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Month In Review (December 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the final month of articles for 2013 from this year’s multi-national line-up of novelists.

Writing Teen Novels contributor Elizabeth Wein is attached to two novel writing retreats in November 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

Thank you to all the contributors, to everyone who has been reading the articles and those who have connected with Writing Teen Novels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr, or via Novel Writing Quotes on Facebook or Google+.

Articles for December 2013

What I Read When I Was A Teenager by Elizabeth Wein

Writing Sociopathic Characters by April Henry

Examining Philosophical Beliefs Through Teen Novels by Bernard Beckett

Bad Habits To Avoid While Writing by Andy Briggs

Handling Feedback About My Novels by Carolyn Meyer

Writing Honest Depictions In Your Novels by Paul Volponi

Writing Good Dialogue For Your Novel by Lish McBride

Creating Characters With Flaws by Kashmira Sheth

Writing What You Know by Beth Revis

The Young Adult Fiction Industry by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Writing The Opening Lines Of A Novel by Kate Forsyth

How I Became A Writer by Monika Schroder

On Being Nice As A Writer by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Marketing Your Teen Novel On A Medium Sized Budget by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Working With An Editor On A Teen Novel by Diane Lee Wilson


‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Novels in Australia.


Writing Teen Novels

Writing Good Dialogue For Your Novel, by Lish McBride

There’s a fine line that you have to tread when you’re creating dialogue. You have to manage to write words that sound natural and normal coming out of your character’s mouths while at the same time crafting them to sound better than most conversations. I’ve been told that I write good dialogue. I don’t know if that’s true. I’m obviously biased in my own favor. I’m told that it’s witty and fun and I feel like I’m cheating, because honestly I’m surrounded by witty and fun people and I feel like I’m just reflecting that. Let’s say that you’re not lucky, though, and the people you’re surrounded by are less like Oscar Wilde and more like something that has crawled out of a cave. What then?

First, even cave-speak has it’s place. Not all of your characters are going to be into banter and witticisms. Some are naturally the straight man, only uttering monosyllabic responses and using hand gestures. That’s okay. That’s one of my big things—make the words fit the character. Sometimes I’ll get edits that will say, “I don’t think Sam would ever say this.” Believe it or not, I love those edits. It means my character has become such a living force that my editor is arguing about words that I have made up for them. She can tell when they don’t fit his mouth. It makes me do a happy jig.

Dialogue should be multipurpose. It should advance plot, naturally, but it should also tell us about your characters. It should not, however, be used as a plot-info dump. That’s the difference between this:

“I don’t need your weapon, I have this,” she said, raising an ancient sword.

“Where did you get that?” he growled. “Give it back. Now.”

And this:

“I do not need your weapon, because I stole this one from your house about five minutes ago,” she said.

“I recognize that sword! It is the magical sword from the house of Usher, the one my family has been protecting for generations. It can only be wielded by the chosen one! You are wielding it, so you must be the chosen one, though I cannot believe such a thing right away. You are going to have to prove it.”

Neither of these are the best examples of dialogue, but I think you get the picture. Info dumping is clunky. So is not using contractions. If you don’t use a contraction, it should for a good reason. Same thing goes for slang and dialect—there should be a very good reason to use either. Both dialect and slang can be a good world-building tool when used properly. In Tamora Pierce’s Beka Cooper series, she uses a few slang words like cove, looby and so on. They aren’t over used and it’s clear from context what they mean. It doesn’t stop or slow down the reader, and builds Beka’s character and world at the same time. How? When we meet the upper classes, they don’t use these words, so we know where Beka sits on the class spectrum by using them.

Overuse can be distracting, though. If people can’t read your book or understand anything going on, they put it down.

So how do you gain an ear for dialogue? Well, I can give you some hints. Listen. A lot. Go to a coffee shop and be creepy and eavesdrop on conversations. Write down interesting things that people say. What makes them interesting? If they say boring things, how can you use those lines to make something interesting? Take some dialogue you’re having a hard time with and read it out loud. Does it sound natural? If that doesn’t work, have someone else read it out loud. Watch movies and read books that you love—how do those characters talk? Listen to word choice and pacing. Using actions and description to break up dialogue can create the pacing that you want.


“Man, I love pie. Pie is the best. I could eat pie forever. What kind of pie is this? I think it has berries.”


“Man, I love pie,” he said, licking his fork. “Pie is the best. I could eat pie forever.” He stabbed something blue with his fork and examined it. “What kind of pie is this?” He stared at the blue glob some more. “I think it has berries.”

The actions and description give the dialogue pauses and slows it down naturally. Also, now I want pie, just maybe not the one I just described.

Homework: Write some really horrible dialogue. I mean really try to make it the worst conversation you’ve ever written. Consciously writing bad dialogue is harder than you think (though we all seem to manage to write it unconsciously quite easily!). Have fun with it. When you’re done, examine it. What makes it terrible? Word use? Too many words? Not enough? Does it reveal anything about the characters? Now take the same dialogue and try to write it well. What’s changed?


Lish McBride’s author website:

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Writing Teen Novels

My Tips For Writing Novels, by Pauline Francis

I don’t really have to write this post, do I? You could do it for me by now if you’ve been reading the others. But I’ll sum it up:

1. Read, read, read.

2. Write, write, write.

3. Write every day.

4. Always write down your ideas when you have them.

5. Never throw any of your work away. A short story might become a chapter in a novel.

6. Read your work aloud regularly for rhythm and tension.

7. Enter competitions whenever you have time.

8. Re-read authors who are most like you and try to work out why they are good.

9. Don’t be afraid to show your writing to somebody else for feedback.

10. Remember that others forms of writing can feed into your work: school essays, blogs, Facebook entries, diaries, letters/postcards will all tell you a lot about your style and genre. Why not volunteer to edit the school/college magazine for a term? Why not write/design posters? Why not take part in a school play/musical and help with the script?

I am a self-taught writer. I didn’t go to any creative writing classes. But I still had to learn my craft. I did it in two ways. At first, I just wrote. They were short manuscripts, with little re-drafting, which were all rejected. When I realised this was going to be a lengthy process – I’d gave up my job to be a full-time writer and there were bills to pay – I proposed a big project called Fast Track Classics to a publisher: I would abridge the classics for younger readers. This brought in a good income for many years. But the greatest benefit was reading great classics and seeing what made them endure and seeing why they might not be so popular with today’s young readers. I learned more about writing than at any other time in my life and I have great affection for these forty or so books.

I’ve also written many Readers for students learning English as a second language. They are graded at different levels, so I was restricted in vocabulary. This taught me what is essential in a novel: fast plot, strong characters set against interesting locations.

Everybody is capable of writing. But if you want to be published, you have to learn the skills, like any other job. You have to be patient. Think how long it takes to be the best gymnast, the best cyclist or the best piano player.

Of course the golden rule of good writing is SHOW – DON’T TELL. I didn’t put it on the list because I want to show this rule to you – not tell!  This is the magic that turns ordinary writing into something special.

This example below is from Raven Queen. Question: How can I describe Jane’s home (Bradgate House)? This paragraph is taken from the first draft (Jane is the narrator):

I lived at Bradgate House, a house built by my father’s father, Thomas Grey, who died when I was two years old. He used to boast that the forest beyond – Charnwood Forest – was big and that he’d laid water pipes from the stream to the house. The town of Leicester was about five miles to the east.

This would have sent my manuscript to the slush pile.

The final manuscript reads:

Visitors usually gasp with pleasure when they first arrive. It is thought to be one of the finest houses in Leicestershire; but Ned gazed past its red brick towers, past its gardens soon to be brimming with fruit and blossom, past the stream which fed water pipes to the kitchen – to the darkening trees beyond.
‘I like the forest best at dusk when birds cloud the sky,’ he said.
I glanced down at him. And now that he was standing closer to me, I no longer saw his tangled hair and grimy skin – only the smile that lit up his face.
Who was he?

Can you see what I’ve done? We see the house through a visitor’s eyes and it’s linked with an emotion that has already linked Jane with the stranger and leaves a question to be answered.


Paulines Francis’s author website:

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The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)My Brother's ShadowDark Hunter (Villain.Net)

Writing Teen Novels

Worldbuilding When Writing A Novel, by Lish McBride

I can show you the world. For the people who have seen Aladdin, the song A Whole New World will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Ha!

Worldbuilding: it’s important. Though it is most evident in fantasy fiction, it’s just as important in contemporary realistic fiction. It’s just that in contemporary realistic fiction, you can lean on the general shared knowledge of readers. You don’t have to describe the bank that your character walks into with excruciating detail. It’s a bank. We’ve all been in banks. If your character walks into their favorite coffee shop, you better describe it. That coffee shop is part of your character’s world and you have to make it reflect what you want the reader to see. If your character is a straight-laced, prim, bookish type and her favorite hangout is a biker bar, it’s going to tell me a lot about their personality and the world they inhabit.

In fantasy fiction, people are really examining it because half the reason they’re tuning in is because they like the world the character inhabits, so you better spend time on it. Half the reason we all liked Harry Potter so much was because the world was clear. You knew what wizards and witches ate, drank, wore, where they shopped, their favorite sport and a lot of other cultural trappings. The readers loved Harry, sure, but they also liked imagining themselves in his surroundings (perhaps minus Voldemort).

Urban fantasy fiction is a hodgepodge of both and it has strange complications because you can’t quite make all of it up. Your character might have magical powers, but if he or she walks into a bank that bank better act like a bank. Which means you have to put in the imagination work, but you also have to do the leg work of researching your stuff.

For example, many years ago I was helping a student with her fantasy novel. At some point, her character had to go to the hospital. From the second her character entered the hospital until the time she left nothing happened like it actually would in a hospital. My dad is a doctor and my mom is a nurse. I grew up in hospitals and clinics, so every time she made a goof, it screamed at me. Readers have to be able to suspend belief when they’re reading, and if you’re writing urban fantasy and getting things wrong that they can identify (and really, most people have at some point entered a hospital) well then they’re not going to buy into your magic-y bits.

When I asked the student what was going on, she said she didn’t know how hospitals worked, so she just made it up. After I was done banging my head on my desk, I told her that’s exactly why you do research. I’m lucky. If I ever have a medical question, I can call my mom. Not everyone is going to have that kind of go-to resource. However, there’s this thing called “the internet” and these other things called “libraries”. Both are quite useful to writers. Don’t know how a hospital works? Go find a professional and ask them – nicely. Can’t find a professional locally? Reach out through friends, social media, etc. and find a professional. Ask them questions. Have them read your stuff and point out the things you’re getting wrong.

If that doesn’t work, go to the library. If you’re not good at tracking things down, ASK A LIBRARIAN. They are professionals at finding relevant books and data. They went to school for it. I know research can be time consuming, but it’s worth it. You can’t get everything right all the time, but you should try. However, don’t let it get in the way of you getting words down on the page. Some people hide behind research as a way to get out of doing any actual writing. If you need to get some pages down but haven’t caught up on your research yet, write a note to yourself in the text. Something like, “Insert hospital scene here” and then go back when you’ve done your homework.

Homework: Read an article, book or interview, or watch a documentary or podcast, or something like that in an area that you are curious about and that pertains to something you’re writing or want to write. Take notes. What can you use to deepen your story and world? What’s cool but won’t fit?


Lish McBride’s author website:

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Writing Teen Novels

Writing A Good First Sentence For A Teen Novel, by Diane Lee Wilson

Composing the first sentence of your novel can elicit screams of agony. It can be a difficult task because so much depends upon those few words. Will a prospective teen reader, already distracted by a myriad of electronic devices and entertainments, glance at this sentence, yawn and set your book down? How do you manage to entice such a fickle reader along to a second sentence and then a third?

As a practical matter, I have always liked starting my novels in the middle of a highly charged scene, ideally with one short sentence that hints at intrigue: “On the morning of September 16, 1860, my pa shot me.” “The little thumbnail moon gave no light at all; a friend to the thief.” “Better that you’d never been born.” Homicide, thievery, banishment – all themes that hint at an exciting tale.

In venturing to the local library, I found strong openings of varying lengths in many critically acclaimed teen novels. Robert Cormier’s classic, The Chocolate War begins simply, “They murdered him.” Laura McNeal introduces a mysterious character in the very first words of her lyrical Dark Water: “You wouldn’t have noticed me before the fire unless you saw that my eyes, like a pair of socks chosen in the dark, don’t match.” Then there’s Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, which starkly states, “Here is a small fact: You are going to die.” (Okay, those aren’t the exact first words but they’re in bold type and centered on the page so that’s where your eyes go.)

With a first sentence as strong as any one of these, a prospective reader (and innately curious human) simply cannot resist continuing to the second sentence and then a third. Now he or she is like a fish following the bait. So you keep writing, keep tossing out interesting tidbits, not yet revealing the whole story. Remember that most teens have short attention spans – at least until they’re hooked! – so you’ve got to move things along briskly. Think of this challenge as crafting one sentence that leads to the next sentence that leads to the next sentence that leads to the next paragraph.

Admittedly, there are times when I can’t think of a good opening for a novel I’m starting, so for inspiration I’ll revisit favorite books that have hooked me early on. I’ll scan the first few paragraphs and try to decipher just how the author pulled me in. Was the protagonist in immediate danger? Was there an unusual setting? Was there an urgent problem to be solved? On occasion, the unique tone of a book or the author’s voice will pull me in. I highly recommend studying those authors that have mastered the art of the “tease”.

If I continue to be stuck on my opening, however, rather than yank out my hair and switch careers, I attack the book from a different direction. I just start elsewhere in the chapter. I pick a scene that I am passionate about and that I can easily visualize, and I write it. Sometimes I get all the way to the end of the first chapter without having created a strong beginning. Sometimes I get all the way to the end of the novel. What I’ve learned though, is that a strong beginning often reveals itself only upon the book’s completion. Once you’ve spent time with your story, once you’ve come to understand and love your characters, you’ll know how to begin their story in the strongest way possible.

So, in composing the first sentence of your teen novel, keep your teen reader firmly in mind. You’ve only a brief period to hook him, so rely on novelty and human curiosity. You’ll soon find yourself writing with confidence, with readers fully engaged.


Diane Lee Wilson’s author website:

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Writing Teen Novels

Month In Review (September 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its ninth month of articles for 2013 from this year’s line-up of novelists from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Writing Teen Novels contributor Elizabeth Wein is attached to two novel writing retreats in November, 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

Thank you to all the contributors, to everyone who has been reading the articles and those who have connected with Writing Teen Novels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr, or via Novel Writing Quotes on Facebook or Google+.

Articles for September 2013

Using Movies And TV As Inspiration For Novels by Beth Revis

First Person Versus Third Person Narration by Bernard Beckett

Language In Teen Novels by Diane Lee Wilson

Writing Dialogue In Novels by Monika Schroder

Writing About Violence And Physical Harm In Novels by April Henry

Using A Notebook To Store Ideas For Novel Writing by Paul Volponi

My Favourite Author Of Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Embracing E-Books by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Writing Believable Teen Characters by Lish McBride

Life As A Published Novelist by Andy Briggs

Plot Structure In Novels by Kate Forsyth

On Getting A Novel Published by Pauline Francis

Working With My Editor by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

On Research For Writing Teen Science Fiction by Sam Hawksmoor

On Prologues And Epilogues In Teen Historical Novels by Carolyn Meyer

On Revising A Novel Manuscript by Kashmira Sheth

A Page-Turning Plot = A Character-In-Action (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

Writing Dialogue In Teen Novels by Laurie Faria Stolarz


‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Novels in Australia.


Writing Teen Novels

On Revising A Novel Manuscript, by Kashmira Sheth

How many times do you revise? The answer varies from writer to writer. Some writers write in their head before they pick up a pen or start typing their first draft. Their stories may come out more polished than those of someone who starts writing without much forethought and sees where the characters take the story.  Even if you are a writer who plots out the entire story, puts down a summary of each chapter on 3×5 index cards and knows exactly what the last sentence of the story is going to be, you still need to revise. There is no escape from revision!

Revision offers us a chance to do more than fix typos and make the right word choices.

It does more than make sure we sharpen our imagery, add sensory details and take out extraneous material.

Revision offers us another chance to re-vision our story - to reimagine “what if”, to see how a theme has evolved and how to make its impact felt by the readers. While writing a story we probably have spent months with our characters, if not longer. We have walked and talked with them, shared the same food and felt the same sense of loss or happiness.  In order to see the story clearly, it is important that, before revising, we gain some distance from our characters. For that big re-vision of the story I find that it is crucial for me to put some time between writing and revising. Once the first draft of the story is done I give my “writer brain” a break.

After a reasonable length of time I go back to the story. I read the first few chapters and think “Wow, this is good” or maybe “This is not so great”. It is tempting to start revising right then and there, but if possible, I hold the urge. I try to read the entire story without making changes, all the while thinking of it as someone else’s novel that I am only reading. At least once, I read the story out loud. That way the clunky sentences jump out, wooden dialogues reveal their chunkiness, and beautiful sentences sing and delight.

Once that reading is done I can think of the shape of the novel. I can think about inserting an entire chapter or taking one out in order to tweak the plot. If I want to tone down a character or even take one of the minor characters out I can do it at this time. I can dig deeper into my characters’ emotional world, plunge them deeper into trouble and make them come out stronger.

For me the subsequent revisions are simpler. I use them to fine-tune paragraphs and dialogues, ponder word choices, and rewrite sentences. I use them to take care of typos and check punctuation. These minor things can be addressed late in the revising process. The important thing to remember is that it can take several tries to get the real re-vision done.


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Writing Teen Novels

Writing About Violence And Physical Harm In Novels, by April Henry

If you’re going to write mysteries, thrillers or even horror novels, you’ll need to decide how to approach writing about violence and physical harm.

There are at least three ways to approach it:

1. Slow it down. Each step makes it clear just how bad it is.

2. Make the readers fill in the blank. Their solutions are usually far more affecting than yours, because they will think of the things that frighten them the most.

3. Underplay it. Use short, simple declarative sentences. Think Hemingway.

A couple of years ago, I was running in Portland when I fell, cracking the bridge of my nose, and scraping my face, hands and knees. I knew it was bad when I saw the expression of two guys I waved down to ask for help.

Here are three ways to describe what happened.

Slow it down

“Running up 45th, April’s toe caught a crack in the sidewalk. The next thing she knew, she was in the air. Time slowed down, the way it did when you reached for a glass and knocked it over instead. She got her hands up in front of her as the sidewalk tilted at a crazy angle. Her palms skidded along the dirty concrete, but her momentum wasn’t slowed.

Oh no, she thought, not her face! – then there was the solid surprise of her nose meeting the unmoving sidewalk.

Still April fell. Her front teeth hit the concrete, wavered, decided to stay put.

Finally she was still, face down, unmoving on the cool Sunday morning.

Make the reader fill in the blank

One minute April was running, mentally writing her next blog entry. The next thing she knew she was flat on the sidewalk. Something was terribly wrong. Her face felt wet.


The woman standing by the side of the road was frantically waving her arms. At least Josh thought it was a woman. Her face. Jesus Christ, what had happened to her face?

Underplay the prose

She ran up the hill. It was a Sunday morning. Her thoughts were elsewhere.

The sidewalk had lifted at an expansion joint. Her toe caught the crack. She fell very hard. She lay on the cement. Maybe she was okay. It was just a fall. She started to move but something grated inside. Her mouth tasted like blood.

Next to her was a bush with white flowers. She stared at it. Her vision was growing dark at the edges. The bush would look good in her garden.

She closed her eyes and was still.

More examples of fill-in-the-blank

I think the fill-in-the-blank idea can be the most powerful of the three. Here are two examples, one short and one long:

Five miles up the road, he opened the window and threw out the first of Karen Reid’s teeth.

- The Intruders, Michael Marshall

She swam against the grain of the ocean, using a short and sharp stroke and a smooth kick.

She did not see the murky shape drifting toward her. It was more than half-submerged, and it had eyes. When she barged into it, the silent mass reared up.

Her scream was muted, most of it locked in her throat.

On the beach, her sons threw sand at each other and the man with the device unearthed a nickel. The lifeguard rearranged his legs in a way that the girls below could see the filled harness under his neon swim trunks. A stray cloud blotted some of the sun.

One of the boys pointed with his shovel. “Look at Mommy.”

- Widow’s Walk, Andrew Coburn


April Henry’s author website:

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Writing Teen Novels

Writing Dialogue In Novels, by Monika Schroder

Beginning writers are tempted to copy how real people talk. Dialogue in fiction is more than just a conversation between the people in the book. It serves many purposes. It moves the plot along, reveals character and improves pacing.

Good dialogue is reminiscent of the way people actually talk, but it shouldn’t exactly sound like it. Yes, you should listen to people’s conversation and notice phrases, diction and expressions used. Carry your notebook and write down slang or funny sayings. You might be able to pepper your character’s speech with these things. Pay attention to the way people interrupt each other or hide their true feelings with what they say. Be careful not to just imitate real conversations. In reality people meander and go off on tangents. They add one association to another and wander all over the place. The dialogue in your story has to have a focus and function in your story.

Dialogue is also a perfect place to employ the old rule of ‘show, don’t tell’. If a character is a bully it will show in his manner of speech. If he is boisterous or shy, it will be depicted in his way of speaking. What a person says and how he or she says it expresses personality.

Start a new chapter or scene with a conversation between two people. The conversation can indicate what happened between the end of the last chapter or scene and the beginning of the new, and thereby letting time pass and move the plot forward. Dialogue can also fill the reader in on what occurred in another setting or in a subplot of the story.

However, it is tempting to use direct speech to explain too much. Doing this leads to clumsy dialogue that stands out as unnatural and awkward:
“Some authors overdo it,” he called out, taking her hand and focusing on her hazel-colored eyes. “They add action description in the middle of their direct speech.” He shook his head and sighed. “It breaks up the pacing,” he said. “It’s just not a good idea.”

Using action in the midst of a line of dialogue has its place sometimes but it’s usually best done precisely and sparingly. Otherwise you slow down the movement of the scene.

When I visit schools I still see posters with “Verbs to replace ‘say’” on classroom walls. I wish teachers would stop with that practice. Attributions after dialogue should not draw attention to themselves. “Said” or “asked” suffice in most instances. If possible, let the reader infer who is speaking from context.

Great dialogue works on many levels. It needs to be concise and cut down to the best lines only. How do you know you have it right? You do it the same way you test all other parts of your text: leave your work-in-progress alone for a while and come back to it after a few days. Re-read. If it sounds good, it probably is. If it sounds trite or artificial, revise.


Monika Schroder’s author website:

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Writing Teen Novels


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