How to Keep Your Plot From Wandering

(for the non-outliners among us.)




Hello, world! I’m having a pretty intense lounge-about day, and I thought in the midst of lounging I could do some blogging as well. I got insipred by a Writing Excuses podcast to discuss the concept of controlling your plot without outlining your plot.

Pause for a moment. Most people talk about either being outliners, or “Pantsters,” people who write by the seat of their pants, on the fly. But most writers confess to falling somewhere in the middle. These middlers tend to have starting points and ending points, and even important plot milestones in between, but with lots of flexibility on how all those milestones are reached. I like to call them “headlighters” because of the E.L Doctorow quote that goes, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

The casuality of writing with lots of plot flexibility is that your plot can wander. A lot. I’m experiencing this with SHUTTERBUG right now, and I find I have to be very conscious about staying on task.

So first lets discuss a few reasons your plot can wander.



While writing you’ll come across lots of possibilities and what-ifs. Exploring all those possibilities can make the scope of your story creep bigger and bigger. In the first draft, there’s more wiggle room for this, but at some point, you’ll need to start being choosy about which ideas are worth exploring, or not.


This is a big one, especially for pansters, or folks who struggle writing beginnings. When you don’t have a good sense of what your story is about, the plot has no sense of focus, and so it tends to wander. This wandering is, in effect, you as the writer struggling to figure out where the heck all this is going–and this is why having a starting premise and some major milestones, like an inciting incident and climax, are so important.

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

This problem has less to do with wandering, and more to do with waffling. When you’ve written yourself into a corner, it’s easy to blow huge amounts of wordcount on trying different ways to solve the problem. It’s like thinking aloud, except that thinking is happening on paper, and translates as a plot that doesn’t know what to do with itself.

Lack of Excitement, Interest, Stakes, Motivation…etc.

One of the last reasons a plot can wander is when you as the writer just aren’t that interested in what you’re writing. Maybe the story shifted gears, somehow, and you’re not so interested in the new direction it’s taking. Or maybe you’re bored with the plot elements you’re supposed to be working on. Often this translates into writer’s block, but when you push through it, you might find the next sections of story to feel fragmented and unfocused. Either you wrote the boring parts and they came out, well, boring, or you threw exciting elements in there for the sake of interest, and they don’t relate well to the rest of the plot.


So here’s how we go about fixing a wandering plot.


If your problem is over-exploring, try: Focusing.

If your story has gotten swamped with too many possibilities, you’ll need to cut some back. It’s way too easy to bunny-trail in a novel where you have so many delicious things that can crop up in a single scene of dialogue. Focus by going back to what is important for your plot. What is important for this next section of story? What does this scene need to communicate? If ideas suggest themselves to you, make a note if you can, and move on.


If your problem is uncertainty, try: Brainstorming & Planning.

Basically, you need a sense of where the story is going. So brainstorm. Run yourself through some basic exercises. What’s your premise? What’s your plot, in a nutshell? Go look up a detailed version of the 3 or 5 Act structure, and try to compare your story to those plot movements. Janice Hardy has an incredible set of blog posts (part one, part two) about plot movements. And even when I don’t follow them strictly, they make great benchmarks to compare my story against.

Because what you really need to do here is nail down where your plot ought to go next. What have you done in terms of plot movement, and what needs to happen next? You’ll have to do a lot of brainstorming to come up with the milestones that will help give your plot a sense of purpose, but once you do, it will be a lot easier to know where to go next and how to get there.


If you’ve written yourself into a corner, try: Re-evaluating.

There are a couple reasons we write ourselves into corners. One is that we’ve come up with a problem we don’t know how to solve. Another is that we followed a bunny-trail, and now it dead-ended. Another is that the plot took a wrong term somewhere, and we don’t know how to get it back on track.

So take a step back. Re-evaluate. And do some brainstorming. If it’s a problem you can’t solve, but you know it’s vital to the main plot, do some serious brainstorming; share the problem with other writers; ask people for advice. Even non-writers can be helpful, because talking about it might be the breakthrough you needed. If you followed a bunny trail, though, or your plot took a wrong turn–and you may have to do a lot of re-evaluating before you decide this–you may need to back up. Way up. Back to when the plot seemed like it was going strong. And then…start over, from there. This one HURTS, because it means losing precious wordcount. But sometimes it’s easier (and better) to start over right, than try to figure out where you went wrong.


If your problem is boredom, try: Writing Something Exciting!

This one is deceptive. I don’t think anyone sets out to write a boring story. So when we get bored, we think, oh, this is writer’s block; I need to push through. But if you’re bored with what you’re writing, it’s likely because you’re writing something boring. I’m not trying to be pithy. It’s just, it’s true, isn’t it? The book won’t be exciting if you’re not excited in it.

So switch it up. Do something interesting. That could be something small, like moving a scene to a new setting, or swapping out a character. Or it could be bigger. Cutting old characters. Making new ones. Switching the POV character or the main plot goal. Even changing the season or city/town/area your story is set in can help, because these have a huge effect on ambiance and mood, which can really darken or lighten the story your telling, and thus, the type of story itself. Maybe you were writing the wrong kind of story all along.



So there are my tips and tricks. I’ve definitely struggled with this before, but never so badly as I have with SHUTTERBUG (in this case, I’m over-exploring. Waaaaaay over-exploring. Focusing has been TOUGH.) And if all else fails, pass the story along to your betas, and ask, do you have any advice? Chances are they’ll have enough different ideas that it will jog something loose and give you a sense of where to start.

And if even that fails…you could also try outlining.

Ahem. COUGH.

sincerely and always and sarcasm,



Monthly Pinspiration #3

Hey guys! So you know I was doing weekly Pinspiration posts for a while, but I soon realized that actually doing them weekly felt too frequent, and that I was ending up doing them monthly anyway. So I decided to switch. This month’s Pinspiration reflects where my thoughts have been trending lately — superpowers. More on that later, perhaps? For now, go play Radioactive or Midnight City or The Sun and enjoy the pins. I hope they put you in a creative mood like they do for me 🙂




The Blog Hiatus Nears its End

Hello world ❤ You look lovely today. How you doing? Feeling lovely? Feeling a bit summery? Hectic/busy/tired?

So we finally have our internet back. Which is YAYYY! Getting our internet back, though, happened to coincide with the same week I start job training at my second job in the middle of fair week. Which means everyone in the fam is running, extra-including me; in fact, I’m writing this post in between two shifts of a 9 hour day. And I have things Friday. And things Saturday. And things Sunday. I never have things Sunday*

Sooooooo. I decided it would be insanely ridiculous of me to try and blog in the middle of this. (Even though I have So! Many! Posts! I want to do now that we have our New! Shiny! Internet! back.) And I’ve been on unofficial blog hiatus anyway. It won’t kill me to abstain for another week or so.

Le sigh, internet friends. Le sigh.

Truly and always and ramming,





*Besides church things. Sunday is for church things 🙂


Internetless Girl

I thought I’d write a little haiku*
–my internet is slow, and buggy, too–
To let you know I still exist
And daily draft my manuscript

And not to worry, I haven’t died
I’ve just been otherwise occupied
While my internet has been down
And the library is closed in town

Not a single WordPress post goes through
So what’s an internetless girl to do?

I’ll soon be back. Don’t you fret.
I won’t waste a single minute
Of posting time once I’ve come back–

But, for now, here’s grumpy cat.

(j/k. It couldn’t even load that.)

*Obviously, I am terrible at haikus.

The Pros and Cons of Absolute Write


So last week, I did an overview on Absolute Write for those who hadn’t heard of it, detailing some of the most helpful boards (such as a query letter critique forum and one to find beta readers! All here in my last post.)

But for those of you who’ve heard about Absolute Write and are considering joining, I wanted to give you the heads up.

First the disclaimer: Absolute Write is a FANTASTIC resource. It definitely helped me become the writer I am today, got me in the know, and helped me meet a wonderful group of writers. I even got to beta the first two chapters of Beth Revis’ Across the Universe because we met on Absolute Write.

On the other hand, this site gets a bad rep, sometimes. And when you’re new or confused, it can be difficult to sort out what’s true and what’s just someone ranting about their bad experience.

So here it is: a list of needs-to-knows about Absolute Write, and the pros and cons of each.


It contains wealth of information about the publishing industry and submission process.


For those still trying to sort out how the publishing industry works, this is great. You’ll learn all the basics and a lot of the advanced material as well. Including material about advances. (Bad pun. Bad pun!!!) For newbie writers who think they’ll wrap their manuscript up in a nice box with some twine and mail it off to a publishing house, this will give them a bit of a reality check. And let’s face it. We need those reality checks sometimes.


It’s easy to focus too much on getting published. Hanging around the AW boards when you’re writing a first draft can be torture, and because it all sounds so exciting and businesslike, there’s an internal urge to jumpstart the submission process. This results in a lot of newish writers diving into the world of rejection letters before they’ve ever focused on craft, and a lot of older writers will seem to have plateaued. This, in turn, results in people turning to self-publishing and POD prematurely, because they have been doing this for X-many years and are ready to be published.  Simply put, they got overeager and then disappointed too early on.


You’ll tap you into the writing (and blogging) community.


One of the hardest things about writing, and any art form at all, is that it’s so isolating. We create for ourselves but we crave other people’s appreciation. Writer’s need other people for support and encouragement, for wisdom, for networking and beta-reading, for mentor and mentoree relationships all across the board. Absolute Write does this. You’ll meet other writers in the same boat as you, and when writing a first draft, having other people care (and talking to you through the cave walls, so to speak) can be a life saver.


Community is great. Distractions are not. Some days, it’s a whole lot easier to go on Absolute Write and talk about writing, while never actually typing a single word. It can be a time-suck if you’re not careful. And it’s very, very easy to get into the “wish I had written, don’t want to write” mindset. On top of that, the community is very single-minded. Sometimes fighting for your creative license can be like swimming against the tide. And finally, it’s easy to feel legitimized about, say, the quality of your novel, just because the people at Absolute Write told you it was submissions-ready.


They’ll push you.


You’ll be whipped into professional shape in no time. All those embarrassing newbie mistakes (like calling a manuscript a book, or saying “fiction novel” in a query letter) will be corrected in no time. You’ll learn a lot of the inside phrases and rules such as show-don’t-tell, BIC (butt in chair) and no ly-adverbs. You’ll feel educated, invigorated, mildly intimidated, but equipped. The AWers won’t accept any crap when it comes to procrastinating and they’ll encourage you to improve your craft.


Every new writer needs to learn the rules, but eventually you need to learn when and how to break them. AWers have a tendency to strip away any rule-breaking they see, even if it lends to quality or voice. Plus, if you continue to break the rules, there is a lot of lecturing involved by older members who think you’re just being obstinate. I think every AWer goes through a period of feeling the pressure of the community weighing down on them, resulting in guilt and stress. AW tends to focus too much on the rules, and forget about things such as recharging, guilt-free writing methods, inspiration, or how to slow down and improve your craft rather than push for marketability.

Finally, AW has no patience for people who aren’t sure they want to go all professional yet. If you’re noodling around and just want people to praise your first drafts, it won’t happen there.


They’ll help you develop a tough skin.


If you’re going to survive the publishing world, you’ll need to remain persistent, and you’ll need a tough skin. It’s that simple. Learning how to deal with constructive criticism, query letter rejections, editorial feedback, bad reviews–it’s essential, because rejection never really stops. And AW will not coddle you. AWers ask other members to rip their piece to shreds, and the other members will. They’ll do it nicely and helpfully if they can. But they will in fact rip it to shreds.


Not everyone can take having their work ripped to shreds. Tough skin takes time to build, and AW doesn’t have much of a grace period, although people will try to be more conscientious of newer writers. But you’re basically expected to take your medicine without complaint, protest, or justification. And because they strive for excellence, they can always find something new to comment on. Sometimes this is discouraging and confusing. And for the newbie writer, who is still dabbling at this, who haven’t gotten a taste for it yet and are still trying to decide if it’s worth the effort–all this criticism can push them in the wrong direction.


And two final pros and cons:


As a writer, you’ll grow up in this community, and you’ll grow fast. They’ll foster you along the way and equip you with skills and resources you’ll need to survive in the publishing industry. You’ll hear names, and later those names will become published and even famous authors, and you’ll become connected without even realizing it. (Remember when I betaed for Beth Revis? I was just being nice, but she remembered me later on. It’s a connection I couldn’t have made now.)


Eventually you’ll grow out of this community. Although I am definitely speaking from personal experience, I’ve also heard from a lot of other writers who started in AW and slowly moved out of that sphere as they got more independent and gained agents or publishing contracts. There becomes a point when you realize AW is repeating the same things they’ve always said, and they don’t have anything more to teach you. On and off you might get frustrated with the critical nature of the community there, and you might start leaning more on your crit partners or agent. This isn’t a bad thing…it’s just part of the natural progression of maturing as a writer.


* * *


All that said.

The takeaway, here, is that Absolute Write is really and truly a fantastic resource, but you need to be aware of how best to use it and whether it’s right for you. If you’re new at writing and you’d like to improve, but you’re not ready to face too much criticism yet, you might want to lurk around the boards for a while and soak up the information first. When you feel like it’s time to step up your game, then you can join and start asking questions and requesting critiques. Even more established writers would find AW helpful.

But the caveat is, you’ll always need to keep a balanced mindset about what you’re learning there. Definitely do learn how to follow the rules. Realize at some point you will learn how to break them, and that this is okay. Don’t feel you have to follow everything they say to the letter. Learn how to be your own judge–and learn how to judge yourself critically. Develop your tough skin, and then surround yourself by people who know how to encourage as well as suggest constructive changes. Put yourself out there, but don’t be in too much of a rush to get published. Learn how to write for yourself first.

That’s my two cents, anyway. As they’d say on Absolute Write, take it with a grain of salt.


Truly and always,


A More Timely Update On Summer, Projects, and Stuff

Today is Friday.

98 degrees out in the sun; a bit cooler in the shade.

There’s an old beagle laying next to me on the grass.

Ooop–she just ran off to bark at cows. Did I mention that? There are cows in the field now. WOOP WOOP.

And this has been my life, currently, friends; old beagles and gardening and working at a garden shop and lying outside on a blanket in the grass, trying to blog, trying to get over this fligajisbit cold, so I can have a little more energy to garden and work, and a bit more brain power to write.

I managed one day of writing before the cold hit.


(*I swear I don’t normally complain this much.)

It was a glorious day, though; I hammered out 1,500 words of WIP (which is Shutterbug, by the way. I hope it hasn’t been so long that I have to remind you. But I’m going to do it anyway?)

Anyway. Le sigh. Le PHOO. My big homecoming plans have been a little off, it seems. Certain parts are in order–I wanted to dive into my gardening. Check. The garden (all flowers, tee hee) looks gorgeous, and I accomplished one of the 72billion major rehaul projects I plan to do in it. You know, before the cold hit. I wanted to finalize the job application process and start working–check. I got the job! I worked my first couple days! I have more lined up! New Boss was even understanding about the cold. Joy all around.

But then there’s other bits. Like the video project I hashed out during finals, and finished with unsatisfactory results, that I wanted to rip back apart and redo it all properly this time.

Has that happened? No. Haven’t touched it. Have barely even wanted to. This makes me sad. I was so MOTIVATED before, and it’s such an awesome project, and, darnit! I want to see it done right! This is Important To Me!

But having graduated and moved back to NY means that I no longer have access to the lovely processors and speedy editing software from school. Now I only have my slow, begrudging laptop. It’s like downgrading from an excavator to a shovel. I can still make progress…if I work really hard…and am willing to spend three months on the thing.

Which I am. Just not yet. Because, meh.

Then there is the other video project, Secret Video Project, which I started working on last December and might try to jumpstart again this winter. (Why winter? It’s a winter film, that’s why.) Basically this is my opportunity to Be Prepared. I have a whole summer (whole summer, ha ha) to write the script, organize props and and sets, and maybe even get a few sponsors. That would be nice. Being Prepared is always nice.

Just not always realistic.

Then there is writing. (Monthly short story challenge! Which I am doing with my siblingkins, and which is coming along fabulously, but which I had to stop during finals and now I’ve lost some of my motivation for that as well.) And then of course, the WIP! Which I love and miss and had all these plans to really start digging into! And THEN there’s Mirrorpass, the old WIP which has been on a weird submission hiatus while I try to think about where to go next. (I got some really positive feedback…but compared to the stats on people whose books got picked up by agents, the submission stats just weren’t positive enough. I got some valuable suggestions on possible reasons and fixes for this. The trick is, do I think MP still has a chance? Ought I keep submitting? Ought I do some editing first? How major would that editing be? What if that conflicts with Shutterbug, then should I still do it? This is the “Taking a good hard look” stage. Basically, I need perspective. But time is coming soon to make a decision. I can’t just let MP rot in limbo land.)

But back to Shutterbug, which IS my WIP and which IS the most important writing project on my plate right now. See, I have been thinking long and hard about my career as a writer. Obviously I was hoping Mirrorpass would launch it. That is still a possibility. But I’ve also thought about the realistic side of a writing career…you know…the part that involves, like, money. And paying back student loans. And how to make that feasible.

For a long time now I’ve had this idea that being an author will most definitely mean working some kind of job. And doing that for quite a while. Which is cool with me. I’ve worked, and I’ve not worked  (cough, been unemployed cough cough) before, and one thing I’ve learned about myself is this: I need people. I don’t need a LOT of people, and I don’t need parties or events or activities to keep me entertained. But I do need to get out and about. I need experiences, and I need fresh thoughts, and I need social interaction to keep me cheerful, and sane, and full of interesting things to write about.

So I’ve decided a job would be good for me. Even when/if/someday I have the money to write all the time and not work outside of that.

But how, then? How does one manage having a job and writing? I don’t know. I’ve never done it. This is probably a skill I should acquire soon.

So I had/have hopes that this summer would be my training ground. I am working a part time job at a garden/flower shop/farm, which I love. And my idea was to take my non-garden shop days and turn them into professional writing days. Drive to the nearest coffee shop. (Which, alas, is now Panera Breads, which is half an hour away.) (Note that I LOVE Panera Breads but they are busssssy and sometimes I feel bad for buying a single coffee and staying for eight hours and did I mention they’re a half hour away? Gas money. Budgeting! Adult stuff, blegh.)


That was the goal. The plan. The schedule. Learn how to write like a professional writer would, so that if/when things happen, you’ll be ready.

Also, finish Shutterbug.

I’m actually quite excited about this. But except for that one day of 1,500 words, it’s been two–almost three now!–months of packing and finals chaos since I’ve written.

Which is okay. Shutterbug has been that kind of novel. Wait for two months, write like a maniac for two weeks. Wait some more. Write some more. Cool.

But the longer you wait between writing sessions, the harder it is to start again. And I haven’t been particularly motivated. What worked on that 1,500 word day was noodling…listening to the playlist, poking through my Pinterest board (which has swelled ginormously. My Shutterbug Pinterest board has, like, over 300 pins in it. *Huggles Pinterest*) and then, whenever I eked up enough inspiration, typing up a few paragraphs in the Shutterbug doc.

This worked okay. What was even better was the following day, when Shutterbuggy thoughts swirled through my head. I was excited! Maybe this was it! Maybe!…

And then I got sick. Good feelings gone.

So, okay. I’m getting better. The cold has to end sometime, so long as I rest. (And boy am I good at resting.) And that single writing day, while short lived, felt so darn GOOD that I’m now a teensy bit more motivated to try again.

So I’m hopeful. And excited.

And, PHEW. That’s probably more than anyone wanted to know about all my projects, but it feels good to have finally blabbed it out.

What about you guys? I invite blabbing in the comments! Have you done a WIP update post recently? Feel free to link back! I feel like I’ve been out of the loop, so come pester me 🙂 What are all of your guys’ summer plans?

Truly and always,

Ten Questions with Liesl Shurtliff, author of Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin

Hey everyone! It’s been a long time since I had a chance to do an author interview, and I’m so excited to start back up again. I just love hearing the story behind the stories, and I love supporting new and debut authors. About a year ago I stumbled upon Liesl Shurtliff’s blog and read the blurb for her new novel, RUMP, and I loved it. So I basically scoped her book out for the past year waiting until I could ask her for an interview! Hah. She was lovely enough to stop by and answer some questions. Without any more ado…Liesl!

Hey Liesl! Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been writing? What inspired you to become a writer to begin with?

Hello! I’m just a regular gal living in Chicago with my husband and three kids, plus a cat named Felix. (So original, I know.) I have always loved writing for as long as I can remember, though the thought of being a professional writer didn’t ever cross my mind while I was growing up. I’m not sure I knew there was such a thing.

I’ve been writing seriously (with the intent to publish) for about nine years now. What inspired me? Well…here’s an embarrassing story. When I had my first phone call with my editor at Knopf, she asked the same questions and I blurted, “Boredom.” She gave a kind of awkward laugh and when I think of that moment I give a Homer Simpson “Doh!” But the truth is I did start writing fiction partly out of boredom. I had just had my first child. I couldn’t do all the things I was used to doing anymore, but my baby slept A LOT. I had to fill the hours with something besides Oprah. So I took a course on writing for children and I fell completely in love. I’ve never stopped and I’m not bored anymore. Strange to think that I ever was. But here’s a hint: Should you ever get a publishing contract, if you don’t have a wonderful story about why you started writing, make something up. That’s what writer’s do, after all.

So, RUMP is your first MG novel. Tell us a little about it!

RUMP is the story of Rumpelstiltskin casting the title character as a lovable hero instead of a demonic villain. Here’s a blurb:

In a magical kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone’s joke.

Rump has never known his full name—his mother died before she could tell him. So all his life he’s been teased and bullied for his half-a-name. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. For Rump discovers he can spin straw into gold. Magical gold.

His best friend Red Riding Hood warns him that magic is dangerous—and she’s right! That gold is worth its weight in trouble. And with each thread he spins, Rump weaves himself deeper into a curse.

There’s only one way to break the spell: Rump must go on a quest to find his true name, along the way defending himself against pixies, trolls, poison apples, and one beautiful but vile-mannered queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—Rump just might triumph in the end.

Basically RUMP answers all those questions about Rumpelstiltskin that go unanswered in the original tale, which I find vastly unfair since he is the title character. There are two sides to every tale and I just had to tell this one, in a humorous, yet totally sincere, way.


I must admit to giggling the first time I read the title. I feel like humor was part of your original idea for the Rumplestiltskin retelling. What else inspired this story?

I giggled the first time I thought of it! Humor was definitely there from the beginning, but names were also a big inspiration. I’ve long believed that names hold power and meaning, so I thought it would be interesting to create a world where name determines your destiny. This concept and Rump’s unfortunate name were the seeds of my story. Unanswered questions were also part of the inspiration. For the crucial role that Rumpelstiltskin plays in the story, we know so little of him in the traditional tale. We know nothing of where he comes from, what his name means, how he learned to spin straw into gold, or why on earth he would want someone’s first born child.

Quite apart from Rumpelstiltskin’s role, the miller, his daughter, and even the king’s behavior are odd. Why did the miller say his daughter could spin straw to gold when clearly she couldn’t? What kind of king threatens death on someone who can’t spin straw to gold? And why would the miller’s daughter promise her first-born child, even in desperation? Most answers I’ve seen to such questions are dark and sometimes gruesome, but I don’t really like dark or gruesome things, so I decided that if I were to tell my own version of Rumpelstiltskin, I would somehow make it humorous, something kids and adults of all ages could appreciate.

Being a published author always seems so glamorous, but in reality it can take years to get a book published. What did it take to get RUMP on bookshelves?

Getting RUMP published wasn’t too painful of a process compared to some I’ve heard. I wrote Rump in a little under a year, found an agent within a month of querying, and after some revisions we sold RUMP a couple months later. Yes, that’s fast and on the surface it seems I dodged several bullets on my path to publication. That said, I worked for years to get my writing to the level that I felt it needed to be to deserve publication. I have two shelved novels that I never queried and I find that all that work was all part of getting to RUMP. So if you look at it that way, it took me seven years to get a publishing contract, 9 years to RUMP on the shelves. I’ve heard other writers say it takes about a decade to get published. There are exceptions, of course, but I’d say that’s about the average.


Did you have any dark moments on the road to publication?

Absolutely. Most of my dark moment have been a result of my own psychological struggles with writing. Writing is something that takes great amounts of courage and confidence, almost to excess, I think. I struggled with that a lot in the beginning. I was afraid that I was wasting my time, that I really didn’t have anything of value to say or share. There are so many great books in the world and so many books period. What makes me think mine belongs on the shelf? And here’s a little secret: I still have to overcome those fears. I have to tune out the voices of self-deprecation, give myself permission to do what I love, and give others permission to love or reject what I do. I still struggle with these fears and many others, but at least I consciously recognize that they’re evil.

In addition to my own self-deprication, every single rejection on the road to publication was like a knife in my tender writing heart. It’s very painful to have someone dismiss your work, but I’m learning to deal with that, because when you’re a writer, the whole world can dismiss you without batting an eye. Agent and editor rejections are only the beginning. I don’t think I’ll ever develop a “tough skin”, like some people say writers should. I think writers are supposed to be sensitive, but I’m developing a resilient skin, one that heals quickly and keeps writing no matter what.


So did you have any special authors or books (or teachers, or friends…) who influenced your writing?

Lots! Influential authors include Roald Dahl, Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale, and Shel Silverstein. I’ve learned from every author I’ve ever read, but those are the one I think significantly influenced my writing. I’ve had many great writing mentors and teachers, but one of my earliest was my 9th grade English teacher, Ms. Edvalson. She was such an inspiriting role model during a tumultuous time in my life. She taught me to just write, let it out, worry about what it all means later. I think I remember her classes as being the first time I really wanted to be a writer, but it would be years until I came back to that desire. I wish I could get in touch with her today to let her know how much she meant to me, but I’ve lost track of her. (Ms. Edvalson, reappear!)


Talk to us about your awesome cover! I feel like it says so much about your book and characters–did you have any say in this? Did you get to see any of the cover development at all?

Thank you! I love my cover and feel it matches the tone of the book perfectly. There’s magic and humor, but also darkness and the sense of impossible tasks. My publisher did include me in the cover process. They asked what I envisioned and asked for some examples of other covers I thought were along the lines of what I wanted. I was thrilled when they showed me the artist they chose. Absolutely could not have chosen better myself. Zdenko Basic has this Tim Burtonish quality that I love, but he was able to capture the warmth of RUMP so well. When the cover came through, I had some concerns about certain elements being an accurate reflection of my story, and they did make some changes based on some of my feedback. All in all I was pleased with how everything was handled and I adore my cover. I love it when a kid sees it and goes “Ooh! That looks so good!” I know we preach never judge a book by its cover, but in my case, go ahead!


Do you have any fun promo stuff or events planned?

I get to have THREE launch parties! Aren’t I lucky? This is what happens when you’ve lived in lots of places. I’ll have two launches in the Chicago area and one in my hometown Salt Lake City, UT, plus a couple other signing in the Chicago area. It’s going to be a blast! You can get all the details on those and other events at my website I’m visiting lots of schools and I’ll also be running a few contests where you can win signed copies of RUMP!


What are some good places readers can find you on the web?





Best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Oh man…be careful with advice. Good advice for one writer may be terrible advice for another. That said, here’s the best advice I can give that I feel is universal: Follow your guts and never give up! If you love writing and think you want to get published, then keep going, do your homework, and know that there are many, many paths. Know where it is that you want to land and then figure out what it takes to get there.


Thanks Liesl! Fantastic answers, it was great having you!




Liesl Shurtliff was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, with the mountains for her playground. Just like Rump, Liesl was shy about her name, growing up. Not only did it rhyme with weasel, she could never find it on any of those personalized key chains in gift shops. But over the years she’s grown to love having an unusual name—and today she wouldn’t change it for the world!

Before she became a writer, Liesl graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in music, dance, and theater. She now lives in Chicago with her husband and three young children, where she still dreams of the mountains. Rump is her first novel.

A Post From the Land of the Never-Ending Final

Okay, I’m going to warn you right now. This is the post I’m writing because I don’t have time to write a post.


I’ve had a lot of friends texting me lately to ask if I want to hang out, and when I text them back, usually from the underground dungeon of my campus labs, my reply is something along the lines of: “Can’t. Still working on 3D finals. Send chocolate.”

And they’re like, “What? Finals already?”

Which is when I remember that most normal colleges only have one final per semester.

Mine, unfortunately in this case, is not a normal college.

We don’t have one final. We have two.

I started writing this long explanation to how that’s possible, but then it got pretty boring, so let me just say this. Imagine that your semester long class was crushed into half a semester. They call these half semesters blocks. Imagine that your finals are at midterms. Imagine that while you have these half-semester block classes, you also have classes that run all semester long, and both are going on simultaneously.

Bam. That’s my situation in a nutshell.

And I’m not going to complain, because this system works quite well. The only problems I’ve had with it is that certain classes–specifically 3D design or any programming and Flash/Actionscript classes–tend to have a bigger workload than I can handle in our seven allotted weeks.

As a result, toward midterms (my finals), I find myself spending day after day in the labs trying to hammer our my projects. For one particularly infamous class, I spent the last three weeks of the block doing 30 to 20 hours of lab per project. PER PROJECT. THERE WERE THREE PROJECTS YOU GUYS I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE.

So anyway, comparatively, this block hasn’t been so bad. I’m only spending 15 hours in labs per project. Ha, hah. And I can handle that–I can. I pack myself a lunch (and dinner), plug into Pandora, take frequent breaks to watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (which ROCKS but is ending soon which makes me sad). And then I stay there until the labs close at 10:30pm. At which point I go home, get up the next morning, and do it all over again.

I can handle that.

What’s been driving me crazy this particular semester is that our teacher goofed and thought we had a whole extra week that we didn’t. So he extended the deadline, which was nice of him. He extended it through our entire break week, which was not so nice. And even after working all through break week, I’m still not done, which absolutely sucks.

You guys, this is the final THAT REFUSES TO DIE. I totally had a plan. The plan involved this model being done last week.

The plan has failed, and all the other things I planned for this week–writing, prepping for some cool author interviews, and, ahem, BLOGGING–have been smushed aside.

So I have nothing for you except the promise of real writing posts to come soon.

And also, virtual chocolate. Because no kvetching is complete without virtual chocolate.


Truly and always and wish me luck!

-Creative A



*College By the Sea is not really the name of my college. It’s actually a bit of a joke, because when I was looking for colleges and apartments, Google Maps deceived me and said College By the Sea was only half an hour away from the bay, and only an hour away from the ocean. I got excited and started nicknaming it College By the Sea–until I discovered, no, it’s more like two and a half hours from the ocean, and that the bay doesn’t have any good beaches. So now the joke is on me and I still call it College By the Sea, and that totally just rhymed. (Unintentionally.)