. The setting is my favorite part, being a New England girl myself and in love with local fables and legends. The whole book reads like a blend of folklore and mythology. Check this one out!


I get scared easily, but honestly… creepy, spooky, atmospheric reads are some of my all-time favorites. Just in small doses. And with all the lights on, of course.
If you have any Halloween book recommendations, feel free to share them in the comments!

Rocky Road (The Rough Draft, Not the Ice Cream)

Oct 21, 2015 Main blog 11 comments

Man, I miss blogging! I just made the rounds through my blog buddies’ latest posts, and it’s so nice to hear what everyone has going on. I mentioned before that I’m going to try to switch to a weekly blog schedule (key word: try). I’m not doing too bad so far…

So, what’s going on with me?

I am wrapping up the rough draft of my YA fantasy. I’m at about 70,000 words total right now and shooting for an end count of 85K-90K, so I should be done within a couple of weeks. I’m pretty proud of myself, because I’m getting better at the famed FTJW (“eff this, just write”) technique. What helps me is having a blank Word document open alongside the one with my story in it. Anytime I think of something, see a plot error, or realize I need to make a change, I don’t fix it. Instead, I open that blank document and type a note to myself in it to address whatever it is later. And then I keep plowing forward.

Finish a scene with cringing dialogue? *shrug and move on*

Realize I’ve forgotten about a plot point or character? *eat 5 Kit-Kats meant for trick-or-treaters and move on*

Added a new part to my world that will have to be introduced early on? *pour a glass of wine and move on*

Add to that the luxury of focusing on this book completely, and that explains my productivity! I won’t lie… some days, forcing out 3K is like pulling out wisdom teeth, but for the most part I am chugging right along on this draft. It can be a rocky road, but it’s also exhilarating to see the bare bones of the story unfold.

I fully expect to spend all of November rewriting and revising, and hopefully sending the draft out to some CPs and beta readers by/before Thanksgiving!

As soon as this book is done, I have two other ideas ready to go. I ran them past Tamar over the phone yesterday (very tentative pitches since I haven’t had time to really sit down and flesh them out), but I’m going full speed ahead on my MG action/adventure next! It has been a VERY long time since I’ve written in the MG voice (I haven’t done it since PPP!), so I’m really looking forward to that. I love that I can bring more humor into my MG stories.

My YA books are so DARK. I’m a super cheery person, so it’s weird that my voice in book form becomes this different, melancholy, sometimes scary/disturbing thing, but it’s also fun to explore that side of my creativity. The book I’m working on after the MG is another super dark one. I’m not going to talk about it to anyone yet (so far, Tamar’s the only one who has heard the premise) but I’m really pumped to get into it. That’s all I’ll say for now!

I hope everyone is having a productive October, whether you’re reading, writing, or doing both!

My Favorite Cinderella-Related Things!

Oct 11, 2015 Main blog 9 comments

Cinderella has always been my favorite princess.

When it came time to do a fun, fractured fairy tale retelling, there was no contest — I wanted PPP to be a fresh, original, creative spin on the story. But almost every variation out there is told from the perspective of the cinder-girl herself. I think it’s important, when doing your own version of something well-known, to make it as different as possible from everything out there. So my teen fairy godmother, Noelle, was born!

Here are some of my favorite Cinderella-related movies, shows, and music, from which I took PPP inspiration:



“Ever After” is my favorite movie version of Cinderella. The way they spun the tale into a more realistic story is lovely. And I love the idea of Leonardo da Vinci playing the role of the fairy godmother… or godfather!

I’ve also had George Fenton’s gorgeous soundtrack for it in my iTunes playlist forever:



Of course, I can’t make a list of my favorite Cinderella things without listing the original Disney movie. When I was little, it and Sleeping Beauty were the only movies I would watch over and over and over again.



The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical has amazing songs. I haven’t gotten around to seeing it on Broadway yet, but I would love to. I saw a huge advertisement for it when I was in NYC seeing Phantom at the original Majestic Theatre, but haven’t had time!



And you can totally judge me for this, but I love that super cheesy version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella starring Brandy and Whitney Houston. I think it is so creative the way they brought in a colorful, diverse cast — Cinderella, one stepsister, the fairy godmother, and the queen are all black, the king and the other stepsister and stepmother are white, the prince is Asian, etc. I absolutely loved it!

The ballroom scene was a huge inspiration for PPP. The choreography and the colors blew my mind. I can’t find a clip of it on YouTube anymore, but here’s the music:



“Enchanted” isn’t a straight-up Cinderella retelling, but I also love the music in it. This is the song that inspired a ballroom scene in Chapter 25 (to be posted this Friday, for those of you who are reading PPP!):



And these are some great Cinderella-related books:


SHADOWS ON THE MOON by Zoe Marriott: A Japanese retelling of Cinderella!
ASH by Malinda Lo: An LGBTQ version of Cinderella. Loved this one.
CINDER by Marissa Meyer: I haven’t read this one yet (still in my TBR pile), but I’ve heard great things!
ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine: One of the comp titles I use for PPP. I love the humor and the heart.


Can you recommend any other Cinderella-related books, movies, or music?

Fall Goals and New Stories!

Sep 28, 2015 Main blog 16 comments

Happy, happy fall! It is the most wonderful time of the year where I live, in my humble opinion. Our nights are already cold enough for flannel PJs (went down to the 30s last week!), there are pumpkins on sale everywhere, and the apple picking is spectacular. I made an apple pie from scratch the other day, along with turnovers and a delicious jam spread for toast. You bet I loaded everything up with cinnamon and brown sugar – yum-O.

I’m trying to cut back on social media in order to focus on my writing goals for fall. I won’t be on Twitter as much, you’ll notice, but I can’t seem to stay away from PPP. I keep checking on it like it’s my kid at daycare! So I’ll likely still be answering comments on Wattpad and posting the odd picture or two on Instagram, but I really need to unplug a bit so I can focus on my projects.

What are these projects of which I speak?


YA Epic Fantasy:
October means a fresh new page on the calendar with which to cover with stickers! Reward stickers for hitting my writing goals, that is. I’m trying to write 3K new words every single day this week. So far, so good. The schedule I’ve made for myself consists of writing fresh words on weekdays and outlining on the weekends.

If I keep this up, the manuscript should grow by 15K every single week. That’ll help me stay on track to finish by early-to-mid November, at which point I’ll send to a few trusted CPs and then prepare to revise! Then it’s off to Tamar hopefully well before the holidays (depending on when said CPs can get it back to me). I’m thinking positive!


I am so proud and honored by PPP’s success on Wattpad so far!

Writing is one of those rare professions where you can work your ass off for YEARS and literally receive no reward. Not a single one. (Except for the joy and fulfillment of completing a novel, that is!)

So I am truly grateful that I can share this story with my intended audience. The comments I get from readers are pure gold. I know what works for them and what doesn’t, and how they relate to certain things. It’s given me so much insight into what my target audience enjoys and what they don’t enjoy.

They’ve already started hinting that they want another book in this series, which I am more than happy to provide – if time allows, that is! I’m planning a companion book that will also be posted for fun and exclusively on Wattpad. I think I’ll wait until PPP is completely posted, first, and I’d like to hit a solid 50K-75K views before that happens. We’re at about 25K right now, with six or so chapters left to publish.


MG Action/Adventure:
I don’t have a title for it yet, so it’s just going to be referred to as ADVENTURE BOOK whenever I speak of it. This will be prioritized above PPP2 once I get a solid outline going! I’ve tried writing two books at the same time in the past, but I think they are often too similar in theme and that’s tripped me up. This story is different enough from FOTL that I think I can get a solid chunk written whenever I want to take a fantasy break. I’m already in love with my characters – or the idea of them, I suppose, since they haven’t come to life on the page just yet – and I cannot wait to write about their adventures!


Pitch Wars:
Lorien turned in her revised manuscript to me last week, and I’ve been reading and making notes! We are well ahead of schedule, which makes me super happy. I’m confident we will collect all of the materials we need in time and have them ready for the Agent Round in November. I’m proud of her and her story, and I really think they are going to do well – if not in the contest, then querying afterward! Fingers, toes, and eyes crossed!

Check out her great new blog here: https://lorienwordpresscom.wordpress.com/ 


Hope you are all doing well and enjoying the start of fall! What projects have you been working on lately?

Ireland: End of the Trip Photos!

Sep 21, 2015 Main blog 7 comments

I can’t believe my vacation was already a month ago! September has flown by, and here I am recapping the last two days of my amazing trip to Ireland.

Saturday was a hybrid day for us: a couple of workshops in the morning, then touring in the afternoon.

In our Public Speaking For Writers workshop, I publicly confessed my fear of public speaking. It’s weird because I am a VERY extroverted introvert. I am very social, and I make friends easily wherever I go, and I have no problem talking to anyone and everyone. But when you put me on a podium in front of an audience, and I’m the only one speaking with all eyes on me, I get insanely anxious. Once I get going, I relax and do just fine, but it’s the anticipation of getting up there that gets me.

Susan pointed out that people who are afraid of public speaking are not so much afraid as they are overly concerned about doing a good job. Anxiety is normal… we just need to channel it into solid preparation. If you know exactly what you want to say, and you know what you’re saying is what you genuinely believe, you’ll do well. Such a great way of thinking about it!

We also talked about doing book events, interviews (both live and radio), and panel discussions. Some great points came up that I’ll be paying attention to when I go to my next author’s book event or panel! It’ll probably be the Boston Book Festival next month, which I attend every year. Are any of you going?








On our last day together, we took a scenic drive to the village of Roundstone. It was one of my favorite places on the entire trip! The village had cute little shops, restaurants, and pubs, and gave me an excuse to use up the rest of my euros before coming home.






That tower above is actually a tiny jewelry shop! They were having a big sale the day we came, and I snagged two pairs of earrings: pink enameled bows, and two gold doves in flight. I also picked up a few pieces of jewelry for my mom and friends back home.






We stopped by the Eldon Bar for drinks and snacks! I think it was only 2:00pm, but we were in Ireland, so that called for an alcoholic drink no matter what time of day:




Susan and I both ordered these Irish coffees, which were delicious but approximately 75% Jameson and 25% coffee. We know because we watched the bartender whip them up for us.

So the ride to our next castle destination was a little bit giddy…










That beautiful lake cottage is my dream writing sanctuary. Anyone want to go in on it with me? I call dibs on November through February, but you can have it any other time of the year…




Then, with heavy hearts, we went back to our favorite restaurant – The Thatch Pub near our hotel – for a big goodbye dinner! If you’re ever in Headford village, you need to eat at this place. Therese and all her staff are awesome, and I had one of the best burgers of my life there. The fish and chips meal is also pretty darn spectacular!

I am missing all of my new friends. I’m grateful we keep in touch on Facebook with our own private group and share our successes, both large and small!



On Sunday, we parted ways and I returned to Galway to spend the night.

I wanted a good night of sleep before my crazy day of travel on Monday — three hours on a bus back to Dublin Airport, about two hours of going through customs (it is crazy hard to get back into the U.S., even as an American with an American passport!), and then a six-hour flight, two-hour layover, and an hour-long connecting flight.




Back in Galway, I did the stereotypical writer thing and found a cute cafe where I could scribble and people-watch. My hot chocolate was deeeee-lish!

I promised Corinne I would go back to the Galway Cathedral and actually go inside (which I didn’t the first time), and I’m so glad I did. It was beautiful:





And my return trip would not have been complete without another yummy lunch in my B&B’s tearoom. I ordered the tomato and spinach quiche, and it was awesome. I also caught up on Twitter and Pitch Wars goodness while eating!



All in all, I had a fantastic time in Ireland. It was one of the countries high up on my bucket list, and I know I would love to come back someday.

I stepped out of my comfort zone in traveling alone, and as a reward, I made a dozen new friends who I hope will be part of my writing life for the long run!

I learned a lot about myself as a person and a writer, and I did some critical thinking about FOTL. The book – and the series I envision for it – will be a lot stronger because I went on this trip, and pushed myself, and absorbed all of the feedback and information I gleaned from better, more experienced writers.

I’m really happy I did it, and I encourage you to do the same! I think our tour guide, Fiona, is planning another Ireland retreat for 2016, so if you are interested, feel free to send me an email and I’ll forward her contact information!

Now I just have to figure out where I’d like to go next. I’m thinking Italy… or New Zealand!!!

Ireland: Days Five and Six, and My Wattpad and Instagram News!

Sep 17, 2015 Main blog 9 comments

Happy Wednesday! I hope everyone’s week has gone well so far!

I had a busy but very fun weekend. My cousin got married in Glen Cove, Long Island, and I was one of her bridesmaids, so Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were packed with battling NYC traffic, making the seating chart, steaming wrinkled dresses, and lugging bags from hotel to limo to venue to hotel. But it was truly a gorgeous wedding, and it was wonderful catching up with family and dancing the night away! We were literally on the dance floor all night! I only left to wolf down my delicious steak. Still waiting for official pictures but here’s one somebody took of the sparklers at the end of the night:



My cousin and her new husband started a hashtag on both Facebook and Instagram where all of the wedding guests could share their photos of the event. So, naturally – and against my better judgment – I had to join in order to see all of the pictures!

I needed another social media outlet like a punch in the face, but y’know… follow me anyway?


Instagram – @juliecdao


That brings me to some BIG news for PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS!

I came back from my five-hour drive on Monday to a wonderful and happy surprise! You may have seen me share this picture on Twitter:



UH-HUH. That’s right. That’s my book on the front flippin’ page of the Wattpad Teen Fiction section! Last week, Wattpad HQ got in touch with me about featuring PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS, and that happened yesterday! I’m beyond psyched that this book I love with all my heart is having its moment in the sun. The print market was always going to be tough for it, but I’m thrilled that instead of languishing on a shelf, it’s being spotlighted on such a huge community of readers and writers.

PPP will be pinned to the top of that list for a long while to come. It’s already attracting a ton of new readers, which makes me so proud and happy. That was always my sole objective in posting it on Wattpad: to find an audience for my fun little story. So this feels like a big goal accomplished before the two-month mark! I’m a lucky girl! Thank you to Gav and Alessandra and the whole team at Wattpad!

And now, back to my Ireland recap. There’s only one more post after this (sad)!




Thursday was another workshop day, so we were in classes from morning til late afternoon. All of the sessions were held in various rooms in our hotel, from two large conference areas in the back to a cozy sitting room in the lobby. Today, we had a couple choices since some sessions happened simultaneously, so I picked the ones most relevant and/or interesting to me.

Here’s a little recap of what I learned:


  1. Young Adult Workshop. Spending time with young adults is the best way to write YA. Seems obvious, right? I don’t think I’m the only YA writer without much opportunity to chat with or observe teens. We talked about typical teen characteristics that make the YA voice authentic. This age category is about first experiences, both emotionally intense and vulnerable; there should be a yearning to be understood and fit in somehow; and it should explore the dark side of humanity as young people learn to work through their feelings and figure out why/how they are important.

  3. Fantasy and Adventure Workshop. This was an amazing session to go through, as someone who is writing an epic fantasy. We learned all about the different types of fantasy and the tropes/necessities of each; how to describe unusual details of your world in an engaging, show-vs.-tell way; how to avoid cliches and to write a fresh story; and the myriad ways in which fantasy reveals human weaknesses. I loved when Susan said that fantasy writers are often people who feel deeply about the world around them and see how it could be a better place.

  5. Advanced Social Media Workshop. We talked about the best ways to engage through the tools we use. I realized that I’ve been using my blog wrong. Well, not wrong, but I haven’t helped it realize its full potential yet because I’ve been targeting other writers, and not potential readers. More on this later! We also learned how best to use Twitter and Facebook, and how to get the most views on each tweet or post.

  7. Author Promotion Workshop. Heather discussed ways to create your own personal author brand, from the verbal and visual to the kinetic. We also learned about ways to maintain momentum and relevance once we are published, and how to best market our products. She shared her experiences regarding publicists, author events, and press interviews, which was really cool to hear about.

  9. Publishing and Legal Pitfalls. Susan is a brilliant publishing lawyer. You may have seen her on the Twitter hashtag #PubLaw with great advice. In this workshop, she talked about avoiding traps in publisher contracts and in writing contest rules. I have to admit my head was spinning after hearing all that legalese, but Susan stressed that is it important to understand these concepts as best you can, even with an agent. The more you know about the business (even if it’s not your favorite part of the writing journey), the more you’ll be able to protect yourself and your work.

  11. Guided Meditation. Heather led us through a meditative writing session in which we got up close and personal with our main characters. I understand my evil queen SO much better after this workshop!


That evening, we had dinner in a haunted castle! That’s the castle in those two photos you see above. And below:







Creepy, right?! But we had a glorious time eating the delicious food, drinking champagne, and telling each other ghost stories as only a room full of writers can properly do.

On Friday, we woke up early and took the ferry to the Aran Islands, where the famous sheep’s wool sweaters are made! The ferry ride out there was pretty barf-inducing — the waves were tossing us around like a toy boat, and it was a relief to everyone onboard to step onto Inis Mor at last.

The group split up because some of us wanted to shop, some of us wanted to eat, and some of us wanted to tour some more.

I took a bus around the island with Laura, Cassidy, and Alissa, and we had a grand old time climbing across the rocky terrain, visiting the Worm Hole, and keeping an eye out for seals!

















Yes, my eyes are closed in that picture above, but let’s just pretend I’m enjoying the breeze, shall we?

And that is a bowl of seafood stew you see in the second-to-last picture! With the omnipresent slice of brown bread and butter, of course 🙂

One more Ireland recap post to go! I’ll share pictures of the village of Roundstone, where we went on our last day together, and a couple more photos of Galway, where I returned on Sunday night before my looooong day of traveling back to the States on Monday.

Hope you’re still enjoying these posts! Have a great rest of the week!

Ireland: Days Three and Four, and Introducing My Pitch Wars Mentee!!!

Sep 08, 2015 Main blog 13 comments

Thank you all so much for your lovely birthday wishes this weekend! I had a great day filled with family, friends, and fun presents (including this awesome one from my brother). My mom prepared a feast of my favorite Vietnamese appetizers, including homemade eggrolls and rolled rice cakes, but I did not have a birthday cake. I’m trying to be healthy and drop these pesky pounds I gained while waiting for my knee to heal! So, I didn’t make my annual wish. But seeing as it hasn’t changed for about ten years, I *think* the universe knows what I want even without the birthday candles 🙂

Another exciting thing happened last week!!! I chose the amazing Lorien Hallama as my official Pitch Wars mentee. People, her manuscript — titled BITS AND PIECES — is going to knock your socks right off. It’s a creepy, suspenseful MG mystery with a touch of Frankenstein and The Goonies, featuring a 13-year-old track star who investigates elderly neighbors who never seem to age… and who may be prolonging their lives through sinister means. Sounds fantastic, right?! That’s because it is. Follow Lorien on Twitter and watch for her in our October #TeamHobbit interview, in the November Agent Round, and beyond!

And now, back to my Ireland trip photos and recap!




Tuesday was a writing workshop day, so we were in class from morning til late afternoon. The sessions were led by our guest authors Susan Spann and Heather Webb, who were absolutely incredible. In just that one day, we learned about:


  1. Writing authentic characters. Heather talked about antiheroes and complex motives, backstory, arcs and internal growth, well-rounded secondary characters, and psychology. She suggested a book called The Wisdom of the Enneagram, which details each of the nine personality types and would be a great resource for fleshing out characters (and, let’s be honest, for looking yourself up and figuring out exactly how you tick). I’ve already ordered a copy!

  3. Organizing our novels effectively. I always feel like I’m in the minority as a hardcore plotter. To my pleasant surprise, both Susan and Heather are plotters, too! Susan talked about knowing your genre inside and out, building your world, understanding your protagonist, and knowing every plot detail from the macro to micro level. I am 100% going to use her five-act structure for planning!

  5. Techniques for thorough editing. Heather gave us fantastic tips on how to revise and pull apart our books to see exactly what needs to be fixed/streamlined.

  7. Planning a cohesive series. This was one of my top workshop choices because I’ve never written a full series before! Susan talked about high concepts, set pieces for your world, how to outline multiple related stories, and types of characters and the changes they must undergo. It was incredibly inspiring.







Later that night, we relaxed with dinner and a pub crawl back in Galway City! Then it was back to our hotel to rest up for a full day of touring.

On Wednesday morning, we headed out bright and early to the Burren and the perfumery, where I picked up a couple bars of gorgeous handmade soap. They are crafted from herbs and flowers right from the gardens outside! The bars are sitting across the room from me right now and I can still smell them!













Then it was off to the Cliffs of Moher! I was so, so pumped to see them, because they are so iconic of Ireland. Not to mention “The Princess Bride” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” were both filmed there!

I was NOT disappointed. The moment I saw the cliffs with my own eyes, I teared up because I am a big sap (and I am not ashamed to admit it). There’s something emotional about seeing the kind of beauty that only nature can produce. It was so wild and windswept, like the setting of a historical romance novel. We all said more than once that we should have been in long trailing dresses. No corsets, though, please — I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze all the Guinness and brown bread into one of those things!












Corinne (my official Ireland buddy) and I climbed up the cliffs for an incredible view! We were warned that as many as 20 people die each year here from falling into the sea, so we were extra careful as we climbed over the railing

But we still couldn’t resist a scaredy-face picture to ham it up!



Luckily, I survived the Cliffs of Moher and lived to blog about it!

Hope you’re still enjoying these pictures! Next week, I’ll share what we learned on our Thursday workshop day, talk about the haunted castle we had dinner in, and post pictures of the beautiful Aran Islands, where we ventured on Friday!

Julie C. Dao