Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Write Wednesday: The Breakout Novel & Me

Happy Halloween!!!  This is my favorite holiday -- dress up, candy, movies (Tim Burton), and party time!  What could be better??  I'm dressed up as Velma from Scooby-Doo -- pink turtleneck sweater, brown plaid skirt, loafer shoes, glasses and bangs.  It is one of the few outfits I could get away with at work.

(Are you dressed up today?)

I'm currently reading Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass and to date, it's one of the best books on writing I've read.  Plunging into the depths of what it means to write great literature, Donald makes the reading engaging, super-instructive and then shows you the bullet points of the chapter.  He also uses real-world examples (Jurassic Park!) to show you what he means.  Basically the perfect book on writing (for me).

The most helpful chapters so far...are all of them.  Seriously.  The last one I read, on plot, was extremely helpful as I contemplate the structure of my novel -- did you know different genres have "ready-made" plots?

Trying to stuff all this learning into my brain while I'm plotting my NaNoWriMo novel feels like I'm in college again (which isn't a bad feeling at all, remarkably).

As for the NaNoWriMo activities, on Saturday we had our Kick-Off party at church, where we were given grab bags of helpful handouts (a NaNoWriMo calendar among them), candy, and odds and ends (including an official NaNoWriMo sticker which is going on my computer!), all of which we used during the afternoon.  We made our own Mad Libs, wrote out plot bunnies and plot ninjas for each other (they're VERY different), and ate things like goldfish crackers and fun-size candy bars.  It was fantastic.  We also talked about our books with each other and spent some time helpfully adding in snacks and procrastination devices on our friends' sheets (Survival Sheets -- what to do when you have writer's block!).

I missed the Character Mixer online (sad face) but heard it was a riot.  I'm going to do more online events this year -- as well as attend some of the Sunday write-ins at the library!

I think I finally found a title for my book (still toying with it but I like the sound) and today I'm plotting out the scenes of my book.  My goal is forty (hopefully that means I'll be writing between 60,000-80,000 words, which is typical length for a novel, even though I only need 50,000 to win NaNoWriMo) scenes.  I've written about 1/4 today and realized that I have a problem: I don't know what the ending is yet.  !!!  I'm struggling to keep the tone consistent and while I don't want it to be a heart-breaking, sad book, I don't want it to be saccharine, either.  One writing book said that an ending, to be completely satisfying, must contain something the character gained and lost.  In other words, the character needs to have gone through something and possibly lost someone/something to gain experience/insight, etc.  So I'm keeping that in mind as I plot today.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo?  Or have you read a really great book lately that I should read/review??  Tell me in the comments.

See you Friday!

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Girl Walked Into A Bar: Rachel Dratch's Autobiography

Happy Monday!

I have discovered this year that I love biographies/autobiographies/memoirs -- I've read the lives of Carol Burnett, Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, Elizabeth Taylor, Steve Martin, and more.  And now, Rachel Dratch (I'm just waiting on Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig's books).

Rachel was one of the gang of SNL comediennes in the era I started watching -- along with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph.  These hilarious and beautiful ladies graced the screen and inspired me by being tough, intelligent and somewhat put together.

Rachel Dratch (famous for her Debbie Downer sketch, or the always exciting cameos on 30 Rock) was the one nobody seemed to know much about (I think she's more private than the others, although they are all pretty private) and so I was curious to see what she would be writing about in her new book.

It was quite a shock what she discussed -- the 30 Rock debacle (in which she had no hard feelings, she and Tina knew the network/show would be changing things up and Rachel and Tina are still friends), her dating disasters (really, she had the WORST luck) and the miracle of giving birth at 44 (by accidental pregnancy).

Not a shock in a bad way, just that someone would be so candid about their life.  I guess I'm an extremely private person and I don't know just what I'd be comfortable sharing -- but maybe that's the point of an autobiography, that you're really sitting down with thousands of people who want to know you and allowing them a peek into your private life.

There were quite a few things people might be uncomfortable with (certain words or situations), but Rachel steers clear of nitty gritty details, which was a relief.  Some people don't know when to leave something up to the reader's imaginations.

What she did write about she wrote with a funny, cheeky style and I feel like if I ever get to meet her, I'd love to spend an afternoon just listening to her stories.  She writes things so easily and you really feel like you're getting to know her and see why she is who she is.

The ending did make me sad -- she got pregnant (she thought she was going through menopause) after dating someone for about six months and although he moved across the country to be with her and the baby (which is wonderful), they haven't really defined their relationship and are taking everything one step at a time as they try to figure out life with a newborn.  I know Rachel says she's completely ok with this, but I know there are some nights where she must toss and turn, worrying about how Eli will grow up -- with a Jewish religious experience (her preference)?  With/without married parents?  With a dad who's around a lot?  With a busy mom?  The unknowns frighten me and I hope Rachel has the strength to face the unknown -- although, from reading her story, she's been doing that her whole life, so clearly, she's up to the challenge.

I'd love to meet her someday -- to thank her for all the laughs on SNL, for being candid, and for inspiring the rest of us to roll with the punches and take what life gives you.

See you all on Write Wednesday for a peek into pre-NaNo activities and a writing book that's currently blowing my mind (it is fantastic)!

Next week's review will be about Veronica Rossi's debut novel, Under the Never Sky.

Stay tuned!

Friday, October 26, 2012

First Line Friday No. 12

It's always fun trying to figure out which book to share with you on Fridays.  My practice has been to go to Amazon and look through the first pages of several books -- old favorites, new finds, recommended reads, etc.  Today the word "pirates" popped into my head so I mentally flipped through all the pirate books I've stuck my nose in (quite a few) and came up with the best alternate history/pirate swaggery book known to literature. 

"One day when she was sixteen, Art remembered her mother.  It happened because Art fell down a flight of steps and hit her head on a wooden bannister carved in the shape of an eagle.  

She sat there, dizzy, staring back up the stairs at a group of very stupid girls, all giggling and pointing, with large books ridiculously balanced on the over-curled hair that crowned their heads.  And Art thought, who are they? And then -- 

And then she thought of a slim, strong woman, not tall but looking taller because her legs were so long and outlined by the trousers and boots she wore.  A woman with strawberry-blond hair tied back in a knot and eyes the impossible green of gooseberries.  And this was Molly Faith.  This was her mother.  Though for six years Art hadn't thought of her, hadn't remembered her -- this unforgettable and wonderful parent, who had been a pirate captain on the High Seas."

--From Piratica, by Tanith Lee

Seriously.  I just love this book.  It's a fascinating alternate world/history, has strong female characters, and have I mentioned PIRATES??

Reasons to keep reading:

1.  Tanith Lee has sprinkled in descriptors without being intrusive -- "carved in the shape of an eagle".  Little details like that really give you a picture of the world without taking you out of the story.  I'm learning about that this week in another writing book.

2.  Art is just a cool name.  So is Molly Faith.

3.  "very stupid girls" -- I like Art already.

4.  I instantly want to know what happened to Molly Faith.

5.  PIRATE CAPTAIN???  Will Art follow in her footsteps???  That's it.  I must read it all in one sitting, immediately.

Do you love pirates?  Treasure maps?  Chases on the High Seas?  Secrets?  You've got to read this book.

Don't forget, run the YAmazing Race for a chance to win a boatload of awesome bookstuffs -- and read something this weekend (then comment on here to let me know what I should read next)!

Next week:

Review of Rachel Dratch's new memoir, A Girl Walks Into a Bar
Write Wednesday review of Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
First Line Friday

Check back on Monday!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Write Wednesday: Mixed Bag

Welcome back to Write Wednesday!

Today I'm going to be talking about:

A Beginning, A Muddle and an End -- Avi's unconventional book on writing (a sequel!)

Worldbuilding using The Five Senses (as discussed in Monday night's NaNoWriMo event)

AND the YAmazing Race -- a 50-blog hop around the web with PRIZES and introductions to new books!

Are you excited?  You totally should be.  (Mostly about that last bit, right??)

Avi's A Beginning, A Muddle and an End is a sequel to his thought-provoking The End of the Beginning -- but it isn't a typical sequel.  The End of the Beginning speaks about the meaning of things, while A Beginning, A Muddle and an End: The Right Way to Write Writing is specifically about what it means to be a teller of tales (The books feature the same main characters, a snail and his friend, an ant).

A Beginning, A Muddle and an End is hilarious -- I laughed through most of the book.  Avi cleverly twists words, offers advice and pokes fun at the way people look at writers (even writers themselves) and the process of writing.

If you want a fresh look at creating stories and living like an author instead of plodding through a dull and dusty text, try this one on for size.

In our local chapter of NaNoWriMo, we like to get together BEFORE November 1 and gab, gab, gab about what we're doing -- we also like to play games (Expando Sentence, Word Wars and role-playing as characters are among the favorites), eat more than our weight in candy, and buy waaaaay too many pristine and shiny new notebooks.  And also, err, learn stuff that will help us in our crafting of novels come November 1.

SO, our MLs (chapter heads, municipal liaisons) produced a World Building Online Event.  We eagerly logged on around 8:00 and chatted back and forth the entire time whilst 'listening' to the moderator about how to deepen our world using the five senses.

We took one character and plunged them into the busiest street in our world (for mine, that was in the middle of her city).  We were told to write out:

3 things the character sees (landmarks -- particular to him/her)
3 things the character smells
3 things the character tastes (defeat, smoke, etc.)
3 things the character feels (pavement, jacket, etc.)
3 things the character hears

These were scattered throughout the chat, not all at once.  It was a fantastic exercise because we had to close our eyes and take a good, hard look at how detailed our worlds were.  I thought I had a pretty solid grasp on mine (I went through 30 Days of Worldbuilding, after all), but I realized I had left out a few of the senses.  Grounding the character in the world will also help the reader, which is highly important since, you know, you want someone to enjoy your writing (even if it's just you and your family!).

It gave me a lot to think about and I might even go do some research (wander around downtown) so I can get the authentic take on a middling size city and its smells, sounds, sights, etc.  It was also interesting to read everyone else's -- some were extremely detailed (the food descriptions were mouth-watering), some sparse, but all were unique and interesting.

We also did an exercise where we had to have the character overhear a line of dialogue (mine was, "Where is that glittery little freak?") -- VERY HELPFUL when establishing tone and pronunciation, vocabulary, etc.

another thing we did was discuss what made our stories OURS.  What differentiates mine from my friend Mage Raven's story?  What's the unique thing about my book?  Being able to articulate that was encouraging and inspiring.

The last thing we did was to create a string of words that gave us the "feel" of our novel, something that will help us get 'in the mood' when writing as quickly as possible.  For example:  upon reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, I might say the string of words consisted of the following -- dreary, eye, mysterious, V.F.D., library/books, siblings, adventure.  All of those would bring to mind the series and help me flesh it out.  Does that make sense?

It was an extremely helpful and productive event, as you can see -- even for someone who's already spent a lot of time on worldbuilding!

OK -- so, the two most exciting parts of the post:

1. LEMONY SNICKET'S NEW BOOK CAME OUT YESTERDAY.  (Who Could That Be At This Hour?, Book 1 of the All The Wrong Questions series)  My friend texted me last night to say he had bought it and was halfway through AND IT HAD ALREADY ANSWERED THE QUESTION ABOUT THE QUESTION MARK IN THE OCEAN.  AHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Anyway...

2.  Take part in the YAmazing Race!  Project Mayhem (a collection of awesome middle grade writers) is doing a ridiculously cool blog-hop contest and the prizes are out of this world -- books, bookmarks, author-signed copies, stickers, mugs, tees, keychains, etc.  YOU REALLY DON'T WANT TO MISS THIS.  Each leg of the race consists of about 12 books, then you fill out a quiz about the synopses you read and then you can complete the next leg of the contest (there are 4; I've done two already).  Also, most authors are doing a separate giveaway on their blog, so remember to look for that as well.  The rules and contest info can be found here: YAmazing Race

Hurry, it ends Monday, October 29th!  Good luck!

...See you on Friday for First Lines!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Storm Front: Book 1 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

I'm continuing to branch out on my reading list -- last week I delved into a non-YA fantasy, the first of a series -- book one of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

I might call it Crime Fantasy (for adults) or Adult Crime/Fantasy Fiction but whatever genre it's in, it's kind of what you'd get if Harry Potter was an American and moved to Chicago after fighting Voldemort without any of his friends.

Hard-boiled crime, intriguing/dangerous magic, and otherworldly creatures thread through the story of Harry Dresden, a somewhat cynical (caustic?), very romantic (his descriptions of women/his Gentleman's Code), intelligent wizard who's just trying to keep everyone off his back -- the police, the White Council, and a mob boss.

Harry simply wants to keep to himself, but between trying to help people and working for the police department, he becomes a target -- as a suspect and the real killer's next move.

This is a great book about what it is to have to rely on only yourself -- it was a sort of insight into what it's like being an adult (thankfully we don't have to worry about the magic so much).  Harry doesn't have a lot of friends, he's just trying to pay his bills, and it seems like everyone's against him.  Luckily, Harry's a tough and determined individual with just the right mix of bravery, panache and guts to get the job done, regardless of who is on his side.

I'm curious to see how a series that starts with such a BANG will continue.  I've watched some of the TV show (like a lot of good TV, it got canceled right as it started getting great) and liked it so I wonder how much they took from the books.

Caution: This is an adult (not 'Adult' but 'adult' -- believe me, there's a huge difference) novel so there are some...scenes/descriptions (nothing extremely detailed, just a general idea of what's going on), including a murder scene that you might want to skip over.

That being said -- I love Jim Butcher's style, I ADORE Harry Dresden (excellent, excellent dialogue/zingers/internal monologue) and I can't wait to read more. 

Up next:

I'll be discussing a writing book on Write Wednesday, plus some great worldbuilding stuff I learned at the online NaNoWriMo group chat last night

First Line Friday

Next week -- I'll be posting an autobiography review along with the usual suspects, WW & FLF.

See you Wednesday!

Friday, October 19, 2012

First Line Friday No. 11

"In the prison under the castle Allaze, in the dark, moldy cells where the greatest criminals in Mellinor spent the remainder of their lives counting rocks to stave off madness, Eli Monpress was trying to wake up a door.

It was a heavy oak door with an iron frame, created centuries ago by an overzealous carpenter to have, perhaps, more corners than it should.  The edges were carefully fitted to lie flush against the stained, stone walls, and the heavy boards were nailed together so tightly that not even the flickering torch light could wedge between them.  In all, the effect was so overdone, the construction so inhumanly strong, that the whole black affair had transcended simple confinement and become a monument to the absolute hopelessness of the prisoner's situation.  Eli decided to focus on the wood; the iron would have taken forever.

He ran his hands over it, long fingers gently tapping in a way living trees find desperately annoying, but dead wood finds soothing, like a scratch behind the ears.  At last, the boards gave a little shudder and said, in a dusty, splintery voice, "What do you want?""

--From The Legend of Eli Monpress (the Omnibus edition) by Rachel Aaron

 I've been devouring every word Rachel's written on writing (from her blog, Pretentious Title, and her new book, 2k to 10k) for the past few weeks in prep for NaNoWriMo -- and other various writing projects.

Rachel takes a light-hearted, yet very practical approach to writing and it shows in her fantasy fiction.  If you like thieves, magic, snark/wit, intrigue, thrills, and swordfights, PLEASE read her books!  They're "adult" fiction (as in they feature adult characters) but something I love about them is that she doesn't rely on gore, sex or cursing to make them so.

You know you're in for a thrill reading this first page, right?  It hooks you, especially that first and last line.

Reasons I love it:

1.  Mellinor.  Such a great name.

2.  "Greatest criminals...spent the remainder of their lives counting rocks to stave off madness..."  O.o  Who are they?  What did they steal?

3.  WAKE UP A DOOR???  I must read further!

4.  The door description is awesome -- "...the effect was so overdone...that the whole black affair transcended simple confinment and became a monument to the absolute hopelessness of the prisoner's situation."  HOW is Eli going to get out of THIS?

5.  A dusty, splintery voice.  I can hear it.  And why is Eli waking it and talking to it???

It's such a fun series -- I've read almost 3/5 and I'm going be asking for the last two for Christmas.  :D

(The new covers are awesome)

I won the Omnibus in a contest Rachel held and I've been meaning to review it on here (I wanted to put up some pictures) so maybe in the next few weeks (pre-NaNo) I'll finally do it.

Happy Weekend, everybody!

Now go read something.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Write Wednesday: Rachel Aaron's awesome new book!

Welcome back to Write Wednesday!

I picked up 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron for 99 cents (!!!) last week and have been reminded just how much I love her writing (she's the author of the Eli Monpress novels).

I'm 3/4 of the way through and already I'm anxious to jump the gun and go ahead and get started on my NaNoWriMo novel, if only to try out Rachel's completely sane methods for getting a completely insane word count.

Most of what I read yesterday was about plot and characters.  Rachel seems to be a visual person, so what she has to say about writing resonates with me strongly.  Once she has a plotted outline, she spends time picturing everything like it's a movie.  If something is boring, slow, or useless, out it goes.  Then, every day before she starts writing, she scribbles down the details of each scene.  This way you're avoiding wasting time (by not having to make things up, think through a scene, figure out the structure, etc.) and can spend more (productive) time making sure your first draft is stronger.

Characters are a little harder to pin down but here again, Rachel has spent a lot of time up front with them to ensure that she is acquainted enough to write them.  I'm hoping that by spending time from here on out until November with them I'll be able to tell when I'm headed off in the wrong direction.

I completed the 30 Days of Worldbuilding booklet and am now going to be mostly concerned with plotting and characters -- so Rachel's book arrived right on time!  I'm going to do some short writing exercises (bonus material) with the characters, make up a playlist (or two -- maybe one for "character songs" and one for the soundtrack), and spend some time plotting, which is a weak point for me.

I've got a pretty strong opening, a somewhat foggy ending and no clue what's supposed to happen in the middle apart from snatches of funny/scary things I'd love to write.  Rachel's got some great advice for that too -- she figures out the ending first, then the beginning, and if she gets stuck in between, she asks, "What happens after that?" to get from one place to the next.  Using that question to step from plot point to plot point makes the storyline more logical (yay) and much stronger the first time around.

So, if you're interested in writing at all (even if you simply want to take a stab at NaNoWriMo this year -- which you should), check out Rachel Aaron's straightforward, fun, and illuminating read and get to work!

See you on Friday for First Lines!

Friday, October 12, 2012

First Line Friday No. 10

Do you have a book (or books) that you tend to keep to yourself?  One that's so special you keep it a secret, lest someone else read it and not understand its draw?  I have these books.  And though I've tried sharing a few of them with good friends, invariably, I'm disappointed by their reactions (or lack thereof).

Except for my friend E and the book The Golden Age by Kenneth Grahame.  We've read certain chapters over and over, laughing and re-enacting our favorite lines.  Apart from that, however, I hug these stories close so that they'll be appreciated.

Today I'm sharing one of those stories.

I am Buran, daughter of Malik, and the fourth of the seven female children born to him, and to his wife of holy memory, my mother Zubaydah.  My father was called Abu al-Benat, the father of daughters, and the title was not considered an honorable one.  Allah had not seen fit to bless him with sons, and all that happened afterward stemmed from that fact.  O my children, the ways of Allah are beyond human understanding.  What we imagine to be a blessing can actually be a curse, and what we suppose to be a curse may blossom into a blessing.

The marvelous chain of events about which I will tell you began one evening as I sat in the courtyard with my father, playing chess.

--From Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen & Bahija Lovejoy

Reasons I love it:

1. Buran's a middle child -- a child often overlooked in the family structure and therefore, able to "get away" with being the odd one out.

2.  Her poor father -- burdened by his daughters' welfare.  I can see him, smiling at his lovely daughters while secretly worrying how he is going to provide for him (somewhat reminiscent of other poor parents in stories who love their children but can't afford to take care of them, often prompting one of the children to be their savior)

3.  What is "all that happened afterward"??

4.  I instantly want to know how the blessing/curse through line will turn out.

5.  "Marvelous" chain of events?  Just how big will this story be??

The book is based on an Iraqi folktale and is one of my favorite re-imaginings.  There's a gentleness, a mysterious Eastern quality and the comeuppance of the century (as well as a beautiful love story).  It's a fantastic little gem that's rarely talked about.

Which books are you protective of?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Write Wednesday: Thoughts on Worldbuilding

In preparation for National Novel Writing Month, I'm going through 30 Days of Worldbuilding, a free resource that helps you base your novel in a somewhat realistic environment so that you aren't writing characters into a blank world.

That got me thinking -- what do you incorporate into a story (short, novella or novel-length) to give depth to it and allow the reader to sink into another world?  Because that's ultimately the goal -- we read to escape, even if we end up being exposed to truth or ideas worth thinking through along the way.

Descriptions -- although this can be very overdone (especially in new writers' stories), a few succinct descriptions about the weather, landscape or buildings will help cement the character in a world, one that with a little help, the reader can imagine (and escape into).

Tone/Consistency -- you don't want to say the city was gritty and then later say it was pristine.  Being consistent with word choice helps the world seem more solid (This could apply to the weather, the landscape, the types of people, the food, etc.).

Familiar Items/Landmarks -- highlighting one feature in the landscape allows the reader to recognize and remember how something 'looks' (The Shadow Fold in Shadow & Bone is a great example).

Senses -- allow the reader to experience your story through more than one of their senses -- describe the smell of a dinner cooking, or let them 'hear'  a rock concert with your characters.  Touch, sight, taste, smell, sound: be creative in using several of these.

Anything else to add?

I'm going to be studying a few books for just this purpose -- I'm including a list below, of the books that have made strong impressions on me (I can picture their settings without taking a peep into their pages) and would therefore help me in my quest for the creation of a realistic world:

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
A Series of Unfortunate Events (selected chapters from books 1-13) by Lemony Snicket
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery

I would love any recommendations of books that left you with a strong impression of setting/mood/tone.

Thanks and see you on Friday for First Lines!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

This might be my favorite debut novel of the year.

Leigh Bardugo's also kind of definitely my hero.

She's a makeup artist in Hollywood (!!!), she's glamorous and dramatic, she sings in a band (!!!) called Captain Automatic and she writes.

Can I have her life?  Or at least something similar?

Anyway -- you really need to check out the first book of her Grisha trilogy.

It's sharp.

The font used reminds me of Joan Aiken's Wolves Chronicles (excellent font AND stories) and her style is reminiscient of older, Grimm fairytales.  It feels like a story that fairytales came from.

The Russia-esque fantasy world Leigh's created is cold, biting, and desperate.  The two main characters are tough survivors and I absolutely can't wait to see where the story goes from here.

I blazed through the book in two sittings because I couldn't wait to see what would happen -- and I'm very in awe of a) Leigh's writing and b) her editor because this book is pretty much flawless.

It has already been optioned for a movie (because it's so awesome) and I think with how they've been doing with The Hunger Games and Lord of the Rings, they just might be able to pull it off.

If you want to check out Leigh Bardugo or the Grisha trilogy (there's a free short story in the mix too, although it does have adult content -- be ye forwarned), click over to her site HERE.

See you tomorrow for Write Wednesday!

Friday, October 5, 2012

First Line Friday No. 9


I think Fridays are my favorite days to blog -- I love discovering new books and great first lines have always thrilled me.  I think my favorite one when I was younger was the opening to "The Lion, The Witch, & the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis:

"Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids."

While it isn't a particularly attention-grabbing hook, the use of  "Once" (reminiscent of "Once Upon a Time..." stories) and the historical aspect of it (World War II/Fantasy) always intrigued me.

There are other books whose first lines aren't a plunge into action right off, and while they're rather overlooked at the moment (new writing advice says to 'plunge right in' to the action and never let your reader take a breath), I enjoy the time an author takes to paint the scene.  It allows the story to feel more real, sometimes.

So today we'll be looking at an opening that isn't as attention-grabbing as, for instance, the Maximum Ride series opener, but it slowly pulls you in's too late.  (shiver)

Standing on the edge of a crowded road, I looked down onto the rolling fields and abandoned farms of the Tula Valley and got my first glimpse of the Shadow Fold.  My regiment was two weeks' march from the military encampment at Poliznaya and the autumn sun was warm overhead, but I shivered in my coat as I eyed the haze that lay like a dirty smudge on the horizon.

A heavy shoulder slammed into me from behind.  I stumbled and nearly pitched face-first into the muddy road.  "Hey!" shouted the shoulder.  "Watch yourself!"  "Why don't you watch your fat feet?" I snapped, and took some satisfaction from the surprise that came over his broad face.  People, particularly big men carrying big rifles, don't expect lip from a scrawny thing like me.  They always look a bit dazed when they get it.

--From Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy, Book 1) by Leigh Bardugo

This story starts right before something big happens.  It takes a short amount of time to develop a sense of the world and introduce you to the main character without you having to scramble and acquaint yourself mid-flight (or mid-run or whatever).

Reasons to keep reading:

1.  Abandoned farms?  "Shadow Fold"?  Tell me more!

2.  Our MC is in the military -- why are they moving, what are they fighting?  Where does our MC fit in?

3.  I love a character with sass/lip.  It makes for great dialogue

4.  This character appears to do the unexpected.  I am interested.

5.  Honestly, the title and cover alone made me want to read the book.  So there's that.

This one was on my To-Read list that I wrote up a few weeks back and I was so excited when I saw our library had it!  I'll be posting a review soon, so stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Write Wednesday -- Tips & Tricks for NaNoWriMo 2012

Hello again!

November is National Novel Writing Month.  Each November (and now June and August -- Camp NaNoWriMo), writers around the world gather (or stay home) to tap out or scribble 50,000 words.

I started doing NaNoWriMo back in 2009 and I've "won" (hit 50,000 words) every year.  This year I also did Camp NaNoWriMo in August (won that one too) so this is my fifth NaNoWriMo.  I'm going to share some tips and tricks I've learned over the years in case (and in the hopes) you'd care to join me (please do!).

I'll break it down into three sections: plotting, writing, and revisions.


The first few years, I was a "pantster" (meaning I just wrote whatever was coming out of my brain -- no plotting, no planning, no forethought), but I've learned since then that I'm the type of person who needs an outline.  I then experimented with very strict, elaborate plotting (things like The Snowflake Method, which is awesome) and realized that burned me out and I had no desire to start the actual writing. 

This year, during the August Camp NaNoWriMo, I did some math and created a very basic plot structure.  I also wrote a very basic outline, writing down specific scenes before I typed them out each day.  It was effortless, easy, fun, and joyous.  I've found what works for me.

My advice?  Try doing it a different way every time until you figure out what works best for you -- and whatever works, know it probably won't be like everybody else's process and be fine with that.  You are unique and your plotting method will be too.  It will also grow and change over the years. That's good!

I'm also visual -- so things like collages (cut out pictures from magazines clued to a big piece of cardboard), Pinterest boards, etc. really help me.  I create playlists as well -- soundtracks are especially good when you're trying to figure out pacing.

Here's a few things to get you started: The Process of Plotting from WriteOnCon2012, and Create A Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps


Some people can crank out thousands of words in a day.  Unless I've really thought about it (or not thought at all), I find it almost impossible to write more than 4,000 words a day.  I'm much better off making a goal of writing 2,000 words and only going on if I've carefully explored the next section and know what I'm doing.  During a NaNo write-in, I wrote 8k but it was complete crap. 

My advice?

Again, see what feels right to you -- you might only be able to write 1500 words a day at first (I think the NaNoWriMo goal is 1667 a day to total 50,000 words in a month).  Or, you might find 3000 is your sweet spot.  Or, you know, you might be one of the crazies (I'm not jealous...) that can pull out 10k a day.  Whatever it is, know that there are others who are either slower or faster than you.  Rest in the fact that everyone has a different pace and that there are authors who write several books a year and there are those who write one every decade.

Some food for thought: one of my favorite articles, 10 Ways to Improve Your Writing While Thinking Like A Comedy Writer; and another good one from WriteOnCon 2012, Sustaining the Writing Groove.


I'm going to be offering primarily other peoples' advice since I haven't sat down and done revisions in a while.  I'm still learning how and while it can be frustrating, I don't think it should or will be all the time. 

Advice:  Once you've written your novel/play/script/whatever, hide it and forget about it for a few weeks.  Let your brain return to normal and once you've given it a rest, pick it back up again.  There are more detailed revision processes, but that's the biggest thing I've heard/read about -- just make sure you're distant enough to let your inner editor out without ripping your soul/story apart (right away).

Some things others have to say on the matter: The Index Card and Revisions and The Revision Checklist, both from WriteOnCon 2012 (seriously, a fabulous online writing convention -- I'm 'attending' next year!)

Hope that was helpful!  I think everyone should experience NaNoWriMo at least once.  It's such a fun process and I've learned more every year.  Our local chapter is brilliant and I can't wait to see everyone again!

During NaNoWriMo I'll be posting about my progress, but I'll still be doing reviews and First Lines in between.

Next Wednesday we'll be discussing World-Building -- I found a 30 Day Guide and I'm on Day 6.  It is amazing and it's already making me think deeper in terms of story.

See you on Friday for First Lines!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech

Last week I wrote a post about the books I was dying to read -- including this new book from one of my favorite authors.

I was on the waiting list at the library and to my surprise, it was my turn to pick it up yesterday.

Sharon Creech's books always seem to arrive when I need them most.

The Great Unexpected is a brilliant and beautiful story about the connections we share without even knowing.  The connections that, sometimes, lead to a great, unexpected thing.

It's hopeful, open, curious, and funny.

It's full of light.

And yet, there are sad things in the book.  Things that are true to life, unexpected, and tragic.  There are things in it that I've struggled with, and things that left me wondering, how will they go on?

I feel as if The Great Unexpected is telling me,

Bad things happen.  There will always be bad things and I'm sorry, but they do happen.  But oh, the good things that can happen!  There are beautiful things yet to be.

This book buoys me up in a ring of hope.  This story, full of sadness and wonder and light, comforts me and tells me that unexpected things can be great.

If you enjoy stories with real heroines, surprises, emotional depth, and joyous endings, I hope you'll give this one a chance.

I'm waiting on my own Great Unexpected.  Are you?