The One Where I Get A Book Deal

One night, October 2013, I wrote four words. It was a very simple line, but I sat back and stared at it for a while:

“Two o’clock was missing.”

“Huh,” I said.

I wrote a lot more words after those ones. Soon, I had an exceptionally rough draft of a book. This process wasn’t new to me; I had written a dozen books before this one, ever since writing my first (very long, very bad) novel at 15.

But this was different.



First, it was YA, and I was used to writing adult. Second, it was historical fantasy, not high fantasy. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I was writing about boys and clocks and depression and how it’s possible to regain lost hope—and it weaved a spell over me.

I’ve been through a lot of highs and lows with this book. I loved it. I hated it. I dreamed about it. I shoved it into a corner. I revised and revised and revised and revised.

I wrote two more books, turning it into a trilogy.

“What the hell am I doing?” I asked myself. “Why am I making this harder?”


Tom Hiddleston Shocked animated GIF


It had branded itself on me. These books, these characters, refused to let me go. I went to conferences and took notes and entered contests and rewrote my query a million times. I did everything humanly possible to understand—really, truly understand—how this game works, how this story works, how we fit into things.

Then, a miracle: an agent loved my book enough to offer representation. Since signing with the wonder that is Laura Crockett, I have traveled a million miles in just a few months. (Kind of literally, since I had a huge trip to India right in the middle of all this).

It was so crazy. Revisions, and submission, and hoping and despairing and bouncing between high and low, high and low. Caught between manic flights of euphoria and black days of wondering what the point was.

I’m going to annoy all of you and just say it: It really only does take one “yes.”


Doctor Who Yes animated GIF


Now I can finally, finally, finally say that my YA trilogy, TIMEKEEPER, is going to be published by Sky Pony Press. The first book comes out fall of 2016. Here’s the official announcement:

Timekeeper announcement

I’ve learned recently how scary and exhilarating it is to trust someone else with your story, but if that someone loves your characters and world as much as you do, like my editor Alison Weiss does, then you are gold. I’m thrilled to be in this situation, to learn more, to see where everything goes from here.

I’ve written thousands, if not millions, of words.

But I never imagined that the doorway to my dream would appear with just four.


Ten Things About My Writing

Inspired by my agent sister Clarissa Harwood, who posted ten random things about her writing process, I thought it would be fun to do the same. Writers can get so deep inside their own heads that we sometimes forget others have quirky, weird habits too. Without further ado, here are mine!


  1. I use Post-It notes. A lot of Post-It notes. I have to organize my notebooks a certain way, so if I think of an idea, need to remember a detail, or write a question that’ll need to be answered later, I slap on a sticky note.
  1. When I’m REALLY in the groove, I will not stop for anything until I finish the scene/chapter. No bathroom breaks, food, tea, etc.

  1. The music I listen to changes depending on what project I’m working on. For instance, TIMEKEEPER is a lot of Lindsey Stirling, Ellie Goulding, and the Hunger Games soundtracks. My adult fantasy series makes me turn to Keane, Imagine Dragons, and Florence and the Machine.
  1. I have a thing about green eyes. A lot of my protagonists have green eyes, but I’m getting better about that.
  1. When I’m not in the mood to write in the actual MS, I write drabbles. Lots and lots and lots of them. AU drabbles, before-story and after-story drabbles, “between scenes” drabbles, sexy drabbles, sad drabbles, “what if” drabbles, etc.

  1. Reading the opposite genre of the one I’m currently writing tends to inspire me more than reading in the same genre.
  1. When I have a “eureka!” moment I get so excited I go “OH, OH, OH” and pace around and grin maniacally. I am so glad these happen when no one else is around.
  1. My cat knows when I’m in the middle of an important scene, because she will start crawling all over me.

  1. One of my favorite (if not my favorite) writing techniques is foreshadowing. I like to write a book/series all the way through and go back to the beginning to add levels of foreshadowing. The sort of details a reader won’t actually notice until they reread it and go “OHHHH!”
  1. I like doing personality-type things for my characters. Like figuring out which Hogwarts house they would be in.


So, there are my ten random writing facts. What are yours?

The Importance of Worldbuilding in Contemporary Novels

If you’re an avid reader and writer of fantasy books (like yours truly), you know how important worldbuilding is. Worldbuilding is the backbone of any good fantasy story; without a unique world, you have very little to run with.

Just look at Tolkien. He wrote hundreds of pages of worldbuilding, and as a result, readers know exactly how his world functions. People made video games based on his world. They made role playing games set in his world. They made movies about his world. People get into fights all the time about small nuances in his world!

But what I think some people forget (and I’m not excluded from that generality) is the fact that all stories need worldbuilding. Whether you’re writing a fantasy or literary novel, it needs to be there, in some capacity. The only difference will be how much you need, depending on genre.

Recently I decided to embark on a journey that I never thought I’d take: writing a contemporary YA book.

I read a lot of contemporary, and what I’ve found is that you can’t just rely on quirky, fun, or meaningful characters; you also need a world to put them in. I imagine several people think, “Well, it’s the real world. That’s the world.” Trust me, I thought the same thing, once. It’s why I write so much fantasy.


Even if it is set in our world, we need to be specific. Which country? Which state? Which town? Where do they like to eat? Are there any monuments? Are there any weird laws? What’s the society like? Are there dog parks, or are people petitioning for one? Is there a creepy guy with a rifle who sits out on his porch at night? Are there any unique festivals or customs?

The best stories, no matter the genre, draw you not only into the characters’ minds—they draw you into their world.

Example: In SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, we see unique details through Simon’s eyes, such as the sheet cakes his friend brings in whenever someone has a birthday (and the fact that no one can get a piece unless they’re wearing a party hat). We also see the preparation for homecoming and how their location in the south influences Simon’s class to choose “country music” as their theme.

These might feel like small things, but when you put them together in a book, they develop a world for your characters to explore. And through those characters, the reader can enjoy the world too.


Book Soundtracks – Writing with Music

A lot of writers I know have particular songs they associate with their projects. Famous authors such as Rainbow Rowell keep playlists for books they write and then share them with their fans. I think this is a really cool idea: sharing your book music with others. It helps both the writer and the reader envision the story better.

So, what sort of music should you be looking for? That’s entirely up to you. For me, when I hear a certain song and the lyrics and/or tone fit perfectly with a character, or theme, or even just one particular scene, my brain floods with images of my story. It even pumps me up for writing and editing later on.

If anyone is interested, I compiled my Timekeeper soundtrack here:

What sort of music best fits your book?

How I Got My Literary Agent (A Tale of Heartbreak and Stubbornness)

I just have to lead into this by saying: I NOW HAVE A LITERARY AGENT! And wow, that feels great to say. The path that led to this was not easy. It is one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but I am so glad I pushed myself to get to this point.

I’ve known that this is what I wanted ever since I wrote my first book at 15. The book that got me this agent is my 10th. Some of these books are unfit to see the light of day, and I only tried querying a couple of times before I got too intimidated and just focused on writing new things instead. This eventually led me to my latest project, a YA trilogy. And I knew this would be the one.

I wrote the first book late 2013, taking a grand total of two weeks. Yeah. The first draft wasn’t great. I didn’t touch it again until 2014, when I went to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February. THAT was an eye-opener. I was one of the youngest writers there (“You’re how old?!” was something I heard a lot) and I certainly felt like it. YA is a new category for me writing-wise, so I spent all my time at the conference learning, taking notes, talking to writers experienced in the category. I was once again intimidated, but energized.

I slunk back into the writing cave and took a grindstone to the book. I felt curiously confident and not-confident at the same time. After a while, I decided to finally send out the dreaded queries.

“It’ll be fine,” I thought. “I’ve gotten rejections before.”

It was not fine.

When I first started writing at 14/15, I had an ego. The first short story I ever submitted got accepted, people praised me all the time in high school, etc. Over the years, however, this ego steadily deflated, until I started to quake behind my manuscripts. As the agent rejections kept rolling in, the more and more my book, my shield, kept shredding in my hands.

I changed my query multiple times. I kept tinkering with the book. I didn’t know what else to do. But then I heard about this awesome thing called Pitch Wars. I entered and was chosen by an amazing mentor, Liz Briggs, who helped me patch the book up. It was that book that I sent to my now-agent, who had initially read the partial and told me, “This isn’t enough. I need more.”

Then followed one of the most stressful months of my life.


I felt like everything around me was being sucked into a vacuum. I suffered panic attacks and days where I didn’t want to do anything but stay in bed. I even wondered what would happen if I just deleted the book completely. It was extreme thinking, but I was in an extreme place, and while I got used to agent rejection, every single one of them still hurt like a dagger between my ribs.

One night, I noticed an agent who had my book had followed me on Twitter.

“That can’t be right,” I said. I tried not to get my hopes up. But in the weeks that followed I noticed a steady interest in my social media presence, and I couldn’t help but get my hopes up.

It got to the point where I actually had a dream about this agent accepting me (on the condition I brought a pot roast to the office. I don’t know, it was a dream, okay?) Little did I know that same day, my literal and figurative dream was about to come true, sans pot roast.

I had always fantasized about getting “The Call,” but when it actually happened, I just couldn’t process it. I was at my day job, stepped away from my phone to get lunch, and came back to the voicemail I had been pining for. I couldn’t eat. I just sat there staring at food that was getting cold.

I mean, I eventually called her back and everything, but those few minutes were totally surreal. I thought, “This can’t be happening to me, the book is horrible, I’m horrible, did she even read it?!”

Yeah, it was happening. To me.

No pot roast required.

You bet your ass I celebrated.

I contacted all the other agents to get their verdict, waited some more, and finally made my decision—which I’d known all along from the gut feeling I had since that first phone call. I am happy to say that I am now represented by Laura Crockett and Uwe Stender at TriadaUS Literary Agency, who have shown me nothing but excitement and kindness so far in this crazy turn of events.

While it’s not the last step in the journey, it’s still a big one, and I’m thrilled to have advocates at my side to help me the rest of the way.

Somewhere in the mess of time, 15-year-old me is throwing 25-year-old me a smirk and saying, “See? I told you.”



Querying time: 11 months

Total queries sent: 44

# of partials requested: 7

# of fulls requested: 12

Offers: 2

My Third “Third Book”

I recently came to an interesting realization: I am currently in the middle of writing my third “third book.” The first was the last of a trilogy I started in high school, the second is the third installment in a series I started a few years ago, and right now I’m in the trenches of the third book of a YA trilogy.

And I realized something else: third books are the hardest books I have ever written.

I don’t know what it is, but for these three different projects, it all came down to the same exact formula:

Book One – “Eh, it’s not perfect and I’ll need to revise it a million times, but I’m still pretty proud of it.”

Book Two – “Holy crap this is awesome!”

Book Three – “Everything seems to be going oka—WHAT THE HELL IS THIS”

The first books are where you get the lay of the land, the feel of the story, the scope of the characters. The second book is a little more familiar, but still in that lovely stage of discovery.

The third book?

Well, the third book is usually when everything goes to hell, and apparently I go to hell right along with it. “Is this okay? Does this character’s journey make sense? Is this ‘big’ enough? Does it fit with everything that happened in the first two books?”

Not that I don’t think these third books aren’t good, or that I shouldn’t have written them. I just feel that by the third book, I get really tangled up in the world and characters, and it messes with me a bit. All I see is the ending, and instead of strolling to it like I would in the first two books, now I’m sprinting towards it and waving my arms and yelling like a lunatic.



Of course, all of this can be fixed in revisions, and I can address those questions when the first draft is finished. Still, the actual writing of a third book is intimate and challenging, and usually makes me want to rock back and forth while eating lots and lots of ice cream.

But I still love writing them.


Subjectivity (and Why it Sucks)

Recently, I participated in a contest on the “Adventures in YA Publishing” blog called Pitch Plus 5—and won! Well, I was one of two grand prize winners, but it’s still a win. It was a fun and exciting contest, and I loved reading so many different stories/pitches. But it also taught me more about how subjective the whole publishing market is.

For each round of the contest, we were scored by anonymous judges, ranging from bloggers to published authors to literary agents. By the last round, I got a lot of contradictory feedback. One judge thought my opening image was super strong, and another thought it was really weak. Someone else was confused by a story detail, another didn’t have a problem understanding it.

angry animated GIF

Basically, subjectivity is the worst. The actual worst.

I was also subjective about some of the stuff I was reading. One entry really wasn’t for me at all, but a lot of other people enjoyed it. I loved another that wasn’t getting love from anyone else. Agents function this way, whether we like it or not. If your story resonates with one, great. If not, then keep going until you find that one.

If you’re anything like me and second-guess EVERYTHING, then all this contradictory feedback can be detrimental. Somehow, you have to find a way to focus on what’s working and what you can do to tweak what isn’t working.

The important thing to take away from it? Your book is never going to please everybody. So write it for yourself, and for those who will rave about it—because they will. If you love it, chances are someone else will too.

parks and recreation animated GIF

Doesn’t Show Signs of Stopping

“Sing me a song,” the woman across the table demanded. “Any song.”

I looked up from rearranging my BLT the way I like it: lettuce, then bacon, then tomato. LBT. It had to be like that. But my concentration was skewed now, my structural plans rudely interrupted.

“Excuse me?”

“A song,” she repeated in an irritated tone, as if I was the one interfering with her time. “Sing it. Anything. Just anything.”

I narrowed my eyes, a thick piece of tomato dangling from my cold fingertips. “Why?”

“I’ve got this terrible song stuck in my head, and it’s driving me crazy. I need something different.”

Setting down the tomato–it had to be touching the mayonnaise, but the bacon absolutely could not, that was not allowed–I exhaled through my nose. “I can’t sing.”

“Doesn’t matter, no one on the radio can either.”

I had a thing or two to say about that, but smartly chose to let that opinion rest. “What song?

The line of her mouth twisted into a curvy, downward bend. “Just said it doesn’t matter. Anything but this one.”

I thought about it. What should I sing? The obvious choice was to sing something that would flatter my voice, something that would best suit its range and ability. That wasn’t much to work with. Another choice would be to sing the first song that came to my head, yet this seemed equally impossible, for like most things, a great list of them projected across my mind like a film reel on fast forward. Desperate, I looked around for inspiration.

Well, here was a table–did any songs exist about tables? There was my lettuce, which was becoming disappointingly soggy. Moon Over Miami, maybe? I asked myself where that had come from. Right, that joke about “eggs over my hammy.” Ham, bacon. Bacon which was now congealing in its own luscious fat.

“You really can’t think of anything?” the woman huffed. “What do you do here, anyway?”

“I run diagnostics.”

“Hm. You’re obviously one of those left-brained people. You could use a bit more creativity in your life, you know. Left-brained people suffer from that.”

Who was she to say it like I had some sort of disease? I poked a tomato slice back into place and finally closed the sandwich back together, being extra precise. Half a piece of bacon stuck out, so I had to reopen it and start the process over.

“Really? Nothing?” she prompted again, checking her watch. It was probably past her lunch hour, and she had taken up a quarter of mine.

I didn’t feel like she should walk away with confirmed beliefs about left-brained diseases, so I resolutely lifted my chin and started to sing one of my favorites.

“A Christmas song?” she barked, more offended by the minute. “Who sings Christmas songs in April?”

Apparently I did. The weather wasn’t frightful, but her expression was. With much snorting and grumbling she gathered her things and left me to my soggy sandwich, though I knew she would be humming the song to herself for the rest of the day. It was impossible not to. And now that I had it on repeat in my mind, I conquered the sandwich with much more enthusiasm. Perhaps her interference had been useful after all.

“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow . . .”


Pitch Wars!


I’m really excited to be taking part in Pitch Wars this year! There’s such a great range of mentors/agents taking part this year, which is frankly Quite Intimidating, but also Really, Really Awesome. Thank you so much to the mentors for volunteering their time!

A list of random Tara tidbits:

– I’m a Northern California native who likes her burritos with extra guacamole

– I am half Indian, which means I can get Indian food whenever I want

– I am a Disney nut

– Cake is the best (that’s not really a tidbit, more of a fact of life)

– I can and will get into passionate debates about any and all of your fandoms


Okay, gifs aside, I’ve been (“seriously”) writing for over ten years now, and the amazing thing about writing is that every year you can see yourself improving. It’s such an ever-evolving beast. That being said, I’ve embarked on quite a few writing projects over the years, but for Pitch Wars I’m focusing on my most current project, which is:


TIMEKEEPER – A young adult historical novel set in an alternate steampunk Victorian England, where clocks control time and clock mechanics (like my MC) are in charge of keeping them running.

I’m really, really, really passionate about diversity in books, especially young adult books, so I’m proud to say that my main character is gay. And may or may not fall in love with another boy. Who may or may not be entirely human. *cough*

A little about my work ethic:

When I tell people my daily schedule, they look at my like I’m nuts. I work full-time in a law firm, which can be pretty draining, and then I go home and spend maybe 3+ hours writing/editing. And when the weekend rolls around, I’ve been known to spend 5+ hours each day working on whatever project I’m currently slapping together.

I go out of my way to demand bully politely ask beta readers to give me feedback on my work. I am not a stranger to harsh critique (although I may need large quantities of chocolate afterwards). I believe honest, thoughtful critique is imperative to bringing your writing to the next level, so I never shirk away from it.

So, in other words, I’m in it to win it.

Thanks again to the mentors, and good luck to everyone! We are awesome!

For more great mentee bios, go here.

Follow me on Twitter: @EachStarAWorld

Writing Process Blog Tour


So! There’s this thing going around called the Writing Process Blog Tour, and I am now part of it! This is a great opportunity to connect and share your writing process with other writers. Also, I get to promote people, so it’s win-win.


chelsey monroe This blog post sponsored by Chelsey D. Monroe, who is a Pretty Cool Person I met at the San Francisco Writers Conference this past February. Go follow her blog (linked above), or her twitter: @chelseydmonroe. You won’t regret it!


What am I working on?

Although I have a few things in the pipeworks, my focus at the moment is a YA steampunk trilogy. It’s set in an alternate Victorian England where clock towers have to regulate the fabric of time everywhere. My main character is a clock mechanic who ends up falling in love with the spirit of one of the clock towers. Shenanigans ensue.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write in different categories, but my main squeeze is fantasy. I set my stories in other worlds with some magical element, but inspired by our own world’s history. I think two things make my work different than most of what I’ve encountered: 1) diversity, and 2) tone. I’m not afraid to have a gay main character or one of different colored skin; in fact, I prefer it. Also, I grew up reading fantasy and the classics/contemporary books simultaneously, so that influenced my style to be more literary fantasy than sword and sorcery fantasy.

I also seem quite keen to write about death. Couldn’t tell you why.

Why do I write what I do?

People always tell you to write for a reason. “Write for yourself. Write for others. Write for money and fame. Write the stories you want to read.”

But so many factors go into it. People understand one another through stories. Cultures are linked through stories. Morals are defended and humanity is documented through stories. It’s my way to escape the terrors and uncertainties of this world to focus on the terrors and uncertainties of other worlds. I can showcase different people and all their diverse, strange habits. And, to be honest, it’s just fun. I am a word nerd. If I’m not writing or reading, I’m usually very bored.

How does my writing process work?

Hell if I know. It depends on each book. Usually I come to the computer armed with a notebook and a plethora of Post-It Notes, and sometimes I have to do hard core research before writing a certain story. One thing that does help across the board is making a quick, vague outline, and then filling in the details as I actually write the story. Other than that, I park my ass in the chair and type as hard and fast as I can until I have a book. (“Hey, look, I made a bridge. In like, what, 10 seconds? 11 tops.” – Atlantis)

Now that you know a little more about me (maybe), let me introduce three more authors who are talented, witty, and awesome alumni of Hollins University, who will be posting next week:


olivia berrier Olivia Berrier is often clueless and always shoeless. She left behind many footprints at Hollins University in Virginia, where she studied Creative Writing and Mathematics. After college, her bare feet have carried her through many experiences, but her life remains anchored by writing. Olivia writes fantasy fiction, sometimes with a mathematical inclination, and has been dropping stories like breadcrumbs across the Internet since 2007.

kathryn Kathryn is an aspiring writer and editor currently working at Barnes & Noble while she finishes up the draft of what will likely be her debut novel, a teen or new adult high fantasy. She fuels her writing with black tea and reminds herself why she writes by reading copious amounts of escapist fantasy.

megan rogers Megan Stolz is a writer, California girl, returned Peace Corps volunteer, and frequenter of coffee shops. She has a B.A. from Hollins University and an M.F.A. from the University of Baltimore. She currently lives in Virginia with her husband, two cats, and a well-stocked wine fridge. She RTs a lot @megan_stolz.