Friday, March 10, 2017

Free Skype visits for librarians and educators!

In an effort to broaden my literary community and interact with awesome YA readers, I’m giving away free thirty-minute Skype visits for classrooms and book clubs all throughout April, May, and June. Slots are limited, so if you’re interested in booking a session, please contact me directly at pstokesbooks [at] gmail [dot] com by May 1, 2017. 

Skype sessions will include a short introduction of me and my recent novels, a ten-minute presentation on either Girl Against the Universe or Vicarious, and fifteen minutes for students to ask questions about the novel being discussed, or about writing and publishing in general. An optional discussion guide is provided.

"Filled with equal amounts of empathy, humor, and heart, Girl Against the Universe is an empowering story about finding the courage to piece your life back together, even when it feels irreparably broken." --Tamara Ireland Stone, NYT bestselling author of Every Last Word
Girl Against theUniverse is a mental health story that presents therapy in a positive light and ends on a hopeful but still realistic note. VOYA called it “a satisfying and breezy book with likeable characters working through trauma to move to better, healthier places in their lives.” This story would be ideal for middle school or high school students looking for a funny and uplifting read about overcoming survivor’s guilt with the help of family, friends, and a supportive therapist.

Vicarious was called “completely captivating for any audience” by VOYA in a Perfect Ten review and would be great for high school students who would enjoy reading about a diverse cast of characters thrown into a high-action, twisty mystery, where everyone is in danger and no one can be trusted.

“A total mind-bending thrill ride, with a heroine who’s as smart as she is strong.” --Lindsay Cummings, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Zenith and The Murder Complex
"Reading Vicarious is like tiptoeing across a field of landmines. Blindfolded. Stokes delivers enough adrenaline to make readers beg for mercy."
--Victoria Scott, author of Titans and Fire & Flood

Please contact me via email if you'd like to book a Skype session or if you have specific questions about the books or this offer.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Do it Yourself MFA: Introduction

Hi guys :) I'm writing this post to let you know about a book and program called DIY MFA. I have always wanted to attend writing graduate school. Back when I was twenty-three and finishing up Americorps, which was what I did right after college, I applied to about ten writing graduate programs. I had paid off a chunk of my student loans (thank you, Americorps!) and didn't want to go deeper into debt, so I only applied to fully funded schools that provided full tuition scholarships/fellowships + a stipend for living expenses, which tend to be some of the most competitive programs in the country.

All of these schools rejected me. Some of the rejections were extremely encouraging, pointing out things like the average age of their students was six years older than me, that many of their students were published authors, that my writing showed promise and I should reapply the following year, etc. But when you grow up getting all As in grade school (okay, fine, except for Bs in gym), high school, and college, and then get rejected from grad school, it hits hard, or at least it did for me. Instead of reapplying, I took a writing hiatus for several years. Pro tip: don't be like twenty-three year old me.

Technically 21-year-old me, but at this point who the hell is counting ;)

Fast forward through a stint of working in social services and retail management and in a restaurant kitchen and considering becoming a teacher and a veterinarian and teaching English abroad and flapping and flailing because I couldn't figure out what I wanted to do with myself. I eventually pursued nursing, mostly because I'm a squishy INFP who needs a "helping people" component to her life, but partially because a hospital nurse's full-time schedule is three 12-hour shifts. That left a lot of free days for, you guessed it, writing. At the moment I write full-time (plus do two other part-time side jobs to help make ends meet) but there's a good chance I'll go back into nursing at least part-time. It's a rewarding profession and being a nurse has helped me become a more open-minded, culturally sensitive, and compassionate human being.

Its official. I am Luna :)

But I have never stopped wanting to do an MFA program.'s one of the few things I've always been good at! Sadly, now I've got grad school loans and I'm in even less of a position to be able to afford to borrow more moneys. (Getting older sucks like that :P) And although I could apply and possibly land one of those fellowship slots, it would require moving, which is also expensive. And to be frank, it's not so much the degree that I really want. It's the focused coursework--learning more about the craft of writing, accountability that keeps me producing pages, reading assignments that force me to read regularly and choose titles outside of my comfort zone, critical feedback from other committed writers.

So when someone asked me to write her a recommendation for MFA programs last year, and I penned my enthusiastic letters with a twinge of jealousy, I decided I was going to recreate the MFA grad school experience for myself. And I was going to make it work for me--I wouldn't have to move or go into debt, I wouldn't be limited to a slower writing pace than I'm used to, and I wouldn't be forced to write long critical papers on books that I despise. Imagine my delight to find out that someone has ALREADY created a template for people who want the MFA experience but can't do an actual program. Enter Do it Yourself MFA. Here's the official description from Goodreads:

Get the Knowledge Without the College! You are a writer. You dream of sharing your words with the world, and you're willing to put in the hard work to achieve success. You may have even considered earning your MFA, but for whatever reason--tuition costs, the time commitment, or other responsibilities--you've never been able to do it. Or maybe you've been looking for a self-guided approach so you don't have to go back to school. This book is for you.

"DIY MFA" is the do-it-yourself alternative to a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. By combining the three main components of a traditional MFA--writing, reading, and community--it teaches you how to craft compelling stories, engage your readers, and publish your work. 

Inside you'll learn how to: Set customized goals for writing and learning. Generate ideas on demand.Outline your book from beginning to end. Breathe life into your characters. Master point of view, voice, dialogue, and more. Read with a "writer's eye" to emulate the techniques of others. Network like a pro, get the most out of writing workshops, and submit your work successfully. Writing belongs to everyone--not only those who earn a degree. With "DIY MFA," you can take charge of your writing, produce high-quality work, get published, and build a writing career.

Full disclosure. I don't know Gabriela Pereira and I am not being paid or incentivized in any way to promote this program. I simply Googled stuff like "MFA coursework" and "teach yourself MFA" and her program popped up. I bought the book, found it helpful even as an author currently working on books #11 and #12, and so I decided I would share the info with you and blog about my experience doing the program. I think this book can be helpful to writers at all stages of their publication journeys. If you like the sound of this but aren't ready to commit to buying the book, check out her website where you can score a free DIY MFA starter kit by signing up for email updates.

One of the things stressed throughout the book is iteration--trying something and then systematically analyzing your results and making changes to your procedure based on the outcome of your analysis. DIY MFA is very clear that there is no one right path for writers to take. With that in mind, I read the entire book and have developed my own ten-month program. In addition to writing, reading, and community, which Gabriela focuses on, I'm adding a fourth component--structured education. Yes, all of her components are essential in the overall MFA education, but I decided I also wanted a lecture-type component from people I view as writing experts. Here is an outline of the program I have created for myself, which I'm starting today:

My writing goals are to write and revise an average of 120 pages a month during the periods I'm intensely focusing on writing. Right now I'm planning to focus on writing in March and April and September and October. I'll still be producing pages in those other months, but on a smaller scale. Overall, my plan is to write and revise two full-length projects during this ten month period, with the option to play around with a third project as long as I'm keeping up with my DIY MFA goals.

My reading goals are to average one book a week throughout the whole program, a little less when I'm doing focused writing, a little more in the other periods. I realize actual MFA programs might require more reading, but to my knowledge they generally require less writing, so this is what I meant when I said you can tailor this program to fit your own goals. I know I want to read more, but I don't need to spend more time reading than writing. 

My titles will be selected from four different groups:
  1. Free choice: YA, adult, non-fiction--whatever strikes my fancy. This is clearly the best category :)
  2. Comparison: These books will be chosen because they have something in common with one of the two projects I'll be working on.
  3. Classic/Literary: Bleh, this is the category I avoid like the plague, but because this is *my* program, I can expand my knowledge of classic literature by choosing titles that interest me, not books forced upon me by professors. I will consult MFA reading lists, but my classic/literary books can be anything that fits those categories at a high school level or above.
  4. Research: Most of my books require reading at least one or two books for research.

Ah, other people. Why do you scare me so? ;) I fully admit that I have slacked off somewhat in maintaining connections in the writing community. My plans for this element include the following:
  • maintaining relationships with bloggers and readers online
  • becoming more engaged in my local YA writers group
  • joining a local YA book club
  • attending more literary events here in Portland
  • doing more Skype and in-person visits with book clubs and classrooms
  • working more with beta-readers on my current projects
  • continuing to work as a freelance editor at Manuscript Critique Services
  • blogging once a month about my DIY MFA experience.

One of the best writing classes I ever took was the YA novel writing class previously offered by Mediabistro, but they have changed their format and no longer seem to offer workshop novel-writing classes. I also signed up for the James Patterson Masterclass last year and completed the first few lessons before getting bogged down with deadlines and holiday obligations. So, the first thing I will be doing is reviewing and completing the James Patterson class. Then Masterclass will be offering a Writing for Television class with Shonda Rhimes that I'll be taking. Finally, I have a screenwriting class in mind to take later in the year.

Maybe you are scrunching up your nose at the thought of James Patterson and Shonda Rhimes. That's fine, but there's no denying both of them are incredibly successful storytellers. I write the kind of books I want to read, and that is generally fun, commercial fiction. Just because I got all those As in high school doesn't mean I was kicking back with Jane Austen. In fact, I have NEVER read a Jane Austen book (yet.) There is nothing "lesser" about writing commercial fiction, but if you have different goals and want to create a DIY MFA with a more literary education component, you have lots of online and (probably) in-person writing courses you can pick from.

For me the goal here is to broaden my knowledge base, and I think learning about different types of writing (TV, screenwriting, etc.) will help me become a better overall writer.

So if DIY MFA is something you're interested in, check out Gabriela's website, and check back here at the beginning of each month as I review my progress from the previous month and share tips and tricks I've discovered along the way. I'm really excited about attempting this program, and after cranking out multiple books for tight deadlines that sort of killed my writing joy a little, it feels great to be embarking on a new writing adventure.

Have any of you completed a traditional or a DIY MFA? Please share your own tips and tricks in the comments. We writers gotta stick together, and I personally will take all the help I can get :D

My support team, enjoying their new multi-cat (AKA big dog) bed ;)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Metaltown and Necessary Trouble #PressBack Giveaway

Happy February! May this month bring you more joy and less freezing cold than January (or sweltering heat if you're in the Southern Hemisphere.)

Last year I was lucky enough to be sent on multiple events with the amazing Kristen Simmons. If you ever get a chance to meet her or hear her speak, I highly recommend it--she is passionate, informed, and entertaining. I learned a lot just from appearing alongside her (and Kristen, if you see this, thank you again for being the kind of patient, calming influence who lessened my public speaking anxiety just by being you.)

Kristen was nice enough to provide a signed copy of METALTOWN for me to give away. In case you're not familiar with the book, here's more info:

The rules of Metaltown are simple: Work hard, keep your head down, and watch your back. You look out for number one, and no one knows that better than Ty. She’s been surviving on the factory line as long as she can remember. But now Ty has Colin. She’s no longer alone; it’s the two of them against the world. That’s something even a town this brutal can’t take away from her. Until it does.

Lena’s future depends on her family’s factory, a beast that demands a ruthless master, and Lena is prepared to be as ruthless as it takes if it means finally proving herself to her father. But when a chance encounter with Colin, a dreamer despite his circumstances, exposes Lena to the consequences of her actions, she’ll risk everything to do what’s right.

In Lena, Ty sees an heiress with a chip on her shoulder. Colin sees something more. In a world of disease and war, tragedy and betrayal, allies and enemies, all three of them must learn that challenging what they thought was true can change all the rules.

This book was such an interesting mash-up of different genres to me. It's a dystopian story set in a completely fictional world, but at the same time it has the feel of a historical novel and addresses many present-day issues such as class struggle, environmental destruction, genetically modified organisms, and endless war. It's both plot-driven and character driven, with intricate yet easy to visualize worldbuilding. Parts of it made me laugh, parts made me cry, and all of it made me think. I suspect it's a book that will stay with me for quite a while.

Metaltown has been described as Newsies meets Les Miserables, and one of the major plot points involves the young factory workers banding together to organize a "press" which is basically a worker strike. Lead by Colin, the children and teens of Metaltown band together to #PressBack for better working conditions.

Blogger at The Eater of Books, @alyssa_susanna, presses back for the environment!

But pressing back isn't always about work. Over the past few months there's been a huge resurgence in political protesting and demonstrating around the world, particularly in the U.S. where I live. But a lot of activists leading the charges today have actually been fighting for better working and living conditions for the past decade or more. That's why I've decided to also give away a copy of Sarah Jaffe's NECESSARY TROUBLE. Here's more about that book:

Necessary Trouble is the definitive book on the movements that are poised
to permanently remake American politics. We are witnessing a moment of unprecedented political turmoil and social activism. Over the last few years, we’ve seen the growth of the Tea Party, a twenty-first-century black freedom struggle with BlackLivesMatter, Occupy Wall Street, and the grassroots networks supporting presidential candidates in defiance of the traditional party elites.

Sarah Jaffe leads readers into the heart of these movements, explaining what has made ordinary Americans become activists. As Jaffe argues, the financial crisis in 2008 was the spark, the moment that crystallized that something was wrong. For years, Jaffe crisscrossed the country, asking people what they were angry about, and what they were doing to take power back. From the successful fight for a $15 minimum wage in Seattle and New York to the halting of Shell’s Arctic drilling program, Americans are discovering the effectiveness of making good, necessary trouble. Regardless of political alignment, they are boldly challenging who wields power in this country.

Necessary Trouble is a great book for young activists, people interested in learning more about recent movements, or even for people who just want to better understand the motivation and strategies behind today's current movements. If you've ever wondered what the Tea Party was actually about, whether Occupy Wall Street resulted in any long-term positive changes, or why protestors block highways during demonstrations, then you want to read this book. If you're not used to non-fiction, you might find the sheer volume of information presented overwhelming, but the book is broken up into chapters that focus on different movements, so you can read it in smaller chunks if that helps you absorb it all.

Because these are both books about standing up for what you believe in, I've created a Rafflecopter that will give you entry points for doing just that. I realize many of you are already actively engaged in pressing back, but that others might be a little overwhelmed by the world right now, unable to participate in demonstrations for a variety of reasons, and/or unsure if their individual efforts will make a difference. Never doubt your own power, even if you're not old enough to vote. Right now a group of young people aged 9 to 20 are suing the federal government over climate change. The people of Alaska persuaded their Republican senator to change her mind and oppose one of Trump's cabinet picks by calling and showing up in huge numbers. [Side note: Showing up in person, calling  or emailing are more helpful than tweeting @ politicians. Calls and emails are generally counted and logged. At this point I don't think tweets are officially monitored to the same degree, but please correct me if I'm wrong.] On a local level, citizens of Seattle have persuaded their city counsel to have an official vote on removing all of the city's assets from Wells Fargo due to the bank's heavy investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline. In short, if you can find the time to support the causes you believe in, your voice will be heard by someone. You might not always win, but you'll never win if you don't try.

This giveaway is U.S. only due to mailing costs, but I hope everyone reading this post will check out both of these fabulous books if they are able. Rafflecopter rules are in the terms and conditions. If you've already contacted your local or state representatives in 2017, you can use your previous actions for entry points. Contest ends Feb 28, 2017. As always, if you've got questions, put 'em in the comments :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway
ETA: If you want to qualify for even more giveaways, join my mailing list! It's published six to twelve times a year and almost always includes exclusive giveaways just for subscribers. Later this month I'll be sending out a newsletter with two international giveaways--one for an ARC of This is How it Happened and one for a finished copy of one of my favorite books of 2016!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Holiday Reviewer Appreciation Giveaway

Hi guys! Happy December :)

I've talked a lot about why reviews are important. For example here and here. I even wrote specifically about negative reviews here. Tl;dr is that reviews matter for a lot of reasons, but one of the most crucial is they function as free publicity and help sell books. I realize it takes time and effort to leave reviews, which is why I try to do a couple of these contests each year to thank the people who are willing to go that extra step.

For this international giveaway, the winner will have a choice of a $25 B&N gift card, or a signed copy of any of the books you see in this post. (For Ferocious and TIHIH, you'll receive a signed ARC.) You can earn points for reviewing any of my last four novels--Vicarious, Girl Against the Universe, Liars Inc., and The Art of Lainey. You can also earn points just by tweeting or by leaving a comment about how to encourage readers to write reviews.

The dangers of running a giveaway likes this include that people will plagiarize/write fake reviews to qualify or that people will think I am bribing readers for positive reviews. It's important to me that neither of these things happen. So:

1. If I think your review is fake or plagiarized (meaning that you copied someone else's review, not that you used quotes from the book--that's totally fine), I will disqualify you from consideration without notification.

2. Any honest review qualifies you to win. 5 stars. 1 star. A GR review with no rating if that's how you roll. I probably won't even read your reviews unless you're the contest winner.


1. You must have read a book in order to review it.
2. Your review must be at least 50 words long. (Reviews that you have already posted also count. No need to edit or update, unless you need more words.)
3. Reviews can be written in any language.
4. You can copy/paste the same review to different sites for multiple entries.
5. You must fill out the Raffecopter below.


I know some readers aren't comfortable writing reviews, which is why I kept the length requirement short and included other options to enter the contest. But if you want more entry points, here are some things you could incorporate into reviews that might be more fun for you than just writing them in "book report" formula.

1. Pretend you are an author writing an official blurb for the book jacket. What would you say to the world about this book if you had to condense all your thoughts into one or two sentences?

2. Make your review two lists--the things you liked the best and the things you liked the least about the story.

3. Make your review a mini "editor letter" by commenting separately on the prose, voice, setting, plot, and characters.

4. Pretend you are the book's publicist and it's your job to come up with good comparison titles. End your review by saying "Fans of [these books] and [these movies] will enjoy [book] because [reasons.]"

5. Choose your favorite quotes from the book. Tell how each
affected you and how it connects to the overall story.

Do you have other ideas for "reluctant reviewers"? Share them in the comments :) The Rafflecopter comment question is about how authors can encourage readers to leave more reviews. It's generally unethical to pay reviewers (exceptions being things like Kirkus Indie, etc.), so authors and publishers frequently trade free books in exchange for reviews. That sometimes works well at the publisher level, but the expense of sending books is often too much for individual authors and doesn't always pan out in the form of reviews. I would love to hear any suggestions you guys have on how to score more honest reviews, especially on book-buying websites.

Thanks and happy holidays :) See you in January when I'll be giving away a signed copy of Kristen Simmons's Metaltown!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Questions about the giveaway? Put 'em in the comments :)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Discussion guide for VICARIOUS

Hi guys! I've updated my discussion guide page to include non-spoilery questions for Vicarious. These are great for anyone reading the book for a book club or online read-along.

I know I haven't been online too much, but I'll be back on Twitter and FB regularly in January or February. In the meantime, be sure to stop back by the blog because later this month I'll be running another Reviewer Appreciation Giveaway where you can score entry points for reviewing any of my books online. Then, in January, I'll be doing a giveaway for a signed copy of Kristen Simmons's Metaltown. Plus there will be exclusive holiday giveaways for my awesome newsletter subscribers. Join the mailing list here.


Pre-reading questions:

1. Vicarious takes place in a world where futuristic technology makes it possible for people to record their sensory experiences and share them with others. Maybe you’ve always wanted to go shark diving or bungee jumping, but you’re too scared or you can’t afford it. Maybe you want to snowboard but you don’t have time to take lessons. With Vicarious Sensory Experiences (ViSEs), people can experience not just the first-person visual of what these activities are like, but also the sounds, smells, and tactile sensations. It’s like Virtual Reality on steroids.

Name one or two things you might like to experience via a ViSE recording. It doesn’t need to be an adventure sport. It could be something like walk along the Great Wall of China or go on a date with a celebrity.

2. Name one or two things you’ve done in the past that you might want to share with friends or strangers by making a ViSE. Again, it doesn’t have to be anything expensive or overly glamorous. Maybe you went sledding over Winter Break or saw one of your favorite bands perform live.

3. Who is the person you are closest to in the whole world? Why did you pick that person?

4. Do you think it’s okay to lie to people “for their own good?” Does it depend on the circumstances? Discuss why you feel the way you do.

5. What is your definition of family?

Questions while reading:

6. Winter exercises, perhaps obsessively, to calm her nerves. Is there anything that you do in order to calm yourself before a big test or a potentially scary task?

7. The author intended for the book’s setting to be an alternate present day, but a lot of readers assume the book takes place in the future. Can you find two examples that make the book feel futuristic? What about two examples that make the book feel like it’s taking place in the present?

8. Describe the phenomenon of overlay. Why does it affect some people more than others?

9. At one point Winter plays a ViSE of Rose winning a large amount of money in a casino and muses that her sister might have been making recordings that function like high-tech commercials. Do you think that would work? That is, do you think having a positive virtual experience would make people more likely to try to replicate the experience in real life? Why or why not?

10. What does Winter think is happening in the bathroom at Zoo before she and Jesse enter? What is actually happening? Why do you think Winter had preconceived notions about what goes on at Zoo?

11. There are definite privacy concerns when it comes to recording ViSEs, especially some of the ones that Rose records. Given that ViSEs are essentially recorded personal memories, do you think it should be okay to sell them or share them without the consent of other people who are part of the recording? Why or why not?

12. Do you see Winter as a strong character, weak character, or somewhere in between? Why do you feel the way you do?

13. Do you see Jesse as a strong character, weak character, or somewhere in between? Why do you feel the way you do?

14. Which characters in the book were the easiest for you to relate to? Which did you find to be the most likable? Explain why you feel the way you do.

15. How would you describe Jesse’s feelings for Winter? Gideon’s feelings? Sebastian’s feelings? Give examples from the text to back up your answers.

Post-reading questions:

16. Almost all of the characters in Vicarious seem suspicious at one point or another in the book. Did you figure out who killed Rose before the answer was revealed? Discuss who your major suspects were and at which point in the novel you started to put the pieces together.

17. Who does Winter trust at the beginning of the book? Who does she trust at the end of the book? What things happened throughout the story that caused her to switch her allegiances?

18. Would you like a job recording ViSEs? Why or why not?

19. The author has mentioned that this book was inspired by her love of gritty, high-tech movies, including Inception and The Matrix. In The Matrix, main character Neo is offered a choice of two pills—the blue pill that will put him back into the false reality of the matrix, or the red pill that will allow him to see the world as it really is. He chooses the red pill, but is horrified by the truth. Winter isn’t given a choice, but like Neo she experiences a series of revelations and is also horrified by the truth. If you were her, would you want to know everything that she discovers in the last several chapters of the novel? Or would you prefer to be protected from the truth? Are there any scenarios in real life you can think of where you would definitely want to “take the blue pill” and be protected from reality? Explain your answer.

20. What do you think is going to happen in the second (and final) book of the Vicarious series? What questions do you have at the end of Book #1 that you still need to be answered?

ICYMI, check out the official Vicarious trailer: