About Me

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May - 2016: Upcoming, I'll be participating in Desert Sleuth's Donald Maass Workshop. I'm afraid it sold out months ago, but if you have questions, contact me.

Apr - 2016: A 2nd Kami Short will release in the Malice Domestic anthology in Bethesda MD. I'll also be moderating a panel with authors Karen Pullen, Sue Cox, and Gretchen Archer. Don't miss the fun! I'll have special edition signed copies of the 1st Kami Short from the SinC - Desert Sleuth anthology to hand out for free.

Apr - 2016: An adult short story, Big Horn Mountain Carnivores, was selected as the adult category winner in the Tempe Community Writing Contest loosely associated with Arizona State University! The e- & print release where I read a portion of the story was the greatest fun. Thank you everyone who came by! Free download here (scroll to bottom): 

Aug - 2015: Politics of Chaos was released at an event attended by the awesome NYTimes best-selling author Sara Paretsky! Also, a flash fiction entitled, "Lightning" was 3rd runner up in the national 2015 Writers Police Academy's contest.

July - 2015: NYC FBI headquarters. Many thrilling authors were there, the presentations were fantastic, and the experience was a solid 15 on a 10 point scale. Thank you to the International Thriller Writers for inviting me. Thank you to the men and women of the FBI.

MAY - 2015: The Poisoned Pen submitted Chaos Theory for the 2015 Edgar's young adult novel award. Please note that submission is NOT a nomination. Still, it is an exciting development.

MAR - 2015:Tucson Festival of Books booksigning! Great time by all.

FEB - 2015: CHAOS THEORY, released by The Poisoned Pencil, an imprint of The Poisoned Pen Press - one of the nation's largest publishers of hard-back mysteries.

MAR - 2013: Meg was honored to receive a year long mentorship from author Jan Blazanin through the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - Iowa. Ms. Blazanin praised Meg's multiple characters' distinct and age appropriate voices.

Her writing blog is located at megevonne.blogspot.com contains reviews and writing craft tools.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Spread the Writer's Love... Please?

A long time internet friend and all around great writer and person needs help. If you've never met or touched base with Julie Butcher (Yes, NYT awesomeness Jim Butcher is her brother) your life is not complete. She's giving and incredible. She's the woman whose husband built her a 'writing house' behind their home so she could squirrel away to work without interference. I believe I blogged about it once.

Basically, her husband had a chainsaw incident. You can read the details here: leighevans.com/blog/chainsaw/  

If you are able to be of assistance, there is a neat sign up form at http://www.kerryschafer.com/blog/

The last I shared twitter notes with Julie, she had received a promotion with the awesome folks at http://www.buzzymultimedia.com/  I'm sure they will have something working as well.

You can't imagine the expenses that are associated with an incident like this: transportation, time away from work, disability issues, just to name a few. (I know because in RL I'm an insurance agent.)

My heart goes out to Julie, her husband, and their children. (Dare I call them kids? I think they are quite grown up now,)




Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Package: Premise, Beginning & Ending - Death Spiral by Janie Chodosh

Review from a Writer's Prospective: Death Spiral by Janie Chodosh

Coming soon: YouTube interview & Janie reading her first chapter!

The Package: Premise, Beginning & Ending

Getting your manuscript in front of an editor or agent is easy; it’s called the slush pile. Getting them to read it with interest is a whole different story. There is a fun, if painful, game called the “Gong Review.” I’ve seen it live at Dallas Fort Worth Writer’s Conference. A large group of editors and agents sit at a table with Gong Show gongs in front of them. Then someone reads anonymous first pages, or query letters etc. The reading continues until the gong is struck twice. Even anonymous, it is a painful game as 95% never get page the first two paragraphs. The publication world is not for the faint of heart. Buck up and learn. (BUL) Warning to the gong bong holders, "We learn more about you than you learn about our books." Want to see an agent revealing their true feelings? Check out a Gong Show Review.

In the real world your manuscript may not get read past the first line, the first paragraph, or the first page. Your goal: make the reader never stop reading. Then you’ve got something that is marketable.

This takes years of writing experience, a chest high writer's toolbox, and sufficient skill and tough skin to not simply write a great story but present a great story. 
  • Option 1: you can be an unskilled klutz and blow all three of those. 
  • Option 2: you can be a great marketer and sell yourself past initial pitch sessions—but you have to deliver the goods. No great story—pack up and go home (PUGH). 
  • Option 3: sadly, you can also have the great manuscript, but not nail the pitch, the synopsis, the premise & everything else they are looking for in a prospective author. That’s how a fantastic manuscript dies for want of a second (in parliamentary terms.)

 Janie Chodosh delivers as a skilled writer and a marketer.

HER HOOK is longer than most, but it works:

“The only good junkie is a dead junkie. They’re at the bottom of everything. Down there with hookers and drunks. When a junkie dies, no one investigates. They call it an overdose and close the book.  I should know. My mom was one.” Test one, I’d keep reading and so would you.

HER PREMISE continues with…

“The day after my 16th birthday there she was, my mother, dead on the bathroom floor. Just out of the shower. Her hair still wet. I remember that. Thinking if her hair was wet, she couldn’t be dead.  But she was dead, and just like that, the only thing left of my mother was her stuff. I called Aunt Theresa, then the cops. An officer poked around our apartment and scribbled a few notes. Heroin overdose was listed as the official cause of death. Of course, Mom was a junkie. What else would she die of? Everyone bought the story.”  Test two, I’m still on board and wanting more.

HER BEGINNING

Janie Chodosh provides an immediate strong youth voice. Example: “[On her mother’s death] Sometimes for like ten seconds, twenty on a good day, I forget. For those few winks I’m like ‘Hey, life isn’t so bad. I have my own room. Munchies in the fridge. TV.’ But then the thing is back. And I pick it open again. Let it bleed.” In Janie’s tight writing, we know the main character is not in danger; she’s safe, but she’s hurting deeply inside.

Janie opens with a typical high school hallway and classroom with friends, etc. and segways into a plot & subplot appropriate science discussion—Genetics. If you knew you had an incurable disease would you want to know? BUT every scene should do three things in my opinion. Janie rises to the challenge and introduces a male compatriot into the mix with a scene invested in a verbal battle between the two characters. TENSION while introducing characters. Great work!

As a reader, the author shows me she is competent. I want to know what happens next.

What happens next? Her crime fiction thread introduction—and a secret. (Every character needs a secret!) She finds a mysterious letter from her mom’s junkie friend. Her safe, but grief stricken world tilts and, with the Poisoned Pencil twist, hard reality too. Does the junkie friend have information on her mom’s death or is she looking for a handout? You know the main character is going to visit her. You can’t wait to find out what happens. You can’t wait to return to the slums of drug addiction haunts. OK, my preference here? I felt it was too long following the family and friend angle before she starts that quest, but it’s the author’s prerogative. I trusted her to get me there.

Janie also inserts a continuing beauty element in Chapter Three—a subplot thread concerning an albino bird. Just a nice little extra giving a sense that beneath the genetic science this book will provide something more.

Test three, the editor/agent is still reading…  If you can do that with your manuscript? Great job!

Great premise, great beginning, and now on into what the writer’s call the Great Swampy Middle. As a writer, you don’t want any swamp, but it always shows up. How you navigate it is another matter and another book review.

HER ENDING

Endings shouldn’t pitter-patter, jibber-jabber around. You want the reader (usually) to hit the top of the scariest mountain bobsled run and leap into the ride. That means there has to be a build to that scary point. That means you need a fast, dangerous slide down. On the way? You nail your plot and your subplot endings, grabbing them as you slide through the switchbacks. And when you hit the bottom? Complete exhaustion and satisfaction. You WANT to climb back on again. You WANT a series (if there is a series) to continue! Janie does this in Death Spiral with great skill.

Many writers fail in this execution. S/he simply never reach the emotional height needed before the descent. Instead, s/he roller coasters up and down, rather than zigzagging straight down. You don’t want the slow down near the TOP, but inches from the safety barrier! This is a huge debut author fault. You read it over and over in manuscripts—forgivable, but sad. Janie’s ending delivers.

The second common ending error is failing to engage reader to the main character. Someone or something intercedes to solve the problem. Dah. She’s called a protagonist, not a bench warmer. Get your main character at risk and in the action. Again, Janie’s ending delivers. Score. Slam Dunk. Job done.

So there you have it: PREMISE, BEGINNING, & ENDING.  Grab your highlighter and Janie’s book and get to work peeling back the scenes. How would you make it better? What tools in her writer’s tool box does she best use and how?

A few interesting quotes from Death Spiral:

Example of Janie’s scene depiction: “…first thing I notice beside the trash and chain link is a big graffitied wall and the words ‘Blessed are the cracked for they let in the light.’ I don’t know what it means exactly, but I like it.” 

Example of Janie’s character emotion: “Heat and pressure bubble up from my gut, turning sadness to anger like graphite to diamond, the hardest substance known to mankind. I look around for something to smash.”  For a science mystery, I loved the graphite to diamond bit.

Example of character interaction and use of fault—always a good indicator of a competent author: “[Jesse] tries to lay down a rhythm. I look around, totally embarrassed because Jesse’s not that good. But Jesse’s not at all embarrassed. He doesn’t give a crap about who’s watching.”

In Death Spiral, the main character writes a fairy tale synopsis of her deceased junkie mother and her caregiver aunt. “…the synopsis would go like this: Once upon a time there were two girls who lived in a small house by the Hudson River. The older sister was level headed and calm, born of a soft September breeze, while the younger sister was wild and angry, born of ocean waves and thunder. The older sister listened to female singer songwriters and R&B. The younger sister listened to death metal and rap. The older sister liked to stay in and read. The younger sister liked to stay out and party. The older sister turned eighteen and got into college. The younger sister turned eighteen and got into drugs.  The end.”


Enjoy Death Spiral by Janie Chodosh, published by Poisoned Pencil, an imprint of Poisoned Pen Press.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review from a writer's perspective: Disconnected by Lisa M. Cronkhite

Explore and extend your writer's tool box. Checkout my review on Good reads.

Disconnected by Lisa M Cronkhite

Lisa's book coming out June 3rd 2014 explores schizophrenia and tests the normal writing conventions of tension through dialog. In fact, much of the book is constructed around interior dialog between the two aspects within the main character's mind.https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18669436-disconnected

Review: David Baldacci's new YA fantasy THE FINISHER--not your normal Baldacci.

Mixed feelings on this. Would love your take on it if you read it.

The Finisher by David Baldacci  For aspiring writers, obtain a hard copy and edit the omniscient recaps and Mary Sue* angst out. Then read the flow to see an immediate improvement to the writing style. What were the editors and Baldacci thinking?

Goodreads review:
Starts slow; ends strong. Labelled as a stand-alone but feels like the first in a series. NOT FOR THE CRIME FICTION BALDACCI FANS. BE FOREWARNED. THE TITLE IS NOT AN ASSASSIN.

As a writer, I'm warned against so many things--which Baldacci (if this is truly Baldacci) breaks in this fantasy. Something the crime fiction writer Baldacci would never do. First, the MC begins weak and spends too much time mentally verbalizing her situation when the action and dialog clearly are sufficient. This is so agonizingly repeated and time consuming that I twice put the book down. The editors weren't tough enough, didn't bother, or the author wasn't up to the task. Crime fiction writer Baldacci knows better. So what the heck is going on? This was fixable, but wasn't.

The main character goes around obtaining magical items like a common & boring RPG game--all with too much Mary Sue angst. Yes, she grows into the power she obtains, but she falls and trips into them. She is constantly agonizing over her interior conflicts--that are no brainers for even the weak minded. Then you're hit once again by the ever yet repeated omniscient character voice, "If I had known this would happen, I wouldn't..." Then you live through what is going to happen. Complete novice writer foolishness. So frustratingly irritating. This was fixable, but wasn't.

The world is rich and unique but full of inconsistencies and the main character is too easily provided luck happenstance which is basic scifi/fantasy 'never do' rules. Again a clear sign of weak writing. Again, this was fixable, but wasn't.

"Yet, you give it a four star? What's with that, Meg?" you ask. Because it was fixable and the underlying story is worth the read and the frustration. Even I, an inept editor at best, could have made this worlds better with more tightening. In fact, I heard this rather than read the book. If I'd had the hard copy, I would have crossed off every foolish recap out of sheer anger.

The ending redeems it. The one on one Hunger Game-y type ending works although the reason for it being in the book is not explained, nor why this year--of all the world's history--adds in its 2nd class women to fight. At least it wasn't on a platter and she had to go through some clever plot twists to be included as a younger. (Redeeming feature.)

Why would Baldacci chose to write this barely disguised RPG? Does he have a young daughter ready to take off on her own? If so, okay. I see where it came from. It provides moral guidance and advice. It has super tension in the last 2/3s proving that the author has what it takes to sustain an excellent story, but will he do so?(Again, Baldacci has the proven skill...) Was this a case of a major adult writer saying, "It's just young adult?" I can't believe that David Baldacci would do that. This is simply too different from his other works--and more importantly an entirely DIFFERENT WRITING STYLE AND VOICE--so different that I again ask, "Did Baldacci really write this?"

If it had been properly edited, this could be a new Harry Potter--even a prequel to Harry Potter. The world does have incredible similarities. (Could it be there was another writer? I don't know and my mind can spin conspiracies.) I hope, if there are further books, the editors will actually put their hearts into helping Baldacci raise the bar considerably.

It also gets 4 stars for aspiring writers. Take your pen and get busy editing a hard copy and see how you can easily elevate, so damn easily, raising it to 5 stars.

*Unfamiliar with the term Mary Sue? Google it. I've included Priscella Spencer's Harry Potter's list that you'll need to modify. You'll have to move down to sections 3, 4, & 6 for the obvious ones here.

DON'T take me wrong. An author includes herself in every character, but the heavy interior angst in this book screams self-insertion--the author providing a point of view that is the character's.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Excitement Builds! New Poisoned Pencil submission video is up!

The wonderful press publishing my new contemporary YA crime fiction has a great new video up on YouTube. Come take a peek and consider joining us.

http://www.youtube.com/user/thepoisonedpencil/videos

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Professional Writing Associations

I've been a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) for several years. Their advice and mentoring has been invaluable. With the signing of the two book YA contemporary crime fiction, a new world has opened up.

I've joined the Mystery Writers of America, and I've now applied to International Thriller Writers. I'm amazed at the membership benefits. I can't wait to take a comprehensive class with the ITW, but it will have to wait until next year. Maybe one day, I can help teach one.

This year, I'm slated for a master's class with author Jim Butcher this May, a second weekend class with Brett Anthony Johnston from Harvard at the University of Iowa's Summer Writer's Festival in July, and then I lucked out with a late opening lottery attendance spot for my second visit to the Writer's Police Academy in September. An MFA would be nice, but this year continues my alternative route to becoming the best I can be.

In the future, my transportation funds will go to promotion, but this year feels like a grand jewel for raising my writing skills and building that every growing writer's toolbox.

There is one organization that I want to add, but I've not yet to qualify--the Science Fiction Writer's of America (SFWA). Maybe I'll find time this year to also shop one of my SciFi short stories...