Monday, May 30, 2011

Books, writing and friends

Kelley Vitollo here. It's not my normal day to blog, but there are an extra few days to throw us off this month, so here I am. LOL.

I've been known to get sappy from time to time and this is another one of those times. I want to talk about books, writing and how much it's added to my life. Yes, I love to read. It's given me countless hours of escapism over the years. Yes, I love to write. It gives me something that nothing else in my life is able to give me, but the really cool thing about it is, these aren't the only things reading and writing have given me. They've also given me some of the best friends I've ever had.

Now, I know there are a lot of Twilight haters out there, but I can honestly say it changed my life. Those books found their way into my world when I was living in a new state. All my best friends, the ones I'd grown up with were a whole state away. I was adjusting to being a stay-at-home mom for the first time and I was doing it in a place where I knew no one and coming from a place where I knew everyone. Because of my love for the books, I ended up joining some forums online and meeting people in my area who liked them too. A lot of the friendships went to the wayside when we weren't into Twilight as much, but there are a few people who have become my best friends. Who I know would do anything for me and I would do the same for them. I KNOW these women will be in my life forever and it all started for our love of the same books! How amazing is that?

Then add my writing and the endless possibilities online. People like Wendy, Kelley York and my other beta Jolene who I trust with a piece of my heart every time I send them one of my books to read. We started out as critique partners, but now they're even more than that...they're friends. Great friends.

All my YAtopia buddies, and Twitter buddies, and blogging buddies. They all bring something different to my life and it's because of our love of reading and writing.

Now that is made of awesome.

How has reading or writing changed your life?

Book launch-a-rama

I recently had my first ever book launch. Woo hoo! The Australian Literary Review called for submissions for an anthology called THE BASICS OF LIFE and I decided to submit the story about my dad be diagnosed with terminal cancer. When I read that GROWTH had been chosen, I jumped around like a crazy woman. Then that week I walked into my local Collins Booksellers in Mackay and asked if they would be interested in stocking it.

Well, they said yes! And when I told the Steve Rossiter, the editor of The Australian Literary Review, he said he'd come up for it. I was thrilled, surprised and extremely happy. I live 1,000 kilometres away from the nearest metropolitan centre, so for him to travel up it was a big commitment. Then he informed me that it would be the national launch! Needless to say my excitement increased exponentially.

The Australian Literary Review is new to publishing, with THE BASICS OF LIFE being their second publication. So the advice I'm giving below is more relevant for smaller publishers and people who are trying to market their own self publishing.
  1. Wear comfortable shoes! (check out Leigh's BEA post on her personal blog if you need further convincing). My feet were in so much pain by the end of the launch - darn RMK for making such beautiful shoes!
  2. Practice your signature. Okay I was seriously embarrassed about signing the books, but I also had to remember that the people who came to the book launch and bought a book wanted my scribble. It's the least I could do for them coming to support me.
  3. Work out what you are going to say, especially who you want to thank. I got a bit choked up about it.
  4. Time it well, not just for you, but for what else is on. Unfortunately regional parliament in town so there was a lot of competing news items. We got good coverage in the lead up to the launch, but none for the day - however, see the next point for how to get around this.
  5. Know your media. Get coverage before hand with interesting angles. I put out two media releases in the lead-up to the launch - one for the fact that the Australian Literary Review editor would be in town for the event and meeting with authors. Don't be afraid to follow up with a phone call - that resulted in a radio interview for Steve and I. If the media can't make it to the event, follow up with photos for the print media with another media release.
  6. Take a camera, for media, blogs and future promotional purposes. Um - and make sure the person taking the photo is handy with the camera.
  7. Get a invitation list out early and invite EVERYONE you can think of. Don;t be afraid to invite local identities, including politicians, and local people in the literary scene.
  8. Go and talk to the local writers' groups (if you're not already a member). The local writers' group meeting clashes with other commitments for me, but I made an effort to go to the Mackay Writers Group meeting prior to the launch and they had good numbers at the launch.
  9. And above all - have fun!

    Now for the plug (never miss the chance to plug). THE BASICS OF LIFE will be coming to Amazon soon, but for those in Australia you can currently place orders through Collins Booksellers in Mackay (Ian and Karen you rock!) or by contacting The Australian Literary Review.

    Saturday, May 28, 2011

    How to be a Good Critique Partner/Beta Reader

    I cannot stress enough the importance of having multiple trusted critique partners, or beta readers, for your stories. It’s a partnership, a give and take. I suggest not limiting yourself to family members as your only critics. Family tend to offer excess praise and not enough of the necessary critical eye. Find yourself another serious writer and offer to beta for them in return. A book should not be shared with the world until it’s been carefully sifted through. That being said, there are certain unspoken rules for critiquing. Feel free to add to this list in the comments!

    ~ Be honest. This is the most important thing. Point out the things you love, but more importantly, point out places that stand out to you as sounding awkward, unlikely, out of character or any other thing that doesn’t feel right. Pay attention to the overall story arc: the setting, plot, characterizations, pacing, etc. You are not helping the writer if you are not honest. Be as detailed as possible. Too many adverbs? Too many unnecessary smiles? An entire scene that could be cut? Let them know! And don’t be offended if they decide not to take your advice.

    ~ Be kind. I don’t mean to sugarcoat your thoughts, but don’t be unnecessarily harsh. Critiquing can be a sensitive process for the receiving writer, who is essentially baring themselves to you, and they will need to feel encouraged and hopeful when they read your suggestions. Try to refrain from telling them something sucks.

    ~ Be timely. Of course, this means different things for different people. When I beta for an entire book, I try to have it back to the author within 1-2 weeks. I don’t agree to beta unless I can make it one of my top priorities. Keep in mind that your beta partner is probably waiting for your notes so that they can revise and move on to the next step in their writing process, whether it’s another critique partner, an agent, or an editor. Communicate openly, and work out a plan about whether you will send them chapters as you finish, or wait until the critique is complete before returning it.

    Thursday, May 26, 2011

    Which Reader Are You?

    I thought I'd do a bit of a jokey blog post today! My last one was a little depressing, so I'm going to do a less serious one. It's a bit of fun and not meant to offend anyone and probably not very accurate :-)

    Which Reader Are You?
    Grab a pen and jot down your scores to find out which type of Reader you are!

    1) How did you find your last book?
    -It won a very prestigious prize (6 points)
    -It's the next book out from your favourite author (5 points)
    -You saw a film at the cinema and this was the book form (4 points)
    -Everyone on Twitter was talking about it (3 points)
    -You were sent it in the mail by a publisher (2 points)
    -It was on special offer at your supermarket (1 point)

    2) What was the selling point you gave to a friend on a book you recommended?
    -By mentioning the praise it received from snooty critic (6 points)
    -The author is the most amazing author that ever lived! (5 points)
    -The film was a box office hit (4 points)
    -The buzz online is fierce (3 points)
    -One of the best books you have reviewed (2 points)
    -It was only 2 dollars at the supermarket! (1 point)

    3) How do people react when they ask what you're reading?
    -With a blank look at the extra long title (6 points)
    -"Oh, I've heard of that author." (5 points)
    -"The one that's a TV show?" (4 points)
    -"That one everyone is talking about?" (3 points)
    -"Is that another book you were sent?" (2 points)
    -"Oh, buy one get one free. Bargain!" (1 point)

    4) Is there a pattern on your bookshelves?
    -Yes. They're all prize winners and in their first printing (6 points)
    -Of course. They're all by my favourite author of all time (5 points)
    -They are all books within a popular series (4 points)
    -They're mostly ARCs or buzzed books at conferences (3 points)
    -They're from the same publishing houses (2 points)
    -There's no pattern. In fact, there's hardly any books (1 point)

    5) What kinds of comments does your last book get on Goodreads?
    -There are barely any comments, but the few there are excellent reviews (6 points)
    -Discussions from loyal author fans (5 points)
    -Argument on whether the film or book was better (4 points)
    -Comments from readers who are excited for the books release (3 points)
    -Loads of other reviews from book bloggers (2 points)
    -Whats Goodreads? (1 point)

    Now add up your points!

    26-30 Pretentious Reader
    Your favourite books tend to be the ones that no one else has ever heard of. You refuse to read the books on the bestseller list and look down at the readers who are reading books that everyone has heard of. Instead, your book have won small prizes.

    25-30 Mainstream Reader
    Your favourite books tend to be from the famously heard of authors. Like Martina Cole or Sarah Dessen. You buy their books religiously and are not willing to take as much of a chance with a new author if something from your favourite mainstream author is available.

    20-24 Film to Book Reader
    The only books you have ever heard of were books turned into a film or a TV show. You don't visit book stores or read book blogs and you certainly don't follow authors on Twitter! If you like the film, you'll read the book.

    15-19 Buzz Reader
    The books hyped online and at conferences? You have to get your hands on it. You need to know what the fuss is about and you have to be one of the first to read them. You seek out ARCs and enter competitions with a chance of winning one of these buzzed books!

    10-14 Review Reader
    The books you read are the books you're asked to read. You have a preference in genre and age, but you will pretty much read anything you are sent within that range. You hardly have a chance to buy books to read because you are so swamped with books you've been asked to read! You read with a conscious mind of plot points and characterisation and have somewhat lost the idea of just enjoying the read for what it is.

    5-9 Blurb/Opportunity Reader
    You have no preference in books. In fact, you rarely ever buy one. But when you do go to a book store or supermarket, you only have to pick up a book, scan the blurb and if it sounds decent, you're sold. You don't follow authors online, or care about any prizes the book has won. You're not sure if it's a film, or who wrote it. It's a means to pass the time on your holiday or long commute.

    So, what did you get? :-)

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    The Case for Twitter

    I often teach basic social media classes for local writers and artists. The other day I was consulting with a writer who recently retired to focus on his writing. I was telling him about blogging and forums when I casually mentioned cross-posting on Twitter.

    "Oh, I draw the line at Twitter," he said, nose high in the air.

    "Actually," I said. "Twitter is often the first step I recommend."

    "Really?" He shifted in his seat, uncrossed his arms and focused entirely on me. "Why?"

    I know I'm mostly preaching to the choir here on YAtopia, but Twitter often gets a bad rap. If you mention the word in a room full of 100 people, you'll average about 97 eye rolls and pointed sighs. Explaining Twitter to people is very difficult, especially if you're explaining it to someone who already thinks it is dumb or pointless.

    So, to answer this writer's question: Why Twitter?

    1) It's easy.

    I know it sounds confusing, but Twitter is probably the easiest-to-use social media platform. You only have to communicate 140 characters at a time - no longer-form blog posts required. You can engage as much or as little as you want to - though the more you put into it, the more you'll get out of it.

    2) Learning.

    The literary community has adopted Twitter in a big way. There is a wealth of information being shared about the publishing industry and the process of getting published. From literary agents (like @literaticat, @elanaroth, @bostonbookgirl, and @DeidreKnight) to published authors (like @veronicaroth, @kierstenwhite and @TaherehMafi) and organized chats (like #yalitchat, #askagent and #kidlitchat), it's like getting a full-scale education on the publishing industry.

    3) Community.

    Writing is often a lonely endeavor and there probably aren't many people in your life who truly understand what it's like to pursue publication. Twitter is a ready-made pool of thousands of writers who will be there to encourage you and celebrate with you through this trying journey. Some of the people I most heavily rely on (emotionally, when it comes to writing-related things) are people I've never met in person.

    4) Privacy.

    With Twitter, you only share what you want to share. On the other side of it, people can follow you without you following them so agents and editors are more open to sharing on Twitter than Facebook, which (more or less) requires you to give your followers access to all of your other information.

    So, for those of you who don't 'get' Twitter. I'm going to ask you to check it out. You may have to give it some time before you really get in the swing of things. Feel free to follow me, I'm here if you have questions.

    Monday, May 23, 2011


    I've decided to start something new on each of my (bi)weekly updates: mini-reviews. I think I'm keeping up with reading enough that I should have a new review to tack onto whatever else I choose to update with. These reviews will be short and sweet: a brief description about the book, and my thoughts/opinions. I don't see the point in wasting energy reviewing books I didn’t like, so expect to see nothing but good (or raving) reviews. ;)

    But today, I thought I'd kick things off with a longer review of one of my favorite trilogies and favorite authors, Carrie Ryan.


    In Mary's world, there are simple truths.

    The Sisterhood always knows best.

    The Guardians will protect and serve.

    The Unconsecrated will never relent.

    And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village. The fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

    But slowly, Mary's truths are failing her. She's learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power. And, when the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness.

    Now she must choose between her village and her future, between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded by so much death?

    Zombies? Post-apocalyptic world? Hell yes.

    I caught sight of this book somewhere online and thought the title was interesting and the cover was pretty. Which proves a point that a snappy cover+title can attract potential buyers. Otherwise, I would've skimmed right over it and possibly never known how amazing this series was. But, thankfully, I looked up the blurb and was intrigued enough to head out that same night to look for it at my local B&N.

    Carrie Ryan is not only a masterful storyteller in terms of description, flow and pacing, but she paints a vivid and eerie world I just can't get enough of. I would gladly continue reading if she decided to carry on this series.

    Her characters are real. Always flawed, always acting within the constraints of the world around them. Meaning, Mary (and all the others) were raised in a very specific environment that was extremely influential into who all of them became. The world within this tiny village and even into the forest beyond gives me chills, and is written with such flavor and realism it's hard not to be sucked in.


    Gabry lives a quiet life, secure in her town next to the sea and behind the Barrier. She's content to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. Home is all she's ever known, and all she needs for happiness.

    But life after the Return is never safe, and there are threats even the Barrier can't hold back.

    Gabry's mother thought she left her secrets behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, but like the dead in their world, secrets don't stay buried. And now, Gabry's world is crumbling.

    One night beyond the Barrier...

    One boy Gabry's known forever and one veiled in mystery...

    One reckless moment, and half of Gabry's generation is dead, the other half imprisoned.

    Gabry knows only one thing: if she is to have any hope of a future, she must face the forest of her mother's past.

    Second in the series, this book actually takes place a number of years after the first, and it succeeds in expanding on everything we saw in book one. We see Mary, and get a view of what she's been doing all this time, the drastic turns her life took, and how she's dealt with the consequences of her actions. Too, we see what really is beyond the forest and get an idea for just how dire the situation is for humankind.

    Gabry was an easier narrator in terms of voice. She had an easy upbringing (for the most part), and wasn't restricted and formed by the same harsh rules as Mary was. So when she's tossed into the chaos, it's interesting to see how she handles herself.


    There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister's face when she and Elias left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the horde as they found their way to the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.

    Annah's world stopped that day and she's been waiting for him to come home ever since. Without him, her life doesn't feel much different from that of the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Then she meets Catcher and everything feels alive again.

    Except, Catcher has his own secrets—dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah's longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider. And now it's up to Annah—can she continue to live in a world drenched in the blood of the living? Or is death the only escape from the Return's destruction?

    Annah is probably my favorite narrator of the three in this series. From beginning to end, she's a very real girl, and very proactive. Her actions push the story forward and it isn't always things happening to her. (Not to say Mary and Gabry weren't proactive, but I feel there were a lot of times they were simply going with the flow rather than taking initiative.)

    Also what I loved about the third book, was the way it expanded further still on the world it's set in. Because no matter how it ends, you're left with a feeling of hopelessness and wonder. What's left now? What is there after this? How will humans rebuild, if they ever will?

    OVERALL: I love these books. Love the narrators, the writing style, and - yes, most of all, the world. In fact, the world is its own character, so influential and a monster in of itself, interacting with the characters.

    Which book was my favorite? Really hard to say because I loved different things about all of them. I loved the first book because the setting was entirely in the forest. I enjoyed the others for their narrators, character interactions, and the expanded view of the world.

    Though for what it's worth, the second book is the one I went through the quickest. I devoured it in 48 hours. Which, when you consider I'm only awake at home for about four hours a day on work-days, is pretty amazing for me.

    All in all, if you like creepy books with fast-moving plot and awesome post-apocalyptic world-building, I strongly suggest picking these up. You can learn more at Carrie Ryan's webpage, including pick up a few links to short side-stories taking place in the same world.

    Anyone else read these books and enjoyed them? Any other good zombie-esque books you want to recommend?

    Saturday, May 21, 2011

    When I'm Not Writing

    What? You mean you actually do other things besides writing??

    Yeah, it's kind of hard to believe, right? :-)

    When I'm not writing, I'm usually A) at school B) reading C) tweeting D) watching TV or E) all of the above. I'm not proud of option C, but Twitter is addicting! By now most of you probably know I don't force my writing. If I'm not feeling it, then I won't force it. So, when I'm not writing I like to do simple and sometimes mindless activities. Reading is always great because I get to experience someone else's world and characters and learn how they crafted their story. When I'm not in the mood to read, though, I'll usually pop in a movie or watch a show. I get really into the shows/movies I watch, even if I've seen them a million times. *cough*Twilight Saga*cough* My family often leaves the room when I watch "Twilight" and "The Vampire Diaries" because I gasp, make comments, and freak out. They just shake their heads and leave me to my vampires, haha.

    I recently saw Lauren Oliver at a signing and she mentioned she often gets up from the computer and does some exercise when she's stuck on something, so I've been trying to do that, too. I've just been trying to exercise more in general. I'm finding it helps clear the mind. :-)

    So, what do you all like to do when you're not being bookish?

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    Living the Double Life

    It's past 1am and I'm not sleeping - this is not new for me. It's simply part of my double life - Corporate Mum by day, aspiring writer whenever I can fit the chance in, which often means late night writing sessions.

    Not many people can afford to give up their day job and write. A lot of my writer friends have young children so they are not in the workforce, but believe me that doesn't always equate to more time to write. The fact of the matter is you have to be committed if you want to be a writer (and I don't mean to a mental asylum). You have to be prepared to make sacrifices and live a double life.

    Some thing's gotta give. If you try to juggle it all then you're going to drop the ball. On top of working and looking after my kids and husband, at the moment I'm trying to:

    • Coordinate a book launch and associated writers' workshops
    • Finish a short story for an anthology I've been invited to write for.
    • Finish a short story for a competition.
    • Undertake request manuscript revisions from potential agents.
    • Turn a short story that placed in a national competition into a novel.
    • Write another short story for a Christmas horror anthology.
    • Finish another novel.
    • Block out the voices that try to distract me with new projects when I haven't finished my old ones.
    • Write my blog posts (better late than never).
    One of my writing spots with no internet access
    Crikey! That's a lot to stuff into my few hours of week I get for writing. So how the heck am I going to do it? My plan is to go on a social media exile (well at least try not to live on it for the next few weeks), do some writing away from the house (and the internet) and prioritise - what is most import, what commitments have I made, is anyone else relying on me?

    At work we talk a lot about work/life balance and there has to be writer/life balance too.

    So - how do you make time to write? Any secret places you like to go or tips?

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    A Very Tardy Tuesday Twaddle

    Oh to hell with it, let's just call it the Thursday Twaddle.  I'm so sorry I've been semi-absent.  I've been working on the sequel to The Carrier of the Mark.  I've had my head so deep in edits; I've barely eaten, let alone take time out for blog posts.
    Now, on top of all my editing woes, I've got BEA to contend with.  To the uninitiated, BEA is Book Expo America.  It's the biggest book conference in North America.  And little old yours truly is going.  Not only am I going, but my book THE CARRIER OF THE MARK has been picked as a buzz book and will be discussed at this year’s YA Buzz panel.  It's so gosh darn exciting, I hardly know what to do with myself.
    So now I have to peel back all the layers of editing grime, take my hair out of its don't-even-look-at-me-I'm-writing-ponytail, and get myself to a day spa for some much needed highlights and a manipedi (what? I'm doing a book signing too... I so deserve it!).
    The other beautiful thing about BEA is that you get loads of freebies!! Books, goodies, book swag.  They give it all away like there is no tomorrow.  So I'm going to stock on as much as I can get my grubby yet to be manicured hands on.  Then YATOPIA will have goodies for giveaways.  Hands up who loves giveaways???
    So, again, sorry for the tardiness, but I do hope my goodies will make up for it.
    Until next time my lovelies, have an AMAZING one... I know I will.

    Monday, May 16, 2011


    I'm a huge nickname person. Always have been. It's strange because people rarely...if ever have nicknames for me, but I love having them for others. When I was in high school all of my closest friends had a name that was uniquely theirs that only I called them. Sometimes they were something as simple as calling Brian, Eddie. Strange? I guess, but his middle name was Edward and though NO ONE called him Edward--he was Brian, to me, he was Eddie. I had another friend and he used to wear these Dickies overalls (does that date me?). His name was Richard, but to me, he was always Dickie. I'm not really sure what, if anything this says about me. LOL. That I liked having something that was only for me and each person, but I did. (in my defence, a lot of people used the Dickie nickname).

    Now, when I write I find that nicknames are always popping up in my books too. Sometimes they just happen by accident. In my collab, WIP the boy spills a drink on the girl's t-shirt. She's not happy about it and makes sure to tell him. He thinks it's totally not a big deal and just to get on her nerves, he suddenly starts calling her Hanes (the brand of T-shirts). It just kind of fell from my fingertips. It wasn't something I planned, but something that found itself on the page.

    In another of my books, the boy calls her girl MC, Sunshine because she's always grumpy and in another, he calls her Woodstock because her parents are hippies. I'm realizing it's kind of my thing. LOL.

    Do you like nicknames in real life or in the books you read or write? If you're a writer, want to share one of your favorite nicknames in a book you've written? Readers, what's a nickname in a book you've read that stands out to you?

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    Blog Design - Guest Post

    For today's post I’ve invited a good friend, my go-to person with expertise on blog design - Evelyn, AKA Evie J! She helped us with YAtopia’s layout and my own blog as well. She’s here with a few tips, and you can check her out at:

    * * *

    Hey, all! I'm on the YAtopia blog! Eeek! Yay! Whoo! All right, excessive exclamation point usage is done, I promise. Now off to bigger, better, and brighter things like tips on making a blog your own.

    Ever since I started designing my own layouts instead of just using pre-made templates about a year ago, I've been bombarded with the same questions: How did you make your layout? Will you teach me? Well, the answers to that: It's complicated. I can teach you only specifics.

    What many first fail to understand is that everything on blogs is put in separately. Unless you are going with pre-made templates (in which case, don't bother with the following, eh?), there is no easy "slip this code in and voila, you have a new blog layout." So here are "how-to's" for three of the main elements bloggers want:

    First things first, the following directions may look extremely complicated, but I promise they're not. And they are for the Minima template (*cough*the new templates suck monkey butt, and I highly suggest switching to the Minima template if you're going to really go for an original look; the coding is easier*end cough*).

    Also, memorize this: Dashboard>Design>Edit HTML. This is how you get to your blog's coding.

    To Create a Header:
    Well, I can't tell you exactly how to make one, considering we all have different creative views. I use Photoshop to make mine, but you can use any program really, including online programs for free like Fotoflexer. You can also find pre-made banners and add text to them, like the "blank" ones on The Cutest Blog on the Block.

    In my opinion, if you're not using a pre-made one, it's best to create a header the size you're going to want it, or bigger (in which case check "shrink to fit" when adding the header; see next step). You'll find the width of your header-wrapper by scrolling down only a little in your HTML section.

    To Add a Header:
    This is an "easy add," as you don't have to deal with HTML.

    Dashboard>Design>Directly under where it says "Navbar," you should see your blog title and (Header) next to it>Click "Edit" to the right>Follow the directions.

    To Center a Header:
    I see that a lot of people manage to upload their banners, but then it'll be off to the side when it's clearly supposed to be a centered banner.

    So visit your HTML section and scroll down until you see your Header section>Check your header's width. It should be a little smaller than your Outer Wrapper's width. Keep in mind that all coding may vary, so just find your "header" section and look for "width" beneath. For example:

    Mine is:
    #header-wrapper {
    margin:0 auto 10px;

    My Outer Wrapper (scroll down a bit more in your HTML section to see it):
    #outer-wrapper {
    width: 940px;
    margin:0 auto;
    font: $bodyfont;

    You can adjust the width until you feel comfortable. Always click on "preview" before saving. Remember that it is only adjusting the header space. That means that your header will be whatever size you choose when you uploaded. If your header is too big, click the "Shrink to Fit" option when uploading. It'll shrink it to the width of your header space.

    To Create a Background:
    Like with with creating a header, I can't tell you exactly how to use your own creativity, but I can tell you what size your background should be. First, I don't think there are any online programs that let you make backgrounds the size you need. You can use programs like GIMP (which I believe is free...?) or Photoshop, which I use.

    I always start with a 2000x1000 pixel size canvas. That's 2000 wide and 1000 high. And when you see "px" below, that stands for "pixel."

    When making your background, the first thing you want to know is how wide your content page is. Go to your HTML section and scroll down until you see your Outer Wrapper. You should have something similar (it may vary depending on your template *cough*still think the new ones suck*end cough*) to this:

    /* Outer-Wrapper
    ----------------------------------------------- */
    #outer-wrapper {
    width: 940px;
    margin:0 auto;
    font: $bodyfont;

    The width is what you need. Mine is set at 940, so my background's post space is approximately 1000px wide. That's pretty standard for three-column templates, by the way.

    I usually suggest about 30px wider on each side than your blog is wide. So if your Outer Wrapper is only 700px wide, I suggest doing a 760px wide "white space," or "post space" when creating your background. But that choice is yours.

    To Add a Background:
    Back in your HTML section, scroll down a little ways (this is directly after the variables, so scroll slowly) until you find something similar to the following:

    body {
    font:x-small Georgia Serif;
    font-size/* */:/**/small;
    font-size: /**/small;
    text-align: center;

    Add the following in bold:

    body {
    background:#fff url("LINK TO IMAGE");
    background-position: center;
    background-attachment: fixed;
    background-repeat: no-repeat;

    font:x-small Georgia Serif;
    font-size/* */:/**/small;
    font-size: /**/small;
    text-align: center;

    Position means where you want it aligned. Probably in the center, so you don't need to mess with that. Attachment means do you want it to scroll or stay fixed (this blog is an example of fixed; scrolling means that it'll scroll with you as you scroll down the page). If you want it to scroll, then change "fixed" to either "none" or "scroll." Repeat means just that. Do you want your background to repeat. If you're going with the scroll, then you want your background to repeat, so change "no-repeat" to "yes."

    So if you have a background like YAtopia (where you have two distinct sides and it doesn't move), leave the code as is. And now every time you want to change it, you just change the link of the image.

    This is the third most common question I get: How can I get three columns? If you have a standard template (*cough*like the amazing Minima*end cough*), then you'll most likely start out with two columns, but sometimes three is better for you. So there are two different types of three columns: Sidebars on each side of the post space, or sidebars both on one side.

    Sidebars on both sides:
    Guess where we're starting? Gah! The HTML section! :)
    Scroll down to your Outer Wrapper section again. You'll have something similar to this:

    /* Outer-Wrapper
    ----------------------------------------------- */
    #outer-wrapper {
    width: 940px;
    margin:0 auto;
    font: $bodyfont;

    #main-wrapper {
    width: 550px;
    float: $startSide;
    margin-left: 5px;
    margin-right: 7px;
    word-wrap: break-word; /* fix for long text breaking sidebar float in IE */
    overflow: hidden; /* fix for long non-text content breaking IE sidebar float */

    #sidebar-wrapper {
    width: 170px;
    float: right;
    margin-left: 5px;
    word-wrap: break-word; /* fix for long text breaking sidebar float in IE */
    overflow: hidden; /* fix for long non-text content breaking IE sidebar float */

    Directly beneath your sidebar-wrapper, add this code:

    #left-sidebar-wrapper {
    width: 165px;
    float: left;
    margin-left: 35px;
    word-wrap: break-word; /* fix for long text breaking sidebar float in IE */ overflow: hidden; /* fix for long non-text content breaking IE sidebar float */

    That's it.

    Sidebars both to one side:
    To the same as above, but in the added code, change "float: left;" to "float: right;" like so:

    #left-sidebar-wrapper {
    width: 165px;
    float: right;
    margin-left: 35px;
    word-wrap: break-word; /* fix for long text breaking sidebar float in IE */ overflow: hidden; /* fix for long non-text content breaking IE sidebar float */

    That will put both columns on your right, screen left. Over there---> If you want them on the other side. Change the original code of the main-wrapper from "float: $startSide;" to "float: right;" and the original sidebar code from "float: right;" to "float: left;" and leave the newly added code. So you'll end up with this:

    #main-wrapper {
    width: 550px;
    float: right;
    margin-left: 5px;
    margin-right: 7px;
    word-wrap: break-word; /* fix for long text breaking sidebar float in IE */
    overflow: hidden; /* fix for long non-text content breaking IE sidebar float */

    #sidebar-wrapper {
    width: 170px;
    float: left;
    margin-left: 5px;
    word-wrap: break-word; /* fix for long text breaking sidebar float in IE */
    overflow: hidden; /* fix for long non-text content breaking IE sidebar float */

    #left-sidebar-wrapper {
    width: 165px;
    float: left;
    margin-left: 35px;
    word-wrap: break-word; /* fix for long text breaking sidebar float in IE */ overflow: hidden; /* fix for long non-text content breaking IE sidebar float */

    Remember to preview before saving, and it's always good to download and save your template before messing with it. You can adjust the margins and widths to your liking. The larger the number, the wider the column or margin. Remember that the three widths of your sidebars and post space should not exceed the width of your outer wrapper. For example, my outer wrapper is 940 and my main wrapper and sidebars combined (including the margin area) is 937.

    Anddddd...huzzah! There you have it. "How to's" to three of the most common elements bloggers want to manipulate. Now, as I've said a few times (*cough*) that the above is directly from the Minima template. Blogger has added brand new templates which make it easier to mess with the columns just using the template designer.

    Because I add many elements to my blog, I will forever use the Minima template because there's much more room for manipulation. Sometimes codes won't work for the newer templates and I'm pretty sure Blogger made some changes on purpose. I swear it did!

    Anyway, I'm always open for blog questions (specific ones!), so if you're wanting to try something and need to know how, shoot me an email or check out my blog tips I post every Thursday. Have fun making layouts your own! There's nothing like having your own layout just for you, eh? :)


    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Great Bad Guys

    I looooove an awesome bad guy. Like the ones you know are bat-shit insane but you think they'd be kinda cool to hang out with anyway? Or the ones you feel sorry for but they also make you want to do pushups so you can punch them harder?

    Consequently, a weak bad guy bores me to tears. I've seen a lot of these lately and it can make an otherwise good story fall flat. I am SOO over the high school bully (boy or girl) who's mean just to be mean. It makes me want to get revenge on the author, instead of the character for whom she intended that emotion.

    Someone once told me: "Remember, even Hitler and Hussein didn't think they were bad guys." I always keep that in mind when I'm writing my baddies. They need to have something they love or care about, no matter how despicable they are.

    Everything a bad guy does needs to have a reason. They're doing what they're doing because they believe in something, they think it's important. Yes, in real life, a person can be simply crazy and hateful, but in fiction that's unsatisfying. It's probably not fair, but it's true: Fiction has to make sense even when real life doesn't.

    Sometimes, for me, developing the motivations of the villain is more fun than the hero: because, for the reader, good is accepted, but evil needs a reason for being.

    Who is your favorite bad guy? I kinda have a hate-crush on Valentine from the Mortal Instruments series.

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines

    Last week, I had pneumonia and was at home from work Tuesday through Friday per doctor's orders. Naturally my first thought when hearing, "You'll be in bed all week" was "Oh my God, all that writing time!"

    And I did try. After all, I'd meant to get my WIP's first draft finished by April 30th and that deadline came and went. So, why wouldn't this week of rest be perfect for catching up and finishing?

    Why, why indeed. Nevermind the wheezing, coughing, foggy-headedness, inability to lie down without being able to breathe, fever that just wouldn't go away, etc. I honestly can't remember much of anything from Monday through Thursday. Friday, I felt vaguely human again.

    And come Friday, I was also feeling pretty annoyed with myself that I lost all this prime writing time. (In the end it's probably a good thing I wasn't trying to be wordy and coherent while running a 102 fever; who knows what would've come from it. But still.)

    I am proud to announce, though, that I knocked out over 3,000 words that Friday, and I've hit another 3,000+ today. Putting me at 70,000 words and... well, not done. Sigh. But so close to done that the finish line is just within my reach. I'm finishing up a scene I skipped over (remember those action/fight scenes? hate hate hate hate) and a few paragraphs to wrap things up at the very end, and voila. One messy, clunky first draft complete!

    Anyway, my point being, none of this would've been an issue had I finished my draft by April 30th like I originally planned. I'm horrible with deadlines, because inevitably I feel too pressured and all I can do is stare at my word count, willing it to magically increase itself.

    There are others, though, (I'm looking at Kelley V. here) who are absolutely amazing at deadlines, even self-imposed ones. That girl sets a date to finish something, and you can sure bet she'll have it done. It's a great ability to have and I'm oh so envious of it.

    I know agents tell us, "Enjoy your pre-agent/pre-publishing contract days when you can spend however long you want on a book." And while I agree with this, it's only to a point. I don't want to get used to taking however long I want simply bcause I know, someday, I'm going to have that pub contract that tells me, "you've got three weeks. Have fun!"

    (That will be the day I take up drinking and cry myself to sleep at night.)

    Do you do better with deadlines? Imposed by others or yourself? What tactics do you use to meet your deadlines and not let them sail away?

    (I apologize for the lack of real subject matter in this post. While I'm not feverish and wasting away in bed, I'm still not feeling top-notch.)

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    Abandoned Love

    I'm all for happy endings. I'm not one of those readers/writers who wants to see the main couple go through various trials and mood swings just to prove how in love they are. I believe relationships can be happy and healthy, and that they can start and continue this way. I think I might be the only one who thinks this because I've noticed that in the second book of most paranormal YA romances, the male love interest ALWAYS leaves. Let me break it down:

    1. BOY is increasingly moodier than in first book.
    2. BOY isn't there for main character.
    3. BOY leaves.
    4. BOY returns in the end only to declare his love and validate his moodiness/absence by said declaration. All this occurs in like one paragraph and then the main character rushes to accept the reasoning.

    Now, I know no relationship is perfect and thus the need for conflict, but this device is something I'm growing tired of. Can't the couple face some other form of conflict? And why does the love interest have to leave? Did New Moon start this trend? (I'm sure it didn't, but I thought I'd throw it out there, haha)

    So, my friends, what do you think of this trend? Do you like it? Do you hate it? Are you guilty of using it? :-)

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    The excitment of waiting for THAT book

    I love that felling when you know a really good book is coming. Normally it's part of a series or from an author you love. I remember lining up for the final Harry Potter. I'd ordered it, the book store was packed. I can't remember if I was meant to be working that day or not, but I was there, ready and waiting.

    There hasn't been a series that has quite matched that release day hype, but I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of City of Fallen Angels. I loved the Mortal Instruments Series. It played on the paranormal elements without being a carbon copy of anything around. And it had great twists, which I love. I love it if a book gives me something I wasn't expecting (and it's rare I don't figure the twist out).

    In 2011 I'm also eagerly waiting to read Dead Reckoning, Dark Inside and Carrier of the Mark.

    So I want to know - what books are you hanging out for this year to be released?

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    The DREADED sequel - Tuesday Twaddle

    Writing a book is fun, exciting, and above all gives you such a sense of accomplishment that only one can really feel when they've done it.  Getting an agent... WOW.  Getting a publishing contract... FREAK OUT!!
    Then comes... dun dun dun... the sequel or the next book.
    I've just passed the 'dun dun dun' stage and I'm in the throes of writing the second book in the Carrier series.  Writing a sequel is NOTHING like writing your first book.  I admit, I was gasping to get back into the lives of my characters and take their story to the next level, but with writing a sequel there are handcuffs tying you to certain elements.  You have to try and kick off a story which ended on a humdinger in the last book and build it up again, all the while re-capping on the shenanigans that happened in the last one to either a) remind people, or b) surmise the first books story for those who haven't read it.  And you must do all this with similar pacing while really kicking the story into gear so as not bore people.
    Striking the balance is surprisingly tough.  There's a natural arc to a story and I'm trying to be careful not to interrupt with this ARC while giving the story a firm footing.  Some days I want to park the sequel and indulge in writing a standalone novel, one that is free of such constraints, and the sickener  is, I have just that, and that book calls to me night a day, but I'm forcing myself to park it so I can face the complexities of the sequel full on. No distractions, except for perhaps coffee, and chocolate, oh and Divergent that I just bought yesterday, oh and look at the pretty dragonfly...
    Where was I? Oh yeah distractions.  Absolutely no distractions.  Now I'm off to finish that sequel.
    What are your thoughts on sequels?  Like them, loathe them? Do you like a little reminder of the first book, or do you just want the story to pick up where it left off and plough ahead? I'd love to hear your thoughts, and while you do that, I'll make myself a coffee and read a few chapters of Divergent.  What? I'm not getting distracted... its emmm research. Yes that's it... research.
    Talk later my lovelies.

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    My So-Called Life and writing

    I want to talk about something a little different today. I'm not a big TV person. I just don't watch it. There are no shows that I watch on a weekly basis. There are a couple shows I tried to get into, that I enjoyed, but I just can never make it last. There's a few older shows that I LOVE though.

    My all time favorite show is is My So-Called Life. It only lasted one season, but I can honestly say there is nothing like it. I own the season. I've watched it over and over. I study it actually. I think it's not only an entertaining series for people to watch, but I think it's good for writers. Awesome characterization. Awesome emotions. Awesome writing. I would love to write characters like this. Characters that you feel like your inside their skin, living and breathing and feeling everything they do right along with them. I think it captured what it's REALLY like to be a teen in a way NO other show ever has and probably ever will. It didn't sugarcoat life, which I love. It's so painful, and raw, and just make of awesome. I catch something different every time I watch an episode.

    "People always say you should be yourself, like yourself is this definite thing like a toaster or something."

    Gah. Love it.

    It showed so many facets of life. Joy, pain, heartache, loss, betrayal, low self esteem, needing to fit in, and it did them all brilliantly. Here is one of my favorite scenes. When Jordan walks proudly down the hall with Angela for the first time. I FEEL her happiness when I watch it. I'm not afriad to mention I tear up ;)

    And the break up scene. So raw and full of emotion. I don't think I will ever crush on anyone the way I do Jordan Catalono. He is so tortured and so far from perfect it's not even funny, but you can't help but love him.

    Confusion on Sex, which is sort of in the other scenes too, but I love seeing it in the scene.

    How confusing relationships are and how when they're over, sometimes they're more than they ever were when they were on. How they can mean different things to different people.

    Issues teens face. REAL problems. AKA Jordan can't read

    Writers, are there any shows you watch and study that help with your writing? Do you think TV and movies CAN help with writing.

    Readers, what are some of your favorite TV shows and why.