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The new Gems novel Thunderdog will be out next Tuesday on July 30th! Here’s the complete first chapter…
Miyuki looked too cute to die. Her long black hair was dyed cotton-candy pink, and her face was powdered white with pink lipstick and pink hearts added to her cheeks. She wore pink pants with white polka dots and pink high-top sneakers. Her white T-shirt had the cutest puppy dog with the words LOVE ME printed above.
She stood in a narrow street filled with pedestrians as far as the eye could see. Covered with reds and pinks, each store along this street advertised cakes, candies, and sweets of all types. It projected cuteness to the tenth power.
Miyuki adjusted her pink-rimmed glasses and observed. Some of the pedestrians were “normal” while others wore similar clothing to hers. The Harajuku Province was the absolute center of Japan’s youth and fashion culture, inspiring fashion designers from around the world with its eclectic style. A cute and childish style called Kawaii in Japanese. And here on Takeshita Street was the center of it all.
Miyuki finally spotted her target, a young woman with a Sailor Moon canvas handbag. The woman dressed normal and plain, fitting in with all the other normal and plain people. When the young woman walked by, Miyuki waited until she was farther down the street before tailing her.
Takeshita Street was crowded, but manageable. As Miyuki weaved back and forth among the people, she always presented a pleasant Kawaii smile on her face. When people held up their phones to snap a pic of her outfit, Miyuki waved and blew them each a kiss. But she didn’t stop walking.
When the young woman with the Sailor Moon bag ducked inside a nearby business, Miyuki followed her inside.
It was a small local boutique which had a section of bright Kawaii-style clothes on a row of metal racks, but there was another section full of Western-inspired fashion as well. Glancing at the tags on the clothes, Miyuki could tell they were all done by local Japanese designers. She liked this boutique and would love to hang out and shop, but she was here on business.
Sailor Moon acted nervous. She pretended to shop, but wasn’t doing a good job of selling it. Fidgeting, looking around the store, barely glancing at the clothes her hands were separating. Miyuki could tell she wasn’t a professional.
Sailor Moon then slipped something in the back pocket of a pair of white jeans before hanging up the garment on a different rack to make it stand out. Sailor Moon didn’t linger. She raced out of the business like a scared rabbit.
Miyuki resisted the urge to shake her head in dismay. She stayed in the Kawaii section of the store for a couple of minutes, just to make sure Sailor Moon wasn’t coming back. Then she moved over to the other section. Miyuki picked through some of the jeans, making a face as if they were too boring for a fun Kawaii girl like herself. Then she clapped her hands together as if she “discovered” the white jeans. Miyuki took them off the rack and put them over her own waist, pretending to see how they looked. When she did this, Miyuki slipped her fingers inside the pocket and felt the thumb drive inside. She palmed the drive before making another face, as if she didn’t like the jeans after all. She placed the white jeans back on the rack.
It was all a big production in case anyone was watching.
As Miyuki searched through another rack of clothes, her eyes scanned the business. Since she saw no one paying attention to her, Miyuki took her time moving towards the exit. She was almost through it when a Chinese woman blocked the doorway. On instinct, Miyuki backed away and bowed, letting the older woman come inside.
The Chinese woman sighed like a disgusted horse before moving around Miyuki to enter the boutique.
And that was when it hit her. Miyuki knew that woman.
Her heart pounded. Miyuki knew she should head down the street immediately and not look back. But she couldn’t help herself.
The Chinese woman had reached the white jeans and checked the back pocket. Confused, she checked all the pockets.
Now she was certain. The woman was one of the three Chinese intelligence agents who kidnapped Robert and Nadia on that train in Utah. The woman was always angry and serial-killer crazy.
After she finished searching the white jeans, her eyes went straight to Miyuki, as if the woman could smell another operative in the room. The always angry woman tilted her head, and her stoic facade switched to pure hatred.
Her cover now blown, Miyuki sprinted out of the boutique and weaved through the thick crowd on Takeshita Street. Not hiding the fact that she was running for her life.
Miyuki glanced over her shoulder.
The always angry woman was on her like a police dog, weaving just as fast through the crowd and keeping an excellent pace. The woman concealed something in her right hand.
Miyuki convinced herself it was a weapon.
She had to circle around a group of kids holding hands before Miyuki could look over her shoulder again. Now she could see the knife the woman was holding.
Miyuki gripped her woven handbag tight. It contained the only weapons she had on her. But the always angry woman was only keeping pace with her, not gaining. If Miyuki was lucky, she could lure the woman inside the Harajuku train station bathroom and knock her out. Then Miyuki could jump on the next train to escape.
But that plan fell through the moment a large Polynesian man in a blue suit impeded her path. His name was Kawiki.
He has also been on the train in Utah.
Miyuki swallowed. This made things complicated. Now two Chinese intelligence operatives were closing in on her from opposite ends of the street. Each operative quite capable of killing her. Ducking into one of the local shops could be an option. But Miyuki didn’t like the idea of getting trapped in a corner. She always preferred the freedom to maneuver.
Then what should she do?
Miyuki spotted the white rubber tire of a pink bicycle, its rear end poking out from behind one of the businesses. Most likely it was a little girl’s bike. Hope filled Miyuki’s chest. She headed straight to the business. It was an outdoor candy shop. There was a man behind the counter.
A little girl asked the man something in Japanese. It convinced Miyuki that the man was her father.
Miyuki went up to the counter and gave the man all the money she had.
“What’s this for?” the man asked in Japanese.
“For borrowing your daughter’s bicycle, Aragoto.”
Before the man comprehended what she meant by that, Miyuki grabbed the pink bicycle and hopped on.
When Miyuki looked back up…the always angry woman was ten feet away.
She raised her arm. The knife’s blade gleamed as it left her hand.
The knife sailed over her head and bit into the wood wall behind her.
The always angry woman lunged for her.
Miyuki stood on the right pedal, rolling the bicycle to her right as she brought up her left leg to kick the woman hard in the stomach. This pushed her out of the way, allowing Miyuki to pedal her way through the open end of the street.
After weaving through some pedestrians and making progress down the street, Miyuki glanced behind her. No one was in pursuit.
Miyuki’s heart slowed down and she allowed herself a grin. It was only a quick chase, but Miyuki quite enjoyed the rush of adrenaline it created. Being a Gem opened up many situations that required heavy amounts of adrenaline. She couldn’t wait to tell Emma and the other girls about her mission.
Miyuki reached the end of Takeshita Street and stopped. Here, there was a busy intersection of passing vehicle traffic. If she biked down this cross street, Miyuki was confident she could find the next train station that would take her back to downtown Tokyo. There, she could deliver the thumb drive.
Miyuki made the turn and merged into the public bike lane. These special lanes were a part of every Japanese road system since bicycles were a popular way to get around the city. Miyuki traveled a little more than two blocks before she heard an engine rev behind her.
She noted a driver was getting too close to the bike lane. At first, Miyuki thought the driver was only careless. But when she peered through the clear windshield, Miyuki noted Volleen Woo behind the right-side steering wheel. His dangerous eyes focused on her like a snake.
Miyuki’s heart raced again and she pedaled as hard as she could. Her bicycle flew down the bike lane as she passed other bikes like they were cardboard cutouts.
Miyuki took a hard left, leaning her body into the turn and allowing her sneaker to scrape across the pavement to create enough friction to turn her bike a little quicker.
As she completed the turn, the squeal of tires echoed behind her as the Mitsubishi SUV whipped around the corner and accelerated towards her.
Other bicyclists complained about the road hog by slapping his side windows as the vehicle moved up the bike lane, causing most of them to veer out of the way.
Miyuki pumped her legs as hard as she could, her butt rising from the seat as she used her leg muscles to squeeze every kilometer of speed out of the bicycle.
It wasn’t enough.
The engine raced behind her. So close that she didn’t dare peek.
Miyuki felt a hard bump that almost made her wipe out.
Another shove from the SUV and her bike wobbled.
The car horn blared. The shrill it made stabbed her eardrums.
Miyuki’s heart was pumping out so much adrenaline she knew she would be high for at least a week.
She raced along the narrow ledge between them.
Wanting more and more of it.
But Miyuki knew she would die if she stayed in this bike lane. She veered right, sending her bike straight into oncoming traffic.
There were three lanes of cars going in this direction. Miyuki aimed for the space between the lanes and pumped the pedals as hard as she could. She weaved between the three lanes of traffic as best she could. Luckily, traffic in this part of the city was heavy, so it wasn’t moving fast. Still…one wrong move and Miyuki would crack her head through a windshield.
Left, right, left again. The traffic whipped by.
She was doing well. Defying the odds. Staying alive.
The Mitsubishi raced along the left side of the street. Trying to keep pace with her. Hoping Miyuki would either crash or come to her senses by veering back to the legal flow of traffic. But the Chinese didn’t know her very well.
Miyuki kept weaving through oncoming traffic. Determined to make this work. Getting addicted to the rush of danger. Getting used to the idea of not dying.
As she approached a side street, the Mitsubishi was to her left. A clear lane to her right.
Miyuki gambled. She made a hard right at the side street, leaning her body into the forty-five-degree turn and leaving the Mitsubishi behind as it sailed through the intersection going in the wrong direction. Volleen Woo would have to do a quick U-turn, move through traffic, then take a left at the intersection against traffic to resume the chase.
Miyuki had bought herself some—
The other car came out of nowhere. Miyuki barely had time to register its existence before the Toyota pulled out in front of her and she felt herself flying over the hood like a bird. Miyuki didn’t think about it, but her gymnastics training kicked in automatically as she tumbled forward into a roll, letting herself tumble over and over to dissipate the forward momentum before her body came to a complete stop.
Miyuki stared at the sky. Yes, she was still alive.
Her hands stung, most likely due to her palms rubbing against the pavement. But otherwise, she was good. Miyuki slowly got to her feet. The pink bike lay on the ground with its front end crushed. It had taken most of the impact while Miyuki sailed over the hood. The driver was out of his vehicle. He looked surprised, as if amazed that this teenage girl wasn’t dead.
Miyuki heard more squealing tires. It was the Mitsubishi clearing the intersection and racing towards the accident.
Miyuki needed to run. She took a step forward and almost fell on her face. Her knees ached. They weren’t broken, but hitting the pavement still made them stiff and sore.
The Mitsubishi slid to a stop. Volleen Woo, the always angry woman, and Kawiki got out of the car.
Miyuki hobbled away, getting about three steps before Kawiki restrained her. She was so exhausted after her bicycle-chase workout that there was no way Miyuki could fight back right now.
The always angry woman glared at her. “Bitch,” she said in Mandarin Chinese before slapping Miyuki across the face. All Miyuki could do was hold her chin up in defiance. The woman raised her hand again.
But Volleen Woo stopped her. “Focus on the task, shall we?” he said in Mandarin.
The always angry woman restrained herself.
“Hello there,” Volleen Woo said in English. “Ruby, isn’t it? You’re a long way from Utah, aren’t you?”
Miyuki didn’t answer.
“Do you remember us? Well, we certainly remember you.”
“You threw us off a train,” the giant Polynesian man said in English, as if the girl had hurt his feelings.
“Where are your friends? Should we be expecting them to come save you?”
Miyuki said nothing.
“Give us the thumb drive and we’ll be on our way.”
“What thumb drive?”
The always angry woman slapped Miyuki again.
Volleen Woo sighed. “I bore of such repetitive games. It’s a ridiculous waste of time. We know you have it, but fine. We’ll go through the motions if you wish.” He addressed Kawiki. “Give the young lady a full body search and don’t be a gentleman about it.”
Hello from Oklahoma.
I hope you and your family are doing well. Here in my state, some places are beginning to open up from the virus lock down. Normally I’m an optimist but I’ve decided to keep my own self-distancing habits up for a while as well as wearing a mask in public settings. Let’s hope things get back to a “new normal” later this year. Now, let’s switch gears and talk about something fun!
At the beginning of this month, I began brainstorming a new Gems novel. The way I start that process is by asking myself some questions. Which Gems character will this book focus on? What will the book reveal about them that a reader doesn’t already know? I might ask myself where will this new adventure take place? I like picking locations that I’d love to visit one day. This makes researching fun. How about a foot chase along the great wall of China? Or a motorcycle pursuit through the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii?
Hey, that sounds awesome! *writes down idea feverishly in a notebook*
Where was I? Oh yes…
Next, I decide what kind of novel it will be. It could be a standalone adventure with some character development thrown in. Or maybe another Venomous vs. The Authority confrontation. There could also be an interesting story element or subplot that started in another book that I could expand and explore in a new book.
After that, the real brainstorming begins. What’s the Gems mission? What do they have to do? What horrible tasks can I create that will force the main character to do things they don’t want to do? Soon I place these tasks into a three-act structure like you see in the movies. In the first act we find out what the Gems have to do. In the second act they begin their adventure and encounter tasks and obstacles that are in their way. The third act is the fun act. That act will always have some huge mountain to climb in terms of a character’s task. It will be the most dangerous. Most dramatic. And hopefully the most exciting part of the book in terms of bringing all the story and character elements together to make a great ending.
When I’ve brainstormed all those various elements, I now have a road map for the next part of my process–which is the actual chapter-by-chapter outline of the novel itself. But I’ll tell you more about that in another email.
What would you like to see in the next Gems novel? More spy gizmos? More action? More kissing with car chases and explosions? Reply and let me know in the comments below.
Stay safe and all the best,
I recently finished Winter by Marissa Meyer. What an excellent closing novel to the Lunar chronicles series. This is one of the best young adult science fiction series I’ve ever read. Marissa Meyer does a fantastic job re-imaging bits and pieces of the old fables such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and turning them into an original and exciting space adventure. I highly recommended the entire Lunar Chronicles series.
Think you know young adult literature? Ha! Prove it and take the hardest YA quiz. I did HORRIBLE. Eleven out of twenty-five. (Yes, I must be reading the wrong young adult novels) How good will you do?
The Gems are back with a new adventure. Here’s the blurb…
Can they save thousands of teens from becoming weapons of mass destruction?
In Japan, sixteen-year-old Miyuki always felt like a square being pounded into a round hole. She turned her back on tradition and earned the fury of her father. The father who burned her with a cigarette and sent her off to live with strangers in a strange land. Now Miyuki is one of the Gems, a group of four talented young ladies who spy for a mysterious world-wide organization known simply as The Authority.
When a new energy drink called Thunderdog causes a rash of violence at their high school, Miyuki and the Gems are sent to Japan to find out why. The visit forces Miyuki to see her father, now a senior executive of the beverage company that produces Thunderdog.
As Miyuki struggles with family, the Gems uncover a dark trail of conspiracy, bigotry, and a diabolical plan that would see most of the great cities of the world burn.
Can Miyuki convince her father to help? Can the Gems stop thousands of teens from becoming weapons of mass destruction?
Thunderdog is the third book in The Gems Young Adult spy thriller series that features genuine characters, heart-racing action, and lots of international intrigue. Think Gallagher Girls meets Totally Spies.
The eBook is at a special price of $2.99 (£1.99) for only the first 7 days of its release. Here’s where you can download your copy…
(Please note: This post contains affiliate links)
Or you can order the paperback at these fine booksellers online…
Have a great August!
All the best,
I have a new book out! Tomorrow Always Lies is the second book in the Gems young adult spy thriller series that features strong characters, girl-power bonding, riveting action, and lots of fun. Here’s a little bit about what the book is about plus I’ll give you a peek at the first chapter too!
What if you met the perfect boy, but discovered he was an android? Sixteen-year-old Nadia has an MIT scholarship waiting for her after high school. That’s why a mysterious organization know as The Authority recruited her to become a spy. The girl from Saudi Arabia now lives with three other talented girls known as the Gems. They go on dangerous missions all over the world. But first, they must do their homework.
When Nadia first met him, Robert was an awkward boy with striking green eyes, hardly someone on the FBI’s most wanted list. But when Robert reveals his secret, Nadia and the Gems are thrown into a cross-country chase dodging FBI agents, Russian mercenaries, and a Polynesian giant named Kawiki.
As the world’s intelligence agencies close in on the Gems, Nadia is forced to choose between her warming feelings for Robert and the oath she swore to her friends and the Authority.
Can Nadia and the Gems find sanctuary for Robert or will his self-aware mind be deleted forever?
Here’s a sample of the first chapter:
Across the frozen lake, an eight-dog sled team pushed ahead at a relentless pace, their soft fur wet from the blowing snow, which pricked Nadia’s exposed skin and blinded her view ahead. Her hands tightened on the reins. The arm clinging around her torso also tightened, a reminder that she wasn’t alone. Emma clung to her because it was ten degrees below zero and because her friend was scared, just like she was.
Nadia glanced over her shoulder. The icy wind had freed Emma’s long hair from under the hood of her parka. It flew around like a giant blond flag.
Nadia craned her neck. The snowmobile was still chasing them. The driver revved his engine, desperate to overtake the sled. The second man behind the driver held something in his left hand. As he aimed it, the pistol gleamed in the Alaskan sunlight.
Nadia and Emma ducked as a bullet pinged against the side of the sled. She pulled the reins and made the dogs veer to the right. That way the left-handed shooter would have a more difficult time trying to aim while still behind his friend.
“How far out is Olivia?” Nadia asked.
Emma squeezed closer while taking a deep breath to calm herself. She took out the portable radio and squeezed the button.
“Hello? Olivia? This is Emma. Where are you? We need—”
Another gunshot bounced off the sled, causing both girls to jump.
“We need help! How far out are you?” Emma asked.
The radio crackled to life. “During a mission, we use our code names, you twit!” the girl’s voice said in a sharp British accent. “Emerald is ten minutes inbound. What’s your situation, Black Opal?”
“Our situation? Um—not good. Super-stressed right now. Being chased and shot at.” Emma peeked over Nadia’s shoulder. “And our poor dogs are getting tired.”
“Roger. Any contact with Ruby? Over.” Olivia asked.
“Nope. We haven’t seen her for, like, an hour. I hope she’s okay.”
“Roger. Keep your heads down. I’m coming as soon as I can. Emerald out.”
Emma touched Nadia’s shoulder. “What do you think?”
“We can’t keep up this pace for ten minutes,” Nadia said.
Emma pointed at the dogs. “They look so tired. I wish we could stop and let them rest.”
“I know. But if we stop, I’m afraid we’ll die.”
“Please don’t say die.”
“Do you have any cosmetics left?” Nadia had left her purse behind.
“Why, do you need some lip balm? My lips are cracking too.”
Nadia forgot that Emma was still new to this. She waited for her friend to catch up.
“Oh. You mean those cosmetics. Yes, I have some Red-hot lipstick. Raise the Roof rouge. Forest Fire mascara.”
“That’s good. If they catch up, we might have to use them.”
“What’s that over there?” Emma pointed to where the frozen lake met the shore. Two big snow tractors plowed through the snow at full speed. Each tractor was filled with more men, who didn’t look too friendly. The tractors drove onto the ice.
“Those snowmobile goons have friends,” Emma said.
Nadia pulled at the reins and guided the tired dogs away from the tractors.
Now the snowmobile and the tractors were closing in.
Nadia whistled and snapped the reins to encourage the dogs to go faster.
“Don’t push them so hard,” Emma said.
“I’m sorry, but do we have a choice?”
The dogs ran hard, their tongues hanging out as they huffed and puffed. There wasn’t much more they could do.
Until they came across a giant hole in the ice.
Nadia pulled back on the reins. “Whoa! Whoa!”
Luckily for Nadia, the dogs saw it first, kicking their legs as they tried to stop themselves on the ice. But the sled’s momentum still pushed them all forward towards the giant hole.
Nadia grabbed the handle and pulled the sled’s brakes, which dug into the ice. Metal scraped against ice, creating a spine-tingling squeal before the sled came to a stop.
“Great. What do we do now?” Emma asked.
The opening was at least one hundred meters across. Nadia reasoned that running around the edge of the hole would give the tractors enough time to catch them.
“Should we try to swim across?” Nadia asked.
“No way. We’d freeze to death.”
Emma was right. There was no choice.
“Do we surrender?” Nadia asked.
Judging by her face, Emma didn’t like that idea either.
The girls turned to watch the two tractors closing in on them. When they reached within forty meters of the girls, the tractors stopped, allowing four goons from each tractor to climb out. The hard-looking men smiled at each other with a strange, wicked glee. They knew they had these girls trapped. The two on the snowmobile also arrived on the scene.
All ten men closed on the two girls.
“I don’t like this at all,” Emma said. “Will they let us surrender?”
“Maybe we should hope they kill us,” Nadia said.
Emma gave Nadia a haunted look, realizing her point. Ten grown men. Two young girls. A remote part of Alaska.
No one would hear them scream.
Nadia’s thoughts were interrupted by a snowmobile revving its engine as it burst from the trees at full speed. A girl with long black hair was at the controls. She streaked across the ice and cut in front of the men. The girl dropped a small object on the ground.
As the snowmobile cleared the men, the object flashed and went off with a loud bang. The sound punched the ice, causing it to shatter under the men’s feet, dropping them all into the icy water.
The snowmobile headed for the dogsled and slid to a stop.
“Who wants a ride?” the girl with long black hair asked. Her light skin with cool pink undertones appeared much paler thanks to the weather. But Miyuki’s shiny personality still shone through.
“So happy to see you.” Nadia hopped out of the sled and climbed on the back of the snowmobile.
But Emma didn’t move. “We can’t leave these dogs behind.”
The tired animals waited for the girls to tell them what to do next.
“There’s no room,” Nadia said.
“We admire your compassion,” Miyuki added. “But that may be difficult.”
The men were dragging themselves out of the water. The shock of the cold still made their bodies sluggish. But they were recovering.
Emma didn’t move.
“The dogs should be fine,” Nadia said. “They’re used to this type of weather.”
“Time is short,” Miyuki said. “We should get the hell out of Dodge City before those bad hombres come back.”
Emma glanced at the men as they shook off the chill and attempted to stand back up. Then she looked at the dogs, who waited obediently for the girls. Eight clouds of breath coming from eight snouts. Emma lowered her head and pushed herself to the snowmobile. She sat behind Nadia and Miyuki.
The men were picking up their guns. Would they work after being underwater?
Miyuki didn’t wait to find out. She pulled out another piece of “special” cosmetics, popped the bottle top, and tossed it to the side. The bottle hissed as thick smoke poured out. The wind carried the smoke across the frozen lake, obscuring the men’s vision. Miyuki gunned the engine and raced the snowmobile around the edge of the one-hundred-meter hole.
Nadia looked over her shoulder as the smoke now surrounded the men, causing confusion as to where they could safely go without falling back into the lake. Miyuki kept the snowmobile at full throttle, allowing the three girls to leave the men far behind.
Soon a helicopter appeared overhead. Emma’s radio came to life.
“Black Opal, this is Emerald. Is that Ruby driving the snowmobile? Over.” the girl with the British accent asked.
“Yes,” Emma replied. “She saved our bacon back there.”
“Roger. Stand by. I’m coming into land.”
The helicopter found a nice patch of flat snow and settled down. The girl at the controls had curly ribbons of golden-brown hair squashed by a radio headset. Her brown face was accented with bronze undertones.
The three girls abandoned their snowmobile and climbed aboard the aircraft. When everyone was safely inside, the girl pilot, Olivia, pushed the throttle up, and the helicopter rose from the ground as it once again became airborne.
Emma tried to say something, but the girls couldn’t hear over the helicopter’s engine noise. Olivia pointed at the headphones hanging near her seat. All three girls put on a pair.
“I’m so glad I found you,” Olivia said over the headset.
“We’re glad both of you found us,” Nadia added.
“No problem. We buddies.” Miyuki put her arms around Nadia and Emma.
But Emma didn’t look happy. “We have to go back.”
“Go back? Why?” Olivia asked.
“Those dogs. We can’t leave them out there in the cold.”
“I told you. They’ll survive,” Nadia said. “Those dogs are bred for the cold. Most likely they’ll stick together and hunt to survive.”
“They have a sled chained to them, remember? They’ll die out there,” Emma said. “We have an obligation to save them.”
Nadia had forgotten about that. The dogs couldn’t go anywhere. They were stuck. Perhaps those men who chased them would do the humane thing and shoot the poor animals rather than leave them out in the cold to die. Or maybe they would take the dogs with them. But those were evil men. Men who would leave poor animals outside to freeze to death.
“You two almost got shot back there,” Olivia said as she pulled back on her stick, commanding the helicopter to clear the top of a ridge. “I’m not going back there to give those blokes another chance for target practice.”
Emma was right and Nadia knew it. They were acting selfish.
Miyuki read the faces of her friends. She nodded. “Emma’s right, we should go back.”
“Those dogs did save our lives,” Nadia added.
“You never leave a furry comrade behind,” Emma said proudly.
Olivia peeked over her shoulder. All three girls now smiled at her. Olivia pressed her foot on the left rudder and brought the helicopter around to a new course. “Stupid flipping dogs.”
You can get the eBook at these booksellers.
The paperback will be out next week!
My wonderful artist Travis Miles has created another great cover for the second Gems young adult spy novel. What do you think?
Before I wrote young adult novels, I was a screenwriter trying to break into one of the toughest industries out there, Hollywood. Since I live in Oklahoma and not Los Angeles, this was a huge challenge. One thing that helped me bridge that gap was attending the Austin Screenwriting Conference which is held during the annual Austin Film Festival. This is one of the few venues where actual Hollywood agents/producers/writers/directors/actors show up and give screenwriters precious information about the entertainment industry. I learned so much about my craft and made a lot of connections and friends the numerous times I went to Austin.
I recognized early in my writing career how important establishing these connections were. Not only in Hollywood, but in publishing as well as I continued to go to local writing conferences in my area. One of which is the Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference which begins Friday April 6th and continues on Saturday April 7th.
Many other blogs on this tour will give you plenty of great reasons why it’s beneficial and important for writers to attend these conferences. But what I would like to do today is give you some successful strategies that I’ve learned to help anyone navigate a writing conference.
Successful Strategy #1 – Be Relaxed
Why is this the first one? Because it’s one of the most important. You are at this conference to make new friends, to learn new things, and to re-invigorate your commitment to writing. Do not treat this conference as a pressure-cooker situation where you must shake the hands of every single person in the room and sell your book idea while trying not to sweat, fart, or cough up hairballs.
Nope. The best thing to do is to listen, take everything in with a deep breath, and relax. Remember this: If you look friendly and relaxed, people will want to talk to you. If you appear stressed out and desperate, people will avoid talking to you because those writers came here to do what?
Successful Strategy #2 – Treat Everyone With Respect
We all start from the bottom. That unrepresented writer you met at last year’s conference could become the next J.K. Rowling. That next junior agent you meet could be promoted to a full agent next month. That editor you met could open their own publishing imprint and now need new books.
Wouldn’t it be cool if you already had a good relationship with these people? They might even help you because you were nice to them before it was cool to be nice to them.
But they won’t help you now because you blew off that “nobody” writer last year when she wanted to ask you something. And when that junior agent asked about your manuscript? You blew her off too because she wasn’t a “real” agent. And you thought you were being clever when you slipped that editor a manuscript in the ladies room. But the editor thought that was inconsiderate and at worse, kinda weird.
Treat everyone you meet with respect. It reflects good on you and shows others that you have a professional attitude when it comes to your work.
On a related note, if you approach a conference speaker, be patient and wait for a good time to introduce yourself. Perhaps you can ask them to elaborate more on a portion of their presentation that you found interesting or if they wrote or represented a book that you particularly loved, tell them about it. Once you are done talking, let another writer have a chance. Better yet, introduce the speaker to another writer who writes the same kind of books the speaker likes reading or writing. Maybe that “nobody” writer who has this great Middle Grade Fantasy idea no one saw coming.
Successful Strategy #3 – Stay Away from Your Hotel Room
The most important thing you do at a writer’s conference is network. I repeat. You’re here to network. Don’t just write down notes from the workshops and then go upstairs to hide in your room. I did this at my very first screenwriting conference in Austin and made zero contacts. The next year I forced myself to sit at the conference hotel bar and drink sodas. Pretty soon I was talking to people I had friended on social media who recognized me. Soon those people introduced me to their friends. From there, things became much easier.
Please don’t freak out about this networking thing. You’re a writer. I get that. I’m only saying it’s not THAT bad. Wanna know an easy way to do it? Take a variation of my example and go hang out in the lobby of the conference hotel. Try to find a place to sit where you’re out in the open and bring a book to read. Chances are others will see you there with your conference badge and might invite you to go out to eat for dinner or lunch. Or they might ask you about the book you’re reading. You might see someone you know and you can ask them about the conference or if they have dinner plans. See how this works?
One of the best places to relax and mingle is in the evening at the conference hotel bar. Many times you can find the conference speakers there having a drink and just shooting the bull with people just like you! This is a golden opportunity to get to know lots of your fellow writers and conference speakers.
Now don’t get cute and try pitching your book now. Always wait until someone asks you. And then just give them an elevator pitch. Basically a couple of sentences that gives the other person a feeling about what your book is about, but not enough to give them the whole picture. You want it to be short because you want them to ask you more questions about it!
If you’re not a drinker, just order a soft drink. Nobody cares. Most of the people will be happy that you’re hanging out with them. If you love to drink, know your limits. Loosening it up with one or two drinks is perfectly fine after a long conference day. However, please don’t get drunk and argue over the use of first and third tense in young adult literature. I know you think you make sense. But trust me, you don’t.
Successful Strategy #4 – Follow Up With A Thank You
It there was a particular speaker or another writer whom you had a good discussion with or someone who helped you during the conference. Write down their name somewhere and when the conference is over with (say a week after) follow-up with that person. Find an official email or social media account and remind them who you are, where you met them, and most important, thank them for any information or help they gave you during the conference. This small act goes a long way in cementing that new contact.
Successful Strategy #5 – Always Give. Do Not Take
Last but not least, help your new contacts during the conference and beyond. Does your new contact have a new book out? Tweet it. Post it on your social media. If it’s a book you enjoyed reading, consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Does that new writer you met need a critique of the first ten pages of the manuscript? Offer to do that for them. They will either offer to reciprocate or in the future will help you out with something else. If you give things without being asked, most people will want to reciprocate. This is how contacts can grow into friends and allies.
(You should be patient with this. It might take more gives before you can make a big ask. Especially from someone in a higher position.)
What if I keep giving and they don’t reciprocate? Some people are takers. They just are. If you do a few nice things and receive silence back. Move on. Don’t complain. Don’t call them out like they “owe you.” You can make the choice to either associate yourself with positive people who embrace this concept of networking or the negative ones who only use others to get where they want to be.
Always remember that you’re in this for the long game. You’re building a house. Not an IKEA end table.
If you want to put these ideas into practice, come join me at this year’s Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Writer’s Conference in Oklahoma City which begins Friday April 6th and continues on Saturday April 7th. See you there!