Friday, April 29, 2011

Celebrations and Reading Vacations

Picture from Things-We-Heart

On Operation Awesome today I'm talking about giving ourselves permission to celebrate our achievements, big and small. It's been a complete year since I started writing again after the birth of my second son. In the space of one year, I've written two books.

Even though I'm still query-nervous and have yet to go all-out in the agent hunt, I think it's important to give myself permission to celebrate. Two books in a year took a lot of hard work, and I'm pleased with my progress as a writer.

My journey to become a career writer marches on, just over two years since I started writing seriously. I'm in this for the long haul. And that means marking the milestones as I pass them.

Up next? A well-deserved reading binge:

  • Fire by Kristin Cashore
  • Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
  • Ten Things We Did (and probably shouldn't have) by Sarah Mlynowski
  • Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter
  • Only the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter
  • I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
  • Cassandra Clare's Immortal Instruments series
  • A few works in progress written by my CPs and friends
Meanwhile, I'll dabble in revisions as feedback trickles in, and write whenever the muse strikes. 

What are your writing goals? What accomplishments, big or small, should you be celebrating?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wow, a lot going on today... (linkage)

pic from this site

Stuff is happening today!

So, the President of the United States offered his long form birth certificate to the public today. Seems like a weird time for a test of citizenship two and a half years after the winning election, but I guess the press gets what the press screams and shouts for if they do it long enough. 

In more exciting news, author Michelle McLean is diving into the picture book world! Michelle is a friend and an incredible writer, whether it's how-to, regency fiction (goosebumps just thinking about her romantic scenes), or short copy (like pitches and marketing). I'm very excited to see what she's done with the picture book format. And word is the book, A Magical World, will be released in the next few weeks under pen name Michelle Raynor! Look for it.

You may have heard the buzz about The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, but today we have a review up on Afterglow Book Reviews written by our newest contributor, Jen Daiker! Stop by, read about this spooktacular novel, and give Jen a warm welcome. 

And last but definitely not least, Kiersten White is giving away an ARC of the sequel to her NY Times Bestselling debut novel, Paranormalcy!! The second book in the trilogy is called Supernaturally and the cover is just as epic as the first. Can't wait to find out what happens to Evie, Reth, Lend, and Raquel in the this second installment!! p.s. Did you know the movie version now has both a producer and director attached?

Twitter has a new tweeter: Following @AfterglowBooks will give you a heads up when we're reading and/or posting reviews of amazing books. And if you'd like to follow the men and women writing the reviews, that list is here

That about covers what I've been wow-ing about all day.
What has you excited today?
(Links welcome [except dirty links. No dirty links, please.])  :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Writing Lesson of the Day: Renaming

I finished up a big round of revisions on my YA urban fantasy, which I'm jokingly calling a YA suburban fantasy since there's nothing urban about this fictional coastal so-Cal town. And the big lesson I learned yesterday while I combed through all 272 pages of my book trying to make it sparkle?

Lesson Number 2: Rename boring things. 

Politicians do this all the time with great results! Didn't like the Higher Taxes bill? That's okay! They changed the name to Mutual Sacrifice for the Greater Good. Not really, but you get my point. Names matter.

When I first started writing this YA urban fantasy, I had a body of people called The Council. Original, right? And I had bad guys show up who needed a name, so let's see... hmm, they use an athame, so let's call them Vanquishers in honor of the Charmed Ones. 

You see my problem. 

At some point I gave the Council a slightly more specific name: Kenzian Council. The name comes from the name MacKenzie, which means 'son of the wise one.' I wanted the Council to be sort of omniscient, but only when they all focus on the same thing at the same time. I picked a name I felt embodied that, and something I haven't seen used before. 

But the bad guys remained the Vanquishers for 270 pages or so. Only yesterday did I pull up this handy-dandy tool to change the rather cliché 'Vanquishers' to 'Rialú.' My bad guys originate from an Irish clan in the early seventeenth century, and they're obsessed with a war for control. Rialú is Irish for 'control.'

While I was searching for important meanings, I came across some names other authors have used, like 'Imperio' in JK Rowling's Harry Potter. It's fun coming up with new or different ways to express a concept, and it certainly changed the overall feel of my manuscript once those two major group players had the right names.

Does your book have an association, guild, council, rebellion, or government that needs naming? Go wild!

Now move on to Lesson Number 3

If you missed the first lesson, check it out here: Lesson Number 1

p.s. Author Anne Riley reviewed GIRL WONDER by Alexa Martin over at Afterglow Book Reviews. Cover. love!

Monday, April 25, 2011

My Urban Fantasy... nearly fulfilled

This has something to do with my story. Shiny Pretty. Pic from here
Thanks to a quick review of this quote from literary agent Jennifer Laughran, I'm officially characterizing my book as YA Urban Fantasy with sci-fi elements (but that second part only if you ask).

Initially I thought it would be paranormal romance, but the paranormal elements just became more and more fantastic and complex until the fantasy world separate from Earth became kind of an important part of the story. Integral, really. So now that it's about two worlds, it's firmly in the fantasy category, but there are still plenty of high-school based scenes on Earth, which would probably technically make it suburban fantasy, if there were such a thing. Whatever.

The point is I've categorized it! Yay!

And the other good news is that my 60,000-word finish line expanded as I hoped to 65,000 words once I added the details that were sorely missing. Still a few more lines of revisions to be done, but it's close. It's really close. I'm starting to feel like {warning: cliche coming} the end is in sight.

And just in time for the LDS Storymaker's Conference in SLC!! My first writing conference- Yay again! I've signed up for a pitch session with an editor, so any and all advice on live pitching is very welcome. It's a ten-minute session.

And it's a week and a half away!

What genre are you writing right now? 
And do you have any live pitching advice for me?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Day of Reckoning

I'm not actually talking about that Day of Reckoning, but today feels like a day of reckoning because last night I did nothing. That's right. Absolutely nothing... unless you count creating and bankrupting a city on Sim City 4. Which there's no actual proof I did because once our debt got totally out of hand, I was fired and the city ceased to exist. Or did it?

So today is the day I get to make up for all that wasted time. I will:

Proofread my husband's school paper,
Finally do the (actually really fun to do) critiques for my partners,
Finish revising the last 40 pages of my WIP from past to present tense (plus plot restructuring as I go),
Read the library books that are due back tomorrow (or give up and simply recheck them for another 2 weeks),
And possibly write a new review over at Afterglow Book Reviews.

What's on your must-do-today list? Come on. Make me feel better about mine. :)

oh, p.s. SOMEBODY won Princess for Hire and an ARC of The Royal Treatment (book 2). Was it you?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Writing Lesson of the Day: Repeat Words

As you know, I'm in the middle of revisions for my YA Urban Fantasy. This means I'm in the middle of finding everything that could possibly be wrong with my writing. Sounds fun, huh? So I decided to make this into a teaching moment for anyone who may be reading, and for myself to reread next time I start a writing project.

Lesson Number 1: Don't use the same words over and over again.

We all have our pet words. In fact, we might develop new pet words to cover the old pet words we got tired of seeing in our work. So instead of writing, "He comes to the door," I might write, "He flies to the door." You know, make it more interesting, right? Well it gets old really fast, I found out. Last night I revised 80-ish pages just looking to change from past tense to present tense, and I found at least a dozen occurrences of the word, 'flies.' *shakes head at self*

There were other offenders, too. So I made a list. If you're revising, you might like to do this, too. I keep a sheet of paper in front of me on the computer desk and every time I see a familiar word, I write it down. Here's my list just from last night:


I'm sure I missed some, too. But that's why I take several passes over my manuscript before I call it done. I'm excited to see how my critique partners tear it up when I send them the full, too. My CPs are awesome at spotting my repeat words.

You can see how some of the above words are my attempts to enliven the narrative. In the end, I'm still reusing the same words, even if they're as exciting as 'whips!' If you have this problem, I can't recommend highly enough the thesaurus of all thesauri: The Bookshelf Muse!

Another great tool is Wordle. You input text from your manuscript and it shows in HUGE LETTERS the words you use most frequently, as shown above.

Now move on to Lesson Number 2!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Life and Death Literature

Picture from this site

I read this incredible interview with Suzanne Collins today. It really moved me, reading about her personal experiences with a father away at war and a family life saturated with the history, stories, and relevance of war. It's an upbringing most of us don't have, but more of today's children are currently experiencing, as the wars just seem to multiply.

When I first read The Hunger Games, I was devastated by the violence, but loved the story. Even as much as I devoured it and praised it, I didn't recommend it for preteens because of the sometimes graphic depictions of blood and death. After reading Collins' interview, I better understand her philosophy about children and war. She wasn't writing bloody scenes to sensationalize battle or to sell more books. She wrote about the realities and consequences of war. She feels she is writing to a generation of children who, like her, are growing up without one or both parents while they fight abroad.

In “The Hunger Games” Collins embraces her father’s impulse to educate young people about the realities of war. “If we wait too long, what kind of expectation can we have?” she said. “We think we’re sheltering them, but what we’re doing is putting them at a disadvantage.”
I still believe most preteens would have trouble handling this series, maybe as much trouble as if their own families were torn apart by war. I still remember sneaking a peek at Braveheart with my brother while our parents were away, and the slitting of a girl's throat will always be in my very vivid and sensitive memory. BUT... But I can see the value in introducing children to the concept of war in a safe context, especially when the world around us is literally burning with rebellions, revolutions, and wars for power.

So here I'm apologizing to Suzanne Collins for loving her books with the caveat Not Appropriate for Children because clearly, it was for them she wrote this story.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rockin the Drop and other New Developments

Yeah, I rocked the drop. Luckily, I happened upon readergirlz's facebook page yesterday, on Teen Lit Day. Who knew? Turns out Rock the Drop is a yearly celebration in which you drop a book off in a random (teen-frequented) place with a note saying it's now theirs. Sound fun? It really is. I did this with my four-year-old last night with six books I had sitting on shelves gathering dust. Sam helped me by putting flowers in the covers.
Bench outside Barnes and Noble

Table outside Mensche's frozen yogurt

In front of the movie theatre doors
We also left Golden Compass in front of an elementary school sign and Evermore/Blue Moon along a frequented running path in our community, but those pictures wouldn't upload for some reason. It was kind of exciting, picturing, hoping a child or teen might pick these treasures up and grow a love of literature that maybe wasn't there before.

Traditionally, you can continue to do this through the weekend, and they even have a little postcard you can print out to include with it, explaining the anonymous donation. So if you haven't yet, you can still leave these literary easter eggs for teenage strangers. Just go here for more info.

In other news, you know how I mentioned my revisions? Transposing past into present tense in a 60,000-word document. Yeah. The flash drive I was doing them on got corrupted and I lost two nights of work. But don't worry! My crying is over and I've even caught up some of what I lost, even though it will never be exactly as it was. As I explained to my husband, it's like a painter's strokes. A word here, an entire string of dialogue there. You just can't replicate it from memory. But at least I've had the opportunity to think through some dicey fictional conversations twice now. Let's hope it improved with my latest tampering.

MYSTERY AGENT SUCCESS STORY!! Max Gladstone signed with Weronika Janczuk weeks ago, but today we've got an interview with Weronika's new client on Operation Awesome. Make sure to drop in and say hi and congrats to Max.

And if you're doing the A to Z blogfest, check out Lindsay's blog today because she's talking about one of my favorite things: M for Musical Muses.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Afterglow Book Reviews - For Book Lovers

You guys know I love to read. I've posted reviews here and on The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog, which I've enjoyed doing. But I haven't enjoyed criticizing other authors--published authors whose writing skills are way beyond my own. I felt like I needed to because that makes a well-rounded review. Eventually, I ended up pretending not to have read books I didn't like and only reviewing the ones I could gush about...

That led me to start Afterglow Book Reviews. It's a place where booklove is perfectly acceptable, and caveats aren't necessary to book reviews.

Remember the feeling you got when you closed the back cover on a book that spoke to you? How you set it aside on your end table or night stand and lay back feeling amazed, traumatized, bewildered, and somehow changed?

That's the afterglow.  

Afterglow Book Reviews highlight only our very favorite books, and reviews are posted in the midst of the afterglow. This makes us more like book addict enablers than reviewers, but we're okay with that.

Today, my dear friend Pu Aili reviewed Paranormalcy by Kiersten White after staying up all night to finish it! That's booklove. Check it out and join us if you're a book addict, too.

You can follow to read reviews of only the best books out there, or if you're really feeling the booklove and want to contribute to the lovefest, email me at katrina (dot) lantz (at) gmail (dot) com. All genres of fiction will be covered by someone. Our Afterglow Reviewers are a diverse bunch.

We're just getting started as of April 2011, and there will be more excitement to come with book and swag giveaways. Hope to see you there!

In other news, I'm mid-revision on a very complex YA urban fantasy, patching up plot holes and transposing the entire thing into first person present tense (was first person past). What are you up to, writers?

Monday, April 11, 2011

GRACELING by Kristin Cashore: My Review

Add it on goodreads

The blurb: 

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug. 
When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

My Review:

Reading this book was an edifying experience. I didn't jive with Katsa right off the bat. She's so different from anyone I know, more brutal and anti-social in a way. But through her relationships with her cousin and his confidant, and later with the male lead, she became a real person to me. Cashore deftly puts the reader in Katsa's shoes. What would your life be like if you accidentally killed someone when you were only a child, if anyone could look at your face and know you were dangerous, that you were to be feared? From childhood! So even though I've never been in Katsa's position, I could empathize with her through Cashore's writing. I came to appreciate the subtle aspects of Katsa's personality, her fierce loyalty and desperate fears of becoming the monster everyone thought she was.

The level of detail and description in this book is exquisite. And the dialogue made me laugh several times, as well as cry.

Near the end, this book devastated me with a major blow to my favorite character. Normally, this might be grounds for immediate bookhate, but it was so artful and tragically beautiful, I accepted it. It worked with the story, and still allowed for a hopeful ending.

Even at the end, I didn't understand Katsa. She doesn't want the same things I always wanted. But that's how I know Cashore is a talented writer! Because despite all that dissonance--despite Katsa being my polar opposite--I understood her choices and as a reader was able to accept them.

I'm now looking forward to reading the companion novel FIRE, which is apparently about a completely other creature/person. It will be interesting to see how the world fleshes out even more with a new cast of characters and (I've heard) some allusion to the cast of Graceling.

Do I recommend Graceling? Yes! For the mature fantasy reader. Someone who can handle sex and violence in literature. Like Wither, another book I recently reviewed, Graceling deals with themes normally assigned to adults, if at all (I don't know many teens or adults who are assassins :). A mature teen might handle and appreciate the mix of beauty and tragedy in this book, but I wouldn't recommend it to a younger crowd. As an adult, I reveled in it. Five stars on goodreads.

What did you think? Did you jive with Katsa as a character? What about Prince Po?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How Would You Write This?

File:Manual communication.jpg

I have a writing question.

How do you fabulous writers weave diagram-worthy information into prose? I guess I've got to demonstrate its relevance to make it interesting, but I've got seven such nuggets that are fundamental to understanding my main character's race. I originally brought them up throughout the manuscript, but some of my early readers have informed me that not everybody knows what a chakra is, and without understanding what chakras are, they can't grasp why my main character filters her every experience through them.

So I'm faced with a conundrum. Do I start the novel with a fancy demonstration of a chakral alignment and just hope the reader doesn't get bored before he gets to the good stuff? Or do I insert a chakra diagram just before the title page like those drawn maps in other fantasy novels? There's got to be a subtle way to do this, right?

I'd love to hear your ideas, b/c I'm pretty stuck.

J.K. Rowling? How'd you explain the rules of Quidditch again? I need a master.

p.s. Be sure to visit Operation Awesome today to see the winners of the April 1st Mystery Agent Contest. No fooling!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

To-do Lists

Picture from this site

Some people hate them. I love them. But I generally lose them after about a day.

To-do lists are my cure for insomnia, and that really came in handy recently, after a few all-night reading binges which completely threw my circadian rhythm out of whack! Not that I'm complaining. There are few things more gratifying than reading a book straight through the night and reaching the awesome reader's catharsis right as the room lightens with sun. It's sublime.

It's also exhausting! Not to mention how irresponsible it is for me to be up all night reading when I've got a to-do list a mile long, including being there for two very cute munchkins who canNOT pour themselves cereal in the morning without making mom a cliché (crying over spilled milk).

So as I was going absolutely insane the other night (because I'd taken a late nap with the boys to keep my brain functioning at minimum capacity and now couldn't sleep a wink) I went to my desk and hand-wrote an old fashioned to-do list. It felt so good to let those spinning thoughts spill out onto the paper, to get them out of my head. And when I was done with the list (the first twelve of which had to do with reading or writing and one of which was as nebulous as 'Clean whole house thoroughly')...

I felt free. I slept soundly.

It's the same with my writing. When I've got a killer idea or a nagging dream, I can't rest until I've written out characters, city names, familial connections, and obscure paranormal abilities in some sort of chaotic list. While cleaning up my desk just now, I found nearly ten separate sheets of paper crawling with penned scribbles about my recently completed manuscript. It was almost comical to see these 'Lost Notes' (as I'm sure they'll be called when I'm famous) since almost every little idea had been changed, discarded, or implemented in a totally different way in the actual manuscript. They're helpful, though, as I'm about to begin the first round of revisions.

Those random lists of notes will remind me how I wanted to flesh out the bad guy and never got around to it on my sprint to the climax. They point out discrepancies in the secondary relationships, and minor characters who disappeared after their cameos, never to appear again.

Lists are awesome. I can't imagine my writing process without them.

How about you? Written a to-do list lately? Or maybe a list of your MC's freckles and all their names? Good, because that would be weird. It's near midnight, so I'm automatically excused for bloggish weirdness. But you! You have no excuse.

Happy Monday, everybody! Make it a good one. :)

p.s. Simon and Schuster Pulse has the first 100 pages of a new dystopian trilogy up on its site. The book is called WITHER and it's part of The Chemical Garden Trilogy. They're saying fans of Hunger Games will love it, so feel free to check out the first hundred pages with me if that sounds like your thing.

Friday, April 1, 2011

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett: My first impression

The Help
Add it on goodreads

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t. -from the inside flap
This is less of a review and more of my first impressions, written down during the afterglow of reading a great book. FIVE STARS for this one.

I can't imagine the time that must have gone into these intricately woven stories. This version of 1963 Jackson, Mississippi fills out in lush detail while Stockett's characters think--and make readers think--about history, humanity, and the attitudes that shape reality for all of us. None of the themes is lightweight and it could not have been easy to address these important issues about love, race, gender, and compassion, but Kathryn Stockett has done it fearlessly and vulnerably.

As a reader, I was in turns amused, terrified, and touched.

I really feel any review I offer would be insufficient to capture my reaction to this comprehensive story.

So I'll simply suggest you read it for yourself and let it move you, let it interact with your mind the way only a book can.

You will be better for it.

P.S. I'm posting this at midnight, but when dawn rolls around, the April 1st MYSTERY AGENT CONTEST will kick off at Operation Awesome. Don't miss it if you've got a complete novel to pitch (one sentence pitches; please read all details on the official contest entry thread before entering). And good luck!