Category Archives: writing

Invasion of the Pod People: Writing podcasts edition

April 20th 2017

I have found enlightenment and it’s all thanks to podcasts. Not, really. But I’m grateful for the medium. Folding laundry and doing dishes are no longer tedious tasks when I’m listening to My Favorite Murder or Pod Save America (those are my most fave). But I’m here today to talk about writing podcasts — those gems that dole out sage craft advice while you’re driving or walking the dog. If you’re not a podcast enthusiast, become one. It will change your life.

[These are in no particular order.]

Destination Mystery: The podcast, hosted and produced by Laura Brennan, is aimed at mystery readers, but writers can learn a thing or two from its impressive author guests. I particularly enjoyed Episode 40 with Jenny Milchman, a psychotherapist, who really understands the psychology of crime. Also, she sounds like a super cool person.

Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips: These podcasts are less than 20 minutes and offer great grammar tips, which no writer, I don’t care who you are, can afford to pass up. Everything from weird idioms to abbreviations to AP Style is there, so comb through the archives and take notes.

The Writers Panel: If you’re a budding screenwriter, or want to be one, you need to listen to this podcast hosted by Ben Blacker. He interviews screenwriters from both TV and film and asks them questions about how they got their start in very competitive Hollywood, and how they develop story. I wish I could go back in time and tell my 22-year-old self to move to LA and make a go of screenwriting, but I can’t. Instead, I listen to this podcast, and learn about a different form of storytelling.

DIY MFA Radio: Gabriela Pereira, who has an MFA of her own, hosts and produces this podcast. Her website has a slew of resources for writers, but her podcasts are where she interviews authors to gain insight into their process. Again, another great place to learn from the experts. Get a reality check about writing and money in Episode 129 with Manjula Martin (who I had the pleasure of meeting at an event in my town), or understand the agent/author relationship with literary agent Mitch Hoffman in Episode 126 (I found this super informative).

The Creative Penn Podcast: Joanna Penn, the very successful self-published thriller author, graciously shares her insights and expertise about self-publishing. Her guests are always thoughtful and interesting. There’s a lot here for traditionally published authors too — tips for marketing, and help with craft. You must check out Episode 294 where she interviews Lisa Cron, author of Story Genius. I swear by that book. Joanna is super prolific — there’s a wealth of resources here, so dig in, and go nuts.

First Draft with Sarah Enni: Holy crap, I just discovered this now! I’m listening to the episode with Sara Zarr right this minute, but there are a ton of YA and MG authors who’ve been interviewed. I’m excited to get started.

Do you have a podcast suggestion for me? Please comment belooooooooow.


A deleted scene from my WIP

July 17th 2016

Since I write for two group blogs, Across the Board, and Mysteristas, I find I have little content left for my own blog. So I thought, why not post some deleted scenes from my work-in-progress. This is a scene I wrote as an opening to the novel, but my CP read it and felt it didn’t work. It’s not a bad piece of writing and I wanted to share it. Don’t mind the formatting. I copied and pasted it from Scrivener.


Troy Byrne floated on a raft in the center of the in-ground pool and thought, Fuck, school starts soon. The fingers of his right hand grazed the top of the warm water while his left hand clutched a beer, an expensive IPA from Belgium, at least that’s what his stepdad said before handing it to him.Troy lazed in the float, stopping every few moments to adjust his sunglasses or steer himself away from the edge. It was the Thursday before Labor Day. The sun was blazing hot, the sky slightly overcast. His stepfather, Jerry Concord, lay on a chaise lounge, barking directions to one of his underlings into the cordless phone, while his mom, Natalia Concord nee Byrne nee Diaz, could be heard blending margaritas in the outdoor kitchen, drowning out the stereo which was playing Troy’s new Radiohead CD.
This was a far cry from his childhood summers in the Poconos which were more about exploring the woods outside their tiny rental while trying to avoid Mrs. Crutchen, the cantankerous babysitter. He and his sister, Miranda, splashed in waterfalls or caught minnows in the pond. Somehow those simple things managed to fill up a whole summer. Not like now where time dragged on, while Troy waited for his life to begin.
A shadow blocked Troy’s sun and he lifted up one end of his Ray-Bans to investigate. His neighbor, Amanda, clad in a pink bikini, a towel draped over her tan shoulder, smiled brightly. “Your mom invited me over, hope it’s cool.”
Troy dazzled her with his thousand-watt smile and said, “Sure. The water’s warm.” He dropped his sunglasses back into place. He heard Amanda’s lithe body glide into the water.
Troy’s mom now stood over the water holding a tray with two margaritas, as if she was still working as a waitress, and presented them to Troy and Amanda. Troy pressed the beer bottle to his lips as an answer. Amanda graciously swam over and accepted the drink.
Some parents walked a thin line between being their kids’ friend and being responsible guardians. Not Troy’s who were permissive to the point of embarrassment. Like now. He shot a look at Amanda, but she had set her glass on the expensive paving stone, and was diving under the water, her blonde hair trailing her like a mermaid. She didn’t seem to mind one bit.
“Your parents are so cool,” she’d said to him over half a dozen times either outside his locker or in English class or at Jerry’s country club. Amanda talked to Troy a lot. “Yeah,” he’d respond absently. He loved his mom and Jerry, but they were far from perfect people.
The raft wobbled and Troy turned his head to see Amanda break the surface on the other side of him. She wiped the water from her eyes and said, “A group of us are going down the shore this weekend. You in?”
“You should go, querido,” his mother said in her accented English.
Jerry had hung up the phone and made his way to the steps, stopping first to adjust the waistband on his bright blue swim trunks. “What’s this now?”
Amanda smiled, suddenly sheepish. “I was telling Troy a bunch of us are going to Point Pleasant.”
Jerry glided across the top of the water, his gray hair like a silver bullet. “One last hurrah before senior year.” His voice was full of nostalgia. “I remember those days.”
Troy noticed his mother remained silent. Probably because her high school years were interrupted by violence and kidnappings in Nicaragua. Maybe that’s why she let him get away with so much. Her gift to her American-born son was a life without hardship. But no one had that life.
“Yeah, one last chance to have fun before the real work begins,” Amanda said.
Jerry playfully smacked Troy’s bicep with a wet hand. “Not our Troy. The kid gets As without even cracking a book.”
Troy winced. Academics came easy for Troy. It was the rest of life that had him stumped.
“Don’t be embarrassed, son,” said Jerry. “Colleges will be begging you to apply.”
Troy wasn’t so sure about that. He had some blemishes on his record, well one very large blemish in particular. Jerry never brought it up, but he had to remember.
Troy paddled himself over to the steps in the deep end and swiftly maneauvered from the float to the ladder while still holding onto his now empty beer bottle.
“Getting out?” Amanda said, clearly disappointed.
He smiled and wagged the bottle. “Need another.”
Troy made his way over to the tiny fridge tucked under the countertop. The outdoor kitchen had been Jerry’s idea. “This way your mother isn’t always in the house when we’re outside,” he’d said to Troy. Troy wasn’t sure if his mother appreciated that consideration quite the way Jerry had suspected she would.
Troy grabbed a beer, this time a cheap brand Jerry stocked for unfussy guests, and popped the top on the bottle opener attached to the deck. The backyard was an oasis, even by the standards in their wealthy Philly suburb. Jerry didn’t like to travel much, so to appease his new wife and son, he turned his expansive backyard into a personal resort. Troy could not complain, but his sister would’ve hated this.
His mother reappeared, this time dressed in a black sarong tied around her slim waist. She had walked to the mailbox, a sixty-second chore that gave his mom hours of pleasure for she reveled in the jealous stares of her uppity white neighbors.
“You got something,” she said as she handed him a glossy white rectangle.
Troy took a swig of his beer and then examined the postcard. It was rare for him to get mail. When he and Miranda had been kids, they used to get envelopes covered in funny stamps and filled with letters they couldn’t read in weird Spanish cursive. Now, the only time he got mail was when his high school sent something, which wasn’t that often, and never good.
Troy situated himself on the barstool next to the outdoor sink and repeatedly flipped over the postcard trying to make sense of who sent it and why. On the front was the intricate black gate of the Coshosh Community College, and the college’s motto, “We grow success.” Troy always thought it was a bizarre metaphor, as if kids were crops. Yeah, cash crops. But on the back, where normally someone would write a jaunty paragraph about their vacation, or in this case, summer classes at CCC, someone had sketched a tree stump and written a date in Spanish. Was this for his mother? Troy double-checked. Nope, his name was on it.
What the hell?
Then his breath hitched. He set his beer on the counter and traced his damp finger over the drawing of the tree stump.
When he and Miranda were kids, their mother, on her days off, would take the kids to Herman’s Rock, which wasn’t so much a rock as a clearing on top of a steep hill outlined in trees. There, they’d lay out a big blanket, eat a picnic lunch of sandwiches, gallo pinto, and fruit, and he and Miranda would play tag or, if the wind was right, fly kites. There was a hollowed out tree stump and the kids would leave trinkets under the moss to retrieve when they returned.
God, Troy missed his sister. He hadn’t seen Miranda in two years, not since she took off after high school graduation with nothing more than her clothes and some cash she had earned at a part-time job. Miranda loathed Jerry’s money. She said his wealth changed their family for the worse, but Troy couldn’t agree. Jerry’s money meant Troy didn’t have to work too hard or think too hard and he was grateful for it.
He hadn’t heard from her in two years either. No email. No phone calls. No letters. Well, except for this one.
The whole postcard was cryptic. The drawing, he understood. It was symbolic of an important place known only to them. But why the Spanish date? It’s not like their mother couldn’t read it. Also, Spanish months were cognates, any idiot could translate them.
1 de septiembre, 1995.
September 1, 1995.
Tomorrow’s date.
She didn’t specify a time, but based on the crude sun she drew high in the sky, he figured about noon.
Herman’s Rock was a three-hour drive from the house. One way. He could take his Acura, be home by dinner.
It was one thing when Troy’s real father left them. Troy was a toddler, he could barely recall the man’s face, let alone if he was a loving dad. (He wasn’t.) But his sister leaving him left a much larger hole in him than he cared to admit. And it came shortly after he’d been hurt by another person. Troy had spent the last two years cultivating his devil may care demeanor. It suited him well, but it was a false bravado. Troy worried. He worried a lot.
“Hey, Troy.” Amanda swam up to the edge of the pool and hoisted herself out slightly so that her breasts practically rested upon the concrete, giving Troy a perfect line of sight to her cleavage. “Are you gonna come with us tomorrow or what?”
Troy admired her courage, but he didn’t feel bad he was going to crush it.
“I can’t.” He wouldn’t tell his parents about the postcard. They’d just ask too many questions or, worse, they wouldn’t care. “I made other plans.”


A passion project

May 30th 2016

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working on a new YA mystery. A passion project (PP) with the working title of Solitary Boys. It’s about two estranged teen boys who becomes allies in solving the mystery of a girl’s disappearance. I actually stopped working on another book because I was so inspired by this story, I didn’t want to wait to get started. My original plan was to do Solitary Boys just until May 31st and then get back to the other book in June, in time to get it to my editor in July. But that’s been derailed. I’m going to continue working on Solitary Boys because I can’t not work on it. It’s re-energized my writing, given my deflating ego a much needed lift, and it’s so fun to write.


And get this — I didn’t outline the book. I outline all my projects, otherwise I screw up the story. But, with this, I decided to write scenes as I think of them, out of order. (I know the ending. I always know how my stories end.) I’m consumed by this story now. To the point, my husband is all cranky because I’m writing at night and not hanging out with him. *shrug* I write during the day, but it’s not enough. I’m going to end this post now, so I can get back to my work. It’s 8:32pm. If I hustle, I can get in another thousand words before bed.

And here’s the opening paragraph from the WIP. Enjoy!

Troy Byrne fishtailed the ’92 Acura NSX onto the gravel drive, kicking up gray shale and dust. His stepfather probably would’ve had an aneurysm seeing how Troy handled the sports car if he hadn’t stopped caring about the vehicle a few years ago. The novelty of dropping seventy grand on a car lost its luster quickly for men of Jerry’s tax bracket. “They make them with CD players now,” Jerry had said before handing Troy the registration and insurance card.


8 Tips for Writing a Tenacious Teen Sleuth

December 9th 2015

Hey guys! I wrote this blog post for Writers Digest in September and I’m republishing it here (with permission). I think it’s one of the most useful posts I’ve ever written and I wanted to share it on my own blog.

Many years ago, I binge-watched Veronica Mars and I’ve been smitten ever since. I mean, who doesn’t love a smart teen sleuth who oozes chutzpah and an unwavering sense of justice? No one. And when I use the term sleuth here, I’m using it as a stand-in for any teen protagonist who finds herself in the midst of a crime. Sometimes, you have a professional sleuth, like Veronica Mars, who gets paid to investigate and other times, you have an accidental sleuth (this is my favorite) who involves herself in the mystery because the crime directly affects her or someone she loves. Either way, if you’re going to write a YA mystery, you’ll need a smart protagonist who can sniff out a killer. Here are my tips for creating a tenacious teen sleuth.

(I use female pronouns for simplicity, but teen sleuths can and do come in all genders.)


  1. Connect her to the crime

In a good YA mystery, the victim should be someone with a strong connection to your teen sleuth. If the teen sleuth has no vested interest in the crime other than superficial curiosity, then you need to rethink the mystery. The victim has to be important to the teen so that solving the murder provides justice for the victim and the accused, who might be a family member, friend, or romantic interest.

  1. Make her subversive

Unlike adults, your teen sleuth does not come from a position of power and this can work to her advantage. Whereas detectives and private investigators can flash their badge or utilize police databases and expensive surveillance equipment to investigate, your teen sleuth must observe without being seen. Instead, she can access her peers who are more apt to share information with her than they are with the police. Adults might have low expectations of your teen sleuth — they might consider her apathetic or unmotivated – thus allowing her to fly under the radar, collecting clues and information otherwise overlooked.

  1. Paint her as flawed, yet driven

Perfect people are boring, so give your teen sleuth flaws. Maybe she’s too cocky. Maybe she’s insecure. Maybe she has a disability that makes investigating extra difficult. But give her something she needs to overcome and then give her drive and an unflinching sense of justice. Your teen sleuth needs a character arc — and nothing is more compelling than watching a character overcome an inherent flaw.

  1. Burden her with personal conflict

Give your teen sleuth personal conflict in the form of subplots. Perhaps she’s struggling with friendships, academics, romance, or parents. Perhaps it’s all of these. Give her something to take the focus away from the investigation. This will divide her attention, thus allowing her to make mistakes, and will heighten suspense and conflict throughout the main storyline. Also, subplots prevent readers from getting bored of the investigation itself and divert the readers’ attention from solving the mystery too easily.


  1. Allow her to break the rules

The great thing about being a teenager is the ability to bend or break the rules. If your teen sleuth enters a suspect’s home without a warrant, that transgression can more easily be forgiven than if a police officer does the same thing. Again, because your teen sleuth doesn’t initially have a lot of power, this is one way she can be subversive.

  1. Let her make mistakes

With age comes wisdom, but your teen sleuth has neither – and for story purposes, that’s okay. She’s more likely to misjudge character behavior. She might mistrust the right people and trust the wrong ones. Use this. If your teen sleuth messes up, she’ll have to learn from those mistakes and that will enrich her character arc.

  1. Litter her walkway with stumbling blocks

A good mystery shouldn’t be easy to solve for either the teen sleuth or the reader. Make sure each scene provides a clue to move the mystery forward but set the teen sleuth back. Red herrings, or false clues, are a smart tactic to use here as well. Perhaps your sleuth breaks into a suspect’s room and finds a cryptic letter, but then she gets caught. Or your teen speaks to a witness the police haven’t questioned only to find out that witness is lying, or later ends up dead. By allowing her to stumble, you set the pacing for a page-turner.

  1. Give her allies

Give your teen sleuth friends with connections. Allow her to trust certain people so that she can get help when she needs it. A friend whose parent is a cop will come in handy when your sleuth needs information she can only garner from a police report. Also, by providing your sleuth with allies, you’re not only giving readers a cast of characters to love, you’re making your teen sleuth likeable.


Do you have any tips for writing a smart teen sleuth? Please share in the comments.



Ready.Set.Write. Week 12

August 24th 2015

[This writing intensive– hosted by Jaime Morrow, Katy Upperman, Erin Funk, and Elodie Nowodazkij is a fun way to give my writing the kick in the ass it needs. RSW gives writers an opportunity to set goals and cheer on other writers.]

I think RSW is such a cool premise, but unfortunately for me, I didn’t utilize it to my advantage. I didn’t stick to my goals and I’ve only barely moved on my manuscript, which was supposed to be done a month ago. I’ve been a total slacker.

How I did on last week’s goals

Meh. However, I’m currently writing a book review for BookPage. I also started a YA Indie Facebook group that is becoming a diverse, lively place of discussion. I’m stoked about that. I commissioned a cover for an adult cozy series I’ve written one scene for. And I’m fussing with my website and learned how to make a drop-down menu. Sweet.

RSW1My goal(s) for this week

The same since I started. Finish!!!! the manuscript. I’m ridiculous. Nothing is motivating me.

A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised

Liam poked his head into the lobby. Mr. Fletcher stood at the reception desk, talking to Autumn, who was pointing at places on a map. Liam presumed it was of Key West.
“Is she gone?” Liam asked, before fulling stepping inside.
Mr. Fletcher raised a brow, and shook his head. “You kids…” he trailed. He folded the map and slipped it into his jacket pocket. He wore a dinner jacket, the kind with suede patches on the elbows. Liam’s father used to have a jacket like that. He wondered for a moment if Mr. Fletcher had kids and then shook the image from his head.
“Enjoy your dinner,” Autumn called to Mr. Fletcher as he left the lobby. The man nodded once before closing the door.
Timothy came around with candles. “Fletcher gone?”
Autumn nodded. “And Mrs. Paulson’s out too.”
“Good,” he said. “We’ll go out by the pool since that seems to be where things, uh….began. Also, it seems to be a place of energy.”
Autumn slid open the patio door that led to the pool area. She ushered the boys outside like a doorman. “Right this way.”
Liam couldn’t get past the fact that they were about to contact a ghost. One who thought he killed her. He prayed a Breyer wasn’t the one who did her harm.

The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write)

I’m having major doubts about whether this book works. I just need to get it to betas and my editor and trust they’ll point out the flaws.

Something I love about my WIP

Wrapping this project up.