Monday, November 28, 2016

Why Books are the Perfect Gift

Fireplaces crackle. Marshmallows melt in steaming cups of hot cocoa. Holiday music tickles our ears everywhere we go. Ahh. 'Tis the find the perfect gift for family, friends, coworkers, and your Scrooge neighbor whose heart needs a little melting.

If you're bad at shopping or just can't seem to think of the perfect gift for that one person, there's a gift that works for everyone. 


Yes, it's true! Even Cousin Billy who hasn't picked up a book since he was forced to in high school (and even then, he only used the book as a coaster while he looked up SparkNotes.) The trick is in finding the book match made in book heaven. 


If Cousin Billy hated reading in high school, it's a safe bet he's not a fan of the classics. So that narrows down your list. What does he like? If Cousin Billy dresses up in time period appropriate Renaissance garb and uses words like "hither" and "perchance" everytime the Ren Faire is in town, look up a non fiction book about the Renaissance. Or get him an action-packed fiction novel set in that time. Nerdome not his thing? Maybe Cousin Billy watches Master Chef religiously and then causes the smoke alarm to go off while he tries to recreate the recipes from memory. Help the guy out and buy his favorite Master Chef's cookbook. Is he super into origami? There are books for that. Whatever Cousin Billy's thing is, there's a book or there for said thing. 

And a book is perfect because:
A) Books keep giving. They can be enjoyed over and over.
B) This is a gift that says, "I notice what you love." So thoughtful.
C) Buying a book means you're supporting the arts. 
D) This gift works for your budget. Buy new or explore the dusty used bookstore down the street. 

So what do you say? Will you give the gift of books this Christmas? Are you going to receive some books? (Hey, today is Cyber Monday, so while you're shopping for Cousin Billy's perfect book, treat yourself to an e-book with Amazon Kindle's 85% off sale! Because you're awesome and thoughtful.)

Happy shopping and Happy Holidays! 


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Character Tension - Part 3 - Love and Romance

Welcome to the third and final part of the tension mini-series! If you haven't been here from the start, go back and check out the previous two parts in order to get up to speed. We're discussing tension in characters and how you can use them to build the tension in your book!

Okay, so this week we're looking at love and romance, and woah boy, there is a whole load of tension you can create there, so let's get started.


First - the first thing you want to do is create barriers and obstacles between your two lovers. This can be anything from other people standing in the way to physical obstacles. Are there other lovers in the way? Family standing against them? Are they in opposite locations? Give them a physical task to do that means they might never get there. Think about disaster movies where the two star crossed lovers have to battle their way across a devastated city in order to find each other. You might not have to go that far, but think about what you could do to make things harder for them.

Second - what are their biggest, darkest secrets that can push the other lover away? Have they done something almost unforgivable? Do they know something about the other person that could shatter both their worlds? Are they enemies who just happen to be in love? Give them an almost insurmountable task and it will make the HEA even sweeter when they finally get there.

Third - then you have the big stuff: abuse, neglect, competition, affairs, divorce, custody battles, substance abuse and persecution from others. All of these things give a great natural conflict, and thus, great natural tension. What happens if this hits the lovers (or family) and they are blindsided? What if they have lived with it for years? How would each of these elements impact them on their daily and long term life?

As you can see, there are a whole host of things you can do to up the ante against your lovers and raise the tension in your novel!

So, that's the end of the tension mini series that looks at character. There are lots more things you can do to up your character tension, as well as the tension in other elements in your book, but hopefully this series will get you started!

Good luck and keep writing! 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My Experience with NaNoWriMo (And Why I May Never Do it Again)

In 2014, I did NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which is November). I didn’t officially sign up, probably because I’m just not a joiner, but I started November 1 with a manuscript I’d mostly plotted in September and October. I wrote Monday thru Friday, taking weekends off out of respect for my family, and three weeks later, I was finished. Over 70,000 words in fifteen writing days.
Since November 2014, I’ve applied the concept of NaNo—taking a month to focus on writing a novel—two more times. In May 2015, I wrote a manuscript in just under four weeks, and last month, I took a week to focus on my WIP, which sat at 35,000 words, and in seven days added 44,000 words, bringing it to completion.
So, I suppose you could say I’m a fan of NaNoWriMo, and I recommend everyone try NaNo at some point. The effort required to succeed will teach you skills that can be useful when you write any time of the year. Here is my list of skills you may learn:
  1. Discipline. How to sit at your computer and write, even when the words aren’t flowing. The muse may not visit you daily, but what happens when you are a contracted author, working on a deadline? Then you won’t be able sit back and let the muse show up when she will. So learning to write even when you’re not feeling particularly creative is a valuable skill. After forcing yourself to take the time to write, even if you’d rather play games on your phone or catch up on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you’ll learn that even when you aren’t feeling in the mood, you can start the words flowing if you just start writing.
  2. Plotting. I know, for some, the word “Plotting” is evil. But it doesn’t have to be. I’m not suggesting that everyone (or anyone, for that matter) needs to outline the entire manuscript before writing—though you may want to give it a try at least once—because for many, that is death of the creativity and the story. But plotting doesn’t have to be an outline or a synopsis of the entire, unwritten story. Simply thinking ahead before you write on a daily basis can be helpful, especially if you struggle with a muse who takes unexpected and extended vacations. By “thinking ahead,” I mean spend a little time—5-10 minutes—looking over the previous writing and scribbling out ideas about what you envision happening next. You don’t have to follow this mini scene or chapter outline, but spending some time brainstorming will get you into the story a little quicker.
  3. Scheduling. Some things can’t be removed from your daily, weekly, or monthly schedule, but others can be. Like a monthly hair appointment. Stretch the style an extra week or two. Move your dentist appointment. Skip book club. Cut back on workouts (but don’t cut OUT workouts). But with all the things you take out of your schedule, please remember that an occasional shower is necessary. At least one a week. Besides, showers are great places to brainstorm, so really, showering is as important to your creativity as to your socially acceptable-ness.
  4. Balance. Actually, I think balance is impossible if you seek balance daily between all your responsibilities. You can’t do it all or be it all every single day. Without considering writing, some days your schedule is so full of errands, appointments, and/or kids’ activities that you can’t cook a meal or get the laundry done. So why shouldn’t writing be—temporarily—the thing that leaves those tasks undone or delegated to another family member? There’s nothing wrong with asking the kids or your spouse to help with meals or laundry. Maybe you eat out a little more—or the rest of the family eats out while you eat at your computer, furiously typing. It’s only temporary. This is easier when the kids are old enough to help and the spouse is willing to assist. If that’s not possible, make a list of daily or weekly chores that you could ignore for a couple of weeks. Or make one day “chore day” and do as much meal prep and laundry as possible. If your kids are too young for you to do much writing during their waking hours, find a babysitter or exchange favors with a mom-friend. Or this might be a nice time for grandma to make a lengthy visit, if grandma is a helpful guest, not a needy one. And if your spouse is helpful (and even if your spouse isn’t helpful, because it’s good for a marriage), remember to thank him or her. You can always go back to the computer after expressing your gratitude ;-)

Despite the success I’ve had, I may never do NaNoWriMo again, because November is not always the best month for me to take time off and focus on writing. Other months may work better. But November isn’t the only month when a writer can write! If you can’t participate in NaNo this year, schedule your own during a month or a block of 4-5 weeks where you CAN focus on writing. The skills practiced and learned during a writing marathon will help in the future when you only have a week or a few days to devote to your manuscript.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Character Tension - Part 2 - Family

Welcome back to this mini-series about how to build tension in your novel. Last month, we looked at conflicting characters. This week, we’re going to take it one step further and look at conflicting family members. Check out the top three suggestions I have for really amping up the tension between those who love (or hate!) each other the most:

First - family members are all raised in the same way...or are they? Take a look at how some family members might be favored over others? Who gets away with blue murder, and who doesn't? Why is someone their father's favorite and another not? Who is unfairly treated and who is the princess/prince of the house? Even as adults, characters will harbor resentments (or over the top loyalty) depending on how their parents raised them.

Second - how do partners raise their children? Do they agree on discipline? Disagree? Do they disagree on where they should live, work, let the children go to school? What if one person listens exclusively to their parents and never to their wife/husband? There are many instances in a family unit to rub up against one another. Everything from divorce, custody battles, substance abuse problems, neglect to success, religion, sex and more.

Third - power struggles within families also create a great way to build tension. What happens when one family member wants power over another? Maybe a son trying to prove himself over his father? A mother trying to show how much more beautiful she is than her teenage daughter? A father trying to rule his house with an iron fist?

As you can see, there are many ways the family unit can build tension throughout the landscape of your novel, and you should make sure these elements are fully developed as they'll give your character a new level of depth, too.

Check in next month for my final tension post - love and romance!  

Monday, October 3, 2016

Your Creative Space

I’ve recently moved. Not a major, new-city-new-life type move, but it is a new house which means I’m carving out new spaces to write in. So writing spaces and office spaces are on my mind. 
Any space can become a writing space. I’ve written in hotel rooms, studio apartments, coffee shops, church classrooms, theaters. For me, these are what I need to settle into a space and make it inspiring:
  1. A computer or a tablet with a keyboard. Okay, so that’s probably a little obvious. I have, in a pinch, written scenes in a notebook, but I prefer typing. My iPad mini and a bluetooth keyboard served me well for a few months, and they fit easily in a purse without adding much weight. I can be ready to write at a moment’s notice.
  2. Music. For me, music is often necessary. It blocks out nearby conversations, if I’m writing in public, or the screams of either silence or the kids if I’m writing at home (playing screams, of course). Music also gets me into the story’s mood, since I generally pick a specific album or build a playlist for each manuscript. So this also means I usually need earbuds. Once, I had to beg my husband to bring me a pair when I was at a coffee shop. Now I make sure to keep a pair in every bag that I might carry with me.
  3. Coffee, tea, or water. I need something to drink. If the writing is flowing, I’ll ignore it, but I need a mug or cup nearby. Just because.
  4. Bathroom access. Number 3 explains this necessity, but I need breaks while writing, and a trip to the bathroom is the best excuse to get up and move. 
  5. Table and chair. While I have written while sitting on the floor, I prefer a table of some sort and a regular chair. I know many writers who write on the couch or the bed, but for me, that’s not usually where I’m able to be most productive. I also like to get dressed as opposed to staying in pajamas even when I won’t be leaving the house. 

What’s on your list of necessities for carving out writing space?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

How to Work on Multiple Novels at Once

I've always balked at the kind of people who could read two or more books at the same time. I'd much rather be totally immersed in one world, start to finish. And isn't it kind of like cheating on one book with another?

That's what I thought when it came to writing multiple novels at the same time too. My main fear was that I would fall more in love with one WIP (work-in-progress) and the other would fall to the side, never to be seen again.

Until, without meaning to, I found myself in a wild love affair with three WIPs. Three. The scandal!
Since I've been balancing all three projects pretty well (or as well as I can with my attached baby) for a few weeks now, I'm an expert (of course). So if you're thinking of dipping your toes in the torrid world of multiple projects, here are three expert tips to help you stay faithful (ha!) to all of them.

1. Your WIPs should be at different stages.

All three of my WIPs require different kinds of creativity and thinking. One of them is a fresh idea, so I'm playing with world-building, plot, characters, everything. No actual writing is happening yet. Just daydreaming, notes, and Pinterest boards. Total freedom.

My second is in the first draft stage and is actually the sequel to my third WIP. So the world and characters have already been established. I know most of the plot, but I'm a bit of a pantser so there's a lot of room for exploration here too.

My third project is my oldest. This one has gone through revision after revision, edits after edits. Queries. Contests. And after Pitch Wars this year, we're saddling up and going through revisions yet again. (Never surrender!)

2. Establish Priorities.

With the different kinds of creativity and thinking, if I get stuck or bored with one kind, I can easily cozy up to another one for a while. But I also don't want to lose focus by switching things up too much. My goal is publication. So I want to move each project forward, but I want to move the revisions forward before the one that has no words, you know? So if I'm not stuck, first priority goes to revisions, then the sequel, and then the new idea.

3. Don't try this with more than a few books.

This can really only work if you're able to prioritize and give honest, good time and effort to what's most important. That won't happen if you're trying to juggle ten books. You have to commit at some point, player.

Have you tried working on multiple novels? What worked and didn't work for you?

Happy writing!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

$20 Amazon voucher to celebrate Shattered Book Blitz


SHATTERED: An Open Heart Novel Book 2
Healing a battered heart will risk her last link to humanity

Mishca needs to save her sisters, but only Ryder can save her.

The truth about Mishca’s past shattered her heart. She deals with the pain by focusing on a new mission: saving her newfound family from their creator. With her sisters scheduled for termination, Mishca and her friends set out on a journey up the North Queensland Coast to save them before someone else dies.

Ryder understands the need driving Mischa. It’s in her DNA. But he’s not giving up on the chance they can still be together. She’s the only one to have seen him levitate. The only one to watch the sparks dance across his skin. The only one he trusts enough to know what is in his heart. And now, he might be the only one who can stop Mishca from losing her humanity. Driven apart by secrets, will they come together in time?

Buy SHATTERED on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooksKobo, Fishpond,  Indie Bound, Booktopia or via the various outlets found on the City Owl Press website.

Don't forget to add it on Goodreads! Haven't read DIVIDED yet? Find it at AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooksKoboFishpondIndie Bound, WalmartBooktopia, Boomerang Books, or via the various outlets found on the City Owl Press Website. And you can add it on Goodreads!

To celebrate the impending release of SHATTERED, you could win a $20 gift voucher. Check out all the ways to enter in the Rafflecopter Link a Rafflecopter giveaway

DSCF0416About the author

YA & NA author, Sharon M. Johnston, hails from sunny Queensland, Australia. When she's not writing, Sharon works in PR, spends time with her family, and plays far too much Pokemon Go.

You can find her on TwitterFacebook, and on her website.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

99c for DIVIDED: An Open Heart Novel Book 1 - Price Drop!


In preparation for the release of SHATTERED: An Open Heart Novel Book 2, you can grab DIVIDED: An Open Heart Novel Book 1 for only 99c

A new heart should mean new life, instead it’s a living nightmare. 

Mishca Richardson’s life is at an all-time high after her heart transplant. With new boyfriend, Ryder, she has the perfect summer romance. Even the nightmares plaguing her sleep since her operation can’t dull her new dream world. 

Yet, life starts to unravel when Mishca develops superhuman abilities. She does her best to hide them so as not to end up a science experiment in a lab, but she can’t ignore the strange instant attraction she experiences when she meets her university professor, Colin Read. 

Torn between love and obsession, Mishca must unite her divided heart and decide between the two men. But when the truth about her weird powers comes to light, she’ll have a lot more to worry about than romance. 

Some thoughts on DIVIDED

"...authors like Sharon M. Johnston keep the genre (NA) from getting stale by taking a creative bent and exploring overlapping elements."- LIBRARY JOURNAL

"This story by Sharon M Johnston will tug at your heart strings and leave you raw, and yet wanting desperately to read more!" - READERS' FAVOURITE


To celebrate the impending release of SHATTERED, not only is DIVDED down to 99c, but there's also a giveaway! You could win a $20 gift voucher. Check out all the ways to enter in the Rafflecopter Link 

About the author

YA & NA author, Sharon M. Johnston, hails from sunny Queensland, Australia. When she's not writing, Sharon works in PR, spends time with her family, and plays far too much Pokemon Go. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and on her website.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Problem Must Matter by Marion Crook

Today I'd like to welcome Marion Crook, author of the book Writing for Children and Young Adults, to YAtopia. 

In addition to the expert advice author Marion Crook shared in earlier editions of Writing for Children and Young Adults, in this vibrant new edition, Crook explains some of the nuance and choices about the writing world online. 
As well, she revisits the fundamentals of writing: establishing character, creating lively dialogue and developing plot with updated worksheets and examples. This edition shows the writer how to begin a story, plan plot, develop and hone the work for an agent or publisher, and how to make the crucial submission for a book that agents want to represent and publishers want to buy!
Writing for Children and Young Adults helps you create the manuscript that sells!

The Problem Must Matter by Marion Crook

Most writers want to engage their readers, have the readers worry about the characters and feel relieved when danger is overcome. That emotional involvement will happen only if the readers care about the character and that happens if we, the writers, have created a character appealing enough to tug at the readers’ hearts. We work hard to create such characters--but it’s not enough.
Jessie Mullins made an important point in her blog of July 28th. A story needs real stakes. It’s not as easy as one might think to put your beloved character into danger. I am protective of my character and have to deliberately thrust him or her into peril. But it’s my character’s tussle with danger that gives impetus and importance to the story.
The protagonist, no matter how emotionally attuned the readers are to him or her, needs to have a problem. What does he or she want? What is standing in the way? If the problem is personal, important, seemingly impossible to solve, and contains a time in which it must happen, chances are the story will have tension and excitement. The problem doesn’t have to be earthshaking to be important to character: Leaving home is important if the character is afraid she may never return. Being stuck in an elevator is important if his only chance at an Olympic gold is in half an hour. This is where writers ramp up their imaginations. We put ourselves into the skin of our characters and find what threatens them in their world. The stakes must matter to that character. If we have created a character that engages readers, then the quest will seem important to them.

When your characters are tested by danger or threatened by adverse circumstances, it gives them a chance to grow emotionally and spiritually. This, while not always necessary to the plot, is necessary to reader satisfaction. And as writers, we eat and drink reader satisfaction. 
About the Author

Marion Crook has written many books for young adult and middle-grade readers. Here, she offers advice on writing, publishing, and marketing. Crook’s background in child development education as a nurse and her Ph.D. in education give her solid knowledge, but she maintains that a keen observation of people, places, and events can be the author’s most useful tool. An experienced teacher and writer, she gives her readers clear and practical tips, with humor and obvious understanding of what it’s like to write and publish.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The importance of perseverance

A few years ago my publisher closed down. No royalties came through for most of the authors. It was a huge deflating moment. This was my first novel. I wasn't confident with self publishing, so I shelved it. I was pretty down about it. This story meant so much to me. 

It was a year or so later, I spontaneously threw out my pitch for the story as part of a Twitter party. And it got requests! Including from my publisher, City Owl Press. My book was reborn as DIVDED: An Open Heart Novel. 

I was thrilled. City Owl Press have been amazing. 

And now, I'm getting ready to launch the sequel: SHATTERED.

Writing is such a subjective business that you don't know if your novel will make it. The wave of trends that come and go mean a novel you shelved five years ago could be dusted off now and put back out in queries. Like how agent Pam Howell is currently looking for YA Vampires

Sometimes it's not you, it's the industry trends. Sometimes it's not you, it's the agent's wishlist not matching. Keep believing in yourself and persevere, not matter what is thrown at you. 

And then maybe one day you'll be about to celebrate a book launch too. 

BTW - if you'd like to sign up for the book launch of SHATTERED you can here. No blog required as promo can be via Twitter. 

Sharon is an author of YA and NA fiction. You can find her hanging out on Twitter, or playing with her cats.