Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Insecure writer: challenged by the unexpected

Something I've been noticing lately with examples of writing that catch my attention are the scenarios where a character does something unexpected, or something happens unexpectedly.

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
For instance, I read a great first chapter from a friend in our writer's group where her character felt compelled to buy a desert jackal for sale at market. He thinks he feels some sort of bond with the critter, but after the purchase the jackal bites him and runs away.

What? I did not expect that. But I sympathized with the character more after that event.

Perhaps in subconcious response to reading that, or in subconscious reaction to the new Cinderella movie, I was daydreaming the other day and a story idea popped into my head where a girl and a prince meet, and it's not love at first sight. It's hate at first sight. I wanted to find out why they hated each other, and I wanted to see how that hate could be overcome. So much more intriguing.

I also just finished reading a book where the main character always said something in conversations that I didn't expect.  It made her fascinating.

It's hard to write this way. Of course it's natural to write what first comes to mind, but it's a good exercise to force myself to delete the first thing that comes out, and come up with an unexpected thing.

It takes a lot longer. It means long pauses in my writing, while I'm casting about for ideas. And the first few attempts at "unexpected" are lame, but then the next day at some random moment I'll think of something unexpected that makes me smile, something that fits in a perfectly unsettling sort of way.

We writers are twisted sorts of creatures, aren't we?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday - can I be a kid again?

Sometimes I look at all the time my young girls have to be creative - whether it's drawing or knitting or imaginary play or even a little writing, and I want to be a kid again with all that time to dabble in different things. Right now any free moment I can wrangle out of my schedule is devoted either to writing or reading in order to learn and make myself a better writer (yes, also for entertainment and relaxation). When I was a kid and teeanger, I used to draw like crazy, but I haven't attempted anything other than hearts and stars as little added flourishes in cards since about 12 years when I hand illustrated a little book for my toddler.
me at about age 3 being creative
The sitter for my girls for the past 8 years (!!!) had her last day with the girls yesterday, before moving to California. I wanted to give her a special going away present. For some reason, my fingers itched to draw again, so I sketched her sitting with my four girls based on a photograph. It was far from perfect but it felt so good to create something in a different media I usually create in.

Which led me to the ongoing frustration I deal with: not having enough time for creative outlets like this. I firmly believe that "I don't have enough time" is a poor excuse; if something is important to you, you make time. I have certain times blocked out where nothing less than an emergency (like a life threatening emergency) will take precedent over the sacred writing time, but I wish I could block out more hours a week for other creative outlets. But there's the job, and home schooling the girls, getting the four of them to their various after school activities, spending time with my husband so our marriage doesn't go sour, and as my parents are aging I'm having to help them more and more.

Right now I'm facing a huge choice: whether or not to go back to work full time and putting the girls back into public school. I love home schooling them but financially we could use the boost.

This decision is tearing me apart. Besides the advantages of getting to spend so much quality time with my kids and give them an individualized and more one-on-one education, another side benefit of the home school paradigm is that they have so much more creative time than they would in a more structured public school setting (and they love their freedom in that respect). Knowing how precious my creative time is to me, I want to give them that benefit, too. I know they'll adjust and manage just fine in a new school setting... just as I know I'll adjust to full time work again. Life requires us to adjustable.

The decision isn't made yet... sometimes it helps to journal out my conflicting feelings about things here on ye old blog.

And it always helps to be thankful, when you're facing something tough. I'm thankful that I've had the opportunity to spend so much time with my girls; I'm thankful for the full time job opportunity (I really love my job! Yay for getting paid to make maps!); most of all I'm thankful I have creative time even if it's not as much I'd like. Because I know many people don't get as much time as I get, or have more financial burdens to bear, or even face day-to-day survival concerns.

I love that life lets me be creative, and also forces me also to be adjustable... in some roundabout way that also helps the creativity, right? What we create is probably even more influenced by what life throws at us than the actual time we have for creation.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Dragons and half-dragons, be still my beating heart

Oh, long at last! The sequel to Seraphina has arrived! And it was so worth the wait. Never rush a good author to get a quick sequel.

Shadow Scale (Seraphina, #2)

Seraphina was about a girl who hides the fact she's half-dragon, in a world where an uneasy alliance between humans and dragons can be destroyed by the mere fact of her existence.

Seraphina is in my favorites list and I asked for the hardback for Christmas, with the beautiful new cover, so I could re-read it before the sequel came out.

Shadow Scale, the sequel, is about Seraphina's search for other half-dragons like herself to prevent the coming dragon war, and to find her missing dragon uncle, Orma. (I have no words to express how much I fell in love with Orma in the first book. I was desperate, DESPERATE I TELL YOU, to find out what happened to him in the sequel. And oh my did Rachel Hartman take me on a twisty, heart-rending journey.

The first half of this book was a journey through incredible world-building and a host of impressively unique half-dragons. I commend Hartman for developing each half dragon so well, so different from each other: a celebration of oddness. The second half, where the dragons return to the story, was where my heart engaged: truly I longed for the real dragons (and their cousins, the lizard-like quigutls), though I appreciated learning about the subtleties of half dragons.

I know I will re-read my favorite parts in the Tanamoot again and again, from the marvelous journey up the Omiga valley and the waterfalls, but especially with the tunnels and the quigs and Brisi (Brisi is an adolescent dragon! We get to meet dragonlings in this book! What fun!) 

And who knew that the snoring of dragons could create such harmony? Or this, that I loved so much I had to take a snapshot of while reading: 

I also enjoyed Porphyry and the feeling of really walking into a vision of Ancient Greece, except that it was different, of course, but still: the Vaskilion? The Bibliagathon? The Agogoi? It felt so Greek to me (grin). 

Eskar and Comonot were magnificent (Side note: after reading Shadow Scale, I geeked out on Rachel Hartman's blog for a while and discovered that if Rachel were to pick an actor to play any of her dragons, she'd pick William Shatner to play Comonot. Yes, Yes, Yes!!!)  He's definitely that James T. Kirk  brand of bravado and boldness, moments that make you smirk, and moments when he surprises you with unexpected wisdom: 
Comonot considered. "Logic can lead to many ends, citizen. No one likes to admit that - not even your philosophers. Dragons rever its incorruptible purity, but logic will coldly lead you over a cliff. It all depends on where you begin, on first principles.

Speaking of logic, this book is chock full of philosophy, which I loved. 
“The thing about reason is that there's a geometry to it. It travels in a straight line, so that slightly different beginnings can lead you to wildly divergent endpoints.”  
“Was it probably true that reasoning beings were equal? It seemed more like a belief than a fact, even if I agreed with it. If you followed logic all the way back to its origin, did you inevitably end up at point of illogic, an article of faith?”

And not just deep philosophy, but amusing touches, as well:
The mural on the ceiling depicted Justice, Commerce, and Philosophy having an allegorical picnic of metamorphical sardines. 

The reverse love triangle between Lucian Kiggs, Seraphina and Glisselda was resolved in a bit of an unexpected way. Meanwhile, there were some Kiggs and Seraphina scenes that made a book about eccentric dragons and philosophy also heart-wrenching: 

He smiled sadly, then placed his hand around mine so we were holding the book together. "I believe that - with everything I have," he said, holding my gaze. He kissed the edge of the book because he could not kiss me. 

I loved the bits of paradox, the inside-out house, the exploration of rigid orthodoxy versus flexibile interpretation, the attempt to describe heaven along with admission that it can't possibly be describable.

There are so many more wonderful quotes from this book but I'll limit myself to one last one, an Orma quote because I love him so much. Also, Orma has romantic developments in this book! (Sort of. Dragon romance perhaps more mathematical than romantic... but still)

"Are you finding monastic history a very compelling reason to live?" 
"I'm not human," he said. "I don't require a reason to live. Living is my default condition."  
I couldn't help it; I laughed, and tears welled in my eyes. That answer was quintessentially Orma, distilled to his elemental Orma-ness

Thank you, Ms. Hartman, for persevering with this sequel; it was well worth the wait. And thank you, Random House Books, for giving me early access to it. My review was not influenced by receiving this copy

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Insecure writer: despair and donuts

In pursuit of short term, fun writing goals this year, I've tried two different things so far, and I'm trying to come up with something different each month.  These different exercises/motivators are to A) keep me writing, of course and also B) help me fight the insecurity, the despair, the temptation to give up because the stories still need so much work. 

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 

About my YA science fiction, Star Tripped, a couple agents have said "wonderful premise! But not connecting with the characters." (One of them even pointed out why, which I really appreciated). So I made some changes and presented it to my writer's group. Again, similar feedback along the lines of "hmmmn, this has potential, but we're not connecting." Played some more with the first chapter, sent it to a critique partner. She pointed out some of the characterization that didn't work (note to self:  avoid a lot of negativity in first chapters. Negativity is a turn-off)  (Negativity is a way to produce conflict, but maybe not the best way). 

So I've been sitting at my computer for the past few days, scratching my head, poking my character, annoyed at her. "Give us something we can connect to you with!" I get an idea; I toss it around; it doesn't click. I chew my fingernails until another idea comes. Another dud. Really, does this girl have any personality? Do I have any personality? (Yikes! This is where insecurity will lead you).

So then I pick up a really good book and read the first chapter. How did they do it? How did they get me to connect with this character? How did I get hooked? I marvel at the author's brilliance! And then I crawl into a mental corner and sulk because the brilliance does not conduct itself into my writing fingers via those lovely papery published pages. The ideas I have come up with so far are decidedly non-brilliant. 

After a while, I come out of the corner and stop sulking (because it's cramped, in corners; not much of view) and try some different things. Last month I tried writing in a notebook right by my bed the moment I woke up, when my head was still all foggy from sleep. It's surprisingly easy to do this, even for a very decidedly NOT morning person like myself, because it doesn't require any thinking. Really, no thinking. Just spewing. (Maybe our dreams, our subconscious, does all the work?)

I plan to keep doing the morning writing, but I also wanted to try something new for March, too. March is a long way from November and NaNoWriMo, but I think this month I'm going to start my writing days reading a NaNoWriMo pep talk (there are probably at least 50 pep talks archived now) and maybe try something that day's peptalker suggests.  For instance, Chuck Wendig suggests "write donuts in an empty field" You know, as in when you go out to an empty parking lot and drive donuts? (if you don't know, here's a wikipedia entry on it. Wait, Wikipedia doesn't really do it justice; just read Wendig's pep talk and you'll get the idea: it's basically just - go hog wild). 

So anyway, that's my plan for fighting my insecurities this month, and to keep writing. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Top Ten favorite books in the last three years

Putting together this list, I didn't just look at back at my top ten lists at for the last three years. I looked through my Goodreads lists at EVERY book I've read in the past 3 years. That's because I've noticed that some books are so flashy that I fall in love instantly, but they don't have the staying power of other books. The books that made that his list have all continuously popped back into my head, months or even years after I've read them. Some of them I've completely re-read, from cover to cover, and all of them I plan to re-read.

Top Ten favorite books in the last three years is the theme for this week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish blog, for anyone who wants to share about books.

10. His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novak 
His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, #1)
Temeraire has become one of my most beloved dragons, among a very rich playing field of famous dragons like Smaug, Toothless, Ramoth, Maleficent, Draco, Eustace, Saphira, Yevaud, Orma, etc...  He is innocent and wise, deadly and noble, a lover both of books and battle tactics. To top it off, he exists in a Jane Austen meets Master and Commander fantasy version of Regency England and the Napoleonic Wars.

9. Pegasus, byRobin McKinley (next on the list to re-read)
This is a much deeper book than its title might imply. It's a richly developed culture of pegasi, and their complicated relationships with a human kingdom (similar premise to the dragons/humans in Seraphina, see #3).

8. Among Others, by Jo Walton
I just read this one a couple months ago, so it hasn't stood the test of time yet. But I'm pretty sure it will, because not only is a great book, it's also about other great books, including my all time favorite, Lord of the Rings. My last post was all about this book, not a review so much as a happy gushing of favorite things about it. This one is both a Hugo and Nebula award-winner.

7. The Help, Katheryn Stockett (re-read)
The three black maids and the white girl who tells their stories about being "the help" in the 1960's is a thoughtful story, but also wonderfully fun to read.

6. These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner.  (re-read parts)
Titanic in space. Love story. Survival story. Great voice. Smart science fiction. Love story.  Even better than Titanic love story.

5. Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Also absolutely funny, sad, hopeful, heart-lifting. 14 year old Junior, leaving the Rez school (but not the Rez itself) to broaden his horizons, is in my heart forever. My favorite quote:

I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms. And the tribe of cartoonists.

4. Doomsday Book (1992) by Connie Willis
A powerful contrast of two time periods: a plague in futuristic England and the terrible Black Death in 1300's England. A huge cast of characters that all stood out vibrantly, intriguing science fiction and powerful themes. A long book but absolutely absorbing: I easily could have kept reading. This book is also both a Hugo and Nebula award winner.

3. Seraphina, Rachel Hartman  (re-read parts)
 The sheer brilliance of this book is that the dragons break every stereotype but are still completely every stereotype that you love about dragons. Large, fiery, dangerous, gold-horde-ing, Smaugish, they are all that but also 10 times more complex and fascinating. And they can turn into humans. The implications of that! Well! Go see for yourself.  (I also just finished the sequel, Shadow Scale, where I got to visit homeland of the dragons. Words fail me!)

Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)

2. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (re-read)
Either I just say one thing about this book; or I endlessly rave about it. I shall spare you. The one thing I shall is: "Can I pleasssssse be kidnapped by Corlath??? Please?"
The Blue Sword (Damar, #1)

1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (re-read)
I practically wrote a dissertation instead of a review for this one: it was beautiful, daring, a multi-dimensional love story, a wild plot, it hit nerves, it had incredible settings, and absolutely unforgettable characters: Karou and Brimstone especially.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: Among Others

I really didn't plan it this way, but I was delighted when I realized that 5 out of the 6 books I've read so far in 2015 all featured diverse main characters!  (Pointe, Illusions of Fate, Among Others, Rain Reign, When Reason Breaks).

I started off the year 2015 with my nose in a book. Yup, that's what I was doing at 12:01 January 1st, and most of the rest of January 1st, too, gobbling up Among Others, by Jo Walton. It's been a couple months now, and this book is still rattling around in the back of my head, making me smile.  I even already wrote a post on it, since it made me relate back to my 15 year old self,  but this post is focus on the aspect of the story I couldn't relate to personally, how Mori had a disability (#weNeedDiverseBooks) and can't walk (much) without a cane. Her disability separates her from almost all the girls at her very sports-oriented English boarding school. 
Among Others

Mori basically spends all her time reading, when she's not in class or doing schoolwork. She can't participate in anything else her school has to offer, which is pretty much just sports. But you don't really feel sorry for her. She loves her books, and she's not a bit ashamed to spend all her time reading. She doesn't worry about become a hopeless introvert. She does long for some like-minded friends, but she's not what you'd call a needy or insecure girl, not by a long shot. Her books make her strong. 

Though I don't have a physical disability, this story brought me close to understanding the complications it brings, but also the strengths. 

As a writer, this book reminded me that our best and truest writing comes from the place that's closest to our hearts, and perhaps all the harder to share, because of that closeness. It's challenged me to dig deeper and share things that I've been too shy to share in my writing. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What's up: developing the antagonist

What's Up Wednesday is for anyone interested in keeping in touch with other writers, a meme hosted by writing sisters Erin Funk and Jaime Morrow

What I'm reading
Seraphina's sequel, ShadowScale, by Rachel Hartman. Seraphina is in my all-time favorites list, and it's wonderful to be back in this richly developed world with dragons and half dragons and a whole host of new characters. What I love most about these books: everyone is odd. It's a celebration of oddness, out-of-placeness, quirkiness, downright LOL uniqueness.
Shadow Scale (Seraphina, #2)

Recently finished When Reason Breaks  by Cindy L. Rodriguez which features Emily Dickinson’s poetry as a guide to two girls struggling with depression and anger. Highly recommend!

What I'm writing
I shared the first six chapters of Refuge, my MG fantasy that I'm re-writing, with my CP of 15 years (she's a champ!) - she read the original version of this story, the one that was so far over 100,000 words that I'm not even going to 'fess up how long it was, and how rambling. But the brave dear soul was not only willing to read my re-write, she was excited to! 

She right away caught a major problem though: I'd totally failed to develop my antagonist. (I have two antogonists: one is a human, one is a unicorn. I concentrated on developing my human antagonist but forgot about the other guy).  The unicorn was a generic mu ha ha ha antagonist without any motivation or depth at all, just basically there to mess up the good guys' lives.  It's been so much evil fun developing him. 

What else I've been up to
We celebrated Valentines with the whole family at the Denver Aquarium, and scored a dinner table right next to the giant tank full of giant fish and stingrays, and a mermaid show.  Writer friends, let it be known, my dream house would be a giant aquarium, with glass tube like rooms. (Even the library would have one wall of watery fish-filled glass. The other three walls would be books). 

What works for me
First thing-in-the morning writing exercise/free write.  I am so NOT a morning person, which is why I think free-writing in the morning actually works for me: my brain is still in  a fog, so my subconcious has more free rein, and it comes up with some unfettered off-the-wall stuff. I used this method to develop my antagonist, using these prompts from this great writing tool (thank you, Emily, for sharing it), the Pyramid Approach to Novel Writing by Jess Loury:

A well-written, believable and sympathetic antagonist spells the difference between a toss-away novel and a cinematic novel. Imagine you are your antagonist’s biographer... ask these questions:
• What’s your name? Nickname? 
• Anyone ever tell you that you look like someone famous? 
• Of all your qualities, which are you most proud of? Where do you think youacquired this quality?
• What do people seem to like the least about you? How does it make you feel? 
• Which habit of yours would you most like to change? 
• If someone looked in your bathroom garbage right now, what would they find? 
• What scent do you enjoy the most, and what does it remind you of? 
• If you could go back in time and change one day of your life, what day would it be, and why? 
• What three goals do you want to accomplish in the next year? What challengesdo you have to overcome to reach them? 
• Whom do you love most in this world and why? 
• What scares you?

Looking forward to seeing what works for everyone else this week...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday: poetry and parties

Every few years I get on a poetry kick. I don't write it myself, but I enjoy soaking in poems and seeing how the words fit together to make images and rhythms. How they evoke moods and, often, mystery. I love how they say so much, with leaving so much unsaid.

When I was scanning debut books coming out in 2015, When Reason Breaks by Cindy Rodriguez stood out to me because of its promise of connecting Emily Dickinson's poetry to contemporary high school characters (bonus; the two main characters were Latino).

The book completely delivered on its intriguing promise (and deepened my appreciation for Dickinson). I loved seeing teens relating to a 19th century poet as they dealt with the turmoil in their lives. Also, one of my favorite scenes in the book is where one of the girls, dragged along to a party by her friends, finds an empty room and hides there to read a book until she's found by another girl who's also escaping the party scene.

Since this is a Throwback Thursday post, here's a picture of me (on the right) "partying" with my best friend in high school. We went to a few high school parties together, but usually we had more fun heading off on our own, instead of hanging out drinking and smoking.  One of our favorite "parties for two" was heading off camping together.

Here's a little more about the two girls in When Reason Breaks:

Elizabeth was goth and prickly and smart - and I don't usually like angry characters but I liked her because she was so much more than her anger. In an early scene, Elizabeth goes into her new English class ready to judge the teacher. After Mrs. Diaz's impassioned introduction to the power of words and poetry and Emily Dickinson in particular,  Elizabeth thinks:
You impressed me and you amused me. Let’s see how you handle this.
Then she hands in her assignment which she purposefully made as controversial as possible, to test the teacher. That's Elizabeth: testy and distrustful but somehow appealing, too.

Emily, the other main character, was the girl who strives to please everyone and fit in and meet expectations, until it crushes her into depression. You could see how she longed to stay connected with her friends...
Emily focused on Sarah’s hand wrapped around hers, remembering how they used to clasp hands as they sat side by side on the playground swings. They’d see how high they could go without getting out of sync and disconnected. 
... and yet she couldn't handle the pressure of friends anymore, either, on top of the pressure from her parents and school.

 My favorite parts were the scenes with Elizabeth and Emily together. They aren't friends, they hang with different crowds, and they rub each other wrong - but they also get each other too. Here's my favorite scene, where Emily finds a room to hide in, at a party, and read, and Elizabeth happens upon her in her hiding spot and asks her if she's okay.
Elizabeth: “Lying’s the worst. People freak out – I mean, like screaming, punching, crying kind of freak out – when they’re lied to. Like when someone asks, Are you okay? and she says I’m fine. And the person asks, are you sure? And she says yes, leave me alone. Lies, all lies.” 
“You’re right. I lied to you that day in the bathroom,” said Emily. “But you lied to me in the locker room.” 
“Maybe, but let me finish my story. Now, if this girl told the truth, she’d say, “I’m thinking about dropping out of high school and joining the circus because I’m pretty sure shoveling elephant sh*t would be better than sticking around here.” But instead, she lies to make it easy on people. And you know what? It doesn’t matter because they know she’s lying and she still gets labeled the trouble child who needs fixing and everyone becomes focused on her instead of the lie that set her off in the first place.” 
With wide eyes, Emily asked, “Are you okay?” 
“I’m fine.” Elizabeth smiled and sucked hard on her straw. 
“You’re lying,” Emily said with a grin.

“Maybe, but this isn’t about me.”

Emily's depression kind of tiptoed around the story in a way that caught me off gaurd - but at the same time felt genuine, because that's what depression does. It often doesn't have a good, justifiable reason for its presence. It sneaks up on you;  it's secretive and it disguises its destructiveness. 
Compared to others, her life and her problems were pretty ordinary. So why did it all feel like she as in an epic battle? Why did every snarky remark become a festering wound? Why did she always feel like she was pinned to the mat and crushed under their weight?

Elizabeth struggled with a different kind of brokenness. From one her letters to her English teacher, Mrs Diaz:
I knew then something deep down inside of me was broke. It was the tiniest of cracks, like a pebble hitting a windshield on the highway – plink. No big deal, right? Wait a while. The crack will deepen and spread and permanently damaged the once-strong glass. 
So, WWEDW? What Would Emily Dickinson Write? 
Maybe this: “I felt  a funeral, in my Brain. And then a Plank in Reason broke / And I dropped down, and down” 
Did Emily Dickinson pull away from the world because it was easier and safer to hide than face it all? Or did something inside of her crack?

Despite all this, somehow the story managed to stay strong instead of wallowing in darkness. 
Turns out, Dickinson also wrote a lot about life and beauty and joy and love. These are the poems she reads now. “Unable are the Loved to die / For love is immortality…”
I noticed how the two girls share the same initials as Emily Dickinson, but make sure you check out the author’s note at the end to see how all the characters in the story are close mirrors of Emily Dickinson, her family and friends. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Top Ten love stories from the past year

I'm late with my annual love stories post in honor of Valentine's Day! (But better late than never).

The Top Ten Tuesday meme had a love-story related theme last week I missed too, so I hope visitors don't mind if I focus on last week's topic...

These are my top ten favorite love stories read in the past year (my all-time favorite love stories are listed here)
Tristran and Yvaine from Stardust, since none of the love stories below have been made into movies yet! 

10. All Our Yesterdays, by Cristin Terrill.  Em has to go back in time to change something that would save the world, but it also means losing James...and... (spoiler)

9. The Stolen Songbird,  by Danielle Jensen. Cecile's kidnapped and forced to marry a troll prince, Tristan, who isn't too happy about marrying her either. But then... yah, then this story happens.

8. Among Others, by Jo Walton. Crushes at a book group! A science fiction/fantasy book group! I'm not sure if Mori & Wim really fell in love all the way, but it was close enough for me.

7. The Fire Wish,  by Amber Lough. A forbidden love between a jinni, Najwa and a human prince of Baghdad, Kamal... with wishes and deception complicating everything.

6. Ruin and Rising, by Leigh Bardugo. The end of this Russian fantasy world trilogy has kept me coming back to mull over what happened to Mal and Alina and how the Darkling ties into their love story.

5. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. Cath and Levi. Fanfic girl meets farmboy. Sort of. It's way better than that, trust me.

4. Mortal Heart, by Robin LaFevers. A historical fantasy set in late 1400's Brittany, with assassin nun Annith falling in love with not-human Balthazaar. The twists at the end with these two! Whoa.

3. The Winner's Curse, by Marie Rutkoski. Kestrel and Arin. I've read books before about a slave owner falling in love with his/her slave (see #2) but this one turns the tables in an unexpected way.

2. Voice in the Wind, by Francine Rivers. Marcus, a rich Roman searching for pleasure but never finding happiness falls in love with his sister's shy, plain Jewish slave, Hadassah. This one will tear your heart apart.  I've read this story at least 4 times in the past 12 years since I first discovered it; re-read it a few months ago with my daughters.

1. Dreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini Taylor. In this third book of an amazing trilogy, we finally get to see the fulfillment of Akiva's and Karou's love, after a war has torn them apart and made them enemies. It's not just the love story that I love about these books, it's the worlds, the writing, the other characters, the other love stories. I've already re-read this series and plan to re-read again many times!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Insecure writer: straight from dreams to writing

 I don't do New Year's resolutions anymore because by March or April I'm all resolutioned out. And then the insecurity kicks in. I've failed with them way too many times. 

 But I do a little better with monthly goals. The great thing with monthly goals is you can reset them each month. Last month I tried a paperclip chain to motivate myself to write more days in a row, because I lose momentum if I let a few days go by without writing. I got to 9 paperclips (9 days) and then life got messy - a daughter with pneumonia, deadlines at work, etc. etc.

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
But now it's a new month and time to reset short term goals. No beating myself up because I didn't get a longer paperclip chain. It wasn't a long chain, but it helped for those days. I might try it again. 

This month I started out with something I've been wanting to do for years... but never remembered to actually do (or wasn't motivated enough to try).

Right before bed I read a chapter from Star Tripped, the story I've been querying and getting feedback from agents about needing more characterization. I left a pen and paper on my bed stand. 
When I woke up  I started writing while still in bed. While still half asleep! Right as I came out of a dream (which I couldn't remember, but no matter). Usually the first thing I do in the morning is get a cup of tea, but I even started writing before that. I read somewhere that the best free writing comes when you've just woken up. 

I wrote out a conversation between Cam and Lander on their greatest fears. It was so clunky to start with but then I filled 3 pages with ideas... I went way beyond fears. Those characters took me all over the place. The things in their heads!! (ha ha). I wrote until my hand hurt so bad (and I had to go to the bathroom so bad) I finally had to quit. Maybe only a few sentences of it will actually get used, but those few bits were completely worth it. 

I tried it again Monday morning and got some more suprising character developments. 

Let me emphasize, I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON.  This is not a comfortable exercise for me. I wasn't sure if it would even work with my usual morning brain fog. But in some mysterious way this writing exercise takes advantage of your brain fog... maybe because you aren't thinking clearly yet, you tap into more of your subconscious? Or left over dreams, even if you don't remember them?

However it works, it's a neat writing experience.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Top ten books I can't believe I haven't read yet!

Every once in a while I look through my To-Be-Read (TBR) list on Goodreads and try to "clean it up" or prioritize. My TBR list is currently 390 books! Every year I do catch up with a lot of  older books on my list, but I have to balance them with all the new great books coming out too.

But these have been waiting to be read for so long that I'm going to make a real point of getting at least ten of them read this year. They are a whole mix of genres, but most of them are pretty famous and so they keep coming to my attention one way or another.  I've never read anything by Barbara Kingsolver or George MacDonald or Patricia McWrede, and I know they are great classic authors.

Click on any cover to go to the Goodreads description. This post is a Top Ten Tuesday theme (hosted by the Broke and Bookish blog)

The Poisonwood Bible
The Yada Yada Prayer Group
The Art of Racing in the Rain
The Princess and the Goblin
Tiger's Curse
I Capture the Castle
Dealing with Dragons
The Phantom Tollbooth
Ruby Red
To Say Nothing of the Dog
Life of Pi
The Falconer
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Rendezvous with Rama
A Single Shard
Finnikin of the Rock

I  can't rate thesefrom 1-10, nor could I limit this list to 10 (there's twenty of them showing), but I'll try to limit my text to just ten!

The Poisonwood Bible - famous author, famous book, very controversial: missionaries out to change lives in Africa but sounds like their own lives, or at least perspectives, need changed first.

The Yada Yada Prayer Group - I keep running into people that love this book!

The Art of Racing in the Rain - how could I not yet have read this book written from a dog's perspective??? I love these kinds of books! And its wildly famous and high rated too.

The Princess and the Goblin - my two most FAVORITE authors, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, were deeply influenced by the author, George McDonald. And it's another wildly famous book I've known about forever and its description is right up my ally. Truly mystified why I haven't read it yet.

The Tiger's Curse - this sounds like a beautiful love story and a twist on Beauty and the Beast and I love tigers and it's highly rated and.. and... yeah, must read this one.

I Capture the Castle. Yup, another famous one, and I know I'll love it because I love Dodie Smith's other books!

Dealing with Dragons. Come on, it's dragons!!!! I have to read at least one dragon book a year, and Patricia McWrede is wildly famous. What's taking me so long??

The Phantom Tollbooth. Classic kidlit. Hanging my head in shame. This is as bad as never having read Roald Dahl's books or something.

Life of Pi. Because I really want to see the movie that was out several years ago now but I promised I wouldn't till I read the book!

To Say Nothing of the Dog. Because the first book, Doomsday Book, is on my all-time favorites list and I've heard this one is even better.

What book have you been meaning to read forever???

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Light writing days

What's Up Wednesday is for anyone interested in keeping in touch with other writers, a meme hosted by writing sisters Erin Funk and Jaime Morrow

What I'm reading
While waiting (impatiently) for Seraphina's sequel, ShadowScale, to be out in early March, I'm currently reading When Reason Breaks  by Cindy L. Rodriguez which features Emily Dickinson’s poetry as a guide to two girls struggling with depression and anger. I love the characters and this is a great way to soak up poetry, which I normally don't read much of.
When Reason Breaks

I just finished reading Landline by Rainbow Rowell and deeply enjoyed it. Also recently finished Rain Reign by Anne M. Martin and was surprisingly swept away by this story in the voice of a 5th grader with high functioning autism. 

What I'm writing
I've been layering in more setting details and characterization touches to my MG fantasy set in Alaska.  Setting inspiration has been coming from a surprising source: PBS' "Nature" series with its breathtaking videography. 

I'm also having to return to the opening chapters of my YA science fiction that I've been querying. I've gotten a couple personalized rejections with similar suggestions. With several agents pointing out the same things, I've got to make some changes. They say I have too much going on and not enough characterization in the first 50 pages, so right now I'm doing a reverse outline of everything going on in the first fifty to see where I can simplify things, and then add back in more characterization. To help with characterization, I'm revisiting these thoughtful questions from Writing 21st century fiction, by Donald Maass. 
  • What terrifies you? 
  • What outrages you? 
  • What grieves you?  
  • What heals you? 
  • What did your father teach you that still holds true? 
  • What did you learn in college that’s dead wrong? 
  • What about your faith is painful to admit?  
What else I've been up to
I went downhill skiing for the first time in 11 years! I worried I'd be falling down left and right, but muscle memory must have kicked in, because I was zooming down the slopes right away. I'd forgotten how beautiful the slopes are. I'm not going to wait another 11 years to do this again. It was my 13 year old daughter's first time skiing and she picked it up really fast, though the next day she couldn't believe how sore she was!

What works for me
What gets me through Nanowrimo every November is the rule, "don't skip more than a day." I've noticed I can skip one day with my writing, even two, but if I skip three days in row, I lose my momentum and stall out. What's been working for me lately is to designate some days as "light writing days" - just a half hour of writing, but it's enough so I don't lose my momentum.