Fixing the First Page Feature #22

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Incredibly, May is just two days away, which means spring allergies are in, summer is on its way, and it's time for the next Fixing the First Page feature! Woot!

As per usual, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (because I'm one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Here we go! 


Genre/Category: New Adult Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

First 250:

"I’m paralysed. Everything from the neck down no longer responds. I breathe in sharp and try to move my toes, my hands, my fingers. 
The only thing I can do is stare up into a light ― a bright blue light. 
Tears leak from my eyes as probes and electrodes are attached to various part of my body. The needle-like instruments stab underneath my fingernails as the straps pinning me down to the surgical table are tightened. 
My heart thunders in my chest. 
'It’s alright, just be a good girl. This will hurt, but if you be a good girl I promise you can play with the yoyo again. You like the yoyo, don’t you, Raven?' 
A masked man comes into view. 
'Do you want me to administer another, Doctor?' a nurse asks. 
'No, she’s had the maximum dose already. We’ll continue in her current state.' 
Wires jostle above my head as the doctor moves away, a huge surgical light now being lowered over my body. 
I’m hyperventilating. 
'Doctor, she’s panicking. I have to give her another.' 
'She won’t respond if we do that.' 
Something sharp is attached to each of my temples. 
'MRGHHHHH!' I scream against my gag, the nurse trying to calm me as tears pour down my face. 
'Doctor! Doctor, she’s going to have another seizure! We have to sedate her!' 
'Just leave it, Edith! She has to be conscious or this won’t work! This has to work this time!'

'But she―' 
'I’m starting the procedure! Injecting the solution. Just keep her stable!'"

Are you sure this isn't a horror novel? Kidding, kidding...

Okay, well I am definitely interested after reading the opening, in a sort of horrified fascination. I'd say you've definitely got a good hook here, and I'm very curious (and disturbed) about what's going on. All of this is good, because it means if I had more pages, I'd definitely keep reading to find out what was going on.

So great start so far. Let's take a closer look now.

"I’m paralysed. Everything from the neck down no longer responds. I feel like this could be more evocative. Starting off with this unexpected paralysis is definitely interesting, but right now we're being told she's paralyzed—literally told. I'd like to really be in her head and feel what she's feeling. What is she thinking when she can't move? Is this expected? Does she panic? How does it feel to try to move but not have your body respond? You start to get a taste of that with her sharp breath in the next sentence, but I'd really like to see more. I'd like to know exactly what's going on in her head and how it feels to be literally trapped in your unresponsive body. I breathe in sharp and try to move my toes, my hands, my fingers. 
The only thing I can do is stare up into a light ― a bright blue light. This is a nice detail of the blue light. What I'm missing from this opening so far is emotion, though. This could be a very powerful start if we got a glimpse into how this ordeal is making her feel from the start.
Tears leak from my eyes as probes and electrodes are attached to various part of my body. This is passive phrasing—probes and electrodes are attached. Instead, I'd like to see tis shifting so we can see who is doing this to her. The instruments aren't attaching themselves and stabbing themselves into her. Show us who is doing this to her. Also, what various parts of her body? The needle-like instruments stab underneath my fingernails as the straps pinning me down to the surgical table are tightened. 
My heart thunders in my chest. This is good, but I think we could use more of her bodily reactions showing emotion even up to this point. If you haven't bought it already, I highly recommend The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi—it's a fantastic resource full of entries that show exactly how different emotions affect the body, which makes showing emotion a million and two times easier. 
'It’s alright all right (common mistake—"alright" is technically not a real word), just be a good girl. This will hurt, but if you be a good girl I promise you can play with the yoyo again. You like the yoyo, don’t you, Raven?' I'm very curious about why they're speaking to her like a child when the age category would indicate she's not a child. Unless...this is a flashback? If this is a flashback, I would recommend against it—starting with flashbacks are pretty confusing for readers, and especially when the flash back is more exciting than the actual opening scene, it tends to irritate readers because it's a bait and switch. Of course, I don't know for sure that this is a flashback, but just in case...
A masked man comes into view. Masked how? I mean, in the next sentence we figure out he's a doctor, but "masked" could mean a lot of things. I'd slip in a short, quick description to indicate it's a face mask or something. 
'Do you want me to administer another, Doctor?' a nurse asks. 
'No, she’s had the maximum dose already. We’ll continue in her current state.' 
Wires jostle above my head as the doctor moves away, ; a huge surgical light now being is lowered over my body. 
I’m hyperventilating. Again, I think this could be more evocative. It'd be much more powerful to see her struggling for breath, getting dizzy from lack of oxygen, etc., than being told she's hyperventilating.
'Doctor, she’s panicking. I have to give her another.' 
'She won’t respond if we do that.' 
Something sharp is attached to each of my temples. Attached how? Did they press the sharp thing into her? Is it held by something else? This is important because in the next line I'm not sure if she's screaming because this hurts or because she's panicking, or both. Also, this is passive again—rephrase to make it more active and show who is doing what. 
'MRGHHHHH!' I scream against my gag, the nurse trying to calm me as tears pour down my face. How? What does the nurse do? Again; more evocative when we see what people are doing rather than being told they're doing it. Is the nurse patting her? Shushing her? Holding her hand? Touching her cheek? There are a lot of possibilities. 
'Doctor! Doctor, she’s going to have another seizure!Wwe have to sedate her!.' I recommend cutting down on the exclamation points. Too many and the dialogue starts to drift into melodramatic territory. :) 
'Just leave it, Edith! She has to be conscious or this won’t work!Tthis has to work this time!.''

'But she―' 
'I’m starting the procedure!. Injecting the solution. Just keep her stable!.'"

Okay, so, overall, assuming this isn't a flashback, I think this is a strong—and disturbing—start. The two biggest issues I'm seeing are a) making sure that you really dive into the writing and get into Raven's head so the readers feel what she's feeling and understand exactly how she's experiencing this and b) that you remove the passive phrasing and reword it so the readers understand exactly what's going on and who is in control. And just for a refresher, here's a great article on active versus passive voice.

As I said, I think this has a ton of potential and with some tweaking could be incredibly powerful. I just sincerely hope this isn't a flashback because if so...I'd have to strongly recommend against starting here.

If I saw this in the slush, I would definitely keep reading to see where it goes.

I hope that helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, Peta!

Would you like to be featured in a Fixing the First Page Feature? Keep an eye out for the next critique giveaway in May!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks delving into the POV character's head and flashbacks in the 22nd Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

On Major Character Deaths

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So as I work on various projects, watch Game of Thrones, and read books that I suspect will have major character deaths (and finish a book that did have an important character death that destroyed me), I've been thinking lately about how we kill characters off—and what it means when we do.

Now, I've already posted about how to kill characters with impact, so I'm not going to reiterate that again. But instead I'm thinking about the why—why we choose to kill characters, how we choose what characters to kill, and what it means when we pick one character over the other. I've been thinking about how certain marginalized groups are frequently killed off first on TV, and I've been thinking about all the factors that go into deciding why one character should be killed off over another or why certain characters need to die at all.

I've thinking about controversial decisions in which major characters have been killed (like the protagonist of one major YA series not all that long ago). And I've been thinking about why some readers freak out and trash one book if a protagonist or major character dies, but not another book with another major character death. What makes one character death better than the other? What makes one death acceptable and one not so much?

There are a lot of factors to think about when killing off characters, especially if said characters come from marginalized groups with high fictionalized body counts. You need to think about what it means for this particular character to die. You need to think about why it's essential for that character, and not another, to be killed off. You need to think about what it'll mean to the readers that this character survives, but this other one doesn't.

I personally don't have a problem with major characters, even protagonists, dying (aside from, you know, the emotional trauma)—it's just a sign to me that no character is safe in that particular author's works, which if anything just makes future reading of their books more a good way. But I think the key to pulling off major character deaths is to make sure you have a good reason for it besides bottling reader tears for science. It has to mean something for the overall plot and the story itself—it has to be so integral to the story that anything else couldn't work as effectively.

Of course, it can be really tough to figure out what's essential and what isn't in your own work sometimes, which is yet another reason why critique partners are 100% necessary in the writing process. And even then you may get conflicting opinions—writing is super subjective!—so you'll have to listen to your gut. But I think the thing to remember, when considering a major character death (or several), is to make sure there's a reason for it so it doesn't read as an arbitrary attempt at shocking readers and to be sure that you pull it off in a way that is thoughtful and meaningful.

Easier said than done, of course. But when done well, and done with purpose, it can be an incredibly effective way to make sure your story leaves a mark.

What do you think about major character deaths?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Author @Ava_Jae talks killing major characters with purpose & making sure the death fits the story. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: World Building Part 3

Continuing from last week's part two vlog, here's part three of a four part series focused just on world building.


Have you utilized any of these elements in your world building? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Struggling w/ world building? Author @Ava_Jae continues her 4-part world building vlog series with part 3. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #22!

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Quick pre-vlog post to announce the winner of the twenty-second fixing the first page feature giveaway! Yay!


And the twenty-second winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Peta! Expect an e-mail from me shortly.

Thank you to all you awesome entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in May, so be on the lookout! :)


Hey guys!

So I told you there would be some fun things coming and this is one of them! I've been building up to this for a while, and now that I'm done with college, I'm really excited to finally announce I'm finally taking the plunge and joining the freelance editing world. Yay!

So what does this mean? Basically, as of today you can now hire me to help with your query, Twitter pitches, full manuscript, first couple pages, etc. All the info is on my pretty new website which you can access via that link or through my fancy new toolbar above under "hire me."

And! To kick off the grand opening of my freelance editor doors, from today until the end of May I'm be offering 10% off any booked services to all who refer to this post. You don't necessarily have to have anything ready to take advantage of the 10% by the way—as long as you book before the end of May (even if you book for, say, July), it will totally count. :)

So that's the first fun announcement! Thank you all for your amazing support, and keep an eye out for fun thing number two at the end of next week!

Discussion: On Hitting Milestones

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So today is my first day ever of no longer being an undergrad—though the day I'm writing this is the day before my last final, but by the time this goes up, college will be over. Which is surreal, and awesome, and also kind of bittersweet.

So, naturally, I've been thinking about milestones because over the course of the last month or so, I've hit quite a few. Beyond the Red's publication, seeing my book in stores, going on my first book tour, participating in a book signing, starting a new manuscript, finishing my last college class, and now, this.

It's all really exciting and surreal and kind of overwhelming, but ultimately with a good result.

I'm also over 20,000 words in my first-in-a-long-time first draft, which is super encouraging. It's been interesting opening up MyWriteClub sprints every day, thinking I have no idea how I'm going to get 2,000 words down today and doing it anyway. And while it takes me longer to get those 2,000 words down than it used to (once upon a time I wrote 1k in 30 minutes no problem), I've still been trudging forward relatively quickly and so far I'm on track to finish mid-May, like I'd originally planned.

I've also got a couple fun announcements I'll be sharing shortly, but not quite yet. :)

So those are Things going on right now. But mostly I'm opening up this post because I'd like to see what milestones, Things, and accomplishments you guys have reached or are working toward. What Things would you like to share?

Twitter-sized bite:
What milestones/goals are you working toward/have recently accomplished? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

On Writing Dreams and Nightmares

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So I got a question semi-recently from a reader about writing dreams and nightmares. I found this an especially interesting question, both because I was surprised I hadn't covered it, especially given I've written a ton of dream sequences for various projects, including Beyond the Red.

Dreams are really interesting, and when done well, a dream or nightmare in a book can convey a few things:

  • Flashback/memory. Dream sequences can be a great way to flash back to or hint at an event from your POV character's life, especially if it's a traumatic event. Dreams are sometimes the way the brain processes difficult-to-process life things, and in writing they can be an organic way to look back at an important event in your POV character's life.

  • A character's fears, desires, or something they're struggling with. I'm sure just about every one of you have dreamed about something you wanted, or something you were afraid of, or something you were sad about, or someone you missed, etc., etc. Likewise, in books, dreams can be a way to show character emotion—especially emotion that your POV character is trying to bury.

  • Symbolism. When they aren't a direct flashback, fictional dreams are often symbolic. As the writer, you get to decide exactly what happens in the dream and what you want the readers (and your character) to focus on. Symbolism, whether through colors, the way the dream plays out, peoples/animals/things involved, or something else, can be a really effective way to hint at something going on without outright saying it. 

I find the key to writing dreams is to keep them simple. The longer and more complicated a dream is, the more confusing it'll be to your readers (and, honestly, to your character). But sprinkling a few dreams here and there, when done thoughtfully, can be a really effective and memorable way to show the readers what's going on in your POV character's head. Like anything else, just don't overdo it. 

Have you ever written a dream sequence for one of your projects? 

Twitter-sized bite:
How do you write effective dreams or nightmares? Author @Ava_Jae shares some tips. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: World Building Part 2

Continuing from last week's new mini-series kickoff, here's part two of a four part series focused just on world building.


What elements do you like to think about first when building the world of your book?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Struggling w/ world building? Author @Ava_Jae continues her 4-part world building vlog series with part 2. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #22!

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Incredibly, we are more than halfway through April, I'm practically done with college, and fun announcements are forthcoming! But while I won't say anything else about that, the 22nd Fixing the First Page giveaway is a go!

For those who’ve missed it in the past, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a PUBLIC (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.


  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the twenty-second public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Sunday, April 24 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

On First Drafting Again

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So in the past couple weeks, I've started first drafting again, for the first time since 2014. The first project was a short thing that didn't take long to knock out, but this week I started my first WIP experiment in a long time.

For those who aren't familiar with my process, I call all my new writing projects WIP experiments until I've hit 10,000 words. Usually at that point I feel fairly confident I'm not going to walk away from the project and work on something else (though I have on two occasions walked away from a project after hitting the 10,000 word milestone, so nothing is guaranteed). As of this writing I'm about 6.5k in, but I'm aiming to hit the 10k mark the day this post goes live, so fingers crossed.

After spending a full year focused entirely on revisions for various projects, however, first drafting has been...interesting.

I've written about how first drafts are not meant to be perfect and how you don't have to get (anything) right the first time, but the last year or so I've gotten much better at revising plot and recognizing big picture issues which means while first drafting my brain has been more nitpicky than usual. Plus the first full first draft post-publication thing probably is complicating matters too.

The good news is I recognize it, and I know to remind myself that it's fine. It doesn't matter how many issues I recognize while first drafting. It doesn't matter if the pacing is off, or characterization isn't quite right, or subplots are jumbled, or ending fizzles. It doesn't matter if the writing itself is less than spectacular, or the dialogue is corny, or there are seven characters with names that start with S. Everything will be fixed later, but first the story needs to be written down so there's something to fix.

First drafting again is a relief, because last year I was feeling pretty not great that I hadn't written anything new.

First drafting again is scary, because I have no idea if I'll actually get through this WIP, even though I really want to.

First drafting again is helpful, because it's a great distraction from other things I'd be obsessing about right about now without it.

First drafting again is hard, because I've gotten used to working already-written words, and getting to the already-written stage can be challenging.

First drafting again is exciting, because I've got new characters to discover and situations to explore.

Regardless of whether or not this first draft actually makes it to The End, it's nice to be getting new words down on paper again. And with any luck, it'll become a project I'll actually get to develop and grow.

What writing thing are you working on right now? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Author @Ava_Jae talks first drafting again for the first time in over a year. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: ON THE EDGE OF GONE by Corinne Duyvis

Photo credit: Goodreads
So! Wow, I've been wanting to read On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis (author of the awesome Otherbound) basically since the publication announcement, and I finally did! And it was every bit as awesome as I hoped. :)

Before I tell you guys why, here is the Goodreads summary:

"January 29, 2035. 
That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one. Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter near their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time. 
Then a last-minute encounter leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship that’s scheduled to leave Earth behind and colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But each passenger must have a practical skill to contribute. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister? 
When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?"

I love me some YA Sci-Fi, and On the Edge of Gone was soooo different from any other YA Sci-Fi I've read and it was awesome. Usually apocalyptic-type books are post-apocalyptic, but On the Edge of Gone starts right before a massive comet strikes Earth and obliterates everything, then continues on in the days afterward and people try to survive and Denise tries to get her family safely off-planet.

Denise struggles with a lot—her autism makes everything she experiences more difficult for her to handle, all the while she resents people knowing about her disability (particularly when she isn't the one to reveal it), and because she's Black in a very white area that comes up as a subtle obstacle several times too. At the same time, her Dutch mother is an addict, and her mother's struggle with addiction and how it affects Denise and her family plays a major role in the book. Plus trying to survive on a dying planet. Plus trying to find Denise's missing sister, Iris. Plus trying to get her family aboard the ship bound for the stars.

On the Edge of Gone was fascinating and totally captivating.  I really connected to Denise and felt her highs and lows while reading, the characters were really complex and interesting, and honestly the whole thing just felt like something that could really happen, which made it a tad chilling, too.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this book, and I can't wait to see what Corinne Duyvis has for us next. Super recommended if you like YA Sci-Fi and are looking for something different, or would like to read an authentic portrayal of an autistic protagonist, or just want to read a great book.

Diversity note: As the author puts it, "The protagonist is an autistic, biracial, part-Dutch part-Surinamese Black girl. The story also features a prominent bisexual trans Black girl, as well as lesbian, Muslim, and Jewish characters, among others." The author is also autistic, so that part is #ownvoices.

Twitter-sized bites:
.@Ava_Jae gives 5 stars to ON THE EDGE OF GONE by Corinne Duyvis. Is this unique world-ending YA SF on your TBR? (Click to tweet)  
Want to support #ownvoices books? Like YA Sci-Fi? Check out ON THE EDGE OF GONE by Corinne Duyvis. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: World Building Part 1

You asked, I answered—here's the first of a four part series focused just on world building. Struggling to build the setting in your book? Here's a good place to start. :)


Where do you begin with world building? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Not sure where to start w/ world building? Author @Ava_Jae kicks off her 4-part world building vlog series. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: How Much Do You Stick to Your Plots?

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After a very long period of revising and a much shorter burst of working on a short sekret thing, I'm now on the cusp of being between projects. And bonus, for the first time, I've actually got a couple ideas to play around with. Yay!

And since I'm almost between projects, I looked at a half-plotted project I got distracted from and made it a messy, but fully-plotted project, and thus began thinking about plotting. And how necessary it is to me, even though I don't particularly love the actually plotting part (I like having plotted, not actually plotting). And how different the story will look if I actually write it, because everything changes.

I've mentioned briefly before that I use outlines as guidelines, rather than rulebooks. But I thought it might be fun to go into more detail about that, at least in how it affects me.

From the outline to the first draft, I'd say they're probably about 80-85% the same—barring really drastic changes that force me to re-outline a big chunk of the book...but that hasn't happened in the first draft for me quite yet. From outline to *final* draft, however, the percentage is definitely wayyyy lower. For example, I frequently have to replot/rewrite the last third of the book or so in revisions (have I mentioned lately how much I dislike writing the climax and ending?).

In Beyond the Red, I'd estimate probably 70% stayed pretty close to the original outline—though I did change things throughout the manuscript, and yes, rewrite the last several scenes completely (I think at least three times). But with exception to the completely rewritten parts, most of the changes I made, though they were scattered throughout, didn't massively impact the plot overall.

Not so much with my most recent WIP. With that one, I had to rewrite parts of the opening, cut parts from the opening, rewrite sections in the middle, and COMPLETELY rewrite the last third of the book. There was very little that stayed. And I deviated while first drafting, too. So from outline to final-for-now draft, we're looking at probably... 50% the same? Somewhere in there.

So long story short, as vital as outlines are to me (because without them, I frequently get stuck, and also psych myself out about not knowing how it's going to end, etc.), sticking to them is not really my top priority. They're just meant to give me a direction so that while I'm first drafting I don't hit any major roadblocks—if only because I know where the story is going from here.

For those of you who plot, how much do you stick to your outlines? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Plotters, how much do you stick to your outlines when writing & revising? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Looking Back: BEYOND THE RED's Query

So! YA Scavenger Hunt is over (and for those of you who participated—I hope you had fun!), and for the hunt as exclusive content I shared BEYOND THE RED's query. Now that the hunt is over, however, I thought it'd be fun to share with you guys.

So without further ado, here is the query that led to my signing with an agent:

Dear Ms. Fury:

I am querying you because you requested that I do so with the first three chapters of my manuscript after reading my Secret Agent pitch. 
Kora, an eighteen-year-old alien queen, has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. As she’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, her people clamor for her younger twin brother on the throne, even in the face of his violent rages. But despite assassination attempts, a mounting insurgency of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she's determined to protect her people from what think they want: her brother ruling them. 
Eros is a nineteen-year-old rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. But that doesn’t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp to the ground and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him. Some choice. Without another way out, he begrudgingly agrees to keep her safe.

When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they must flee. Alone, under the light of the four moons, Kora realizes her feelings for Eros may be more than respect. But out in the vastness of the desert, they aren’t safe from predators—or dehydration. Their only chance is to turn themselves in to the high court, but when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency in the process, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.

SLAVE & SIRA is a dual-POV 74,000-word New Adult Sci-Fi novel with crossover potential that may be described as THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS on a technologically advanced alien planet. It is a standalone novel with series potential.

I run a writing blog, Writability, which is two years old and receives nearly 1,000 daily page views. I've also written guest posts for top-tier blog Problogger, and I am a reading intern at [redacted literary agency].

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Fun asides:

  • Beyond the Red was originally New Adult (which surprises approximately no one when I mention it).

  • Beyond the Red's old title is not nearly as awesome as the one it ended up with (have I mentioned how much I agonize over titles?)

  • This query was actually later revised again and again and again as I continued submitting to other agents (before I got the call, of course). Goes to show there's some wiggle-room in terms of polish.

  • Due to a blog contest (which I mention here) my now-agent actually read the first page before the query. Which in this case worked very well in my favor. :)

Twitter-sized bite:
Want to see a query that worked? @Ava_Jae shares the query that led to her signing w/ an agent. (Click to tweet

Discussion: Are You a Schedule-Type Writer?

Photo credit: @lattefarsan on Flickr
A few days ago, someone on tumblr asked me what my schedule was like, because they were curious about how I juggled writing, school, and editorial work alongside blogging and vlogging. I started answering with the expectation that it'd only take me fifteen to twenty minutes tops to detail out my weekly schedule, but my estimate was just a little off—it took me over an hour (though this is partially because tumblr bugged out and deleted my post when I was nearly done the first time, but anyway).

As I wrote up my schedule though, there were frequently times when I had to go back and add things because I'd forgotten I also did x and y and don't forget z. It was kind of a good exercise for me, if only because I realized I was busier than I imagined—which made me feel a little better about falling behind on things and/or being tired.

For the curious, this is the answer I gave:

Of course, that doesn't detail everything, and the time spans are rough estimates, but the idea is the same.

For me, scheduling is necessary because otherwise I doubt I'd be able to juggle so much. A rearranging my schedule several times a year is also necessary because depending on the time of year and/or what's going on, my available time for work and what work I need to prioritize changes.

I know, however, that not everyone is into organizing and/or scheduling their days like I do, so I'm curious. Do you use daily or weekly schedules to get through your tasks, or do you keep your days more flexible? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Are you a schedule-dependent writer? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet
Author @Ava_Jae shares her current weekly schedule & asks who does/doesn't use schedules. Do you? (Click to tweet

Vlog: 5 Books You Should Read

I've been doing lots of reading lately, and it's been a while since I've done a book recommendation vlog, so here we go! Five books I definitely enjoyed and you should all read ASAP. :)


What books have you read lately that you really enjoyed?

Twitter-sized bite:
Looking for some book recommendations? @Ava_Jae vlogs about 5 great books you should pick up. (Click to tweet)

Crafting a Killer Opening: Four Writing Contest Finalists Share Their Tips for Success by Martina Boone

Surprise! I don't usually host so many guest posts so quickly, but when the Adventures in YA Publishing team contacted me about this, I though it'd be perfect for you guys. Enjoy!

For me, finding the perfect first sentence and opening scene for a novel is actually the hardest part of writing. It doesn’t get easier no matter how many novels I’ve sold or how many editors I’ve worked with (at least not so far). And it’s a topic I constantly come back to in posts for both and, probably because I keep hoping to find a magic formula that will make it easier. (Tip: There are no magic formulas for anything writing-related, unfortunately. : ))

Because a lot of people struggle with this topic, Sandra Held, Sarah Glenn Marsh, and I have asked the finalists in our recent Red Light, Green Light WIP contest at Adventures which was all about the opening and the pitch to share some thoughts on finding the strongest place to start.

Interested in test-driving the opening and pitch for your own WIP? The next agent-judged Red Light, Green Light contest opens for entries on 4/7/16.

Four Writing Contest Finalists Share Their Tips for Crafting a Great Beginning

Joan Albright: To me, a great first line must do 2 things - invoke a visual, and leave me with a question. Here are some of mine:

"Let it burn!" - Pegasus Chained
"Eva took out her frustration on Mateo’s white shirt, attacking wrinkles with her iron as if they had done her a personal affront." - Quetzalcoatl
"Silas clung to his tiny chainskiff, arms wrapped around the rail while it rocked and pitched and finally settled against the chain that held it in the sky." - The Bottomless Sky

And the opening line from my all-time favorite book:
"The palace still shook occasionally as the earth rumbled in memory, groaned as if it would deny what had happened." - The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

There are other good ones, of course. I love the simplicity in the Animorphs' "My name is Jake," and Watership Down's "The primroses were over." But lacking something snappy, that really sets the tone for the story in one line, a visual with a question is always a safe fallback point. Even better if you can work in all three!


Laurine Bruder: Hoo boy, this is a tough one, especially since I've changed my beginning sentence a lot since the contest. But what I try to focus on the most is putting the character into a situation and you learn something about them through how they handle it. For example, Ivy was in a prison wagon. This doesn't seem like a scenario where someone can do anything, can they? But she's doing something. She's thinking. Not just thinking, but her mind is ticking, like a clock. This implies that Ivy is focused, she's logical, almost mechanic, and approaches her problems through planning rather than action. But it also begs the question: what is she thinking? Is she thinking of escape or how she landed there or how uncomfortable she is in a tiny box on wheels? One sentence is already doing so much and the next one has to do even more because the writer has to build on what he/she began with the first. First lines are tough, and sometimes you have to go through hundreds or more but eventually you'll find the right one.


Holly Campbell:
Begin as far into the story as you can get away with. My personal strategy is to dive right in to the character's world. The opening is an invitation: "Let me tell you a story." If you spend too much time getting to the point, the reader may lose interest. I try to make an instant connection with the character, the setting, or the story in that first sentence.


Lana Pattinson: The beginning of your story is the most important thing you can work on. Period. I think I’m on version #4 at the moment…and I might change it yet again.

My advice? When you’re starting out, just put something on the page. You gotta start somewhere, and you can always edit it later. No…you WILL edit it later. Again and again.

When you’ve got a full outline or a partial ready, take a step back and ask…is this the best beginning I could have? Come up with 3 other ideas of how to start the story. You’ll be surprised at how your brain creates more exciting intros.

Sometimes I think you don’t really know your story until you’ve finished writing it. Then you go back to the beginning and insert specificity, foreshadowing, and meaning into each sentence. Every piece of dialogue needs to be written from the character’s world view. Write out all the world building and the backstory you think you need for the intro, and then copy it onto on a fresh document. Only put 25% of it back in.

I entered a contest where you sent in your first & last chapters, and synopsis. That was pretty eye opening for me. I could see where the first & last chapters mirrored each other, and where they didn’t, and that helped me to reshape the story more cohesively. Specifically, I could see where they mirrored each other in mood/tone and setting (or didn’t); and how to track the character growth/what they overcame throughout the story. And I made improvements in both because of that side-by-side comparison.

Top tip: Read Hooked by Les Edgerton. It’s like a play-by-play for your first five pages and will certainly help you win the Red Light / Green Light contest next time around!

Martina Boone (author of Compulsion, Persuasion, and upcoming Illusion) was born in Prague and spoke several languages before learning English. Her first teacher in the U.S. made fun of her for not pronouncing the "wh" sound right, so she set out to master "all the words”—she's still working on that! In the meantime she’s writing contemporary fantasy set in the kinds of magical places she'd love to visit.

What do you guys think? Do you have any opening pages tips?

Twitter-sized bite:
Struggle to come up w/ the right opening? Check out these tips from 4 contest finalists. #writetip (Click to tweet)

Book Review: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab

So I'd been hearing lots about the Shades of Magic series and then in the summer of 2015 I saw V.E. Schwab tweet about Lila Bard being genderfluid and I knew I needed A Darker Shade of Magic ASAP.
As it turns out, ASAP ended up being early 2016, but I finally read it and WOW I am so glad I did.

But before I tell you guys why, here's the Goodreads summary:

"Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.
Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London—but no one speaks of that now. 
Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. 
Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her 'proper adventure'. 
But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—trickier than they hoped."

Photo credit: Goodreads
So first of all, I don't read a whole lot of Adult Fantasy—but wowwww this was so so so good and I'm glad I stepped out of my usual reading because I loved it. The pacing at the beginning was a little slower than I tend to like (but expected, given that it's an Adult Fantasy), but I was still totally interested while reading because of the characters and world building. The layered Londons makes for such an interesting (and complicated!) setting, and I loved seeing the differences between them, from the access of magic, to the physical setting, to the people and the languages they spoke.

The magic system itself was really interesting to read, and I very quickly connected with Kell, Lila, and Rhy. Kell and Lila made for especially interesting point of view characters, and learning about their motivations and desires and what makes them tick was totally fascinating.

And! I was *so* drawn to Lila, like whoa. From her snark, to her gritty (and stubborn) determination, to her masculine style, Lila's character really resonated with me—probably more than I've experienced from an AFAB (assigned female at birth) character ever. I can't wait to read more about her (and Kell and Rhy, of course!) in A Gathering of Shadows, which I don't have on hand yet, but absolutely will because THIS BOOK WAS SO GOOD.

I also want to make a note about the antagonists because I loved (and loved to hate two of them) so much. I won't name them, since at least one is kinda spoilery, but I will say my favorite characters extended being the main three. I kind of loved every character for a different reason, which is super rare for me with books.

A+ character development, A+ world building, A+ need more right now—this book was an easy five star rating and I honestly cannot recommend it more to fantasy lovers. If you haven't read it already, you need it like yesterday.

Diversity note: Major character Rhy is openly bisexual, and Lila is pansexual and genderfluid.

Twitter-sized bites:
.@Ava_Jae gives 5 stars to A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by @veschwab. Is this unforgettable Fantasy on your TBR? (Click to tweet
Want a Fantasy w/ nonbinary & bi characters? Check out A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab. (Click to tweet)
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