Monday, September 8, 2014

Phantom's Dance Book Blitz

Phantom's Dance
Release Date: 03/01/14

Summary from Goodreads:
Christine Dadey’s family uprooted their lives and moved to Houston for her to attend the prestigious Rousseau Academy of Dance. Now, two years later, Christine struggles to compete among the Academy’s finest dancers, her parents are on the brink of divorce, and she’s told no one about her debilitating performance anxiety and what she’s willing to do to cope with it.

Erik was a ballet prodigy, a savant, destined to be a star on the world’s stage, but a suspicious fire left Erik’s face horribly disfigured. Now, a lonely phantom forced to keep his scars hidden, he spends his nights haunting the theater halls, mourning all he’s lost. Then, from behind the curtain he sees the lovely Christine. The moldable, malleable Christine.

Drawn in by Erik’s unwavering confidence, Christine allows herself to believe Erik’s declarations that he can transform her into the dancer she longs to be. But Christine’s hope of achieving her dreams may be her undoing when she learns Erik is not everything he claims. And before long, Erik’s shadowy past jeopardizes Christine’s unstable present as his obsession with her becomes hopelessly entangled with his plans for revenge.

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About the Author
I'm not the typical author. I didn't always enjoy reading or writing. While in school, I found it to be a chore I'd just as soon skip. I would rather have been daydreaming, my favorite past time. It wasn’t until I grew up and didn’t have to, that I realized reading was fun. I soon discovered that reading fueled my daydreaming. So, remembering a short story I'd written in high school, I began imagining expanding that story into a book. Before long I found I had loads of ideas for not just the short story but other books and stories as well. Fast forward a few years, a lot of studying about writing, practicing my writing, studying some more, taking classes from people who knew what they were doing, studying and practicing yet more, and ta-dah, author! In the same way I had learned I loved reading, I learned I loved writing, too. It’s just that writing is a lot harder than reading.

Author Links:
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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Building Suspense and Character Motivation

Recently my writers group told me I'm rushing some of my scary scenes in my mystery/suspense novel. One of my writing friends/critique group members, the amazing Jane Hughs, pointed out a very specific problem in my writing and how to fix it that will help improve my character's voice, up the suspense, and clarify my character's motives. It has to do with some writing advice from Jim Butcher on what he calls "Sequels." It involves 4 steps the character must go through in response to an action that happens to them including:

1. Emotional reaction 
2. Review, logic, and reason
3. Anticipation
4 Choice

I was missing the two middle steps, which took away some of the suspense and didn't allow my reader to feel and understand why my character made the choices she did. No wonder my readers sometimes feel left out of my characters heads! This gives me a concrete way I can improve my character's voice and will make a tremendous difference in my story. Thanks Jane! 

Below is Jim Butcher's explanation of Sequels.


And no, we're not talking about book 2. We're talking about the original meaning of the word sequel--the part that comes after, the next in the sequence. In the scenes of a book, you're getting all your plot-pursuing and action-taking and choice-making done.

Now you get to the hard part.

Getting your reader to give a flying frack about it.

To do that, you've got to win them over to your character's point of view. You've got to establish some kind of basic emotional connection, an empathy for your character. It needn't be deep seated agreement with everything the character says and does--but they DO need to be able to UNDERSTAND what your character is thinking and feeling, and to understand WHY they are doing whatever (probably outrageous) thing you've got them doing.

That gets done in sequels.

Pay attention. This is another one of those simple, difficult things.

Sequels are what happens as an aftermath to a scene. They do several specific things:

1) Allow a character to react emotionally to a scene's outcome.
2) Allow a character to review facts and work through the logical options of his situation.
3) They allow a character to ponder probable outcomes to various choices.
4) They allow a character to make a CHOICE--IE, to set themselves a new GOAL for the next SCENE.

Do you see how neat that is? Do you see how simply that works out?

1) Scene--Denied!
2) Sequel--Damn it! Think about it! That's so crazy it just might work!--New Goal!
3) Next Scene!

Repeat until end of book.

See what I mean? Simple. And you can write a book EXACTLY that way. Scene-sequel-scene-sequel-scene-sequel all the way to your story climax. In fact, if you are a newbie, I RECOMMEND you write your book that way. You can always chop and cut the extra scenes (or sequels) out later, and you will have a solid bedrock structure for getting your book done. We'll talk a little about balancing them in a minute.

First, let's outline exactly what happens in a sequel--and WHY the basic outline I'm gonna show you works.

Here's the basic structure to a sequel. It's another little worksheet you can fill out when you're thinking about it ahead of time:


And it MUST happen in THAT ORDER. Why you ask me? Because we're all human beings, and THAT is the order in which we respond, psychologically, to events that happen around us. Especially to big nasty events that bring out a lot of emotion.

Most of you have probably been in a car accident of some kind, and that's the model I'm gonna use. Even if it was only a little accident and no one got hurt, everybody reacts in pretty much the same way. Imagine it with me, if you will. You're driving and all of a sudden, SQUEEEEEERRRCRUUUNCH! Car accident. What happens next?

You react emotionally, on instinct. Maybe you sit there stunned and startled for a second. Maybe you feel a moment of horror (if it was your fault), or else seething outrage (if it wasn't). Maybe you yell and curse, or throw up on yourself, or break out into hysterical laughter. There are a whole lot of viable human emotional responses to that kind of stimulus--but the first ones on the scene are ALWAYS the most basic, instinctive, emotional reactions.

Next, your brain kicks in. (This takes a variable amount of time, depending on the person.) Your brain tells you things and you pay attention to it. Maybe it says "this accident was your fault, and if they catch you, you'll go to jail. Run!" Maybe it says, "Check to see if anyone is hurt! Call the police! Exchange insurance information!" Maybe it says, "Call so-and-so to help," or "Oh my God, I'm bleeding," or "Please God let me have my proof of insurance in the glove compartment." You think about things like how the accident happened, and what you could have done to avoid it, what's necessary to accomplish immediately--and then you get to think
about where you're suddenly not going to be.

(During your review, logic, and reasoning process, it is very human to realize or rediscover facts that bring on an echo of your emotional response, or which otherwise inspire an entirely new line of emotional response. If you realize that the guy who just slammed into your car ran a stop sign to do it, for example, it might inspire a radically different set of emotions than a moment before, when you thought neither one of you had a clear right of way.)

You can get as upset as you want, for as long as you want, but sooner or later you're going to have gone over all the facts of what happened a minute ago, and you'll start thinking about what happens NEXT. You anticipate the immediate future, based upon what you know and what your current options are. Maybe you've got a buddy who can pick you up and get you to work, and you'll only be a few minutes late. Or maybe you don't, and you've just lost your job. Maybe
you're going to have to find a phone to call an ambulance because someone is hurt. There are a lot of things that could be pretty obviously a part of your immediate future, based on your current circumstances.

And once those things have rolled through your mind, you've got to decide what you're doing next. Maybe you're just trading insurance information and getting back on the road. Maybe you're hiding the body. The point is, you've got a choice to make, and that choice is going to determine your next action.


You've just had a sequel, a broad, archetypical human reaction to a sudden situation that goes radically out of your control.


At the conclusion of a scene, they've just had something go out of THEIR control. You know how I know this? Because you didn't answer YES to your scene question. Something went wrong, because you are a smart writer, and that's how you did the scene. Now your characters go through the same set of reactions:

1) An immediate emotional response.
2) A review of what happened, applying logic and reason to the events and why they turned out that way, and of what options are open to them.
3) Anticipation of what might follow the pursuit of those options. (Highly important, this one. Never underestimate the effects of anticipation on a reader.)
4) Your character makes up his mind and decides what to do next. IE, he makes a CHOICE.

Now, it's possible to SKIP some of these steps, or to abbreviate some of them so severely that you all but skip them. But you CAN'T CHANGE THE ORDER.

Emotion, Reason, Anticipation, Choice. That reaction is typical to people, regardless of their sex, age, or background. It's psychologically hardwired into us--so take advantage of it. By having your character react in this very typically human way, you establish an immediate sense of empathy with the reader. If you do it right, you get the reader nodding along with that character going "Damn right, that's what I'd do." Or better yet, you get them opening their mouth in horror as they read, seeing the character's thought process, hating every step of where it's going while it remains undeniably understandable and genuine to the way people behave.

Sequels, frankly, are what really make or break books. How you choose to show your reader your character's reactions determines everything about the reader's response to the events of the story.

Worse, sequels are very fluid, very flexible things to apply. You can do all kinds of tricks with them. Some sequels are all internal monologue. Some are conversations carried out with a character's best friend (or his all-in-black-id). Sometimes a sequel LOOKS like a scene, in the trappings anyway, but what's actually important is the character's internal reaction.

(Search your feelings, Luke. You know it to be true. *I* am your father. *NOOOOOO*. Yeah, that lightsabre fight looks like a scene, but at that point it isn't. It's a sequel.)

This is where, frankly, I think writers have the greatest fluidity, the most chance to apply their creative talents--which means, of course, we also have the best chance of screwing things up here. You can approach sequels from an almost unlimited number of directions. There are no limits to how you can lay out a sequel, except for your own imagination. Just remember:


Get those in there, in the right order, and you'll be fine.

Let's talk, for a moment, about how you want to weight the various parts of the sequel, based upon your genre, what you want to accomplish, etc. The sequel is where you can put a spin on almost any story to make it more suited to a given genre. Each of the genres has its own bias towards a given part of a sequel.

Romance, for example, is VERY heavy on Emotion and only slightly less on Anticipation. Mystery and SF lean very heavily on the Reason portion of the sequel. Action novels go light on everything but Choice, and give you just enough sequel to get you through to the next scene. Horror loves to linger on Anticipation. Think about it for a while,and you'll start to see what I mean.

So, if you're writing a romance, you'll want to place extra emphasis on your character's Emotional reaction and on his Anticipation of what could come next.

Mystery writers had better be able to produce clear lines of logic in the Reasoning portion of their character's reaction. If you need the reader to be cozy with a character, put extra emphasis on that character's sequels. If it isn't necessary for another character, go light on the sequels, or skip them entirely.

If that wasn't enough, Sequel-to-Scene ratio is the single largest factor for controlling pace. Sequels have a unanimous tendancy to slow the pace of your story, while scenes have the opposite effect. If you've ever read a book and felt like it blurred by too fast and never seemed to touch on anything long enough, go back and look at it. You WILL find that the book's scenes took up a great deal more space than its sequels. If you've read a book that you thought was too slow, too cerebral, or that wandered back and forth while droning on and on, go back and look at it. You WILL find that sequels took up a hell of a lot more page space than scenes.

It's a balancing act, and how you stack up scene-to-sequel is going to depend on several factors, including your genre and your audience. Romance, for example, is really nothing BUT sequels with occasional scenes to make them stick together. Romance wallows in sequels, because that's what it's ABOUT--emotions, feelings.

If you write an action book, those emotional passages--not so much. You'll want to spend more time and effort on the scenes, and make sure that the sequels don't start to outweigh them. If you're writing for a more cerebral, mature audience, they have a much higher desire/tolerance for sequels than if you write for, for example, young adults. The older audience might well be more interested in the thought and emotion behind the plot, while the younger audience might want you to stop moaning and dithering and get straight to the point. You control that pace by balancing sequels with scenes.

Sequels also determine what I've always called the "warmth" of your novel. When people talk about a "warm viewpoint" what they really mean is that you're throwing in a lot of emotional reaction. Oftentimes, warm viewpoint novels (like the Dresden Files) toss in micro-sequels as a part of scenes. Any time you see Harry talking to someone, wanting to tear his hair out, forcing himself to control his temper and get back to the task at hand, you've just ridden through a micro-sequel with him.

"Cool" viewpoint novels, like the more classic hardboiled PI novel, downplay their protagonist's Emotional reactions--often skipping them entirely during a scene, and showing them only indirectly during sequels. They tend to emphasize the Reason side of things.

My God, there are so many things you can do with this stuff. Brainy, intelligent characters go heavy on reason--and then you cheat by going light on Anticipation, and keeping his Choice half-veiled from the reader, so that when he actually acts in the next scene he looks a lot smarter and more resourceful than he might have if you went step by step through the whole thing. ("Of course! He animated the T-Rex! Brilliant!") Characters who are balancing their loyalties up to some critical moment can get the whole sequel laid out, extra heavy on Anticipation, and then you deny the reader any info on the Choice until they're actually in action.

Get it? SEQUELS ARE WHERE YOU APPLY THE COLOR TO YOUR STORY. It's the best point at which to manipulate your readers' emotions. I've been working within this craft structure for ten years, and I feel like I'm only barely beginning to get a handle on it. Seriously. You've got to give this some thought.

Knowledge of how sequels effect your book's impact on the reader is damned handy in rewrites, too. If a character is coming off too flighty, all you have to do is add in a bit more Reason to their sequels. Character too dry and boring? Add in more Emotion to /his/ sequels. Someone comments that your character's motivations aren't clear? Go give their sequels a tune-up, and make sure his Emotion-Reason-Anticipation-Choice is in the correct order and consistant.

When you do it right, the reader knows exactly what is going through your character's head, and why. The /reader/ starts being the one anticipating along with your character, and when that happens, you pwn them. It creates forward momentum for the next scene, and it helps the reader /want/ to read it.

This basic structure for sequels is pretty much the ENTIRE secret of my success. I do it like this in every freaking book I write. I know it works because check it out. People like my books. They like them for some of the special effects, sure, and for some of the story ideas sometimes--but mostly it's because they find themselves caring about what happens to the characters, and that happens in sequels.

People don't love Harry for kicking down the monster's front door. They love him because he's terrified out of his mind, he knows he's putting himself in danger by doing it, he's probably letting himself in for a world of hurt even if he is successful, but he chooses to do it anyway.

Emotion. Reason. Anticipation. Choice.

Special effects and swashbuckling are just the light show.

The heart of your character--and your reader--is in the sequel.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Authentic Voice

I've been studying a lot about voice lately, trying to find my own unique writing voice. This is a great article I found on ideas for finding an authentic voice. I'm going to try all the suggestions and see what happens. I'll let you know in my next post how it goes. Let me know if you try any of these suggestions  and if they help or if you have any other suggestions!

Kim Griswell: Editors are looking for your authentic voice

June 30, 2014
Kim Griswell
Editor and writer Kim Griswell is leading our Finding Your Voice workshop this fall, along with author K.L. Going. Here’s a preview of the fantastic help attendees can expect from Kim:
Discussions of voice tend to begin with one question: Isn’t voice just the way my characters sound? The answer: “Yes…but…” Yes, each character your book has to have his or her own individual voice: Wilbur can’t sound like Charlotte and Charlotte can’t sound like Bart Simpson. Each character does need a distinct voice and personality. But the larger discussion of “voice” isn’t about differentiating characters from one another. It’s about differentiating you–the writer–from the pack of writers already out there.
Every book a writer produces should clearly reveal that writer’s unique sensibility. Every book must turn the writer’s psyche and brain and life experience inside out and say, “Hey, world! Take a look! This is what I’m all about.” Each of you has a special way of viewing the world, interacting with the world, and acting in the world. That unique viewpoint is not just based on your DNA. It’s infused with every single experience life has brought you. That revelation of that viewpoint in writing IS voice.
As an editor, the most common problem I see in the work of beginning writers is a generic (rather than a particular) voice. In fact, generic writing has no voice. It is mundane and pedestrian, and it offers no unique point of view to the reader. The editor sighs and says, “I’ve seen this a bazillion times! Why don’t I ever get any submissions that make me think, ‘Wow’! I’ve never seen this before!’”
Don’t get me wrong: Almost every fledgling writer begins with generic writing. The beginning writer often (consciously or unconsciously) writes in the style of a bestselling author who is currently in the limelight or a beloved word-crafter whose style got embedded in the brain during childhood. That’s okay. In fact, that’s great! You’re writing, you’re putting words on the page, you’re beginning to understand what a plot is and how to develop characters, and you’re on your way. Keep at it! But don’t stop at generic writing…and please, oh please, don’t send it to an editor. Before you submit, move beyond generic writing to your own voice.
These four steps will help:
  1. Write. A lot. Write as often as you can. The more you write, the more quickly you’ll move past Dr. Seuss and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Mo Willems and Jon Scieszka to you!
  2. Try as many different forms as possible: poetry, nonfiction, picture books, short stories, and novels. Write web copy, ad copy, and songs…the more forms you try, the more likely you’ll find the one that feels truly natural. (This is the opposite of trying to write what is selling today or what you think editors want. Believe me—you can’t know what editors want because we don’t know what we want ourselves until we see it on the page. We want a walloping good story with a unique mind behind it: i.e. we want voice!)
  3. Free write. Sit down with the intention to just let words flow. Don’t have a goal. Start with nothing or open a book and plunk down your finger on a phrase and start with that phrase. Start with a childhood memory. Start with a photo or a sound or a smell or a taste. It doesn’t really matter how you start. What matters is that you let words flow without a particular goal and you keep letting them flow for a minimum of five minutes. As you let words flow, they become looser and looser. The words at the end of the five minutes will likely be far closer to your own voice than those at the beginning. It’s a bit like having a glass of wine during a conversation. What you say after a glass of wine is looser and more revealing of the “real” you than what you said before the wine.
  4. Write with a pen or pencil on actual paper. Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says “handwriting requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.” MRIs show that handwriting activates “massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information.” In other words, writing by hand will access more of the memories you need to access if you want to write with a unique voice. You certainly don’t have to write by hand all of the time—admittedly it may slow you down—but do it often enough to get in plenty of “voice finding” time. Five minute a day would make a great starting point!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Secret of Darkwood Castle Blog Tour

I'm excited to announce my good friend Heather Ostler's blog tour for her third and final book in the Shapeshifter's Secret series. Join the tour and enter to win a copy of The Secret of Darkwood Castle. 

The Secret of Darkwood Castle, the third book in Heather Ostler's trilogy, is out May 21st! 

"Julia’s vision became completely black. All she saw now was Alexis’s haunting eyes, burned in her memory. She felt the shift as Alexis lowered the sword, ready to kill Julia." 

Julia has embraced who she is. She's a shapeshifter, a siren, and a princess. But her fate is still unclear. As she runs for ambassador of Ossai, The Guild, lead by Julia's estranged mother begins attacking and killing those Julia loves in an attempt to overthrow the kingdom. To defend her family, her home, and her country, Julia must stop the Guild once and for all. 

But when a mysterious stranger shows up offering help, Julia is forced to trust them in order to solve the secret to the Guild’s whereabouts. Soon she travels to Darkwood Castle, a sinister palace, to confront the Guild—and her mother. If she doesn't succeed, all Julia holds dear will be ripped away and destroyed forever.  

Deadly forests, dangerous alliances, and a hidden fortress—nothing is what it seems at Darkwood castle. Discover the epic conclusion to Julia’s journey in Ossai.    

About the Author:
Heather Ostler grew up near the mountains with a rambunctiously entertaining family. She graduated from Utah Valley University and soon began composing stories about shapeshifters, sirens, and spooky castles. She and her husband reside in Utah Valley with two remarkably pleasant pugs.

Visit Heather: 

Enter the Giveaway! 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"Dear Lucky Agent" Contest

If you have a completed YA manuscript don't miss the chance to enter it in the "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest. 

After a previous “Dear Lucky Agent” contest, the agent judge, Tamar Rydzinski (The Laura Dail Literary Agency), signed one of the three contest winners. After Tamar signed the writer, she went on to sell two of that writer’s books! How cool! That’s why these contests are not to missed if you have an eligible submission.
E-mail entries to Please paste everything. No attachments.
The first 150-200 words of your unpublished, completed book-length work of young adult fiction. You must include a contact e-mail address with your entry and use your real name. Also, submit the title of the work and a logline (one-sentence description of the work) with each entry.
Please note: To be eligible to submit, you must mention this contest twice through any any social-media. Please provide a social-media link or Twitter handle or screenshot or blog post URL, etc., with your official e-mailed entry so the judge and I can verify eligibility. Some previous entrants could not be considered because they skipped this step! Simply spread the word twice through any means and give us a way to verify you did; a tinyURL for this link/contest for you to easily use is An easy way to notify me of your sharing is to include my Twitter handle @chucksambuchino at the end of your mention(s) if using Twitter. And if you are going to solely use Twitter as your 2 times, please wait 1 day between mentions to spread out the notices, rather than simply tweeting twice back to back. Thanks. (Please note that simply tweeting me does not count. You have to have the contest URL with your mention; that’s the point.)
Young adult fiction. The agent judge did not choose to exclude any subgenre, so everything is fair game.
  1. This contest will be live through the end of April 9, 2014, PST. Winners notified by e-mail within approximately three weeks of end of contest. Winners announced on the blog thereafter.
  2. To enter, submit the first 150-200 words of your book. Shorter or longer entries will not be considered. Keep it within word count range please.
  3. You can submit as many times as you wish. You can submit even if you submitted to other contests in the past, but please note that past winners cannot win again. All that said, you are urged to only submit your best work.
  4. The contest is open to everyone of all ages, save those employees, officers and directors of GLA’s publisher, F+W Media, Inc.
  5. By e-mailing your entry, you are submitting an entry for consideration in this contest and thereby agreeing to the terms written here as well as any terms possibly added by me in the “Comments” section of this blog post. (If you have questions or concerns, write me personally at chuck.sambuchino (at) The Gmail account above is for submissions, not questions.)
Top 3 winners all get: 1) A critique of the first 10 double-spaced pages of your work, by your agent judge. 2) A free one-year subscription to ($50 value)!
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A literary agent for close to fifteen years, Andrea Sombergrepresents a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, including projects aimed at a young adult and middle grade audience. Previously an agent at the Donald Maass Agency and Vigliano Associates, she joined Harvey Klinger Inc. in the spring of 2005. Andrea has also been a MediaBistro instructor, teaching courses on writing nonfictionand memoir book proposals. Learn more about Andrea on Twitter,Facebook, or Publishers Marketplace.

 Check out some of these great YA books that Andrea and her agency has represented. Give them a look/read and see if her tastes match up with your writing style.
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Sarah Beth Durst’s CONJURED (Walker)