Author Spotlight: Megan Mackie

  • a playwright and author of urban fantasy with a dash of cyberpunk

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Megan Mackie

I am a warrior princess from the lost civilization of the Amazons. I am a space captain on a mission to further humankind’s understanding of the final frontier. I am a badass paranormal slayer of monsters protecting my friends and community from things that go bump in the night. Occasionally I write books in Chicago instead of watching TV or being a mom/wife/shameless self-promoter.

Megan, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Phoenix. I relate to this majestic creature who lives life to the fullest and takes risks and when it fails, it burns and hurts and crashes, but then comes back and chooses to live again knowing it will hurt again.

Such a primal and elemental creature. Absolutely made for those who have faced second chances and risen from their own failures.

What do you write and how did you get started?

My current series is The Lucky Devil Series, starting with The Finder of the Lucky Devil. It is urban fantasy combined with cyberpunk, since both magic and advanced technology exist in this world. Like all things, it started with a dream that I then chewed on the rest of the day.

I was a playwright at the time and I came up with this really good, juicy scene and I decided I needed to find the story that justified this scene happening, so I wrote a book during NANOWRIMO, shopped it around and then realized I needed to write another book set earlier, which became The Finder of the Lucky Devil. I am now trying to write back to that scene and I think it may be in book 4 at this time.

I definitely started early as well, but I don’t think I was half as committed as you were! Nor as brave, to submit and send your works out at that age. It’s clearly paid off for you. Congratulations!

What do you like to read?

I read a lot of urban fantasy prior, now I’ve been reading a lot of whatever interests me. Because of the numerous cons I go to through Bard’s Tower selling my books next to people like Jim Butcher, Claudia Grey, and Kevin Anderson, I’ve started expanding the genres I read and what I’m looking for now has also changed. Before I just wanted to be entertained and now it’s like checking under the hood of different sports cars.

I know I enjoy my urban fantasy these days, as well. What an amazing bunch of people to get to rub shoulders with!

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Make a detailed outline

Make a detailed outline. I find if I do this, I get bogged down by it, at least in the beginning, because I would do that instead of writing the story, or I would start to write the story but too soon chuck the outline I worked so hard on in favor of something juicier so now I do a hybrid thing where I bullet point and only a few scenes ahead with a vague idea where I want it to end up-ish and let my creative inspiration battle it out for words on the page.

Ha! As a self-professed ‘plantser’, I’m a huge fan of the very light outline that you ignore until you get stuck. I’ve written from a more elaborate outline before and the story suffered for it. I do need an end goal, but the shape of that often changes.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Brackets

The world’s greatest thing. Don’t know what the perfect word to use is, put what you mean in brackets and move on. Either you change it later or what you put in brackets was right all along and you keep it. Cut writer’s block issues in half right there. Dithering about perfect words is pointless anyway, chances are your editor will change them, lol.

Key for getting through a rough draft, so you can start to see the shape of the story!

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

The Finder of the Lucky Devil has just been re-released through eSpec Books.

The only thing more dangerous than using your magic to help a cybernetic spy find a missing criminal is being the criminal he’s looking for…

When Rune Leveau is approached by a charmingly dangerous, cybernetically-altered, corporate spy, St. Benedict, his request seemed simple: use her magical Talent to help him find an elusive criminal named Anna Masterson. But Rune has a dangerous secret: She IS Anna Masterson.

Over the past six years, St. Benedict has searched for the Masterson Files, a computer program rumored to do the impossible—cast magic spells. The technology could reshape the world. His last hope is this Finder of the Lucky Devil, but the Finder is proving difficult… and St. Benedict isn’t going to take no for an answer.

Set in an alternate Chicago, where technology and magic are in competition with each other, this fast-paced cat-and-mouse chase makes The Finder of the Lucky Devil a welcome addition to your urban fantasy/cyberpunk library.

Also, check out two related books, Death and the Crone and Saint Code: The Lost. There is one more existing book in the series that will re-release later this year and that is The Saint of Liars.

All of the books are set in cyber-magical Chicago, but they are split into two related series: The Lucky Devil novels (Finder and Saint) deal more with the magical side of the city…or how it intersects with the tech; and the Saint Code series (currently just The Lost) deals primarily with the cyberpunk side of the series. There are two more books currently in the works, The Devil’s Day, which is the sequel to The Saint of Liars, and Saint Code: Constable.

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Facing Feedback… Backwards!

After you’ve sent out your writing out to beta readers, writing mentors, or professional editors, there comes a day. A day in which they send you *dun dun dunnnn* feedback.

And then? You actually have to screw your courage to the sticking place and read it.

Some only give a few lines of feedback or a few pages — an overall impression or general advice.

However, a decent percentage (especially if they’re like me) are going to give you line edits, phrasing suggestions, requests for more details, and notes. Notes about plot holes or improvements, suggestions about how to fix things or improve them. And all of this feedback is mixed together.

So when you open your document, especially if you’re using the ‘suggestions only’ option on Word or Google Docs, you’re faced with an enormous list of those little comment boxes on the right side of the document. Dozens on each page, until they don’t align with the manuscript and you can’t even see what you’re working with.

Most of the advice I’ve seen has told me to deal with the big stuff first. It makes no sense at all to tweak each line before you even know if the scene is going to be cut or not.

I do it backwards

But me? I can’t see the forest for the trees. I can’t decide a line needs to be cut unless I see it polished and shined.

Remember, you are reading the blog of a person who, during a document review at her day job, fixed a typo in a line that she was about to delete.

The first thing I do when I get feedback is clean up all of that ‘low-hanging fruit’. The typos and line edits barely take longer than reading through the comments themselves. While I’m contemplating the larger changes, I can quickly accept (or reject) the little stuff and clear it from the queue.

This way, next time I review the feedback, I can see the shape of the story and start to look at the big picture.

There is one type of comment I leave for the polishing round.

Those comments that say “nice description” or “good point.” The ones that compliment the story or the writing, the ones that yell at the characters because I’ve made the critiquer care that much.

It’s always good to keep track of what is working.


How do you clear your feedback?

Do you start with the big stuff or the details?

Morgan, sitting on a bench outside, typing.

Text: Morgan Hazelwood: Sharing writing tips and writerly musings

Title: Facing Feedback... Backwards!

#35 Query Corner – Alisha in the Sundarbans

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

In this Alice in Wonderland meets The Jungle Book, Alisha follows a talking tiger to a world run by a gigantic phoenix dragon — who wants to keep her as a pet.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

What a great mash-up, it definitely sums up the story and gives us a good feel for the voice — and the environment. Plus, with ownvoices being actively sought, your voice is a wondrous thing.

  1. It’s so hard not to give all the context when querying, but you need to keep a little more to the stakes. You just need a little streamlining.
  2. I’m not sure that you need the paragraph explaining the story’s context. It’s up to you if you leave it in, or if you think the story is strong enough on its own.
  3. Don’t forget the word count!
  4. NOTE: I’m not huge on loglines and descriptive text at the beginning of a query, but in this case, the queryiest was replying to a twitter pitch contest, so included the tweet’s text made sense.

Queryist’s Original:


Dear Ms./Mr.

A lost Indian girl.
A blue speaking tiger
A myriad of strange creatures
A mystical kingdom of caves
A fantasy tale of adventure, magic, and hope
Indian ALICE IN WONDERLAND + JUNGLE BOOK. #DVPit #Ownvoices #F #MG #POC

Alisha in the Sundarbans is a middle grade fantasy retelling inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Jungle Book, with potential for a series.

Alisha is a ten-year-old girl who lives a simple life in an Indian village by a mangrove forest, until she meets a blue speaking tiger. The daughter of a fisherman, her dreams go beyond living in the village. Alisha has read all the books in the school library and writes wildly imaginative stories to escape her mundane daily life.

She follows the tiger into a cave that leads to a strange new place, the kingdom of Roshanban. The tiger tells her she has an invitation to meet the Maharajah. Along the way she learns that she needs to complete challenges made specifically for her. The challenges require Alisha to overcome cultural barriers and become who she truly is. Upon completing each challenge she is rewarded with a gold and blue fragment, curved on one side. Before she can face the other challenges, she is captured and taken to the intimidating red queen, a gigantic phoenix dragon who cages her along with other ‘exotic’ pets. Will she able to escape? Will she be able to complete all the challenges and meet the Maharajah? Will she ever make her way back home?

This story is about a young girl facing cultural obligations and overcoming the stigma to be true to herself. The challenges encourage Alisha to question cultural norms, and the magical
environment and blue guides make it more possible for her to dream big.

I am of South Asian descent and grew up on folktales from India. I am a writer, artist, and academic with a Bachelor’s from [SCHOOL], a Master’s from [SCHOOL B], and a PhD from [SCHOOL C]. I am the founder and editor of an online, peer reviewed art-science publication called [JOURNAL NAME].

Thank you for your time and for considering this manuscript.

Kind regards,

Q35


You can see how the comps are great for this story! Sometimes, it can be a stretch, but the plot and setting elements are clear when you see the query. This just needed a few tweaks to make it shine.

My Revision:

Dear Ms./Mr.

A lost Indian girl.
A blue speaking tiger
A myriad of strange creatures
A mystical kingdom of caves
A fantasy tale of adventure, magic, and hope
Indian ALICE IN WONDERLAND + JUNGLE BOOK. #DVPit #Ownvoices #F #MG #POC

Alisha in the Sundarbans is a 60,000 word middle grade fantasy retelling inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Jungle Book, with potential for a series.

Ten-year-old Alisha’s simple life in the village on the edge of the mangrove forest comes to an end when a blue tiger says hello. Alisha might have read all the books in her small Indian village’s school library and written dozens of her own imaginary tales, but none of them come close to the reality.

The tiger gives her an invitation to meet the Maharaha of the kingdom of Roshanban. Following the tiger through a cave into a strange new world, Alisha is told she must now prove herself worthy. As she struggles with the challenges, a gigantic phoenix dragon captures her, presenting her as a caged pet for the intimidating red queen. Torn between traditional and modern wisdom, Alisha must learn when to let each guide her if she’s to escape the queen, complete the challenges, and meet the Maharajah. If she doesn’t master her true self, Alisha might never make it home.

This story is about a young girl facing cultural obligations and overcoming the stigma to be true to herself. The challenges encourage Alisha to question cultural norms, and the magical
environment and blue guides make it more possible for her to dream big.

I am a writer, artist, and academic with a Bachelor’s from [SCHOOL], a Master’s from [SCHOOL B], and a PhD from [SCHOOL C]. I am the founder and editor of an online, peer reviewed art-science publication called [JOURNAL NAME].

Thank you for your time and for considering this manuscript.

Kind regards,

Q35


What a great story and an amazing pitch. It got a lot of agent interest. Now? Here’s to hoping one of them says ‘yes’.

Best of luck to Q35!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

Fighting Impostor Syndrome

We’ve all had our moments.

Sometimes? You’re learning a new skill, practicing and playing with it. But something is holding you back from taking the next step — be it submitting your work, trying out for that team, or selling your creations.

Sometimes, you’re placed in a position where you supposedly know what you’re doing — either because of your bluster or someone else’s assumptions. It could be on the job, online, or when they send you home with your first newborn kid (or so I’ve been told). And every moment, you’re just sitting there, hoping to keep everyone fooled so they don’t know how big of a fake you are.

Impostor syndrome. Most of us have experienced it. Some of us live with it.

For those that don’t know? Impostor syndrome is defined as “a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

In my most recent Author Spotlight, Katherine talked about submitting hundreds of poems while in college and it made me think. I always wanted to be a writer, but it took me until I’d been out of college for a long time before I started taking my writing seriously. Before I even started contemplating sending my work to other people.

With my first manuscript? It’s on its EIGHTH round of revisions, because every handful of rejections, I stop submitting and start looking into how I can make it better. I tell myself it’s making me a better writer. I tell myself I’m building skills and improving. But, there’s definitely a part of me that is LOOKING for things to fix. Because if my best effort was rejected, that means I’m not good enough. I should just go home.

Dwelling on that might be good for a night or a week after a rejection, but it’s not going to get me anywhere.

5 Ways To Confront Your Impostor Syndrome

  1. Take a class

    Maybe you do stink. Maybe your skills aren’t where you want them to be. And honestly? All of us could improve, no matter how good — or bad — we are.

    In that case? It could be time to take a class, brush up on the skills we’re good at, learn techniques to deal with our weaknesses, and discover new things that can make us shine.

  2. See How Far You’ve Come

    If you look at your old stuff, compared to your new stuff, you might notice a change. An improvement.

    Or? If you like your old stuff better? Revisiting it might be the way to get that voice back — so you can run with it!

  3. Re-visit What You’re Proud Of

    Whether it’s a single sentence, a poem, or a novel, reread that thing you made that made you proud. See what you’ve done, what you’ve created. Remind yourself that this is a thing you can do!

  4. Save The Good Notes

    When a beta-reader or critique partner or reviewer says something about my work or forgets they’re critiquing, I file that away. In one (very stalling moment last October), I copied one encouraging note onto a piece of paper and taped it to my wall.

    Then? When my writing is going rough, I reread their kind words, where they tell me how much they enjoyed my writing, or compared it favorably to an award-winning series I adore, I stick my chin up, and I get back to it.

  5. Say “BLEEP It”

    Sometimes? All you can do is tell yourself: “So what if my writing stinks, and everyone else’s writing is amazing and so much more deserving. I finished this and I’m putting it out there anyway. They can take it or leave it, but it’s mine.”

    Otherwise known as ‘fake it til ya make it’.

It can be hard. Writing is years of work with no guarantee of success. It’s a labor of love and requires near-infinite patience with the publishing industry.

If you need to step away and take a break; if you need to do something else because it’s killing you? Do it! Do what you need to take care of yourself.

Plus? You can always change your mind. Your writing will always there for you. Waiting. However comforting or creepy that sounds.

Besides, you can’t be the impostor, I’m the real impostor!



Recently, I’ve been making a lot of progress on my short term goals — the ones I can control. So, what triggered my recent bout of self-doubt?

On the advice of a friend, I started applying to be a panelist at science-fiction and fantasy conventions a couple years ago. You know, the ones I like to attend 30 panels in 4 days at?

And this year? I’ve had 3 conventions accept!

Meep! I’m still an unpublished writer. All I’ve got is this blog/vlog where most of the time it feels like I’m shouting into the void. Basically, a free vanity press where all it costs is my time and my dignity. I’ve been going to these cons and taking notes from the greats! What makes me think I can sit up there and talk, that my advice and perspective is something worth listening to?

Well, as my calendar reminded me, I’ve been blogging for nearly 5 years and haven’t missed a week since before this time last leap year! I’m consistent, mostly coherent, and still giving fresh takes. I’ve got experience querying in the current market, and people I beta-read for keep coming back for more, so I can’t be too useless — or mean!

Step one for this bout of impostor syndrome was to update my business cards and add “Blogger | Vlogger” to it. Because that’s a big part of why I’m going to be up there.

Enough teaser, Morgan. Tell us where you’re going to be so we can properly stalk you. (Note: please don’t stalk. Just say hi, and keep it casual.)

I’m going to be at RavenCon 15 in Williamsburg, VA April 24-26 and once I got my tentative schedule, my impostor syndrome backed off a little. (Plus, I have my own panelist bio page that is basically the best. I’m pretty happy with what I finally decided on for my new profile pic). But, anyway, my panels.

  1. NaNoWriMo
  2. The Writer and the Beta Reader
  3. Social Media Best Practices for Writers
  4. Social Media, or, Why I Haven’t Finished My Novel

This schedule is still tentative and subject to change. But these are all things I can talk about for ages — at least the basics — without feeling like I need to step back and let the experts talk! Now to find out if I actually enjoy being on panels, and get my stuff out there to be published!

For the others conventions, I have no schedule yet, but I’m going to be on panels at Balticon in Baltimore, MD May 22-25, and in New ZEALAND at CoNZealand for WorldCon from July 29-August 2nd! With any luck, those panels will be along the same vein and I’ll really find my footing on panels.

And maybe get something published.


Have you ever faced impostor syndrome? What did you do to work past it? Or did you just run?

Have you ever paneled at a convention? Any tips for a neophyte? 

impostorSyndrome_p

Author Spotlight: Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt

  • Award-winning writer of poetry and prose

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt is a full-time marketing writer who has penned four books of poetry, two children’s books and a novel. Her eighth book – Get Happy, Dammit – is forthcoming from Local Gems Press.

Katherine, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

I’d really love a floppy-eared goat. Maybe two. They’d make great friends for our two dogs and one cat.

Oooh! So cute. I actually have friends who raise goats. They’re such pack animals that you really need at least two. Maybe three.

What do you write and how did you get started?

I’m probably a bit obsessive when it comes to writing. In my day job, I write blogs, social media, and general marketing pieces, mostly with an IT focus. I also write articles and edit for Prince William Living magazine. In my creative life, I enjoy writing poetry and short essays. Once in a while, I try my hand at flash fiction.

The obsession began early on for me. As soon as my mother started teaching me to read, I wanted to write. The spark was there, and I’m not sure my mother understood at the time the degree to which her efforts affected my desire and ability to write. I wanted to create these experiences I was enjoying so much through books. I wanted to give breath to stories and sounds and ideas. I wanted to communicate things in my head that could not come out of my mouth. So I wrote poetry. Then I created magazines. I drew all the ads and wrote the articles based on the imaginary lives of my puppets. I called the magazine Puppet Gossip. I also kept a diary and wrote letters to friends and family. I often read my writing at school and church functions. Writing was something I did all the time. It was part of me.

As I got older, I began to submit my work to be published. In college, I’d send hundreds of poems out through the mail. The sheer volume of submissions helped me land my work in some pretty good magazines and journals. Then I started to help edit our college literary magazine. I launched one on my own through the college, too. After grad school, I began to write books. I’ve published independently and through small presses, and there are more opportunities on the horizon. The hard work that comes along with this obsession has paid off.

I definitely started early as well, but I don’t think I was half as committed as you were! Nor as brave, to submit and send your works out at that age. It’s clearly paid off for you. Congratulations!

What do you like to read?

Besides reading poetry, I seem to have become fascinated by World War II fiction, specifically the work of Philip Kerr. His Bernie Gunther detective series just sucks me in and has taught me quite a bit about history. I also enjoy the eclectic, sometimes speculative fiction of Margaret Atwood and Rupert Thomson. I find their voices most compelling. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is another of my favorites. His brand of magical realism and poetic prose inspires me.

I spent my college years hanging out with history buffs, so I enjoy a good historical fiction. And we all know speculative fiction is totally my jam. What a great mix, very well rounded. I’m sure that helps with your own writing.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Children’s books shouldn’t rhyme

 I think this notion undervalues a timeless art and limits communication. Poetry holds power, and if you want children to learn the nuances of language and fall in love with the written and spoken word, you should definitely introduce them to verse and do it through storytelling. Think about nursery rhymes, which are a meld of story and song. And what about classics like The Night Before Christmas and just about every Dr. Seuss book?

I think we should be embracing verse, not avoiding it, which is why both my children’s books are written as illustrated epic poems. The storylines and illustrations are important, yes, but the sound and stanza arrangements greatly contribute to the overall experience. I don’t know who came up with the idea that we should strike verse from children’s literature, but I think it’s off base.

From what I understand of the advice, it was the plea of tired publishers and agents, tired of ‘near rhymes’ and poor meter. I believe this is one of those: if you can do it well, please do. Everyone else, have mercy on us and just write normally.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Learn the rules so you can learn how to break them

That goes for any art (and a lot of life in general). It’s important to understand the roots of your particular craft so you can glean the best and leave the rest. Take what you need from tradition. Then you can really start to get creative and have a context as you develop your own style and voice.

Definitely! If you break it because you think the rule is stupid, you likely don’t understand what the rule was intended to do. If you do it from a place of knowledge and art, you can often do amazing things with it. After all, the “rules of writing” are more like… guidelines.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

Like everyone else, I’ve had to endure the challenges of living a human life. A few things have happened along the way that sometimes make me wonder how I ever lived this long. But I’ve worked hard to get where I am, I’m pleased with the way my life turned out, and that’s why I wrote Get Happy, Dammit.

It’s a kind of handbook for creating inspiration and motivation. The book includes short essays and poems, and in each brief chapter, there are exercises I used in the college classroom when I taught back in the day. I’ve had teachers, artists, writers, business folks and caregivers tell me how useful these exercises are, so I hope your audience will take a look once it’s published this spring.

[NOTE: She’s also published a few other poetry books, with very different themes: Late April, Bury Me Under A Lilac, Poems From The Battlefield, and Weaker Than Water.

Plus! She has two children’s books (in case you wondered why she felt so strongly about that rhyming advice): Furbily-Furld Takes On The World and A Crane Named Steve ]

I’ll be posting about that book and more on my website. Feel free to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or instagram! I appreciate everyone reading, and keep writing!

Katherine's other books:
Poetry books:
Late April
Bury Me Under a Lilac
Poems From The Battlefield
Weaker Than Water

Kids books:
Furbily-Furld Takes On The World
A Crane Named Steve

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