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Writers on Writing: The Writer’s Process

Last week Alison Miller tagged me in the Writer’s on Writing blog hop, and today’s my day! You can check out her blog here. Thanks, Alison!

1. What are you working on?

My work-in-progress is a YA contemporary about a girl with a disabled father and a mother in prison. She’s done a fine job taking care of herself and her dad, thank you very much, until the uncle she blames for her mom’s conviction shows up to ruin everything. Again. The writing is going slow, with end of the school year activities on top of work-type editing responsibilities. But I am in love with this character. She’s brave and strong and loyal, with a questionable moral compass. The family relationships are complex, and it’s exciting to see how their interactions play out. I’ve readjusted my goal of finishing the first draft from a certain date to sometime this summer.

2. What makes your work different?

Every piece of long fiction I’ve written takes place mostly in the South. This didn’t begin as an intentional choice, yet most pieces take place in north or central Florida, in areas where I’ve lived for many years. North Florida has a unique flavor, somehow both deep South and lassez-faire, diverse in culture and beliefs, and both literally and figuratively hot and steamy. I hate seeing Southerners depicted as dim-witted and close-minded on television and in movies, and though less often, also in books. I try to bring a different touch of the South to my work, something that enhances the characters without drawing too much attention to itself.

3. Why do you write what you do?

I fell in love with YA while teaching middle school. It started out as a way to stay tuned to what my students were reading. I read everything they recommended, alongside my Anita Shreve and Stephen King. One day, a student came to me and said, “Mrs. D, you have to read this! It’s about a boy, and he finds out he’s a wizard, and…” Suddenly I wasn’t just reading children’s books for them anymore. I was one of those people waiting to pick up the next Harry Potter at midnight when it came out. When I started seeking out YA books that were beyond my sixth graders for my personal reading, I knew I was hooked.

Still, when I started writing, my first novel was in the “women’s” fiction camp. It took place over twenty plus years, but it began when the main character was a freshman in college. But she didn’t act that way. She acted like someone in high school. And it hit me that tapping in to the potential for a life full of wonders and firsts and mistakes, was the sweet spot. The place where I wanted to write. I started reading YA almost exclusively, and writing it, and I haven’t looked back since.

4. What is your writing process?

Everything starts with a character. I think about him or her for a while, and I start with jotting down everything. Likes and dislikes, quirks, family background, friends, everything. Once I have a general idea of what the problem will be, I write a rough idea of what the climax will be, usually not knowing how it will end. Next I write more back stories for more characters, and then I just dig in and let those characters take me where they will. So, in short, I’m a pantser.

For my fantasy Trespassers, I have composition books filled with the “rules” of the world, drawings, maps, sticky notes for errant thoughts, the arch of the would-be trilogy, and extensive research of the history on which my magic was based. For my magical realism Perception, everything is cataloged in Word and Excel. (I think for me, the method changes to fit the story.) I do listen to music while drafting, and when I wrote Perception, my playlists included music my MC Evan loved. I edit and revise in quiet, and now that I’m drafting again, I’m having to find new music to suit my girl.

This has been so much fun! Alison also tagged Melanie Stanford today, so please check out her answers. And I’m tagging fellow Florida girl Missy LaRae, so please stop by her blog here for her answers on Thursday, May 29th.

What’s Up Wednesday

What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop hosted by the lovely Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. Please check out their blogs to join in the fun!

What I’m Reading

I just started Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I love Donna Tartt. To anyone exploring the realm of New Adult, I highly recommend her first novel The Secret History, about a small-town boy who becomes enthralled in a strange and exclusive group at his university. I’ve read some opinions that The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer because The Secret History should have won ten years ago. I haven’t formed my own opinion yet. Tartt has the rare gift of beautiful, literary prose voiced through youth. The main character, in the beginning, anyway, is a thirteen-year-old boy. For someone who reads mostly YA, it’s a huge shift in pace, but the emotions and the story are right there with my normal choices.

What I’m Writing

I broke the 12,000 word mark, and the fifth chapter, on my WIP. I’m in love with this story, yet I’m not nearly as far as I’d hoped to be by now. But it’s all good, because I was sidetracked by The Writer’s Voice. It’s an amazing contest hosted by Brenda DrakeMónica Bustamante WagnerKimberly P. Chase, and Elizabeth Briggs, based on NBC’s The Voice. If you want to get a glimpse of a day in the life of an agent, take a look at the live blog hop on any of the sites above. There are 139 queries and first pages, and the talent is mind-blowing. I am so honored to be chosen by Kimberly Chase for her team, along with fellow WUW gal Alison Miller! 

What Inspires Me Right Now

Music has been my inspiration lately. It’s funny; I tried writing this WIP to some of my Perception playlists, and it was not happening! The Lumineers are working better for this one, and the occasional Death Cab and Twin Shadow. 

What Else I’ve Been Up To

I’m thrilled to be leading a new SCBWI critique group in the Jacksonville area. Our first meeting is this Saturday, and we’ve had lots of interest online. For me, my writing life is usually compartmentalized away from my regular life with friends and family. But I’m ready for worlds to collide, and I can’t wait to meet and dig in with other local writers.

And finally, I know I just wrote a post about sharing too much about my children, but I can’t help myself. Son #1 had a piece of art chosen for an art show. I am so proud of him, and so excited! The show is being held at a local hotel, and afterward, the pieces will stay on display. Yay!

I can’t wait to catch up with everyone else!

The Writer’s Voice: PERCEPTION (YA)

Welcome, readers! I lucked out by securing a spot in “The Writer’s Voice,” a multi-blog, multi-agent contest hosted by Brenda DrakeMónica Bustamante WagnerKimberly P. Chase, and Elizabeth Briggs. You can find more info on any of their websites. If you’re one of the judges, thank you so much for this opportunity! This entry is for my YA novel PERCEPTION.


Evan Evans can’t decide what scares him more: keeling over from his rare liver disorder or dying a virgin. When he gets drunk to ask a girl out at a party, he ends up with disturbing dreams, a hangover, and a video of his escapades on a gossip blog.    

Now Evan’s grounded. His liver’s failing. And his secretive virtual support group is pissed that the video highlights his symptoms. Things go from bad to weird when the hangover-induced nightmares start coming true, including a make out session with the blogger and a classmate’s death.

Falling for the girl who exposed him, confronted by a specialist conducting unregulated clinical trials, and wanted by a government informant desperate to record his dreams, Evan must face his disease and its effect on everyone he cares about. Will he choose a longer life on someone else’s terms, or freedom with no hope of recovery?

PERCEPTION is a 76,000 word YA contemporary with a speculative twist. The wry humor will appeal to fans of Holly Black’s White Cat, the take on relationships resembles Jennifer Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, and the light touch of fantasy is reminiscent of Philip K. Dick’s “Minority Report.”

First 250:

That first sip tasted like change, cool with only a hint of bitter.

No one at the party expected me to take a beer, least of all me. But after hours at the beach, alone by the fire and surrounded by couples making out, I fished a can from the cooler and cracked it open before my conscience could stop me. I’d wasted three years in the shadows. Before senior year started, I had to ask a girl out. A little liquid courage seemed like a step in the right direction.

“Oh, shit! Evan Evans has a beer! Somebody take a picture.” Jake Morgan laughed.

I flipped Jake off and walked to the shoreline. We’d snuck into Hanna Park through the woods, far from the lights of the condos farther south. Away from the bonfire, the night was all black water and white moonlight catching on the breakers. The memory of coconut sunscreen clung to the breeze, warm but welcome.

I chugged the rest of the beer, ignoring my churning stomach. Powdery dry sand weighed down my feet, and my toe caught when I crossed onto the hard-packed dampness. I pulled a thin red ribbon from beneath my foot. It slipped from my fingers and caught on the wind, twisting and swirling toward a girl hunched over alone on a rental chair.

I couldn’t tell who it was, but I started toward her. Better to talk one-on-one than to crash and burn in front of the crowd.

Manuscript Music

This week the lovely Leatrice McKinney at Info Dump a la El is hosting Pitch Slam: Battle of the Bands!  In addition to pitching novels, each day this week we’re rocking Pitch Slam Twitter Parties. Today we’re sharing our writing playlists. 

My YA novel PERCEPTION is about a boy with a rare liver disorder who spends one wild night trying to forget his disease and exposes disturbing new neurological symptoms instead. Grounded, wanted by experimenting doctors and government informants, and falling for the girl who snitched on him, he faces treatment as a lab rat or freedom while sacrificing recovery. 

Here are some of the songs on my Perception Playlist!  

What’s Up Wednesday

What’s Up Wednesday is a blog hop created and hosted by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk to connect and encourage writers. Please visit their blogs to join in the fun!

Click here to buy it locally through Indie Bound


This week I’m reading Cherry Money Baby by author and agent extraordinaire John M. Cusick. I’m really enjoying Cherry’s distinctive voice and the authentic family relationships.


I’m 5,000 words in to the shiny, new WIP! It’s taking more research than I’d expected, which has kept me from moving as quickly as I’d like. But my main character–this girl is something else. I just hope I can keep up with her. I’m even more crazy about her than I was when I started with my last MC. My goal is to have the first draft finished before my boys are out of school for the summer, and for now that seems feasible.


My friend and critique partner Angelica R. Jackson has amazing news! Her book Crow’s Rest sold to Spencer Hill Press, with a release date of May 15, 2015. I can’t wait for this book to make it out into the world, and I am so happy for her. Seeing her take this next step on her journey inspires me to keep up my own persistence and writing fortitude. Congratulations, Angelica!

And on another front of CP news… Since I started writing seriously, I’ve been looking for a local critique group. I have many amazing critique partners, including Angelica, who I’ve met at conferences and through the Internet. But we’re spread out across the country. I’m greedy, I know, but I want more. I want more CPs and betas, with an in-person perspective. The existing writing groups in Jacksonville mostly focus on adult books, so through the SCBWI, I’m starting a local children’s book critique group. We’re still in the planning stages, but I’m so excited about what’s to come.


It’s been far too long since I went to a concert, and that will be remedied tomorrow night. Local Natives are playing here on Thursday. I’ve been counting down the days. They have a soulful, indie style with beautiful lyrics. Here’s an example of the images they create, from the song Heavy Feet:

Powder in your hair

Staples in your jeans

Fireworks in the water

You were holding

A styrofoam cup

Held between your teeth

Telling me how you’re going to outlive your body

You can check out their latest album Hummingbird here.

I can’t wait to see what the rest of you are up to this week!

What’s Up Wednesday

What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop hosted by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. Please check out their blogs to join in the fun!

What I’m Reading

A few years overdue, I just finished Maggie Stiefvater’s Forever. I’ve said it before, but Stiefvater is an amazing writer. She has a talent for fleshing out characters and writing multi-sensory descriptions. But the highlight of this trilogy is the love story between Sam and Grace. I’m glad I finally crossed the ending to this series off my TBR list.

What I’m Writing

This week I’m polishing my query, short pitches, synopsis, and the opening chapters of my YA novel Perception. This whole process should have me anxious and nervous, but I’m actually just excited to get it out there and start work on my next project. These new characters won’t quit bugging me, and I’m ready to meet them on the page.

What Inspires Me Right Now

Speaking of those pesky new characters–on Monday I met with a lawyer friend to discuss a multitude of family law topics for research on my new manuscript. I didn’t want to hinge my plot on legal situations that weren’t plausible, and as it turns out, I have several different avenues to explore with my main gal. I am so ready to find out where she’ll go, and how she’ll get herself out of sticky situations!

What Else I’ve Been Up To

This weekend my nephew got married. My husband and my youngest son were both in the wedding, and it was beautiful. The bride is a wedding and event planner, so you can imagine just how spectacular it was. I was so grateful for the time to be together as a family, celebrating. But I also left with a secret emotion simmering below the surface. Weddings used to fill me with joy and hope for the future, but this time….I felt a little sad.

I’m hopeful and happy for the newlyweds, but I can’t help thinking about how time seems to speed up when we get older. My niece’s children are the young and wiggly kind who can’t sit still in church. Her husband asked, sarcastically, if I missed having children that age. I’m glad mine are older now, but I felt sad because that time of angelic faces and delightful squeals just doesn’t last, and I’ll never experience it as a parent again.

My sister-in-law has one in college and a junior in high school. The older one? She was the flower girl at my wedding. I’m happy and excited for both kids as they make that transition into adulthood, with all of the promise it holds. But they remind me that if I blink, my sons will be in those same places, and these days of loving Harry Potter and building Lego sets will vanish like the unpredictable smiles and wonder of the little ones.

Okay, okay, enough melancholy for one day. Back to the polishing trenches! I look forward to seeing what you fellow blog-hoppers have been up to!

Music for today: Wake Up by Arcade Fire

What’s Up Wednesday

I am so thrilled to join What’s Up Wednesday for the first time! WUW is a weekly blog hop developed by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk to help writers connect with each other. If you’d like to join, too, please drop by Jaime’s blog to add your post to the list!

What I’m Reading…

Buy it here

I finished Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown a few days ago. It was amazing. It was so crazy good that I had to wait before starting something new, because I just wanted to think about how she pulled it off.

In this market, surely people said No One could sell a vampire book right now. And Holly Black just laughed and said, “Watch me. I’ll write the best vampire book you’ve ever read.”

Her characters are believable and flawed. They remind you of people you know. And ultimately this isn’t a book about vampires; it’s about how people react when they’re hurt, and the double-edged swords of revenge and mercy.

After a two day grace period, I started Jonathan Maberry’s Fire & Ash, the conclusion to the Rot & Ruin Series. I’m enjoying it so far, and I can’t wait to see how he pulls it all together.

What I’m Writing…

The WIP went to beta readers this week. I’m excited and nervous for so many reasons. I can’t wait to hear the feedback, and I hope that they agree that it’s time to send it out into the world. I know that next step is full of highs and lows, but I’m positive that this book is THE ONE. I also can’t wait to get all my research in a row and start drafting my next novel. The drafting is my favorite part, so that might be the most exiting horizon in my immediate future.

What Inspires Me Right Now…

Every morning when I take my kids to school, I pass this abandoned neighborhood. It was slated to start before the recession hit, but no homes were ever built there. This little snapshot reminds me everyday of the next WIP, and I’m loving the thought of building my characters’ world. I also felt super creepy stopping to take pictures, but I’m afraid that things might turn around, and they may actually start cleaning things up soon.

What Else I’ve Been Up To…

Well, my old blogging buddies may have noticed a few changes here on the website. I officially made the switch from my Blogger title Unavoidable Awkwardness to my own domain. (www.ladennison.com) I’ve also been working on my church’s website. I’m learning more about the techie side of things little by little, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to put this knowledge to good use here and elsewhere on the Interwebs.

Thanks so much for putting this together, Jaime and Erin! I can’t wait to catch up with everyone!

Music for today: Here Comes Your Man by the Pixies

Falling Flat

I recently read a popular book by an award winning author. It was terrible.

I’m choosing not to name the book, because I realize that my opinion is just that. But that experience, the one of having high expectations for a book and having them fall utterly and completely flat, has affected me as both a reader and a writer.

As a reader and book consumer, I feel gipped. The money and time I spent on this book could’ve gone to an awesome debut book, but this one grabbed my attention because of the hype. Sometimes a great concept just isn’t enough. I couldn’t relate to any of the characters, the relationships all felt forced and fake, and every problem was solved easily and unbelievably.

As a writer, I wondered if an author reaches a status of success in which editors hold back the red pens. If this had been the author’s debut novel, would it have been published at all? Or are my feelings just a matter of subjective taste, like so much of the industry seems to be? Goodreads ratings range from mostly four stars to a hand full with one star; the latter nearly all agreed with my assessment. But I’ve also found books that I loved with those outlier one star ratings, too.

As I move forward to the next stage with my work-in-progress, I’m trying to take that to heart. This industry is subjective because of widely varying tastes. If I find a few people who love this one, and are willing to take it on, great! And if not, I’ll just write better next time with the lessons I’ve learned.

Music for today: Out of the Black by Royal Blood

“It’s okay to take a break.”

My husband said this to me yesterday. It’s one of those things I know to be true, but it helps to hear someone else reaffirm it. In the ever-shifting balance of life, family time and writing time keep up their antagonistic struggle. The blog usually gets the shortest stick in that draw, but I wanted to stop in with a run-down on my time away.

In Reading:

Used book store finds have been filling my reading list, so instead of long reviews, I thought I’d give a shout-out to two oldies that really stuck with me.

Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves blew my mind. Imagine a world of infinite dimensions, with an incarnation of the boy who can save the universe in each one. Now imagine they all get together, form an army, and fight the magic and science extremists who want to take over.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson made me think of what would happen if Chuck Palahniuk wrote for teen girls.  Anderson’s chilling voice explores anorexia with depth, intrigue, and complex characters.


In Writing:

Revisions on my WIP are trudging along. I’m over half way through, but the further I get down the line, the more early changes start affecting later events. Also, shiny new ideas keep popping up and begging to be explored. I’ve been debating taking them on in short story form, even though I don’t have enough time in the day for all my other obligations.

In Music:

The Muse concert in Ft. Lauderdale was phenomenal, as expected. On the horizon, we’re taking Son 1 and Son 2 to their first rock concert to see Imagine Dragons in May.  Happy Mother’s Day to me!

And happy reading and writing to all of you! Until next time…

On any given day in the writing community, you can find a new batch of query contests, pitch competitions, and giveaways. I love that part of the blog-o-sphere, but over the past year or so, I’ve been truly struck by the added dimension of generosity in our industry. So many agents, editors, and authors donate their time to raise money for worthy causes, like Crits for Water, Publishing for Vision and Hearing, and Kid Lit Cares, for Superstorm Sandy Relief.

And today I’m excited to share that the annual Pens for Paws Auction is only one week away!


Headed by my friend Angelica R. Jackson, writer, blogger, and all-around extraordinary person, the event raises funds for Fat Kitty City, a no-kill, cage-free cat sanctuary in El Dorado Hills, California, that also rescues dogs (as foster homes allow).  Click here for more information about Fat Kitty City.

The auction begins on March 12 and runs through March 16 at Pens for Paws.

What’s up for grabs?

  • Signed copy of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, with a drawing especially for Pens for Paws
  • Signed copy of Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, with bonus Steampunk Swag
  • Picture book and query critique by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
  • Query, synopsis, and first chapter (up to 15 pages) critique from Pam van Hylckema Vlieg of Larsen Pomada Literary Agents
  • Query and first 10 pages critique from Sara D’Emic of Talcott Notch Literary
  • Critique of 50 pages by Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary Agency
  • 5 chances at a query critique by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary
  • Signed copies of the 1st three books in the Elemental Series by Brigid Kemmerer (yes, that includes an ARC of Spirit!)
  • E-copy of To Trust a Thief by Michelle McLean, plus bonus swag
  • Signed copy of Interred by Marilyn Almodovar
  • Signed copy of The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman
  • Books by Kelley York, plus a 20-page critique
  • Query plus first chapter critique by Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown Ltd
  • 2 (!) signed copies each of Jeff Somers’s Trickster and Sean Ferrell’s Man in the Empty Suit

Please hop over to Pens for Paws to check it out, and also be sure to follow Angelica in all these places:




Group Blog: Operation Awesome

Happy Monday!

Music for today: Breathing Underwater by Metric