Review: There Once Were Stars by Melanie McFarlane


Peace. Love. Order. Dome. That’s the motto that the Order has given the residents of Dome 1618 to live by. Natalia Greyes is a resident of Dome 1618, a covered city protected from the deadly radiation that has poisoned the world outside for four generations. Nat never questioned the Order, until one day she sees a stranger on the outside of the dome. Now Nat wants answers. Is there life outside the dome and if so, what has the Order been hiding from everyone?

Find There One Were Stars online:

Goodreads | Amazon | B&N






My Review: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When I read the description of There Once Were Stars, I knew I needed this book in my life. There Once Were Stars tells the story of Natalia, who lives in a domed city that the government set up after war ravaged the planet and left the air too toxic to breathe. Life inside the dome was very interesting to me, and I like seeing how the community was seemingly perfect, at least to the average citizens.

When Natalia spots a guy on the other side of the dome’s glass wall, everything quickly goes to crap. If people can survive outside of the dome, then what else is their government keeping from them? Natalia is hired to work a research job like her mother did before she died, and here she meets new friends, some enemies, and she learns more about her mother’s past and explorations outside the dome. You’re never sure who is working with Natalia and who is working against her.

This book has romance, intrigue, and best friends turned enemies. Natalia works to unravel the secrets of the past, the present and her future all while trying to figure out who to trust. While the book worked well as a standalone, I’m really hoping there’s a second book in the works because this was a dystopian I couldn’t put down and the characters really grew on me.
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2016 Goals Update

This morning I did the very noble task of going through all my old posts and changing them from “uncategorized” into posts with real tags and categories! Why yes, I am procrastinating my real work of the day, how did you guess?

Along the way, I found my 2016 Goals blog post, written back in January. Can you believe it’s already been 8 months since the year started? WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE? I’ll tell you where my time has gone: into accomplishing a ton of goals. I should really aim higher.

So here’s where I started with my writing goals, and where I am now:


Writing Goals:

  • Write and publish Supercross Me, the sequel to Motocross Me Done and done! Supercross Me is available now!
  • Promote the hell out of City of Legends, which releases in a month! Done! City of Legends has been out in the world for 6 months now.
  • Get an agent. Yep, this is very scary but I am jumping back on the query train this year and hoping to find a literary agent as I pursue my career as a hybrid author. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT, I ACTUALLY DID IT! I worked hard writing a new book and I landed my dream agent with it. I’m still on Cloud 9 from it. (And I don’t mean the Cloud 9 from the show Superstore, which btw is hilarious and I love it.)
  • Finish BUSG (the secret YA project) and pitch it for traditional publishing. Not only did I finish Break Up Support Group, I also got a deal with Swoon Romance it’ll be published November 1st! So, another goal done and done.
  • Plot, Outline, and write SDS, another secret YA project. > This is the only goal not yet attained, but I’m currently doing the research for it and I’ll begin plotting and outing SDS very soon! I have the rest of the year to get it done, so I think there’s a very good possibility this year’s goals will all be achieved.

How about you? Did you set goals at the start of the year? Now is a great time to reflect back on them and see what you’ve accomplished so far. If you’re not where you want to be, guess what? There’s still over 4 months left to get it done! So get to work!

On Writing and Publishing

Recently, my writer/vlogger friend Avianne was asking me questions about writing & publishing, and since they were pretty great questions, I got her permission to use them for a blog post. Check out her lovely blog here: and I’d like to thank her for letting me ramble on about myself, seeing as that’s one of my favorite things to do.😉

Onto the questions!

What does a average day consist of for you? 

I’ve been a full time writer for 1 year and 6 months. (And yes, I’m counting! It was the greatest job transition of my life.) The absolute best part of being a full time author is getting to do all of my work in my pajamas. Between drinking coffee, doing house chores, packing the kid’s school lunch as well and driving her to and from school, and taking pictures of my dog, my average day has only about 3-4 hours of actual writing time in it.

I use a Passion Planner and spend every Sunday organizing my upcoming week. I plot out my novels and schedule how much I will write per day to get a draft done on time. Typically, I spend 2-5 days plotting and outlining a novel and then my writing goal is one chapter a day, which is around 2500-3500 words. If the chapter turns out shorter, I’ll write two. If, for some reason, it’s not a good day, I might not write at all. In the end, I always manage to meet my deadlines, which is about 30 days from start to finish per finished first draft. (I haven’t always written that fast, but over the years, and with going full time, it’s become a lot easier.)

How did City of Legends get published?

I originally published City of Legends myself. I didn’t seek traditional publication for it because I was unsure of the book’s genre and its ability to find success since teen superheroes weren’t a big thing back then. (They still kind of aren’t, even though superheroes in general are.) I plotted out the 3 book series, published 2 of them, and then got a magical email from my lovely editor at Alloy Entertainment.

It was magical because of several reasons. For one, Alloy’s manuscript submission website had been bookmarked on my computer for about 2 years. I can’t tell you how many times I stared at the screen, wanting to submit them my book, but was ultimately too chicken to do it. When I first talked to my editor, I’ll never forget what she said when I confessed that I’d always wanted to submit to them but feared rejection: “You should always submit. You never know when it’ll work out.”

The second magical thing about this email was that it came just a couple of weeks after I quit my job and moved to another town for my husband’s work. Getting that email was like a massive sign from the universe telling me that choosing to walk out on mechanical engineering and pursue my dream was worth it. And with all of the editing that came after I signed my contract, I know I wouldn’t have been able to maintain all of my deadlines if I still had a full time day job, so it really worked out well.

The third magical thing about the email was that it came in a time when I was really doubting myself as a writer. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure I’d finish the trilogy I’d set out to write when I first self-published City of Legends (back then it was called Powered). I was doubting every single thing about myself and my abilities, and I was this close to cancelling the entire thing. Alloy’s email changed it all. I finished the third book (wrote it in 27 days), we revamped the entire series, and it’s now better than I ever imagined it.

Can you explain the whole publishing/ agent thing? How does it work? How do you get an agent? Do you have to have an agent?

Gladly! Publishing is generally broken into 2 categories: self-publishing and traditional (or trade) publishing. I’d like to break it up into 3 and add small publishers to the list.

With Self-publishing, you simply do everything yourself. You can hire editors, cover artists, formatters, etc–trust me, there’s a ton of them just waiting to be hired–and then you can publish the book through Amazon, Nook, and the likes, all for free. I won’t go into the pros and cons of it because that would take too long, but the simple fact is that no matter what anyone says, self-publishing isn’t the same as trade publishing. Anyone can put anything out there and it doesn’t have to be good. Some people make a lot of money self-publishing, and others don’t make any.

Traditional publishing requires an author to have an excellent book and an agent. (More on agents in a sec.) Your agent will represent your book and pitch it to editors, who are the people who buy books for publishing houses/imprints. Once your book is bought, you receive an advance, which is a payment against royalties. So, if in your contract you earn $1 per book sold (just using fake numbers for example), and your advance is $10,000, you’ve been paid for the first 10,000 sales before the book is even out. Then, once it’s out, your first 10,000 sales will have to be sold to earn the advance, and then you’ll receive more payments on each book you sell above the amount to earn out your advance. If you never sell those 10,000 copies, you’ll never get paid anymore for that book.

With traditional publishing, all you have to do is write and edit. The publisher pays you for the book, and they pay for the editing, the cover art, the marketing, book printing, etc. It’s also more prestigious and easier to get noticed in bookstores when you have a book by a trade publisher. My ultimate goal as a writer is to see my book on bookshelves, and a trade publisher will get me there.

Small publishers are nearly identical to the big publishers, only with a few differences. The main difference is that most of them don’t require you to have an agent to submit your book to them. An author can submit directly to them and negotiate their own contract if they want to. Some small publishers pay advances, and some don’t. Some can get their books into bookstores, and some can’t. You most likely won’t have as much marketing power or visibility behind your book with a small publisher, but that’s not always a bad thing. Small publishers have a passion for books and work very hard for their authors, just like the big publishers do.

As for agents, no you don’t have to have one. I will say personally that I think having an agent is the BEST possible thing you can do for your career. Agents are your biggest advocates. They work exceptionally hard to make sure your book is a success.

You get an agent by researching them and finding agents who represent your genre and are looking for books similar to yours. Then you send them a query, which is typically done through email now, and it’s a 2-3 paragraph summary of your book that’s enticing and well-written and hooks them to read more. It can (and often does) take several submissions and several rejections before an author finds an agent. I recommend checking out Agent Query and Query Tracker before embarking on an agent search.

Since you’re a full time writer, how do you always generate plot ideas. It’s hard to come up with a really good story idea.

I wish I knew the answer to this question! I am constantly in this weird state of thinking I don’t have enough ideas, and yet having more ideas than I have time to write. I think the only solution is to write down all of your ideas, even if they aren’t good. Read a ton of books, and when you don’t like something in the book, think of a way you’d make it better. Watch movies, and movie trailers. Sometimes my best ideas come to me while watching a movie trailer when my mind will come up with a unique idea sparked from the movie’s plot line. Also, pay attention to your surroundings. Listen and watch. Nearly all of my best ideas came to me because I was observing other people in their element. Recently, my daughter said something and I misheard her. I thought she said something completely different, and the words I thought she said made an amazing idea pop in my head. It’s now my newest WIP. (Which I can’t share online because I’m being secretive about it, hehe.) Whatever you do, don’t sit down with a blank piece of paper and try to think of something. It won’t work! You have to free your mind and keep it open and the ideas will come to you.

As for Indie publishing, how did you personally go about marketing? I know you’re not incredibly spammy like most other indie authors so I’m curious.

Firstly, THANK YOU FOR SAYING THIS. As I mentioned in my Twitter Etiquette post a few posts back, I absolutely loathe authors who are spam robots. Shouting your book into the internet 50 times a day isn’t going to sell any copies. At most, you’ll just piss a lot of people off.

The thing is, authors who spend all their time promoting must not have any time for writing. I’d prefer to write. As for marketing, all of my closest author friends have heard me say this at least once: I suck at marketing. So I simply don’t do it.

Sure, I post about my books, or make a Pinterest inspiration board, or join group giveaways in efforts to make my book more visible to the public. But those are all just ways of me being me. It’s my way of being a genuine person who occasionally talks about my books because they’re important to me.

Marketing is a dirty word in my opinion. The internet is filled with snake-like people trying to sell you their courses on getting rich by marketing, keywords, SEO, paid advertisements, etc, etc, etc, and it just makes me want to scream. I get about 1 email a day from someone cold-emailing me trying to sell me their “get rich quick” book promotion services, and let me tell you: the only people getting rich off those scams are the people selling them to hopeful authors.

So to answer the question of how I go about marketing, the only answer I can really give is that I’m just myself. I make friends online and talk about books and let social media know when I have a new book out. Over time, I’ve developed relationships with bloggers and readers, and in my opinion, word of mouth from people who genuinely care about my books is the best form of marketing there is. I can only hope that my readership will grow over time and that each new release will have a better sales record than the one before it.

*So there we have it, writing and publishing advice from someone who’s been at this since 2008. I have 4 self published novels for teens, The City of Legends series published by Alloy Entertainment, and The Break Up Support Group will be published in November by Swoon Romance, a small publisher. I recently signed with a wonderful agent, and hope to have more books published in the future!

Behind the Scenes of King City

I was digging through old notebooks this morning (IE- procrastinating real work) and I came across this old sketch of the canyon underground in my book City of Legends. In this book, the world has a race of superhero people, and most of them live underground. Central is the main headquarters, and it’s situated below the surface of the Grand Canyon. Also, in this world, the surface of the Grand Canyon on both sides of the massive canyon, isn’t just beautiful nature like it is now. It’s a massive, sprawling city called King City that has many portals above ground that lower the Supers down into Central. Underground, there’s a long glass wall that overlooks into the canyon, which in my head, is an awesome view.

And although I worked in engineering for 9 years and sketching up intricate parts and machinery on CAD was in my job description, you can see here that I am not an artist. I remember sketching this out, trying to imagine how Maci would get from her house to Pepper’s studio.  It was all done in a hurry, but I referenced it a lot over the course of writing all three books.

You’ll note, this is not to scale. Maci’s house isn’t that huge; it’s actually a modest size in comparison to other homes in Central. I really liked the idea that these people don’t live in absolute luxury like the leaders of our country do today. Maci’s dad is the president of the supers, and he lives in a normal house without a single servant. I feel like having superpowers IS their luxury. Everything else is pretty normal for them.

My favorite part of this sketch is the upper right hand corner  LONG FALL TO YOUR DEATH. heh, heh, heh.


The TBR of Shame

I have a terrible confession to make.

There are 31 unread books on my bookshelf.


*whew* There, I said it. 31 books. (2 of them are 2 books in one, hence the photo of 29 actual books) All purchased with such excitement and high expectations, some of them on sale for so cheap I couldn’t help myself. ALL of them books I couldn’t wait to read. But we know how that goes. We get a book we want to read and then accidentally read another one instead, etc etc.

There is a bit of good news, and that is that every single eBook on my Kindle has been read. It’s the physical books that are giving me trouble. So, here’s the deal: I refuse to buy another book until I’ve read all of these.

I consider it my punishment for letting the stack get so high. My goal is to finish them all by the end of the year, and that shouldn’t be too hard. Until such time that I have read all of these books, any book I want to buy (*AHEM* Gemina *AHEM*) is going straight on the Amazon wish list until such time that I can be trusted to buy another book and read it right away. Feel free to follow me on Goodreads to see my progress.

I’m glad I got that off my chest. How many books are on your TBR list?

Twitter Etiquette from yours truly

Twitter Logo

Let’s talk about Twitter.

As always, this particular post is geared toward writers, since that’s what I am and that’s why I use Twitter. But some of the advice is good for everyone, so stick around even if you aren’t a writer.

Twitter is a social media platform, and one of the only ones I regularly use. (The other is Instagram. Count me out of the rest of them because a girl only has so much time for social media, writing, reading, and watching unhealthy amounts of Gossip Girl on Netflix.) The point of Twitter is to communicate with others and shout out your 140 characters of insight into the world.

The thing is, some people use Twitter in a total jerk way, whether they realize it or not. I’m here to give you some Twitter Etiquette in the form of a thinly veiled rant.

Twitter Etiquette rule number 1: DO NOT EVER, for any reason, under any circumstance, send an automatic DM when someone follows you. I’m not even sure how you do this, but some people have a thing set up to where when I follow you, I will instantly get a Direct Message from “you”, but it’s an auto generated robot message you send to everyone. Something stupid like “Hi, thanks for following! Make sure to buy my book at [Amazon link]!”

Uh, no. Everyone hates this. No one likes it. PLEASE DO NOT SEND AUTO DMs. In fact, I immediately unfollow a person who does that to me. Chances are, if you send auto DMs, you also break the rest of these rules and I can’t follow people who treat Twitter in this way.

Twitter Etiquette rule number 2: Twitter is not your never-ending advertisement feed. As authors, we have promotional links to share with the world. Our books go on sale, our books release into the world, our books need more reviews, etc. At the very most, I’ll allow ONE promo tweet a day. Anything more is excessive and gets you either unfollowed or muted. No one follows an author online because they want to be asked to buy the same book 50 times a day. They follow an author because they like the author, and that means they already know about your books. PLEASE, be a decent person and keep the promotions to a minimum.

When it’s acceptable to promote on Twitter:

You have a new book deal! Heck yeah, tweet about it!

It’s release day for your book! ABSOLUTELY! Let us know! We follow you because we like you and we want to know when your book is out.

Your book is on SALE! YAY! Tell us! Unless your book is perpetually on sale and several years old, in which case, we already own it, we don’t need to know. One tweet a day, folks. That’s all we need.

It’s your book’s cover reveal day! Everyone loves a cover reveal. Let us see it.

You have book signings coming up! Definitely let us know.

You have a new Pinterest inspiration board/cute Instagram photo from a blogger/picture of your book next to a puppy/etc. Tweet it! It’s unique and not the same old crap.

Someone uber-famous in the writing world left you a great review. Show us! Let me be jealous of you and your 5 star review from a NYT bestselling author.

What’s not okay to do on Twitter: 

That cute quote image of your book with the best line you’ve written, posted 10 times a day, every day. NO.

Just an Amazon link to your book with some line about how we should totally buy it. NO.

The same same same same same cover image every day, all day,  repeatedly asking me to buy your book. NO.

Twitter Etiquette rule number 3: Keep religion and politics off your feed. Unless you are a religious or political writer and that is your brand, please spare us your commentary on the topics. Regardless of if you’re voting for Thing 1 or Thing 2, no one cares. You’ll either A) be voting for the same person your followers are, in which case, who cares? You’re already alike, or B) be voting for the candidate your follower hates, thus making them dislike you. If people dislike you, they won’t read your books, they won’t connect with you, and you’ll lose out on potential readers. This is a real thing. I’ve read some pretty idiotic political commentary and have been so turned off I had to unfollow several people. At the very least, I have about 25 people muted for this election period because I can’t stand reading their constant political drivel when I’m on twitter specifically to talk about writing and teen books.

Save the politics for Thanksgiving dinner with family members and for that guy down the street who loves discussing this with you. Please keep it off Twitter.

Twitter Etiquette rule number 4: Always be nice. Honestly, this is the Golden Rule here, but it needs to be expanded for online use. Words don’t translate well in written form when you can’t tell if someone is joking or being a jerk. I happen to be insanely sarcastic, and while I think the deadpan delivery of my sarcasm in real life usually hits home and people find it funny, it doesn’t necessary work online.

If someone tweets you “Happy Book Release day!” and you simply reply “thanks” … no capitals, no exclamation mark, no fun emoji or dancing gif, it could come off as rude. That’s just one example, and I’m sure you’ve seen many more online. If you’re being sarcastic, use an emoji. Otherwise, you could alienate people who think you’re just rude. It’s always helpful to be overly nice in your comments and tweets, that way no one gets the wrong impression.

I’ve learned this lesson several times by tweeting something I think is funny, but someone else thinks I’m being literal/serious and gets upset. Not everyone understands sarcasm, and it’s always better to err on the side of being polite and friendly anyway.

Twitter Etiquette rule number 5: Only follow people because you want to. There’s this fairly new trend in Twitter, and I blame all of those outside websites that promise to “build followers” and make you “Twitter famous” and that trend is this: Follow hundreds of writers on Twitter and then in 48 hours, if they haven’t followed you back, unfollow them and follow them again.


Do you think I don’t notice??

I am someone who actually uses Twitter the way it was intended, by making friends and chatting about common interests in the writing world. I do not simply follow every single person ever, because then I’d have a cluttered feed and would have no good content to read as I scroll through Twitter, procrastinating my work for the day. I know the point of this follow, unfollow, follow, unfollow repeatedly thing is in the hopes that someone will follow you back. But it doesn’t work on me.

I check out every person who follows me. If you’re a YA reader/writer/blogger, I’ll follow back happily. If you write adult horror books (something I don’t read) and your feed is 100% promo tweets, then I don’t follow back. I don’t care what you’ve read in marketing books, doing this doesn’t get you friends and it doesn’t get you readers. I will NEVER see someone following me every other day for 2 weeks and then say, “You know what? I think I’ll buy that person’s book!” It doesn’t work that way. I buy books of authors I care about, and it’s usually after getting to know them online for months.

That also leads me to:

Twitter Etiquette rule number 6: Fill out your bio. Let people know who you are. Sure, it’s funny to put “I live in lala land” on your Twitter bio, but if that’s all it says, I don’t know anything about you. Are you a reader? Writer? Blogger? Did you add me by mistake because you think I’m that other Cheyanne Young who’s big into yoga and fitness? I check out everyone’s bio before I follow them, and it’s helpful (especially if you’re a writer) who let us know you’re a writer. Same goes for your website. If you have one, put it in your bio. I visit everyone’s website when I first follow them, and I actually have purchased their books because of it.

I’m on Twitter to make connections with other writerly people, just like you are. What better way to connect with someone than to communicate with the REAL them, via fun tweets and book talk? I don’t want to follow robot accounts that only update with pre-written promotional tweets. No one does. If you plan on using Twitter in this way, I urge you to reconsider. Try being a REAL human being on there, having REAL conversations, and joining in on the fun. People pay attention to real people. They skim over promotional tweets and unfollow people who only want to talk about their own book.

That wraps it up for today. Let me know what you think in the comments, and I’d love to hear your other Twitter Etiquette rules!


My favorite books of the summer

Summer is nearly over! Of course, here in Texas, it’s hot all the time so summer is a relative term. I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary YA lately, and I’d like to share some of my favorites with you. I’ll keep this post short and sweet because I have a pizza in the oven and nothing comes between me and my pizza.

First up on the rec list:
Resisting the Rebel

Resisting the Rebel by Lisa Brown Roberts. This book was cute, well-written, and had me smiling the whole time. Plus, it had a broody bad boy and who can say no to that?

Finding Paris

I’m a massive fan of Joy Preble and her witty writing style. Finding Paris was fun, romantic, and shocking. I love when a book sucks me in, wraps me up, and then shocks me with a surprise ending. Get this one, guys. You’ll love it.
We Own the Night (Radio Hearts #2)

We Own the Night by Ashley Poston. This MC is a radio DJ. It’s exactly as awesome as it sounds. I adored this book and read it in one sitting.

Em and Em

Em and Em by Linda Budzinski. The only bad thing about this book is that the title will make you want to eat candy. This one has intrigue and mystery, along with a hot country boy, and hot country boys happen to make me swoon.

Have you read any of these? I’d love to know what you think!