Sunday, July 26, 2015

Guestopia: Interview with author Fleur Ferris

Today, I am super excited to welcome Australian YA author Fleur Ferris to YAtopia. And very lucky we are to have her, too. Her debut, Risk, was highly anticipated and, since its launch just last week, it's already making waves. So read on to find out a little more about Fleur and Risk! Then, I strongly recommend you go out and buy a copy.

Hi Fleur, thank you so much for joining us today and massive congratulations on the launch of Risk. Let's get to it!

Is this your first published book?
What’s it called?
Which genre?
Contemporary fiction
Which age group?

Young Adult - 13 +
Is it a series or standalone?
Are you an agented author?
Yes. I’m represented by Tara Wynne of Curtis Brown Australia.
Which publisher snapped up your book?
Random House Australia.
How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?
The team at Random House have involved me, and kept me informed, every step of the way.
Do you have another job?
Yes. I am a mum of three kids and I manage our rice farm.
Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?
I have received rejections for other manuscripts, but not for Risk. Random House Australia was the first (and only) publisher to read it. 
What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?
My inspiration for writing Risk came from a number of incidents. The first occurrence was when a friend contacted me, worried about her fourteen-year-old daughter, who had fallen for a guy she had met online. It became apparent to the mother that her daughter’s new friend was much older than he said he was and she feared that her daughter was being groomed by a predator. When the mother phoned the guy to confront him, he hung up, disconnected his phone and never made contact with the daughter again. Police were unable to identify him.  
How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?
I thought about it and researched for a couple of months. Once the characters were so vivid they seemed real, and when scenes played out in my head as though I was watching a movie, I began writing.
One you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?
Once I started writing Risk, I couldn’t stop. I lived and breathed it and worked at ridiculous hours. It poured out of me in an adrenaline-fuelled rush.
How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?
One. Richard Duerden was the first person to read it. He is an Englishman teaching English in a Swedish secondary school and we met on a writers’ website called You Write On. Richard critiqued the first 7000 words of my fifth novel, Jolted. He liked it so much that he asked to read the full manuscript. By this stage I had already started writing Risk. He read what I had done and then read the chapters as I wrote them. He thought both books were very relevant to the students he was teaching. Once I finished writing the first draft of Risk, Richard asked permission to read it as a class text with his Year 8 English class. The response and feedback was so positive that the school is going to read Risk as a class text again with more classes later this year, only this time it will be in proper book form.  
Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?
After finishing the first draft I got some feedback from my writing buddies and, as a result, I revised the second half of the book and then sent it to my agent. That was the copy that went to Random House.
How many drafts until it was published?
I did two structural edits and two copy edits with my editor at Random House.  
Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?
No. The story didn’t change. It’s just much smoother, more consistent, much better.  
What part of writing do you find the easiest?
This is a difficult question to answer because each novel is so different – different plots and different characters. Risk is my 6th novel and I’ve written two more since writing it. I particularly love starting a new novel so I guess that would be what I find the easiest. Energy and enthusiasm is high, words flow, the characters are new and exciting.
What part do you find hardest?
Fixing plot holes has to be one of the most difficult and frustrating things about novel writing. When it happens, I think to myself, “How on Earth did I miss that?”
Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?
It depends. Sometimes thinking about something for a couple of days will bring the answer I need. If I can’t solve a problem in a manuscript, I’ll talk it through with someone.
How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?
So far I’ve only taken on two projects at the same time. When I’m writing a first draft, I put so much into my work that it is all consuming and I couldn’t imagine fitting anything else in (other than family). But while I edited Risk I adapted my middle-grade novel into a screenplay. Doing those two projects at once worked okay because they were so different and both stories were already written.   
Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?
I believe some people are definitely born with the talent. I’ve met people who have had no formal training as a writer, yet they can belt out a gripping story that readers can’t put down. Having said that, I’ve also met plenty of people who have mastered the craft of writing and produce compelling stories – did they learn to write? Or were they born with the talent? I have no idea.     
How many future novels do you have planned?
I have more ideas for novels than the time to ever write them all. I can’t put a figure to this question. 
Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?
Not so much.
Give me five writing tips that work for you.
Write regularly.
Read widely.
Critique the work of other writers, have your work critiqued. There are great websites and competitions that involve the exchange of critiques.
Finish what you start.
Don’t stop when you finish. Write more novels.  
And one that doesn't.
Talk about wanting to write a book.
Can you give us a clue or secret about your next book?
I have just signed a contract with Random House for my next YA novel. The title is unconfirmed at this stage, but I can say it is another contemporary stand-alone and sits well alongside Risk. It will be out mid next year.

Thank you, Fleur, we wish you heaps and heaps of luck with Risk and all of your future books. We hope you'll come back when your next book is released. For more information about Fleur and Risk, check out these links!


So there we are, Risk is surely to be a runaway success. I've got my copy! GO AND BUY IT.



Friday, July 24, 2015

10 Tips for an Outstanding Query (Plus win a query critique!) #pitchwars

People think I'm crazy when I say this, but I LOVE query letters. I love writing them, I love editing them, I love reading them. When I worked for a publisher, reading queries was my favorite part! With #pitchwars coming up and the workshop on query writing I just taught at my local library, I've been thinking a lot about queries lately.

My fellow YAtopian Lori covered the 10 basics to writing a query in her March post. Once you've mastered the basics, here are some of my tips for making your query letter really zing.

1: Infuse Voice

If your book is funny or voice-y in any way, a dry query is not going to do your book justice. It can sometimes be hard to do this without seeming gimmicky or cheesy, but a few well-chosen words or phrases can breathe true life into your query.

Author Elana Johnson presents one method that will help you infuse voice into your query. (Read that post! It's a great trick!)

One of the lines in my query for Dragons are People, Too was: "...the Commander In Chief himself has the balls to ask her to launch a secret rescue mission..." Anyone who has read DAPT can tell you that certainly sounds exactly the way Kitty would paraphrase the situation.

2: Your MC Must Act

... in every sentence of the query. You use maybe ten sentences to describe your book, right? If your character is a passenger in any of those sentences, she is seen as passive, just letting things happen to her. Your character should drive the story, not the other way around - and this needs to be true in the query as well.

Speaking of action...

3: Use Strong, Specific Verbs

List the verbs in your query separate from everything else. If you spot any "to be" verbs or any other word that kinda bores you, see what you can do to eliminate those. See how I said "eliminate" instead of "get rid of?" The latter was in my first draft. See how much fiercer of a verb "eliminate" is?

Some recent edits I've made in queries (mine and others'):

"gives him his power" --> "imbues him with power"

"when she finds out the truth" --> "when she uncovers the truth"

4: Cut the Cliches

"His world will never be the same again."

"She must make the most difficult decision of her life."

"He gets more than he bargained for."

These phrases can describe thousands of books. Find the sentences that can describe only your book. What makes your book unique?

Rule of thumb: If you have ever heard a phrase or sentence used to describe another book or a movie, see if you can re-word to make it more specific. Sometimes you can't, but most of the time you can.

5: Conflict and Stakes

The two most important questions a query answers are: What (specifically) is standing in the way of your character getting what he wants? What (specifically) happens if he doesn't get it? Do not let your query end without showing us the answers to these questions.

6: Keep Your Ego in Check

Chip MacGregor just posted on Facebook that he received a query with the sentence, "This is the most important book that can ever be written for the benefit of everyone." This is a bit of an extreme example, but you'd be surprised how many queries contain similar statements.

Look, your book is probably not going to be as successful as Harry Potter. Maybe you will, you never know. But saying that in a query is a red flag that we're dealing with either erroneously high expectations or a egomaniac.

And if you say that your book is better than all the other books in your genre/subgenre, an agent is just going to assume you either haven't read widely in your genre or you have no respect for it. Either way, it's not a good sign for the quality of your work.

7: Raise Questions without Asking Them

We all know rhetorical questions are big no-no in querying.


But you can raise questions without putting a question mark to paper.

A line from my query: "Kitty soon discovers that no one’s loyalties lay where they should – or at least where she wants them to."

Questions this line raises in the reader's mind: Who betrays Kitty? Everyone? In what way? How do Kitty's priorities differ from what "should" be?

Even though I would never actually ask those questions on paper, I am guiding the reader towards asking herself those questions. And the only way to get those questions answered? Read the book. (Cue evil laugh!)

8: Know What to Omit

Sub-plots. Characters that don't drive the plot. Weird words/concepts that slow the reader down. Exclamation points. "Fiction novel."

Self-deprecation. Irrelevant personal information. Politics. Religion (unless for a religious book). Jokes. Your age. Comments about the state of the industry or market. Agent's personal information or comments on their appearance. How long it took you to write the book. Your query history. Editorializing. Attachments (unless requested).

Leave it out.

9: Emulate the Greats

Go to a bookstore and read the back cover copy of many books and pick the five that most appeal to you. Study them, pick them apart. Take a close look at word choice, especially, and tone and sentence structure. Try to figure out what, exactly grabbed you and how it was crafted. Then, copy those techniques (not the words!).

10: Remember the Purpose of a Query

I think too many writers overthink queries because we focus so much on The Rules and the "Dos and Don'ts" and lose focus on the one and only thing a query is supposed to do.

The only thing your query has to do, the whole reason for its very existence is this:

To make the reader want to read the book. 

That's it. That's all you have to do.

I know, I know. Easier said than done.

If you are ready to query, make sure to check out Pitch Wars, coming soon!

And to make things just a little bit easier for someone, I'm giving away a query critique! Check out the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Interview with BILL CONDON!

Today, my excitement is on, possibly, the highest level it could ever reach. Scarily high levels. Yet in contrast, today's incredibly special guest tells me he is not excited. In fact, it's dangerous if he gets excited, because there is potential he might explode.

YAtopia peeps, I am beyond delighted and honoured to introduce today, the talented, the successful, superhero author, Mr Bill Condon!

My excitement is likely to force much babble from my mouth, so I will hand over to the man himself!

Bill, your publication list is seriously impressive, but do you have a favourite book? Or maybe one closest to your heart? Which was your favourite to write? Go on, tell us a little about you!

Thanks, Kate. I’m almost speechless after that incredible introduction. Superhero author? You must be a really nice person!
To be honest, most of the time I feel more like a Superzero author. I spend a lot of time failing in my attempts to write, but I think that’s probably true of many writers. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had a lot of time to try to I work out the nuts and bolts of the writing game. (I’m definitely one of the nuts.) I had my first books for children published in 1983, so the Law of Averages dictates that along with my many misses it’s only natural that there are a few books that pass muster.
When I first began I wrote lots of poems and plays, short stories, non-fiction – anything at all that helped pay the rent. It wasn’t until I was 50, in 1999, that I tackled a young adult novel. I wasn’t brave enough to do so beforehand, because I didn’t think I was up to it. But I wanted to try it before I died, so I had a go. That book was called Dogs. To my great surprise it was shortlisted in the CBCA Awards. That year Judith Clark won the Book of the Year with Wolf on the Fold. Dogs was named an Honour Book together with Fighting Ruben Wolfe, which was written by some young bloke called Markus Zusak. (I wonder whatever happened to him?)
So, to answer your question, no I don’t really have an out-and-out favourite book, but I think Dogs was the game-changer for me. After that I concentrated on young adult books.

Where did it all start for you? Were you a child writer, good at English at school? Or did writing come later on in life? If so, what set the wheels in motion?

Alas, I got almost no encouragement about anything at school, but somewhere buried in my cobwebby brain, there is a memory of a teacher who once praised a short story I wrote. She said it was ‘enthralling’. At the time I didn’t know what that meant, but from her tone I guessed it was something positive. I was probably 12 or 13. From then on I wanted to be a writer, and thanks to her, I believed I could do it. Wanting to be a writer was akin to wanting to be an astronaut back in the 60s, so there were many twists and turns before my fantasy became a reality. Sadly, I’ve long ago forgotten that teacher’s name.

Can you tell us a little about that first offer of publication? (If you can remember!) All aspiring writers dream of it being magical; was it like that for you?

When the publisher replied about Dogs she thought it had some merit, but as I’d only written for younger kids before she somehow assumed this was more of the same. If it was to have a chance, she said, it would need to be re-written so all the violence and swearing was taken out. Fortunately, once I’d explained things to her she had another look at it and decided the violence and swearing were okay after all. But in regard to acceptances in general, yes, they are magical. Not always, but usually, when you get a letter or an email back from the publisher it means a rejection. When they really like something, they ring you. Then it’s like hearing that you’ve won the lottery.

Are you involved in the publication process of each of your novels; from cover design and editing to marketing? You're published with many different publishers; are they all different, or is the process very similar across the board?

I think the process is similar with all publishers - at least the ones I’ve dealt with. Mainly my role concerns working on the text. I look at it several times after it gets accepted and it takes all those viewings to weed out the mistakes. As for the design, publishers usually show me the various covers they’ve come up with and I’m asked for my opinion. That’s more of a courtesy than my right. The publishers know far more about design than I do, so I basically leave it to them. As for marketing, this mainly comes down to taking part in any interviews the publicist can arrange, which I’m happy to do.

It's well documented that authors have to be prepared to market and promote their own books, more so than ever before. Seeing as though your career has spanned some years, do you have any insider tips you can share with us? Anything that's worked particularly well for you, and things that definitely haven't! 

One upon a time marketing was the job of the publisher. Now, as you point out, more and more, authors are expected to promote their own books. No doubt if I was just starting out, I’d be doing the same, because I’d have no choice. But as I’m much closer to the end of my career than the start, I do have a choice. My take on it is that if the book is good enough it will sell. No amount of fancy wrapping will make it a success if it’s badly written.

What's been the highlight of your career so far? And low-point?

The highlight is winning the PrimeMinister’s Award for young adult literature in 2010. I went to the award’s ceremony thinking I had no chance at all. The book, Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God, had lost out in every award it had been nominated for. It didn’t even get on the Notables’ list in the CBCA Awards. When it won, my wife Di screamed and I was so shocked I was unable to move. Hard to forget that.
As for the low points, there haven’t been any. It’s just been a joy and a privilege to have been able to work at a job I love for so many years. One of the great things has been to have received many reviews. I’m thankful for all of them, but this one gave me the biggest smile:

'Last week was the finishing pages of Dare Devils and I was quite exited about it because I wouldn’t have to read any more'.

Too funny! For all aspiring writers currently trudging through editor and agent slush piles, can you offer some 'hang-in' there advice, or ideas that might make their manuscripts stand out from the crowd?

The ‘hang-in there’ advice is simple. Believe in yourself and keep going. I had a friend who told me, ‘Nothing just happens. You make it happen’. Your book won’t get written unless you do the hard slog. Always remember that if you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect anyone else will. As for making your work stand out from the crowd, I’d forget all the bells and whistles. Write the best book that you can and that will speak volumes for you. However, one of the key things you can do is to begin your story well, hopefully with a memorable opening line. I spend a long time working on that opening. If it gets readers to keep going, all that time is well spent.

Which authors inspire you? What kinds of book do you like to escape with? Do you have one particular favourite? Something you read over and over again?

I have to confess that as a child there were never any books in my house. I read comics and watched TV. For many years my favourite book was the 1965 Nude Photography Annual, which I stole from the library. No one told me you could actually borrow books. To my eternal shame, these days I still prefer books with pictures, but not such racy ones. However, you’ll be pleased to know that I read novels, too. My favourite young adult novel of recent times is The Protected, by Clair Zorn. Such a great book! The list of good y/a novels is huge and I don’t wish to offend anyone by leaving out their title, so I’ll just name one more of my favourites, The Dead I Know, by Scott Gardner.  It won the Book of the Year in 2012 and richly deserved it. Oh, there is one more that is not too shabby – The Book Thief - by that young upstart Markus Whatshisname.

If not an author, which career path might you have taken? Do you have any secret talents that you can share with us?

If not an author I’d have been working in a factory somewhere. When I met my wife Di (Bates) in 1983 I was driving a forklift in a milk factory. I’d done that for seven years, on the graveyard shift of 11pm to 7 am. With Di’s encouragement I left that job, and eventually found my way into writing. If I have a secret talent it’s good luck. Meeting Di was the luckiest break I ever had.

And finally, what does the future have in store for you and your fans? Are there any new books on the horizon? What are you currently working on?

My latest book is The Simple Things. After it was accepted it took another two years for it to be published. That means if I get another book taken I’m going to be ancient by the time it comes out. For a few years now I’ve been working on a sequel to A Straight Line to My Heart, which was published in 2012. I write every day, but I delete much of what I produce so it’s a painfully slow process. Because of this I just don’t know when, or if, there’ll be another book. But I hope so.

Thank you so much for joining YAtopia today, Bill. We count ourselves extremely lucky to have had you. And I do hope you've remained decidedly under-excited. We wish you so much luck in the future with everything you do, and hope one day you might pop back and see us again.

If you'd like to learn more about Bill and his books, or stay up-to-date with his new releases, here is a link that might help with this.


Monday, July 20, 2015

You can't do it alone

It's called the writing community for a reason. Despite what it might appear like on the surface, writing isn't actual a solo gig. Sure, you have to do the writing on your own, but you need other people to help with:

  • Bouncing ideas off
  • Research
  • Beta reading/CPing
  • Editing
  • Prompting/Marketing/Sharing
  • Support in general.

When people tell you networking is worthwhile, they're not kidding. I've met some of the most awesome people through my writing. And they don't just help me with me writing. 

You see, I have OCD. I wrote about it on Aussie Owned & Read

This week was hard. This week kicked my arse all over the place. This week I had friends that I could turn to who understood and helped (you know who you are). 

We don't just help each other with writing. We help each other with life. 

There's someone else who needs your help. My friend Veronica is doing it tough with an insurance issue that is threatening her home, and the writing community has pulled together, with Brenda Drake at the helm, and have a charity auction underway to help raise funds for Veronica and her family. You can see the auctions here - but they close today so get in quick. 

If you miss the auctions then you can contribute to the Go Fund Me page. Every bit counts. 

Don't just be there for the words. Be there for your writer friends' lives. Because we are all like rivers, shiny on the surface with so much more going on underneath. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Waiting-On-2016 : Authors with books releasing next year!


Waiting-On-2016 or #WO2016 is a support group for authors of MG, YA and NA books releasing in 2016. We are a diverse group of indie and trad published authors who have come together to support each other and help spread the word about our titles. You can follow us by following the tag #WO2016 on Twitter and Instagram. We'll be hosting some themed chats on Twitter and will probably be hosting future events on Facebook too, so watch the tag for news! In the mean time, I'd like to introduce you to all our currently participating authors and their 2016 releases. Be sure to mark your calendars people, there are some fantastic books heading your way next year!


The Tethering Series 
YA Urban Fantasy 
Silence in the Library

YA Contemp - sci-fi cross-over 

The Aere Saga series 
Upper YA paranormal

YA science fiction 

Reaper's Rite series 
YA dark paranormal 


YA dystopian 

YA contemp thriller 
Kensington Teen

The Never Veil Series 
YA romantic fantasy 

Cheesus was Here 
YA contemp 

Magic 8 
YA contemp 
Swoon Romance

NA contemp 
Swoon Romance


YA contemp fantasy 

YA contemp 

NA science fiction 

NA contemp

YA fantasy

YA spec fic 

The Last Life of Avrilis 
YA spec fic 

This list will be updated as new authors join us or as new deals are struck! Follow our hashtag and be the first to hear about cover reveals, trailers, teasers and more! 2016 is going to be a fantastic year for books :)

If you're an author with a book releasing in 2016 that is either MG, YA or NA and you would like to join the #WO2016 gang, just let me know here in the comments or get in touch with me on social media. All authors are welcome!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Release Day Blitz: Finding Immortal by E.L. Wicker

Finding Immortal
(Bearwood Series Book Two)
by E.L. Wicker
Release Blitz

Add to Goodreads


After losing the love of her life, Ilia Rose will do anything to feel Nathaniel’s presence, even if it means freezing or drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

When she learns that Alex is tracking down the remnants of Sol’s army to deliver his own style of justice, she rushes off to find him.

On an alcohol induced killing spree, Ilia and Alex receive information that sends their hopes soaring, thus beginning a race to discover the truth about Nathaniel’s death.

Unfortunately, for Ilia, the truth may prove far more dangerous than any enemy she has ever faced.

Buy Links

Book Trailer

First Book in the Series

Fractured Immortal
(Runner up Best PNR of 2014 SpaSpa awards)
(Free for a limited time)

About The Author

E.L. Wicker lives in Hampshire, England, with her husband and two daughters. Her debut book, Fractured Immortal, was released in December 2014, and in June 2015 was short listed for a Self published and Small press award. She is a regular contributor to YATopia, Whiskey, Wine, and Writing, as well as a co-host for the Whiskey, Wine, and Writing web show. E.L. Wicker is a New Adult junkie, with a stack of NA books a mile high on her TBR list and a stack that could possibly stretch to the moon in her already read list. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog. She also regularly sets up new blogs and designs logos and banners for people at no cost.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

When all the odds seem stacked against you - PitchWars

Wait, why am I writing about odds being stacked against you and #PitchWars in the same title?

Trust me, they do.

You hear so many things on your writing journey.

  • How to develop the writing routine you must have to be successful.
  • How to do your research.
  • Who to query.
  • How to query.
  • How to handle all the rejection that comes your way.
  • Which contests to take part in.
  • Not to take part in contests.
  • Writing alone.
  • Writing with camaraderie...

The list goes on and on.

The advice is endless, and leafing through it all to find out what really applies to you is so difficult. Then we add the cold hard fact that everyone is different and therefore everyone will have a different method that works.

But it all has one thing in common.

Don't give up.

Hear that. No matter how many rejections you get. No matter how many contests you luck out of. No matter how many books you write.

If you truly want to be a writer, if you have these stories to tell that won't let you stop, then don't give up.

As long as you never give up, you will never fail. The only person who can make you fail is you. Just you. Only you.

What does this have to do with PitchWars?

PitchWars isn't just a contest. Like a lot of others, there's a community surrounding it. People participate in the hashtag and interact. It's a place where you can meet other writers, because they are the people who understand where you're going and where you've been.

It's not just about gaining a mentor and a potential agent request, it's about the connections you make to other people who are in the same place as you.

In making friends who also write, you gain a support group. They no longer have to be in person (although someone to share coffee and actual hugs with is always nice), online support is just as valid. These people understand you, They can cheer you on, or commiserate with you. They'll hear your frustrations, and share your good news. There for the tears of frustration and those of joy.

And do you know what they help you do, what they make so much easier than trying to go it alone?

They help you never give up.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Author Interview: Kate Foster

I'm delighted to have Kate Foster here answering my questions about her new book, Winell Road. Yay! Before I jump into the questions, here's a look at her MG Sci-Fi Winell Road.

Twelve year old Jack Mills lives at 5 Winell Road and probably has the world's weirdest neighbours. Like freakishly weird. And to top it off, he lives with Mum (nosy, interfering, a hideous cook) and Dad (unsuccessful inventor of the Camera Belt and Self-Closing Window). All in all, it's a boring, embarrassing, dead-end place to live. So when Jack arrives home from school one day, a close shave with a UFO is the last thing he expects. But the fact it doesn't abduct him, and that no one else - not even Mum - sees the gigantic flying saucer hovering over the street, adds a whole new layer of strange. Soon after, an alien encounter threatens Jack's life and he becomes embroiled in a galaxy-saving mission. With the assistance of his new neighbour, frighteningly tall Roxy Fox, he discovers Winell Road is hiding secrets - secrets Jack might wish he'd never uncovered.

First of all, I just want to say that I really enjoyed Winell Road. A. MA. ZING. Congratulations on getting such a fabulous book out into the world! Where on earth did you find the inspiration to write a story so full of adventure? 

Thank you so much! I will always get a buzz from receiving positive feedback about Winell Road. I was a long time in labour with it! The full-on action just happened that way, to be honest! I certainly planned for it to be fairly fast-paced. Although I didn't write the book just with boy readers in mind, I do have three sons, one of whom is an incredibly reluctant reader, so I know what a lot of boys look for in books, and in life, so letting the pace drift too much would have been a mistake. Even the 'quieter' scenes of the book have some tension or an element of creepiness to try to ensure attention stays put. But fundamentally it's an adventure story, so there was no time for scenes of reflection.

I particularly enjoyed finding out more about all of the aliens, and I was amazed that you came up with so many great names for them. How did you go about coming up with so many different species? 

The aliens came from all over the world with lots of imagination thrown in. For example, the Go'Draughts are based loosely on the moai from Easter Island. I have a fascination with ancient creations like these and I'm convinced a lot of them were left here by visiting aliens; it's the only conclusion my brain comes to. I also adore etymology, and all of the alien names are jigsaw puzzles of old words, all adjectives and nouns associated with that particular alien. Sounds like I went to a lot of trouble, and I did, but all in the name of fun!

I love the character Roxy Fox and I kind of thought that eventually Jack and Roxy would make a good pairing. Do you think they’d ever take that leap when they’re a bit older?

I couldn't possible divulge any information about Jack and Roxy's future. Goodness no. I mean, they're only twelve and thirteen respectively, far too young for any of that funny business. But there's a definite attraction. *insert winky face*

The ending blew me away—I did not see it coming! When you wrote the book, were you aware that it would end that way? (Without giving too much away, of course!) 

Yes. The ending was the first scene I plotted and wrote. It was all based around a scene in one of my favourite movies (True Lies) that still gives me goosebumps even though I've watched it a hundred times. The rest of story spread roots from there.

I love Jack’s adventurous side, but what I found particularly clever was the way you created him to be brave, yet a bit scared at the same time. Was this a difficult aspect of the book to write? 

Not at all. Jack is a mixture of two of my sons. They both summon courage when they need it, but are always a little apprehensive. They sit back and observe, take it all in, consider whether they should get involved or not. And I love them for it. These are all such endearing qualities in boys. So many of their male school friends have been over-confident, speaking and acting without thinking first, and so very sure of themselves. I'm not saying these are necessarily bad traits, but because boys like my sons don't immediately jump out from the crowd, doesn't mean they're not special or brave.

Talking of difficulties—what was the hardest part of the book to write, and which bit did you love writing the most? 

The entire first draft. Getting each scene from my head on to paper. I am a perfectionist and I do not like failing, so when the perfect words don't come straight away, I get super frustrated and convince myself I shouldn't be a writer. So I guess this leads on perfectly to what I love the most, and that's the editing! Reshaping the book sentence by sentence is the best; working out whether the character leaps or jumps, smiles or grins, strides or struts, are all things that give me great pleasure!

I want MORE Winell Road. I feel that it could go in so many great directions. Will there be more. Please? Please? Please? Please?! 

 Aw yeah! Totally. There will be at least two more books. The second is written, although it needs a polish or two, and the third is plotted--to a degree. But until I get writing it, I can't be sure if it will work out precisely this way.

There were some really funny moments that I laughed out loud to. Does writing humor come naturally to you? 

Humour is a huge part of my life and my family's life. We are a sarcastic bunch. Life can be so serious at times, particularly for children, and so if I can provide a small window of light, a giggle and snort, for someone, and not just in my writing, then I'm a happy bunny.

If you were an alien in Winell Road, which one would you rather be? 

 A Keu'Panaca--they are self-healing.

Now for a quick fire round!

Unicorn or Pegasus? Pegasus

Cat or Dog? Dog

Ketchup or Mayonnaise? Mayo

Rain or Sun? Sun

Salad or Chips? Chips

Kindle or Book? Book

Finally – if you were stranded on a planet far, far away, what one thing would you want to have with you? My family

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Kate! To find out more about Kate and her book, Winell Road, you can visit her website, twitter, or go direct to amazon

Monday, July 6, 2015

Agentopia: Caitlin McDonald

Welcome to the July edition of Agentopia! For more information and to see other Agentopia posts, click here.

This month Caitlin McDonald from Sterling Lord Literistic is in the spotlight.


Caitlin McDonald joined Sterling Lord Literistic in 2011 and has worked closely with both George Nicholson in children's and young adult, and Celeste Fine in nonfiction. Caitlin represents a select list of fiction and nonfiction clients. She is looking for adult and young adult genre fiction, primarily fantasy and science-fiction with a smart edge. In nonfiction, she is interested in food, fashion, pop culture, journalism and narrative nonfiction, particularly in the areas of anthropology and psychology, science, travel, feminist theory and women's issues, and internet culture and general geek-related works. Caitlin grew up overseas and has a BA in Creative Writing from Columbia University.  You can read more about her on her blog or follow her on Twitter @literallycait. 

Submission Guidelines

As always, I’m looking for adult and YA fiction, particularly fantasy, science-fiction, horror, and related subgenres, both commercial and literary. I especially love badass ladies, tropes and genre-bending, diverse fantasy worlds, LGBTQ characters, and heists. I also like contemporary realistic fiction about geeky characters.  
For nonfiction, I am interested in women’s and LGBTQ issues, anthropology and psychology, popular science, food and cooking, travel, fashion, art, and of course fandom, geek, and pop culture.  Can be any type of nonfiction: narrative, prescriptive, gift book, memoir, etc. 
I do not work with commercial romance fiction unless it crosses over heavily with another genre. Our agency also does not handle screenplays. 
For fiction, please send a query letter, a synopsis of the work, and the first three chapters. For nonfiction, please send a query letter with your bio and project proposal.
Email submissions are strongly preferred.  Please email your query letter and material IN THE BODY OF THE EMAIL (no unsolicited attachments) to caitlin [at]  Please include the word “submission” or “query” in the subject line.  If you would rather submit by mail, please send your materials, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, to: 
Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc
Attn.: Caitlin McDonald
65 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10012
Submissions will be open through the end of July. 

1. What are you looking for in YA/MG submissions right now? 
Geeky contemporary for YA, and high concept MG in the vein of Artemis Fowl or the Bartimaeus trilogy.  Fantasy with LGBTQ characters.  And I was raised on Alanna of Trebond, so I love well-rounded warrior ladies with emotions and personalities that haven’t been beaten out of them!  Overall, I’m always looking for something new.  Trends are very fickle mistresses and you are much better off blazing your own path rather than trying to follow the latest fad.  If you try to write to what’s currently “in,” odds are it will be out by the time your book ever sees the light of day! 

2. What's an immediate turn-off in a query, something guaranteed to get the author rejected?
I’ve talked a bit about the biggest pitfalls when querying in this blog post, but when it comes to the sample chapters, that’s a much broader and more subjective net.  The best I can say is to avoid cliché opening scenes, such as your protagonist waking up, your protagonist at a bar, your protagonist getting bullied at school (especially for MG).  I once read three queries in a row that started with a description of the moon.  Try to find somewhere to start that the agent won’t have seen before—keeping in mind that we read dozens, if not hundreds, of queries weekly!  Open with something that will really set your book apart, not just sound like more of the same.

3. What's the story got to have to make you want to represent it?
It’s got to have an amazing hook AND an amazing voice.  It has to draw me in within the first three paragraphs and keep me there all the way to the end.  A compelling plot is important, but compelling characters are essential.  Show me characters who are complex, who are subtle, who contradict themselves, who don’t always acknowledge their mistakes, who are unreliable narrators, who are likeable but do unkind things, or who are unpleasant but sympathetic, characters who make me laugh and who make me squirm.  The world is made up of complicated people, and I love seeing that reflected in fiction.