ARENA by Holly Jennings

The lack of word count over the weekend is brought to you by Holly Jennings. Oh, and I went to a Ren Fair.

But Arena is great! It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and really enjoyed a book. I had several tasks to do like packing and cleaning the house that tried to keep me away from the story once I’d started, but I bought the audio book too so I could keep enjoying the story.

It’s a sci-fi book where virtual gamers are the sports stars of the world. Kali is the first female captain to take a team to the finals. Kali’s voice is refreshing and keeps the narration fast paced. I love that she’s strong, independent and knows how to get the job done. In fact she’s so strong I would’ve liked to see her struggle a little bit more. The “sponsors” loomed large as the evil entity, but despite Kali throwing wrenches into their system repeatedly, they never came after Kali directly. Perhaps in the sequel? It’s something I’d love to see. That and more face to face interaction between the teams. This book was all about getting Kali’s team to work together despite drug problems, game addiction and the sponsors, which was cool, but we needed more smack talk between the teams :)

Holly is the master of action scenes. Wow. I wish I could write like that. My absolutely favorite part was the final battle. But I’m not going to go into that because I want you to go out, buy Arena and enjoy the awesomeness for yourselves! You will be very happy you did.

IMG_3078That’s an updated picture of Holly’s book from when I went to Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago. I hope to see it on the Best Selling Science Fiction shelf next!

A good book like Arena is always inspiring. I’m home from the weekend getaway and ready to write tons of words this week. I’m going to try for 5000 a day. I doubt I will make it today, because I’m starting now at 10 pm. I will resist the coffee. I hope you join me as I post my progress this week.

Ready. Get set. Go!


Arena by Holly Jennings at Barnes and Noble!

Tuesday I excitedly drove with my youngest to Barnes and Noble to pick up my copy of Arena!



But woe was me when I did not see it on the New Release table. I looked several places before I enlisted someone’s help. Thos slackers did not have it up front. It was still in the stock in the back! But she very kindly brought out a copy for me and shoved some books aside on the new release table:


It’s my reward for finishing my serial. I have about 5000 words left to go, plus editing plus cover design for all the episodes together, plus publishing. So at the end of April I will be enjoying ARENA! Buy yours today!

Oh, and here’s the Kindle link:

Actual Writing Advice: Be Specific

A couple of weeks ago when I read Holly’s blog post about query letters, one very important piece of advice stuck out to me over all the other suggestions: be specific. She was talking about describing your plot in specific details so it doesn’t look generic and boring. However, I realized that my world building, whether it’s fantasy or modern day, had turned blah. Or maybe it always has been.

Even when your setting is current day with no science fiction or fantastic elements, you need to build the world and how your character views it. The only way to do that is through specific descriptions, specific dialogue and specific narrator voice.

It sounds exhausting. And it can be. But like everything else in life, practice makes it easier.


Generic Fairies

After I read Holly’s post I immediately thought of the urban fantasy I’ve started working on. It begins in the fairy world. For a loooooong time, I have had a very sexualized picture of the fairy world in my mind. But whenever I go to write my stories beginning in the fairy world, I always hold back. BAD! When I hold back, my fairy world turns little better than Pixie Hollow with a bunch of flower named fairies flying around. Why should anyone read my generic fairy story? And it’s not at all what I’ve spent years imagining.

My Fairies

My Fairies

So I dug into the prelude of my urban fantasy. I’m going to post some before and after scenes for you. Warning! The below writing has adult content. I didn’t go all porn on you, but I’d give it an R rating.


Music as light as clouds floated throughout the palace ballroom. Fairies danced high above near the open ceiling, appearing like colored falling stars streaking through the night. Others danced on the ballroom floor with their noses in the air while still ignoring the fluttering above.

And they whispered.

And whispered.

The words pushed out the music in Pamela’s ears until they thundered in her mind.
Rhys would never do that. He’d pledged himself to her.

Unable to bear the gossip, Pamela stormed out of the palace ballroom, causing the whispering to crescendo. Something snagged her long red hair that flew out behind her. She swiped by her ear, knowing it was her fairy dragon, Spark, trying to get her attention.

“Don’t go check, your majesty,” the little dragon pleaded. “Go dance at your party. Find a new lover for yourself.”

The very first problem are my cliches: “light as clouds” and “falling stars streaking through the night”. I have flying fairies opposed to wingless fairies, which is okay, but I don’t really give the reader an idea of how they’re dressed or how capricious they are or how much they like sex.


Music both rich and fluffy like a bon-bon filled the palace ballroom. Flutters danced high above near the open ceiling with twinkling stars as their backdrop. Their wings, glowing pinks, greens, blues…all shades of the rainbow, accented the dark gown of night. Wingless fairies danced on the ballroom floor with their noses in the air while still ignoring the fluttering above.

And they whispered.

And whispered.

The words pushed out the music in Tanaquill’s ears until they thundered in her mind.

Rhys was fucking a Flutter.

Her fingertips burned ready to flare if she heard the name Rhys uttered by one more fairy.

A noble leaped by wrapped in a silver ribbon for a dress. She sang in a shrill soprano, “There once was a flutter named Rhys, who was famous for his really big piece. He caught the Queen’s eye, but since she can’t fly, his piece is now filling Clarice.”

Tanaquill yanked a loose end of the ribbon streaming behind the rhyming fairy. Flames raced across the ribbon while the fairy spun like a top as the dress unwound. Just before the flames licked at the singing fairy, the ribbon released her. She planted a foot, stopping the spin. Her arms reached up in a pose to show off her nude, lithe body, glittering with fairy dust.

The dancers paused to laugh and applaud, filling the room with the sound of tinkling glass.

Tanaquill shot a warning firework from her fingertips towards the Flutters high above. It burst in a bright red. Flutters scattered above the walls and out.

Grabbing the skirt of her sheer, golden gown, Tanaquill turned and stormed out of the palace ballroom. Something snagged her long red hair that flew out behind her. She swiped by her ear, knowing it was her fairy dragon, Spark, trying to get her attention.

“Don’t go check, your majesty,” the little dragon pleaded. “Go dance at your party. Find a new lover for yourself.”

I think the above is better. Bon-bons aren’t generally used to describe music. The fairy leaping around is only wearing a ribbon, and then she’s nude. Not only is she nude, but also she’s proud of it. Tanaquill is wearing a sheer gown. “Fucking” is used as well as a lewd limerick. The reader knows the fairies are brazen, gossipy, giggly and sexual. These are not Disney Fairies.

When reading over your manuscripts, look for words, sentences and whole scenes where you can dig a little deeper and exhibit better what’s in your mind as opposed to what’s on the page. Be brazen! Being shy with your pen will get you no where. Show the world what your imagination is in all it’s glory.

Spark Tally: Yay Holly!


Thursday I forgot to go to the school library where I volunteer. I realized it and got there with only 10 minutes of the class left. I felt bad and of course apologized to the librarian who was cool with it, while the other volunteer implied that I was irresponsible.

So I was feeling crummy when I got an awesome text from Karl with the cover reveal for Holly’s new book!!! And I bragged about her to the librarian so hopefully she will buy the book too when it comes out. I’m so excited for you Holly! And big thanks to Karl for seeing it and texting me at just the right time :)

This was a super busy week with the beginning dedicated to a birthday party and the rest dedicated to trying to catch up on my word count. I have 14,500 this week. 6000 of that was done yesterday with the rest mostly divided between Wednesday and Thursday. I have my fingers crossed that I am finishing an overdue novel this week. Hopefully I can finish it and get to my library days on time 😀

How did you do?

Christmas in July

I have a friend who does amazing crafts. She’s doing a lot of Christmas stuff this month and calling it her Christmas in July. We took a drive all the way across the border into Colorado this weekend and went on a short hike. I saw what looked like a Christmas tree growing in the middle of a tree stump. So here’s a picture to inspire those of you doing projects this month:

And for those of you who missed it, Holly’s book is out for preorder on Amazon! I wish there was a cover image, but I guess we have to wait. Go check it out!


Some of my regular posters in Spark Tally have had a great month and I wanted to let everyone know wbout it.

Shari Klase has been working hard submitting stories to short story markets for a few years now and landed one of her dream gigs, Daily Science Fiction! Her excellent story is A Little Piece of Heaven. Please read it! With hard work, she also made another goal come true which was to have a story featured on the cover of a print magazine. Her story “His Brother’s Keeper” is on the cover of Guide Magazine. In addition (I’m not done bragging about Shari yet) she was a guest blogger at Blogs by Christian Women. Great month Shari!

Everyone has been enjoying the wonderful posts by Holly Jennings and I’m thrilled to share with you that she has signed a two book deal with Ace in the science fiction and new adult genre. Way to go Holly!

Over the summer, I lost track of Peter M. Ball due to me being sick and then obsessing with a new story idea. But he popped in over the weekend to comment on Spark Tally, and when I went over to his blog I saw he had a new book out in July! Exile looks like a great read for Halloween, so it just got put on the top of my reading list.

Way to go everyone! Keep up the inspiring news!

Finding an Agent Guest Blog by Holly Jennings

Please welcome Holly Jennings back to Enchanted Spark!

If there was one thing I’ve learned from my experiences, as well as those of other writers, finding your agent never happens the way you expect. Still, everyone needs a starting point. The best place is your computer. The internet has been a godsend for writers. We no longer have to pay for copying manuscripts and mailing postage. We can research accepting short story markets with only a few clicks. And for everything cyberspace has done for us, it’s helping us find agents too.

The traditional way of finding an agent is through querying, where you send an agent your query letter and (if requested) a small sample of your writing. But how do you know who wants your letter? Which agents are accepting manuscripts? For which genres? Below are several Internet-savvy ways of honing in on your agent.

Agent Search Engines

Yes, there are actual search engines out there designed to help you comb through a database of active and acquiring agents. Sites like and are free to use and allow multiple combinations of search criteria. For example, if you write fantasy and romance, you can search for agents who represent both. Then, you can also specify agents only in the U.S. Depending on your search perimeters, this can narrow down your agent list to as little as twenty, or even less. These search engines won’t tell you much more than what genres agents are accepting at that specific time, but it is a good place to start, and leads right into the next way to find your agent.


When an agent signs a client, they aren’t looking to sign for just one book. They’re hoping for a career long partnership. This is one of the reasons agents participate in online interviews, blog posts, and forums. Read them. A quick Google search can generate a dozen or more Q&A’s with an agent of your choice. Quite often, the agent will talk about what they’re currently looking for (“more sci-fi, less fantasy”), their dream manuscript (“robot penguins, in space!”), and what is on their no-go list (“dystopian zombie vampires”).

Pitching Contests

Pitching contests are the newest highway for writers on the road to agentville, and are a personal favorite of mine. In these contests, writers typically submit a short logline or summary of their novel and their first 250 words. The hosts pick out the top entries and post them on their blogs. Agents then compete to read your manuscript. Yes, you read that right. Agents compete over you, not the other way around. Also, since you’re vying against hundreds of entries, not thousands, the chance of getting your work in front of an agent versus traditional querying is much, much higher.

Currently, some of the biggest contests are Pitch Wars, Pitch Madness, Query Kombat, and PitchMAS. There are several others as well. In fact, there’s one nearly every month and more agents are joining in all the time. This is ultimately how I found my agent, and I hadn’t known about him before the contest. Once I did, I knew he was the right one for me.

Follow them on Twitter

Most agents have a Twitter feed, so it’s worth checking out what types of things they post. There were a few agents I outwardly decided not to query based on their Twitter feed alone. Either we had conflicting views on the literary world, or they had criticized another writer’s query submission in a way I found unprofessional. Whatever an agent decides to post, it can be a good insight for you. Ask yourself: Is this someone I’d want to work with? Is this someone I’d be proud representing my work?

Also on Twitter, there is the popular hashtag #MSWL, which stands for Manuscript Wish List. Agents use this hashtag to tweet about what they’d like to see in manuscripts. Sometimes they’ll list extremely specific things (“solarpunk airships”) which means your manuscript would have to be very on the nose and ready to submit. However, it gives you an idea of what types of genres that agent generally likes. And their requests aren’t always that specific. Sometimes it’s as simple as “sci-fi with romantic elements.”


One “non-Internet” way you can go about finding your agent is by going to conferences. This is not something I’ve done myself, but I’ve been told it can be nerve-wracking, like going on a dozen job interviews in the same day.

At a conference, you pitch directly to an agent in person. Like, you look them in the face and tell them what your book is about. Ye gods! I know. But if you have an iron stomach and live in a major city, this might be the path for you.

Many agents will turn you down, but you still get one-on-one time with them. Unlike traditional querying, you won’t get a form rejection. They will give you pointers and tell you how you can improve. Imagine if every job interview you went on the employer told you “this is how you can do better.” By the end of the year, you’d be an interviewing connoisseur, a master of the art. Pitching in person can be tough for a writer, especially those who are introverted. But agents are the gatekeepers to the publishing world, and at conferences, they’re practically handing you the keys.

There is no one way or “right way” to find your agent. The internet, and especially Twitter, is a great way for authors to connect to agents, contests, and other writers. Whether you’re a traditionalist and prefer straight querying, or like to experiment with new mediums like contests, the path to your agent will be as unique as the novel you’ve written. Enjoy the journey.

Guest Blog by Holly Jennings: The Query Letter

Please welcome our guest blogger Holly Jennings! I asked her to give up her secrets to writing an awesome query letter. I’m so grateful she agreed! Also, if you’re an indie writer, I think her description of the opening paragraph would make an excellent book blurb. Here’s Holly!

First of all, let me start off by saying I am in no way an expert on query letters. The one that landed me an agent went through roughly thirty rewrites. Yes, you read that right. Not three. Thirty. Some writers believe the query letter takes more time and effort than the entire manuscript itself. Some days, I’m inclined to agree with them. It sounds rough, I know. But as long as you’re not afraid to get your elbows dirty and your ego bruised more than once, you’re already on the right track.

The summary paragraphs of every query letter (except non-fiction) should have three parts: character, conflict, and stakes — in that order.

Section One: Character

Introduce your protagonist in the very first sentence of the query. Tell us what’s special about them. Do not make the character’s life seem boring just so what happens to them seems more exciting. This will lead the agent to believe your opening pages are dull. Would you like to read the book about the average schoolgirl with average grades and an average life? Or would you rather read about the boy sitting next to her who’s secretly a troll?

You can also make this work for characters that have no idea they’re different at the beginning of the story: “12-year-old Kaylee is meant to save her school from sorcery. Too bad she doesn’t know it yet.”

It is important to state your main character’s age for all categories other than adult, so the agent knows you understand the age range for each category (middle grade, young adult, and new adult).

Now, follow up the character introduction with one to two sentences about their life/world. Again, focus on what makes them different. Give us an idea of the book’s setting and tone. If it’s set on a different planet or in a fantasy world, give us a taste of the rules and environment of this new world. Just be sure to steer clear of the dreaded info-dump. Only give us the minimal necessary to understand this world and why it’s different.

To carry on with my previous example:

“12-year-old Kaylee is meant to save her school from sorcery. Too bad she doesn’t know it yet. Stuck across the hall from her friends, life in Ms. Henderson’s seventh grade class isn’t the only thing as bad as indoor recess. Her father is a genius, and her younger brother hot on his heels. Kaylee? She’s at the crossroads of Passed-Over and Loser-Ville. With braces. And freckles. Eww.”

Section Two: Conflict

This is the initiating incident. You’ve introduced us to the protagonist’s world. What happens to make everything change? Usually this paragraph starts with a “but when…”

– A deadly virus is unleashed.
– A mysterious new boy moves to town.
– A fellow student is kidnapped.

Whatever happens to turn your character’s world upside-down, show us here. To continue on with our example:

“But when Kaylee’s reflection starts disappearing from mirrors and silverware becomes gold under her touch, something special is finally happening to her. That is, until she turns the school’s coveted football trophy to dust. Now she’s the laughingstock of the whole school. Even her friends think she’s a freak. Worst of all, she can’t even tell what her hair looks like! Being special sucks the big one.”

Section Three: Stakes

The first two paragraphs should lead entirely up to this. This is where you spell out what your protagonist stands to lose. The number one complaint I’ve read from interns, agents, and others lies within this elusive third paragraph. Nearly all writers suffer from the “vague stakes” syndrome, with symptoms like:

– All hope will vanish.
– Everyone will die.
– Love will be lost.
– Humanity will meet its doom.

The problem? The above statements also describe every B-rated movie ever made, so why would an agent care about your story?

Luckily, there’s a cure: spell out what makes this important to your protagonist. It isn’t bad to have a story where “everyone will die”. You built something on an epic, world-changing scale. Awesome! But put yourself in your character’s shoes. Sure, you’d be sad about humankind losing, but you can’t picture how it would impact everyone in the world. You just can’t. But you can imagine your siblings or friends never growing up, never having a great career, or kids of their own. Making the stakes personal to your character adds a unique emotional punch.

Back to our example:

“So when the always-on-the-edge-of-suspension Trevor corners her in the gym, she’s shocked it’s not to beat her up. He’s got powers too, and they’ve been activated because the principle is dealing in dark magic. If they can’t stop him, their powers might grow out of control and the school might go with them. This is Kaylee’s chance to be someone in her genius family, win back her friends, and impress the guy she’s so not trying to impress. But really, turning things to gold? Disappearing from mirrors? If she was meant to save the school, they could have given her better powers, and a less annoying sidekick.”

Secret Bonus Section: Voice

Notice in the example above how phrases like “Eww”, “Sucks the big one”, and “As bad as indoor recess” gives the query a likable, middle-grade flavor. We get a better insight into the character and tone of the novel, and it showcases your talent as a writer. If an agent sees that your query letter has spunk, they’ll know your manuscript will be dripping with it. This, above all, can show what makes your story different. Not all plotlines will be unique, but your characters can be. No two people are alike. A story would never be told the same way through the perception of a different character. Find your protagonist’s voice and include it in your query.

I’m currently working on two novels. One is set in a noir-fantasy world. The other is set in a virtual reality video game. If each of the main characters were to talk about somebody dying, one would say “he bit the hard goodbye” and the other would quip “he got the permanent game over”. Notice how I don’t need to tell you which said which. You just know, because it matches the world they live in. Make sure you character’s voice reflects their age and their circumstances, and you’re not just golden — you’re platinum, baby.

The Facts and Credentials

Besides the summary paragraphs, you’ll also want to include the following in your query:

– Title (In all caps).
– Word Count.
– Category and genre (eg. YA Sci-fi).
– Comparable books or authors to your story.
– Your credentials, if any, including: previous publications or writing/editing experience, your online presence, or anything else relevant to the story. Include your education if it pertains to creative writing, editing, or a specific topic in the book (eg. your main character is a biologist and you have a degree in biology). Same goes for your day job. If you’re a librarian or an editor of a local newspaper, be sure to say that. If you’re an accountant and your book has nothing to do with accounting, best to leave it out.
– Personalization to the agent. Research their interviews and check out their twitter feed (most agents have one). Tell that agent why you think your book would be a good match to them.


“MAGIC, MATH, AND OTHER THINGS THAT STINK is a middle grade fantasy novel complete at 40,000 words. It will appeal to fans of [insert awesome MG fantasy authors here]. My short work has appeared in [cool magazine goes here] and I have a degree in creative writing from [epic school here]. According to your recent tweets, you are looking for middle grade fantasy with a strong, female protagonist and an unlikely team duo. I believe my book is an excellent match to your interests.”

Last Bit of Advice

Critique the crap out of your query. Send it to every writing buddy you have. Enter query contests. Get feedback from professionals in the industry. Several blogs accept queries for critique. Find them and submit. Rewrite based off their advice. Do it again. And again. Once people start to tell you “this is agent ready”, try sending out a handful of letters to agents who represent your genre. If you get a request, stick with your letter. If not, send it out into the critiquing world again. If more people tell you “it’s ready”, then it’s just a matter of finding the right agent. If not, keeping rewriting and submitting.

Querying and query writing can be a long, painful process. But if you can work, and rework (and rework a dozen more times) the prize at the end is even better than a pot of gold…

An agent.

Openings Follow Up

Thanks for the great conversation on Openings! Diane Carlisle did a post on her site called 10 Lousy Story Starts. Please check out!

I wanted to put Holly’s comments on the front page for everyone to see because it was like a mini-blog. Thank you Holly! Please enjoy her thoughts on Openings:

My first piece of advice: check out the site I’ve linked below. It contains interviews from several agents regarding opening scenes, opening lines, and what to avoid. It has been a personal goldmine.

Yes, there are standard openings to steer clear of (dreams, waking, eating breakfast, riding in a car), but like others mentioned above, they can work well if done correctly. As far as I understand, most ‘waking up’ openings or others like it don’t work because they’re boring. We see the MC being all: ‘Oh, hum. My life is so dull. Now I get ready. Now I eat breakfast. Now I go to work/school.’

Mind-numbing, eh? You bet.

But imagine an MC waking up to find her stalker standing at the foot of her bed. Still boring? Hardly. I can feel my own stomach churning.

One time someone told me to revise meaning of “in media res” from ‘in action’ to ‘with tension’. Basically, start with tension and mystery and intrigue and uniqueness and voice all in the very first line. Don’t be boring. Showcase the most exceptional thing about your character and their situation right at the beginning. Even if that character isn’t aware of what’s special about them or their story, you can still hint at it in the first lines. “Three weeks ago, I never realized things would turn out like this, but then again, I never realized a lot of things about myself.”

Here’s the opening line to one of my favorites and my opinion on why it works:

Fight Club (the novel): “Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.”

The first half of the sentence is boring, but it’s so short and simple that we go straight to the second part of the sentence, about the gun and dying, and now it’s anything but dull. In a single sentence, the author has set up the following: the tone (dark and gritty), the theme (order vs. chaos), the relationship between Tyler and the MC (dominant and submissive), the POV (first person observer), the voice. Masterful!

The first half of the sentence is mundane and something we can relate to. Everyone knows someone who’s been a waiter. But the second half turns the mundane on its head. ‘Whoa, how did this guy go from being a waiter to having a gun shoved in his mouth?’ I’m intrigued, and eager to read on.

One last piece of advice: I’ve also learned that a unique reference to one of the underused senses helps to ground the reader inside the story. (It smelled like someone had sprayed my grandmother’s perfume over a puddle of cat piss). Yummy. Balance helps too. Too much description, action, dialogue or narration right at the beginning of the story can be a turnoff.