After I send my MS off to CPs for review, I take a month away from it and read something completely different from my story—a memoir, short story collection, or nature book. This sort of cleanses my palate and helps me return to my MS with fresh eyes. I also use this time to brainstorm my next WIP.



LISTENThere are many apps that can read your MS to you, but most computers have a built-in narrator, too. On my Macbook I highlight the text and press Opt + S. Narration speed and vocals can be adjusted in settings. This helps me concentrate on plot, pacing, dialogue, and character without being tempted to stop every three seconds to deliberate over line edits and grammar. I usually stop after each chapter and jot down notes, but that’s it. Also, this is how I get house chores and exercise done without losing time with my story. When I commuted 45-minutes to work, I’d buckle my laptop into the passenger seat and play my manuscript through an auxiliary cord.


After listening to the MS, I make an outline from memory, concentrating on hitting all the points in my character arcs rather than summarizing each scene. I look for inconsistent, unrealistic, or unexplained changes in my characters. Then I do the same type of synopsis for plot. One of my personal weaknesses is the tendency to tug my character back and forth in regards to tension, rather than creating scenes and moments that gradually build on one another and mount toward the climax.


If significant plot and character changes are necessary, I find it so much easier to rewrite (completely from scratch without leaning on the original text). It holds me accountable to making the difficult big-picture changes and not just rearranging words. Then I repeat steps 1-4 and before moving on to #5, I read through the MS several more times, focusing on different elements each time (character, plot, setting, details, etc.


I make a list of any unanswered questions or loose ends I found in my MS and feather in the necessary details. Then I do a search for filter words, and finally look at grammar and punctuation. These five steps take me….an embarrassingly long time. Sometimes I get stuck at the “rewrite” stage for several months. When I finally get to step five, it’s a real watershed moment.



*This post is part of #PimpMyBio by Lana Pattinson and #PitchWars, a twitter-based contest hosted by Brenda Drake in which authors seek mentors to help revise their manuscripts for a follow-up agent round. Even if you don’t have a manuscript ready for this season #PitchWars is still a great community to interact with, and provides a wealth of information and networking opportunities with other writers.*

I wanted to use this space to give more of a sense of who I am beyond just one manuscript, so I’m focusing more on my passions as a writer and less on my submission for PitchWars. But I will include the (very amateur) aesthetic for my YA Southern Gothic novel, THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES:




  • MFA in Children’s Literature
  • BA in Creative Writing
  • Certificate in Irish Studies (University College Cork)
  • Member of SCBWI since 2006
  • Critique partner (10+ years)
  • What I write:
    • YA (southern gothic/magical realism)<–my PW submission
    • MG ( WIP fantasy sequence inspired by the Welsh myth cycle: The Mabinogion)
    • Character-driven picture books
  • What I do when I’m not writing:
    • Sing: shape note, Appalachian ballads, Trad Irish and Folk
    • Hike near my Appalachian home
    • Contra dance (insanely fun Irish-mountain-hippie dance)
    • Critique for my CPs! I love developmental editing. Copyediting, not so much.


My passion for storytelling started with film rather than literature. As an offbeat kid I loved the character- and dialogue-driven films of the 1940s and ’50s (while most of my friends preferred Chip ’n’ Dale and DuckTales). Those formative years spent watching Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds spar on the silver screen gave me a penchant for banter, tension, and comic relief, and ultimately set the tone and tempo for my storytelling voice today. I may write in a different genre than most of those films, (southern gothic, magical realism), but the scene structure, rhythmic dialogue, and relationship dynamics are very much inspired by them.

Writing is a cinematic experience for me. Had I a different disposition, I might’ve pursued musical theatre; but as someone with social anxiety, I chose the route of creator instead. I can be writer, director, and method actor all rolled into one. And nobody ever sees me. They see the story and the players while I work safely off-screen. Knowing this releases me into a special kind of freedom I have yet to experience “in real life.”

These are a few of my favorite things:

Childhood favorites:

  • Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence
  • All things Madeleine L’Engle
  • Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain
  • Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game, The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel), and Figgs and Phantoms.

Current favorite authors:

  • David Almond feeds my soul. His novels haunt and move me. Finishing one of his stories is like emerging from this spell where I’m not sure whether I’ve been dreaming or having a nightmare. He’s a master at discovering wonder in the mundane and exploring humanity’s capacity to inspire both beauty and terror in others. And he does it all with such brevity and simple language. He is all that I aspire to be…and yet we write nothing alike. And that’s the way it should be, or else things could get creepy and awkward really fast. #I’mYourNumberOneFan
  • Neil Gaiman is the creator of the creepiest, most magical worlds and unforgettable characters. He’s a master storyteller in every sense of the word. Favorites: ANANSI BOYS, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, and THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE
  • Maureen Johnson can always make me laugh—even within the first five pages of a Jack-the-Ripper spin-off with ghost serial killers. Her love of theatre and classic film, goofy physical humor and great character development make her writing irresistible to me.
  • Maggie Stiefvater. Need I say more? Maggie is as Maggie does. The Raven Cycle combines so many things I love: Celtic myth, rural Virginia, magic—oh, and her voice. ❤

Favorite films:

  • Clue, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and The Court Jester = my definition of comedy. I also love the playfulness of The Princess Bride and Stardust.
  • Wes Anderson = my spirit animal. There’s some critical debate over his style, but whatever it is, that thing that he does, it resonates with me. His films are quirky, visually stunning, hilarious in how deeply serious each character takes themselves, and features little pockets of unexpected sentimentality.
  • The Artist. One of my favorite films EVER.
  • Actor: Jimmy Stewart. He played all different types of roles: gunslinger, daydreamer, wide-eyed American boy-hero, lawyer, musician, journalist, Hickcockian sleuth…No matter what role, costume, or setting, he was fully himself and simultaneously fully in character. He had a style that nuanced every scene without ever being showy or upstaging others. That’s the closest I can come to describing how an author’s voice permeates everything she creates. You can flow from genre to genre and even change the tone of the narrator, but your storytelling voice—the way you structure, build, and arrange and reveal moments and emotions—that is what makes your writing both universal and unique.