Jessica Leake
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Jessica Leake
It's Thanksgiving! The blog has been neglected, and I have a lot to be thankful for, so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone :). 

2011 has been a fabulous year for me--both personally and in my writing. So behold, a list of 11 amazing blessings:
  1. My healthy, beautiful son was born to my husband and me in June.
  2. My husband was ridiculously supportive and is pretty much the best husband and father. EVER.
  3. I had an easy pregnancy--I actually liked being pregnant! 
  4. I prayed every single day: for my baby, and for the delivery to be as painless as possible. And it actually was!
  5.  My son is meeting milestones left and right--he also started sleeping through the night at 10 weeks old. 
  6. My maternity leave was a magical time full of baby bonding and writing, reading, and editing. Probably the best 3 months of my life. 
  7. WriteOnCon! I learned so, so much, and I received some of the best advice on my MS.
  8.  My new critique partners, Mandie Baxter & Jamie Manning! With their help, I've become obsessed with more active on Twitter, which has enabled me to enter countless awesome contests and get pub tips straight from lit agents. 
  9.  Working with my cousin on this blog (even though we've both been neglecting it--boo work!)
  10. Getting four requests so far for my MS!!
  11. Getting into Authoress' Baker's Dozen Auction!!

Happy Thanksgiving from Anson :)

Kelsey Sandy
My little sister, Annie Cox, is 16, and though the term YA may describe her age, it does not define her. Annie Cox was born to be an artist. I find myself often caught between awe and jealousy. She has what I often think of as the artist trifecta: technical talent, creativity, and dedication. She carefully and constantly observes the world around her, then spends nearly all of her free time trying to interpret it through the new (or newly popular) artistic medium of "sequential art."

Via email (because sadly my sister is currently hundreds of miles away from me), I interviewed Annie about her sequential art, her current reading list, and her involvement in the blog community. Below you will find an example of her art, a picture she created for me inspired by my novel-in-progress, The Looking-Glass House.

You can find more of Annie's work at Potluck Comics, here:
"Ghosts in the Bathroom"
If you enjoy her hilarious comic, please spread the love via Facebook, Twitter, or StumbleUpon (links are provided below the comic)!

Q1: Annie, you are a “sequential artist,” right? Could you explain what that means and describe some of the pieces you are working on?

A1: Sequential art is more or less a fancy term for comics in which images are placed in a sequence in order to tell a story. Currently I’m working on illustrating a story for this year’s issue of Hallowscream, an annually released online comic with various Halloween and horror themed stories. It’s a collaboration project between writers and artists and it has the possibility of going to print if enough people contribute to its upcoming fundraiser. My main project, however, is my original comic Hack Girl. Briefly described, it’s about a sociopathic vigilante who confronts online offenders (predators, cyber bullies, etc.) in person, exposing them for what they are when not hiding behind a screen, breaking their computers to prevent anymore of their idiocy, and, depending on the severity of their crime, roughs them a little (or a lot). I only have four pages completely finished, but the first story arc is entirely plot pointed and the first issue is scripted. I have endless enthusiasm for it and tons of future concepts, but haven’t really discussed it with family since it’s weird, dark, and contains copious amount of cursing (for natural effect mind you), but I don’t think fear of family approval should hold back your writing. Kelsey often discussed her worries of writing lesbian scenes in her novel with me and I can easily say without bias that The Looking-Glass House is one of my favorite books.

Q2: Comics and graphic novels have gained a sudden position of prominence in the literary world, particularly with young adults such as yourself. When did you first become interested in graphic novels, comics, and sequential art? What is it about the medium that you enjoy?

A2: I was always excited when a superhero movie was coming out and I started reading tons of webcomics (comics published online) in middle school while occasionally making my own comics. However, I didn’t really get into reading or drawing comics seriously until around last year. It’s a medium that permits my love for writing and drawing to work together. There’s something about how images convey character’s emotions and progress the story that can’t be achieved with simply words. And yet, in that same aspect, a challenge to do so correctly is presented which always adds extra incentive to improve my work. In addition, sequential art allowed me to discover my love for dialogue, something that had always been an awkward aspect of my prose.

Q3: Do you read for inspiration, and if so, who are some of your favorite authors/artists?

Q3: Of course! As for prose, I love Alice Hoffman and am starting the Jeff Lindsay Dexter books (of which I am already in love). A couple of my favorite books are The Catcher in the Rye and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest because they both have this very natural narrative and relatable/common way of speaking that somehow still achieves eloquent writing. As for comics, I keep up with over fifty webcomics. This is no exaggeration and I won’t start on titles because I have too many favorites. Seriously, some the best comic work can be found online for free by undiscovered artists. My favorite printed comic, however, is Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory. It’s fantastically strange in story and has a really unique art style. I also love all of Mark Millar’s (Kick-Ass) work and my favorite superhero is Mike Mignola’s Hellboy.

Q4: Do you follow any blogs or participate in any artist forums, and if so, why?

Q4: I’m mostly active on Deviantart which is a great community for artists to share their work and help each other grow and it also includes a “journal” feature which I often treat as a blog to accompany posting my work. It’s just a really good way to receive feedback, give feedback, and make connections. I also follow a lot of artists on Tumblr, a short-form blogging site, but I don’t really post any of my own work there. Sometime I’d like to start a blog just to talk about my projects and ideas. The online community has its flaws, but it’s perfect for shared interests and getting your name out there.

Q5: What comes first, the visual art or the written story?

A5: Typically it’s the written story first as I write a script for myself, but images and panel layouts are already forming as I write.

Q6: Describe your usual writing routine.

A6: I write little blurbs alongside sketches and come up with various things I want to happen during a chapter or issue. Then I connect these events by plot pointing and write a script. Because I’m writing it for my own reference, some scenes are improvised when putting the comic in final form while others are more vivid in my head so all the dialogue is written out. My prose is much more spontaneous.

Q7: You have so much talent as a writer and as an artist. What do you hope for your future?

A7: Thank you! I’m working hard in school in hopes of gaining a scholarship to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design to major in sequential art. After that I’m unsure of the specifics and I know it won’t be easy, but I want to someday be able to work in collaboration with writers and hopefully find a company willing to print my crazy stories.
8) What advice do you have for other young artists out there?
Practice, practice, and practice some more! If you’re passionate and dedicated to art, you will make it the priority of your free time. Make a habit of drawing or writing and make it fun for yourself. It’s going to difficult, but it shouldn’t be a chore. Learn what you enjoy most about art but don’t avoid what’s challenging. Real life is the best reference and at the same time I stress the importance of developing your own style. Oddly enough, this quote comes from Bruce Lee but I feel it especially applies to creating your own style, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.” Drawn on!
Jessica Leake
I've recently returned to my work as a therapist on the psych unit of a hospital, and I've really been missing reading/writing/blogging. I had way too much fun on maternity leave with all my time (my son's an angel and would take long naps, allowing me to write all I wanted). So I was dragging my feet a little at going back. Much to my surprise, one of my coworkers had a writing assignment for me! She's putting together a meditation book for the patients--daily readings for a whole month written by the therapists. I thought I'd share what I came up with, based on a Dr. Seuss quote someone tweeted recently.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.”
–Dr. Seuss

            Sometimes when depression strikes, we have a hard time caring. About loved ones. About ourselves. About life. It’s a struggle just to get out of bed in the morning. We have to force ourselves to do everything, even the basics, like eating and showering. It seems like a black hole is constantly waiting to swallow us up. Worse, not caring about anything saps our motivation. So how do we beat it? We make changes. Small ones at first. We get up in the morning and make our beds. Maybe the next day we shower. Little by little, we fight back. We get involved—maybe through volunteer work. We start to care about others. We start to realize we’re part of a bigger picture, and we’re not alone. We talk to people—maybe a counselor. We begin to work on the things that contribute to our depression. We start to remember that we are good people. Depression doesn’t define us. But most of all, we begin to care again. About ourselves. About our life.

Thought for the day
Today I will remember that the best way to get better is to start caring about myself again.
Jessica Leake

I love Twitter. It’s THE best place to find out about awesome new blogs, contests, get pub tips, stalk follow lit agents, and most of all, to connect with other writers. That’s where I found out about this massive giveaway by new blog, YA Confidential. Here are the amazing prizes:
      A query critique by lit agent Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown LTD
·         A five-page critique by lit agent VICKIE MOTTER of Andrea Hurst & Assoc.

           ARC of SHATTER ME by Tahera Mafi
·         Arc of THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater (really excited about this one)
·         Arc of LEGEND by Marie Lu
·         Arc of CROSSED (MATCHED #2) by Ally Condie
·         THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER by Michelle Hodkin
·         FATEFUL by Claudia Gray

It’s super easy to enter, too. They’ve got a form link, and all you have to do it fill it out. You can rack up additional entries just by spreading the word (i.e. on Twitter or your own blog). Then you can check off which prizes you’d most like to win.

Be sure and check out the new blog’s weekly posting schedule. Basically, it’s all about the teens. Critiques, interviews, discussions. Yay for YA!
Jessica Leake

How is it Friday already?? I know why the time is going by so fast for me. My maternity leave ends next Thursday. Booo. (Actually, “booo” is a little flippant. It’s more like horrible mental screaming and anguish. Not because of my job, but because of leaving my baby. Also the serious lack of writing time I’m going to have from now on.)
So luckily I’m reading a great book right now to help distract me. ASCENDANT by Diana Peterfreund. I love unicorns—even killer ones, who knew?—and I’ve been looking forward to the sequel. I’m also lucky in that the book I’m currently reading has an awesome first line (*too lazy to paw through my bookshelves*). Technically, it has two first lines. Because *gasp* it has a prologue. Sort of. More like a little blurb in the very beginning to set the mood of the story. It’s appropriately done, though, and I don’t really mind prologues all that much.

Prologue’s First Line:
In ancient times, royalty hunted unicorns for sport.

This makes me think of old medieval tapestries. When I was little, I used to read through this set of Time Life books my parents had just for all the cool pictures of the mythological creatures. Especially the unicorns. It had the famous tapestry in it: The Lady and the Unicorn. And of course, it’s the perfect set up for a book about unicorn hunters.
The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry

Second First Line: 

The unicorn drew its last breath.

It goes along beautifully with the prologue, right? Both sentences are very short, but they get their point across in a powerful way. It would draw me in right away, even if I wasn’t already all set to read the sequel.

So what are the first lines from the books you're currently reading and/or your WIP?
Kelsey Sandy
Again, I love writing contests! So, here are a few more I found on Writer's Digest. These are particularly interesting because they are genre specific. Now these are not free contests. I think the entry fee for most is $20, but the first place prizes include $1,000, a feature in Writer's Digest, $100 worth of books, and the newest Writer's Guide to your genre! Talk about incentive!

The following contests are now accepting entries. Beside the genre, I have posted the entry deadline:

Science Fiction: Sept. 15, 2011
Thriller: Sept. 15, 2011
Young Adult: Oct. 1, 2011 (I know we have many YA writers listening out there!)
Romance: Oct. 15, 2011
Crime: Oct. 22, 2011
Horror: Oct. 21, 2011 (All Hallows' Eve, of course!)

Additionally, there is a "Short Short Story" contest ending Nov. 15, 2011 with a first place prize of $3000 and a trip to the Writer's Digest Conference! And a "Poetry" contest ending on Dec. 1, 2011 with a top prize of $500 and a trip to the conference.

All contests can be found at Writer's Digest.

If you know of any other genre-specific writing contests going on, feel free to post a comment!

Write on, fellow writers!
Jessica Leake

The first sentence of a book. I think some would argue it's the single most important sentence, save for maybe the last. It has to pull some serious weight by drawing in a reader. That's a lot of pressure! So I thought it might be fun to share our favorite first lines, or the first lines from one of our WIPs. 

Here's the first line of my all-time favorite novel, Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice :

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

It's a little bit facetious, isn't it? Especially since it leads into her hilariously one-track minded mother. Not only does it set up the premise of the whole book, but it's also a commentary on the social norms of the time. It draws the reader in by being an intriguing statement in an of itself. 

Side note: this totally makes me want to watch A&E's Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth. Um, yeah. All 6 hours of it. I don't even care. 

So let's see your fav first lines, or better yet, the first lines of your WIPs!
Kelsey Sandy
“Where words fail, music speaks.” –Hans Christian Andersen

So, I’ve been editing my novel, and my first drafts tend to be a little “bare bones.” I write too fast, trying to get all of my ideas out, to get the entire plot written. Now, some of my really crucial scenes lack atmosphere.

My novel is set in Texas is 1964, and one of my scenes takes place in a Blues Juke-Joint. I’ve never been to a Juke Joint, wasn’t even alive in the sixties, haven’t even really listened to very much blues music…how am I ever going to accurately create the atmosphere for this scene?

First, I thought maybe it would help if I drank moonshine out of a mason jar…but I didn’t get much writing done that way.

Then, I decided to listen to some blues. P.S. I loved it! But that’s not the point, the point is that listening to the music helped me to imagine my setting (first the sounds, then the rhythm, then the mannerisms of the characters, then the sights, the smells, even the tastes). I listened to the blues while I rode the bus and people-watched. I listened to the blues in my off time between classes. Then, finally, I listened to the blues while I wrote. And, I’m happy to say that I turned a bland 1.5 page scene into a 7 page scene with atmosphere!

I’ve been asked before whether or not I listen to music while I write. I always said no. I always thought it would be too distracting. And it probably would be if I were singing along to Adele or Britney Spears or Lady Gaga or Katy Perry (I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point: I have terrible taste in music).

I’m not suggesting that you turn the radio on while you work. We, as writers, don’t need any more distractions. I am suggesting that you seek out music that accompanies the atmosphere you are attempting to create. I am suggesting that you create a soundtrack for your novel (or short story, or poem).

Jessica, when you write the scenes in your novel that are set on the rolling green hills of Ireland, why not play some traditional Celtic music? If your novel is set in 18th century Europe, why not play some Beethoven? Have a scene in a Catholic Church? Rock some Ave Maria.

There are many ways you can do this, but I like to use Pandora, a free online radio. You can create your own personal station beginning with a particular song or artist of your choice, or you can create a new station by choosing one of the genres (I chose 50s and 60s Blues):

Pandora Radio

Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind? How has it helped or hindered you?
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Jessica Leake
I was randomly selected on twitter by Laura Bradford as the winner of books her agency represents. Now, behold, the contents of that box:

DARK ENCHANTMENT, Anya Blast; HOTTER AFTER MIDNIGHT, Cynthia Eden; DEADLY LIES Cynthia Eden; GOING COWBOY CRAZY, Katie Lane; BLOOD OF THE WICKED, Karina Cooper; TEMPTED, Elisabeth Naughton; THE DARKEST SALVATION, Juliana Stone; SCANDAL OF THE SEASON, Christie Kelley; MESMERIZED, Lauren Dane; PRECIOUS AND FRAGILE THINGS, Megan Hart; IMPROPER GENTLEMEN, Diane Whiteside, Maggie Robinson, Mia Marlowe; THE GHOST AND THE GOTH, Stacey Kade; LOVE STORY, Jennifer Echols

Yay! Thirteen books, mostly romance novels. My TBR list is now ridiculously large. It looks something like this now: 

I would say that I'm good on books for awhile, but I know that's not even true. There are a lot more I still want to read!

Kelsey Sandy
One of my professors once told me to never pass up a free contest. She started her career by winning a book contest, and now, not only has she been teaching Creative Writing for over 20 years, but she is the author of two novels, three short story collections, two chapbooks of poetry, one play, and many essays.

Contests are a great way to get your name and work out and add another line to your Author Bio (not to mention that constantly entering contests means that you are constantly writing!).

I came across this free contest today: the Your Story Competition at Writer's Digest

Every other month, Writer's Digest posts a short prompt. In response, you submit a short story. There are currently two contests open.

(1) Write an opening sentence to a story, 25 words or less, based on a photograph. This contest ends Sept. 10.

(2) Write a short story of 750 words or less (that's a really short story!) in response to the following prompt: "After being pulled over for speeding, your character finds something important while looking for her registration in the glove compartment." This contest ends Oct. 10.

The grand prize? Publication in the next Writer's Digest! Talk about getting your name and work out there!

Best of luck to everyone, and keep writing, fellow writers!
Jessica Leake

I just finished reading ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis. It had been on my TBR list for awhile, and I finally got the chance these past few days. It was fabulous, just like I knew it would be. As Kiersten White says about it on the cover: “A horrifying and deliciously claustrophobic masterpiece that’s part sci-fi, part dystopian, and entirely brilliant.” The sci-fi element was very well done, and is in fact why I held off reading it for so long. I’m terrified of space. I don’t know why. It’s not like I can’t watch Star Trek or Star Wars, but if I let myself really think about it (like this book forces you to do), I get creeped out. It really does make you claustrophobic and appreciative of being able to walk outside and enjoy the sunshine and breeze (even if it is 100 degrees out).

The part that interested me most was how Beth Revis showed in brilliantly thought-out detail, what would happen if free speech, individuality, and emotions were all taken away at the whims of a dictator. “Differences” are cited by Eldest as a cause of discord. Which, when you think about it, is true. Differences have caused war, do cause war. But what Ms. Revis encourages you to do is think about what our lives would be like if we had no differences, no individuality. In her dystopian world, the Hitler-esque dictator succeeded in creating his Master Race. Everyone was the same, and things were peaceful. Peaceful because the people had become zombie-like. It was either that, or become suicidal. We need differences, individuality, free speech and thought. Without them, creativity and progress come to a screeching halt. Everything that makes life worth living, really, disappears.

It was disturbing to see the people with no emotions. Even though I would hate to be stuck on a space ship for centuries, I would still want to be able to feel. As the MC Amy said: “In amongst all this sorrow there is also joy. You can’t have one without the other.”

Life under a communist regime wasn’t the only controversial issue tackled in this book. The impact of euthanasia and genetic engineering was also portrayed. It seemed to be a natural progression because of the lack of respect for human life.

I love books that make you think—even if the thoughts are disturbing. Anyone else read this book? What were your thoughts?