All posts in Writer Friend Features

28 Apr

Writer Friend Feature: Randy Ribay

In Writer Friend Features by MK England / April 28, 2015 / 1 Comment

RandyR-1(1)This month’s featured writer friend is Randy Ribay, a fellow member of the Cherry Hill-based South Jersey Writers Group. I remember catching a glimpse of him at my first ever SJWG meeting when he stood up and announced that he wrote YA and had just signed with an agent, and my immediate thought was this is a person I should know! We’ve still not managed to cross paths in the physical world since then, but twitter is a magical place that brings people together. Randy was kind enough to agree to be interviewed for April’s Writer Friend Feature, so I’ll let him take it from here!

1. Basics first: Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a Filipino-American YA writer, teacher, book reviewer/blogger with THE HORN BOOK, and vlogger at Writing in the Margins. In my head, I’m also a Gryffindor and Jedi, and totally not a Cylon. My first book, a YA contemporary titled AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES, comes out this Fall from Merit Press/F+W Media!

2. What’s the earliest story you can remember writing?

In elementary school, I remember writing a story about nachos from outer space trying to invade Earth. I don’t remember if they were victorious, but I’m certain they were tasty.

3. What do you think is the secret to balancing writing pursuits with a busy life?

Hmm. I’d say you need to schedule writing into your day at a time that you’re consistently “free” so you can make it a routine. It doesn’t need to be a lot of time. Writing a little bit every single day adds up. During the summers I write full time (yay, teaching!), but during the school year I wake up at about 4:30 am and write for about an hour or so until I have to get ready for work. Just by following that routine, I’ve been able to complete first drafts within 3-4 months. And besides just putting down words, I think that the practice of daily writing simply improves your ability to write well.

4. What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

I really like revising. I probably wouldn’t say this when I’m actually in the middle of revising because it always takes me way longer than I think it should and it’s always frustrating. But at the same time I love that process of sitting down with a mess of a first draft and trying to figure it out. I like refining the story at every level, from plot to characters to sentences. I feel like that’s when things really start to take a shape that I feel proud of.

5. Tell us something useful. A piece of advice, a link to an article you found valuable, a writing reference book you love, etc.

WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING by Haruki Murakami really changed my attitude toward writing, and I credit it with actually getting me to take this seriously and approach it in a disciplined way. I’m also a big fan of Neil Gaiman’s 8 Good Writing Practices. And I’m years late to the party, but I just discovered the podcast Writing Excuses which has some really great stuff in it.

6. What are you working on right now?

I’ve got two projects in the works right now. One is a YA contemporary urban, and the other is a YA dark fantasy. I don’t like to talk too much about WIP, so I’ll just say that they are absurdly different from one another and from my debut!


You can find Randy all over the interwebs! Follow him at the links below, and don’t forget to pre-order AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES on Amazon.


Thanks for joining me today, Randy!

24 Mar

Writer Friend Feature: Mara Fitzgerald

In Writer Friend Features by MK England / March 24, 2015 / 0 Comments

TBR list small

The Writer Friend Feature is back this month with guest star Mara Fitzgerald, pictured to the right with her TBR list on her head because she’s good like that. I met her through the YA Buccaneers Spring Writing Bootcamp in 2014 when we were assigned to the same accountability team, later named the League of Antagonists. I knew I had to keep in touch with her when I saw a description of the YA novel she was querying: a magical plague-ridden ocean liner with a lesbian princess and the servant girl who has to save her? SIGN ME UP YESTERDAY. I know you’re terribly intrigued now, so I’ll let Mara take it from here:

1. Okay, basics first: Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself.

First of all, thanks for allowing me to run my mouth here! Having my ego fed is always lovely. I’m an avid YA writer, Libra, and Slyther-puff. I have East Coast sensibilities, but I currently reside in Tennessee, where I work as a molecular biologist and eat barbecue. The good thing about working in science is that you meet a lot of strange people, and occasionally thinly-veiled versions of them end up in your stories. The bad thing is: good luck explaining to most of them that you write stories for young adults about queer kids with magic powers.

2. What’s the earliest story you can remember writing?

In fifth grade, I had a bit of a nemesis. We were the two biggest nerds in the class. My teacher decided that my nemesis and I were just SO talented that we should collaborate on an Epic Story Adventure. The story ended up being about a group of kids–idealistic versions of our friends, made with their heavy input–who find a door that leads them to ancient Egypt and have to rescue a prince from a pyramid, which for some reason contained a giant seahorse that breathed fire. At this point, due to…creative differences, we broke up and each wrote our own ending. My ending was cute and happy. Pretty sure everyone in his version died.

3. What do you think is the secret to balancing writing pursuits with a busy life?

I tend to be a binge writer, so my secret is clearing as many hours as you can, one day a week, and hurling words onto your keyboard. Whatever your style, I think working with the people and commitments in your life to designate writing time–and respecting that time with everything you have–is extremely valuable. Even if it’s ten minutes, which, let’s be real, is sometimes all you have if you want to sleep at all. (Alternate plan that always ends poorly: never sleep). Also, I find one of the biggest things that blocks my writing is difficulty getting into the headspace. If you can figure out how to jump right into the headspace and stay there, your ten minutes here and there will be super productive. I’m still working on that one, but I find music and rereading a chapter or two of what you last wrote helps.

My secret for clearing a block of writing hours once a week is not having kids. People with kids who are also binge writers…I Hunger-Games-salute you.

4. What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

When you’re editing and realize you accidentally did something super clever in your story, and for a split-second, the skies part and you KNOW you’re a genius. (We shall say nothing of the other 98% of the time when you’re convinced everything you touch is horrible and you should never be allowed near a keyboard again). Second to that is when a story idea first lights a fire in your brain and leaves you burning to put your fingers to the keyboard.

5. Tell us something useful. A piece of advice, a link to an article you found valuable, a writing reference book you love, etc.

I recently picked up Donald Maass’s book, WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL. It’s like boot camp for your manuscript. In the text, he describes it as getting your PhD in novel-writing. It’s not kidding around and it made my brain hurt. It’s excellent for writers who have been writing long enough that online articles about the basics of writing start to feel like they’re not deep enough for your needs. (That being said, I’m still working on the basics and revisit them every time I start a new project!)

My other piece of advice to writers querying or on submission is to stop checking your email so much. HAHAHAHA just kidding, that’s impossible.

6. What are you working on right now?

I’m querying a YA fantasy manuscript (Unofficial Title: Queer Girls with Magic Powers) and plotting a YA contemporary (Queer Kids Cheating on Standardized Tests) and a YA sci-fi (Queer Kids Doing…Stuff in Space, IDK Yet). During this plotting process, I’m also trying to read more and keep up with the ridiculous amount of amazing YA coming out!


You can follow Mara on twitter (@mara_fitzgerald) and on her blog at
Thanks for joining me today, Mara! Give her some love, creatures.

28 Jan

Writer Friend Feature: Lisen Minetti

In Writer Friend Features by MK England / January 28, 2015 / 0 Comments

Lisen_picI have some truly awesome writer friends. For serious. I don’t know where I’d be without them, and I think it would be terribly selfish of me to keep them all to myself. So, here we are at the start of a new series on this blog: Writer Friend Features. My dear writer friend Lisen Minetti has agreed to be my first guinea pig. Lisen is a co-coordinator of the Atlantic County Writers United meetup group in southern New Jersey, a writer of middle grade and young adult fiction, and a diehard Whedonite. Welcome, Lisen!

MK: Okay, basics first: Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself.

Lisen: Ugh, I hate talking about myself!  But if I have to …

I live outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey with my husband, two kids and a killer cat.  I currently work full time as a paralegal, and have a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology.  I originally wanted to go to school for writing and / or journalism (really, anything along those lines) but the classes were only offered during the day, and I could only attend school at night, so I took the psychology / criminal justice route and just kind of went with it.  Serial killers fascinate the crap out of me, so I did really well in the program, and always thought that when I did sit down to write a book, it would be a thriller.  Or a murder mystery.  Something involving crime and death.  Instead what came out was a kid’s book.  Go figure.

As far as fun, untypical things about me go, I am an unabashed Browncoat (if you don’t know what that means, go watch the entire series of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, then come back – I’ll wait), I’m an archer in a medieval mercenary fighting group and if I had to pick one thing I absolutely want to do before I die it is have a library in my house with floor to ceiling bookshelves of my favorite books.  Preferably hardback first editions, but I’m not that picky.

MK: What’s the earliest story you can remember writing?

Lisen: The earliest story I remember writing was when I was in third grade and put together a book on the Bermuda Triangle, Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster.  I was the author and my little sister was the illustrator.  I wrote a page or two on each topic and she drew a picture.

It wasn’t until I was in fifth grade, however, that my writing really took off with “The Tale of the Talisman”, which was nearly seven (handwritten) pages and was a mystery about a necklace with magical properties.

Even back then I was fascinated with the unexplained, a theme that is recurring in almost everything I write today.

MK: What do you think is the secret to balancing writing pursuits with a crazy busy life?

Lisen: If there is a secret, I really need to be let in on it.  Between working full time and being a mother of two (along with everything that goes along with it) I have so little time for me, that I really have to work at making writing work for me.  Some days it’s simple, and other days the time disappears.  I get really irritated at people who drill in that in order to be a successful writer you HAVE to write EVERY SINGLE DAY.  For me, and, I think, most people, that’s an impossibility.  But finding the time to think about writing every single day is something I can do.  Whether it’s going to meet ups with others in my writing group, or reading a book in the genre I write, or paying attention to the character traits of a particularly charming villain in a movie, I am always thinking about the writing process: What I could be doing, what others are doing successfully, how what I read and watch influences me, and how those same things could make my writing even better.  I find that after a few days of taking a step back and just being cognizant of those things gives me a fresh start and then I jump back in not just able to write, but really excited to write.  So, I guess you could say my secret is not to force myself to write every day.

MK: What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

Lisen: I love editing.  I’m somewhat of a perfectionist and usually have to go through ten drafts of something before I don’t want to just hit the delete button.  I know what makes writing good – as an avid reader I know what sucks me into a world, into the hearts and souls of characters, into the story.  But the process to get to that point is long and arduous – like the journey most characters themselves have to embark on.  Like those characters, I know I can get there, I just have to put the work in.  And that’s why I love editing:  To take a bad draft with decent ideas, and salvage them.  To take those scraps and re-arrange them into something workable.  To scratch out, re-write and re-write again to make something solid.  To pound out the bumps and make something smooth.  To polish the surfaces, to make it graceful.  To add the finishing touches and make it magical.  That’s my favorite part, even if it takes days, months or years to get there.

MK: Tell us something useful. A piece of advice, a link to an article you found valuable, a writing reference book you love, etc.

Lisen: There two most useful things I have come across are Stephen King’s On Writing and my writing group (I belong to two).

First, On Writing.  I grew up reading Stephen King and really enjoy his earlier works.  And On Writing is different from every other ‘how to’ I’ve even glanced at.  It’s full of odd advice and personal touches that just really makes you realize how different writing is for everyone.  That there’s no one right way to do it.  That’s what I think I got out of it the most, and it was something that I really needed to hear.

Second – A writing group.  As I said, I belong to two different groups and they are vastly different.  The first one I joined was fairly far away from home, and well established.  The second one I somehow ended up being a co-organizer for, so I can schedule meetings anywhere I want to (ahhh, the power!).  But the best thing about my writing groups is being able to connect with other writers.  It is fracking amazing.  I have met so many wonderful people who have helped me in so many ways.  My groups are a support, a wealth of information and a swift kick in the ass when I need it.  Writing has long been depicted as a solitary endeavor, left to those in remote cabins in the woods, or locked away in attics scribbling prose by candlelight.  Maybe that was they truth fifty – or even ten – years ago; but today my writing groups are also my lifeline.

MK: What are you working on right now?

Lisen: 2015 finds me really busy from a writing perspective.  I am getting ready to seriously query a book I finished back in September of 2013 – it was my first completed MS so I shelved it for a long while to see how I would feel about it a year or so later, and I still loved it – so I have been busily working on query letters, a synopsis and agent research.  The story is a middle grade book about Cady Martin, an eleven year old witch who solves supernatural laced mysteries.

Once that fervor dies down, I am really excited to delve back into a YA novel I started drafting for NaNoWriMo 2014.  It’s a hot mess right now, but has a lot of potential.  Tentatively titled Dark Magicks it centers on an 18 year old girl who lives in a world where magick and evil are intertwined.  I would give more of the plot away, but I have a feeling it will change sooner than later!


You can follow Lisen on twitter (@LisenMinetti) and on her blog at
Thanks for joining me today, Lisen! Give her some love, creatures.