how do I get better at self-editing prose?

There’s a whole bunch of stuff you can do in a revision, whether you’re making large developmental changes or smaller in-line ones. Personally, I still struggle with the big stuff; it’s just hard for me to spot where something is flagging in my own plot or world without a lot of effort. But something I tend to feel really confident on is prose revision, aka, making your individual sentences and paragraphs shine.

Take a look at how you begin sentences. Do you shake things up every now and again? Or are you starting a lot of sentences the same way?

Brad unloaded the dishwasher. He dried the forks, then the spoons, and then the plates. He leaned on the counter. He was the only housemate awake before noon. He was so tired.

Subject-verb-object. It’s repetitive and while there’s nothing technically wrong with it, it’s also just kind of boring. We recognize the pattern here. Instead, let’s try rewriting it just by shaking up the order:

Brad unloaded the dishwasher. Drying the forks, then the spoons, and then the plates, he leaned on the counter. Once again, he was the only housemate awake before noon. And he was so tired.

It’s not a lot that changes, but it does make the paragraph feel a little fresher.

Seek and destroy. What words do you lean on more than others? Are characters always tentatively doing things? Does everyone sigh? How many things get described as impossible or immeasurable?

Especially if the word is more uncommon (like milieu, for example), your reader will notice if it comes up multiple times in close succession. Therefore, head that problem off at the pass by doing a quick search for your most common crutch words in your manuscript. Even if it’s just making sure that the two times you use “ethereal” aren’t in the same chapter of your book, it makes a difference.

This is also something that builds and you get better at the more you know what words you default to when writing.

Calm down the wild punctuation. Or, at least, challenge yourself to use less of it if you find yourself popping ellipses in every other line. My personal weakness is dashes. I will interrupt myself or other characters or just like, whatever, throw them in for spice when a normal period will do.

Challenge yourself to see if you can pull off the same effects without overloading on nonstandard punctuation. That’s not to say never use it, but notice how much you’re breaking the rules and, if it’s happening pretty frequently, ask yourself if it’s really that needed.

Like, if you find yourself trailing off and dot-dot-dotting every other page, then see if you can pare it down to once per chapter. Again, you don’t have to never use it, but try to make it more like a treat versus like a regular weeknight meal, if that makes sense.

Change the font or print it out and read pages out of order. I realize this might drive some people up a wall, but I personally really like this.

Change the font, then do a random number generator, go to that page, and read through it. Obviously, you should also read through and edit in order so that you get the emotional weight of the book, but this is fun and helps spice things up when you’re tired as heck of editing sometimes.

Plus, if you’re finding that you have pages that just…aren’t very interesting or are just plain boring to read, it’s an opportunity for you to ask “what could I do to make this part more fun?”

Because, let’s face it, you can’t have dinosaurs exploding on every page. But there are other ways to make things fun for the reader– maybe someone does a pun! Maybe there’s a really well-crafted line of dialogue or a beautiful succinct description. It doesn’t have to be a big, grand thing to still have an impact.

Can you identify speakers without dialogue tags? To cover my butt here: yes, you definitely still need and should include dialogue tags! We run a pro-dialogue tag establishment here. What I’m saying is that characters have a way of speaking. And it’s not just giving everyone weird accents or misspelling words on purpose to denote that it’s just ~that one character’s way of speaking~, it’s more that there are some word choices that jive with who characters are.

For example, your ragamuffin street urchin isn’t likely to talk about “the secret adoration of the night sky” but your poetic courtier might. Who uses slang and who doesn’t? Is one character more likely to contract words than others (“do not hit me with that again, you knave” versus “don’t hit me again, idiot”)?

Make your descriptions earn it. Whenever we slow down for a description, we’re doing exactly that– we’re taking a breather from the action to spend time looking at something. If the description is just telling us the same thing over and over in different words, then we’re going to get bored and wish we were back when the story was moving, versus hanging out and looking at a wall or whatever.

I’ve probably repeated this trick in other places, but the system I use for this is the three-point-touchstone rule: if I’m doing a description, I’ll maybe limit myself to talking about three or four important things about the object and then that’s it, show’s over. The other part of this is to make sure that each piece of description you add tells the reader something new and isn’t just the same information rephrased for beauty points.

Like, if you’re describing a love interest, don’t blow two of your description points on the eyes (unless, I dunno, they have really bananas glowy eyes or something deeply nonstandard)– tell us about how they move, the pitch of their voice, their scent, the little crinkle by the side of their mouth just before they unleash the punchline of a joke. Bonus points if you’re using the other four senses besides the just visual to perceive them.

And that’s that! Give it a try, and see what stands out to you the next time you’re polishing up your prose.

Any favorite tricks for making prose tighter before sending your work off? Let me know in the comments! I love learning new things.

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what’s the beef with sit-down dinners or scenes where characters eat?

Here’s the world’s biggest non-secret: I love to eat. Food culture in fiction? Cannot get enough of it. And probably, if you ask most other living people, you’ll find that this isn’t uncommon. Food is good, books are good, combine it and you should get something good.

So why are scenes in which characters eat delicious food, described in loving detail, usually kind of boring? Or why do people give you advice about not having sit-down meals in your manuscript? Is this something to be avoided entirely (like the dread First Chapter Mirror Moment) or can you get away with feasts, breakfasts, and family meals if you’re careful?

Here’s what I came up with.

Stakes Before Steaks. What’s the end goal of every chapter? To move the story forward and convince you to keep reading. What do we need for that? Conflict. A story is not built on things going well. And as great as eating with other people is, it’s also not typically a conflict-ridden situation– people tend to be more invested in eating rather than fighting.

It also points to a possible antidote for a dull meal scene: add a dash of tension! If your society gala or royal feast is all small talk and no political legerdemain, then chances are we’re not going to be particularly invested in whether or not everyone has a good time. It’s also hard to advance a we-need-to-save-the-world plot at the table, but you might find that you can drive a little more on emotional or internal arcs during these scenes.

For example, in one of C.S. Pacat’s CAPTIVE PRINCE books, Damen and Laurent share a meal at an inn while concealing their identities. That scene isn’t driving the main plot as aggressively as others (Damen isn’t trying to escape back to Akelios or kill Laurent), but no one would say it fails to increase tension between the two characters (it’s arguably one of the first times Laurent shows weakness around Damen) and is an important moment in their romance arc.

What’s often missing when meals feel boring is a sense of what matters in that scene/what we have to lose. Probably the main character’s food isn’t going to be snatched from them, so what else are they worrying about in that moment? Is their meal poisoned? Are they going to learn something about one of their tablemates that harms one of their relationships?

A Sit-down Kind of Place. Part of why meal scenes are difficult to make compelling are because there’s often just not a lot to do besides eat. If everyone is sitting, then they’re probably mostly communicating with their faces, which is going to feel repetitive and a little boring the fourth time someone communicates disappointment with a sigh.

One possible way out of this is to have your characters use physical cues that aren’t facial expressions to communicate their feelings. And certainly you can get characters to engage with their environment more by getting lunch to go, walking and eating, or having ice cream cones by an interesting spot like the ocean.

But there are also many ways to make sitting down at a table dramatic– just watch any Regency TV show. Hone in on those tiny ways we communicate with our actions while dining: a fork pausing after a tasteless comment, someone spilling a glass, griping a cup too hard, eating to avoid having to answer, the habits of careless eaters, careful eaters, engulfing food versus savoring it, etc. You can clue us into a character by how they eat.

Ripe for Info-Dumping. Meal scenes often struggle because, being a lull in the action, it’s really tempting to work in overly ambitious amounts of worldbuilding while people take a breather and savor their food. How many fantasy cookfires have you sat around where the main character(s) know they’re safe and there’s pages of exposition on how magic works or why the ~great cataclysm~ happened?

What’s the fix? Maybe some of that information does get conveyed over a meal– especially when you’re working in a world that takes a long amount of time to build, sometimes you do need to slow down and just tell people what’s going on. It doesn’t have to be pulse-pounding action-action-action all the time, but see what other arcs you can tug on while you’re layering that information in. Maybe the wizard’s familiar is pulling on the ranger’s hair while they’re trying to explain what happened to their village, maybe someone’s overcooked the stew and one of the party members walks out in a huff mid-prep to catch a fish that they can cook properly this time, or whatever.

Maybe there’s another solution entirely where you don’t have to use an eating scene to explain it! Maybe we see the village being destroyed on the page, or maybe there’s a battle and the characters demonstrate their powers and abilities that way.

If you’re relying on a dinner scene to give us a breather from the action and also to explain things, chances are there’s probably an opportunity to show rather than tell earlier in the manuscript. Your instincts are probably still right about the reader needing a release of tension, though, so you might need to find another way to accomplish that, with or without food.

This falls under the Yuschik School of “it pulls double or treble its weight or it gets the yeet.” If you’re feeding them because you need downtime to explain stuff, you’re taking up valuable page real estate with a scene that’s doing only one thing.

Above All, Savor the Meal. If showcasing the food and dishes important to the cultures of your characters isn’t important to you, then ask yourself: must this be a food scene?

Specifically, what I’m saying is: you have a very limited amount of space in a book. It doesn’t seem that way when you’re writing it all the time, but what you choose to include says a lot about the feeling of the setting and how we imagine it. In THE SCORPIO RACES, food isn’t central to the plot at all, but we know what people on Thisby eat and how meals look different when you have money or you don’t. It’s part of the beauty of Maggie Stiefvater’s worldbuilding that we instantly think Malvern’s a weirdo and kind of gross, all from the way he adds butter in his tea.

There’s apple cake, meat for water horses, and all this is before we even get to the famous November cakes. It’s the small touches that give us an idea of what daily life is like on the island and builds the world.

How many feast scenes have you read where all these kings and noble dudes are just waving nondescript turkey legs around (and enjoying, presumably, whatever else pairs well with turkey legs)? Contrast that with the specificity above– we’re not in Anyshire, Fantasy Realm or even Anytown, UK: this is a place with its own distinct flavor.

(Sorry, I had to do it.)

So in short, my feelings are: there’s nothing wrong with a scene where people are eating as long as it’s not being used as a crutch. Done well, banquet scenes can be the most fascinating in a book (I’m looking at Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive books, which all open with a different POV character’s perspective on a seminal, disastrous feast).

What are some of your favorite feasts in fiction? Least favorite? Drop ’em in the comments– I’m always up for new recs.

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why don’t we like dreams in fiction?

One of the things I love about reading is that it makes me ask a lot of questions: why do I love this? Why do I hate that? What makes this archetype attractive to me and this other one less so? The more I thought about the kind of craft posts I wanted to write, the more I realized it’d be most natural to just write this stuff the way I think about it, which is asking myself questions and then answering them.

So, welcome to my latest reincarnation of craft talks, in which I ask myself questions about why I like or don’t like stuff in fiction and then answer them.

Today’s question du jour is: how do you write a dream that your reader is invested in and doesn’t skip or get frustrated by? More specifically: what makes an effective dream and what makes a frustrating one? Is including dreams in fiction worth it?

Some positives to dreams are that they’re a compact little scene where you can play around in a different world beyond the waking one. Maybe dreams are part of your magic system, or maybe your character has a mysterious dream that plagues them that they can’t figure out. Certainly for us as real people, dreams are something we want to have meaning or, at least, we either ascribe meaning to or at the very least, dreams invite us to ask questions. They blur the boundary between the subconscious and the conscious minds. They’re just plain neat!

But a lot of times with dreams it’s easy to make the reader feel frustrated or pulled out of the story. Personally, there are very few dreams in fiction that I have enjoyed reading, because most of the ones that I encounter don’t have much of a purpose.

Let’s dig in a little more.

The big question I have in mind here is: what’s the dream’s endgame? If it’s a cheap scare– oh my god, someone I love is dead! everyone is naked! aliens are invading! worst case scenarios!– then as soon as the reader cottons on to their being in a dream, it’s game over for your emotional stakes.

Why? Say it’s the night before the final battle and the new chapter begins with the protagonist watching their friends die as the antagonist laughs. Sounds plausible, yeah? You’re no stranger to making your reader squirm: you’re killing people after you’ve made us care about them (as you should), you’re not making it completely out of the blue (it’s happening before a battle), and it’s a very possible thing that could happen. We might confuse it with reality.

Here’s how I’m going to feel when I figure out it’s a dream, though: bored. I’m going to be suspicious that all these important characters (and they should be important if you want their deaths to mean something to the reader) are dying either off-screen or with little fanfare, and then once I figure out that we’re in a bad dream, I’m not going to take any of the action that happens after that realization seriously. It’s going to be tedious to wait for the dreamer to figure that out and deal with the melodrama in the meantime.

One of my big tenets in writing is to trust the reader. This can also be read as: be wary of your reader’s intelligence when you’re trying to play tricks on them. Your audience is smart. Respect that. Maybe some people won’t realize they’re in a dream, but assume some do, even when you’ve revised and you know the dream is at its best. Does the scene still hold up? Or are you relying on jump scares for your effect?

So my question is: why are you putting this dream here? Is it to remind the reader of what’s at stake if the protagonist fails? Chances are, you have that built into the story in other ways (if not, there’s a great starting point for revision). Is it for fun/your own enjoyment? I might be biased as an affirmed dream-hater, but for me, if it goes in the manuscript it’s got to be pulling at least double its weight.

Here are two hard truths:

1) Everything that ends up in the final/people-safe draft should be something you enjoy (no, you do not have to enjoy getting there).

2) The book isn’t for you.

If you’re just popping in a dream because you need to fluff up a word count (we’ve all been there), got tired of playing in the world you normally hang out in, or just felt mentally exhausted and wanted to show the characters from other angles, then cool. The dream is a writing exercise; it doesn’t belong in the final. Cut it.

And sidenote: in general, if you’re hating a scene, ask yourself why! You’re the one in charge here, you can change it to be anything you like. What I’m trying to say is that, there are better ways you can sneak in the information you’re using the dream to communicate, and you might be doing them already.

Also, if you know you’re going to make your readers mad at you, the writer, for including a dream and literally toying with their emotions or boring them when they realize it’s not real and they don’t have to care, then…why do that? The book isn’t for you. You get to write it (and that’s awesome), but ultimately, you’re not the one the end product is meant for. What your reader wants is important. The goal is to help them put the pieces together, not hit them over the head with emotional wrecking balls and then say “jk! it was all a dream!” That just damages your credibility with your audience.

And okay, obvious disclaimer: if you’re writing stuff just for yourself, then do whatever. Rock and roll, buddy– your audience is you. But if you’re looking at making stuff and sharing it with other people, then I’d suggest, you know, thinking about what those other people are like and what they want.

And answers vary! I write for and about smart people who build things to fight monsters. That’s it, that’s my whole entire brand. It’s general, because I like a lot of different genres, but it’s also pretty specific: I write stuff for readers who like tricky, intricate puzzles and who want a strong emotional arc, in whatever form those things manifest. It’s not a specific demographic, but it’s enough that I can tell you what my audience is and isn’t going to dig.

And I know the emotional below-the-belt punch is not going to fly. My reader would expect something more satisfying than that.

It begs the question: what makes a satisfying dream?

I don’t have all the answers, but here are a few scenarios where I could see dreaming being useful: if your magic system or world or what-have-you relies on dreams as a mode of communication (think: SHADOW OF THE FOX by Julie Kagawa, aasimar and their deva guides, if you’re doing an Endymion retelling and it’s literally in the OG myth, etc), or if the dream is a reflection of the dreamer’s id or subconscious in an interesting and unexpected way and also conveys something important that the reader may not be able to understand or grasp the significance of (the prophecy/foreshadowing angle).

What’s different? If you’re communicating in the dream world or if your character knows that they’re dreaming and this lucidity doesn’t defeat the stakes, then awesome– the events in the dream are influencing what happens in the real world (e.g. Endymion meets the Moon, falls in love, and decides to spend the rest of his life asleep) and this moves the story forward.

If physical woes carry over from dream state to waking state (e.g. protagonist is a magical girl saving a city in her dream world, she’s awesome and a hero, but all her cuts and bruises from defeating monsters carry over into her waking life) or if the emotional stress of the dream/fantasy state influences the real world (e.g. a group of friends play a TTRPG, one of their characters dies, and the person playing the dead character gets steamed af at the other players who let their character just die), then we don’t see the same disruption in stakes as we would with a garden variety dream because what happens in the dream state matters. You can’t cut the dream out, because the dream has become what moves the story forward. Maybe that’s my litmus test for “do we keep the dream or not?”

Notice also that in these cases it doesn’t particularly matter anymore if the reader figures out that we’re dreaming– we’re in another world/state of being, sure, but actions still have consequences. Maybe they’re not always physical ones, but sometimes the emotional fallout is worse. I’ve probably said this a million times, but if it costs you something (goodwill between friends, physical wellbeing, magic) it tends to be compelling.

Last, let’s talk about dreams as foreshadowing. This is the other thing that I see a lot of in fiction, beyond a false reality scenario. And prophetic dreams can be really cool! My question here is more: how do you still keep this fun for the reader? If we’re getting dreams of this wholesome peasant girl dancing around in ballgowns and being crowed empress of all Russia, then it’s not really going to shock us to learn later that she’s Anastasia.

For this, take cues from what your own dreams (the ones you, as a person, have when you are sleeping) are like. Make your reader work to figure out what dreams mean, if they mean anything at all! Maybe the dream is communicating something is about to happen, but maybe it’s done so weirdly that the dreamer only gets a feeling and not an in-depth meteorological forecast of the future.

Like: you stumble into a kitchen. You don’t know why you’ve been running, but it’s important that you are hidden. There’s a young man working some dough in a bowl, a careless streak of flour down his cheek and tousled hair. He’s also kinda confused why you’re here, but the oven is heating up, there’s herbs growing on the window sill as it rains outside, and the dark wood cupboards give the room a cozy look. He gives you a look and motions for you to hide under the table with its long white tablecloth. You do so, thanking him, and he puts a finger to his lips. There’s the sound of measuring cups, then the people who were chasing you surge into the kitchen, sounding very important and questioning the young man about you. He’s annoyed that he’s being bothered in the middle of his work and gives them wrong directions. When they’ve left, he gives you the all-clear, then sends you on your way with a thumbs-up and a croissant from the basket on the table. It tastes melt-in-your-mouth good as you run through lavender fields outside the cottage and into the mists. You wake up, surprisingly grateful, and get back to work on the project you’ve been stressing about.

It’s that kind of subtlety that I think you’re looking for. You could sneak more foreshadowing into that (maybe the dreamer has the opportunity to do something kind for someone else, or meets someone with a birthmark under their eye and feels kindly toward them), but we’re not watching the dream to know what happens next– we’re watching it to know how the character feels. Maybe a more ruthless character is a little more inclined toward kindness after a dream like that and it influences the way the they treat the people around them.

Because, again, your reader is smart. They’ve seen a ton of dreams too, and chances are they know the same narrative tricks you do. If you want to give them something to think about, then kick it up a level.

And those are my thoughts on dreams: ease off the worst-case gotcha! moments and lean more into the weird emotional angles and the stuff that carries over into the waking world and creates change there. At the end of the day, you are playing the stakes game: how can I manipulate the reader’s emotions in way that’s going to be most satisfying long-term?

If you liked this and want to cajole me into making more craft posts via monetary encouragement, behold, I have a Ko-fi! If these Uncertain Times™ are not ~finding you well~ then nbd fam, I’m just glad you’re here.

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Now get out there and make stuff.

cover reveal: HOW WE FALL

Okay, it’s no secret that I have some pretty awesome critique partners. So when Kate Brauning, aka goddess of social media and Hemingway to my Fitzgerald (why no, I am not conceited at all), had her cover reveal for HOW WE FALL coming up, I was all over being a part of it.

This is a book that I was lucky enough to read before it got picked up for publication, and I’m so excited for Kate to get to share it. It’s suspense in the truest sense of the genre, and its sharp dialogue, snappy action, and keen imagery have definitely made it one of my favorites and most anticipated books of 2014. It’s been a pleasure getting to see this book evolve from agented to sold to on my shelves (and maybe on yours, too), and I’m stoked to get to be a part of HOW WE FALL’s cover reveal.

As a special added bonus, Kate’s also letting us post the first page of HOW WE FALL–so right away you guys can see how much fun Jackie’s going to be to tag along with come November. (Spoiler alert: she is a blast.)

Okay, enough with the introductions. Take it away, info and back cover copy!

HOW WE FALL by Kate Brauning

YA contemporary
Publication date: 11/11/2014
Publisher: Merit Press, F+W Media Inc.
ISBN-13: 9781440581793
Hardcover, 304 pages

He kissed her on a dare. She told him to do it again.

Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle’s sleepy farming town, she’s been flirting—a bit too much—with her cousin, Marcus. She pushes away the inevitable consequences of their friendship until her best friend, Ellie, disappears, and the police suspect foul play. Just when she needs him most, Marcus falls for the new girl in town—forcing Jackie to give a name to the secret summer hours she’s spent with him. As she watches the mystery around Ellie’s disappearance start to break, Jackie has to face that she’s fallen in love at an impossible time with an impossible boy. And she can’t let Marcus, or Ellie, go.

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for… the reveal!



Sneak Peek Page:

Chapter One
Last year, Ellie used to hang out at the vegetable stand with Marcus and me on Saturdays. This year, her face fluttered on a piece of paper tacked to the park’s bulletin board. Most weeks, I tried to ignore her eyes looking back at me. But today, Marcus had set the table up at a different angle, and she watched me the entire morning.

The day that photo was taken, she’d worn her Beauty and the Beast earrings. The teapot and the teacup were too small to see well in the grainy, blown-up photo, but that’s what they were. She’d insisted sixteen wasn’t too old for Disney.

The crunch of tires on gravel sounded, and a Buick slowed to a stop in front of the stand. I rearranged the bags of green beans to have something to do. Talking to people I didn’t know, making pointless small talk, wasn’t my thing. My breathing always sped up and I never knew what to do with my hands. It had been okay before, but now—surely people could see it on me. One look, and they’d know. Chills prickled up my arms in spite of the warm sun.

Marcus lifted a new crate of cucumbers from the truck and set it down by the table, his biceps stretching the sleeves of his T-shirt. Barely paying attention to the girl who got out of the car, he watched me instead. And not the way most people watched someone; I had his full attention. All of him, tuned toward me. He winked, the tanned skin around his eyes crinkling when he smiled. I bit my cheek to keep from grinning.

The girl walked over to the stand and I quit smiling.

Marcus looked away from me, his gaze drifting toward the girl. Each step of her strappy heels made my stomach sink a little further. Marcus tilted his head.

He didn’t tilt it much, but I knew what it meant. He did that when he saw my tan line or I wore a short skirt. I narrowed my eyes.

“Hi,” she said. “I’d like a zucchini and four tomatoes.” Just like that. A zucchini and four tomatoes.

Marcus placed the tomatoes into a brown paper bag. “Are you from around here?”

Of course she wasn’t from around here. We’d know her if she were.

“We just moved. I’m Sylvia Young.” The breeze toyed with her blonde hair, tossing short wisps around her high cheekbones. Her smile seemed genuine and friendly. Of course. Pretty, friendly, and new to town, because disasters come in threes.

“Going to Manson High?” Marcus handed her the bags.

She nodded. “My dad’s teaching science.”

Finally, I said something. “Three bucks.”

“Hmm?” Sylvia turned from Marcus. “Oh. Right.” She handed me the cash and looked over the radishes. “Are you here every day?” Her eyes strayed back to Marcus.

“Three times a week,” he said.

“I’ll see you in a day or two, then.” She waved.

I was pretty damn sure she wouldn’t be coming back for the radishes.


Pre-Order How We Fall: Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, IndieBound, Books Inc., Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Book Depository,
Amazon U.S., Amazon Canada, Amazon U.K., Amazon Germany, Amazon Japan.

Add How We Fall on Goodreads!


About the Author: Kate spent her childhood in rural Missouri raising Siberian huskies, running on gravel roads, and navigating life in a big family. Now living in Iowa, she is married to a videographer from the Dominican Republic, and still owns a husky. She loves bright colors, fall leaves, unusual people, and all kinds of music. Kate has written novels since she was a teen, but it wasn’t until she studied literature in college that she fell in love with young adult books.  Kate now works in publishing and pursues her lifelong dream of telling stories she’d want to read. Visit her online, on Facebook, or on Twitter.


interview: Bethany Hensel

One of the things I love is talking with authors about how they approach writing and what they most loved about their books. Today I’m super excited to welcome Bethany Hensel to the blog to chat with her about her excellent book, UNSTOPPABLE.

Unstoppable tells the tale of young, intelligent and handsome Derek Archer, whose life is finally beginning. He’s just about to graduate from high school, land the job he’s always wanted, and move in with the girl he’s always loved, Victoria. There’s no reason for him to question or want for anything…until the day Victoria’s father is shot and killed, setting off a devastating, heartbreaking chain of reactions.

Now, the race is on, and Derek has only three days to right a terrible wrong. With the help of a childhood friend with a penchant for high-tech espionage, they investigate every lead, never imagining their search would take them deep into the heart of a seemingly perfect family, where old ghosts, bitter lies, and agonizing betrayal all collide. It’s then, with the lives of everyone he holds dear in the balance, Derek discovers just how unimaginable the truth can be…and how unstoppable.

Full of twists and turns, this breathtaking story is The Bourne Identity meets Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo and Juliet…expect action, expect danger, expect love.

Amazon | B&N | GoodReads | Bethany’s Site

Sounds awesome, right? (That’s because it is.) Bethany is a fantastic writer, and I’m thrilled to have her here talking about UNSTOPPABLE as well as the next book in her Truth and Love series, IRREVERSIBLE. Alright, let’s go!

Hey Bethany! When did you first know that you wanted to write books? Was it something you’ve always known or a talent you discovered along the way?

Hey Alex! Thanks for having me here! Excellent question. I love this interview already. 🙂 From a very young age, I loved to perform. I loved to dance and sing and tell stories. As I got older, the need to be an entertainer never diminished, though it took a while for me to figure out what medium I would go into. I think I was 16 or 17….maybe 18, when I read Harlan Coben’s Tell No One and it really changed my life. I decided, in that moment, I wanted to entertain a person the way Harlan Coben had entertained me with that story. So I wrote my first tale shortly thereafter and the rest is history.

I love how one book can just change everything like that. Awesome! The world of UNSTOPPABLE is one that I can just lose myself in— from the moment we meet Derek on page one, we know right away that he’s in an unforgiving place, but a place that he’s also learned to thrive in. What was the inspiration for that world?

Aw thanks so much! The world of Unstoppable is very much like this one. The only real change is the laws that govern the world. It’s a very strict place to be, and therefore, very scary. One false move and you’re done! That sense of urgency came from the fact that I wanted this story to hit the ground running and not stop. It was incredibly important to me that the stakes in Unstoppable were literally life and death.

I’m a big believer in pushing limits and experimenting as a writer. Was there a point in writing this that you felt you were pushing yourself or trying something new?

I thought I was a bit out of the box with the layout of the work, but no, I don’t think I got too experimental. 🙂 But then again, weirdness is in the eye of the beholder, so I’ll leave it up to the readers. 🙂

The pacing in UNSTOPPABLE is also top-notch. From one scene to the next, the action doesn’t let up until the very last page. How did you get that jump-off-the-pages energy in your work?

Whew! Glad you felt that way because that’s what I was going for! Like I said, Harlan Coben really changed my life and his books have been a huge influence on my writing. His stories are lean and mean and I wanted mine to read the same. I enjoy reading stories like that. Yes, I also enjoy reading very lush, lyrical books that take their time, but there’s something about a high-stakes cat and mouse chase that really entertains me.

So to ensure I wrote a lean, mean story, I had one rule in mind: nothing extra, nothing superfluous, nothing slow. If I thought a scene, chapter, paragraph, sentence or word began to drag the story, I cut it. I was merciless!! Trust me! It started out at 130,000 words and I chopped it down to about 66,000.

That sounds like some hardcore revisions! I am in awe. Alright, time for a process question. 🙂 Do you listen to music while you write, or do you have other writing rituals?

I listened to the Man of Steel soundtrack a lot! But if the story had a theme song, I’d say it was Bryan Adams Everything I Do, I Do it For You. That sums up the story pretty darn well!

Aahhh! I can so see that. What character in UNSTOPPABLE was the most fun for you to write, and why?

Victoria! I can’t say why because then I would spoil it, but she was a TON of fun! When you read the book, you’ll know instantly why. 🙂

I don’t want to spoil it either, but YES. I also loved Sabrina, and I’m so thrilled we get to hear more about her in IRREVERSIBLE. Can you tell us more about that story and maybe give us a hint about what we can expect?

Thanks Alex! Sabrina is one of my favorite characters! I love how tall and sassy she is. 🙂 As for what you can expect in Irreversible….humor, tons of verbal sparring, bathroom cat fights and slumber parties at Derek’s house! You will also find answers, especially the one to what happened that night. The book is a novella, but it’s jam-packed with twists and turns and a lot of surprises. It was a fun book to write and I hope it translates in the reading. 🙂

As a huge fan of both verbal sparring and slumber parties, I am super excited about it. *moves to top of TBR* And lastly, what is one piece of writing advice that you’ve learned from working on your books?

I’ve learned that it will come together. As long as I am patient, work hard and not give up, the story will come together. There were some hairy moments when I thought the book would never end or it would never gel and make sense. But that’s when I needed to be the strongest and push through the tough edits and have faith the story would all come together in the end. Sometimes, you make a mess of things when you write, and it’s hard to see the progress and good stuff going on underneath the mess. But it’s there. I’ve learned that if I just keep going, keeping sitting at the computer one day after the other, writing one word after the next (even if I’ll just end up deleting them later anyway) I’m making progress. The book is becoming better and that’s always been my goal. Write the best book I possibly can. 🙂

Great advice! As someone who’s also been through some dicey revisions, I love this. Persistence and diligence, guys. 🙂 Thanks Bethany for such a fun interview! 

on wisdom


When I was a little kid, I asked why they were called wisdom teeth.

I don’t really remember why we were talking about wisdom teeth, but I remember the answer: they came in when you were old enough to start being wise. I’m almost 25, and while that doesn’t really feel like I’ve reached a wise age (unless it’s the wiseass age), I’d still like wisdom teeth to teach me something about the human condition.

There are five stages in the Kubler-Ross model of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. And sure, maybe busting out the grief cycle is a little extreme for a routine oral surgery. But there’s a reason people have nightmares about losing teeth– it’s a metaphor for death. Without teeth, we’re toothless: on a primitive level, we can’t hunt and feed ourselves well–we become the weak in the herd. It’s a change in yourself that you will never be able to undo, one more sign of memento mori as you leave teenage invincibility

It’s always bothered me that anger is in the middle of the cycle.

I don’t think that anger is just one of many opposites to happiness. Look at any middle school emotion chart, and in all those smiley faces expressing different feelings, there’s maybe one or two that look okay/socially acceptable to be. Everything else is an uncomfortable contortion of features. In my experience, emotions are less polar and more overlapping. Anger doesn’t preclude happiness, and to me, it’s never been its opposite.

But still, we get taught that there’s a very limited number of okay moods to be and that everything else is negative, is something you don’t want to be because it is Not Happy.

I like anger. Maybe it’s something about being a girl that makes people think your anger is not the same kind of anger they’re talking about. Or maybe it’s just that happiness and anger are ingrained as such opposites that it seems impossible for them to coexist.

But they do. Tintin‘s Captain Haddock is hilariously angry but, I’d like to think, is at his heart also a happy person. He just wants things done a certain way (preferably his way, aka the best way, and with whiskey). When both those conditions are met, he’s on cloud nine. Professor Calculus also toes this line– a type A, obsessive personality who is happily whimsical up until the point where someone calls him a goat or intimates that he’s not as smart as he thinks he is. If my French comic book references aren’t reaching you, then think about Stubb in Moby Dick.

When I first thought about passing through the anger part of the grief cycle when we learnt it in 9th grade religion class, I thought it meant losing a integral part of myself. (And if loss of the self doesn’t spiral you straight into depression stage, I don’t know what will.)

But having gone through denial (my wisdom teeth are already in, this tooth chart on the internet is just wrong), bargaining (I’ve had a root canal, I brush my teeth three times a day, this can’t be happening), depression (I am going to have to relive the most terrifying experience of my life), acceptance was a surprise.

I’m not not-angry– it’s just a different flavor of anger. After googling “human teeth diagram” (as you do when you’re a tech-savvy twenty-something living away from home) and counting my own out, I was angry in the sense that I was frustrated I couldn’t change what was happening to me.

And that I think is what the Kubler-Ross model is talking about. Anger as rage at powerlessness, refusing to accept what you know in your gut is true. Frustration.

I’m frustrated at the human body for being so poorly designed that its own teeth run into each other, and I’m ticked off that us humans, as possessors of bodies, have not figured out a better way to deal with wisdom teeth by now. That’s the part of anger that I’ve moved past. Whatever happens, the teeth still have to come out and that’s not changing.

What I haven’t moved past is anger at my fear. Vita brevis, ars longa, right? Maybe fear is always going to be my first reaction with dental stuff, or any surgery– it is for a lot of people. I don’t like it. Fear is weakness, and being scared of a dentist, aka someone whose job is to help you, is a stupid fear.

But, at the same time I’m happy for the perspective, happy I get what people mean when they say to stay hungry, stay foolish. You have a whole lot of things to do, and a much shorter amount of time to do them in. It’s not something I like about being human, but it’s something I’d rather know than not.

a few hours post-op

I got a very kind, thoughtful email from one of my professors wishing me “good luck with the teeth removal.”

I’m working on my second chocolate frosty since my wisdom teeth came out. It’s slow going since I can’t open my mouth much, but it’s happening. The night before the surgery I stayed up until 4am working on a manuscript and annoying a too-loyal Siberian Husky with a few hours of motivational heavy metal, so now the wolf dog and I are kicking back on the couch again, me with this frosty and him curled up into a little ball, sleeping it off.

Most of what I’ve learned from this is that no one really knows what to say about having your wisdom teeth out. My officemates and CPs shared their experiences, my little brother told me about how much blood he coughed up, and my grandmother phoned to express her well wishes and wonder why the Good Lord gave us extra teeth. I said that maybe the Good Lord was just looking out for the dental hygienists in His flock, but she encouraged me to think in less worldly terms.

“It’s just something that happens to everyone,” my mom said in the oral surgeon’s.

“Great, wisdom teeth and death.” I said. “Thanks, I am so less depressed now.”

“That’s not what I meant.” She smiled, then checked again to make sure I’d taken my contacts out before the surgery. “You’re going to be fine. Everybody has to go through this. It’s part of being human.”

My dad had been pretty silent on the wisdom teeth front, and I didn’t really mind. Between us, Dad and I make up the most oral surgery and dental weirdness in the household, and I took his not bringing up my teeth as a sign of stoic respect. Warrior to warrior, the last, grim salute before you ride into battle.

But still, since it’s a human thing and since I try to catalogue human things, after I got home from the surgery I decided to ask him. I knew my mother’s story, my grandmother’s, my little brother’s, and the ones my friends online and in the office had shared. I wanted to know his.

“They never came in.” My dad shrugged over some diagrams for a new research study he’s putting together at work.


“Yeah. My wisdom teeth just never grew in. Never got ’em. They’re not even on my x-rays. I didn’t want to mention that until after you were finished getting yours out.” He ruffled my hair. “But I’m proud of you for being brave, kiddo.”

Right now, I’m planning out tomorrow’s soft food banquet, scowl-smiling at the nine different, dessert-flavored varieties of yogurt I’ll be dining on for the next few days. If I’ve learned anything from this, if there is wisdom in these wisdom teeth, it’s that I’m pretty damn lucky.

I’m lucky I have friends who tell me about their own hilarious mishaps with these things, classmates who cover my recitations during my x-rays, professors who take the time to wish me well, a mother who trails after me with gauze and hits up every smoothie place in town for chocolate shakes, and a family who’s 100% cool with me locking myself up in the den to make terrible things happen to this poor fictional guy as I recover.

I’m making art and studying what I love. I have a fridge full of yogurt, a very clingy husky, and know some of the coolest people around. And for all that, and all the stories, thanks.



I think if I had to characterize SLINGS AND ARROWS, it would be as a mash-up.

The first time I listened to a mash-up was sometime in late high school (look at that YA go). It was on my radio–because I’d gotten a radio for graduating eighth grade, like a boss– and it was the famous Green Day/Oasis one. It was pretty cool– taking two things that really did not match at all, and then combining them and making them work. Now mash-ups are super common– you can blitz through soundcloud and come up with Bastille vs. Katy Perry, and somehow, magically, the sound holds.

Sometimes, it even makes more sense than the original songs separately. Whenever “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” comes on the radio when I’m driving, I sing the Oasis part to fill in the gaps (and then bust out a little Eminem at the end, naturally) because it just sounds weird to me now without it.

S&A is a story told in two timelines. It’s the first time I have ever done this, and I don’t really remember what made me do it. Dual timelines is a lot like having dual POVs– at first, I was much worse writing Dominic’s past self (let’s call him GreenDay!Dom) than his present self (Oasis!Dom). I didn’t know enough about who Dominic was as his own person– he literally started out as a grief writing exercise, and his grief was defined by one person, Shelley.

I’ve always really admired fugues. Fun fact: I learned the word fugue at age 15 when I read THE BEEKEEPER’S APPRENTICE (it was my favorite book and it remains in a place of honor on my shelf today). Because mispronouncing things in front of my mum is a recurring motif in my life, I said how cool I thought fugues were and she cracked up because “fug-way” is not how you say “foog.”

(I did the same thing with balsam. “Oh honey, it’s ‘bal-sum,’ not ‘ba-sawm.'”)

Telling a story in two parts has been a trick that I’ve wanted to imitate for a while, and it feels pretty satisfying to get to do it. I feel like fugues are going to be a part of my writing always, even though I don’t plan on ever ever ever my god doing dual timelines again. I remember that enthusiasm I felt as a teenager reading stories and freaking out when I realized what the author was doing, and one of the first times that happened was with fugues.

Sometimes it feels like my life is one big mash-up. I do math and I do writing, and I try to find the commonality between them (hint: it’s truth). And this is what I love, when I can use some ridiculous writing trick I learned from my favorite teenage book to pull massive shenanigans in a manuscript years later. This is why I write.