Saturday, February 20, 2010

YA Author Kieryn Nicolas Debuts with RAIN

When Echelon Press publisher Karen Syed approached me last year with a request that I edit a YA spy novel for the company, I almost turned her down. It wasn't the subject matter that I objected to -- I'd edited YA novels before, and like those, this one was a mystery -- but the age of the author I'd be working with. Kieryn Nicolas was a high school freshman, a girl barely in her teens, for goodness sake! What could she possibly know about writing??

Quite a bit, I discovered when I finally took a look at her manuscript. Oh, sure. Kieryn made the usual newbie mistakes with her novel: too many ...'s and --'s and some chapters that ran on forever. But those were easily correctible problems. What impressed me about Kieryn's writing was her ability to create several distinctly different characters that I could care about. I saw her protagonist mature over the course of the story, changing from an up-tight child who equated emotion with weakness to a young woman who was aware of her own failings and vulnerability.

Kieryn was a delight to work with. Helping her shape RAIN into a publishable manuscript was an enjoyable experience. I'm happy to say that her novel is now available in ebook format and will be released in print later this year. I'm also happy to have Kieryn guest blogging here today. A former competitive figure skater, Kieryn sees an analogy between skating and writing and tells us why in

by Kieryn Nicolas

Writing a novel is like landing your first axel.

Okay, terminology first. No, this axel is not that little rod thing between two wheels. This axel is the epitome of all figure skating jumps. In figure skating, the axel—or double axel—or, if you’re superman/woman, triple axel—is a milestone jump. The regular axel is the jump skaters learn right before they start learning doubles, and the other axels are taught in the same pattern. Once you have landed an axel, your skating career has become a lot more intense.

It’s a similar story with writing and finishing a novel. It will take a while to complete a rough draft. The rough draft is what equates to the first time you land an axel, which will have taken, on average, about a year of work. The first axel you land will come out of the blue. Slowly you’ll blink, and realize that, while the jump was shaky and lacked power, you did not end up on your butt. The same feeling of shock and awe washes over you when you type the last word of your rough draft. Really? I landed it? becomes, Really? I finished it?

Of course, just like a rough draft is far from “done”, your first axel is far from competition worthy. During the “revision process” you start to become more consistent in landing the jump, and gain necessary power. In the writing stage, this is when you are working through plot kinks and inconsistencies.

Once your axel is consistent and powerful enough, you will start to use it. This means it will now be in your competition program, for everyone to watch and judge. In the novel process, this is when you send your work out for feedback. That also means more hard work, more revision, more hours of axel repetitions and attempts with combinations and tweaking of the plot.

Then comes the point when you realize you now “have” an axel. It is consistent, it is powerful, and it is usable. In the parallel, your novel is complete, revised, and ready. In skating this is when you move on to double jumps and beyond, using your axel knowledge. I have found that completing your first novel—or your first novel that you and others actually like—is key in motivating you to write more.

And that is exactly what I plan to do!

Rain is available from Echelon Press at

Rain is available from Amazon at


Monday, February 15, 2010

The Marvelous Marlis Day

I'd like to introduce you to a fantastic woman, a fine mystery writer, and -- I'm happy to say -- a good friend of mine, Marlis Day.

Marlis and I first met back in October, 2000 when we shared a table at a book fair in Peoria, Illinois. I'd driven down from Chicago that morning, and Marlis had come up for the day from southern Indiana. She was a teacher living in a rural area of the state; I was a nurse from a large city. One would have thought that the only thing we had in common was our love of mysteries and our desire to write them.

But as we sat there getting to know each other, we discovered we had a lot more in common than just books. Our roles as wives and mothers were similar despite the distance between us.

We also shared the same Midwestern values when it came to putting family first and self second: both of us had put our writing on hold while doing all the "mom" things that came hand in hand with raising children. I guess you could say we were late bloomers, but we sure were enjoying our new roles as published authors, Marlis with her first book and I with my third.

Now, ten years later, Marlis has two mystery series under her belt, one for adults and one for children. I'm happy to say she's here today to share with you her thoughts on writing.

"Why I Write"

by Marlis Day

If you really want to write, it will gnaw at you until you do it. It’s a calling, a need to express yourself, a deep desire to share your thoughts.

As soon as I developed the skills to write sentences and paragraphs, I began writing letters to friends, relatives, & pen pals. I was in the fourth grade. Later, as my life became more interesting, I entered essay contests at school and wrote articles for the school newspaper. When I began my teaching career in Chicago at the age of twenty, I wrote plays for my students and sent lengthy narratives home to my family. I loved doing it; it fed some deep inner need in me.

During those busy years of being a stay-at-home mom and then a working mom, it was difficult to find time to write. But I thought, and imagined, and recorded life experiences. I was forever plagued with the “what-ifs.” Since I emerged from a family of storytellers, plots formed and developed in my mind – stories begging to be told. I worked and waited. I read good books and noted how authors expressed themselves.

When the kids left home for college and the dust settled, I purchased my first computer and learned word processing. How refreshing to be able to create and delete, to let stories flow from my fingertips. I used my newly-found freedom to write articles and short stories, which I sold to magazines. I wept when I received my first check ($150.) for doing what I loved.

A few years later, I began my first book. I have never been more intense than when I wrote WHY JOHNNY DIED. My mind traveled to the fictional town and dealt daily with the host of characters I had created. What fun to determine the weather, settle scores, and kill off the bad guys at will. When it was published in 1999, I felt a love and pride surpassed only by my wedding day and the birth of my children. I now have four books in print and a fifth one scheduled for release later this year, but none of the others sent my spirit soaring like the first one. Interestingly, it’s still my best-selling book. Why do I write? How can I not?


Thursday, February 11, 2010

SnowQuake 2010!

Okay, I admit my Chicago neighborhood only got 12.7 inches of snow this week, not 45 inches like in Washington, D.C. I'll even agree that our storm wasn't as spectacular as the one that hit the East Coast. Nevertheless, 12 inches is still a lot of snow, especially when it's the heavy wet kind that clogs up your snowblower, leaving you to tackle the driveway with only a shovel. Just check out this picture of my back yard as proof of that.
What made our storm unique was that it was accompanied by an earthquake early Wednesday morning. Oh, sure. It wasn't a HUGE earthquake; the U.S. Geological Survey first rated it as a 4.3 magnitude quake, then downsized it to 3.8 magnitude. But it woke my daughter and rattled the knick-knacks on the shelves in her bedroom. Three suburbs to the west of us, it also woke my son and his wife.
Because it's almost impossible to wake me once I'm asleep, I missed out on all the action. I needn't have worried, though. My husband -- aka, Mr. Weather Channel Addict Supreme -- happily informed me of the big event even before my feet hit the bedroom floor. "How nice," I mumbled sleepily as I stumbled off to the kitchen in search of my morning cup of Coke.
I confess that news of the quake barely registered in my brain; unlike Fred, who wakes every morning with a smile on his face, a song in his heart, and a weather report on his lips, it takes me a good half hour to go from "leave-me-alone" grouchiness to "somewhat-civilized-won't-bite-your-head-off" human being. As a result, it wasn't until hours later while shoveling snow alongside my husband that I learned from my neighbors how SIGNIFICANT and EXCITING this earthquake really was.

"You're kidding me," I said. "I mean, it wasn't all that...that...BIG!"

"But it's only the third one in this part of Illinois in the past ten years!" my neighbor gushed.

"Thank goodness no one was hurt," said another neighbor solemnly.

"It was only 3.8 magnitude!" I said in exasperation. "A quake that small, I doubt any injuries would occur."

"You never know," the first neighbor said darkly. "I once knew a guy who broke his neck just rolling off a bed. We were lucky this time, but the next quake could be bigger. That's why you should always be prepared. You just never know."

And I guess he's right: you never know. So just in case I miss Illinois' next earthquake -- which I will if it happens again at night -- I'm going to commemorate this one in a special way.

I'm going to have a T-shirt made that reads "I SLEPT THROUGH THE SNOWQUAKE OF 2010".


Monday, February 8, 2010

Say It Ain't Snow, Joe!

Greetings from snowy Chicago! This photo of my city's cloud-covered downtown area appeared on local forecaster Tom Skilling's weather blog the last week in January. Between then and now, nothing's changed around here weather-wise. True, the sun did break through for about an hour on the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday. Other than that, though, the sky's been a flat wash of gray all of February.

And today it's snowing -- a wet, heavy, heart attack kind of snow that's not forecast to let up until tomorrow morning.

Now, I'm not complaining -- too much. We won't be getting the 30" that fell on parts of Pennsylvania and the East Coast states last week. But it's only 11 AM and already there's 4" of the white stuff on my front steps. Driving to work later today should be fun -- NOT!

Ah, well. I have my books to keep my mind off the snow. On the fiction side, I'm reading AND THE DYING IS EASY, an anthology of short mysteries edited by Joseph Pittman and Annette Riffle. My favorites so far? "Missing, Presumed..." by Dana Stabenow and "Jungle" by John Lantigua. Why? Beautiful use of logic and the English language to convey two great plots.

On the non-fiction side, I'm reading AMERICAN-MADE: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA, When FDR Put the Nation to Work. Historian Nick Taylor presents a fascinating account of the WPA and the men in government who made it work to change millions of lives during the Great Depression. Given our present economic woes, I recommend it as mandatory reading for the President and every single member of Congress.

Hope you all have books as good as these to make your February snow days more bearable!