Monday, December 26, 2011

Book Rec: DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE By Laini Taylor

You guys, you guys, you guys...I just can't say how much I enjoyed this book. The word that comes most often to mind is "entralling." And I was. Completely. Thank goodness there'll be a sequel. I can't recommend this book enough. The language, the story, the heartbreak...so beautiful and so very unique and different. Read it now. You won't regret it. This is my first Laini Taylor book, but I'm quite certain it won't be the last!



From Goodreads...
***************************************************
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?
***************************************************************

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Sorry for the lack of posting guys, but it's been a hectic couple of weeks. But stay tuned, because I've got my first ever blog contest coming up for New Years. I'll be giving away an Advanced Readers Copy of both TEMPEST by Julie Cross and ARTICLE FIVE by Kristen Simmons.Trust me, you'll want to read both. They're fantastic.

In the meantime, however, hope you have a merry holiday. Be safe and, as always, happy writing!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Best Revision Advice You'll Ever Receive

Okay, so the title of this blog is probably not true, but I just finished the latest round of revisions on my work-in-progress and sent it off to my Agent of Awesome (aka Suzie). And now I'm feeling very...practical. Yes, that's right. Rather than be on cloud 9, I'm more on cloud 3, also known as the "cloud of good job but we're nowhere finsihed with this manuscript yet."

So this blog should be titled the most pragmatic revision advice you'll ever receive.

Are you read? It's going to blow your mind, I promise.

Okay here it is:

Version Control

Yep, you should version your revisions. What do I mean by this? Well, when you write your first draft, label it something like "Super_Awesome_Novel_draft1. Then when you start your first revision, make a copy of draft 1 and label it "Super_Awesome_Novel_draft2." Make sense?

So why is this practical advice? Because it gives you a way to undo changes if you need to. Sometimes when I'm revising I realize that something I wrote in the first draft but deleted in the second would work really well in the third. This has actually happened in every novel I've ever written. Sometimes it's something as simple as a single turn of phrase or sentence, sometimes an entire scene. Either way, it's a great way to avoid duplicating work.

So there you have it. I guess the real title of this blog should be the most boring (but still useful) revision advice you'll ever receieve.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Road Not Taken — Revision Decisions

[Warning, spoilers ahead on the Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter]
 
So probably everybody has read the Robert Frost Poem, The Road Not Taken. You know, it’s the one that starts off “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” and goes on at length about the narrator’s indecision about which path he should take. At one point the narrator acknowledges that he would like to take both roads, but that “knowing how way leads on to way, / I doubted if I should ever come back.”
 
And the dude is right — about paths taken in life.
 
Not so much about paths taken in writing.

The great thing about writing stories is that you can go back and take the other path if you want to, and in a lot of cases, you probably should. That’s what rewrite/revision is all about.
 
Unfortunately, I think a lot of writers, especially beginning ones, have a hard time considering the path not taken when doing revisions. I know I certainly did. For some writers there doesn’t even seem to be an alternate path. We think the story is what is and that’s that, and our revising is actually more editing, aka fixing minor issues, polishing the language. In other words, not really doing anything to improve on the story itself.
 
But guess what, folks — there’s always an alternate path. Something else could happen. [SPOILER ALERT] In MockingJay, Katniss could’ve decided not to shoot President Snow. In Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer could’ve decided not to go the whole killer-baby-nobody-dies, there-are-no-consequences-ever route (and think about how much better the story would be if she had). And in The Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry could’ve decided to let Sirius and Lupin kill Wormtail.
 
[SPOILER OVER] Now, I’m not saying that if these writers had chosen a different path that the stories would’ve been better. Clearly, that’s not the case with the Harry Potter example at the very least. But what I am saying is that if you know there’s an issue with a story you’re working on, considering an alternate path might very well be the solution.
 
Now the key to recognizing the existence of alternate paths is distance from the story. And the only way to gain that distance is to stick your first draft in a drawer and let it sit there for a period of time. Stephen King recommends a minimum of 6 weeks, and he’s probably right. At the very least, give it a month.  
 
I know it’s hard, and I know you don’t want to, but you really, really should. Once you’ve achieved the distance, you’ll start to see not only the issues with your story but the ways to fix them, very often by letting the story take a different path. And as an added bonus, you’ll gain the ever important practice of learning the art of patience. And if you’re writing to publish, patience is a virtue you’re really going to need. That is, if you plan on staying sane.
 
Good luck and happy writing!
 

Friday, November 4, 2011

What He Said -- Writer Pep Talk

Busy, busy, busy, that’s been me of late. And usually when I get busy the first thing to go is the social media stuff, especially blogging. Don’t get me wrong, I like blogging, but I don’t love it — not like I do writing fiction. Writing fictions trumps all the other kinds of writing, you know?
 
Anyway, I do have a couple quick thoughts to share. The first is good luck to all of you doing NaNoWrMo. While I’ve never participated in it (mainly because discipline isn’t one of my writing struggles), I do think it’s a great, fun time and worthwhile. But just remember that writing to publish is more of a “racing championship” than a single competition. There should be a “revise a novel in a month” month after NaNo and then a “work on something else” month followed by a “revise again” month. In other words, writing those first 50,000 words is just the first leg in a very long race. Be sure you’re in it for the long haul.
 
And rather than waste your precious writing time with a pep talk about this long haul business, I’ll point you to this awesome post by Jim Butcher on that very subject. He says it waaaaaay better.
 
Good Luck and Happy Writing!
 
 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Prewriting Activities (AKA, what to do when you don’t know what to do)

So I’ve been prewriting. A lot. Like every day for the last two weeks. I’m not a hardcore plotter by any means, but I definitely like to have an idea of where a story is going when I get started. For me, nothing is harder on my writing morale than finishing the first draft of a story only to realize I made a critical error right in the beginning and that I have to essentially rewrite the whole darn thing. Not revise, but rewrite, which is exactly as it sounds.

This is why I prewrite. I ask myself the “big questions” about the story. Things like what is the villain’s motivation for his/her villainy? Where is the story headed? What’s the protag’s arc?

Well for my current WIP, I’ve been stuck on one VITAL question for days now. And by stuck, I mean really stuck; the answer just refuses to present itself. So what have I been doing? Sticking with my prewriting activities. Here’s a list of some of them:

1.       Read
2.       Check email, Twitter, Facebook
3.       Write a crappy blog about prewriting
4.       Check email, Twitter, Facebook
5.       Brainstorm with pen and paper
6.       Research stuff on Wikipedia
7.       Check email, Twitter, Facebook
8.       Clean House
9.       Read
10.   Go for a walk/run/ride
11.   Check email, Twitter, Facebook
12.   Visit a bookstore
13.   Rifle through my pile of research books
14.   Brainstorm on paper
15.   Read
16.   Check email, Twitter, Facebook

You get the picture.

Moral of the story? Prewriting is a vital step of the writing process, but it’s not the only step. When you’ve done all these things a hundred times and then some, it’s time to start writing. Sometimes the answers can only be found within the story.

Self-directed Pep Talk over.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What Makes a Good Villain Good?

And by good, I mean bad, right?

Honestly, I have no idea what the answer is to this question. I can only offer observations from my own experiences as a story-consumer (and by consumer I mean that I like stories in all forms — novels, TV, movies, video games, etc).

Hitchcock once said, “The stronger the bad guy, the better the film.” But what does he mean by strong? Does he mean scary? Evil? Repulsive? What makes a villain strong?

For me, the measure of a villain isn’t how many people he kills, how many towns he can level, or how depraved his sense of torture is. Rather, the measure is how strong my emotional response is to him/her. The more I hate/fear/loath a villain, the better villain they are.

Given this criteria, I made a list of some of the villains who have provoked a strong emotional response in me. These are the guys I really wanted to get their comeuppance:

Dolores Umbridge, Harry Potter
Commodus, Gladiator
Khan, Star Trek
The Joker, The Dark Knight
Hannibal Lector, The Silence of the Lambs
Voldemort, Harry Potter
This isn’t a complete list, by any means, but what I realized after making it, is that my feelings for these characters tend to be either hatred (Umbridge, Commodus, Kahn) or fear (Joker, Lector), and on the rare occasion, both (Voldemort).

Most of my “fear” reaction has to do with the believability of the villain’s evil. The Joker is arguably the best example of this. He is a man of action. He blows up a hospital! He steals a bunch of money and then burns it! Seriously, I believe in this guy’s evil, and all I want is for him to be stopped as quickly as the Batman can.

My “hatred” reaction to a villain is directly connected to how much I care about the protagonist. My utter and complete loathing of Umbridge comes from how much I care about Harry and his world. Not only is she wickedly horrible to Harry, but she’s also makes Hogwarts an unhappy place to be. This is bad, bad, bad. I love Hogwarts. I want to defend it. I’m filled with righteous indignation that such a pompous, toady old lady thinks she can govern the place and make it as vile as her fluffy pink cardigan and kitty-covered office (Deep breath, Mindee. See how much I hate this woman?).

After thinking about all this badness, I’ve come up with 4 essential  ingredients for creating good (bad) villains:
  1. Sympathetic protagonists whose lives/world is worth caring about it.
  2. Clear motivation. The villain should want something or have some kind of goal, one which must be identified to the reader at some point. Evil for evilness sake is boring. All the villains above have clear motivations in the story. Voldemort wants Harry dead, the Joker wants to watch the world burn, Kahn wants revenge, etc. 
  3. Empower your villain. At some point, the villain should have power over the protagonist or their world. Otherwise, they’re not a viable threat.
  4. Activate the villain. Let them use that power over the world you’ve given them. A villain with no real power, or one who doesn’t use it, is only a caricature and a gimmick. Give your readers an undeniable reason to hate and fear the bad guy.
So there you have it, my take on villain awesomeness. But what about you? Who are some of your favorite (reviled) villains?

Happy writing

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How Getting a Book Deal Doesn’t Change Everything

Don’t get me wrong, finding an agent and then selling a book does change your life. For sure. How much? I can’t really say. It’s still too early on my path to publication (waiting on my edit letter, in case you were wondering) for me to know.

But what I can say, for me at least, is that it hasn’t done diddly about decreasing anxiety, fear of failure, and overall writerly neurosis. If anything, it made them worse. Yep, that’s right. This might be because the stakes are higher now than ever before, but I’m not entirely sure.

To give you an example, I recently completed the second draft of a YA sci-fi novel (not under contract) and sent it to one of my critique partners. Lori read it and sent me her comments just like she did with The Nightmare Affair. Based on some tweets, I had a pretty good idea that she liked the story, but even still I had to force myself to open the document and face her comments.

Seriously. I really did! Even though I knew she liked it, and I knew that what she had to say would be completely invaluable for my next revision, this terrible, paralyzing dread came over me. One so strong, it took me more than 24 hours to work up the nerve to read through it.

WTF, right?

Of course, I’m now completely over it and am delighted by all the great feedback, but that initial dread was so darn hard it was literally painful. Actually, the entire process of writing the book has been hard. I threatened to quit multiple times, and I barely even liked the story when I finished the first draft. I was afraid of it, afraid of the genre, afraid of it being a complete dud, of discovering the book deal was just a fluke and I’m nothing but a hack, and so on.

Fortunately, I have people like Lori and my sister who make facing that fear worth it by being both supportive and helpful. My sister and brother-in-law read the very first draft of the YA sci-fi, and by following their revision suggestions, I ended up really loving my book by the end of it. After Lori’s feedback, I’m a bit over the moon. (Side note, this of course doesn’t mean the book will be successful in a publishing sense, but let’s not stir the neurotic stew too much right now, okay?).

Moral of the story – find good people to give you the right kind of support. One that is honest, tough, and also encouraging. Oh and then be brave enough to read those comments, process them, and incorporate them. And most importantly of all, just keep writing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Hook Writing Game

First off, big welcome to my new followers *waves*. Glad you’re here. Hope you stick around!

So a week or so ago, I shared my query letter with you guys, but as my agent’s super-awesome, could-not-be–better assistant, Sarah Goldberg pointed out, the query is only the beginning. The sample pages have to be pretty rock-on, too.

This got me thinking about opening hooks. Like what makes them good? And how do you write one?

I have no idea what the answers are to these questions. The best I can offer you is an analysis of some of my favorite hooks as a reader and then tell you about the hook game, aka a writing exercise for honing your hooking skills (say THAT 3 times fast, why don’t you?).

HOOK ANALYSIS

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

This one has two things going for it for me as reader. (1) Voice. This is the voice of a storyteller, the kind that makes you want to lean back on your pillow, close your eyes, and get lost inside this world. (2) Surprise. The fact that the Dursleys are proud to be normal surprises me as reader.  I usually expect the opposite.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” Stephen King, The Gunslinger

This one is easy. It’s got conflict, right from the beginning.  It also creates an immediate goal for the reader — I want the gunslinger to catch up. Right away, I’m rooting for the hero.

“They shoot the white girl first.” Toni Morrison, Paradise

This one has conflict and surprise, but it also sets an immediate mood. It warns me this is going to be dark and difficult. It almost dares me to continue reading.

“There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me—not forever, but periodically.” Janet Evanovich, One for the Money

Yowzers. This one hooks me in three ways, voice, mood (funny in this case), and conflict.

THE HOOK GAME

So from this little analysis, I’ve identified five ways to a hook a reader, through  voice, surprise, conflict, goal, and mood. And I would argue that most successful stories use all of these techniques some way or another in the opening pages.  

Now, I’m not going to claim even for a minute that I’m an expert on writing hooks. I’m really not, but I can say that I’ve spent a lot of time practicing how to write hooks. And no matter where you’re at in your writing career, practice will always help you improve.

So for practice, I recommend a little game that should be played with a writing partner (for the record, I didn’t make up this game but learned it from another writing colleague who’d learned it from someone else, etc).

Here’s how it works:

1.   For the first week, you and a friend decide on the number of hooks you will write as potential starts to stories over the next week. (When I played the game, my writing partner and I chose 10 lines).
2.   At the end of the week, share the lines with one another.  
3.   For the second week and all that follow, continue to write 10 brand new hooks, but also write 3 opening paragraphs, using any of the hooks written the previous week, no matter who wrote them.

Make sense? So every week after the first one, you’ll come up with 10 new hooks and 3 new paragraphs, all of which, if you’re lucky, might turn into genuine stories. And feel free to lower those numbers if it seems intimidating.

Now the game might sound silly, but it works. It’s both fun and challenging at the same time. Your partner will show you things you’ve never thought of before and vice versa. You’ll inspire and challenge each other.

You’ll find yourself wanting to write an opening hook so good that your partner will be unable to resist writing an opening paragraph from it. And if you play it long enough, you’ll begin trying new types of hooks, ones which employ a voice you’ve never used before or which are so strong, an entire novel might spring out from it.

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, my current favorite hook is this one from my fabulous critique partner Lori M. Lee’s current WIP: “Death lived in a high-rise penthouse at the center of the South District.”

Yowzers…you got me there, babe.

So what's your favorite hook? And if you're in a sharing mood, feel free to post some opening lines. I'd love to read them.

As always, good luck and happy writing!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ban My Book? Why, Yes Please

That’s right boys and girls and all you people in between and on the edges. It’s Banned Books week, one of my favorite literary weeks of all time. It’s a week when us creative, free-thinking types can peruse lists of banned books (like this one here) and go, really? Stuff that this still happens?

Yep, it surely does. And I’m here to say I dream about it happening to me, too. Why you ask? It’s simple, as a reader —well, as a person really— nothing makes me want to do something more than when somebody tells me I can’t. I’m rebellious by nature. It’s a flaw, I know, but I can’t help, at least not when it comes to intellectual freedom (Side note 1: I have no trouble whatsoever in obeying the laws as they exist today, i.e. no stealing, murdering, or any other such issues here). And I have a pretty good idea that a lot of readers, especially those interested in YA, feel the same way. So yeah, I would love to have a banned book, please oh please (side note 2: while having a banned book would make me feel rock star cool, I despite the attitude behind the idea of book banning and the people/organizations responsible for it).

With this in mind, I’ve thrown together a simple checklist of subjects/content which may help any writer eventually end up with a banned book. (Side note 3: A lot of these subjects are in The Nightmare Affair, too — yah!)

Here it goes, in no particular order:

Witches
Demons
Magic
Homosexuality
Any sexuality
Violence
Anything Anti-establishment (i.e. government, church, military, school system, media, etc)
Drug use
Suicide
Diversity of Belief Systems
Ethnic Diversity
Offensive Language

Well, that’s all I can think of at the moment, but I’m sure there’re lots more. What do you think? Have you read any good banned books lately? Oh, and aren’t you happy we live in a society where this post and discussion is even possible? I know am. Let’s keep it that way!

Happy Writing

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Query Letter Example and Tips

So a couple of people have asked about the query letter for The Nightmare Affair, which helped me in my quest to sign with my agent of awesome, Suzie Townsend. (Note: I refuse to use the phrase “land an agent,” because Suzie totally isn’t a fish. Seriously, she’s more of a rockstar. Maybe I should use the phrase “become a professional groupie”…but I digress).

Here it is folks, a copy of the email I sent to Suzie:

Dear Ms. Townsend:

16-year-old Dusty Everhart might make a regular habit of breaking into houses late at night, but she’s no criminal. She is a Nightmare, a magical being who must feed on the dreams of others, and in doing so experience those dreams, too. But when her latest dreamer, Eli Booker, the hot guy from her old high school, turns out to be dreaming about a murder which shortly comes true, she goes from non-criminal to reluctant crime fighter.

Dusty learns that together she and Eli posses the rare ability to predict the future through dreams. They are soon enlisted by the magickind government to help identify the person killing students at Dusty’s high school, Arkwell Academy, a secret school for magickind. Now Dusty and Eli must follow the clues both within Eli’s dreams and out of them to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what they’re up to and marks them as the next target.

Complete at 76,400 words, The Nightmare Affair is a YA contemporary fantasy, which I like to think of as Veronica Mars meets Hex Hall. Per your submission guidelines, I have included the first 10 pages below.

My short stories have appeared in various semi-pro magazines, including Happy, and I have received an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2008. I have a Master of Arts in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing. On a personal note, I follow both your blog and twitter account and thoroughly enjoy both. I think your First Page Shooter endeavor is invaluable.

I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Mindee Arnett
Address
Address
Phone
Email

I hope this letter is self-explanatory, but as always, feel free to ask me questions. Also, here’s a list of some things I think considered important in my agent submission process which you might find useful too:

  • Know and understand the individual guidelines for EVERY agent you query.
  • Unless those guidelines say otherwise, put the pitch paragraphs first in the query. Agents are short on time. Don’t make them wade through the BS unless they specifically want to.
  • Send yourself test emails to make sure the formatting comes through properly. Be sure to view them on your iPhone or other device as this is how a lot of agents view them.
  • Add a personal note so long as it’s honest and relevant.
  • Follow the agents (twitter, blog, etc) you want to work with, and be sure to mention it. (Not long after Suzie had full manuscript of TNA, she started following me on Twitter, and WOW, was that a GREAT feeling.)
  • Keep the pitch short and precise. Trust me, there’s a whole lot more to The Nightmare Affair than what’s suggested in this pitch. But I resisted the temptation to try and tell the whole story in two paragraphs. Just razzle-dazzle with as little as possible (i.e. the heart of the conflict and who it’s happening to).
  • Query in small increments. I sent out only 5 queries at 1 time. If everyone gets rejected, take another look at the query.
(BONUS: Wanna see what happens after you sign with an agent and the book goes on submission? You can read the pitch here.)


Good luck and don’t give up!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Time is a Fickle Thing (or why writing can keep you sane)

Let’s see, on the subject of time, I haven’t updated this thing in like forever. Lots has been going on to keep me distracted, the most pressing being my compulsive need to finish the first draft of my latest WIP. Which I did. On Saturday. Wee-hee, throw the confetti and pop open the champagne, or in my case the strawberry margaritas I’ve been diggin’ on so much lately.

That being said, I need to issue an apology to my wonderful critique partner Lori (if you’re not reading her blog, you really ought to) for not thanking her sooner for giving me this very cool Liebster blog award. Fortunately, I know Lori will understand the lure of finishing a draft! (More info on the award below)



But my purpose in writing this blog is pretty much summed up in the title (see you didn’t even have to read this far). Writing really can keep you sane, especially when you’re waiting for something big. Which for me, of course, is waiting to start real revisions/edits on The Nightmare Affair. When you hear other writers say that everything takes a long time in publishing, they really mean it. Fortunately, writers have an excellent weapon in their arsenal to combat the long waits — and that’s to keep on writing. And the best thing is that finishing a first draft never gets old.

Anyway, in accepting the Liebster award, which is intended to connect bloggers with less than 200 followers (totally me), I must:
Mallory over at Lil Red's Hood

• Show my thanks to the blogger who gave me the award by linking back to them (thanks Lori!)
• Reveal my top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
• Post the award on my blog.
• Bask in the love from the most supportive people on the internet—other writers.
• And best of all – have fun and spread the karma.

I'm passing the award onto these fantabulous bloggers:

Coming soon on the blog, I plan on posting the query letter which helped me sign with my awesome, totally on-fire agent!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Rec — Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Read this!!!


Nuff said.

Just kidding. But seriously, this book is astoundingly good. It’s got everything you could want in a horror tale: scariness, humor, action, love, you name it. Oh, and in case you’re too much of a bum to click on the link to the description on Amazon (…kidding…). Here’s the description:

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn't expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.
But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas's life.

Cool right? Although, even the description doesn’t do this one enough justice.  Sounds a bit like Supernatural, yes? Well, it definitely has the same kind of sassy feel, but bled through with Tim Burtonesque imagery that is as beautiful as it is startling (and awesomely gruesome in parts). I dare you to go here and read the first chapter and then NOT want to read the rest. Go on, give it a shot, but be warned, the book doesn't come out until the end of this month!

Really, my only complaint is that I wanted Anna Dressed in Blood to be about a zillion pages longer. And yet it was the perfect length with a perfect story arc and a homerun ending. Did I mention it was perfect?

So yeah, lucky me (and definitely lucky you, dear readers), the sequel to Anna is already in the edit stage. That’s great news. Trust me, Kendare Blake’s is a writer whose stories you’ll want to get lost in (even if those stories might eat you alive). Or maybe because of.

Happy Reading

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Scorpio Races, a Horsewoman’s Perspective

First of all, this is not a review of The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. It’s more of a love letter. Because I LOVED this book. The premise of this YA Fantasy is pretty simple: set in the contemporary world circa 1920s or thereabouts, there is an island called Thisby whose waters (and at certain times land) is inhabited by magical flesh-eating seahorses. And once a year some of the more courageous of Thisby’s inhabitants, capture, train, and ride those horses in the Scorpio Races, a huge tourist-attracting event. The story, told in two alternating first person points-of-view, focuses on two of those riders who both have desperate and heartbreaking reasons to win the race.

Now, as a horse woman with years and years of experience both in the saddle and on the ground, I was a little concerned about the idea of flesh-eating monster horses — as in why would I want to read about that? I mean real life horses can sometimes be scary enough without razor-sharp teeth and a craving for meat and blood. Horses are big and often unpredictable. They have minds and personalities of their own. It hurts when they bite, kick, run you over. They can even kill you.

But then I started to hear good things about the story and decided to give it a try. I’m so very glad I did. Not only did the story blow me away with its beautiful setting, fierce/wonderful/fully-real characters, and a tension that builds like a slow scalding fire, but it also moved me on a deeply personal level, the level where my love of horses resides. When I finished it, I felt as if Maggie Stiefvater had reached inside me, captured my love of my horses, and wove into her story like magic. It was as if she’d written it just for me. It’s the story version of my love for this guy and his love for me:

First as a baby…

And now today…

You don’t have to be a horse lover to love this story, but being one makes the experience all the richer. Horses are more than pets. They’re trusted friends and partners. When you climb on a horse, you must trust it to carry you and to take care for you. You ask it to submit and to give, even as you submit and give back. There’s no feeling quite like it in the world — and The Scorpio Races embodies it.

P.S. Be sure to come back in the fall. I plan on holding a contest to give away the book (unfortunately, the ARC I read isn't mine, and I wouldn't be able to part with it even if it was, I love it that much)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

And We Have a Deal — A Book Deal!!!

That’s right folks. After a long time of wishing, hoping, dreaming, striving, I’m so happy to report that this announcement appeared in Publishers Marketplace today:

Yes, not one book but 3 books! To say my head is spinning with how fast everything has happened and how excited and honored and humbled I am would be the understatement of the year. There’s a whole lot more I want to say and that probably should be said, but for now, I leave you with this:

 Yah baby!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Furry Friday — Just for Smiles

That’s right folks. I don’t have anything special or profound to write this week (I know, I know, like I ever do, right?). But nevertheless, it’s been a good, wonderful, happy week, the kind where you just want to smile and look eager, like my furry friends below (and no, they’re not all mine, at least not technically):


Have a great weekend. Happy reading and writing and everything else you might get up to!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

HUGE Recommendation For Divergent by Veronica Roth

I think this summarizes my feelings about this book best: Veronica Roth has found a permanent fan in me. I plan on reading everything this girl writes that I can get my hands on. I loved her debut novel Divergent, which I just finished reading this morning. I won’t give a review or even a summary here because it’s not really my thing and because there are far better reviews/summaries available elsewhere.


Divergent is a YA Dystopian in the same vein of Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, a series I very much enjoyed as well. But I have to say, I like this one better. It’s not perfect, and I have lots of questions I hope will be answered in the next book, but whereas The Hunger Games is a blatantly political novel (which is pretty par for the course with Collins) Veronica’s novel is more of a morality tale. And Veronica’s message seems far more honest to me and far truer.
By the end of Divergent I didn’t feel as though I’d been manipulated into seeing the world from someone else’s point of view. It didn’t make me feel ashamed of who I am. Just the opposite. Now it may be that I feel so strongly about this novel because the morality of it is my morality, the things I believe in, but I can’t tell you for certain. In the end, it doesn’t matter.
All I know is that Divergent is a good story with a strong, fascinating female protagonist. And it’s the type of story that needs to be told more often, one about love and self-sacrifice and what it truly means to be brave.
And I also know that its author, Veronica Roth, is truly brave.
I need to say a huge thank you to my agent, Suzie Townsend, for recommending Divergent to me. Otherwise, I might have overlooked this fantastic story. And man of man, I can’t wait for the next one!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Some Recommendations — Clarity, Dr. Who, and HP4 Writers

Okay folks, got some recommendations to throw your way. These are things that have brought me some laughs, chills, thrills, and deep thoughts this last week (Douglas Adam pun definitely intended), and I thought you might want to check them out, too.

Clarity by Kim Harrington was a fun, fast Young Adult novel of my favorite variety, the kind with plot. Don’t get me wrong, I really love YA, but a lot of it is pretty story-light. I like YA books with more of a Middle Grade sense of story — you know, where stuff happens — and this is one of them. Clarity is like Veronica Mars meets the Medium, and it’s a perfect summer/beach read.



I’m still digging me some Dr. Who. It’s so fun, so wacky, so British (totally in a good way). Unfortunately, however, even the cheesy, I’m-so-obviously-fake alien, zombie, and monster costumes are too scary for my 3 1/2-year-old. I’ve been forced to watch the episodes on the computer while cooking dinner or running on the treadmill, but that’s okay. They’re still fun. Speaking of satirical British fun, I think might have to consider reading some more Jasper Fforde in the near future…



And last but not least, I’m very happy to say how much I enjoy Susan Sipal’s blog Harry Potter for Writers. It’s fantastic. It’s brainy. It’s totally Harry Potter geeky and also immensely insightful into J.K. Rowling’s writing craftsmanship. If you’re a writer and even a tiny bit of a Harry Potter fan (is there really such a thing?) then you should check it out.



That’s all for now. I’m currently reading Divergent by Veronica Roth, and I feel a definite recommendation coming on for this one, too. Oh, and a little wonderful birdie told me today that I’ve got an advanced reader’s copy of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races on the way to me. Woohoo! Now my only trouble is going to be finding enough time for all this good stuff.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Pop Culture Adventures — The Crazy World of Dr. Who (and a good luck to the sis)

Anybody besides me looooooooove Netflix? Go on, raise your hand. Or not, since I can’t see you anyways. But seriously. Netflix has become my pop cultural gateway to some old and not-so-old stories. Let’s see. In the past couple years, it’s introduced me to Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Alias, Supernatural (which I now DVR), and of course my beloved Veronica Mars.

But my latest Netflix escapade (and potential love affair?) is Dr. Who, specifically the 2005+ version. I’ve made it through two episodes and been enjoying myself so far, despite some major cheese going on (or maybe because of the cheese?) and the combination soap-opera/porno “look and feel” of the camera work. Still, the cleverness of the dialogue, the Douglas Adams sense of the absurd, and the genuine British accents are enough that I’m quite certain I’ll be sticking around for the duration. I have some issues with how heavy-handed the themes are—like a frying pan would be more subtle—but overall this seems like a lot of fun.

On a side note, I want to wish a big huge “GOOD LUCK” to my sister pictured below) who’s competing in her first Event this weekend (for you non-horse people, it’s like a triathlon, combing dressage, stadium jumping, and cross country). She’s riding a fabulous horse and has a fabulous trainer/coach, and I know she’s going to have a blast and kick butt!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reading Report

Hope you’re liking the redesign going on with the blog, guys. I know I am, and a big thanks to my sister for all the hard work she’s put in on it. Thanks, Man. You’re the best!

On the reading front, I’m still slogging my way through The Passage by Justin Cronin. It’s good. It’s very good. But man is it dense and long. I keep getting worn out by it and have to stop and read something else. I actually started reading it last summer, went about 300 pages in, and then put it down until a couple of weeks ago. Did I mention that it’s dense? And long? But still beautifully, amazingly good.

Up next I plan on tearing through Clarity by Kim Harrington. I’ve read the opening pages, and I know already how much I’m going to enjoy it. Anything that channels some Veronica Mars flavor works for me.

On my need-purchase-next radar, I’ve got Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake due out August 30th. I’ve read the first chapter of this one, too (available on Tor’s website here), and it’s stunning! Seriously. I’ve never felt such sympathy for a murderous ghost before. Powerful stuff. And she’s definitely channeling some Supernatural flavor, which like VM, does it for me, too.

Even further down on the radar, I’ve got Raylan by Elmore Leonard which isn’t going to hit shelves until (gasp) February 2012. The book’s scheduled to release in conjunction with the 3rd season of Justified, which if you haven’t watched this show yet, I command you to go do so now. Seriously. I LOVE Justified, not quite to the point where I would consider naming one of my children after a character (ahem, that honor goes to Firefly), but enough that I’m considering naming the new kitty Raylan, or maybe Arlo.

Happy Reading!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Furry Friday — Big News Edition

So you know how in my last post I gave myself a pep talk about starting a first draft on a new novel? Well, I haven’t written a single new word since. But there’s a very good reason for that. I’ve been revising the last novel for my lovely and super-fabulous agent Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary Management!

That’s right. Suzie has offered me representation, and I’ve happily accepted. Yah! Fireworks and celebrations commence!

I wanted to say a HUGE thank you to my critique partners for all their help. And also to Suzie’s assistant Sarah Goldberg who’s already been immensely encouraging.

But now I need to get back to revising.

Before I go, I want to leave you with a pic of the newest addition to my furry family. I rescued this little kitty from the eaves of my barn last Saturday. That’s right. The eaves, as in the top of the roof, as in he was trapped like a baby down a well. But he’s doing great now. Happy Friday and happy writing!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

First Draft Pep Talk

So I officially started on the first draft of my next work in progress. What does officially mean, you ask? It means three things:

  1. I’ve decided on which project to focus on (having wavered between 3-4 valid ideas).
  2. I filled in a couple of note cards with events I *think* will happen.
  3. I opened my pocket-sized notebook where I record my daily word counts, turned to a brand new page and wrote the tentative title to this WIP at the top along with the word count total goal and my completion date goal.

Now, as I get ready to plunge in, meeting those daily word count goals, I’ve decided to give myself a little pep talk of ideas that I’ll want to keep in mind as go along.

  1. Don’t get too upset whenever you fail to meet one day’s word count goal. Especially in the beginning. No matter what, the start of a story always takes more time than the end. There’s a reason for this. The start of the story involves the heaviest amount of world-building / character building. Think about it. I’ll probably spend a good hour or so a day, just figuring out the first and last names of important characters and places. But toward the end — not so much.
  2. Remember that if I’m not having fun with a particular scene that I’m writing then nobody else will either (hint: skip those).
  3. Ask and know the answer to questions right from the start. Why does this character care about that? Why does this character behave in this way?
  4. Don’t forget the description (one of my chronic failings whenever drafting).
  5. Write every day. Don’t slack. Don’t get distracted. Use the time you have now. There’s nothing better.
  6. Don’t come to the page lightly, which is one of my all-time favorite quotes from Uncle Stevie, and the one I struggle with the most when drafting. Don’t just write words because it’s easy to write them and because you’re trying to meet some word count goal. Don’t just slip along, mindlessly, uncaringly. Take this writing business seriously.
  7. Have fun. Do it because you love it. Because it fulfills. There’s no other reason to do it. None at all.