December 22, 2012

The Canon: Walk Two Moons

Walk Two Moons probably should have been the first book I posted about, but here we are. Posting now.

Walk Two Moons is the story of Salamanca Tree Hiddle, a girl who misses her mother very much.

The book is about other things too. Eccentric grandparents, kissing trees, Phoebe Winterbottom and her mother's disappearance and a mysterious lunatic. But whenever I read this book I am utterly consumed by Sal and her overwhelming loneliness.

In many ways this book should have been the book of my childhood, and it's clear that much of my connection with this book has to do with personal association. Besides being an excellent exercise in storytelling, Walk Two Moons has perhaps the best portrayal of dead-parent-grief that I've ever read.

There's an exclusive club made up of children who lose a parent, and anyone who is not in that club has no idea. None whatsoever. But when I was reading Walk Two Moons for the first (and fifth, and twentieth) time, what came to mind first was a sense of wonder. How did she know? How did she get it that right? I don't know if Sharon Creech is a member of that club, but if she isn't, she must be a mind reader.

Generally speaking, I frown upon "issue" books. Books that well-intentioned but clueless adults ask for in the bookstore: "She's just lost her father, poor thing. Do you have a book about that?" As if there's a book that could possibly encompass what that child is feeling. But if there does exist, somewhere in the world, a book that could contain all that and more, Walk Two Moons is it.

This is not to say that Walk Two Moons is an exceptionally sad or depressing book. (Although, spoiler: I cried. I cry every time I read it.) This just not just another dead parent story. It's about life, and growing up, and the experience of being thirteen and kissing a boy for the first time, and moving, and friendship...and yes, it is about a dead parent. And in this aspect, at least, it is perfect.

Walk Two Moons is widely loved and beloved, and deservedly so. My copy is dog-eared and well-worn, and will be staying in my library forever. Highly, highly recommended for fans of realistic fiction, coming-of-age, road trips, and twisty plots. Also recommended for every human, everywhere.

December 20, 2012

One Semester Down, Three to Go

I'm sitting here at the end of the semester (everything all well and done, thank goodness), trying to think of what to write about that could possibly encompass everything that has happened in the last four months, and mostly all I can think is that I am so, so blessed. By whom? I suppose I'd just say life. I am blessed by life--to have been granted this opportunity, to find a place where I feel like I am exactly--exactly!--where I belong.

I'll just say it here: graduate school is awesome. I am one semester in, and my brain has learned to twist itself into new and different configurations. I have amazing friends. I have a job where I get to foist my favorite books on people every single day. Everything is great, and while I wouldn't recommend an MFA to everyone, I am quite certain that this is the right path for me.

So. Now that I've turned in all my papers, I have just under a month to remember what I used to do when I wasn't in school. I'm hoping to blog some more (there are several books I've been waiting impatiently to review), and write some more, and read some more...

December 5, 2012

Finals Madness, Post-NaNo, etc.

So I thought I was going to do a big NaNo recap and start blogging again and write up all those book reviews I've been thinking about writing...

...and then finals hit me. Apparently there are THINGS to be done in graduate school, and they involve something more than making up critical theorist Ryan Gosling memes on Facebook. I have six final papers due in the next twelve days. The math says that I will be reading/writing/thinking like a madman for the next two(ish) weeks. So the dusting-off-of-the-blog will have to wait.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with these:

1. NaNo: I "won," if by winning you mean writing 50,000 words, split semi-evenly across two stories. While it's a far cry from the 100,000 I was aiming for, I think we'd all agree that 50,000 is impressive in between work and school and figuring out how to handle impromptu snowstorms. The good news is that I now have two viable projects that I would actually consider developing further. I consider that a success.

2. So far I honestly haven't been that impressed by the new fall TV...unless you count Stephen Arnell's ridiculous abs on Arrow. Also, NASHVILLE. You guys should all go watch it right now because I will not be able to accept its cancellation. Favorite returning show? Definitely The Good Wife, although the whole Kalinda/Nick storyline was getting old. It's a good thing they seem to have wrapped that up (for the time being)... I'm also a huge fan of how the Beckett/Castle storyline is playing out in Castle. They haven't screwed it up yet! Color me thrilled!

3. Literary podcasts: My latest interest is Literary Disco, which I heard about through the excellent Ann and Michael at Books on the Nightstand. I've really enjoyed a number of their shows, although I do get bugged from time to time by the fact that they're sometimes slightly literary-snobbish (by which I mean they tend to be snooty about YA). But if you're into general fiction, it's a good show to check out.

Happy December, guys. Hopefully I will join you once again after the semester has ended, provided it hasn't chewed me up beyond all repair. Now, please excuse me while I bury my head in more literary criticism.

October 31, 2012

Halloween? What? (NaNoWriMo 2012)

It's Halloween. What with graduate school eating my brains and Hurricane Sandy eating my sanity (though it pretty much missed my area, which was a relief), the end of the month really snuck up on me. While I'd like to be the sort of person who goes crazy with the costumes (today in class we had a great Cheshire Cat paired with an excellent Alice in Zombieland), I have to admit that I'm too lazy to put together something impressive. I haven't really celebrated the holiday (except for buying deeply discounted candy the day after) in ten years or so. But Halloween is also notable for something other than sexy witches and candy corn. That's right: it's the day before NaNoWriMo.

I've posted about NaNo tons of times. This will be my sixth year participating, and this year I've decided to switch it up a little. The normal person would think that writing 50,000 words in 30 days is more than enough to pile on top of graduate school, work, soccer, sleep... The normal person would be entirely correct. But who cares about normal? This year I'm going to be a hot mess, because this year I am doing two things I've never done before.

1. I'm writing contemporary realism. I love contemporary realism (I'm a huge sucker for your typical high school chick flick, although it has to be done well), but I've always been scared off of actually writing it. Mostly it's because I don't think I can come up with a plot that hasn't been done hundreds of times already. But this year is the year I put my foot down. NaNo is the place for cliches! NaNo is the time for exceptionally hot jocks and cute nerdy girls! In short, I can do anything I want in NaNo, and this year I'm writing contemporary, damn it.

2. I'm writing two novels. This is the truly crazy part, but I'm hoping to be able to pull it off. I've written 80,000+ before in NaNo. I have a good handle on at least one of my WIPs (the decidedly NOT contemporary one), so hopefully that will help when the words refuse to come. I've decided to spent the scant hours remaining before the flag goes up sketching out at least a brief outline of where I hope these things are going. And...we'll see.

I haven't totally figured out how blogging is going to fit in to my November schedule. I'm hoping to post word count updates from time to time. Maybe I'll make my WIPs duel each other. "Operation Wish-work" versus "Pop Rocks and Candy Pops." Hopefully I'll get enough sleep to keep functioning on at least zombie level.

Gulp. Insanity commencing at midnight. Forget witches and goblins. It's the writers you really need to be worried about.

Operation Wish-Work: 0
Pop Rocks and Candy Pops: 0

October 30, 2012

Nashville

I would be lying if I didn't say that Nashville is my favorite new TV show this season. I'm trying out several (and several have already been cut from my viewing list, most brutally The Mob Doctor after only three minutes of screen-time), but Nashville is the only new show I actually look forward to every week.

What's so special about this show? How about what isn't?

Just kidding. Not everything can be perfect, but who can say no to Connie Britton? I was a late adopter of Friday Night Lights (only finished the series a few weeks ago), but I was heartbroken when I got to the end and there was no more Coach and Tami Taylor, no more Matt and Julie, no more disgustingly gorgeous Tim Riggins... I could go on, but this post is not supposed to be about Friday Night Lights. Moving on...

I'm not really into country music. Nothing against it, it's just not really my style. But damn it if I'm not over the moon about the music on this show. First off, the actors are actually singing, which is great. While not everyone is spectacular, at least they're all competent, and that goes a long way. I don't have every song, but the ones I do have play on repeat pretty much everywhere I go. I sing along and pretend that I too am a suddenly up-and-coming country music star. (For some reason I'm also finding several songs really evocative, in a "I want to write a story around this" kind of way.)

Second, the actors. Of course I'm a Connie Britton fan. I also enjoy some Hayden Panettiere once in a while too, though right now I have to say I'm most invested in Scarlett's storyline right now. (Probably because I can live vicariously through her and pretend I'm about to become a superstar.)

I don't know that I can pinpoint exactly what I love about this show. It's just so SHINY. And I'm just so INTO IT.

I've heard rumors that Nashville's future is questionable at the moment, and I will be HEARTBROKEN if it gets canceled. Nashville is the only show this season making me bouncy and impatient, so my new mission in life might be to make as many people watch it as possible. Go! Watch! Sing! Make merry! (Pretty please? For me?)

October 21, 2012

Bookselling Adventures (2): The Handsell

Last week I learned the power of the handsell.

A woman came in looking for a book suitable for a third grader who had read all of the Harry Potter books. (Needless to say, this girl was supposed to be a voracious reader.)

It turns out that voracious readers are the hardest to buy for because whatever you say, they will already have read it. I know--I'm one of them. So I was racking my brain trying to come up with something the girl would not have read...and then I spotted a brand new middle grade title on the shelf across from me. I hadn't read the book (still haven't, though it's on my list), but I knew the general plot, that it was middle grade, and (most importantly) that it was released just a few weeks ago, thus making me fairly confident that this girl had not already read the book.

I pulled it, mentioned that I'd heard good things but that I hadn't read it, and was about to suggest another few titles when the woman said, "Great, I'll take it."

Boom. Sale made. With those four words, I personally became responsible for the addition of $1.50 (or so) to that author's royalty account.

What readers don't always understand is that there are many people out in the world who aren't necessarily Readers, but who Buy for Readers. The Buyer's greatest resource is the independent bookseller (a clan I recently managed to buy my way into). They want good recommendations, and they want them now. None of this futzing about comparing this and that and the next title.

All this makes the independent bookseller an incredibly powerful person. If they like you, they will handsell the crap out of your book. If they hate you, your book will become mysteriously lost and never ever sell. So authors, be nice to your booksellers. They can be your greatest ally...or your worst enemy.

October 17, 2012

Cheating

I'm in a bit of a quandary.

I don't often talk specifics on works in progress, so I'm sure many of you won't know this, but my latest WIP is YA fantasy. My recently-completed WIP is YA fantasy. When I think of my favorite novels, my shelves are dominated by fantasy. In short, I am kind of a fantasy girl through and through.

...Except yesterday, I found myself scribbling out a sassy contemporary piece for my creative writing class and feeling pretty darn chuffed about it. I had a lot of fun with that exercise, more than I expected to. As I told a few friends, contemporary feels like the fun flirty mistress I'm cheating on fantasy with.

So now I'm not sure whether to pursue the contemporary or not. This isn't a question of whether I'm giving up on my current WIP (I'm not). It's more of an...I don't know. I read some YA contemporary, but not a lot. While I've been drawn to the genre before, I've ultimately held back because I find myself unable to think up a suitably inventive premise. Mostly when I try to come up with a fun, flirty contemporary, I get your standard dork-meets-jock/love triangle/Sarah-Dessen-spin-off. Which are fun, don't get me wrong. But different enough to grab an agent or editor's attention? I don't know about that.

Maybe that's why I spend so much time with fantasy--because I feel like anything could happen. In contemporary, I feel unoriginal and limited.

All this goes to say that while I'm not choosing one over the other, I don't know if I have enough time to work on both. Grad school is kind of kicking my butt as far as the free time goes, and when you add on work, soccer, trying to eat right... Well. Let's just say that the writing time does not spread bountifully as far as the eye can see. Plus, I've got to pick something to do for NaNoWriMo.

Any suggestions? And if you have a spare plot idea lying around for a YA contemporary, I'd love to hear it...

October 11, 2012

Bookselling Adventures (1): Amanda F. Palmer

I was nervous about going back to school and leaving my publishing job. Publishing, as many of you know, is a business where connections matter a lot. What if I was never able to get another job in publishing ever again?

As it happens, my fears were unfounded. I was hired a few weeks ago but after three days of training, I can officially announce that I now work as a bookseller at an independent bookstore. I'm thrilled. I'm thrilled to be around amazing book people, thrilled to be keeping a foot in the publishing door, thrilled to have access to more books than I could ever hope to read, and, today, thrilled to have met Amanda Fucking Palmer in the flesh.

It's true! I was going about my business, doing inventory in the classics section, when I turned around and there she was! This, of course, played out much like my recent encounter with Elizabeth Wein. I stammered out something like "I'm a fan!" and completely forgot to introduce myself (in my shiny new capacity of "bookseller" and not "totally-weird-and-possibly-creepy staring person") and couldn't think of anything at all to say. Eventually I was able to stutter out that I enjoyed her husband's books too.

Amanda herself was lovely, as I'm sure she always is. I got an autograph (now proudly adorning my refrigerator) and the assurance that I am as awkward as ever when it comes to meeting celebrities.

It's times like these that I really feel I should put together some sort of spiel for meeting famous people and rehearse it until I can shake hands and spout adulating comments without batting an eyelash. You know, since it's been sufficiently demonstrated that I am incapable of handling these things on the fly.

More bookselling adventures to come.

September 30, 2012

Night Musings

It has come to my attention that I may have my most productive hours deep in the night, when the only sounds are my fingers on the keyboard and the occasional wayward car outside on the street.

I'm writing a paper (one of many, as they keep us busy here in graduate school). Try as I might, I was completely unable to work on it in the daylight hours. I whiled the day away, unable to get the academic gears flowing until after the sun had set. Vampirism was wasted on Bella -- give me the habit of the night and I would run with it, drunk on all that power of creation, masterworks spilling from my fingertips at the drop of a hat.

I've struggled to decide whether this nocturnal habit is a product of actual heightened creative power at night, or whether it's borne of the frantic desperation of a procrastinator. After several years of living with this condition, I've settled on the former. (NaNoWriMo probably had quite a lot to do with it, back in the day -- all that lamp-lit scribbling into the wee hours of the morning.)

Or it could just be wishful thinking. If you come up with an alternate hypothesis, I'll be writing my paper.

September 28, 2012

A little moment of squee

Tonight I went to the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Ceremony. It was the most entertaining awards ceremony I've ever been to (although who am I kidding -- I've never been to a real awards ceremony before). All the acceptance speeches were on the scale from amusing to downright hilarious, and there were tuxedo-styled chocolate-covered strawberries afterward. What more could a girl ask for?

The squeeage comes from the fact that I met Elizabeth Wein tonight (of Code Name Verity fame), and I couldn't think of anything to say other than "I read your book. It was amazing." (I was exceptionally forgettable, I'm sure. But I did get a signed book out of the deal.) Most of the time I spent staring at her, wondering how on earth could such an amazing book have come from such a normal-looking person. I'm serious. How could that possibly have come from her head, which appears to be such a normal head?!?

I suppose I can take heart in the fact that if a normal-looking person can write an extraordinary book, then perhaps there's hope for me. Someday.

September 24, 2012

On that note...

...That draft I said I'd have finished by the end of October?

Yeah...

Stuff got in the way. Graduate school stuff. Commuting stuff. Job-hunting stuff. Funny how there's so much STUFF lying around, just waiting to eat up your day.

Not to mention the fact that this idea, while totally intriguing, is lounging half-baked in my head. I don't know the rules of the world! Who matters, who doesn't! Whether wishes really can come true! Suddenly it seems I've turned into the sort of writer who needs to KNOW things about the book before she can write it. The idea of throwing out words onto the page with not the vaguest idea of what comes next terrifies me.

Is this what it's come to? Outlining?

It appears so, friends. Don't despair--I'm still aiming to finish this draft by the end of October. It just might involve a little more staring blankly at a wall than I previously anticipated. I'll keep you updated on the goings-on.

Current Status:
Writing: ...staring blankly at the wall (word count: 0)
Reading: Magic or Madness (Justine Larbalestier)
Watching: Revolution
Listening: "Won't Go Home Without You" (Maroon 5)

September 18, 2012

Lofty Goals

Hello from the other side of the abyss.

I am halfway through my second week of graduate school. My criticism course may eat me alive - so, in case I'm missing, that's probably where I am. Being slowly digested by reams and reams of predatory paper. Other than that, it's too soon to tell one way or another. The only thing I know for sure is that it is bizarre being a student again after being a so-called "real" person. I don't like it. (The subjects and intellectual development, yes. The state of being, not so much.) I don't like it one bit.

Anyway, I finished my book at the end of July. A month-long break has stretched itself into September while I made excuses (but I'm moving cross-country! but I must find a job! but I must leave myself enough time to do schoolwork!), and here I am having not written for longer than I planned. Things happen like that, I find. It's easy to get ferried along the path of least resistance.

No longer! I say. Let it now be known that I am writing again. That I have written and will write in the future! That I plan to have--dare I say it--a draft of my next book completed by the end of October! That's a lofty goal, that is, but I respond better to deadlines. Time to get serious again.

August 26, 2012

Back to School!

For those who don't know, I've been working full-time for two years. I was lucky enough to get an excellent entry-level job in the publishing field right out of college, and I learned so much about publishing (especially subsidiary rights) while I was there.

Last Tuesday, I quit to go to graduate school.

It's a scary thing, quitting a good job in this economy. My generation (and everyone's, really) has it tough right now. Pretty much the only thing keeping me going is remembering that while I want to be in publishing the rest of my life, my dream job is to be on the other side. The scribbler-of-books side. The pretending-to-be-Jo-March side. And I just wasn't quite getting there at my previous position.

I'll be starting an M.F.A. program in Writing for Children in two weeks, and while I'm thrilled to have this opportunity, I don't know if I remember how to be a student. Things that I'm sure used to come naturally now seem foreign. Notes? What is this 'notes' you speak of? Assigned reading? Haven't they figured out academic osmosis yet?

Sigh... I have two weeks to get my butt in gear, and two years to spend with dozens of people who might love books almost as much as I do. I can't wait. If you're looking for me in the next two years, I'm in the library. Or the bookstore. Or just the couch...with my nose in a book. Shh! Don't disturb unless it's truly dire.

August 10, 2012

The Canon: The Secret Garden

First things first: I read this book on my Kindle! For the first year (plus?) I've had the thing, I really haven't used it, but now that I'm traveling I understand the appeal. Thousands of books at the drop of a hat! Your suitcase doesn't come in overweight! La la la hooray!

In any case the formatting was fine. I could count the number of noticeable typos/formatting errors on one hand, which I consider acceptable. I also got The Secret Garden for free on the Kindle, which may have affected the quality. On to the review!

I LOVE this book. I had no idea. A Little Princess and The Secret Garden have been in my library for forever, but somehow Mary Lennox got the short stick compared to the exceptional goodness of Sara Crewe. My read count for this book is probably in the 5-10 range (compared to 20+ for A Little Princess), but I haven't read it in a while, and I was completely hooked right from the first line:
"When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable child ever seen. It was true, too."
It's perfect, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book. Mary is disagreeable, whiny, and strange, but she's such a compelling character with such an interesting viewpoint. I think this is what makes her more interesting to me than Sara Crewe. Sara is just so GOOD all the time. Mary has some contrariness going for her. (This is not to say that A Little Princess isn't wonderful too. It is. I'll have to write a canon post for that one later.)

My one quibble with the story is Colin. Colin himself is fine, but from the moment he appeared on stage, the story became much more about his getting better and his relationship with his father, and much less about Mary. Mary seemed relegated to the position of "excellent female helpmate on the male's journey to growth and self-acceptance," which is such a shame.

The language is lovely. Mary is great. The moor and the manor and the garden are blustery, creepy, and lush, respectively. This is a classic that is without a doubt deserving of its status.

In case any of you love this book and haven't seen the 1993 adaptation, allow me to recommend it here. There was a set of three films made at roughly the same time, with the same sort of feeling and in some cases the same actors, and they are all great. (These are A Little Princess, Black Beauty, and The Secret Garden, if I recall correctly.) The film is lovely and really captures the feeling of the book. It also balances the Mary-Colin-Archibald relationship much better than it's portrayed in the book. The movie is more obviously framed around Mary and her perspective, which I love. More Mary! Less whiny Colin! (Also, Maggie Smith!)

Anyway, read the book, watch the movie. They are lovely lovely lovely. Both will be on my shelves for ever.

July 10, 2012

Culling the List

Sometimes when I get bored I like to cull my Goodreads list.

I started with close to 3,500 books on my to-read list. As of this writing, I'm down to 2,873. It's kind of like an archaeological dig. Here's the classics layer (takes up a couple hundred spots). A very short section of books on writing (I trashed most of those - does this say something about my growing confidence as a writer?). There are a few pages of all the Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction (those are mostly gone now too). And now I just hit the Pride & Prejudice fan fiction section. I have nothing to say about that. Except that in a few minutes, most of those will be gone.

Anyway, that's what's going on at the moment. As for what I'm reading when not culling my to-read list, I'm smack dab in the middle of The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey. So far, really good. I'm also trying to decide whether to give up on Winter's Bone. Anyone have opinions on that one?

June 28, 2012

Vincent van Dominogh

Today I am watching this on repeat, and I encourage you to do the same:



You are all such knowledgeable internet people that you probably know all about FlippyCat already, but I just saw this one making the rounds on tumblr on Monday and knew it had to be shared. FlippyCat has a number of admirable domino videos up on youtube if that's your thing.

I've watched five or six myself and "Starry Night" remains my favorite by far. This might have something to do with my fondness for van Gogh. Or it might be more directly related to the incredible sadness and awe that was the Doctor Who episode "Vincent and the Doctor." (Side note: must look into the possibility of a blog series all about Doctor Who and how it rips open your heart EVERY SINGLE TIME.) In any case, this is artistry, and I am impressed.

June 27, 2012

More Writing and Stuff

The writing is not going very well, but I'm shouldering on. Can't bring myself to do an exhaustive post, so I'll just tell you that my self-promised rewards at the end of this revision tunnel are piling up. Yesterday it was a promise to buy Maroon 5's latest album. Today I decided I'll sign up for the Hulu Plus free trial and maraud my way through the latest season of Parks and Recreation. Who knows what I'm going to be telling myself tomorrow? Right now I'm just clinging to the edges of writing sanity.

June 26, 2012

The Art of Reading Slowly

I am reading slowly.

I've always prided myself on my ability to read fast. I can gobble up the majority of books I come across in a period of one to three hours, which usually amounts to one sitting. Sometimes two. But right now, I am reading slowly.

I didn't do it on purpose. It was a side effect of getting busy. At the beginning of June my free time became WRITING TIME, and it's been that way ever since. So there aren't any more spare hours lying around for reading. I read on my lunch break - twenty minutes, if that. I read before I go to bed, in quick thirty minute snatches. I read when I can, is what I'm trying to say. And though it's now taking me significantly longer to finish books, I'm actually quite enjoying the pace.

Now that I know I'm not going to finish the book, my reading time isn't a race to the end. I feel free to take things leisurely, lingering over words, desirous of knowing what comes next but not impatient like I usually am. Reading slowly allows me to read more closely, and more deeply. It gives me more time to digest less material before moving on to the next chapter, and the next. When I finish a book I feel like I've finished a seven course meal in Paris instead of eating standing up over the stove.

I'm still happy to be a fast reader. It's an ability I wouldn't give up for the world, this talent that allows me to keep pace with my voracious appetite for words. But little by little, I'm learning the delicate art of reading slowly, and this talent too is one I will savor.

What am I currently reading slowly? At home I read A Game of Thrones. I read this for the first time three years ago, but thought I'd revisit it in case I happen across the television series. As always, George R. R. Martin is exceptional. All I have to do is keep pretending to myself that no one is going to end up dead in the next chapter. At work, I'm working my way through A Confusion of Princes, by Garth Nix. Sabriel is one of my absolute favorite books, so it's surprising that I haven't read everything Nix has written. So far the new book is really interesting conceptually. We'll see if it can pull off being fascinating for the whole book.

So that's how my reading life is going this week. What about yours? What are you all reading?

June 25, 2012

Music Monday: The Heart Asks Pleasure First

I've watched The Piano once, and it was more than enough. This was my senior year in high school, and I had to pick a film to do an interpretive report on. I think it's telling that in the end I picked The Silence of the Lambs to watch a second (and third, and fourth) time. Something in The Piano (the inherent helplessness of women, the main character's complete surrender to the men in the film, her inability to help herself, etc. etc. etc.) just drove me into the arms of Clarice Starling.

However! The music was absolutely gorgeous. When I first purchased the soundtrack I listened to the main theme, "The Heart Asks Pleasure First," about twenty-five times on repeat. I am not kidding. I present it to you forthwith:

June 22, 2012

Friday Five

1. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries! Yes, I posted about this when the project got started, but now I'm talking about it because the project is just zipping along and I am impressed and super excited about the future! Because yesterday, we heard that Bing is throwing a party. And we all know how that turned out in the book... Can't wait for the next episode. There had better be some excellent Darcy-snark.

2. Facebook. Is. Annoying. (I know, not news at all.) I don't know if this is new or whether I just haven't been paying attention, but now when I log on I'm greeted by a message that tells me, "You last posted 9 days ago." And it won't go away. It just keeps staring me in the face. This makes the contrarian in me very annoyed, so I've started a boycott. How long can I go without updating my status on Facebook? (Better to ask: How long can I go without logging in to Facebook at all, because that would be making more of a statement.)

3. A Game of Thrones. I'm re-reading it (with this vague notion that eventually I will watch the HBO series). The last time around I read all but the newest book before I called it quits - I don't think it's much a spoiler to say that pretty much everyone dies, and I couldn't take it any more. Right now everything is mostly okay still (which tells you how far I am in the book, which is not far at all), but I can feel the trap slowly closing around *grmphghrlmd* (not spoiling even though I know you all know who it is). I'm not sure if I will be able to take everyone dying again, but Martin can write, and right now it is immensely pleasant to curl up in bed with this book for half an hour every night.

4. Suits. Season two just started! I was lucky enough to be late to the Suits party, so I only finished season one about a month ago and didn't have very long to wait before the premiere of season two. Let's just say that Suits and its USA companion White Collar are two of my favorite TV shows right now (and with the disturbing amount of television I watch, that's saying something). Watch them! I'm crossing my fingers for a Suits/White Collar crossover episode, but until Neal Caffrey gets back from wherever he is I suppose that's not going to happen.

5. And it's Friday. Le sigh. I am so happy it's Friday. I'm pretty stressed these days (wrapping up things at work, trying to find an apartment when I can't actually view apartments, orchestrating a cross-country move, registering for classes, getting used to the idea of being a student again, trying to WRITE at the same time...), so anything that takes even a little bit of that off my shoulders is bliss. Weekend, here I come.

June 18, 2012

Music Monday: The A Team

I discovered this week's song because it's the single of the week at iTunes. "The A Team" is still available (until tomorrow, I think) so you can get it for free if you feel so inclined. I can't believe that Ed Sheeran is younger than I am and writing this well. This is an excellent song, and incredibly sad, and I don't think any further introduction is necessary.

June 13, 2012

Writing Wednesday: WIP Update

I've been participating in Camp NaNoWriMo in an effort to power through this last revision, and I've been doing very very well...until last Saturday, that is.

The good news is that I'm almost exactly halfway through the draft. The bad news is that I'm almost exactly halfway through the draft. I'd been chugging along like the engine that could until suddenly! I hit a cliff. Blank face all the way up the side of the mountain, and my track just ran out.

Of course I'll go a step further and tell you all that the further good news is, I know exactly why I just hit a cliff. I've done multiple revisions on this book before, and for various boring reasons not to be mentioned here, they've all petered out at the halfway point. The result is that the first half of my novel was in fairly good shape going into this last revision, and though I've made a few significant changes, they've all been fairly straightforward for the most part. The characters are in. Plotting stable. Road map pointing the way ahead.

The second half of this draft? Not so much. It's still fairly close to first draft state, and since I've been planning and adding and cutting various characters/plot threads/animals/etc., the second half as it currently states bears little resemblance to the second half it should be.

Why is that good news? Mostly because I know exactly what I have to do to get this revision going again: OUTLINE.

Gah, the dreaded word. I know it burns some of you. I myself have not yet figured out whether I'm a pantser or plotter -- it must be that I'm some of both, and I muddle my way through somehow. But with the first half of the book fairly solid, I will have to do some intensive planning to make sure the second half of the book measures up. Outlines! Index cards! Tracking plot points! Lovely!

So... I have a lot of work to do. Much more than on the first half of the book. At least when I'm finished with the outline it'll tell me where I need to go.

For now, back to the drawing board! Cheers!

June 12, 2012

A Modest Reading Update

According to my schedule I'm supposed to talk about something having to do with reading today. I do have an interesting post about introductions that I'm working on, but it's the sort of thing that requires more thought than I can give it in twenty minutes, and that's pretty much my limit for today. That will have to wait for next week. Yes. Got very busy yesterday. That sort of thing happens.

Suffice to say that I'm reading. Right now I'm in the middle of a Tamora Pierce re-read. I'm planning a huge Tamora Pierce appreciation post once I wrap that up, but I still have a number of books to go (half the Kel series, and the entirety of Beka Cooper). The thing I'm most struck by about Tamora Pierce's books now that I'm re-reading them in loose order of publication is how directly you can track the author's growth as a writer across her books. While the Alanna books are still near and dear to my heart (and there are so many wonderful things about them), excellent writing technique is not one of their strong points. As I progressed through Alanna's series, through Daine's and into Kel's, I saw how much Pierce's plotting improved and how complex the story lines became. It's amazing.

Anyway, those are my two cents for today. For some reason it's really heartening for me to see how authors can grow and improve even after they reach that pinnacle of first publication. Expect a better post tomorrow - a WIP update! (Finally.)

June 11, 2012

Music Monday: The Piano Guys

This week my music recommendation is The Piano Guys, who also do amazing covers of stuff. Lots of stuff. What do I like about them? The musical expertise, the incredible music videos (all on youtube), and how much FUN they have doing it. (And how much fun I have watching them.) You don't have to like classical music to like The Piano Guys - they do a lot of covers of popular songs. Here are my two favorite pieces:

1. "Cello Wars" - My very first Piano Guys video. It's awesome for Star Wars (and cello) fans. An excellent introduction to the Piano Guys world.



2. "Bourne Vivaldi" - My favorite Piano Guys piece. I have a little obsession with the Bourne Identity theme (I've always wanted to figure out how to do an a cappella arrangement of it), so this just hits that spot.)


...And that's it for this Music Monday. What music are you all listening to these days?

June 8, 2012

Not Your Mother's Book Club: Fierce Reads

Ah! I was worrying about what I was going to write about for Friday, but never fear! Not Your Mother's Book Club came to the rescue!

NYMBC is the young adult book club of Books Inc., one of my favorite Bay Area independent bookstores. They put on regular author events (including an upcoming appearance by Chris Colfer!), and last night I had the pleasure of attending the Fierce Reads! tour stop, with authors Emmy Laybourne (Monument 14), Anna Banks (Of Poseidon), Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone), and Jennifer Bosworth (Struck).

I go to every NYMBC event I can, but I was especially looking forward to seeing Leigh Bardugo because of her appearance on Authors are ROCKSTARS! as well as the great mention she got on Books on the Nightstand (which is pretty much king of all book podcasts everywhere).

She did not disappoint, and neither did any of the other authors in attendance. The Fierce Reads event ended up being one of the best author events I've attended, and why? Just because it WAS, OKAY? No, I have better reasons than that. Because all the authors were really committed to being present, entertaining, and informative. Because they had great chemistry, both with each other on the panel and with the audience. Because every question from the audience was answered thoughtfully and in-depth. Because the moderator had to stop the audience from asking questions because we were going overtime. Because I laughed multiple times.

Long story short, it was a great event. Every author was entertaining, and extremely friendly. I intended to buy one book: Leigh's. But because Emmy, Anna, and Jennifer were also so darn lovely, I bought ALL of their books. (Please excuse me while I look at my new diet of rice, rice, and more rice.) Thanks to Connie at NYMBC for putting on an excellent evening while her other half was at BEA. Thanks to the authors for bringing it. And thanks to Macmillan for sending these charming people on tour!

Now I have to go curl up with all these new books. Come get me when the next NYMBC event comes to town.

June 7, 2012

Picking a Bone with Bones

Bones wrapped up an utterly disappointing seventh season a few weeks ago, and I've been gnashing my teeth about it ever since. (This is probably a good time to point out that if you don't care about Bones, you might be bored by this blog post. Also, here be SPOILERS.) There are a lot of things I could tell you about, but here I'll stick to the blindingly obvious ones.

In my opinion, Bones excels when its seasons have a concrete focus. Usually the focus is a super-villain whose take-down requires a full twenty-two episodes of investigating and sciencing and kickassery. This season, it was all about Brennan & Baby!, and it was done in one of the worst ways possible. Before I start blowing my head off I'll mention two things I did like about this season.

Let's start with the positive: a new super-villain in the form of murderous tech-genius Christopher Pelant (played by Andrew Leeds). He could have been the glue that held season seven together. Too bad he only appeared in two of the thirteen episodes. (I assume he'll be receiving fuller treatment in season eight.)

Second positive: the ending of the last episode, "The Past in the Present." Not surprisingly, Christopher Pelant is in it. But the big news is Brennan's choice at the end of the episode. More on this later, but I think it creates some interesting potential going into the next season. (Or the unaired episodes that Fox claims are still part of this season?)

Now to the awful awfulness that was the rest of season seven. The crux of the matter is that Bones chose to make Brennan's pregnancy the hub around which the season revolved. Not only was this a huge mistake plotting-wise, the way the show dealt with Brennan and Booth's characterization and relationship was a huge disservice to everything they'd spent six seasons building up.

A pregnancy immediately following a grief-tinged one-night-stand between Booth and Brennan isn't exactly how I wanted it to go, but I accept it as a starting point because there weren't a lot of choices when Emily Deschanel was pregnant in real life.

So here's the deal: Brennan is pregnant. And somehow between the season six finale and season seven premiere, Brennan and Booth turned from being adamantly NOT TOGETHER! into DUTIFUL COUPLE!, giving each other pecks on the lips with the ease and comfort that comes from being married too long and not investing enough time in your relationship. What crap. Fans wait six seasons for Booth and Brennan to get together and THIS is how you do it?

While Booth would immediately want to have a family with Brennan after he finds out about the pregnancy (he's just that sort of traditional guy), I REFUSE to accept that Brennan (the real Brennan) would settle that easily. The Brennan I know would say, "Hold up! Where does it say that I need a man to raise a child?" Then she would point to some obscure study done in some obscure aboriginal tribe somewhere where the mothers raise their children in a collective, multigenerational, matriarchal clan.

The real Brennan would allow Booth to be a father to her child because she understands the importance of family and how important family is to Booth, but she would NOT roll over and say, "Guess this means we're a couple now!" Season seven should not have been about Booth and Brennan house-hunting. It should have been about Brennan and Booth negotiating the scary fact that they're going to have a child together, and trying to figure out what that means vis a vis their relationship with each other. Because despite the fact that they're meant for each other, Brennan and Booth are very different people, and it is their differences in large part that have kept them separate for six years. Just because there's a baby involved doesn't mean those differences suddenly melt away.

But wait! you say. By the time season seven starts, they're already together! So all that negotiating could have happened, you just don't know! And that's another problem right there: the audience just doesn't know. As far as we know, Brennan and Booth zapped from NOT TOGETHER! to DUTIFUL COUPLE! instantaneously. Cutting past the crucial relationship building stage is a disservice to the show and to the audience members who have been waiting six years for just this. Beyond everything I already mentioned above, I wanted sparks! Once upon a time Brennan and Booth had spark, and this would have been an excellent place to bring that back. Instead I got platonic pecks on the cheek. The kind you give your grandmother.

And let's not get started about the fact that Booth's first child, Parker, only makes one token appearance, and the only thing he's there to say is, "I totally love my new sister so much!" Seriously, what happened on this one? I'm picturing a show writer going, "Hey, wait. Didn't Booth already have a kid?" And then the guy sitting next to him replying something like, "Oh yeahhhhhh. Totally forgot that one, dude." Booth has been presented as a very traditional, family-oriented person. Forming a new family with Brennan & Baby! with so little involvement of his own son goes against everything I thought I knew about Booth.

So, yeah. Pretty much the only thing Bones did right with the Brennan & Baby! phenomenon was not having Booth propose to Brennan. That would have been even more disastrous.

Now I'm going to talk SPOILER SPOILER SPOILERS for the last episode, so stop reading if you don't want it spoiled.

June 6, 2012

Writing Wednesday: Camp NaNoWriMo

Most of you have probably heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). But how many of you have heard of Camp NaNoWriMo?

Camp NaNo is a pared-down version of NaNoWriMo, for those who just can't get enough of the craziness that is 1,667 words every day of November. It takes place during the summer (this year, June and August), and the main difference between Camp NaNo and Original NaNo is that Camp NaNo doesn't have the bells and whistles (huge forums, crazy write-ins, CD swaps, etc.) that Original NaNo thrives on. It's a little less about the camaraderie and community, a little more about JUST WRITE. And right now, that's exactly what I love about it.

I've participated in both Camp NaNo (once) and Original NaNo (five times), and what I've realized after my vast years of experience is that 1,667 words a day is not that much. It's in the ballpark of what actual writers write every day. And if you just sit your butt in a chair every day and spend one hour writing, guess what? You'll actually have a complete draft after not too much slaving. Who knew? (Of course you all know this. But sometimes the gargantuan task of WRITING A NOVEL blinds me to this elementary fact, and it's good to remind myself once in a while.)

Confession time: I've been writing the same novel for two years, and it's killing me. I've been lazy. I've made excuses. I've spent lots of time watching TV, and lots of time complaining about how I can't write. But that is changing this month. Because the fact is that I'm done with this book. I've held on to it for far too long, frightened to let it out into the world, but it's time to let it go.

So that's what I'm doing in Camp NaNo this month. I'm powering through one last polish-up, and when June is over, I'm going to set it free. The prospect is scary, but it's past time.

June 5, 2012

Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein)

So I thought I was going to be able to do huge in-depth book talks every week, but (at least at the moment) I just don't have the mental bandwidth to do that and beat my WIP into submission at the same time. (More on that tomorrow.) In the absence of a big long critique, I'm just going to point to this book and tell you all to read it:

Oh my WORD, Code Name Verity (by Elizabeth Wein) is amazing. It's about two girls in service in the United Kingdom during World War II. One is a pilot (sort of), the other is a spy (sort of). There's only so much I can say about this book because of its twisty nature -- saying too much about the plot would give away some of the revelations I found most interesting. But at the very least, here are some reasons you should read it:

1. Female friendship (of the kicking-Bechtel-into-the-dirt variety). Queenie and Maddie meet under unexpected circumstances and become the closest of close friends. Their relationship is real and tangible and wonderful, and it made me cry.

2. Historical accuracy. Okay, so obviously there have to be some inaccuracies (many of which are addressed in the author note at the back of the book). But altogether, Code Name Verity is extremely well-researched and really creates an immersive experience for the reader. If you like well-done historical fiction (particularly WWII), this is your cup of tea.

3. The twistiness. Again, I can't tell you much about it. But I can say that I am a fairly well-read person. I tend to see plot twists coming a mile away...but Code Name Verity fooled me. Multiple times. Elizabeth Wein sets up certain expectations only to undermine them to great effect, and I thought it was marvelous.

In fact, marvelous is an excellent word for this book. Also devastating. And rich. I didn't float through this book in an hour -- I read every single word on every single page, because I didn't want it to end. If you like: engrossing young adult fiction, sensational female friendships, and/or historical fiction, this book is for you. Read away.

June 4, 2012

Music Monday: Eric Whitacre

Sometimes I can't say anything about Eric Whitacre except that he is a genius and his music is transcendent.

Eric Whitacre was recommended to me by an acquaintance last fall, and I immediately hopped on iTunes and downloaded his first album, Light & Gold, then waited impatiently for his second, Water Night. For those not in the know, Eric Whitacre writes complex, innovative classical arrangements (both choral and instrumental). His songs make the hair stand up on my arms EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. More personally, they've served as a huge inspiration with my current work-in-progress, as music (specifically choral song) plays a dominant role in the plot.

Besides the fact that his music is amazing, Eric Whitacre is also awesome because of his Virtual Choir project. You can read up on the history on his website, but essentially, Whitacre makes sheet music and recordings of select songs available to the public. The public (as in, you and I) then gets to film themselves singing their preferred part, and their videos are then bundled together into one. People all over the world singing. Music bringing them together. As below:



 That's the Virtual Choir recording of "Water Night," off of Whitacre's most recent album.

If you need further proof that Eric Whitacre is wonderful, please sample the following songs that I recommend the mostest:



"The Seal Lullaby," from Light & Gold.



"Alleluia," from Water Night.



And last but not least, a choral arrangement of "Goodnight Moon." Yes, you read that right. I didn't think I'd like it originally, but it grows on me each time I listen.

So. There you go. Eric Whitacre never ceases to amaze me, and if you like classical choral music (as well as instrumental), I highly highly highly recommend his music. It's stunning and beautiful and makes my chest hurt and takes my breath away, and I can only hope that it touches some of you in the same way.

June 1, 2012

Friday stuff and stuff

Apparently it's June.

And apparently this month is so special that I'm stretching out my rusty blogging muscles for it. We'll see how that goes. June, you'd better be grateful.

Anyone else out there doing Camp NaNoWriMo? I'm kind of hoping it provides the necessary motivation to kick my WIP's butt into shape. I'm at that point where I'm close enough that I feel like I'm there already, and my brain goes: "What? *grumblegrumble* thousand more words to go? Can't be, I'm already sleeping at the finish line!" But that's not technically done. It's just FAKE done. And this fake done-ness needs to stop.

At some point in the last month or so I discovered tumblr. What have I learned? 1: You can waste a LOT of time there. 2: There are lots of angry people hanging around, more so than on certain other social networking sites. It's a little mind-boggling.

Anyway, must go. Trying to fool my brain into editing doesn't work when I'm writing blog posts.

Also, I got into graduate school. There is that.

April 25, 2012

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

This is what you should all be watching:



Are you done with that? Good. Now go watch all the rest.

Done with all that? Really? Good. Now let's talk.

When Hank Green first announced this project, I admit, I was really skeptical. Why? Well... There just seemed to be so many ways to screw Pride and Prejudice up. Royally. Plus, why would you want to take away the pretty dresses? The horseback riding? All the repressed FEEEEELINGGSS only hinted at by smoldering glances and the occasional touch of the hand?

But of course I watched it. And then I followed Lizzie Bennet's tumblr and twitter, as well as those of her sisters. This is not to mention the twitter accounts of certain other characters, Bing Lee and William Darcy among them. So I can say with confidence: if you love Pride and Prejudice, you should be watching this too!

Thus far I really respect the intelligent, considered approach that Hank Green and his partner for this project, Bernie Su, have taken with regard to updating the story for the 21st century. They've both blogged (tumbld?) about the biggest difference to date: the nonexistence of two Bennet daughters, Kitty and Mary. While my heartstrings are wrenched, I can't disagree with Hank and Bernie's reasons for the change. It makes sense. That Hank and Bernie are committed to staying true to the spirit of the original story even as they mess with its modernization aspects is a big part of the reason I am a huge fan of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

The other part (the part that fills me with glee) is that now I get to imagine that Lizzie Bennet really is a 24-year-old graduate student who I really could be bestest bestest friends with. That William Darcy really does exist, exchanging peevish tweets with Caroline Lee. That I could, any day, step into this world with these characters, because what the creators of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries have done is dropped all of Austen's wonderful characters straight into my world.

So. Huge fan here. Just saying. Can't wait for the next episode (and dearly, dearly hoping that this vlog series continues through the whole book).

April 9, 2012

Genrification and Queries

I've been thinking about agents a lot during this revision cycle, and one of the things getting my goat at the moment is agent preferences.

Don't get me wrong. It's great that agents post their preferences on websites. Doing this is incredibly helpful when I'm trying to pick between four agents at one agency who all sound amazing. But...but sometimes it's confusing. See the following:

If I were to define the genre of my manuscript as specifically as possible, my description would read young adult high fantasy. (Where the definition of "high fantasy," ripped from Wikipedia, is "fantasy fiction set in an alternative...world, rather than the real...world.") J. R. R. Tolkien. Sherwood Smith. Tamora Pierce. N. K. Jemisin. Kristin Cashore. All (by this definition) high fantasy. I can't continue for fear of going on forever. Literally. Seems pretty straightforward, right?

...Except when it comes to agents who state they don't want "high fantasy" (defined as Tolkien) but are interested in "character-driven fantasy." (Insert several books here that meet the strict definition of high fantasy, including several of the above, but for whatever reason are simply more compelling than "high fantasy.") So, if I'm querying this agent I would not put "young adult high fantasy" in my query. I'd quietly erase the "high" and use "young adult fantasy" instead.

You'd think this would make sense for all my queries....except that my manuscript has mermaids. (This is not surprising, as it's a retelling of the fairy tale.) One of the agents I'm considering likes fantasy, but doesn't want anything to do with paranormals -- no vampires, mermaids, werewolves, etc. While my book has a mermaid, it's not a paranormal fantasy kind of book. The point is not the paranormal, the point is the war and the cursed polar bear and the imprisoned god, etc. When querying this agent, I'd be very specific about saying "young adult high fantasy," my point being that it's not paranormal fantasy. (And then I'd cross my fingers and hope that agent looks past the MERMAID blinder and requests material based on the rest of the pitch.)

So, young adult fantasy? Young adult high fantasy? Neither of these are incorrect. They're just...molded specifically for the attention of specific agents. It's kind of like resumes and cover letters in that regard -- just as you highlight different jobs and experiences to suit the particular job you're applying for, you can always tweak your query letter to hit (or avoid) particular buttons for particular agents.

(And anyway, if an agent loves your manuscript enough to offer representation, who cares how you defined the genre in the query? Sometimes I think people forget that queries don't have to be perfect or encompass everything in the manuscript. The sole purpose of the query is to get the agent to request material. Period. But that's probably an entirely different blog post...)

Total word count: 23,965.

March 28, 2012

Put your money where your thoughts are

I don't make many entertainment purchases. Being that I am still a person of the just-post-college variety, (thankfully) employed but not at an impressive salary level, I watch my budget. Most of the movies I watch are $1 rentals, not seen in the theaters. The vast, vast majority of the books I read are borrowed from the library.

BUT! Occasionally I can scrounge up enough couch change to afford a book or two once in a while. The question then becomes, "How do I choose between the thousands of delicious books out there?" Well, in my case it's fairly simple: I choose the ones that haunt my thoughts, that come to mind weeks (even months) after I first encountered them. I choose the things that make me smile and tickle my brain when I least expect them to reappear.

In the past week I've made two purchases, both on the strength of the glowing reminiscences I often found myself falling into:

Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers. I read an ARC of this book over a month ago and it's been in the back of my mind ever since. I mean, assassin nuns! How could you not love it? In all seriousness, Grave Mercy set off a number of my squee buttons. Powerful female protagonist? Check. Intelligent, loyal, sexy love interest? Check. I'm a big fan of well done historical novels as well, so all of the political court intrigue and horses and crossbows made me especially happy. There were a few moments where I felt that Ismae (the main character) wasn't seeing something that was obvious to me as the reader... But altogether this book was chewy and rich. After a month of fighting against it, I gave up and preordered it. I'll probably write up a full review after I do a reread. Suffice to say that Grave Mercy is great. I highly recommend it. I can't wait for the next book in the series, even if Ismae and Duval will not return as the main characters. (Keeping my fingers crossed that they make significant guest appearances...)

Okay, so I cheated. My second purchase is NOT a book, but is nearly as good. I rented Crazy, Stupid, Love in November. November! And after four months of giddy smiles over Steve Carell's bumbling, Emma Stone's through-the-roof level of adorableness, and (last but certainly not least) Ryan Gosling's smoking body, I finally bit the bullet and ordered the DVD. Let this be a message to everyone who has not yet seen this movie: SEE IT. (With the standard disclaimer that if you don't like quirky comedy, you may not like this, blah blah blah.) It's romantic, it's comedic. It's light with shades of depth. And there's Ryan Gosling, everyone's favorite sexy-dude. I had so much fun, and I fully expect to enjoy it just as much the second (and third, and fourth) time around. (Also, Josh Groban has a cameo as a douche. If that's your kind of thing.)

So, what's the point of this post? Mostly that people on a budget don't buy what looks hot. They buy what stands the test of time. I don't purchase on a whim; I let things stew. (And stew. And stew.) I am exceptionally pleased by the excellence of what I will be receiving in the mail by the by. Now the only question becomes: will I really be able to hold out until my revision is done before allowing myself the pleasure of Ryan Gosling's abs? (The answer, I suspect, is a resounding NO.)

March 27 - Day 2. Word count: 1,171. Total: 3,264.

March 27, 2012

THE LAST REVISION

Now that I've had some time and space from the frenzies of the Big Sur Writing Workshop, I'm more and more happy that I went. I brushed elbows with people I'd previously thought of as ninja robots. I learned that people think I'm a pretty good writer. I learned that not only can I take constructive criticism, I have the ability to revise successfully based on that criticism. The comments I got that weekend informed both the revision of the chapter I brought to the workshop and the way I'm thinking about revision in the rest of my book. Which leads me to my next announcement:

Last night I started the last revision on my WIP. (Side note: am I the only one who wants to intone those words in the same styling as the dodos chanting "the last melon"?) It is freaking the life out of me to say that, but it's true. When I'm done with this revision, I'll be querying agents.

So far it's a delicate balance between perfectionism and obsessiveness. I'm not sure I've reached it yet, but there must be a point at which changing one word for another simply will not make a difference as far as obtaining representation goes. Last night it took me two hours to cover minor edits in a chapter of 2,095 words. Too much?

Given that I'm confident in the final product, I'd say that two hours was just enough. But I can imagine a hellish world in which I'm huddled greasy-haired and sleep-deprived over the glow of the computer screen, muttering crazily to myself for days about the relative merits of "shouted" versus "cried." (Is it terrible that it took me ten minutes to come up with a decently innocuous word comparison to use here? Maybe it's worse that I can still come up with ample justification for why "shouted" is nothing like "cried," and that making the right choice means (to me) the difference between effusive praise and dismissive sneers.)

In any case, I'm moving at moderate speed ahead. Much as I would like to be done in a week, that is crazy-talk. I'm setting myself a goal of at least one scene a day. Some scenes require significantly more work than others. Some scenes haven't even been written yet. The best advice I can give to myself is to just keep going. I'll get there. Eventually.

March 26 - Day 1. Word count: 2,095.

March 12, 2012

Break time

Before we begin, a side note: Is there anything better than a fresh Kit Kat? Anything? (Although they do get depressingly stale very quickly...)

So when we last left our heroine, she was taking a break from writing after an exceptionally exhausting weekend at the Big Sur Writing Workshop. Wow. Let me tell you, I had a lot to digest. I had a lot of really good feedback, as well as some stuff that kind of spun me around and spit me out, all chewed-on. There were high moments, and there were low moments. There was a moment where I was convinced I had to completely restructure the book. And a moment where I was convinced I had to trash it. And then there were the moments driving home, where I was bursting with IDEAS! and CHARACTERS! and PLOT!

And then I got home and promptly crashed. (Insert second WOW here.) I am so insanely happy about having taken this break. After the (naturally) unsettling experience of having my work before professionals for the first time, I needed the week off to read some books, watch some TV, and (in the background) let my book settle down, out of the crazy-spinny "MUST MAKE ALL THE CHANGES" place, and back into the subtler, quieter, "This is my story and I know its heart" arena.

As of today I'm back on my feet. Last Sunday I set myself a firm week-long break, and when I woke up yesterday unable to keep myself from jotting down part of a scene, I knew it was time to return. So, it's revision time (yet again). I'll be taking it slower after the insanity that was February. I'm taking a lot of the advice I received at Big Sur, and leaving some on the table--and that's okay. I'll remember at all times the book that I want to write, and strive toward it wholeheartedly.

And maybe (just maybe) at the end of this I'll be ready to query. (And that prospect scares me like no other. But that's another story...)

March 4, 2012

Tired, exhausted, drained (Big Sur)

Have gotten back from the workshop.

Am so tired, cannot write in complete sentences.

That's a bit of an exaggeration. Suffice to say they worked us hard. I was up early and thinking writing all day long. I'm usually a night writer (my best hours tend to be 8-11pm), but this weekend I was comatose by 10:00 both nights. I think I learned a lot, but I'm so tired right now my brain can't begin to process it all.

I met some interesting people. Learned that agents are also people (not robots). Put faces to some names I've been circling around for a while. Got good feedback on the pieces I worked on.

...and I made it back in one piece. That's the most important part, right?

I may have suffered a small burnout. Since I took the leap and signed up for the workshop (almost exactly a month ago), my life has boiled down to two things: work, and writing. Everything else (reading, friends, running) took a very distant backseat.

So as much as I'm itching to dive into my revisions (I think my WIP might be ready to query after this round!), I think I need to take a step back for a little bit. Sleep. That would be good. Read something other than my own words. Go outdoors at least once a day. Maybe blog more often than every full moon. Shake up the internet and ask if anyone is still out there.

But for now I'll settle for a comfortable bed. Oh, to not have to work in the morning...

February 15, 2012

Big Sur Writing Workshop (and crazy-face goals)

I have been absent, but I have good reasons:

I took the plunge and registered for the Big Sur Writing Workshop, to be held the first weekend of March. Not only is this the very first professional workshop/conference/anything! I've ever been to as a prospective writer, it will also be the first time I've rented a car. Ever. Not to mention the fact that I haven't driven more than a few blocks in five years. (Let the adventure ensue.)

Honestly, I had absolutely no idea I was going to be interested in this workshop a month ago. I wasn't even thinking about workshops -- mostly I was moping about how much I had left to do on my current WIP before I could possibly consider sending queries for it. But then one of my friends came back from a conference of his own, gushing, and I saw Casey McCormick's post about it a few weeks ago, and all of a sudden I was thinking thoughts like, It's only BARELY out of my price range, and Why not? Because really, WHY NOT? I've been seriously plugging away at this writing thing for close to two years now, and to be honest, I haven't really gotten where I wanted to be (or even close). Maybe it's time to change something up, I thought.

So I registered. Which turned out to be a great decision right off the bat, as it forced me to write a query for the first time. I think it's sort of okay, but who really knows? (Hint: After this workshop, I will!)

I'm excited. I'm really, really excited. For the first time ever, my writing is going to be in front of (relatively) objective eyes. Specifically, objective eyes from one of the most respected children's lit agencies in the country (Andrea Brown Literary). I had a dream about it last night, that's how crazy excited I am...

...But there's just one (tiny) catch: My WIP is not ready to be seen by objective eyes. In fact, before I signed up for this workshop I was busy doing an enormous drag-down beat-it-out rewrite of the entire thing. And then, suddenly, I had four weeks to beat it into shape. (GULP.)

So that's where I've been all of February. I finished the rewrite on Monday (YAY!), but now am look forward to the sprintiest marathon of my life as I attempt (Heroic or tragic? You decide.) to prettify this draft sufficiently in the next two and a half weeks. I'm doing a rough outline tonight and diving in tomorrow. There is a good chance I will not survive. (There is an even greater chance that you will not hear from me until after the workshop. Gentles, do not despair.)

Are any of you going to be there? It occurs to me that I have absolutely no idea what I am getting myself into...

January 29, 2012

Re: The Hunchback

I should really come up with a feature title for these posts, since I may be doing more of them. No literary analysis here as yet - just one (spoiler-free) quote. My favorite of the first 160 pages, regarding the bells of Notre Dame:
"Here, certainly, is an opera worth hearing. Ordinarily, the murmur that escapes from Paris in the daytime is the city talking; in the night, it is the city breathing, but here, it is the city singing. Listen then to this ensemble of the steeples; diffuse over it the murmur of half a million people, the everlasting plaint of the river, the boundless breathings of the wind, the grave and distant quartet of the four forests placed upon the hills in the distance like so many vast organs, immersing in them, as in a demitint, all in the central concert that would otherwise be too raucous or too sharp, and then say whether you know of anything in the world more rich, more joyous, more golden, more dazzling than this tumult of bells and chines, this furnace of music, these ten thousand voices of brass, all singing together in flutes of stone three hundred feet high--than this city which is no longer anything but an orchestra--than this symphony as loud as a tempest." (p. 133)
 This quote takes my breath away. I imagine actually hearing the bells would produce a similar effect.

January 26, 2012

Tumblr?

I always believe that I don't have that many internet homes, but when I list them all out my eyes tend to go slightly buggy. My "for-public-consumption" homes include two blogs (this one, as well as one currently in hibernation), one twitter feed (this one), and one pinterest account (this one). That's probably not so many, come to think of it...

While I've engaged in brief flirtations with other services in the past there hasn't been one that's caught my eye...except tumblr. People do things on tumblr. Shiny things. Things that make me think that maybe I should do shiny things on tumblr as well. Except...really, does the world need "just another tumblr blog"? Given that I have enough trouble keeping this one up-to-date and (hopefully) at least a smidge above "watching paint dry" on the boring scale, I probably should not start a tumblr without a clear vision. Which means starting a tumblr is not in my immediate plans.

But still...shiny. So, anyone who has a tumblr, I'm soliciting opinions here. What do you think of yours? The service? What is it good at? Any tips would be appreciated.

January 25, 2012

The Canon: The Phantom Tollbooth

Can you believe that I read this book for the first time last week?

I know, it's incredible. Astonishing, really, that a bookavore so well-read as I could possibly go twenty two years without The Phantom Tollbooth clutched greedily in her paws.

To be honest I was a little concerned when I began this book that it would turn out much like my reading experience of Betsy-Tacy. I read that one for the first time in December, and while I could see my five-year-old self adoring these books, my twenty-two-year-old self merely nodded approvingly in a few places and shrugged at the end.

Luckily The Phantom Tollbooth is a book no word lover could ever shrug at. This is why, though it hasn't been in my life for very long, I feel confident in saying that The Phantom Tollbooth will have a treasured place in my hypothetical child's library. (Of course my child will love words as I do - how could s/he not?)

Frequent readers of this sort of book will not be fooled by the dangers presented in its pages. Of course Milo will rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason and come out at the other end alive. That good triumphs in the end is not at question. The delight, then, is in the words themselves.

It's clear that Norton Juster is a master at wordplay. The wit! The double meanings! The literalization of the Doldrums, Expectations, Conclusions... There is something witty happening on every page. I loved every second of this book, though if forced to pick and choose I would give Tock first prize, followed closely by Chroma's orchestra.

If you love words and adventures and dogs, I recommend this book to you. It would be an excellent read-aloud pick, but only if you share the illustrations liberally.

January 13, 2012

Reading the Classics

This is not a hugely long analytic post about how to read the classics. This is just to say, I'm reading them. I made a few resolutions for 2012, none of which have anything to do with reading. But the start of a new year is always a good time to reflect on things, even if you don't elevate goals into the elite status of "Resolution," so this year I want to do this, reading-wise: read the classics.

I've been around the classics block. I've certainly read more classic literature than the average American (though less than the average English major, no doubt). I count Les Miserables among one of my all-time favorite books (and I was looking forward to the new movie adaptation...until they cast Taylor Swift...). It's not like my life is completely bereft of the classics...but these days my literary diet consists mostly of young adult.

There's nothing wrong with young adult! I love young adult! I write young adult! But sometimes I want a book guaranteed to push me and make me think. Over the winter holidays I read Emma, and boy did that make my brain hurt in the "I really can't read more than two chapters at a time without feeling my eyes blurring" way. Reading the classics is often difficult, and I like that. I like reading sentences more than once to catch the double- or triple-meaning. I like feeling like I'm soaking in the knowledge of a different era, a different mindset, a different life. I like working for it, is what it comes down to.

So, my goal: to always be reading a classic. Right now I'm mining my own shelves, since I have a number of very nice hardcover editions I haven't even cracked. Having just finished Emma (and I may have to review it here, just to see what you all think of it), I'll be starting The Hunchback of Notre Dame in a few days. I may post thoughts here. Or maybe not. I suppose you'll just have to wait and see.

January 4, 2012

Notes To Myself

To myself (and to you), for 2012 (and beyond), on this blog (and beyond):

Write for yourself, not for an audience. Do not censor yourself in anticipation of future "platform" issues. Swear, if swearing is called for. Be frivolous, if frivolity is invited. Break rules. Write what you want, when you want. Write things worth reading. Write things that make you think. Write things with no simple answers. Talk to people to whom you want to talk. Comment on the blogs that interest you. Talk to everyone...or talk to no one. You owe nothing to anyone except to yourself, as a writer, as a blogger.

Above all things stay true to yourself.