Six Mentors to Help You Plan Your Novel Series

Six Mentors to Help You Plan Your Novel Series Infographic

Six Mentors to Help You Plan Your Novel Series Infographic

If you’ve ever tried to figure out how long your manuscript will be or whether you have ‘enough’ for a series, this round-up of series-planning tools and tips is for you. It’s all about choice. Resist the urge to fall down the tool rabbit-hole. 🙂

As the Writing Excuses‘ team points out, the goal for books in a series is “the same but different.” You want to keep the things your readers love about your first book and amaze them with something they didn’t know they wanted.

Here’s a quick primer of choices to consider while you plan your series and the mentors to help you:

1. Is your story the right LENGTH for a series? This feels like a word count question. At the beginning of NaNoWriMo, 50,000 words looks like an infinite sea. But if you set up something too elaborate, you won’t get back to shore in time.

Your creative choices have consequences for your word count. You are in control of the length of your story.

Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series, says each suspect in a mystery adds 5,000 words.

Mary Robinette Kowal’s manuscript length calculation tool factors in the number of characters, story locations, and the scope of the story according to the MICE quotient infographic here. M.I.C.E. stands for Milieu, Inquiry, Character, Event.

(# of characters + # of locations)*750 * (# of MICE quotient *1.5)= manuscript wordcount

Take-home: The more categories, characters, and locations you choose, the longer your story will be. The M.I.C.E quotient can help you make your story into an epic.

2. Is your PLOT epic? For this approach, you must know the Ending.

Writing Excuses‘ tips on creating a series from an existing Book 1:

  • Write the first book to give it that “standalone feel”.
  • Build an outline for the next books, a page or two for each. Summarize world-shattering events like a historian—in a line or two.
  • Revise first book to match plans made for the upcoming books.

Susan Kaye Quinn’s practical video on how to plot a series shows you why second book slump is so common and what you can do about it.

3. Is your STORY WORLD epic? For this approach, you must know the World and the Characters.

Rachel Aaron‘s blog series on series

4. Is your STORY CONCEPT epic? For this approach, you must have a high-concept pitch for at least the first book. Picture book examples are a quick way to illustrate this approach. You can use the M.I.C.E quotient mentioned above for this.

Or try Literary Agent Gemma Cooper’s deceptively simple tool:

  1. Create a high-concept pitch for first book.
  2. Use “What if” to get:

5. What series TYPE fits your story?

Writing Excuses’ hosts, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Taylor weigh in on series types here. (Season 12, Episode 45)

  • EpicOne, long, continuous story, chopped into books. (Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap series)
  • EpisodicThe continuing adventures of main character(s). Stand-alone tales can be read in any order. The characters change very little so the reader can be easily caught up. (The Boxcar Children)
  • Introduce a cast. This series has a different protagonist in each book. The books play in the same universe but don’t have to be connected. Jessica Day George introduces a family of dancing princesses in Princess of the Midnight Ball. Princess of Glass is the next princess’s story.

6. How will you make your new books “the same but different”?

Take inventory. Go back through the choices above and see what you chose for your first book. Brainstorm a list of “ingredients” you have for the next book(s).

  • Know the Ending? Try #2
  • Know the Characters? Try #3
  • Know the Concept? Try #4
  • Can’t figure out whose story it is? Try #5
  • Need to know if you’ve put in too much or too little? Try #1

Writing Excuses suggests aiming for a mix of good “old stuff” and good “new stuff that goes with the old stuff.”

Remember you have the power to make your story any length you like. The creative choices are yours.

One last tip: If you use Scrivener, you’ll like Darcy Pattison’s Series Tips: Characters, Timeline & Plot.

Note: This is my collection of other people’s insights. All brilliance belongs to them. Mistakes belong to me.

Happy plotting and writing and revising!

Do you have favorite tips to survive a series? Did you find anything new in this list that you want to try? Please share in the comments below.

photo of Laurel DecherLAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. You can find her on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany.

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Need Stronger Backstory for Your Characters? The Emotional Wound Thesaurus to the rescue!

Bookcover for The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Psychological TraumaAt The Winged Pen, we’ve written about Angela Ackerman’s and Becca Puglisi’s wonderful writing books before. So we’re super excited to tell you about their newest one:

The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma.

Yay!!!!! *shoots off rockets*

A wound, in the writing world, is the hurt the main character carries around that keeps him or her holding onto a lie.

A few examples of wounds from The Emotional Wound Thesaurus:

  • Being Bullied
  • A Speech Impediment
  • Failing to Do the Right Thing
  • Witnessing Violence at a Young Age

A lie can be anything that the character uses to protect that wound from getting bumped again. The same lie keeps the character from moving forward and achieving his or her goal.

Replacing the lie with a healthier truth gives the character partial healing. Transformed, he or she can win the battle or the soulmate, seize the prize, or lead the team to victory.

Where do authors find the lies for their characters to confront? Like all other aspects of story, lies are all around us. Unfortunately, the flaws in our characters (and in our own character) that are perfectly visible to everyone else—friends, enemies, readers—are flickering, distorted images for us. Critique partners, editors, and beta readers can help us bring them into focus.

The title of my work-in-progress, THE WOUNDED BOOK, feels a little ironic to me today, because the long process of working on it has wounded me and healed me by turns. This is the mysterious alchemy of writing: we write what we know and sometimes healing our character’s wounds helps us heal our own.

For example, J.K. Rowling’s dementors in her Harry Potter books are a terrifyingly realistic metaphor for depression. I don’t presume to know what personal connection they may have had for her, but, as a reader, I recognized them immediately. In this video of her visit to the apartment where she first wrote Harry Potter’s story, she talks about how hard writing was.

Her belief in Harry’s story carried her through and presumably changed her life as much as Harry’s story changed millions of readers.

Writing believable characters is challenging, but worthwhile. It’s the inverse of reading a book that tells a truth you always suspected, but could never articulate.

I’m looking forward to “shopping” a little in The Emotional Wound Thesaurus. I may finally diagnose my main character’s wound in a way that transforms her into the person I always meant her to be: a girl who encourages and challenges middle grade readers to become the truest versions of themselves!

Happy Writing!

Bonus: The Emotional Wound Thesaurus promises to be extra useful for creating characters when used with the well-loved Reverse Backstory Tool (from The Negative Trait Thesaurus.) It’s my absolute favorite for building strong characters.

More Bonuses: The Emotional Wound Thesaurus includes the new Backstory Wound Profile and the new Character Arc Progression Tool. You can download them free on Angela and Becca’s Tools for Writers page. There’s also a #writerspersevere giveaway in honor of the new thesaurus!

photo of Laurel DecherLAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for getting lost, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. Find her on Twitter or on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale!

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MYC: Two Steps to Make the Saggy Middle Berry, Berry Good

Blackberries in a pottery colander

 

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we covered Facing the Blank Page. This week, I’ll discuss the “saggy middle”.

Note: Handy list of Master Your Craft topics so far.

The “saggy middle” happens to the unsuspecting at any time. Some are struck down during plotting or drafting, others during revising.

But if your story is suffering from a lack of baking powder, there’s hope!

Blackberries in a pottery colander
Fixing the saggy middle is as easy as picking blackberries. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

The middle doesn’t have to stay a muddle. Managing the middle is very much like blackberry picking. There are two basic rules.

A. Make decisions. The middle of any story can look like vast, uncharted territory, but there’s really only so much room. If you can’t tell how much, try fitting your scenes into a recipe–a story structure–that appeals to you. (See Resources below).

Choose dark, sweet-smelling blackberries that give to the touch. You want scenes that excite you and:

  1. develop the story you want to write,
  2. tie into your theme, and
  3. show your main character’s growth/failure.

That way your plot is always flavored with juicy goodness!

B. Keep on picking. Don’t get so caught up finding the perfect berry patch/story shape, that you stop putting scenes in your story. As long as you keep on, you’ll eventually get enough of the good stuff. When it’s early in the writing process, ripe scenes are mixed in with undeveloped, green “berries”. Leave them until later. When it’s late, watch out for old berries (read: dried-up story “darlings”) and wasps (apparently unsolvable barriers that yield only to patience and calm).

Don’t let the deciding make you stop picking. You don’t have to visit every blackberry bush in your neighborhood to get the overview. If it looks like a blackberry, (see short list above), put it in.

Resources:

Use these wisely, writer friends! If you find one that works, run away and WRITE. Reading about berry picking does not a berry cobbler make.

Darcy Pattison’s list of 23 ways to fix the saggy middle: draws from the Hero’s Journey, the Snowflake Method, A list of handy Act II “meta-metaphors” via Syd Field for the outline averse among you, and a quick refresher of Peter Dunne’s Emotional Structure, a.k.a. what each Act in the story is for.

Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants: helped me see the connection between the story, i.e. the character’s necessary growth to overcome a weakness or release themselves from a lie, and the plot, i.e. the series of events that happen in the book for the hero to achieve or fail at the physical/external goal. She shows how to draw from the “Story Core” to populate your plot.

James Scott Bell’s Write from the Middle: the book on what to do when you get to your story’s exact middle and how it helps you shape the rest of your story. Most of my highlighting is from Chapter 5 “The Magical Midpoint Moment”.

Writing Excuses 15-minute podcast. Episodes related to the saggy middle for outliners, discovery writers, and some-of-eachers:

  • Q & A on Outlining and Discovery Writing talks about outlining scenes, index cards, when to stop outlining, and whether the writing process changes for every book
  • Creating Great Outlines covers a variety of outline techniques from a list of the “details you’re afraid you’re going to forget” to extensive outlines as long as a middle grade book, and outlining backwards.
  • Retrofitting Structure into a First Draft is about revising once you have a draft, but it’s also a handy list of things to do with the middle of your story to make it more fulfilling. Try/Fail cycles, fulfilling story promises, introducing new characters too late in the story.

Come back next Wednesday when we’ll discuss Tricky Plot Bunnies.

photo of Laurel Decher

LAUREL DECHER writes stories for middle graders about things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. You can find her on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany.

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Becoming an artist: Jackie Randall’s historical middle grade EMELIN

Book cover in graphic novel style. Boy and girl in brown medieval robes with dark branches and white medieval city in the backgroundIf you’re an eleven-year-old girl in the middle ages, becoming an artist is almost impossible! Even when you have a special talent.

Author Jackie Randall brings the earthy but beautiful world of the middle ages to life in this story of art, theft, persistence, and friendship.

“The year is 1398. Eleven-year-old Emelin Lambert is quick-witted, mouthy, and an orphan. She also has an incredible gift for illuminating manuscripts. When her last relative is killed, Emelin must travel to Reading Abbey in search of safety when she finds herself with a manuscript belonging to Geoffrey Chaucer. Follow her dark and wintery journey through medieval England where she encounters violent thieves, a boy named Wolf and the treacherous adult world she must face alone. Can her gift ensure her survival?”

We’re so excited to chat with Australian author, Jackie Randall! Welcome to The Winged Pen!

In the beginning of the story, Emelin worries about a lost and valuable “work ticket.” As a young girl in the middle ages, could she have gotten one?

The lost work ticket belonged to Emelin’s uncle, Calibor. It was vital to him so he could legally work. I wanted to create a significant problem early on because it would help immerse the readers in the rawness of life in medieval England.

That it was Emelin’s fault the ticket was stolen helped me dig down deep into her and her thinking.

Girls in England at that time were not taught to read or write, and they could never be apprenticed in any of the trades, so a girl, like Emelin, would never have had her own work ticket.

It wasn’t considered sexist. It kept the wheels turning so civilisation could continue to exist.

Women had the ability to give birth and to nurture children. They had finer fingers for sewing and preparing food. Men were bigger and stronger than women so it made sense that they worked to bring in harvest or meat, or to build homes, boats, carts etc.

Everyone did what they could to contribute to life based on what they could do best. It wasn’t always fair, but it worked.

What surprised you most (or was most inspiring) about the research you did for this book?

I loved learning about the creation of illuminated manuscripts. As much as it was unlikely that a girl could do this in this era, it was not impossible if the right things fell into place.

The girl, Emelin, had a fierce attitude that got her on this path and kept her alive when circumstances would normally have made survival impossible.

I was most inspired by the way people had to work so hard, just to live, which is a lot like people still do today in poorer countries.

And I loved using the first person POV to get inside Emelin’s head and find out how real she was. Putting her in a male world – her uncle, the guilds, the abbey – made her a like a candle flame on a black and white photo.

Writing a novel can be like living in an imaginary country. After all the time you’ve spent writing Emelin’s world, would you like to live there? Why or why not?

I think I would have liked to live there. But life was harsh and people often lived only four or five decades. I plan on living until my ninth or tenth decade, even if it’s just to annoy my friends and family… but if I could still be writing well then, that would be great joy to me.

I love Geoffrey Chaucer’s cameo appearance in the story! It had such a fun “medieval rock star” feeling. This story is a brilliant way to introduce young readers today to the author of The Canterbury Tales. Was he well-known in his own time? Or did he become famous later?

Geoffrey Chaucer was known as a poet in his lifetime, but his fame grew gradually after his death. It was only forty or fifty years after Chaucer died that the printing press was invented and books could for the first time ever be produced without people painstakingly hand writing and decorating them.

There are a couple of versions of the hand-produced ‘The Canterbury Tales’ around. One is called the Hengwrt Manuscript and the other the Ellesmere Manuscript.

The cover is so inviting, but it also looks true to the era. Can you share the story of how it came to be?

As much as I enjoy trying to do a bit of art, I knew I didn’t have the skills for this. One of my adult sons helped me find the right person to hire to do the job.

I wanted the cover to show Emelin with the manuscript, and I really wanted the cold, harsh winter in the background. And, of course, Wolf had to be there. After a bit of tweaking, I was thrilled with the end result.

Will Emelin and Wolf have more adventures?

I have a couple of books planned but I’m torn right now as to whether to write for the Australian market (where I live) so local publishers can market my work, or to write medieval and continue to self-publish (Australia has no medieval history as it was not discovered until after medieval was finished).

The books I’m planning about Emelin and Wolf are based first in London, then in Europe. There’s a crime to solve, a dead person who’s not dead, and someone to rescue. I’d really like to get my teeth into these stories as soon as I can.

Is Emelin your first Indie published book? Any advice for aspiring Indie authors?

Emelin is my first Indie book. I did not want to self-publish. My writing had begun to gain interest from Australian publishers, but they really wanted Australian fiction from me.

I didn’t want to bury my novel Emelin so I eventually published myself, with a lot of help from someone who understands marketing (and technology) much more than me.

My advice to Indie authors is don’t do it for the money, for now at least. Become excellent at writing. Don’t publish until you’ve had some beta readers or editors look at it, then listen to their suggestions, because if it’s not good the bad reviews will damage you and your sales.

Brace yourself for the ever-popular lightning round!

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Superdooper wordsmith.

Writing implement of choice? For practical writing… my MacBook Air so I can write fast and edit later. For deep and serious wordsmithing, my Lamy fountain pen and a lined notebook.

If I have a problem sentence or paragraph, I write it out. Then I rewrite it changing a word or two, or starting from a different angle, then I rewrite it until I think I’ve got it. Then I look at it tomorrow. If I still like it, it’s in. If not, I work it again. Sometimes I delete it completely then realise I didn’t need it anyway.

Vegemite, peanut butter, or Nutella? Seeing as I’m slowly eradicating sugar, it has to be Vegemite. If I could eat anything, Nutella… preferably on a fresh, warm crepe on a sidewalk in Paris, with a good coffee (I have done this once).

Dog, cat, goldfish (or pet leech)? Small dog (wire hair fox terrier perhaps) if it doesn’t bark too much (I hate yappy dogs). Or a cat if I can’t find the quiet dog.

Thank you, Jackie, for stopping by The Winged Pen!

Where can readers find you and your work?

You can order your own paperback or e-book copy of Emelin here.

For people in Australia the pricing for the paperback is better through my website www.JackieRandall.com or on the shelves at The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft.

I blog on Goodreads,

And share illuminated manuscripts and a video on Pinterest.

The Emelin book trailer is on YouTube at https://youtu.be/ZbFyYRz7aLk.

Jackie’s Facebook page.

Jackie’s Twitter.

Headshot of Jackie Randall, author of EMELINJackie has been writing for tweens and teens since 2009. She loves researching and writing historical fiction especially medieval, but is also beginning to plan some pieces of Australian fiction based anywhere between 1850–1950.

The most important aspect of writing for Jackie is developing her writing to the best possible standard.

Jackie was born in England but left there in 1967. She has been back several times and has visited many of the places she writes about, including the remains of Reading Abbey that is featured in ‘Emelin’.

She has a husband, some children and a few grandchildren.

photo of Laurel DecherLAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for getting lost, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. Find her on Twitter or her blog, This Is An Overseas Post. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale!

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Spark a Story with the Setting Exercises in The Rural Setting Thesaurus

Book covers for The Urban Setting Thesaurus and The Rural Setting Thesaurus

Book covers for The Urban Setting Thesaurus and The Rural Setting ThesaurusAngela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi do it again! Introducing The Rural Setting Thesaurus!

Disclosure: I received a review copy of The Urban Setting Thesaurus in exchange for an honest review.

I also bought a copy of The Rural Setting Thesaurus because it has GOOD STUFF for #kidlit.

You know, SHINY settings, like Backyard, Basement, Birthday Party, Child’s Bedroom, Halloween Party, Outhouse, and *cough* Secret Passageway, Abandoned Mine, Ancient Ruins. Did I mention Secret Passageway? There’s also a WIDE variety of school settings.

You might think having a list to choose from would make everyone’s stories the same. But I’ve noticed that a list frees up my mind to play. 

The best thing about Angela Ackerman’s and Becca Puglisi’s books? They make writing more FUN!

And they make writing more productive. Their power writing tools help you write better, faster, stronger stories with less effort. What’s not to like?

Today I want to talk about the deceptively simple power tool called “Setting Exercises” that is in both Thesaurus books.

A few months ago, I went into a Korean grocery store before a writing meet-up. Just for fun, I filled in the Setting Exercise tool when I got to the café. I didn’t have high hopes. I was really just going through the motions to see how/if it would work. Here are my thoughts and my unexpected results.

Feeling brave? Try out this new Setting Exercise tool. We can do it side-by-side. Hey, it’s Friday–what have you got to lose? I’ll share my results here. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

[Note: the actual tool has more tips than my shortened version here.]

Choose a place and list two sensory details for each of the five senses.

SIGHT: electric lights, colorful packaging, orange/white/red. Long cases, cash registers, lines, colors of veggies: green leaves, purple eggplant, peppers

SMELL: soap, fish, rice bags? green leaves–basil? mint? lemongrass?

SOUND: Ding of register scanner, hum of refrigerators. Korean? Voices. Words I don’t understand.

TEXTURE: crinkly packages. Hard frozen fish, tofu in buckets of water, shrink-wrapped octopus?

TASTE: toasted sesame

This was more interesting than I thought. I don’t do well with lists for character. But will it get me a story? How’d you do?

Write a paragraph through the eyes of a character who has never visited this place before. Weave in quality of light, time of day, season and use at least 3 of the 5 senses from your list. Try to show us who the character is and what he or she feels.

A little boy named Chi-won asks for something at the butcher counter. Ignored because too small, using the wrong word. Wilful lack of respect: I am stronger than you so I can do what I want and no one will stop me. Big knives and muscles in arms slamming knife through fish. Put more fish in on purpose so it will be more expensive. Sloppy packing up shows no respect for food or for child. Chi-won thinks: Too embarrassing to ask for some to be put back. Counts money. Not enough. Oh no! Chi-won sneaks out of store without paying.

Huh. Well that isn’t a paragraph of a story, but it sure looks like a hero and an antagonist. This might work even though I didn’t follow directions. Only took five minutes. What did you get?

Rewrite, using foreshadowing. Something bad is going to happen. Concentrate on building subtle mood of unease or hone in on a detail that does not fit.

Now what? When Chi-won got home, he had to give the change to his sick grandmother. If he gives all the money back, he’ll have to confess that he stole the fish. Sneaks into room and takes money out of piggy bank for the “change.”

The handy list of details I made for this setting will make this easy to do when I’m actually drafting. If I run out, there are buckets more in The Urban Setting Thesaurus and The Rural Setting Thesaurus.

Time to ramp up the tension. Rewrite to show character interact with setting as he flees, fights or hides.

Grandmother needs something else from the butcher and sends him back again. Oh no! Can’t go in there again! Goes to dirty-looking butcher shop six streets away. Buys fish there even though it smells funny in there. They cheat on the change and the fish smells. Has to keep grandmother from sending him shopping any more. Tells her he’s sick. Grandmother cooks him toasted sesame and special food but he feels guiltier. Friend at school invites for playdate. So excited until he finds out it’s the son of the first store owner. Oh no!

This story is developing right under my eyes! I’m definitely trying this tool again. I added it to my Novel Spare Parts file and put my “results” in my Setting ideas folder. I really liked the way this exercise focuses on emotions and gives me fresh ways to reveal them.

Did this tool spark a story for you? If not, try another. The Rural Setting Thesaurus includes a Setting Planner. The Urban Setting Thesaurus includes an Emotional Value and Triggers Tool. Both books include the Setting Exercise above.

Angela Ackerman gave us generous permission to share them here. You can also find them at Tools for Writers:

Setting-Planner

Tool_Emotional-Value_and_Triggers is a bit more complicated, according to Angela Ackerman. There’s a filled-out sample in the Appendix of The Urban Setting Thesaurus.

Warning: If you’re a tool person like me, I recommend limiting yourself. Don’t fall into Writers’ Home Depot and forget to come home to your manuscript.

Challenge: If you’re not a tool person, I encourage you to give one of these a try. Don’t force it. But how great would it be if you found a new way to spark your imagination?

You can find The Rural Settings Thesaurus on:

Goodreads

Kobo
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

More for you on The Winged Pen: We went a little nuts about The Emotion Thesaurus, The Negative Trait Thesaurus and The Positive Trait Thesaurus and the magical Reverse Backstory Tool in earlier posts on the Winged Pen. And Rebecca J. Allen has a new post on The Urban Setting Thesaurus here.

LAUREL DEphoto of Laurel DecherCHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for getting lost, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. You can read THE WOUNDED BOOK, her adventure story for young readers on Wattpad. Or find her on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! 🙂 Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in Windhover.

Wait, there’s MORE! Rebecca J. Allen has more about The Urban Setting Thesaurus here on the Winged Pen. Over to Rebecca:

Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.

 

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