Friday, December 9, 2011

Blog Chain: My Writing Space

Blog Chain question: What conditions do you need to get your best writing done? Closed door, crowded coffee house? Computer or notebook? Can you just sit down to write, or do you need to wait for the time to be right?

It's actually a deep, chestnut brown in real life. LOVE my chair! You can get it here.

This is an awesome question, and something I in my fangirliness often love to discover about my favorite authors. I know more about JK Rowling's and Stephenie Meyer's writing process than a normal person ought to.

For me personally, it's pretty straight-forward. I'm a loose outliner, in-between pantser. I spew out idea spawn in a word document before the seed vanishes. I outline on paper. Then I'm back at the desktop computer in my super comfy swiveling office chair to write. I can just sit down and write, but every once in a while, I have a really hard time getting anything good to come out. I'm more likely to wait to be inspired unless I have a set of active goals written down somewhere, like Nanowrimo.

It has to be completely quiet, or lyricless music. Any outside words get mixed up in my mind and make it harder for me to write. So I write at night when my kiddies are in bed.

How about you? How do things have to be for you to write at your best?

Tere Kirkland started us out with this classic question. To continue down the blog chain, check out Michelle H. whose day it actually is because I'm a day late. Or if you prefer going backwards (always fun), check out Cole's post before mine.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Blog Chain: Accomplishment

Michelle H. started us off this time with this question:

This is the month for creating writing goals and making big accomplishments. What is your greatest accomplishment -- in writing, your life or perhaps something incidental that had a big effect on you?

Writing about this just a month before my ten-year high school anniversary feels like homework, like I'm preparing to meet all those old high school people Romy and Michele-style. Not that I believe my high school reunion will be anything like that, but just the popular culture perception of ten-year reunions had me thinking about Michelle's question before she asked it.

What have I accomplished since high school graduation?

Some people have mile-markers to point to along their journey: getting an agent, being published, becoming VP of editing, or getting a degree. I have done none of these things. My life looks nothing like what I thought it would ten years ago.

If I let the lack of mile-markers in my life bring me down, it'd be showing a lack of gratitude for what I do have, and since this is the day after Thanksgiving, I just can't do that. So rather than talk about my accomplishments (which are really very vague things like 1) growing up after college and 2) writing a lot of first drafts), I want to stress the things in my life I can't call accomplishments that I'm proud of anyway - the things in my life I'm grateful for:

1) My husband. I pictured marriage through kind of a fun house glass when I was single, and I never knew exactly how it would play out because I couldn't even imagine what kind of person I'd marry. Some mysteries only time can solve. As it turns out, I married a sweet, sensitive guy who hates doing the dishes as much as I do, but is much more steady in his day-to-day operations than I can ever hope to be. He balances me out so well, and without him, I would not accomplish anything.

2) My children. I have two small boys who drive me and my husband crazy sometimes, and other times make us share knowing, proud smiles. Children are a joy, each one with a personality from birth. Raising my sons to the ripe old ages of (almost) 5 and 2 years old does not feel like an accomplishment. It definitely isn't something to brag about at a class reunion. :) But Bill reminds me that the work I do in teaching them is a sort of accomplishment. I'm grateful for these two little guys who have taught me more about life, myself, and them than I ever knew I was missing.

3) Church. I don't have a job, but I do have what's called a calling in my church. I'm the secretary in an organization for teen girls between the ages of 12 and 18. I help to plan weekly weeknight activities for them and also follow their personal progress as they work toward the equivalent of an Eagle Scout award. This isn't the sort of thing I'd put on my very sparse current resume, and I'm not calling these girls an accomplishment, either. But it's one of the things that fulfills me, to watch my girls interact with one another in kindness and consideration, and grow into the women they will be someday. They are remarkable young women, and I'm thankful for my role in "working" (read: playing) with them.

4) Operation Awesome:  If you don't know what this is, then click the link now. I'll wait. When I get back to writing queries (once I get at least one manuscript in that kind of shape), I might put a little brag line by my bio that says I am a co-founder of Operation Awesome and creator of the Mystery Agent contest. But this isn't an accomplishment, either. This is pure luck. I'm so lucky to have met each one of my critique partners. I'm lucky one of them had the idea of putting together a group blog. I'm lucky several of them are amazing bloggers who know how to network and promote the fun stuff we do there (author interviews, guest posts, agent contests, book giveaways, writing tips, and Lindsay's famous GIF metaphors). I'm lucky the first agent I contacted for the Mystery Agent contest wanted anything to do with our baby blog as we were launching. I'm lucky I've only had one bad experience with a snooty agent, and that almost all of the agents I've contacted have been incredibly sweet, pay-it-forward, author-loving types. My must-query-this-agent list has grown exponentially since working with Operation Awesome on the M.A. contests.

So you can see, I'm not exactly an accomplished person. I didn't finish college (yet), didn't get a big, important job, didn't get my first book published at 21 (I'm 28 now), and didn't do all the lofty altruistic things I planned in high school (working with orphans in Africa). I still hope to reach some of my dream goals.

But for now I am content not to focus on accomplishments that are out of reach, and to focus instead on Thanksgiving. After all, I have an awful lot to be thankful for.

You're done! I'm the last link on this chain. Be sure to check out Cole's post from Wednesday if you haven't. You can go backwards through the chain. I won't tell anyone. :)

Happy Turkey weekend!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: STRING BRIDGE by Jessica Bell

String Bridge: Greek cuisine, smog and domestic drudgery was not the life Australian musician, Melody, was expecting when she married a Greek music promoter and settled in Athens, Greece. Keen to play in her new shoes, though, Melody trades her guitar for a 'proper' career and her music for motherhood. That is, until she can bear it no longer and plots a return to the stage--and the person she used to be. However, the obstacles she faces along the way are nothing compared to the tragedy that awaits 
Add on goodreads

This is one of the deepest books I've read in a long time. Most of my usual reading list consists of middle-grade and young adult fantasy and whimsy with a touch of the dark. It can be pretty deep in a symbolic way. But not like this book.

This book made me feel.

Perhaps because I'm a mother trying to live out her dream (writing for me, not music), I especially related to Melody's plight. But I think there are many ways in which Melody represents all of us struggling with finding fulfillment, purpose, and ultimately love and belonging.

I really loved this bit:
"I sit in silence sipping my wine, looking into the brownish sky, imagining the stars I'd see if I were sitting on my parents' verandah on the island. Somewhere up there is us, a happy us, in some parallel universe, living the way we're supposed to be. I truly believe that the earth is our practice ground - the place where we are to test things out, to make mistakes, to discover what we believe in, what we are passionate about. Death is when we move on and go up there - to the real world; to start again, to rectify our mistakes and live a happy and fulfilling existence. There is no hell. Earth is hell. This is where we are allowed to sin. Up there, is where we no longer want to."
The descriptions are beautiful and symbolic, very well crafted. Jessica Bell makes Greece come alive.

I really love the way Melody questions everything and doesn't let herself hold onto comforting yet dysfunction-enabling conceptions of her own life. She analyzes it, admits her own faults, and keeps trying to be the person she wants to be.

When tragedy strikes, as the blurb hints, Melody is so human. I cried nonstop. And yet, there's life and joy again after tragedy.

On a personal note, I appreciated the author's sensitivity to the very difficult decisions a mother has to make to balance work, family, romance, and dreams. The subject was never treated rashly. Like I said before, this is a deep book, one I think many adults will swallow whole and feel full. I know I did.

Watch the book trailer. This song is in the book, along with a bunch of other great songs that read like heart-wrenching poetry.

Ready to read the book?

To purchase the paperback:

To purchase the eBook:

To listen to samples of the soundtrack, visit iTunes.

You can also...

Connect with Jessica:

String Bridge:







Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's the Holiday Blog Hop!!

Hosted by Megan Dolan-from This Post Will Self Destruct 
and Jenny Morris from Jenny's Imaginary World

Goal: Write a 250-word story about your favorite holiday. 

I picked Christmas because a) it's the best holiday ever and b) it's so filled with mythology, nobody will mind the addition of one more mythological Christmas creature.

Christmas Star

The strange thing about this Christmas morning isn't my bare feet in the snow.

It's the extra moon lingering in a pale gray sky.

The tiny crescent shape hangs below the actual moon, like a child's crib mobile. I even think I see it dangle a bit in the wind. But that can't be. There's no wind in space. My feet go numb as I stare. I should start moving again, finish my trek from the woodpile before breakfast. But I can't.

The crescent shape turns, its shape changing. Where the second moon once hung, a blob-shaped figure with a pointed head floats, staring back. The alien thing has noticed me noticing it. I stand still, reminded of my run-in with a bobcat last winter. On instinct, I let out a low, guttural growl.

The shape grows, zooms downward. I drop my firewood just as its translucent silver body halts five feet away. This is no bobcat. Its five points tremble: arms, legs, and a head where its face grins, dimpled like a baby.

It whistles. Logs fly through the air, zip through the open front door of my house. I watch in wonder, my feet burning in the snow.

I look back. The chubby star is gone from my porch, from the sky. The sun claws its way over the frozen mountains, and the moon fades away.

I look to the empty spot where my alien friend once floated. A smile breaks my chapped lips.

"Farewell, Christmas Star." 

Check out other 250-word stories about holidays, and get into the spirit:

1.E.R. King2.Untroubled Kingdom
3.Annalise Green4.Abby Fowers
5.Angie Cothran6.Jolene Perry
7.Jennifer Young8.Readin, Writing, and Lovin' It!
9.An Author's Ramblings10.The Ubiquitous Perspective
11.Deana Barnhart12.A Book, A Girl, A Journey
13.Katrina Lantz -Author

Monday, November 14, 2011

Author Interview: Jessica Bell, author of STRING BRIDGE

Interview with Jessica Bell, author of String Bridge

String Bridge: Greek cuisine, smog and domestic drudgery was not the life Australian musician, Melody, was expecting when she married a Greek music promoter and settled in Athens, Greece. Keen to play in her new shoes, though, Melody trades her guitar for a 'proper' career and her music for motherhood. That is, until she can bear it no longer and plots a return to the stage--and the person she used to be. However, the obstacles she faces along the way are nothing compared to the tragedy that awaits 
Add on goodreads
And now for our super deep interview!

Katrina: Your book trailer made me cry. Tell me the story of the book trailer for String Bridge. Was it solely your creation, and when was the song written?

Jessica: Well the trailer was solely my creation but the music for it wasn’t. I fell in love with one of my mother’s songs, which I thought a perfect fit for the character arc of my MC (Melody). I tweaked some of the lyrics to fit with the story, rerecorded it with my voice, added an instrument (bass) and shortened the song so that it wasn’t too long for the trailer. Having said that though, the rest of the songs in the soundtrack I’m releasing with the book, are written and performed by me. Oh, and if you’re interested, here’s a video of the original song before fixing it for the trailer:

Katrina: Is there a parallel to the height of your musical career and the height of Melody's? What do you see as the primary difference between your respective journeys?

Jessica: Despite being a musician myself, that is not where my passion lies. I want to write. I’m fulfilled when I write. I will do anything to write. Sometimes I even forget to eat. I don’t feel the same intensity with music. I do go through phases, though, where I become obsessed and all I want to do is sing and play guitar, but this never lasts more than a few days at a time. Also, when I write music, I just feel emptier and emptier rather than fulfilled. It invokes a really strong melancholy within me, and I think I’ve subconsciously pushed music to the sidelines because of that.

Katrina: I love the musical poetry in your title, String Bridge, and the line in the book trailer about the fraying bridge to our dreams. It's such a human truth, the choice between individual dreams and family life. Did you come to any epiphanies of your own while writing String Bridge?

Jessica: What a fantastic question. Yes, I certainly did. But not in the way that one would think. I don’t have kids. But I love and adore kids. I especially love the expression of pure self-satisfaction when they learn something new and it connects to something they can relate to. I can’t imagine never having the chance to bring a child into this world. But ever since discovering that I wanted to write, and doing so consistently, I haven’t thought about children so often. So my epiphany isn’t really an epiphany, it’s a question to myself. Do I really want to bring a child into the world if I can’t see myself sacrificing time for it? I haven’t answered that question yet. I know women think they can have it all. And I’m sure we can to some degree if we really put their mind to it. But there are only a certain amount of hours in a day and there’s always going to be something that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. I’m not sure I’m willing to struggle with that. Not yet anyway. Let’s hope my biological clock keeps ticking until I can finally take the plunge.

Katrina: What's been your favorite thing about working with Lucky Press to bring String Bridge to your fans? And do you have any advice for other debut authors?

Jessica: Most definitely the friendship that has developed between Janice, the publisher, and I. She has been one of the most supportive people in this whole journey. She has boosted my confidence in ways I can’t even describe. I could not have asked for a better person to bring my debut to life. My advice for debut authors: Learn the rules until you can recite them by heart. Then learn how to break them without people noticing. And ultimately, trust your instincts. I learned that one the hard way. I spent five years trying to write like other people were telling me to write until Janice came along. She encouraged me to be true to myself. Being true to myself is what got me published.

Thank you so much for the interview, Jessica, and congratulations on a great debut!

To purchase the paperback:

To purchase the eBook:

To listen to samples of the soundtrack, visit iTunes.

Connect with Jessica:

String Bridge:







Thursday, November 10, 2011


Today is THE day to help Jessica Bell's debut, STRING BRIDGE, hit the bestseller list on Amazon, and receive the all-original soundtrackMelody Hill: On the Other Sidewritten and performed by the author herself, for free!

All you have to do is
purchase the
book today (paperback, or eBook), November 11th, and
then email the receipt to:


She will then email you a link to download the album at no extra cost!

To purchase the paperback:

To purchase the eBook:

To listen to samples of the soundtrack, visit iTunes.

If you are
not familiar with String Bridge,
check out the beautiful, heart-wrenching book trailer:

Rave Reviews for String Bridge:

Jessica Bell’s STRING BRIDGE strummed the fret of my veins, thrummed my blood into a mad rush, played me taut until the final page, yet with echoes still reverberating. A rhythmic debut with metrical tones of heavied dark, fleeting prisms of light, and finally, a burst of joy—just as with any good song, my hopeful heartbeat kept tempo with Bell’s narrative.~ Kathryn Magendie, author of Sweetie and Publishing Editor of Rose & Thorn Journal

“Poet and musician Jessica Bell's debut novel String Bridge is a rich exploration of desire, guilt, and the difficult balancing act of the modern woman. The writing is lyrical throughout, seamlessly integrating setting, character and plot in a musical structure that allows the reader to identify with Melody's growing insecurity as her world begins to unravel … String Bridge is a powerful debut from a promising writer, full of music, metaphor, and just a hint of magic.” ~ Magdalena Ball, author of Repulsion Thrust and Sleep Before Evening

Jessica Bell is a brilliant writer of great skill and depth. She doesn't pull back from the difficult scenes, from conflict, pain, intensity. She puts it all out there, no holds barred, no holding back. She knows how to craft a scene, how to develop character, how to create suspense. This is an absolutely brilliant debut novel. I look forward to reading her next novel, and next and next.” ~ Karen Jones
Gowen, author of Farm Girl, Uncut Diamonds and House of Diamonds

Please TWEET and/or FACEBOOK this post using #StringBridge!

I'm promoting Jessica Bell because she is a great writer and I've seen her time and again at the forefront of charitable efforts in the writing community. Her kindness to others is inspiring, and has been part of my desire to "pay it forward" in the online community. In this case, I'm paying it back. ;) 

Stay tuned next week for my interview with the author!! The week after that, I'll post my review of String Bridge. Happy reading! And Happy Nano!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blog Chain: The Best Monster

Matt began our topic this round:

What is your all-time favorite monster?

If we go by monster types, I'd have to go with fairies.

They're definitely monsters, but really beautiful, manipulative monsters who pretty successfully hide their true nature. But then they make you dance until your feet fall off and you know for sure. But by then it's too late. Buwahahaha!

My favorite individual monster is without a doubt JAMES P. SULLIVAN.

I don't know any other monster with a full name like this, or an awesome nickname like Sully. He's scary when you want him to be and cuddly when you need a pillow. What more could you want in a monster?

Thanks to Matt for the fun question! And Happy Halloween, everybody!

Check out Kate, whose tribute to a certain muppet can't help but make you smile. And tomorrow we'll hear from Michelle H.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Just what I didn't know I needed

I'm at Operation Awesome today talking about the things only a writer's spouse/best friend can understand, the hidden meanings behind the words we say about our writing. It's definitely a special relationship when you find someone who understands and supports your writing.

In fact, it was probably one of those deal-breakers for me, even though I didn't know it when I first met my husband. I wasn't actively writing at all. He read some of my journals, something we shared when we were getting to know each other. He said I had a unique way to write (voice), and he felt like he was reading a story. After that, he encouraged me to write, told me he believed I could get published. Sometimes I wonder if he regrets that encouragement just a little bit now. ;) But he still offers encouraging words, six years later, when I feel like I want to give up on my writing goals.

Like I said, I didn't know at the time how important it was for me to marry someone who supported my desire to write. The magic is that Bill encouraged it even when it wasn't something I was actively pursuing, wasn't something I wore on my sleeve. He reached into my soul, saw a writer there, and coaxed her out.

When our kids get to dating age, my advice to them will be this: find people who care enough to see your talents even when you're not showing them off. And find people who encourage you to go all-in, follow your dreams, and do what makes you happy.

Being married to any kind of artist has to be a challenge, but I'm grateful to my husband for taking a chance on me and investing so much of his love (and patience) to help me grow into a better version of myself. I hope I can reciprocate that at every turn, help him live out his dreams, too. Even if we never get our loftiest dreams, I know the journey has already been well worth it.

Happy Writing, everyone!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Blog Chain: All the Help I Can Get

Sarah asked...

Do you work with critique partners? How did you find your crit pals, and what influence have they had on your work?

Which is a great question. I've blogged about my critique partners before and how I met them. In fact, when I did a search for keyword "critique" all of these came up:

As you can see, my critique group is pretty important to my writing process. Both they and the online writing community are a big reason I don't just give up writing when life gets busy or the craft gets difficult. 

I had just written my fourth novel when I met Amparo in absolute-write forums. Agent Mandy Hubbard had held a query critique workshop thingy (technical term) and liked my query enough to request pages, even though mine was an MG boy book and you can see from the pink on her website that it's not her usual thing. To polish up my work, I requested help on absolute-write and a few people responded. Amparo was the one who got back to me a) the fastest and b) with the most helpful, thorough feedback. Not only did she point out when something didn't make sense. She also put in her funny little comments, like "Grr!" when somebody was mean to my protag or "LOL" when something made her giggle. After that, I was hooked on exactly her kind of feedback. 

But I didn't really know what it was like to be a critique partner. It wasn't, at the time, a reciprocal deal. Separately, I posted about a partial request I'd gotten on the same book (my so-close-but-not-quite-competitive-for-the-market book) on the query tracker forum. Kristal saw me there and was interested in forming a critique group, one that hopefully wouldn't fizzle out like the last one she'd been in. I didn't respond right away. Like I said, I didn't know what it was to be a critique partner. It sounded like a big deal. 

But eventually, I did write her back and we started the work of forming the group. She invited two people (Kelly and Angela) and I invited the one person I knew (Amparo) who invited someone else (Lindsay). We emailed about a group name and came up with Operation Awesome... which I have to confess I thought was a really silly name at the time. Now I can't imagine it any differently.

When one member got too busy to do the critique end of things, we sifted through a few people's pages to sort of try out different writers, see if they fit with our group. That's how I met Michelle, and also how I ended up part of this blog chain. Without Michelle, I'd have forgotten to do Blog Chain completely! Thanks, Michelle!

Each member of Operation Awesome brings something unique, whether it's an eye for grammar and punctuation, an understanding of what makes literature feel realistic, an affinity for beautiful descriptions, or an ear for authentic teen voice. Sometimes it's tricky having five people's work to critique, especially because we are typical writers, switching up projects like we change clothes. But I can't imagine who I'd do without. I hope we'll be together for a long time.

How did you find your critique partners?

Make sure you also read Cole's post before mine and Michelle H.'s tomorrow.

When Writing Takes SERIOUS Time

I can't believe it's been a week since I last posted. Well, the good news is that I have been writing. And outlining.

Since outlining is such mind-numbing work at times, I decided to let myself write 8-10 pages of any Shiny New Idea that comes my way. This might waste a couple hours a week, but it keeps my writing muscles primed without being a complete distraction from the real work of re-outlining a failed project. It's a project I'm just unwilling to let go.

I was encouraged by the dedication in the front of The Maze Runner, which is by anyone standards an amazing book.
For Lynette. This book was a three-year journey, and you never doubted.
 Wow. I get so caught up at times in the stories of fast writers making it big in record time, that I forget how many incredible works took years to create. It doesn't make me think less of James Dashner to know The Maze Runner was a three-year journey for him. It makes complete sense, given the complexity and consistent mystery through to the very end.

I realized after reading that dedication that my book idea is no less complex. It's a whole other world I'm meshing with our world, and I need to give myself time to flesh that all out, to explore every bit of it, and to craft an introduction that is both compelling and mysterious.

That's a tall order for six months, or even the 10 months I spent writing the first draft. It's been sitting long enough now, so I really feel it's time for a new look at it.

I've got other projects almost done and some just beginning, but I keep coming back to this one. Like I said, I'm not ready to let it go. Maybe someday there'll be a good reason for that. For now, I'll just keep working and hope for the best.

What's keeping you busy these days? Have you ever spent more than a year on one writing project?

p.s. I'm at Operation Awesome today talking about trends and the universal psyche we can't escape.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Look over there!

October's Mystery Agent and her winners are now up at Operation Awesome.

What are you waiting around here for? Go check it out! ;)

Seriously, what are you waiting for? Oh, you want me to leave first. Okay, then.

*waves like the geek she is*


Friday, September 30, 2011

The Delicacy of World Building

Just finished musing about How my own book reviews can make me a better writer over at Operation Awesome.

And now I'm thinking specifically about world building and how jealous I am of other writers for doing it so well. ;) It really does seem to be an art, weaving details into a narrative in a way that doesn't front-load or overload. The more I read, the more I get a sense for how it's done, but I still haven't mastered it.

I feel like a butterfly trying to weave a spiderweb, but my gigantic wings keep getting in the way. That's about how subtle my world building is.

I think my problem is that I geek out over science fiction, fantasy, or clever contemporary concepts. I make concept king, and everything else suffers. What should be king? CHARACTER. 

The setting and the world building have to be a backdrop against which the character can work - like an actor on a set or... a spider in a web. Let the web get too prominent, and it just might strangle the spider it was built for.

Let me show you what I mean:

Azalea wants to find love, purpose, and a place on Earth to belong, since she's always felt out of place in her own world (which is literally another celestial orb in the sky). She happens to be an alien with the ability to manipulate humans emotionally. Because of that, she never knows when someone's feelings for her are genuine, and pretty much always assumes it's just the result of her beyond-her-control sway over mankind. She's lonely.

She finally meets someone who's impervious to her power, but he's fresh from a bad breakup and doesn't trust girls as far as he can throw them. (He doesn't throw them; he's a nice guy, really.) His lack of trust is only exacerbated by the secrecy Azalea's identity requires. The character conflict is there, right? But it's overshadowed in my current manuscript by details about the world Azalea comes from, the people on Earth who don't want her there, and the people back home who want to control her fate. I haven't succeeded at all in weaving a web. I've got a mass of silk instead. It's still a precious material, but it's impossible to appreciate in its current form.

I think reading my reviews of books I've loved by authors who've mastered world building is a good first step in learning what works.

But what other ways do you make sure you're weaving a web instead of sitting on a spool of silk? How do you keep from front-loading or overloading your story with detail?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Unique YA Paranormal: SHIFTING by Bethany Wiggins

Le blurb: 
After bouncing from foster home to foster home, Magdalene Mae is transferred to what should be her last foster home in the tiny town of Silver City, New Mexico. Now that she's eighteen and has only a year left in high school, she's determined to stay out of trouble and just be normal. Agreeing to go to the prom with Bridger O'Connell is a good first step. Fitting in has never been her strong suit, but it's not for the reasons most people would expect-it all has to do with the deep secret that she is a shape shifter. But even in her new home danger lurks, waiting in the shadows to pounce. They are the Skinwalkers of Navajo legend, who have traded their souls to become the animal whose skin they wear-and Maggie is their next target.
Full of romance, mysticism, and intrigue, this dark take on Navajo legend will haunt readers to the final page.
You can read my Afterglow Review of this book here (that's a review written within the hour of finishing the book so you get my rawest reaction).

What's so unique about this book?

  • The setting: It's refreshing to see a setting that's a) not a big city and b) feels like a real place, not just generic Small Town America. From the opener, you can feel the author's love of New Mexico in the vivid descriptions of the horizon and the sky. But you can also feel the protagonist's dread at starting over in a barren place like this. Lots of little details combine to draw a clear picture of New Mexico even for people like me who have never spent time there.
  • The proactive protagonist: Maggie Mae is not perfect, but she's certainly proactive. After being introduced to the reader as an orphan with a juvie record for showing up naked in the morning streets, Maggie could easily have lounged around her new digs for a while, sulking. I totally would have understood. But she didn't. She went to school on day 1, even without shampoo to wash her hair or decent clothes to wear - no complaining to her new foster mom. And by lunchtime, she had a lead on a possible part-time job. She knows people stare because of her strange looks, and she embraces the loner label even though she'd rather be wearing a different one. Basically, she takes what life gives her and deals with it. She's got guts.
  • A real girl: Maggie Mae cries. She doesn't do it to get attention or to manipulate someone. Her crying isn't stigmatized as 'being a girl'. But she's put in horrible situations, and she responds like a real person would. Sometimes she's mad at herself for crying. Sometimes she lets the tears flow. But even though she's been drawn as a tough character, she owns her vulnerability. I got the sense that Maggie just accepted herself in a way that one mean girl antagonist (Danni) didn't. Of course, there's one thing Maggie doesn't accept about herself...
  • The paranormal ability: Maggie Mae wishes she didn't shift. This was different from a lot of the paranormal books I read where the character discovers he/she can do something amazing and geeks out about it pretty much immediately. For Maggie, it's kind of a curse and she lives in constant dread of somebody finding her out. But it really is an awesome paranormal ability. There's one shifting scene that had me grinning from ear to ear, even though it didn't actually work out the way Maggie Mae intended. Oh, and one more thing about this: the paranormal didn't swallow the characters. It's an important part of the book, but I didn't feel knocked over the head with it. It's also unique because it's drawn from Navajo legend. Lots of people have heard of Skinwalkers, but I've never seen a novel based on it. That makes this one pretty special. 
  • The romance: I saw a review of this book that claimed Bridger was 'the hot guy that inexplicably likes the ordinary girl.' I didn't get that sense at all. I thought the romance was very well-developed. I loved the author's use of gossip to introduce ideas that had a grain of truth but were ultimately false. Maggie Mae catches Bridger's eye first because of her appearance, but it's her attitude and skill on the track field that hold his interest. And then, of course, when he looks closely he sees more of what makes her special (as we all do when we choose to look more closely at someone we're already crushing on). Like everything else in this book, it felt real to me. He struck me as cocky, but in an endearing way. Also, when we get to know him a little better and what he can do, the confidence is not unwarranted. :) The attraction between them makes for some great charged moments throughout.
  • The bad guys: are so creepy. Maggie Mae gets attacked a lot by mysterious things. She's strong, but she's not that strong and I pretty much freaked out every time she was pursued by the creepies. And I was suspicious of everyone, for which I give kudos to the author. :) 
So there you go. My breakdown of what makes SHIFTING by Bethany Wiggins a unique YA paranormal. 

Its book birthday was yesterday, so if you head out to your bookstore today, you should be able to go home with it!! Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Slow Starters: The Paranormal Edition

Opposite to this topic, I wrote about The Draw of an Awesome Beginning with four books that drew me from the word Go over on Operation Awesome. Check that out if you're not for the slow burn described below.

It's time for another round of the blog chain and Shaun started us off with this question:

What are three books you would tell people that they need to keep reading even if they aren't immediately sucked in by the first page?

This was so hard for me. I looked at my shelves and realized, I don't read a lot of books that don't hook my attention past the first thirty pages. I give each book a chance (I try to give it 100 pages) and if I just can't get into it, I quit. There are too many books and life is too short to spend time on nonstarters. 

But I did find a couple books in my collection which I would and have recommended despite them taking me a few pages to fall in love with. They are:

WINGS by Aprilynne Pike
Laurel's life is the very definition of normal... until the morning when she wakes up to discover a flower blooming from her back. As it turns out, nothing in Laurel's life is what it seems. Now, with the help of an alluring faerie sentry who holds the key to her true past, Laurel must race to save her human family from the centuries-old faerie enemies who walk among them. 
It wasn't a boring beginning. It begins with Laurel's first day at school after homeschooling her whole life. That's a pretty big step to take in your life, and definitely interesting. It just wasn't paranormal interesting, which is what I expected when I picked it up. However, once the paranormal stuff does rev up, it's awesome. Aprilynne Pike put an entirely unique spin on the faerie species, something I've never seen or heard of in any other story. Beyond that, her villains were very scary. And the love triangle, while infuriating, worked. The small glimpse we see of the faerie world, Avalon, made me eager for the second installment, which I pretty much devoured. So yeah, this book is worth reading. And if you're used to contemporary fiction that begins with an ordinary school day made special by a big change, you probably won't even notice the slow start. (The fourth book comes out April 2012, so this series is still going.)

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
  Grace has spent years watching the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf - her wolf - watches back. He feels deeply familiar to her, but she doesn't know why. Sam has lived two lives. As a wolf, he keeps the silent company of the girl he loves. And then, for a short time each year, he is human, never daring to talk to Grace... until now. For Grace and Sam, love has always been kept at a distance. But once it's spoken, it cannot be denied. Sam must fight to stay human - and Grace must fight to keep him - even if it means taking on the scars of the past, the fragility of the present, and the impossibility of the future.

The first line: I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves.

That's a pretty compelling starter! And yet, I had trouble getting into this book at first. It just goes to show you that every reader is different, I guess. Or maybe that I'm just a weird reader. But the entire first few pages, I didn't know how to care about Grace... not until Sam sees her in the bookstore and she becomes really important. I don't know if that makes sense to anyone else. Everyone I know loves this book, and I definitely came around once it got going. The paranormal aspect was there from the very beginning, but it wasn't until I fully comprehended the romance aspect that the story spoke to me. After that, it was hard to put this book down. I love that Maggie Stiefvater succeeded in re-imagining werewolves (difficult to do in an already paranormal-saturated market). And the idea of them running out of human time completely just broke my heart. I highly recommend it, even to people who don't always love paranormal books. (It's a complete trilogy, the third and last installment coming out last year.)

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Isabella Swan's move to Forks, a small, perpetually rainy town in Washington, could have been the most boring move she ever made. But once she meets the mysterious and alluring Edward Cullen, Bella's life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. Up until now, Edward has managed to keep his vampire identity a secret in the small community he lives in, but now nobody is safe, especially Bella, the person Edward holds most dear. The lovers find themselves balanced precariously on the point of a knife—between desire and danger. 
Now that you all know I'm crazy, it's safe to proceed with my third "slow starter." Twilight. I know she has that snazzy beginning about how she never imagined how she would die but she supposes it's good to die in place of someone you love. LOVED that bit. But then it goes to Bella moving from Arizona to Forks and how she feels about it. Nothing wrong with it. It was just slow for me. I even related to it, having moved from Arizona to northern Utah for college and being shocked by the climate change. Still, if it hadn't been for both my parents telling me how epic this book was, I probably wouldn't have read it as quickly as I did. I gave it time to get better because I wanted to find that spark that impressed them. And, oh boy, did I find that spark! To this day, I don't know any author who writes conflicted passion like Stephenie Meyer. Genius. Plus, her re-imagining of vampires was probably the spark that inspired both the authors above, even if they don't want to admit it. And re-imaginings of tired old tropes ROCK!  (You all know the story about how many books and when they were published.) {{If you haven't read this yet, what are you waiting for?}}

So I learned something about myself through this exercise: I'm not a very patient reader. *apologetic smile* If it's not rockin' from the beginning, I'm not eating it up. So I guess it's a good thing I instituted my first 100 pages rule. At least I know I'll always give a good book a decent chance. 

What books have you loved after a rocky start?

Be sure to check out Kate's post before mine and Michelle H. tomorrow!

p.s. An interesting note: When I asked my husband for his feedback before writing this post, he suggested Across the Universe by Beth Revis. I just stared at him and told him, "You know, most people say that's one of the best beginnings they've ever read." He was surprised to hear that. For him, too slow even to keep reading. So this really is all in the eye of the beholder.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Contest to win an ARC of TOUCH by Jus Accardo

Le blurb:
When a strange boy tumbles down a river embankment and lands at her feet, seventeen-year-old adrenaline junkie Deznee Cross snatches the opportunity to piss off her father by bringing the mysterious hottie with ice blue eyes home.  
Except there’s something off with Kale. He wears her shoes in the shower, is overly fascinated with things like DVDs and vases, and acts like she’ll turn to dust if he touches her. It’s not until Dez’s father shows up, wielding a gun and knowing more about Kale than he should, that Dez realizes there’s more to this boy—and her father’s “law firm”—than she realized.  
Kale has been a prisoner of Denazen Corporation—an organization devoted to collecting “special” kids known as Sixes and using them as weapons—his entire life. And, oh yeah, his touch? It kills. The two team up with a group of rogue Sixes hellbent on taking down Denazen before they’re caught and her father discovers the biggest secret of all. A secret Dez has spent her life keeping safe. 

The author is holding the ARC contest on her blog:

It looks and sounds epic, and I really don't want to wait until November 1st to read it... but I will if I have to. I'm getting a Kyle XY vibe from the description, which is a very good thing! So head over there to enter the contest and spread the word about this exciting new book.

p.s. Amparo is over at Operation Awesome today blogging about agent-involved contests for those of you ready to be discovered! 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Difference Between Reading and Critiquing

For me, reading and critiquing are worlds different from each other.

When I read a published book, I relax and accept the story for what it is in its finished form. I may make judgments if I find something I'd change if it were up to me, but I don't dwell on any perceived glitches. I take the story as a whole and let it wash over me like a summer sun. *sigh* Reading good fiction is my happy place.

When I critique, a whole different mindset colors the reading. I'm looking diligently, not for mistakes to correct, per se, but for any possible way the story can be made better, stronger, more realistic, more moving.

This is why I could tear through SHIFTING by Bethany Wiggins in two nights of feverish reading, and yet it takes me weeks to months to critique a friend's unpublished MS.

I can't change the published novel. I can't change my buddy's MS either, but I can make suggestions that might influence the finished project. I love being part of that process.

But it's definitely a slower process for me than reading published works, if only because I'm invested in its success. I don't want to do a half-baked job. I sincerely want to see the amazing stories my CP's write end up on bookshelves everywhere.

I should probably ease up a little, take some of the pressure off myself. After all, it's hubris to think I could make or break someone else's book. I know I can't. Yet the difference between these two types of reading remains striking for me.

Do you critique as fast as you read, or is it a longer labor for you, too?

I lucked out and got to read an advanced reader copy this weekend!!

Please check out my Afterglow lovefest review for SHIFTING by this phenomenal debut novelist, Bethany Wiggins. And get your hands on a copy if you can (comes out this Tuesday!). You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Writers Write

Writers write, bloggers blog, and some say blogging doesn't count as writing. I hope they're wrong because, not counting blogging, I haven't done any new writing in weeks.

I'm reading THE PLOT THICKENS and critiquing for some fabulous people (CPs, cousins, contest winners, auction winners), and eyeing my teetering TBR pile with a mixture of excitement and despair.

I'm also teaching my son addition, subtraction, phonics, handwriting, reading comprehension, art, music, science, and social studies.

And lately I've been cleaning my house, which has to be done during these dry creative periods (because when I'm feeling inspired, I can't be bothered to dust or vacuum).

But all those things up there don't make me a writer. Only writing does. So, referencing my own post on bite-sized goals, I plan to cheat on my overwhelming to-do list and write 1k words tonight anyway. Even though I should be doing other things. I just can't stand not being a real writer. Not really writing.

Do you get into slumps like this that aren't really slumps? Times when something else trumps writing just because it has to be done? 

After all, it is September. I know half y'all are dealing with school beginnings either as teachers or students.

May we all find the time to express the stories fighting to burst free from our innermost fancies!

*rides off into the sunset*

(I never know how to end these things.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Know Thyself (and, um, your character)

The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life

I just started reading Noah Lukeman's THE PLOT THICKENS: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, and was much encouraged when multi-published regency romance author Sarah M. Eden mentioned she owns, loves, and more importantly, uses the book!

So I'm reading it, and the very beginning is rough because it has all these characterization questions to ask yourself, and that just makes me want to put the book down and write. I think maybe I should be taking copious notes while I read it.

Lukeman, a literary agent, suggests looking at your character through a series of lenses:

- like an eye witness describing the character to a police sketch artist
- like a doctor asking his patient for personal history
- like a banker considering the applicant for a loan

There's much more than just that, but it basically ends with you knowing more about your character than you know about your own mother. Which is cool. And I can see this type of method really helping me out with my problem.

My problem: If I don't outline, I get lost. If I do outline, my characters surprise me with revelations, making me feel like I just married someone I don't even know (and basically ruining my next plot point).

I can imagine, however, that if I filled out this sort of questionaire about my main characters - made it so detailed that it inspired the plot, which is kind of the point of a character-driven tale - then I wouldn't have to deal with surprises that derail me into that dreaded black forest of crap-manuscript.

I'm excited to read more of this book. I think I'll be learning a lot as Noah Lukeman guides me through characterization to plot points to the all-important hero's journey. Plot has been my downfall for far too long. It feels good to be studying it at last.

Now you know my weaknesses in writing. What have you learned in your writing journey this week?

(p.s. I'm over at Operation Awesome today talking about bite-sized goals.)

Friday, September 9, 2011

What I *should* be doing today...

I'm over at Operation Awesome today talking about Read for Relief, a writer-driven auction/relief effort for hurricane victims.

For the sake of accountability, here's what I'm (supposed to be) working on right now:

1) Editing my Paranormal romance from third person limited to first person... limited. I guess that last part goes without saying.

2) Coming up with a really great ending. (Yes, I'm actually editing BEFORE the ending is concrete, but I kind of know how it's going to end. Kind of.)

3) Teaching my four-year-old to write his full name, address, and phone number for emergency purposes.

4) Ignoring the Shiny New Ideas that keep harassing me! They have the worst timing in the world!

What I am doing:

1) Blogging

2) Laughing at Kiersten White's blog.

3) Letting my kids watch Eloise on Netflix watch instantly

4) Eating pancakes with real maple syrup. Mmmmm....

Now for a laugh:

Yahoo! news quoted NY Times Bestselling Author Kiersten White in one of their articles... only they seemed to have no idea she's a bestselling author. Read the full story here and here.

Update: Yahoo! edited the article in question to focus on whose fault the blackout was, so it no longer includes the charming tweet quote by "San Diego resident Kiersten White" about not having A/C and not missing it. *sigh* It's probably for the best.