Posts tagged “Books

A Month of Giveaways!

November is a month of book giveaways! First, I’ll be giving away 20 (yes, 20) signed copies of The Sower Comes, book three in my award-winning Solas Beir Trilogy. This is a fantasy series filled with adventure, magic, and romance. Head over to Goodreads by November 21 to enter.

Sower Comes Cover

Trilogy Covers with Awards

Next, I’m giving away a signed copy of my newest book, Pitcher Plant. This suspense novel is set on the Oregon coast and features murder and restless spirits. It was inspired by a delightfully creepy fixer-upper I almost bought, near the beach in Seaside. To enter the giveaway, like my Facebook author page, or, if you’ve already done that, comment below. This giveaway ends November 28.

Pitcher Plant Cover

Finally, I’m giving away a signed copy of Sunset Empire, which is set in Astoria, Oregon. This novel blends history with fantasy and adds a twist to local monster legends. There’s a ghost in this one too. To enter the giveaway, follow my Twitter account (or, if you’ve already done that, comment below). This giveaway ends November 28 as well.

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Best of luck!

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017


Writer’s Block

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Today I’m pleased to feature a post on writer’s block from friend and fellow author, Heather Douglas. Heather is a writer, illustrator, and educator based in Astoria, Oregon. She is the author of a book of poetry and was recently awarded Astoria Visual Art’s Writer in Residence. She also writes for Coast Weekend. More of her work can be found at OscarAstoria.com.

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“Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” –Charles Bukowski

Whether the phrase writers’ block conjures up an image of Jack Nicholson in The Shining obsessively typing the same phrase on his typewriter, or a romance novelist at their peaceful mountain retreat with a cup of tea waiting desperately for inspiration to come, the struggle is real for many writers.

Stephen King, a very prolific writer and America’s most famous of the horror genre once said “amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us get up and go to work.” While King is absolutely correct, it doesn’t hurt to have a few strategies to employ from time to time.

My relationship with writing has reflected the ebb and flow of my own creative life. In elementary school, I was encouraged and rewarded by events like the Oregon Writing Festival at Portland State University where I could meld minds with kids like me. I loved creative writing and poetry and had some of my work published in the local paper and won some school wide writing contests. Along with other kids in my neighborhood, we created a newspaper called The Tapiola Times (named after the park I grew up next door to); we wrote movie reviews, comic strips and from time to time ‘investigative’ article and features. Putting pen to paper and writing was easy back then and was a blast—I was good at it, I liked it and I could say what I wanted and think hard about it without getting flustered in everyday conversations.

Middle school began what I would call the ‘essay and book report years.’ The formulaic pattern of essay writing was stifling. I was no longer expressing my own imagination and creativity, but writing analysis about the creative work of authors who were dead and gone. It’s not that I had no love for the classics. I spent half of one summer reading Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles in a tent I had set up in my parents’ backyard—but I didn’t get to choose what classics I wanted to write about—yet, there is value in pushing through work that is difficult.

Yet, I craved a balance between expressing my own creativity and following the rules in school. I no longer loved writing, but I never suffered from writer’s block because I adapted; I began to rely on my work ethic—something I had thankfully nurtured through sports—you push through the pain, get the job done and don’t complain. I begrudgingly became friends with the essay, the book report and the worksheet. I was rewarded and encouraged by my teachers for my efforts in writing.

In college, I majored in English and was required to write copiously in the standard essay format. I wrote very little, if any creative pieces. I realized that if I was going to write about more than just famous works, I would have to write on my own. It was a tumultuous time for me emotionally, and I began to lean on writing as a form of expression and therapy; I wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages of journal entries in great detail about what I was feeling at the time. I even earned a coveted compliment from a notoriously unrelentingly strict professor of James Joyce. He said I had talent and should consider getting a PhD to teach English. Although I was beyond flattered, I couldn’t imagine that the rest of my writing life would be spent centered around studying the works of a dead author—no matter how talented or epic.

While writing saved my life in a time of great existential loneliness during the college years, I went through a long phase of what I can only call tongue in cheek a phase of “creative constipation”—otherwise known as a decade of writer’s block. I stopped filling my journals and collapsed in exhaustion after my college graduation with the hopes of taking a huge break from essay writing and literary analysis.

Although I stopped writing, the ideas never stopped coming. Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic author, said about creativity, “possessing a creative mind is like having a border collie for a pet; if you don’t give it a job to do, it will find a job to do—and you might not like the job it invents.”

In the past 5 years I have found my way back to writing through blogging, journalism, poetry and the occasional non-fiction story. I also teach high school students to find their voice through writing. I want them to feel inspired and empowered to try out different genres of writing. I don’t want them to experience the frustration of having no outlet for their feelings.

It has been a difficult journey, but these days I have a healthy balance between work ethic and inspiration. If I were to give advice to my young writing self about moving through creative blocks, this is what I would say now.

You are Free to Write Crap

In Natalie Goldberg’s book Wild Mind Living the Writer’s Life, one of her bedrock rules to writing is this: “you are free to write the worst crap in America.” You have to start somewhere, and keeping the pen moving whilst writing what you may think is the worst crap is better than not writing at all. Worst case scenario: it IS crap, but that’s what multiple, successive drafts are for. Best case scenario: it actually isn’t crap and you’re just too hard on yourself.

You Are a Writer if You Write

If you run, you are a runner. If you write, you are a writer. If you’ve always “wanted to write,” or you have a plan to “write someday,” or you have “a novel in your head,” you’re a dreamer, not a writer. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. One of the lessons you learn as you mature is that work ethic nearly always beats talent.

Writing is Work

Hemingway famously said “there is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Writing can be scary, emotional and terrifying. But it’s work and it’s very worthwhile work.

Smack Down the Internal Editor

What Natalie Goldberg calls the “monkey mind” is the internal critic—the monkey that sits on your shoulder and peers down on what you do. It’s your ego and the one that constantly corrects you and forces you to doubt yourself.  It’s the perfectionist side that causes you to freeze like a deer in headlights.

There Are No Hard and Fast Rules for Writing

Work with the limitations of the day, but there are not hard and fast rules for writing. Some will say “write every day at the same time.” Some will say “make sure your desk is free from clutter.” Some will say “a messy desk is a mark of a creative mind.” Writing is amazing because there very few places where you can’t write. I have yet to think of a place where you can’t write—well, maybe…don’t write while you’re driving.

Talk To Other Writers

Chances are other writers feel exactly the same struggles. Find comfort in talking to them and rekindling the reasons you love writing.

Trust Yourself

Your narrative matters. Repeat: your narrative matters. Your unique perspective matters. What someone else thinks of your ability as a writer is none of your business. Write because your voice matters. Write because you have something to say. Write because although it may be hard work, you love it.

Thank you for joining us today, Heather! Check out Heather’s work at OscarAstoria.com.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017


Pitcher Plant Release Day!

Release Day for Pitcher Plant is finally here! Come help us celebrate launch day at our release day party on Facebook. Stop by from 6-10pm EDT, and enter to win a ton of amazing prizes from Filles Vertes Publishing and yours truly, including signed books, a Seaside-themed gift pack, a $10 Amazon gift card, manuscript critiques (for those of you who have novels in progress), and more. Wondering where to get your copy of Pitcher Plant? Click right here to get it from FVP. It’s also available on Amazon in paperback and as an eBook.

I have three things to share with you today–a Q&A about the book, an excerpt, and a nifty bookmark that you can print and put into service. Enjoy!

(Tip for printing the bookmark: right click on the image, click “copy image”, and then paste it into a Word document. Tada! Your bookmark is ready to print.)

Q&A:Bookmark

Q: Pitcher Plant is about a couple who buy a house on the Oregon coast, intending to fix it up, only to find out it is haunted and may be connected to a killer. What inspired the story?

A: It was inspired by a real house I visited when my husband and I were house hunting. It was a cool old house, and as we toured the property, I wondered what had happened to the people who lived there before. Of course, being a horror fan, my mind took a dark turn. It wasn’t much of a leap after seeing the spooky basement and a dead rat in the kitchen sink.

We’ve done renovations on houses before, so it was also easy to imagine a couple restoring the house. What I didn’t know, between house repairs and forensics (like how fast bodies decompose in various environments), I researched. My browser history is pretty scary. I’m not planning on killing anyone, I swear.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Given that there’s a mystery in Pitcher Plant, I had to know who my villains were and plant clues along the way. But it’s also a suspense novel, and writing by the seat of my pants works well for creating unexpected twists, especially those that blur the line between the supernatural and the psychological. When I write, I usually start out with a basic idea of how the story will go, and then let my characters drive the action. I find the stories are more genuine that way, rather than adhering to a strict plot. It also helps to ground a story with realistic details that provide a sense of authenticity.

I also wrote from first-person limited, which is conducive to a suspense novel because readers only know what the main character knows and experiences. The plot unfolds for the protagonist and readers at the same time.

Q: Pitcher Plant is your fifth book. What else have you written?

A: Earlier this year I released Sunset Empire, a young adult fantasy set in Astoria, Oregon, which is close to Seaside, where Pitcher Plant is set. (If you like the Pacific Northwest, these books will certainly give you a tour of the north coast of Oregon.) The book debuted in the best selling Secrets and Shadows boxed set. Sunset Empire blends local lore and history with a paranormal twist. There’s a ghost in that one too, lurking in the tunnels under Astoria’s streets.

The supernatural is definitely a theme in my books. I also wrote The Solas Beir Trilogy, a young adult series which plays on boogeyman myths, combining legends in a contemporary fantasy with magic, old Spanish Colonial mansions, and parallel worlds.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m collaborating with a friend on a novel about a small town on the Oregon coast that comes under siege by an extremist group after a natural disaster. It’s my first time writing fiction with someone, so that’s been a fun challenge. I look forward to focusing on that this summer.

Q: Who are your favorite authors?

A: I just finished reading a great book by Hester Young called The Shimmering Road. It’s the sequel to her Southern Gothic, The Gates of Evangeline. I loved the characters, twists, and supernatural elements. I also like Jim Butcher, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Moore, Terry Brooks, Kendare Blake, Chelsea Cain, and many other fantasy and horror authors. Stephen King is my absolute favorite. I’ve been reading his work since middle school, and he’s had a tremendous influence on my writing.

I also love horror movies, and they have taught me a lot about pacing and suspense. Some favorites are Pan’s Labyrinth and The Cabin in the Woods. Guillermo del Toro and Joss Whedon are masterful story-tellers.

Q: Horror and ghosts are a theme here. Have you ever seen a ghost?

A: Yup. Several years ago, my husband and I lived in a house where a number of things happened that we couldn’t explain rationally. It was a plain ranch house built in the 80s—not what comes to mind when you think haunted house. One night, I stayed up writing and my husband went to bed. I was sitting at the dining table, working on my laptop. The house had an open floor plan connecting the living room to the dining area, and the combined room and hallway were well-lit—nothing creepy about the interior of the house.

It was late—probably close to midnight—when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a tall man standing in the hallway. At first, I thought my husband had woken up and come out of our bedroom to remind me to go to bed, so I wouldn’t be exhausted for work the next day. I turned my head and saw a black, shadowy figure, with no distinguishing features other than a sense I had that the thing was male and not friendly. We watched each other for a few seconds, and then the shadow man disappeared. I was more shocked than scared, and felt like I shouldn’t acknowledge what I’d just seen, because doing so would give it power. So, I turned back to my laptop and kept writing. I never saw the thing again, but I sometimes had the sense of being watched. I was glad when we moved out of that house.

I do love ghost stories though, and I’m always game for hearing them. And I don’t think all ghosts are malicious—I’ve heard some great stories about benevolent ghosts. My grandma once told me she lived with the ghost of an old woman and the ghost would repair things around the house, like sewing buttons back on to clothing. I don’t know if that’s a true story, but it’s a cool idea.

I think that’s why I’m attracted to writing about the supernatural. I don’t know if ghosts or cryptozoids are real, but I like the idea that they exist, the sense of possibility that even though we’ve discovered so much about our world, there are still mysteries to be solved.

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Excerpt:

In the middle of the night, I woke to the sound of someone singing. After Mark’s rough day, I didn’t dare disturb him. I got up and quietly pulled the door shut behind me as I left our bedroom. Sara’s bedside lamp was on. I went in her room to find her sitting on the floor next to her doll, singing and coloring. “Sara, honey? What’re you doing?”

She looked up at me. “Playing with Tara.”

I didn’t realize she’d named her doll. “Well, it’s two in the morning. You and Tara need to go back to bed.” I felt grumpy about having to leave the warmth of my bed to tell her that, but I tried to temper my annoyance. “There’s school tomorrow, sweetie.”

She nodded, and started picking up her crayons. I knelt down to help her. The drawing was of her and another little girl, holding hands. The girl had hair in braids. “Aw, were you drawing a picture of you and Sophie?”

Sara shook her head. “No. That’s Tara. She comes to play with me at night.”

A chill ran down my spine, though I wasn’t sure why—not right then. I tucked my daughter and her doll back in bed, and gave Sara a kiss on her forehead.

I moved to turn off the lamp when Sara whispered, “Tara wants a goodnight kiss too.” I smiled and kissed the doll’s forehead. Then Sara said, “No, not the doll, Mom. Tara.”

I stared at her, puzzled. It occurred to me Tara might be the name of an imaginary friend. It wouldn’t be the first time Sara had one. “Okay…where’s Tara?”

“Don’t be silly, Mom. She’s right here.” Sara patted the place next to her—there was a slight indentation on the pillow next to her head. “Can’t you see her?”

I shook my head. “I’m sorry, honey. I can’t.” Sara’s brow furrowed in disappointment, so I added, “How ‘bout I blow her a kiss? Think that would be okay?”

Sara smiled, nodding. I puckered up, kissed my own hand, and blew it at the spot next to my daughter. Then I turned off the light. “Sweet dreams.”

“Sweet dreams, Mama,” Sara said. I couldn’t see her in the dark, but the blankets rustled as she burrowed into them.

It wasn’t until I was back in my own bed that I remembered the photo we’d found before we moved in. The little girl who’d lived here before—Tara.

Thanks for reading!

Art for Pitcher Plant Cover

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017


Pitcher Plant Cover Reveal!

It’s cover reveal day for Pitcher Plant!

I love, love, LOVE this gorgeous cover from Filles Vertes Publishing. They are a wonderful publishing team.

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Pitcher Plant
noun
a plant (especially family Sarraceniaceae, the pitcher-plant family) with pitcher-shaped leaves in which insects are trapped and digested by means of a fluid secreted by the leaves

Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants and are used throughout the book as a metaphor to represent the idea of being lured into a situation you thought would be good, but is actually a trap. Like buying a charming old house with the idea of renovating it, only to realize it’s a money pit. Or falling in love with the wrong person.

For the cover of Pitcher Plant, we were thinking about Victorian curiosity cabinets, and how they were both sophisticated and macbre in displaying botanicals like carnivorous plants, insects pinned under glass, and taxidermy. That was our guiding vision, and I think we pulled it off with a cover that is both elegant and subtly creepy. I’m proud to work with FVP, and so grateful for their hard work on this book. You can preorder it here.

I hope you’ll celebrate our launch day on May 12 by joining us at our release day party on Facebook. Stop by from 6-10pm EDT, and enter to win all kinds of amazing prizes, including a signed copy of Pitcher Plant, a Seaside-themed gift pack, a $10 Amazon gift card, manuscript critiques (for those of you who have novels in progress), and more.

In the meantime, let me whet your appetite with a description and an excerpt from the book.

Description:

When Tawny Ellis spots a fixer-upper on the Oregon coast, she and her husband jump at the chance to own a cottage near the beach. But as expensive repairs turn their dream home into a nightmare, their marriage unravels. And worse…the house is not quite vacant. Something in the house’s dark past remains.

Tawny’s daughter has a new imaginary friend, and she bears a striking resemblance to a little girl who squatted in the cottage with her drug-addicted mother. After breaking in and camping out, they vanished, and have been missing for years.

Now the house’s previous owner is enraged with Tawny. As he stalks her family, Tawny suspects she knows what happened to the last people who slept in the house. Her family might be next.

Excerpt:

I was falling in love with this fixer-upper, but before we made an offer on the house, I had to check out the basement. I clicked on the light and stepped over the threshold, into darkness. Floating dust motes filled the air, dancing in the flashlight’s beam.

The room before me was expansive, running the length and width of the house. On one end was a wooden stall for firewood, still stacked with logs. They’d come in handy if we restored the fireplace, though I didn’t look forward to cleaning off the cobwebs covering them. The other end of the basement was stacked with junk and garbage, similar to what we’d encountered upstairs.

Everything was blanketed with a thick layer of dust. My nose was stuffy—all the dust triggering my allergies. I made a mental note to take an antihistamine when I got back to the car. Otherwise I’d be paying for this excursion tonight, when my sinuses were too clogged to let me sleep. I just hoped there wasn’t any mold down here. I’d heard horror stories from my neighbor about getting mold removed from her home. The procedure had been costly, and if we got this house, it’d cost us enough as it was.

I ventured a little deeper into the basement, shining my flashlight on the pile of junk. I could make out an old wooden trunk. Did that come with the house? Maybe I’d clean it up and use it for a coffee table.

The beam of my flashlight fell on a tattered ragdoll. The doll’s fabric face and its light brown yarn hair looked dingy. Its flower print dress was dotted with rust colored stains and black flecks. The flecks looked like rodent feces.

There was a rustle to my right, and I startled, swinging my light toward the sound. Given the state of the doll’s dress, I thought it might be a rat.

Suddenly the air was thick with flies. I clamped my mouth shut as they flew toward my face, waving my arms madly to keep them away. They crawled in my hair and buzzed in my ears, and I bit back a shriek. The beam of my flashlight flickered as I used it to swat the flies. I shuddered at the thought of it going out and having to find my way back to the stairs in the dark.

I stumbled back toward the corridor that led to the door of the basement, trying to see through squinted eyes, the cloud of flies, and the dying light of the Maglite. As I reached the passage, the buzzing sound eased, and the flies began to drift back to whatever attracted them to the basement.

I dared one last look, directing my beam to the offending corner of the basement. The dirt floor was carpeted with insects. Flies and other crawling things, though I was too far away to tell what they were. There seemed to be a small lump on the floor that attracted their interest. A dead rat, most likely, but there was no way I was going back to find out.

 

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Thanks for reading, and my thanks especially to all of you who have been spreading the word about Pitcher Plant. I’m so excited to share this book with you.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017


Worthy Causes

My new suspense novel, Pitcher Plant, launches in two short weeks! I’m excited about the May 12 book release, of course, but I’m also happy that the launch will coincide with opportunities to support two very worthy causes in my community.

The first is Write on Seaside, a fundraiser for the Seaside Public Library Foundation. As a reader and a writer, literacy is important to me. Libraries promote literacy and are the heart of our communities, a place where people learn and connect. The Seaside Public Library is a jewel in our small, coastal town, serving youth through early reading programs, after school activities, and summer reading campaigns. It serves adults too, providing a place for community meetings, hosting monthly speakers, and assisting people in finding resources.

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Write on Seaside will feature six local authors: Diana Kirk, Brian Ratty, Jim Stewart, Deb Vanasse, Nick Vasilieff, and yours truly. We’ll be writing a story live, and people will have the chance to bid on story elements and plot twists to be included in the novella. There’s a whole cast of crazy characters, so if you want to name a puking seagull after your best friend (or maybe your arch enemy), here’s your chance. There will be a silent auction and books for sale, which we’ll sign and personalize. A portion of proceeds from the auction and book sales will go to support the library foundation. It should be a fun night.

Write on Authors

Write on Seaside will be held on Thursday, May 11, at the Seaside Convention Center in Seaside, Oregon. The Author Meet & Greet is at 6:30pm, and the Writing Extravaganza begins at 7:00pm. If you’re local to the northern Oregon coast, I hope you’ll join me.

The other cause I’m supporting is the Lives in Transition Program at Clatsop Community College. The LIT Program promotes a supportive academic environment that assists students in overcoming barriers while achieving their personal and educational goals. It is comprised of two free college classes designed to promote academic success.

With a background in higher education, I understand how critical programs like Lives in Transition are in supporting students. I currently work as an academic advisor, and I’m committed to helping people obtain their education. One way I can do that is by investing in this program, and by encouraging others to do so as well.

For every book sold during release week (May 12-19), including preorders, I will donate $1 (up to $500) to the LIT Program. If you are planning on buying Pitcher Plant, would you consider preordering or purchasing it during release week? You’ll be making a huge difference in the lives of these students. I would appreciate it, and I know the students will too.

Thanks for your support of these wonderful programs, and stay tuned for more news on Pitcher Plant. We’ll be revealing the cover later this week!

 

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017


Beach Town

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One reason I decided to set Pitcher Plant, my new suspense novel, in Seaside is because I adore this little beach town. The Oregon coast is gorgeous, and Seaside is a city with a lot of charm. It’s no wonder we get an influx of tourists when the sun comes out.

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Seaside has almost two miles of beach, starting at the Necanicum Estuary, where wild elk like to forage, and stretching to the Cove, a popular surfing spot. Bordering the beach is the Promenade (or the Prom, as locals call it). You can walk the Prom, rent a surrey to bicycle through town, or cruise the Necanicum River in a paddle boat shaped like a swan.

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One of my favorite places on the Prom is the Seaside Aquarium, a spot I mention in the book. The aquarium opened in 1937 and is best known for its seals. For a few dollars, you can purchase a cardboard tray of fish to toss to the seals. It’s quite an event. Each seal has their own way of getting your attention, from slapping their bellies to splashing unsuspecting tourists.

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I also love the touch tanks, where you can get a closer look at the organisms in our tidepools—sea stars, crabs, sand dollars, anemone, and sea cucumbers. The aquarium does a great job displaying local wildlife, from wolf eels to small sharks.

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My absolute favorite creature is the giant pacific octopus, hanging out in the center of the aquarium. There’s no lid on her tank, so you can have a close encounter, staring into her intelligent eyes. I’ve often wondered, once the tourists leave for the night, does she ever leave the pool and go exploring?

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© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017


In Praise of Editors

The launch date for Pitcher Plant is rapidly approaching, and the team at Filles Vertes Publishing has been hard at work behind the scenes. We’ll have a cover soon, and I can’t wait to show you all. We’re currently working on final edits, and it’s been a great experience. I truly believe the book will be stronger for having feedback from an editor and multiple proofreaders.

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As a writer, there comes a point in the process of writing and revision where you can no longer see your mistakes. You know the story inside and out, so you can’t see the plot holes or the need for more character development. You can’t even see when whole words are missing. You’ve read the material so much that your mind fills in the missing parts.

It’s so important to get a fresh perspective from someone who is not as familiar with the manuscript, who can spot errors. You can use spellcheck, of course, but it doesn’t catch everything. It’s easy to spell a word correctly and use the wrong word, like there versus their or your versus you’re. Editors help with other grammatical issues too, like lay versus lie. That’s one that trips me up. Whether I’m working as a writer or editor, I always have to look it up to make sure it’s correct.

You need an editor for the big issues too, like plot and the pace of the story. I know what I want to say, but am I communicating clearly? Editors can help develop a story, fleshing out the parts that seem thin, engaging readers emotionally. They can also help you with logic, consistency, and mapping out the physical movements of your characters. A great scene can be spoiled by a mistake that pulls the reader out of the story. An experienced editor looks at a story holistically and also has an eye for detail.

Essentially, an editor helps you make a story as bullet-proof as possible. I’m grateful to have that help with this new book. We release Pitcher Plant in May, and I’m so excited for you to read it. I learned a lot about the craft in the process of writing it, and I’d like to think it’s my best novel yet.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017