Saturday, November 14, 2015

Want More Readers? Write SUSPENSE, not ACTION, Scenes
I don’t want to harm anyone’s health, but everyone needs a jolt of literary CPR now and then. How to do it?
SUSPENSE. No matter what genre, no matter what age group you’re writing for, it’s suspense that make your readers’ hearts race and their anxiety ratchet up to high as they worry what will happen to the beloved characters they’ve been rooting for.
Yes, action scenes are important to add in occasionally because readers want to watch your characters ACT in some way, but to me, prolonged action gets dull. (That’s how I felt watching 90 minutes of Mad Max racing across the desert and back….zzzz). When the tension never lets up, the suspense goes down. One of the keys to writing suspenseful tales is to rev up the suspicion and then make the character move on to something “normal,” only to have the anxiety reappear. Think ebb and flow.
In Wanted: Dead or In Love, an impulsive teen girl breaks into her father’s gangster memorabilia case and accidentally cuts herself with a bullet extracted from Clyde Barrow (impulsive character trait /stealing/consequences/outlaws all create suspense). As a result she awakens the spirit of Bonnie Parker in her own body, and then later that night, infects a guy she meets at a party with the spirit of Clyde Barrow (a pissed-off and unwilling companion adds suspense). They have a twenty-four hour deadline (a ticking clock) to figure out how to rid the outlaws from their bodies, or they’ll face changing places forever (possibility of death/crimes to be committed against their will). The reader feels compelled to continue reading to find out which of the four are successful and how all the problems will be resolved (multiple solutions / lots of questions). Whew! Hopefully the reader is breathless and their heart rate increases as the tension builds to the final scene.


Here are a few tips:

  • SHOW, don’t TELL us that your character is anxious about something, have them sweat, bite their lips, swallow a lot, look at their watch. In fact, the next time you’re worried about something, check out how you feel inside, notice what you do (drink water, check for texts, pace around your kitchen) and incorporate it into your character’s actions). 

  • LET US HEAR YOUR MC’S THOUGHTS. We’re scared if your character is scared. Let us know specifically what he or she doesn’t want to happen (if we don’t get to Louisiana in time, we’ll be in their graves and Bonnie & Clyde will take over our bodies!) You’ll need to set these worries up earlier in the book and give the readers small reminders building up to the scene where “it” might actually happen, and then of course, make the worst possible thing happen. Oh no….not that!! Yes, that. Now the reader has to find out what your poor MC will do.

  • SET LOTS OF POSSIBLE TRAPS and SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITIES. And then, have your character dismiss them as things that could possibly never happen, but then make it happen anyway. For example, Mr. Nice would NEVER do that to his wife, who happens to be your best friend (oh, but he did) and your character saw it. Now what? Tell his wife, keep it a secret, confront him? Let your character worry and mull over the right thing to do over the course of the next chapter or two before deciding. Make her squirm when she sees her friend and she brags about Mr. Nice and how great he is.

    Good luck!

    'Til next time,

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pay for Professional Writng Advice? It Depends....

These days it seems that everyone is writing a book. Many are writing books on how to write books, or how to sell books, or how to self-publish books, or even how to find the person who can help you to sell your book.

Let's just say there are a LOT of options and LOTS of ways to spend money.


So many options it's similar to the assortment of goodies offered to kids in Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. But which types of professional writing advice are everlasting gobstoppers and which ones are the candy bars that don't have a gold wrapper?

Here's my take on things:

1) Budget "some" money toward developing your craft. 

Unless your first name is William and your last name is Shakespeare, you probably won't improve your skills without getting some type of industry advice––either through a critique group, a professional editor, and/or books and conferences.

How much money you budget probably depends on where you are in your journey and your personal financial situation. And to be honest, it also might depend on how serious you are about taking your work to the next level. Reading books on the craft is great at a minimal level, but getting concrete advice about your own work is much more valuable. It's difficult to see our own strengths and flaws.

2) What's the best use of my budgeted money?

If you can afford it, beginners and pre-published writers should try to attend conferences in order to hear from agents and editors and find out what they are looking for. Also, what they are tired of reading and hearing about. If it's a topic that readers aren't buying anymore, you can bet that they won't want to acquire it either.

Those farther along in their careers might spend more on paying to have their revised WIP get a set of fresh eyes from a developmental editor. I still attend writing conferences, especially the well-attended kidlit conference in Los Angeles, but more to use that as a social springboard to to keep in touch with writers I've met over the years.

Joining SCBWI (for those writing for babies through teens) or a myriad of other writing organizations (Romance Writers of America // International Thriller Writers etc.)  geared toward your specific genre is a great idea. You will meet like-minded individuals (either in person or on a forum) and these people will become your confidantes, and hopefully, your cheerleaders.

3) Pay for a Professional Critique

There are different ways to do this. First of all, you should be in a critique group (either face to face or an online group) so you can get lots of free advice, as well as give it to others. But sometimes you're just not sure if the advice you're getting is meaningful, especially if all the writers in your group are beginners themselves. I'm not saying it's still not valid––they are telling you the way a reader views things-–but they might be giving advice that's too general (I like it! or It moves a bit slow here), or advice that really isn't helpful (you spelled there wrong).

Secondly, paying for an extra critique at a writer's conference can be iffy. Oftentimes, it's very expensive ($100 for five pages and 15 minutes of face time), but if your material is very close to being published, an agent might request the full and you're on your way. More often than not however, you'll get solid advice at a big cost. Still, I made some contacts that way but never grabbed the brass ring. Plus, they're only giving advice on five pages, which may or may not be your premier


So I suggest doing your research on finding a developmental editor in your price range that has lots of experience and having them read your entire novel. It's costly (anywhere from $500 - $2500), but you learn a TON and it can make your novel ready to be acquired. Ask lots of questions of several editors and gauge from their responses whether you think you'd be a good match. You might even ask to talk on the phone to them. Ask how much experience they have editing your genre and/or age group.

When I paid for developmental editing twice (both books were eventually sold to traditional publishers, btw), I searched for the right freelance editor and was rewarded greatly by getting excellent advice. **If interested, my amazing freelance editor for Flip the Bird (coming Fall, 2016 with HMH Books for Young Readers) was Maria Mooshil. She was an editor for the Chicago Tribune for many, many years and is now doing freelance work. She brought great insight to the motivation of my characters and was a fabulous sounding board of ideas. Contact her for rates and availability at:***

I didn't do this large and more expensive project however, until I was very close to publishing my book and already had an agent. Meaning it might not be worth it if you are still a beginner and have a looong way to go to work on your novel. There's just too big of a window for them to hone in on fixing everything. Don't be surprised if the freelance editor asks for a sample of your work before they accept the job. Like I said, if you're too far off, it might be too big of a task for them to try and help you.

So do your homework, keep on perfecting your craft, write daily, and soon you'll be on the shelves and in the hands of readers! Good luck on your journey. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments section. I hope that soon you'll be jumping for joy when your book is published.


'Til next time,


Monday, July 20, 2015

Need More Suspense in Your Novel? Here's How to Amp It Up


You want to write a suspense-thriller, but you’re not sure how to keep the pages turning? Here’s what worked for me, and hopefully it’ll work for you too:


Don’t like to be alone at home at night?  Why not? Probably because you’re sure every small noise is something amiss… a break-in? A mouse? A burst pipe? Hate when you come home and the front door is open a crack, making you wonder if you did that or a stranger did…?Every time you realize that your heart is pumping in fear, make a note of it and incorporate a scene into your next book.


Just when the reader thinks the answer will be revealed, throw a wrench into the plan. Literally. Make someone appear that has a wrench and threaten to harm them, like I did in WANTED:  DEAD OR IN LOVE.  Or…come up with some other frightening alternative, one that makes your main character run.


Never let the reader turn off the light and go to sleep feeling good about your characters. NO WAY! End the chapter BEFORE they open the door, get out of the way of the speeding car, or ask the micromanaging boss for a holiday off. I don’t mean mid-sentence, but bring the reader to the brink and have a small interruption make them delay for a moment…long enough to end the chapter and propel your reader to stay up past their bedtime.


Keep the reader in the dark along with your main character. YOU, the writer, know how they’ll get out of this, but don’t make the solution so obvious that your twist is anything but predictable. If the solution will be found in the cemetery, have your character drive past it, always curious about the gravedigger with the limp, but make the actual answer the gentle loving cemetery director.


 No one likes to figure out the answer in the first one hundred pages. While you need to introduce the main goal in the initial pages, add a sub-plot or two along the way that makes the reader wonder what’s going to happen. Keep five plates spinning in the air, and the reader will enjoy watching and waiting for one, or more, to fall.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

FLIP THE BIRD was acquired!!

Wahoo!! After many years of revision and letting FLIP THE BIRD sit patiently on my computer, it's finally going to be published. I can't even explain you how excited and blown away I am by this news. Anyone who knows me (friends, family, fellow writers) can attest to how I thirsted for this particular book to be published. Yes, I want all of my books to eventually be acquired by a big NY publisher of course, but this book took A TON of research and made me fall in love with the sport of falconry, so it sort of wound its way around my heart.

Here's the blurb from Publishers' Weekly:

I am so thankful to SOAR, Illinois for providing me a place to take falconry apprentice lessons, and to the many falconers (especially D. Troy Moritz) who answered my questions and let me tag along  during some of their hunts to fully appreciate the beauty of this sport. Hopefully one day you'll be able to experience this sport firsthand, but if not, I'm excited for you to read about it via my young adult novel. Thanks so much to my agent, Eric Myers, and to Julie Tibbott at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the opportunity to share this book with the world.

I know my main character, Mercer, and his Red-tailed Hawk, Flip, would be super proud too.

'Til next time,


PS: Here's a video of a falconer working with a beautiful juvenile Red-tail if you're curious. :)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Driving, Dining, and Divas

Hey there ~

I thought I'd write a post about something other than writing tips. {{I do give some writing tips for a collective YA author blog I'm on, Uncommon YA (which by the way has 25 amaaaazing YA authors who are superb, funny, brilliant, and write cool books, so please check us out on Twitter and the blog itself sometime: Uncommon YA)}

Now back to today's topics. I love writing and chatting about myself, but yanno, no one wants to chat with an empty chair so writing blog posts for no one seems silly, which is why I usually refrain from doing so on my own blog page.'s the thing:  I don't know whether there's an invisible someone in that chair reading my posts, making an invisible connection with me somewhere out there in the world. If so, hello invisible person! *waves

So I thought I'd start showing my normal, everyday side to any readers who might stumble over here. (Okay, quiet those who know me and are objecting to my use of the word "normal" to describe me). In any case, I thought I'd start writing weekly posts about nothing. (Kind of like Seinfeld).

Today's topic: Driving, Dining, and Divas


I love driving fast (ish). Like around 10 miles over the limit usually....except for when I'm approaching one of the secret "police hiding spots" which, since they're there most Thursday mornings and afternoons on the end of my block, isn't much of a secret.  I call myself an assertive driver and rarely text and drive unless I'm at a stoplight.

I love driving convertibles. Although I'm in the Chicago area, we still have approximately six months of top-down weather. To me, it feels like a luxury, quality of life thing. Here's Black Betty, my new VW Bug convertible. Isn't she cute?


I love to eat out, but more importantly, I love to socialize. If only I had been born to be one of those people who can eat whatever they want and never gain weight. My favorite dining out items are usually finger foods like nachos, sushi, and flatbreads (I'll often order apps for my dinner), but I'm trying to order more salads. (I have a hard time saying no if I haven't made up my mind before walking in and I see something amazing like pot roast nachos.) Yum...I love pot roast. Too bad not too many places serve it. (Invisible restaurant owners who are reading this, take note.)

Tonight's spot? Pinstripes in Northbrook - Fab outdoor dining place.


I'm not one, don't know many, but I love watching them on TV. Reality TV rules my world. I say it's for help developing my fictional worlds (like research - that's what I tell my husband), but we all know it's fun to drink wine with one of my daughters or neighborhood friends and watch Real Housewives of Anywhere squabble over petty stuff, splash wine in the other woman's face, and/or talk badly about her behind her back (but to the whole world). Priceless.

So that's it for today. Go ahead and exit the chair now. Hope you come back next time. (I'll try to get a comfier cushion). Remember:  don't drive too slowly if you're in my hood. Ain't nobody got time for leisurely Sunday drives except dogs in car with their heads poking out the window.

Until next time....

xoxo, KYM

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Is it the Author's Job to Create Positive Role Models in YA novels?

I was recently talking with some writer friends and this question came up: 
Is it more important for YA authors to potray realistic characters (that may have a dark side)  or to create positive role models?

Good question. 

There have been some readers who weren't thrilled with the depiction of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in my YA novel, WANTED; DEAD OR IN LOVE, as being humans with wants and desires all their own. After all, Bonnie & Clyde were hardened criminals from the 1930’s who were in love and committed crime after crime. In my novel, they come back to life within the bodies of two teens, and um, they’re not necessarily typecast as “the bad guys.” 

No doubt about it, Bonnie and Clyde did a lot of horrific things in their day and were eventually gunned down for it by a posse of tough crime fighters called The Texas Rangers. I’m not making excuses for Bonnie and Clyde––it was good they were stopped. Gun downed by a posse of sharp shooters? Not sure about that one. Especially when you factor in the time frame when they lived (The Depression), where they lived (the poorest slum in Texas), and their age when they started to commit their crimes (16 for Clyde, 19 for Bonnie).

I think what I tried to show is that most of us––Bonnie and Clyde included––are not solidly “all good” or “all bad.” Many of us make decisions that seem like a good idea at the time that later turn out to be not-so-great. My main character, a teen girl named Monroe, has always lived by the motto, “You Only Live Once,” but when she faces the counterpart to that, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” she starts to reconsider.

If she could do it all over again, she might say, “Yes, you are in charge of your own destiny. Just make sure it’s the destiny you really want.”

Actual footage taken from Bonnie & Clyde’s death scene in 1934.


So the long and the short of it is...while positive role models are wonderful, I need to trust that teens can "see behind the curtain" and realize that fiction serves many purposes: some to tell the truth, some to make you see the direction you don't want to venture. I did not try to glorify Bonnie and Clyde as heroes, but as teens who made choices that ultimately resulted in their deaths. Definitely NOT something anyone would strive for and I know teens reading my book can figure that out all on their own.

'Til next time, stay safe!


Tuesday, February 3, 2015


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Wanted by Kym Brunner


by Kym Brunner

Giveaway ends February 14, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Thursday, January 22, 2015

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: KATIE SPARKS (author of Reality Natalie)

Hello readers: I'm so excited to bring you my interview of Katie Sparks––a wonderful middle-grade author who also happens to be my friend and amazing critique partner! I had the pleasure of reading this book in all stages––from inception to publication. It's soooo super cute, funny, and authentic - just like the author herself!

Where did you get the idea for Reality Natalie?

About 5 or 6 years ago, I was completely enthralled with all of the reality shows that were popping up on TV. They ranged from singing competitions and talent shows to cooking or bake offs and clothing designer contests. The list became endless. But one thing I noticed was that none of them were for little kids. At the time, I believe the youngest person who could audition for American Idol, had to be 16. However, I knew that despite these rules, some of those watching these shows were kids!  From that realization, I thought about a girl who was obsessed with reality television.

Thus, Reality Natalie was born!

Describe how you created characters that speak and act so authentically.

I combed through my story several times and tried to find areas where I explained something in my voice instead of how an 11-year-old might see it, and tweaked them. For example, every time Natalie notices her parents look at each other in thought, she wonders if it’s some sort mind-reading skill you get when you are get married. 

People always say that kids say the darndest things and it’s true! The hardest part is getting yourself to remember what it was like at that age and to see the world through their eyes. Finding your character’s voice and keeping it consistent throughout helps make your story stronger and more authentic sounding.

What type of revisions did you make after FIREDRAKE acquired it? Were there any you didn't agree with?

My publisher and I went through several rounds of edits looking for various things at each time. The first time around we looked for the global, large-scale edits like red herrings, loose ends or plot points that didn’t work or make sense. Natalie has a blog that she enjoys so I had to make sure the timing for each of her posts were correct and made sense.

At one point in the revision stage, we had a conversation whether or not one of my characters was being too hard or too soft on another. My publisher and I talked it over and I decided to revise it based on some of our talking points. What came out of that is a stronger, well-rounded scene that satisfied both my publisher and myself, and rang true for the characters.

What advice do you have for other middle-grade authors seeking publication?

My advice pertains more to the writing than the act of trying to get published. Middle grade is a tough audience to write for. Your characters are out of the “baby stage” but not quite a young adult. Their main focus is typically their friends and family and the surrounding world around them. It’s also very important to keep in mind the middle grade voice.

What are you working on now?

I always have several projects up my sleeve. It helps me to bounce and back forth between them so I don’t get too stuck on one. Plus, it helps drum up ideas. For me, and I’m sure for many writers, taking a break from one WIP for a bit and then coming back to it later with fresh eyes can really help. Right now, I’m working on a couple new middle grade novels, one possibly with series potential. They are very different concepts; one is serious and the other is more fairy-tale related. I also am trying my hand at a few different picture book ideas. It’s always been a big goal of mine to publish a picture book! 


What do you love most about being published? This might sound cheesy, but I really like seeing my name on a published book. There are a million other exciting things about being published but since I was a little girl I’ve already wanted to experience that moment where I held a book in my hands and this time, my name was it.

Who was your favorite character and why?  I relate a lot to Natalie since I share many of her qualities, but I grew to love Robbie Lovelton, a secondary character in the book. He isn’t quite a class-clown, but nonetheless, is a boy in Natalie’s class that enjoys getting on her nerves. Despite his quirks, he is endearing and even funny at times.  I’ve even begun thinking of writing a story from his perspective, but that’s just a thought right now!

Where and when do you write?  I don’t have a specific time that I write, but I have found that middle of the day works well for me. I also try to carve out time after work at a coffee shop to write. It forces me to focus and there are fewer distractions than home. Otherwise, I enjoy getting up early on the weekend, making coffee and writing before the craziness of the day begins.

Do you have a muse, music, or certain drink you must have while writing? Coffee, coffee, coffee! I wish could listen to music but that ends up being a distraction for me. I’ll start singing the words and totally lose my train of thought!

Katie Sparks and her cat, Moe
Dogs or cats? Why? I love dogs, but I’m going to have to go with cats. I have a very vocal cat, Moe, at home who actually acts more like a dog. She’s crazy, but I love her!

Favorite recent MG books (besides yours of course!) from past three years: I really enjoy reading the books listed on the Rebecca Caudill list each other. I don’t get to all of them but I try! Some that have really stuck out for me recently include Every Soul a Star, Mockingbird and Out of My Mind.

Favorite MG of all time: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babitt (turned 40 this year!). I read this book when I was younger and just fell in the love with the characters and the story.  Who wouldn’t want to be immortal? 


Thursday, January 1, 2015


Here are the finalists - Who should win? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook - thanks!



Entry #3

My grandma is a one smart cookie because she is funny and wise. She helps out on holidays and helps even if no one even asks. Therefore I think my grandma is a one smart cookie.              

by entering the

              1 Lonely Teen Girl
      +  1 Deal with the Polish Spirit of Love
                  (courtesy of her one smart, spirit-conjuring grandmother, of course)
              2 Tasty Boys (and a whole batch of deception)

16-year-old Sophie Dumbrowski’s grandma is one smart cookie. How about yours?

Is your grandmother (alive or deceased) one smart cookie? Does she do amazing things for her community, your family, or her health?  Does she go out of her way to make your life better? Does she bake the best cookies in the world? Then tell the world about it!

To enter, all you need to do is submit a picture of your grandmother (alone, with you or your family, in actionwhatever works!) and write a one to three sentence caption telling why she’s so smart / wonderful / generous/ (fill in the blank). Winners will be judged on the overall quality of the writing (conventions /word choice), the ability to make a connection to the reader, and having a clear photo that focuses on your grandmother. ENTRANTS AGES 13-21 WELCOME!

Captions should begin with “My grandma (NAME) is one smart cookie because…”

Send your picture and entry electronically to: with the subject: ONE SMART COOKIE CONTEST or enter online at

Must be received by January 15th – Winner announced January 30th
All entries will be posted at
*donated / no warranty / comes with charger


Writing suspenseful stories often leads me to investigating creepy places and  gruesome stories of real events.  Oftentimes what the adage s...