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: 


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!

The Big 3-0 Post!!!

Sep 05, 2015 Main blog 14 comments

Today, I’m leaving one decade and entering another!

I am actually…totally okay with it. I’m excited for it! You won’t find me going through a quarter-life crisis (what’s between quarter-life and mid-life?).

It’s just that the 20s were a foggy time. The whole ten years was spent feeling my way around, neither seeing where I was going nor knowing where I wanted to end up. People came into my life. People went out of my life. My perfect family fractured into smaller pieces of a not-so-perfect, but even more deeply-loved family.

I left my hometown, then came back. I traveled to Europe at 20, and again ten years later. I started the decade thinking I’d go to medical school, and ended it as a writer — exactly where I should be, I think! Or where I want to be, which is more important.

So here are some goals for my 30s:


♥ Love hard. Love deeply. Love myself. Love who I am and embrace it wholeheartedly. I’ve wasted far too much time wishing I could be like someone else. It’s been hard growing up plain and unremarkable in a family of beautiful, talented women. But I like who I am, for the most part, and I don’t want to change. I am loved, and I am unique, and I have much to offer. I am going to celebrate being ME this decade!
♥ Give back. Give often. Give of my time. Make things pleasant for others. I especially want to help other writers however I can. That’s the whole reason I agreed to mentor for Pitch Wars, and why I’ve been giving feedback to every single person who trusted me with his or her words. It makes me so happy when someone writes back and tells me I’ve given them something helpful or useful!
♥ Cut out drama from my life. There’s a reason why I identify with hobbits so strongly: I want a peaceful, quiet, gentle life. Anyone who tries to start drama with me gets faded out immediately. This has been a hard lesson to learn, as I am nice and tend to tolerate toxic people. I’d rather stay positive and stress-free!
♥ Travel. See more of the world, if I can. Talk to strangers everywhere I go. Learn about their lives and their perspectives, and through them gain understanding and compassion, and appreciation for the things I have.
♥ Be confident in my writing, and remember how many people believe in me. Getting an agent has been AWESOME and a turning point in my literary life. But it does feel at times like I’m the new kid on the team, benched and wishing I could be out playing on the field. My agent has clients in a stratosphere I can’t even dream of. But she must believe in me to put me on the same list. I am fortunate to have her trust in my talent and potential, and to have loving, supportive CPs who talk about the day my book lands on the shelf as though they have no doubt it will happen.
♥ Stop putting so much weight on milestones. Stop trying to make sense of things that are out of my control. Once, I was foolish enough to wish for a book deal before the age of 30. Well, if that wish had come true, I’d have a pretty weak book to sell. Things happen in their own time and I have to focus on what I can control. Which leads me to…
♥ Write brilliant, beautiful, magical books. Write books that make people forget where they are. Write books that take readers somewhere far away in the span of 300 pages. Write something atmospheric and lyrical and epic and true. Write something that speaks to someone else’s heart, even if it’s just ONE other person.


So, in summary… I’m looking forward to a great new decade!!! ♥

Ireland: Day Two, PPP News, Pitch Wars, and Bday!

Sep 01, 2015 Main blog 13 comments

For those of you who didn’t see the news on Twitter and Facebook, PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS had some excitement the other night — it got onto the Hot List on Wattpad! I don’t know much about how this works (aside from the fact that it is a great thing!), but I assume it has to do with reads, votes, and comments in a certain span of time. Thank you again for supporting my fun little story! It hurt me to know it would never become a real book, since it’s been well-received by everyone who has read it, so I’m beyond grateful that I can share it with readers this way.

Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars contest is coming to a close, and I have selected my mentee! I can’t wait for the big reveal, so I can introduce him/her to you. Their manuscript is wonderful — dark and creepy and mysterious, as well as well-written and funny — and I think with a few tweaks here and there, it’ll be completely agent-ready.

In personal news, this coming Saturday is my birthday! I’m turning the big 3-0, though everyone insists on thinking I am a teenager. (I hear I’ll appreciate my good skin / baby face one day. Today is not that day.) I’ll be posting about things I’ve learned in my 20s, and things I hope for in my 30s. They are not the materialistic things my younger self wanted, since I got almost none of those (including *cough* a house and a book deal). So I think this will be a much more fulfilling decade for me!

And now, back to Ireland pictures!





On Sunday, after Corinne and I wandered around Galway in the morning, we headed to the coach station to meet up with our tour group. We were the first ones there, and slowly drew everyone else around us with the power of our loud American accents and copious amounts of luggage.

I liked everyone immediately, and we all frequently commented during the tour on how cohesive our group was! There was Fiona Claire, our tour guide and storyteller extraordinaire; our fearless workshop leaders and bestselling authors Heather Webb and Susan Spann; Susan’s mother Paula and stepfather Spencer; two teachers, Alissa and Chris, and Chris’s wonderful mom Joanne; our resident YA expert, Cassidy (who was only 18!); former acquisitions editor Karen; authors Laura and Pam, and Pam’s friend Lisa; and Corinne and me.

We checked into the Angler’s Rest Hotel in the village of Headford, and then it was off to the van and onward to our first tour destination!




The Irish roads took some getting used to. They are so narrow that two cars cannot drive side-by-side. So when you meet someone head-on, either one of you has to pull off to the side so the other can pass!

We drove to the Ros Errilly Friary, which was about a 10-minute drive from our hotel. It’s said to be haunted by the ghost of someone murdered inside!










That’s the haunted window where the murder allegedly took place. Everyone — including myself! — can see the outlines of a man in monk’s robes just to the left of me. He’s in profile with a hood, facing me. Can you see him?

(This is what happens when you put a bunch of imaginative writers all in one place!)





We headed back to the hotel for dinner that night. As you can see, being an obnoxious tourist, I had to take pictures of everything I ate. Everyone laughed at me, but it’s made it so easy to separate out my photos by each day! I had fried mushrooms and salmon, and that’s Heather’s cheesecake and my apple pie with cream in the last picture. (“How New England of you!” she said, when I ordered it. As the saying goes, you can take the girl out of New England…)

Come back next week for pictures of Day Three, in which we visit a mystical stone circle, Ashford Castle (where the CW show “Reign” was filmed), and the village of Cong (where the John Wayne movie “Quiet Man” was filmed).

See you then!

Julie C. Dao