Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A novel description competition

Over at my personal blog, Down Under Wonderings, is a novel description competition. All you have to do is come up with a creative comparison to describe a book.


Blood Song is a YA version of The Game of Thrones.
Across the Universe is a YA 1984 set in space.
The Selection by Kiera Cass is being called The Bachelor meets Hunger Games.

Up for grabs is a $30 B&N evoucher and a copy of Blood Song - one prize per winner (so at least two winners). You don't need to follow this blog or promote to enter - but it would be nice if you did.

So head on over to my blog for a chance to win!

Monday, February 27, 2012


“Write what you know” has always made me cringe.

Because, really, isn’t one of the beautiful things about writing is that you get to write what you DON’T know? What you’d like to experience? Or just write a story you really want to tell?

The idea for Night Sky came when I was wondering what happens to the guy who’s in love with his best friend, doesn’t tell her for too long, and then doesn’t get her.

This is the jumping off point for my book.

I had to find a love interest for this guy. Someone interesting, complex, who would challenge him more than the friend ever could.

I tossed around ideas for a while, and as I was writing, just as he noticed her, I thought – hey, I could make her a part native Alaskan girl (I had this particular girl in mind who is a million kinds of awesome) and then I almost didn’t do it because it felt TOO easy.

I knew immediately what she’d be like. A history for her practically created itself as I started writing their meeting. I took problems from several people (as well as cases from my prosecutor husband who has always had an Alaskan village assignment) and it just fell together – because it was all so familiar.

And that’s when it hit me – THIS is when writing about a culture I know well, that other people might NOT know well, is going to help this character come alive.

And so Sky, with her need for honesty, her love of totems and drums, and a past she doesn’t like to talk about, came to life. And I think she turned into probably the sexiest character I’ve ever written.

All because I used what I already knew.

And for those who care – here is their first meeting:


I slow down through the stoplights, and there’s a girl by the side of the road walking in a scandalously short jean skirt, flip-flops, five layers of tanks in different colors and long, black hair. Wow.

I’m stopped at the light next to her, and she’s staring at her phone, looking lost.

“You need a lift?” I offer. How brave am I?

“I don’t think so.” She glances at her phone chuckling while shaking her head.

“You look lost, and I live just around the corner so…”

Her head snaps up. All I see is her huge brown eyes. She looks exotic, maybe half Indian with a beautiful straight nose and high cheekbones only girls from the reservations seem to have. The car door opens and just like that, she gets in. She doesn’t even pull down her skirt, which is barely covering…

I can’t believe this girl is in my car. Well, Dad’s car. But still…

“Green light.” She points as her eyebrows go up.

“Right.” I hit the gas and the car jumps out from underneath me. Okay, take a deep breath. Don’t make an ass out of yourself.

“Whoa, warn a girl, will ya?” She smiles. “I never do this sort of thing…so promise you’re not going to cut me into a million pieces and scatter my body across the desert.”

“I promise.” I smile back. “And that was a rather specific request.”

She shrugs. “You can never be too careful.”

“Then why are you riding in a car with a total stranger?”

“Good point,” she admits with a grimace.

“I don’t scatter bodies across the desert anyway, too far for me to drive.” I wait for her reaction.

“And…where would you put the body?” She looks around. “Only one seat and I’m sure I wouldn’t fit in the trunk.”

I glance up and down her lean frame.

“That was not an invitation to check me out.” Her lips pull into a scowl, but there’s too much tease in her eyes for me to take her seriously.

“Sorry.” Only, I’m not really sorry. This is better than any distraction I could have dreamed up tonight.


So, how do you use your life experiences in your writing – and more than that, do you wonder, like me, how much of the author’s experiences end up in their books?

You can find Jolene on the web at her blog HERE, and her books, including Night Sky, on goodreads, HERE.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Twitter: Please stop this

Ok, guys, I know I talk about Twitter a lot. I can’t help it, it’s done so many good things for me and I want it to be as helpful for you as it was for me. Usually I keep this conversation positive: How-to, tips & tricks, etc. But today, I want to talk about things people do on Twitter that piss me off.

This picture is only tangentially relevant
No seriously, if you do these things, you need to stop. You’re probably losing more followers than you will ever gain.

1) #ff (Follow Friday) everyone you follow (or lots of people). Your followers really don’t need to see you tweet everyone you follow. They could go to your following list if they want that. 

Also, it’s annoying. And insincere. 
2) Start a self-promotional tweet with “Worth the RT?” Worse: Start every self-promotional tweet this way. For me, this is an automatic unfollow and you should feel lucky that we’re not in the same room because I really want to slap you. 

If it is worth a RT, people will RT it without you asking.

Note: This is not for those tweets where you really need a lot of people to see it for less-than-selfish reasons. Like if you’re looking for a person who does a specific thing and/or is in a specific area. (Like my tweet that said “I’m looking for book bloggers, writers, etc who live near Orlando, please RT.”)

3) You have your own Twitter account and you manage another (for a business, your book, etc). Stop tweeting the same thing from both accounts at the exact same time. I know TweetDeck makes it ridiculously easy. You know what else is ridiculously easy? Eating pizza every day for every meal. That doesn’t mean I should do it.

I follow two accounts. I want two separate streams of posts. For an example of how to do it well, check out @bookgirl96 and her company @kmspr 

4) Vague passive-aggressive tweets that are obviously about someone specific. This doesn’t piss me off so much as make me worry it’s about me. Please stop.  

5) Tweet the same tweets over and over again. Don’t think we notice? We do. (Especially if they are self-promoting or you think they’re super clever.)

One self-pubbed author, whose twitter I enjoyed otherwise, would post the same exact one-line pitch for her book every day with a link. For months. It was like Chinese water torture. I recently unfollowed her. I will never see anything she has to say about her next book.

6) Post only self-promotional tweets. I will keep saying this until everyone gets it: Twitter is a conversation. Would you walk up to a crowd of people trading publishing jokes and pictures of Ryan Gosling and say “buy my book” every three minutes? No? Crazy, right?

I know our readers have some Twitter Pet Peeves. Go ahead, let it all out in the comments below!

(Yeah, I also have a problem with softening my angry posts with lolcats.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012


It's here!! It's here!! The day is here!!

I'm so excited. So, so excited. I don't want to keep you all waiting, so without further ado..

Release date: 15th July 2012.c
If you're a Hunter, there are only three things you must know about the Damned. The Damned can't lie, can't live without a body, and can't leave you alone.

Amerie Carter has the blood of a Hunter, unfortunately. She is one of a rare line of women who, upon her sixteenth birthday, will come into extraordinary powers used to hunt the Damned; escaped souls from Hell who take up residence in human bodies. It's supposed to be her sweet sixteen, but Amerie has never dreaded a day more, and her worst fears are confirmed as the celebration turns tragic when her mother is killed.

Grief-stricken, Amerie vows to never hunt a day in her life. She's determined to hide behind normalcy, attending school, hanging out with her friends and working an after-school job at The Hut. All Amerie wants is to be left alone. But try telling the Damned that. The harder Amerie tries to ignore her powers, the more the Damned come looking for her.

When an attack leaves one of Amerie's friends in the hospital, and endangers the lives of her fellow students, she knows she has no choice: Hunt or Be Hunted. Thankfully, the gorgeous, secretive, and so-off-limits Marshall offers to train Amerie to take out her supernatural enemies. But training with Marshall means leading lying to her friends, her family, and confronting the mysterious circumstances surrounding her mother’s death.

Amerie soon discovers she’s not the only one with something to hide, Marshall’s secrets might kill her before the Damned get the chance.

So, what do you think? Let me know!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Word Lover

I love words. With.A.Passion.

In my Professional Writing class at university, on the very first day, my lecturer posed a question to us about how language had changed over the centuries and did we agree that the simpler dialogue that had developed was better.

First to answer (cause I suffer from know-it-all-itis), I said the change was horrible because I didn't want to lose the rich culture of literature from years gone by.

I should now add that Professional Writing looked at communication from a business perspective and was basically a PR subject.

Well, my lecture, who I adored because she was a columnist in the local paper, shot me down and said simpler was better. Supposedly the average person has a reading age of a twelve year old and I had to write to that.

I was crestfallen at the thought of dumbing down my writing. My idea was to save endangered words, not stomp them into extinction.

But from a business writing perspective, she was right. And since I started as a journalist many years ago and moved into public relations, I have tailored my writing for my audience - simplifying it when I've needed to.

However, in my fiction realm I try to use a wider variety of words to keep the prose rich and warm. So here are some of my favourites that I love to use, but try not to over-use:

  • Snavel
  • Perch
  • Snare
  • Myriad
  • Sporadically (thank you Clueless)
  • Exasperated
  • Blurt
  • Scouring
  • Scooch
  • emanates
So, what are some of your favourite words?

    Saturday, February 18, 2012

    Teentopia: Maria

    For February's Teentopia, I interviewed 19-year-old college student Maria on video!

    Here's the link in case the video doesn't embed properly for you.

    If you have any questions for Maria, leave them in the comments below!

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Happy Valentine's Day

    Just wanted to pop in to say...

    Check out Valentine's Day posts from YAtopians:
    Did you write a post about this day? Leave your link in the comments so we can spread the love!

    Monday, February 13, 2012

    Neglecting That Which We Love

    One of the biggest bits of advice you hear from authors, editors, and agents alike is to write every day. Set aside 30 minutes, an hour, however much you can spare, and just write. Which is a good plan. Even if what you pump out in that time frame is garbage, that's what later editing/revision is for.

    Every day, sit your butt down and write.

    But what happens when you don't? What if something comes up—the holidays, a family emergency, broken hands, whatever—and suddenly that daily writing isn't happening? When you finally sit back down to get back to it, is it hard? Is it like retraining yourself all over again to keep to your routine?

    I've been a terrible writer so far this new year. (And a terrible reader, but that's another story.) I've written, sure, but I haven't kept anywhere near to writing every day like I ought to be. Or even writing every week. I certainly don't have excuses. I've just been tired and haven't had the motivation for it. It's frustrating.

    (Funny thing—when I'm depressed, I can't write but I want to draw. But I'm okay, I can't draw to save my life, but I can write. Go figure.)

    It's a funk I have to drag myself out of because, well, otherwise nothing gets done. And if nothing gets done, it depresses a writer further, doesn't it? Blank manuscripts and missed (even self-imposed) deadlines and word count goals. Getting back into your writing habits when you've been neglecting them for a few weeks or months or years is hard, but of course it's doable. We had to train ourselves to do it in the first place, after all.

    Have any of you slipped out of your routine before or neglected your writing? If so, how did you get back into the groove?

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012

    Twaddle for the 8th - The Sweet Sound of Inspiration

    When I’m first drafting there are a few things I need.
    1.     A baby sitter.
    2.     An endless supply of coffee.
    3.     Access to the Internet.
    4.     Pen and paper.
    5.     And most importantly…MUSIC!

    For me, music is the single most important must have for the all-consuming inspiration that is needed for the first draft.  And I don’t find music to go along with a scene. I do it the other way around. I listen to random music until the music gives me the scene. You see, I know what I want the scene to do, but the music shows me the way it plays out.

    Once the piece of music speaks to me, it becomes part of my manuscript. I’ll play it over and over until the scene is complete.  Then I’ll listen to that song for weeks afterwards, reliving the emotion of the scene it inspired and keeping my head firmly rooted in the story while I move onto the next section and the next song.  By the end of a book, I’ll have approximately one song per chapter, which are so ingrained in me that sometimes, listening to the music leaves me bawling crying or laughing out loud as I relive each word.

    The side effect of this dependency is that I play the songs so frequently that a) my husband ends up despising my playlist and turns it off in favor of SAD FM as soon as he sits into my car, and b) my kids (including my four year old twins) will end up with word perfect renditions of songs that you’d never imagine coming out of a small child’s mouth. It makes this momma proud.

    I’m always on the look out for new music, but for my last two books my old faithfuls have been:
    Elbow, Electric President, Moby, Coldplay, Radiohead, Dido, Lisa Mitchel, Radical Face, and Vast.

    Have a listen to these. Both of these songs inspired scenes in Carrier 2. Close your eyes and see the music instead of listening to the music...if you know what I mean. We'd both see very different things, but I'm sure the tone and mood would be similar.

    You’ve heard two songs that have really spoken to me, now I’d like to hear of the songs that really inspired you. If you have links please post them. I’d love to have a listen.

    All the very best and talk soon.


    Saturday, February 4, 2012

    Inspiration: Yay or Nay?

    I'm currently taking a creative writing class and on the first day, my instructor and a few other students said they believe inspiration gets writers nowhere and means very little, but that discipline is everything and that's what helps writers get published and whatnot. I sat there, shaking my head, and mentally argued with this belief.

    Now, I'm not saying they're wrong just because I don't agree with them, but I do find it odd they don't believe in inspiration. I mean, where do they get their ideas from? Even if an idea pops into their head, the subsequent writing they accomplish from that idea will ultimately be inspired by that very idea, right? To me, inspiration is everything and I look for it everywhere. If I'm not inspired, then I'm not motivated or passionate about a piece of work. If I'm not inspired, I have nothing to work with. Whether you write a story based on a line of dialogue you overheard or an image that forms in your head, you're inspired by something and that something will indeed take you far. I do agree that discipline is important, but I don't think it's any more important than inspiration. They really do go hand-in-hand as equals.

    What say you, my fellow readers and writers? Do you think inspiration means very little in the writing process?

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    Critiques, ebooks and $50 Barnes and Noble voucher!

    I launched my author website The Weird Writing World of S.M.Johnston, also known as, and to celebrate I'm having a HUGE giveaway. My fellow YAtopians pitched in with prizes too (aren't they so lovely):

    Up for grabs is:
    So head on over to my blog for the competition details and to see the amazing new website layout.

    Wednesday, February 1, 2012


    Three years ago I hadn’t read much YA. I’d read a couple about vampires and werewolves, which I enjoyed, but when it came time to brainstorm my own book I tried to venture down a different paranormal path. I thought I was being so original. I mean, nobody sets out to be a copy cat, do they?

    I hadn’t read any angel/demon books at that point. Little did I know there were many, many writers who had similar ideas at the same time as me, and before me. After I finished my first draft and thought about querying, I saw the cover for Hush, Hush on Amazon. I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but…I cried. It was such an incredible freaking cover. And very clearly about fallen angels. Someone had beaten me to it. Since then I’ve lost count of the number of angel books, but I’ve also stopped beating myself up about it. Because while there are similarities in themes and motifs in many of those novels, the premises and outlooks on angels differ.

    So, how do we writers make our stories stand out in a market with hundreds of thousands of books?  No, seriously, how?  I’d love to know.  :)  What about names? Well, we can make-up names to ensure originality, which often annoys people. I tried to use a standard name (Anna) and have since come across countless books with MCs named Anna. I thought my love interest’s name was unique (Kaidan) until I recently heard that the boy in Cinder is named Kai.
    *kicks wall repeatedly*

    Let’s face it. It’s hard to be original. Even in my creative writing classes we were taught that there are only so many story types and plots. (You can read more about that here.)

    Just like stories, we as people have things in common, as well as ways we are different, but no two people or books are exactly the same. Have you ever met somebody who reminded you so much of someone else you knew? In physcial appearance or mannerisms? But those two people had never even met? We don’t stop liking somebody just because we see a similarity between them and someone else. We’re each individuals with distinct personalities and beliefs and writing styles.We tend to focus on what’s special about each other, and I think it should be the same for books.

    All we can do is write the story that’s bursting from our heart. If we think too much about how other writers have done it or what readers will think of it, then it’s no longer “ours.” Glaring similarities can (and should) be tweaked when possible, but at the heart of it we writers must be true to ourselves. I’m willing to forgive similarities between plots of books if I can get lost in the emotion and realness of the characters. It needs to have heart, and that can't be forced. Nobody likes a fake, so don’t try too hard. Just be yourself.

    Hugs, Wendy :)