Where the kids are

I was so fortunate to be invited to participate in YA Fest at the Palmer Branch of the Easton  Public Library this past weekend. The event consisted of over 40 young adult authors selling and signing books. Some authors got to do a special meet-and-greet with teens. There was an author Skype session. The organizers raffled off huge stacks of books from various publishing houses. It was truly awesome.

It’s not every day, not every year, I get to meet other authors and gush over their books. Nor is it often I get to hear from readers directly. I was particularly floored to find out that the library’s adult YA book group read Grunge Gods and Graveyards for their book club pick. Since the story is set in 1996, it’s perfect for adult YA readers. Something I yell into the ether often.

I was also excited to simply network with other authors. Even after three books, I still feel like I’m getting my feet wet. My writing process will always be in flux, but the publishing business itself is something I’m completely unfamiliar with. I did get to ask a fellow YA crime fiction writer her thoughts on why the mystery/crime fiction genre doesn’t seem to be as popular in young adult literature as it does in the adult market. And she said, “Teens just read the adult stuff.” Okay, that makes sense. When I was a teen in the 90s, I read adult fiction because there wasn’t the incredible collection of YA books to pick from. But now, YA is a huge market, simply because adults are reading it as well. When I was a teen, my mom wasn’t pilfering books from my Christopher Pike library.

But here’s the thing. YA has a ton of sub genres. Everything from high fantasy to steampunk to contemporary issues to science fiction. There are also adult books in these same genres. But teens stick to the YA offerings because they speak to them. So why the mismatch in crime fiction? Is it simply because adult crime fiction is so well marketed, teens can’t help but pay attention? Gone Girl was such a huge success that if you’re a teen reader who loves crime fiction, why wouldn’t you read the book everyone is talking about? This becomes the gateway book for teen crime fiction readers, except it sends them into the adult sphere, rather than the YA.

Personally, I find YA crime fiction so fun to write. Two years ago, I wrote a post for Writers Digest on how to make a tenacious teen sleuth. You can read it here if you want. But one of the best parts of writing about teenage crime solvers is their ability to be subversive. To break rules because they’re kids, not cops. And because teens are often overlooked. They can eavesdrop. They have access to their peers that adults do not. And the crimes are often as sinister as anything you’d find in an adult read.

So if YA readers are jumping to adult crime fiction instead of reading the books aimed at their age group, then publishers need to see how they can market those titles directly. Take a lesson, perhaps, from the marketing launch of Girl on the Train.

Because there are amazing YA crime fiction books out. Teen readers need to know where to  find them.

Wild ride

March’s theme is: If Only I’d Known. Well, if only I’d known I was signing with an agent this month, I might’ve invested in some Xanax.

I’m not sure how much civilians know about acquiring a literary agent, but it’s a big deal for authors looking to get a traditional publishing deal. In fact, it’s pretty much the only way for a writer to get their book onto a shelf in a bookstore.

Writers, or as least I did, think that writing the book is the hardest part. But then querying agents becomes the hardest part. And then it’s waiting for a publishing house to buy your book that’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done. And then once your book is out in the wild, well, you get my drift. You clear a hurdle, there’s another one ahead. This is a tough business and yet, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

Self-publishing has its merits, but I find that YA indie authors struggle to get teens to read their ebooks. Despite their attachments to their phones, teens are more likely to read books. Paper bound books. Adults love ebooks. We have credit cards and Amazon accounts. But teens love bookstores and libraries. They love borrowing books from friends. They like to browse actual shelves. They don’t have money and are often gifted books for birthdays and holidays. For that reason, if I want to be a YA author (and I do), and I want teens to read my work (and I do), then I need to reach them where they are — on the shelves. And I need a Big 5 house to make that happen.

It’s been a wild ride. In less than a week, I signed with a wonderful agent and my manuscript is on submission. Perhaps soon, I’ll be able to update this post with good news. Or perhaps not. That’s the thing about publishing. It’s really about timing, a smidge of talent, and a whole lot of luck.

Finding your tribe

I hear a lot of authors online talk about finding one’s tribe — connecting to a like-minded (or genre-minded) group of writers for artistic support, encouragement, and guidance. It’s an incredibly important aspect to the profession, not just because networking can be beneficial to authors’ careers, but because writing is a very isolating job and if we don’t connect with others, we’re going to lose our ever-freaking minds.


I do not currently have a tribe, in that I don’t belong to a group. However, I have liaisons to other tribes. I have my very best writer friend, Katie, who joins me on two-person writing retreats. Who I can contact via Facebook Messenger for a quick peptalk and get an equally quick reply. Who reads my scenes to see if they’re boring. I have my buddy Stephen, a horror writer, who manages a group blog (ahem, a different one) penned by a team of writers from various genres. I have my friend, Melinda, a local YA author who I met last fall. We live ten minutes apart (a miracle since I live in such a rural area) and we meet once a week to hang out and write. In fact, she and I just attended an author reading in town on Friday. And then we went to dinner and we talked…shop! And it was awesome.

*These are photos from our outing to see Manjula Martin read from her latest book, Scratch. It was a packed house!

There is no substitute for talking craft and publishing with another writer who gets what you’re saying. My husband, as smart a guy as he is, doesn’t care about publishing trends in YA or advances (well, maybe he cares about that) or the merits of first-person narration for a hardboiled mystery. But Melinda does. Katie does. Stephen does. And so, while I don’t belong to a local critique group or an online marketing collective like many authors I know, I have formed relationships with various authors, some online, some in-person, that have made writing a less isolating endeavor, and more like a virtual office.

These professional relationships are crucial. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert (like me), writers must connect to other writers, and often. It’s hard to enjoy this business otherwise.

If you’re a writer, do you belong to a tribe? And if you’re a reader, do you belong to a monthly book club? A workout group? A motorcycle gang? Surely, you must.

Sound off below.

It’s a family thing

It’s Super Bowl Sunday! It’s the fourth quarter, and what I thought would be an easy win for Atlanta is now turning into a shaky game. The Giarratanos are Jets fans, which means we root against the Patriots by default. So…I don’t know. I’m nervous. Also, I have an informal bet with my cousin — a bottle of vodka is on the line — and I want to win.

So February’s theme is relationships. One of my favorite themes to explore in my own writing is familial relationships. Sure, I always have a romantic subplot, but I love to analyze complex issues within the family. And not just immediate family, but extended, and multi-generational too. In Grunge Gods and Graveyards, my main character lives with her widowed father, and sister, but relies heavily on the guidance of her great aunt and uncle. In Dead and Breakfast, my female protagonist lives with her great aunt and mother. She doesn’t get along with her mother, but finds that maternal connection with her aunt. The male protagonist lives with his grandfather, who raised him. Even the nemesis has a close relationship with her grandparents. In my latest book, Solitary Boys, both of my male protagonists have shaky relationships with their older sisters. In fact, it’s the disappearance of one of the sisters that drives the mystery. What happened to her? And why?

(Jesus, it’s a tied game!)

There’s a lot authors can do with familial relationships within mysteries, and it’s more than just providing an interesting subplot. Protecting family can be a primary motivator in solving crimes. A sister goes missing. A brother is wrongly accused. A daughter is killed. Characters, like real people, will go to great lengths to save those they love. And let’s not forget about secrets! Oh man. You want to pen a great story, build a mystery around some deep, dark family secret (VC Andrews was a master of this. Creepy, but effective).

(And now, we’re in overtime.)

What’s your favorite family dynamic to explore? For me, it’s sibling relationships. As a mother, I won’t even consider penning a dark mystery where harm might come to children. Marriage is cool too, but I feel like there’s an abundance of marital thrillers.

What’s your favorite familial relationship to read about?


Sweat equity

What up, mystery lovers? I hope the new year is treating you well. Me? Well, I alternate between highs and lows — some of that has to do with the political landscape, some with my writing. But I digress…

Currently, I am putting the finishing touches on Solitary Boys, a YA mystery set in 1995. It’s been a long haul. I started writing this book in May of 2016. I was so gung-ho, I was racking up 5,000 words a day. And good words, too. I thought for sure the book would be drafted before summer’s end. And then I hit a wall. The story wasn’t right. And so, I threw out 75,000 words, re-outlined, and started anew.

I finished the draft in December after pulling long days trudging through the outline. I sent it to trusted critique partners, beta readers, my editor. And now, I’m tweaking in preparation for querying. I cannot tell you how many times I have ignored my kids, my dog, my husband; how often I’ve slacked on laundry and cleaning; how I’ve put off lunch dates or time with friends to work on this manuscript. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve put into this book or the amount of time I’ve spent obsessing over my characters and the plot. It’s not something I’ve quantified. But, the story is finished. And I’m hoping beyond hope that a literary agent will fall in love with the book and represent me.

Here’s the thing regarding writers and their unmoored manuscripts — they are our sweat equity. We invest so much in our art, not just and time, but mental anguish, and there is no law that says it will amount to anything.

We write because we have stories to tell — stories that we cannot hold inside. But those stories might not necessarily get read. We do live in an age of self-publishing (thank God), so no book is truly dead in the water. But when you’ve worked so hard on your art, you want people to read it. You don’t want all that work to be wasted. Sure, some authors are going to write manuscripts they will trunk — those are practice books. But, there are many experienced authors, publishing traditionally or independently, who bleed their souls onto pages. They write, they revise, they suffer, they publish. They get crapped on in reviews. Or worse, they get ignored. And the crazy part is that they come back to do it all over again.

So, thank an author for making art. Buy them a cup of coffee. Better yet, read their book. It took a long time, and a lot of work, to get it done.

And here’s to you, oh author who toils for her art. May the publishing gods smile favorably upon you. And may your stories endure.

Globalization of story

I recognize that I talk a lot about television on this mystery blog, but in my defense, TV is my greatest inspiration. And with Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu, I’m able to watch shows and films from other countries. Who knew I was such a sucker for British and Australian crime dramas?

The one television show I want to talk about it not available on Amazon or Netflix (although hopefully it will be soon). It’s not even available in English. It’s called Skam and it’s a Norwegian television series released entirely online. If you’re a YA author or a parent of teens, you want to watch this show.

Skam, which is now in its third season, is entirely focused on Norwegian teens who attend high school. Each season features a different character’s point of view. The third season is  reaching out to a whole new group of fans because it features a storyline between two gay males. Identity and sexuality are presented with such honesty. There is no preaching. There is no adult, authoritative influence. It’s a just story about teens figuring out who they are and how they want navigate their world. They mess up. They face consequences. And they mature. It has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard (there’s lot of 90s hip hop) and it’s easily one of the most incredibly honest portrayals of teenage life I’ve ever seen. It’s also a freaking.global.phenomenon.

Obviously, the characters speak Norwegian. When clips or texts are aired, there are dedicated fans on Tumblr who translate them into English. Fans are ravenous. Since the show is portrayed in real time, fans check the site religiously, waiting for updates. If the characters interact on Monday, December 5, 2016 at 3pm, then the clip goes up on Monday, December 5, 2016 at 3pm. The storyline is also supplemented through the characters’ social media accounts and text messages. Viewers get insight into how the characters cope, struggle, and socialize through these interactions. It extends the story without extending the 25-minute length episodes.

The show is resonating with teens everywhere. I see Tweets in Spanish, Russian, Italian from viewers. I see translations in multiple languages. Because the show is not made available with subtitles in all countries, viewers are subversive in getting these translations available, with some having their Tumblrs taken down. But such is the price one pays for this type of personal connection to story.

As I’ve been watching the series, I’ve been thinking about my own work and its relatability to its intended audience — teens. I can only hope I reach them in this kind of capacity. It’s powerful story telling and American television should take notice.

What foreign shows do you love? How do they inform your writing or reading?

Revisioner’s history

I apologize for the lack of meat in this blog post sandwich because this Mamacita is on deadline. A personal deadline, but one nonetheless. But I thought I’d be done with this book by now. The end is so near, guys. So near.

I wrote 62 scenes using Lisa Cron’s Story Genius method, but despite the great outline bones, the story is lacking its organs, flesh, pulse. So I went through each scene and made revision notes on index cards. Everything from what day of the week the scene is set to what my characters are wearing to who’s in the scene to what major things I need to add, cut, or just plain ol’ fix. It’s a chaotic system based off notes in a notebook and ideas I got in the shower and thoughts I had while washing the dishes. But I’m excited to see me pull it off. Also, I was delighted to discover my writing isn’t as awful as I thought. I mean, it’s a rough draft, so still not great, but not horrendous. I am a natural editor. I live for revision. I hate drafting.

Below you can see my index cards: numbered with various ink colors to distinguish parts so I can read them easily. And my notebook (the second one) where I let my brain vomit so I can clean up the mess later. It’s all part of the process.

How do you revise?