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!

Ireland: Day One, and New Blog Schedule!

Aug 27, 2015 Main blog 10 comments

I am back from my amazing adventures on the Emerald Isle! I had such a great time!

Ireland is as beautiful as everyone says, and so green and wild. The castles, villages, rivers, forests, and of course, the rocky cliffs by the sea, are stunning and inspiring. The best part of it all was that I got to see everything with a truly phenomenal group of writers from all over the U.S. and all walks of life. I’ve made some friends for life and I’m excited for the many reunions and celebrations we will have!

Before I jump into pictures, I wanted to share my thoughts on having a new blog schedule. I’d really like to start posting more regularly, if I possibly can. Blogging is not as popular now as it was when I started out in 2008. I’ve noticed a steady decline in comments and in friends posting on their own blogs, BUT the number of views on my entries has remained steady. People are still reading what I have to write, so I want to make sure I get on a more predictable schedule!

Since twice weekly is a bit much when I want to focus on my actual writing, I think I will post every Friday, starting in October when my Ireland posts are all done. I’ll alternate between a personal/writing post and a fun post related to one of my projects. Let me know if you have thoughts or suggestions on this. I would love to hear them!

Without further ado, here are some photos from my very first day in Ireland!









I flew the red-eye on Friday night, and since I can’t sleep on planes (it’s a fatal flaw — I am a picky sleeper. There, I said it) I was exhausted when I arrived in Dublin early Saturday morning. Our tour guide suggested that instead of staying in the city, I should take the Go Bus across the country to Galway (pronounced GALL-way) on the western coast, since that’s where I’d be meeting up with everyone else. I’m so glad I listened to her!

I stayed at the Corrib House Bed and Breakfast, which I highly, HIGHLY recommend. Just look at my photos! The place is gorgeous, the staff is so nice and welcoming, and the food… well, let’s just say I’ve been too afraid to weigh myself after my trip.

See the buttermilk pancakes with cream and raspberry compote? I washed those down with a big pot of chocolate chai while I read Pitch Wars entries, and I really think I ought to try to reenact that meal when I’m picking my mentee this weekend. Brain-clarifying food — or so I tell myself.

In that last breakfast picture, I am sitting with my awesome and hilarious new friend Corinne. She stayed in the same B&B on Saturday night, and we spent all of Sunday morning chatting and laughing and rambling all over Galway.










This isn’t the last you’ve seen or heard of Galway — more pictures are coming of our Tuesday night pub crawl. And I stayed there again on the way home!

Come back next week for my post on Day Two, in which we meet up with the tour group and visit a haunted 14th century abbey. Apparently a gruesome murder occurred somewhere inside, and I didn’t realize it was the exact window I stood in until I got my photo taken and someone told me. Everyone thinks there’s a ghostly monk standing behind me in it, so I want to hear what you think!

PPP Update and Ireland Retreat Goals!!!

Aug 14, 2015 Main blog 9 comments

Attention all PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS readers: Chapters 14, 15, and 16 have been posted to Wattpad. This will be the final update for a couple of weeks, as I’m going to be out of the country and won’t have access to my manuscript to post new pages. I hope it’ll give you time to catch up on reading or even re-read, if you like 🙂 Come back on Saturday, August 29th, for the next new chapters.




I have submitted PPP for consideration in Wattpad’s Featured Stories. Fingers crossed that the editorial team accepts it! If you guys could help by continuing to read and vote via your Wattpad accounts, that would be awesome. The story is still getting a lot of buzz and I appreciate all of your support so, so much!

By the time you read this, I am likely en route to Dublin. I am so crazy excited for this writers’ retreat, especially since the workshop leaders have already read the early pages of FOTL, my young adult epic fantasy. They offered some excellent comments and insight, and I’ll be having one-on-one sessions with them to discuss the manuscript so far (as will all of the other writers attending). So I’m pretty stoked to get some advice on this very rough draft before my CPs and my agent see the early pages! Hoping to share a very polished, sleek version with them sometime in September.

So, these are my goals for the retreat:


  1. FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS: Absorb everything I can from the retreat mentors/leaders and make the story stronger. Make my heroine’s motivations a bit more understandable. Plot out the next 10 chapters in detail, so I can come back and write on auto-pilot. I am really, REALLY hoping to at least get the rough draft done by November so I can work on a fun MG for NaNoWriMo.

  3. MG manuscript: I’m hoping to write one, or at least start writing one, for this NaNoWriMo. I haven’t decided between three ideas yet. These are the stories currently fighting for my attention: 1) an MG action/adventure involving witches and diverse butt-kicking kids; 2) an MG action/adventure set in the world of PPP; or 3) an MG contemporary and/or humor about an aspiring doctor. Argh, so many ideas! So I am hoping to decide on one and maybe start plotting it out, or at least write a fun synopsis for it.

  5. Pitch Wars Submissions!!!: I’m told we will have Wi-Fi in the hotel and the surrounding restaurants/coffee shops in the village, so I fully anticipate reading some wonderful queries and pages next week! Can’t wait! I have a feeling it will be like querying. When you send out a query, you never know if you are addressing your future agent, the person who could make your dreams come true. So when I open each submission, I’ll be thinking: “Hmm, could this be my mentee?!”

  7. SEAWALL: I haven’t talked much about this manuscript. It’s a YA historical fantasy/romance set in Ireland (how convenient!) and I’m hoping to get a lot of inspiration on my trip. I’ve already got three exploratory chapters written – printed them out to mark up on the plane – and I like what I have, a LOT. It’s going to be tricky, but I have a feeling I’m going to figure it all out over the next two weeks. My notebook is ready!!!


Oh yeah, and that’s another thing. I’m not bringing my laptop, so it’ll be my Mead notebooks and my trusty Pilot G2 pens! And my wimpy, wimpy hand, which always cramps up after a page now. BUT, I think that’s ideal for this sort of trip because writing by hand is so slow and allows me to think more. So I’ll get to turn the ideas over in my head a lot more thoroughly than if I’d been typing.

So, I’m out of commission for the next two weeks! I will answer all of your texts, calls, emails, and smoke signals upon my return. I *should* be available through email, but the only tablet I have is my Barnes and Noble Nook and that’s not really made to be a web-surfing device (the window keeps flickering when I try to type and it makes me CRAY CRAY). But if it’s urgent, I shall see it and try my best to respond!

See you when I return 🙂 🙂

New PPP Chapters, Pitch Wars Live Chat, and An Office Tour!

Aug 08, 2015 Main blog 10 comments

Here’s your weekly notification that new chapters of PPP are up! The next update will be a day early, on Friday 8/14, and will be the last update for a couple of weeks because VACATION. But I am hoping that will give you time to re-read or catch up 🙂

I’m so encouraged by the support PPP has received so far! It hasn’t been on Wattpad a full month yet, but has already gotten over 400 reads and 100 votes – and that’s not counting unregistered views. So thanks to all of you who have been reading, especially if you’ve shared your thoughts with me via comments, Facebook, and Twitter!


Read Chapters 12 and 13 of PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS HERE!


Now on to Pitch Wars, which I’m sure has been bombarding your Twitter feed the way it has mine! I plan to participate in the MG mentors’ live chat on Tuesday, August 11, at 8pm, with Whiskey, Wine, and Writing. Check out the #WWWriting hashtag on Twitter for the link to the live feed, and feel free to ask any questions you may have about what we’re looking to mentor for this year’s contest.

I will let you know if anything changes and if I’m unable to participate for whatever reason. (Most likely my utter incompetence at technology, because webcam + microphone + Internet connection + Google Hangouts sounds quite challenging.) If that’s the case, I will be on that hashtag and ready to answer your questions via Twitter! But, I do hope to be able to jump on smoothly and chat with the other awesome mentors!

As most of you know, I recently moved. Now that the hard part of packing and unpacking is over, the much more fun redecorating and settling-in part has begun! Here’s a quick look at this brand-new bookcase I put together for my office area:



It’s just a simple, plain white bookcase that I decorated with adhesive decals from a craft store. I put the decals on before I added the shelves, and I’m so happy with how it turned out! The good thing is that I can remove the flowers at any time, if I want to change up the look. I’m thinking about trying some wallpaper next so you can see more of it even with books stacked on the shelves.

Here’s what the bookcase looks like with some books and knickknacks on it:



And here’s a peek at one of the shelves. I added this beautiful artwork of Stella Kim, the main character from my novel ELEGY, which was made for me by my amazingly talented CP, Marisa Hopkins!



I’m loving how it all turned out! I have another smaller wooden bookcase with glass doors, which I’ve had since I was a kid. I’m thinking about using this new one as a display case for ARCs, friends’ books, and — fingers-toes-eyes crossed, MY books, some wonderful dream day in the future — and rotating the rest according to my mood. Anything I don’t want displayed here at the moment, I can put into my other bookcase.


  1. I have a section dedicated to ARCs I own.
  2. One section is full of books by people I know or have met in real life! Including my former Pitch Wars mentor N.K. Traver, my good friend Kristin Rae, and A.C. Gaughen, whose book SCARLET I got signed at NESCBWI and whose bookmarks I got signed when I saw her again at Wellesley Books with Sarah J. Maas! Hoping that this shelf grows more and more as I see friends’ books out in the world.
  3. The knickknacks come from all over the world. I have:
    1. A horse music box from Sweden that my high school friend gave me.
    2. Pretty Chinese figurines and a mini folding screen from the Chinatown in Paris. (Yes, even in the most beautiful city in the world, with the greatest food in the world, my parents insisted on finding and eating/shopping in Chinatown.)
    3. A golden retriever figurine (which you see next to that artwork of Stella above) in honor of my dog Sunny, who died when I was in college. I bought it when we stayed in London.
    4. A little wicker owl that I’ve had since I was a baby. It’s hollow, and as I grew up, I hid the keys to all of my diaries and journals inside.
    5. A pretty dreidel I won at a friend’s Chanukah party one year. She taught me the meanings of all the symbols on each side.
    6. A dried flower I wore in my hair when I was a bridesmaid for one of my best friends years ago. It’s clipped onto a book that she loves!
    7. Jade elephants and a jade horse from my grandparents, who I believe got them for me in California. I’ve had those since I was little, too.
    8. Two globe book-ends (see them on the top two shelves?) my dad picked up for me from a garage sale somewhere ages ago. Love them!
  4. The bottom shelf is almost all classics and old fairy tale volumes I’ve owned forever. Pulling one of these out guarantees that I will get lost in the pages for hours!


And here’s a look at my office space:



I have since added a calendar to the wall, and also this phenomenal tarot card art by my writing idol Maggie Stiefvater. I nearly passed out when she messaged me to let me know I’d won her contest, and then she started following me on Twitter. *screams at a high-pitched volume only dogs can hear* I heard her speak once at the Boston Book Festival, but I’ve never had a chance to talk to her personally. Rest assured that when I do, I will fangirl harder than the fangirliest fangirl who ever lived.

Hope you enjoyed this quick tour of my bookshelf and little office area!

I’ll probably blog once more when I update PPP next Friday, but just in case you know, I am planning to post all of my Ireland pictures on my Facebook account. I feel bad about not using that account enough, so I figured since I don’t have an Instagram, Facebook would be a good place to share those photos (though I will most likely share a sampling here on my blog as well).

So if you want to see pictures of my trip, go ahead and “Like” my Facebook page HERE.

Hope you all have a great weekend!

My 2015 Pitch Wars Wish List!

Aug 03, 2015 Main blog 17 comments

Artwork by S.P. McConnell


I’m pumped to be a Pitch Wars mentor this year! WAHOO!

I will be accepting middle-grade submissions only. I love to read and write MG, and I consider books in this category to be every bit as important and compelling as those for older kids. So I am excited and hopeful that you will send your wonderful MG manuscripts to me!

I’ve been in many contests myself and I know how scary and intense it can be. But I promise that if you’re willing to work hard, you’ll emerge on the other side an even stronger writer.

I’m here to help you do that. Yes, YOU!


So, Who the Heck Am I, Anyway?


I’m Julie, but my pals call me Jules and so can you!

I write both MG and YA, and I am represented by the amazing Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency. I signed with her back in February and you can read all about it HERE!

The book I signed with is a YA ghost story called ELEGY, which was mentored by N.K. Traver and Stephanie Garber in the 2013 Pitch Wars. It’s been a true labor of love (emphasis on “labor,” double emphasis on “love”) and I hope I can share it with the world someday!

I’m a New England girl who went to college to be a doctor and came out ready to follow my true passion: writing. I’m a proud Vietnamese-American and am on the lookout for books featuring diverse characters and cultures!


I shall teach you the wonders of pho (a Vietnamese soup), which I’m pretty sure can cure all ills. But can it win you an agent? Pick me and find out.


I love running, cooking, eating, and wearing pajamas around the house at all hours of the day. My favorite authors are J.K. Rowling, Anita Shreve, Maggie Stiefvater, and Jane Austen. I am a rabid fan of The Lord of the Rings (Bilbo Baggins is my high fantasy counterpart) and I can quote any line from the movies on command.

I also love Harry Potter (proud Ravenclaw/Hufflepuff hybrid here) and make it a point to reread the entire series every other year.


This picture is proof that I got my degree from Hogwarts. You don’t want an untrained Muggle mentor on your side, do you?


What Manuscripts Am I Looking For?


Here’s a look at what I’m interested in mentoring:


MG Action/Adventure. Got a book with heart-pounding action, dangerous conflict, or high stakes in the vein of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series or Jennifer Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy? How about a throwback — a swashbuckling, high seas adventure similar to my childhood favorite, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle? What about a story with seamless world-building and a plot that’ll keep me on the edge of my seat? If it’s exciting, I WANT IT.
Creepy/spooky/Gothic MG. Give me your ghosts, your ghouls, your huddled goblins yearning to freak me out! I love anything atmospheric, where the setting could be a character in and of itself. I like locked rooms, creaky old mansions and boarding schools, and windswept moors. Two recent creepy MGs I enjoyed were Holly Black’s DOLL BONES and Neil Gaiman’s CORALINE.
Mysterious/suspenseful MG. I grew up reading the Nancy Drew books, and I am a big fan of Agatha Christie. I love the BBC series Poirot starring David Suchet! Also, Clue is one of my favorite board games and movies. Cozy mysteries, whodunnits, suspense/adventure with a noir-ish feel — I am in, in, in, no matter what kind you have! Whether your book stars a spunky young sleuth or a whole cast of budding detectives, if it’s a mystery, I totally want it.
MG with ethnic/racial diversity. I’d like to see a cast that includes POCs in important, dynamic, vibrant roles. They do not have to be your main character, and if they are, the story does not have to focus on their diversity. But wider representation of different cultural/ethnic backgrounds is a bonus!
Characters who are passionate about something. I want to see characters with strength and conviction, whether they are the protagonist or antagonist. I want to see them trying to achieve something or make something happen. If you have stubborn, determined kids with goals in your book, I WANT IT.
Books that make me FEEL THE FEELS. I’m an emotional person. I like to laugh and cry when reading, because that’s when I know I deeply care about the story and its characters. If your MG manuscript can do one or the other (or both), I’m in, baby!
Books that feature strong relationships. I love reading about characters who have strong emotional bonds with others. It could be anyone: a friend, a grandparent, a teacher, or even a pet! (Bonus if there’s a dog in your book, because I am a HUGE dog lover. I had a golden retriever growing up!) I like relationships that shape and change a character’s life. So if this sounds like your book… *grabby hands*


What’s that you say? Your manuscript doesn’t fit any of these criteria?

Don’t fret. Sometimes I don’t know I’ll like something until I read it, and I’m very open-minded and ready to try new things.

However, I may not be the best fit for: dystopian/apocalyptic, science fiction, religious/spiritual, or non-ghostly paranormal (like vampires, werewolves, angels, demons). So if you write in one of these genres, look around at the other mentors first. I bet you’ll find someone who is looking for these!


Why Should You Pick Me? No, Really!


Here’s where I get to shamelessly brag about myself!

You should pick me to be your mentor because:

I write a mean, MEAN pitch. I first hooked my awesome agent via #Pitmad, and at one point while querying ELEGY, I had an 80% full request rate. So I know how to write a bad-ass short pitch and query letter. Pick me and I will do everything I can to help you get your pitch into the kind of shape people cannot say no to. We will make them ask for more!
I have a big social media presence. I’ve been in the writing community since 2008 and my blog hit over 210,000 all-time views earlier this year. I have a significant following across all important social media sites. Being a writer is not just about the writing, but also knowing how to present yourself online. I will help you with this. I will throw my weight behind you to promote you during Pitch Wars. Count on it!
I am extremely stubborn and I don’t give up easily. I stick with things and I see them through. This is how I got my agent after YEARS of struggle. If you pick me, I will fight for you! I will see you through to the best of my ability and hope we will be friends even after Pitch Wars is over!
I want to help you get an agent – if not now, then at some point in the future. Remember: the important thing is not how many contest requests you get. I only got one request in the 2013 Pitch Wars while my teammates raked in a dozen, but I still snagged an agent a year later. My priority is helping you shine up that book for when your time comes, whether that’s now or in the future.
I have critiqued DOZENS of manuscripts over the years. I’ve been a CP and a beta reader for many people since 2008, and I am tough but fair. I’ve been told by friends that my critique often matches point-for-point with what their agent/editor told them. I will not hesitate to squeal over parts of your book that I loved, but I will be entirely (and kindly) honest if something is not working.
I am unerringly positive. I like to be a cheerleader for my friends, and my friend you shall be. I will push you to work hard, but I will also encourage you and give you a boost when you need it. Writing can be a brutal journey, and I know my Pitch Wars mentors still hold my hand at times. This is what I want to do for you.


What I Want In a Mentee


Are you:


– Someone who works extremely hard and doesn’t give up easily?
– Someone who is kind, upbeat, and most importantly, positive?
– Someone who knows you have room to improve and are willing to do so?
– Someone who is open to feedback and takes constructive criticism in a graceful, mature way?
– Someone who understands that I am volunteering my time and that I’ll do my best, but I may get busy, and that doesn’t mean I don’t like you anymore? (VERY IMPORTANT.)
– Someone who reads this post carefully and sends me what I ask for?


Yes? Then I’d be honored to have you on #TeamHobbit! 🙂 Looking forward to seeing your submission!


P.S. Quick note to let you know that when the submission window opens, I’ll be on vacation in Ireland. (OH YEAH!!!) I should be able to read your queries and pages on my e-reader, Wi-Fi gods willing. If I’m slow to request pages or respond to tweets/questions, do not worry! I will get to them all upon my return the following week! *Irish-jigs off into sunset*

Great Resources For Researching Agents!

Jul 30, 2015 Main blog 10 comments

Today, I wanted to do a quick post about researching agents. There are many great resources already out there, so I’ll focus on what I did when I was querying.

You may have seen a recent Twitter uproar over some questionable querying advice. It all started when somebody professing to be a expert claimed that you should jump on the first agent offer you receive. This person suggested that if you dare ask for time to think or to consider others, the agent will get mad and withdraw his/her interest.

There was a huge call to arms, and experienced queriers hopped into #MSWL and #PitMad — where the individual had been offering these gems — to reassure newer folks that yes, in fact, you should ask for time. It is not only a professional courtesy to other agents who have been reading your book, but it is beneficial to you.

I understand that if you’ve been treading the Querying Waters for a long time, an offer (ANY offer) can seem like the life raft you’ve waited for. But when you make the decision to sign with somebody, you are effectively placing yourself, your work, and your entire writing career in their hands. Are those capable hands? Does this person know what they’re doing? Should you trust your career to somebody without knowing as much as you can about them? (Especially if they give sketchy advice like that person above?)

Agents and editors research writers, so it makes sense that you, the writer, should research them, too. It’s a partnership for everyone involved, and you should find out what you can before you sign a legal contract.



When I put that on Twitter shortly after the uproar, I was surprised to get tweets and DMs from folks who had never heard of these resources or had never used them. I assumed it was a matter of course for every writer, because they were the resources my CPs and I all used when querying.

So here’s a quick rundown that I hope will help you if you are querying or weighing offers!

When I did agent research, I did it with three questions in mind:


  1. Are they legit?
  2. Do they represent/look for what I write?
  3. Will their personality and work style likely mesh with mine?


And here are the resources I used to try to answer those questions:


Google. This was my first stop. I typed in the agent’s name and quickly scanned what came up. Good signs of them being legit include: an official, well-designed agency website; maybe a nice personal website or blog; a listing on QueryTracker; and a bunch of interviews. But not having all of these things doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not legit; they might just be a newer agent.
Official agency website. You can find out a lot of things here, including how long the agent’s been agenting, what their background is, what clients/books they represent, etc. Also a perk — if you are interested in a newer, less experienced agent, you can find out who they work with. I knew I only wanted a brand-new agent if he or she came from a reputable agency, with experienced senior agents who had taken them under their wing.
Manuscript Wish List (#MSWL). This terrific resource started on Twitter (check out the hashtag!) and is now consolidated into one handy website. This helped me a ton when I was querying ELEGY, because I got to see who was looking for something just like it. It’s a good way to double-check the agent’s interests and make sure you’re not querying something that they no longer want.
QueryTracker. Do yourself a favor and open a free account here, because I relied heavily on this website when querying. Type in an agent’s name, and you’ll be able to see info on their agency and submission guidelines. (But always double-check on the official website, of course.) Best of all, you’ll see a Comments thread where writers often post the type of interaction they had with this agent and how long it took to hear a response.
Absolute Write. This is an amazing forum with threads for pretty much every agent and/or agency. People post a lot of dirt here, which is awesome. Personally, I want to know if someone had a bad experience with a particular agent. Maybe they were rude, or maybe they were unresponsive, or maybe they didn’t take good care of their clients and the client ended the relationship. I want to know these things up front. And people on the forum don’t mess around — they’ll tell you exactly like it is, which is what you want!
Writer Beware. This is an excellent place to go to double-check whether an agent, agency, or publisher is legit. Even if you know they are legit, it doesn’t hurt and only takes a few minutes to check this website.
Publishers Marketplace. If you have the funds (it’s about $20/month, I believe), this can be another great aid when you receive an offer. You can also share the account with another writer buddy. Not all deals are listed here, but it’s a good way to see if an agent has made any, what kind of books they’ve sold, and to which houses. *Edited for clarification: You can open an account for just one month, or two, and cancel it whenever you want. I’ve opened and canceled my account a couple times, whenever I needed/didn’t need it anymore!
Writer buddies. If you’re unsure about someone, ask friends! (Privately, of course.) They may have had personal contact with the agent you’re interested in, or they may have heard useful things through the grapevine. I got a lot of info this way that wouldn’t have been available on those websites. My Pitch Wars mentors were invaluable here, because they’d already been there and blazed the trail for me!


I hope that helps those of you who were curious about the websites I mentioned.

And speaking of Pitch Wars, the mentor blog hop begins Monday, August 3, so keep an eye out for my post!

Fellow queriers, if you have any agent research tips or resources to add, please feel free to do so in the comments!

New PPP Chapters and a Guest Post!

Jul 25, 2015 Main blog 6 comments

Happy Saturday!

This is the FINAL weekend I will spend in my beautiful apartment in the city. *blows nose* The truck is coming bright and early Monday to ship me off to greener pastures — literally! I’m excited to be living near rolling mountains and sweeping farmlands again. I was lucky to grow up in a place very similar to the Shire, and I really believe it’s why hobbits are my spirit characters/creatures.

For those of you who have read or are reading PPP, the kingdom of Indigo (where Noelle grows up) was heavily inspired by my hometown!

And here is your weekly notification that the next three chapters are up and ready to be read. Check them out at the link below. I hope you’re having as much fun reading the story as I had writing it!




Earlier this week, I guest posted on Michelle Hauck’s blog about The Call and how we all have different writer timelines. I hope it helps encourage you to focus on how much you enjoy writing, and to realize that if it takes longer for you to hit certain milestones — like finishing/revising a book, or getting an agent, or scoring a book deal — that it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve them. Just because it’s taking longer doesn’t mean that it won’t ever happen. Take it from me, one of the latest bloomers of all late bloomers when it comes to anything with writing…

As soon as I get settled in, I’m doing a blog post on querying resources and researching agents. Hope you’ll keep an eye out for it!

Have a great weekend!


Jul 15, 2015 Main blog 9 comments

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably already know that I’m posting PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS for free on Wattpad this summer! I am THRILLED to share this story at last!

I wrote it back in 2010, as my first real foray into the world of kidlit. The story was originally YA with a 16-year-old protagonist, but after an agent R+R, I switched it to upper MG and knocked two years off my main character’s age. It was really the best change possible for the book!

Because the print market is so tough for this type of story, I decided Wattpad would be a great way to find an audience for it. I picked Wattpad because most of the readers are teens and tweens, and I’m excited and nervous to hear what they (and you!) think. So, now that Tamar has given me the green light, I’m pleased to announce that PPP is available for you to read!

I’m truly excited for this. Not only is it a good distraction and a way to keep busy, but it is a fun little present to say THANK YOU to all of my blog friends and readers who have never seen any of my work.

Special thanks go to: DL Hammons, Sierra Godfrey Fong, Marisa Hopkins, Jordan McMakin, Ivy Zang, Nancy Bruckman, and Tiana Smith, for their feedback on various drafts. ♥

Here are the cover and synopsis:



Noelle Simpkins is sick of working for her parents.

Sure, her dad runs a booming pumpkin business and her mom’s the greatest shoemaker in the land. But pumps and pumpkins get OLD after a while, and at 14, she’s ready to see more of the world.

When she hears about a fairy godmother internship in the city, she jumps on it. The goal? Make sure royal clients get happily-ever-afters — all while battling goblins, curing curses, and figuring out how to use a magic wand. Not to mention shutting down a rival godmother and avoiding Kit, a distractingly cute pie seller who keeps turning up.

But as exciting as the new gig is, Noelle begins to realize… she kind of misses making shoes and growing pumpkins.

Has she gotten closer to her own happily-ever-after, or farther away?

And when the (glass) shoe’s on the other foot, can she stay true to her own heart?


The first five chapters are now LIVE! And I plan to post 1-2 new ones every Friday, so keep checking back.

You don’t need a Wattpad account to read the story, but I’d love it if you opened one (since reads don’t count if you’re unregistered). The more reads and comments I get from registered members, the more buzz the story will have! But no pressure. If you want to help out by simply sharing the link, that is also awesome of you and I appreciate it!


Here are the links:

Follow me here: AUTHOR PAGE

Read the story here: PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS


I hope-hope-hope you enjoy it and let me know what you think!

My Next Big Adventure: Writing Full-Time! (For A Little While)

Jun 19, 2015 Main blog 19 comments

This year has been so, so crazy and unexpected. It’s been a whirlwind of things happening that I thought would never happen, inching me ever closer to the dream I’ve had since I was a kid. I have no idea what’s coming next (if anything). But what I do know is I want to focus on my writing 100% for a little while. Maybe it’ll be six months. Maybe it’ll be a year, tops. Maybe it’ll be three weeks, after which I go stir-crazy and run off in pursuit of gainful employment. But something is telling me, “Now is the time.” Because if it isn’t… when will it be? There’s a good chance I may never get this opportunity again. So I’m about to take a leap of faith. I’m about to push off from shore and embark without the faintest clue of what the seas will be like. It is risky, and it is scary, but it is also exhilarating, the idea that soon writing can and will take up as much of my time as I choose.

I’ve been working nonstop for eight years, ever since I finished college. I was lucky to have a job waiting for me, and since walking in my graduation ceremony, I’ve worked 9-5 day in and day out. I am so grateful for all of my experiences: researching the effects of mercury poisoning on the nervous system, writing news stories on cutting-edge technology and scientific discoveries, and working with some of the most brilliant doctors and medical students in the country. I am so grateful to have been able to support myself, to pay for everything I need and still have enough for this huge, gorgeous apartment full of books and sunshine.

All that time, I squeezed in writing whenever I could. I scribbled on lunch breaks, pounded out words late into the evenings, and had full-on writeathons on the weekends. I wrote five full-length novels that way. I told myself that was what every writer had to do: pay the bills during the day, and pursue this near-impossible dream at night. And then I moved to the city for work and had even less time to write. I’d wake up at 6am, spend two hours commuting, work until 7, spend two hours commuting, and arrive home too drained to even turn on my laptop.

A few months ago, when my mom came to visit, she was shocked to see how tired I looked. I had been staying up late that week to work on my revisions, nights being my only time to focus on them. And you all know how obsessed I get when I’m revising. I love picking over every word, tweaking scenes to make them shine, and rereading the same paragraph a dozen times only to end up deleting it because it makes the chapter drag.

So, after my mom listened to me explain this with shining eyes over dark circles, she asked: “Why don’t you just write full-time for a while? Move back. Get out of the city. See what happens… you can always find another job.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing at first. Leave the city, where I’d been a certified “young urban professional” for five years? Pursue something I’d ever only been told was a hobby, full-time? But that’s the beauty of years passing, you see. Somewhere along the way, my mom had figured out that this was not a passing craze with me – this was a long-term, hopeless, torrid, passionate insanity. So in her loving, stubborn, well-meaning way, she told me that she believed in me enough to stand behind me and push me closer to my dream.

Yeah. I have a pretty awesome mom!

She also encouraged me to go on this writers’ retreat to Ireland. Yes! I’m going to the Emerald Isle this summer for a whole week! It’s my big birthday trip, my celebration of a new decade and a new beginning. I’m going with eleven other writers and I cannot wait to explore castles, wander through historic villages, and get some major writing inspiration. I haven’t been to Europe since I was 20, so it seems so fitting to go back for this milestone! I’ve also been wanting to do a giveaway, so I may have some awesome Irish goodies to share when I return!

Anyway, I absolutely plan on having to balance writing with a full-time job again in the very near future. I may even get a part-time job during this “sabbatical,” if the isolation drives me too crazy. I’m a hopeful person, but I’m also realistic, and I know most writers can never afford to just write. However, I am super thankful I’ll at least get a little taste of that life… if only for a small window of time.

Hope you all have a great weekend, and Happy Father’s Day to all those dads and dad figures out there!

Julie C. Dao