Tag Archives | Ally Carter

The story behind Untraceable with S.R. Johannes.

Welcome to the last day! That’s right. The last day of the murder/mystery blog series! If you haven’t already, check out A Spy Like Me!

Today we have S.R. Johannes to tell us the story behind Untraceable!

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I have always loved animals. I was the girl who always forced my dad to stop the car so I could move a turtle off the highway. A girl who would run out in the rain to save a lizard from a puddle. A girl who always took in stray animals, cried at road kill, and who dreamed of preventing the world’s animals from abuse.

Seriously, I was intense about animals. Still am.

I also used to stay up and read my mom’s thrillers especially James Hall’s books Mean High Tide and Gone Wild. His books incorporated conservation awareness with thrilling elements. Not only was I on the edge of my seat the whole book, but I always walked away learning something new. Wanting to make a difference. I loved that feeling.

So it makes sense that is where I ended up.

Untraceable started with a small seed. My husband camps a lot – I‘m talking – by himself in the deep North Georgia wilderness for a day with nothing to eat (b/c he plans to catch it in the stream) and a one man tent. Just him and his dog. One day he came home from camping and in passing said, “Bloody hell, I was so deep in the woods, someone could do something totally illegal and no one would ever know.”

Okay so first let me say, I didn’t even really know there was a “wilderness” like that anymore. Sure there are mountains and trees but was there really a wilderness still that was so deep – no one could find you??? That concept intriqued me. I am a city girl but I just assumed most of the wild had been developed (unless it was in Africa!) (Needless to say I am NOT a camper unless it is a pop up tent with starbucks singles brewing on the stove).

A few months later, we went to Cherokee NC with the kids. There, is an  active Native American Reservation there and they have a festival every year. In the town, we came across an attraction for 5$ a person. At first, we started in. But then I peeked through the fence and what I saw broke my heart. A Bear Pit where bears were kept in cement pits (just on the edge of the national Park where they could smell freedom) and people were throwing apples and marshmallows at them, laughing. They had sores on their backsides from the hard ground and were obese. I made my family leave and cried all the way back to our cabin. (im a cry baby when I feel helpless)

This broke my already-fragile-toward-animals heart. It haunted me. I could not understand how native americans who always worshipped animals could be so cruel. How they could taunt the bears with freedom on the edge of a national park. Then I learned that The reservation was exempt from any state laws due to their reservation status. What? This pissed me off.

Once I did research I learned that there were 3 of these bear pits in that area on the Native American Reservation. I also learned that Bob Barker (yes Price is right guy who is VERY active in animal conservation BTW) had been trying to close them down for years by talking to the Chief there. But the Chief didn’t want to let go of the money they made from these bear Pits.

This horrible situation combined with stumbling on other research and my need for a thriller spawned Untraceable.

But I wanted to be sure to make my book a thrilling ride yet still sneak in in a conservation message for teens. No preachy stuff just a taste of something to think about. The things that happen in that book are real. They have happened and do happen. I got them from articles so they are not made up.

Maybe not all at the same time in the same place. But they do occur. Even in this day and age.

The Nature of Grace series gives teens a glance into the beauty of nature and animal while introducing them to the ugly side of when a lack of respect for nature threatens conservation – yet I did it in a non-stop action kind of way. This way, you stay up late reading. You may cry, you may laugh. But more importantly, I think you will walk away knowing something you didn’t know before which makes I hope makes each of us more conscious about the world around us.

In honor of those bears, I started a petition for the Bear Pits in NC. If you would like to help close down these inhumane places, please go here and sign it J


If you have read Untraceable, try out my new short story Unspeakable from Mo’s perspective.

If you liked Untraceable, try my new novelette, Suffocate. The first in a series of three novelettes that combines dystopia, science fiction and thriller sub genres.

Shelli is generously offering an ecopy of both Untraceable and Suffocate!

Don’t forget all the giveaways this week that end tonight! Tweet for these awesome authors!

Enter for a signed hardcover of Uncommon Criminals.
Enter for an ebook of The Emotion Thesaurus.
Enter for a print copy of The Spy Who Left Me.

Thanks everyone! Leave a comment and tweet to win Shelli’s books!
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Using spy gadgets in fiction with Gina Robinson!

Welcome! Welcome! Mystery fans! We’re celebrating A Spy Like Me today and all week!

I’m excited to welcome Gina Robinson today to talk about spy gadgets! #cool She’s the author of two spy books for adults and I can’t wait to read them!

Facebook ~ Twitter @ginamrobinson

I write what I like to call spylicious romance. Another term might be action adventure romantic comedy. My books are filled with love, action, and humor. And spy gadgets–everything from real, currently available on-the-market devices, to humorous gadgets spies wished they had. That’s the great thing about writing about spies–you can make gadgets up as the need arises. Think about the things Q creates for James Bond. Does anyone really have a car with an ejector seat, a high-powered oil jet, and .30 caliber machine guns behind the headlights? Bond does. Why shouldn’t your spies? Oh, and Bond had a set of rocket-firing bagpipes, too. You never know when a nice set of pipes will come in handy.

Need ideas for what kinds of spy devices to invent for your plot? Turn to the experts. I write humor so I often go to classic humorous spies for my inspiration. One of my very favorites is the old, classic Get Smart TV show. I have several seasons of it on DVD and I pop by Get Smart fan sites whenever the need arises.

Max Smart had one of the first cell phones–his shoe phone. Which now, in the more modern Get Smart movie, resides in a museum. Thanks to his creators, Max was decades ahead of his time. Max also had all sorts of phones disguised as everyday objects, as well as guns in every form–pool cue guns, charms on charm bracelet guns, even rubber duckie guns. Don’t give that one to the kids by mistake at bath time.  He also had poisonous soap and a ping-pong ball grenade. His sidekick, 99, had poisonous lipstick. Are you sensing a theme here? Anything goes.

If you’re looking for something a little more realistic, visit one of the many spy supply sites online. You’ll be amazed at the real spy items the everyday person can buy–teddy bear cams, rearview sunglasses, listening ears, video pens.  I have a video pen. It’s great fun to use. I also have several pair of rearview sunglasses–love them! I used them for comedic effect in my novel The Spy Who Left Me.

That’s my real message–whether you use real or imaginary devices, just have fun.

Gina Robinson is the Kindle bestselling author of The Spy Who Left Me. Her latest novel, Diamonds Are Truly Forever, releases on May 22, 2012. Check out her website, www.ginarobinson.com, for a full listing of her books.

Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble


Gina’s offering up a copy of The Spy Who Left Me! Thanks so much Gina! I love me some spy gadgets!

Enter to win Uncommon Criminals. 
Enter to win The Emotion Thesaurus.

Thanks everyone!

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Taking the Mystery out of Editing Those Pesky Subplots!

The Spies, Murder and Mystery Marathon is winding down but in no way over!

I’ll just say three words and you’ll know who our guest is today: The Emotion Thesaurus! Becca and Angela kicked off their release recently with all the random acts of kindness and their book reached #1 on Amazon! Woo hoo!

Welcome Becca Puglisi to the blog! *cheers and clapping*

Biscuits and Subplots and Cake, Oh My!

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about layers. Not cake layers. Not the scrumptious, peel-off-able pieces of the fluffy buttermilk biscuits my daughter forces me to make (and consume) for breakfast. No, fortunately for my waistline, I’m focused right now on story layers, particularly those that develop through the use of subplots. I’ve figured out that a story is always better when it’s layered, so I added a few extra plot lines into my WIP. There’s the main hero plot line, two romantic subplots, and also a relational subplot surrounding my character’s dysfunctional relationship with her stepmother. In hindsight, inserting these layers was fairly easy. The hard part came when it was time to edit them, and I realized I didn’t know how to do it effectively.

So I came up with a system. I love systems; I have one for pretty much everything. A system for cleaning the house. A system for organizing my week, for teaching my son the alphabet, for plotting my next novel–if it needs doing, I have a system in place to keep it streamlined. It was really just a matter of time ‘til I came up with one for editing subplots:

  1. Number and title your chapters and scenes. If you don’t want to muddy up your story with chapter titles, you can keep a separate list. For me, while editing, I find it easier to include them in the manuscript. Then when I need to go to a particular scene, I can just search-and-find and jump right to it.
  2. Now pick a subplot to edit. Let’s say you want to work on the romantic one. Look through your numbered list and jot down any chapter where you’ve dealt with this subplot in some way. It could be big or small: the first time the characters see each other, a conversation between the two, the hero’s thoughts about the love interest after seeing her across the room. This is a rough outline of the existing content for that subplot. Now it’s time to examine it to see what needs work.
  3. First, look for gaps. Are there long stretches where nothing happens to further the subplot? If so, you may need to add a scene, or add something small into the existing content. Is there a scene where your love interest could show up and get some extra exposure? Could you replace a background character in an existing scene with your love interest? Another option is to use peripheral characters. Maybe the person the hero interacts with in chapter 9 is actually the love interest’s neighbor or distant relation. An innocent conversation could stir up thoughts and feelings in the hero that could be used to further your subplot.
  4. Next, make sure your content is furthering the plot. According to Blake Snyder (of Save the Cat fame, and my new hero), each scene should go somewhere emotionally. If your hero starts out in a negative frame of mind, something should happen so she’s feeling “up” at the end of the scene. Conversely, if the hero is up at the start, by the end of the scene, her emotions should take a downward turn. The reason for this is to make sure that something is actually happening during the scene. No emotional change = stagnation = never a good thing. Tweak existing scenes to reflect some kind of emotional change. If you’re having trouble making it work, consider removing the scene altogether. If it doesn’t further the plot line and doesn’t challenge your hero in some way, it may be extraneous and should be pruned to keep the story strong.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 for each subplot.

One final bit of advice: Don’t be afraid of “extra” work. It’s easy, once you reach the editing stage, to think that the drafting is done. But as you edit, you’ll most certainly discover that scenes need to be added here and there. You might even find, as I realized once I started examining my WIP, that your story is in need of a whole additional plot line. If you go into the editing process knowing that you still have some heavy writing to do, it will be easier to accept these changes.

So there you have it. There are a lot of methods for editing, but this is one that works really well for me. Layers are so important when writing a deep and satisfying story. Hopefully something here will encourage you to smooth them out and make your story even better than you thought it could be.


Becca Puglisi is a YA fantasy and historical fiction writer, SCBWI member, and co-host of The Bookshelf Muse, an on-line resource for writers. She also has a number of magazine publications under her belt. Her book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iBookstore, and Smashwords.



Purchase Links:

Amazon print ~ Kindle ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Smashwords

Becca and Angela are graciously offering an ebook version of The Emotion Thesaurus to one winner! Please comment and tweet!

In celebration, tell us your most over-used, cliche phrase you have to constantly eradicate from your writing! 

There is still time to enter the Indelibles Beach Bash to win a Nook or Kindle loaded with some Indelibles newest releases including my release – A Spy Like Me. Join the fun!

And don’t forget to enter for a signed hard cover of Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter.

See you tomorrow for an awesome post on using spy gadgets in your fiction!


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Are all YA Mysteries Genre Busters?

Welcome to week 3 of celebrating my YA novel, A Spy Like Me! Today we have Jennifer Hoffine! 


I’ve known Jennifer for several years. We met on Critique Circle and still read for each other as needed. She’s a terrific writer with her own news later in the post. Take it away, Jennifer!


Murder, crime, clues, suspense, spying, mayhem. When is a Mystery story still a capital-“M” Mystery story?

I suppose it’s anytime a mystery is the main thing driving the plot.

Even so, it’s difficult to do traditional mysteries in YA because the stock cast doesn’t exist in their world…i.e. there aren’t many teenaged police officers, medical examiners, private investigators, spies, lawyers or judges.

So, to some extent, all YA Mysteries are genre-busting stories.

Some do this through the setting/situation:

Like Ally Carter’s Gallagher girl’s series, where a high school for training girl spies propels the protag and her friends into real-life international intrigues.

Laura Pauling uses her protag’s employment at her dad’s role-playing spy games business to get her into some real-life trouble.

A historical Veronica Mars where a girl ends up helping her father with his P.I. business.

Other times, the mystery is not a Who-done-it but a Why did it happen?


Looking for Alaska is about students trying to understand a friend’s sudden death.

You all know this one about a girl who leaves clues behind about why she killed herself.

And sometimes the protag knows the mystery but doesn’t reveal it to the readers right away.



Some of my favorites involve using an object to propel the mystery forward.

Revolution uses a diary to connect a girl in the present with a girl in the past.



In Dreamland Social club, a set of keys unlocks a mother’s and Coney Island’s past.


I have a genre-busting mystery series myself. No murders or crimes involved, but lots of spying…on cheating boyfriends. Cheater Beaters will come out through Coliloquy later this year.

Finally, Ally Carter has taken YA Mystery genre busting to the next level with her Heist Society series, about a group of young professional art thieves. I love this one even more than the Gallagher Girls series.

Today we’re giving away a signed hardback of the second in the series: Uncommon Criminals.


Just Comment and tweet to enter.


Wow! Thanks, Jennifer. What a great giveaway. And I definitely found a couple books to check out! I love this concept of mystery that doesn’t include murder and how different authors approach it.

Can you think of any genre bending mysteries?

Jennifer holds lots of terrific giveaways on her blog as she talks about Young adult books. Give her a follow!

Be sure to check out the Indelibles Beach Bash to win a free Nook or Kindle and lots of books! I’m giving away the re-release of my short story, The Almost Assassin. It’s a free download for anyone!





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Plot Busters – Heist Society break-down in 15 sentences!

You know I love breaking down story structures to learn and grow as a writer. And Heist Society was terrific!

1. Opening image: (the before snapshot of the protagonist)

When at private school, Kat tries to live a normal life, but the headmaster’s sports car is placed on top of the fountain with water shooting out the headlights, and Kat is blamed or framed.

2. Theme stated: (What is the story really about?)

And at every turn Kat is debating – how far should one go for family? And who is family?

3. Set-up:

When a man named Taccone believes Kat’s dad stole his paintings, Kat joins the family business again to resteal the paintings and save her father.

4. Catalyst: (the game-changing moment or inciting incident)

Taccone gives Kat a ride to the airport and spells out to Kat that her dad has two weeks to return the paintings or else.

Kat experiences the true evil behind Taccone. And if she walks away from this, her life will never be the same. Now that is a catalyst.

5. Debate: (asks some kind of question of the main character)

Kat is constantly asked, by others and herself, the same question: Is she truly a part of the family, or not?

At the end of Act I, after meeting with Taccone, Kat ends the debate. On returning to Hale’s house in New York, she wakes him and announces that they are going to steal back the paintings.

6. Break into two: (protagonist must make a proactive decision)

When Kat visits her Uncle Eddi – it’s a statement: I’m back, I have a job, and I need your help.

No more indecision. It wasn’t a flashy scene, but the significance isn’t lost.

7. B story: (the love story – not always romantic)

While Kat works on planning and setting up the big con, we see her relationship with her “team” and her love interest, Hale.

8. Fun and Games: (the heart of the book – why we read it)

Clue after clue, Kat tries to figure out who stole the paintings while she works with Hale to build their team.

9. Midpoint: (stakes are raised significantly; another big game changer)

Kat figures out that a Visily Romani stole the paintings and hid them in the Henley – an impenetrable museum, so she meets with her crew and announces they will be robbing the Henley. (mouths drop)

10. Bad guys close in: (Things get even worse.)

While Kat and crew are casing the Henley and planning out the con, Taccone steals her away and shows her pictures of all her loved ones, her family and close friends. He means business.

11. All is lost

On the eve of the caper, Kat meets with Taccone and names the place and date for the exchange. Not a super strong All is Lost but it fit Heist Society perfectly.

12. Dark night of the soul

Hale fully admits to getting her kicked out of school and even gives her a full admission, so she can clear her name and go back to school – if that’s what she wants. Again, not a true dark night, but served its purpose of offering Kat a choice.

13. Break into three: (External and internal conflicts combine for the solution.)

Kat breaks into Act III with all the swag and confidence of a true thief: with help from her cousin, Kat walks down the stairs and looks hot!

This is not the girl from the start of the story who wanted to walk away from her family.

14. Finale: (the climax)

If you haven’t guessed by now, the climax of HEIST SOCIETY is the actual robbery of the Henley – with some twists that I loved!

I can safely tell you that they steal the paintings because there is never any doubt she would. The fun and suspense came from watching how she pulls it off. And it’s worth the read.

15. Final Image: (Opposite of the opening image.)

At the start, Kat was with her new family at school. At the end, she’s with her real family, embracing the life and not looking back.

Final note:

What comes after that heist is what made me fall in love with this story. Ally Carter does a magnificent job making the impersonal caper, extremely personal, and then ended with another surprise. I loved it.

And you’ll have to read it to find out how she did it!

Have you read Heist Society? What’s your favorite caper story? Have you tried breaking your story down into 15 sentences?

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