Big Announcement!

As some may know, I’ve worked at The Muse Writers Center for years as a youth fiction teacher, and it has been some of the most rewarding work I have ever done. Working with young creative writers is a constant reminder of how incredible young minds are, and how important it is to give them safe spaces to find their voices.

I am thrilled to announce that this year, my role with the Muse Writers Center has advanced to The Muse Youth Program Coordinator, which has given me the opportunity to be involved in every aspect of community outreach the muse offers to support creative youth.

The teenagers I get to work with are incredible. I have a student who is near completion on their first novel at only seventeen years old. I have students working on novels in verse, and poets who challenge conventional poetry formats in ways most adults would be too intimidated to try. That’s one of the most incredible parts of working with young creatives–they come from a place of hope and excitement that the world, specifically the literary world, often crushes over time. Their excitement and bravery constantly inspire me, and hopefully, in the long run, I can inspire them a little too.

Our 2021 Fellows at the Hampton Roads Writers Conference.

That’s my big news for this Quarter. I hope to serve this vibrant youth community well! The best part of this program is that this Spring and Summer, we’ve managed to offer our youth classes and events for free. Finances should never be a limitation and I am so proud to be part of community that can offer their resources to everyone.

Of course, I’m still writing my novels in the background. I’ll will never stop. I love it too much, and when I’m surrounded by these amazing young minds, I am reminded of why I started writing children’s literature in the first place.

Young Writers deserve good stories, and safe place to create their own. I am honored to have the opportunity to help provide both.

Keep writing Friends,

A Golden Fury book review

A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I enjoyed this book, for me, it had no big zing. The writing was solid, but I like books with lines that are so beautiful I have to read them over and over again, and this book didn’t have that lyrical style I prefer. The story was well-plotted, but I saw every twist coming from a mile away. The magic system is clear, but much of that is because the idea of a philosopher’s stone having great power at the cost of a curse isn’t exactly new.

That being said, the curse was very well handled, and I enjoyed seeing a young girl find herself by herself. It was refreshing to have a story that let a toxic relationship break down and not be instantly replaced. Samantha let Bee (the MC) stand on her own, and find happiness alone, which I loved. Though I didn’t love this, I have quite a few fiction students I’d recommend this book too.

View all my reviews

Horrid- I’d eat this book.

Horrid’s first page is one of the best beginnings I’ve ever read.

Horrid by Katrina Leno

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Karina Leno’s Horrid is like the old house it takes place in, a typical haunted mansion that you’ve seen a hundred times, but you still want to explore the dark insides.

I was excited when I came across the Owl crate addition of HORRID in a used bookstore, especially since the timing aligned with my YA Horror binge. I loved the cover, and the creepy poem in the beginning hooked me immediately. Leno’s use of the old rhyme is stellar, and as a writer that loves to add poetry to prose, I’m 100% partial to a creepy nursery rhyme being part of a novel.

That said, I went in with low expectations. I hadn’t heard raving reviews for Horrid. After all, I found my copy in a used book store less than year after it’s release.

Maybe that’s why I loved this story so much! I got a much better book than I anticipated. I adored the creepy house and garden, the Agatha Christie references, and the simple, classic feel to the writing. The first page is perfect, one of the best beginnings I’ve ever read. Horrid doesn’t have a flashy plot. It’s not groundbreaking. The characters are familiar because I’ve seen similar ones before. But Horrid is creepy, and sometimes I want less flash, more comfort. Horrid is a thunderstorm read, a book you grab over a quiet fall weekend and read by the window while it rains. Exactly what I needed at the time. I devoured it in two days.

I have a feeling the ending might throw some readers, which I can understand. If you aren’t prepared for a horrid ending (Sorry about the pun, I couldn’t resist), or you’re looking for something truly terrifying or out of the box, I recommend passing on this one. I happen to be in the mood for classically creepy when I read this, so I loved this book. That said, I’m ready to find an out of the box YA horror now.

View all my reviews

Book Review: WHAT BIG TEETH by Rose Szabo.

I picked up Szabo’s debut, What BIG TEETH, during my last YA Horror binge. It’s a story about an everyday girl forced to go home to her creature-filled family. A story about generational trauma, and what makes a monster.

Yes, I binge genres. Think of it as wine tasting. Is that cabernet really delicious, or do I just like Cabernet? Same goes for books. Do I love this latest YA horror because it’s good, or because I adore a good fright? Only way I can know it to read six horror stories in a row.

I’ve never been the type that picks a book because of the title and cover. I’m more of a concept person. But when I saw the the faux rip revealing wolfish fangs above the words What BIG TEETH, I have to admit, I fell prey to the marketing. It was the first Horror book I read in my line up. I was intrigued.

Unfortunately, my intrigue waned with the rather slow beginning. Don’t get me wrong, What BIG TEETH isn’t the slowest book I’ve ever read, and it wasn’t slow enough for me to put down. Parts of the writing hooked me deep enough to stay. The monsters were incredible, dare I say, unique.

It’s a serious challenge to come up with something unique in this over-saturated, over-stimulating YA speculative market, but Rose Szabo pulled it off. What Big Teeth gets points for creativity. I haven’t read a book with such unique creatures in a very, very long time.

In fact, it was almost too creative. As the story unraveled, things went from imaginative to weird. I’ve heard What Big Teeth described as overtly odd, and it’s true. The first half of the book rambles through the plot. It leans on the creatures and intrigue of an old mansion and mysterious, handsome archetype a little more than necessary. It’s not scary. It’s strange. Many readers might be disappointed by that.

I appreciated the oddities. The book is about a family of outcasts, creatures the world rejects because they’re weird themselves. It’s an interesting peek into the interior of what something other might live like, and how living on the outskirts might effect relationships, family, and personal value for generations to come. That is the theme of What Big Teeth, someone different finding their place in a world that refuses them, and how to outlive mistakes of the past.

For some, this book might not resonate. I can understand that. If you’re looking for an old fashioned fright, this wouldn’t be my first recommendation, or even in my top ten. While is sits comfortably in horror, I suspect many readers might be disappointed with the lack of classic horror moments.

But if you’re looking for a horror story that turns the concept of a monster on it’s head and explores what it might be like to exist in a world not designed for you, read this.

What Big Teeth isn’t typical, and I think that’s exactly what Szabo intended. And thought it’s not my favorite book, I’m glad I read it, and will be recommending it to many of my students, specifically the ones who like weird, twisted, and strange

Those students are always my favorites. I can’t to share this with them.

Keep reading everyone,

How to Write a Story’s First Page

Beginnings. They can be the easiest part of writing a new story, or they can be hardest. And there are so many incredible first pages out there. What makes those first few pages so compelling?

I’ve thought about this often, especially since I teach a class called “Great Beginnings” at the Muse Writer’s Center. In fact, I’ve studied the concept of beginnings extensively, pouring over craft books, going to conferences, and spending hours tucked between my library’s shelves, opening book after book to read the first few pages. After more hours of study than I can count, I’ve learned that almost every great beginning has four specific things in common.

  • A hook (especially if you’re a new, unestablished writer)
  • Setting to ground the reader
  • Introduction to a Main Character (note the word Introduce)
  • Clues to the story’ genre and theme
  • A story problem with an emotional impact

It sounds simple until you need to squeeze all four factors into one page. One page is about 250 words. Around 75 sentences. Three, four paragraphs tops. How do you do this in a few paragraphs? After numerous blunders and a few successes, I’ve come up with a formula for a solid first page.

first line hook+ interesting world detail + character introduction + instant emotional distress.

I know, it sounds mean, instant emotional distress. But it works.

The first line hook is simple: write a single line that demands readers’ attention.

Subtle world building is important too, especially in fantasy, which tends to be where my work lands. No matter what genre your story is, it’s important to remember what makes world details important at this stage of the story. It isn’t the world details themselves, but how the main character views those world details.

The character’s voice has it’s moment to shine in a first chapter. Readers learn about characters based on what type of words they use and what they talk or think about. An adult will think about different things than a child will, and someone from the 1880’s will speak with very different phrasing than someone might today. Clues to what kind of story your telling can be given through word choice and tone, which can establish a creepy/funny story. A comedy probably won’t start on a dark, rainy night, but a scary story might. A middle grade comedy might start in a treehouse on a summer afternoon. It’s incredible how powerful word choice can be.

The backbone of this formula is the emotional distress. What does the character want, and why can’t they have it. What do they want to protect, or save, or gain, and what do they have to loose.

It’s easy to jump in to the “big” story problem, but in those first pages it’s best to use what I call a “perspective” problem. Something that matters to the main character on a small scale. Something that allows readers to get to know your awesome MC (main character) while also giving the reader time to care about what happens to the MC.

This “perspective” problem happens in so many books I couldn’t possibly name them all. In Harry potter, Harry is mistreated by his caretakers. Wizardry is non existent until Hagrid shows up. In the Hate You Give, Starr is regretting going to a party and worried about her social place in the world. A friend getting shot by the police isn’t a flicker in her mind. If we didn’t have those first chapters to get to know these two incredible characters, what happens to them later wouldn’t have as much impact.

That’s the magic of incredible beginnings–making the ordinary extraordinary, and the extraordinary relatable.

Hope this helps someone as much as it’s helped me. I’d love to hear other takes on great beginnings too!

Keep writing everyone,