Saturday, December 22, 2012

Top Ten Christmas Traditions

These are my favorite traditions, but I love to hear about other traditions - from around the world or just homegrown traditions specific to each family. (Here's a great collection.)

10. Making Christmas cookies. We always make sugar cookie cut-outs in the shape of snowmen, trees, bells, gingermen and stars, and frost them with almond or anise-flavored icing. We don't just put sprinkles on the icing - we douse the entire cookie in sprinkles. Bonus: Christmas cookie exchanges where you can trade some of your cookies for a selection of other people's favorites.

9. Counting down with an advent calendar. I'm still a kid at heart, I love to open the little paper windows or look in the pockets each day and see what's inside.  Bonus: many German advent calendars have chocolate inside!

8. Christmas tree cutting. If you don't have National Forest nearby where you can go find a tree like we do now, you might have a Christmas tree farm nearby. It's worth the extra effort to get out into the woods and tramp around the woods with a saw, looking for the perfect tree, and then drag it home, drenching your home in spicy piney scent. We do this every other year and sometimes it turns into a real adventure/disaster but that's all part of the fun, too.

7. Rediscovering all the decorations that have been hidden away for a year. It's like seeing old friends again. My mom has a collection of little decorative rocking horses and glass angels. She still has the tree-topper star that I remember unpacking every year and having my dad lift me up to put on the top of the tree. I've started my own collection of nutcrackers and Christmas village pieces. There's always a few that you've forgotten about, until you uncover them.
my collection of nutcrackers

6. Wrapping shoeboxes full of toys and goodies for Operation Christmas Child and Angel Tree and local charities. We try to make a big deal about this for our kids to get them just as exciting about giving to others as getting gifts themselves.

5. Singing Christmas carols at bed time. When I was a kid I would go caroling around the neighborhood with my Girl Scout troop, and when my kids are little older I hope to continue that tradition. In the meantime, I started my own tradition of sitting in their room with a flashlight, singing them to sleep out of  a book of forty different carols, three carols each night plus one of my three favorites: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, O Holy Night and Silent Night, of course.

4. Evening candle-light services at church. The beautiful flickering light of a hundred candles... and sometimes when church is over and you head outside, there is a layer of new fallen snow - perfect.

3. Driving around to see neighborhood Christmas lights and then coming home to your own lights. When we lived in south for a few years, back before electric lights had become really popular, our neighborhood would line their driveways and sometimes even the streets with luminaria, paper bags weighted with sand, each holding a candle.

2. Getting together with friends and family. The Christmas spirit lends an extra special touch to family gatherings. I'm an only child, so growing up we always had lots of friends over before and after Christmas day. White elephants exchanges and other Christmas games, delicious dinners, Christmas movies (It's a Wonderful Life is my favorite), breaking out the ugly Christmas sweaters...

1. Reading (and sometimes acting out) the story of Jesus' birth and celebrating His birthday. Sometimes this is as simple as setting out a nativity scene and talking about each of the figures. Buying gifts can get stressful, especially if you're on a budget, but the story of the baby born in a stable, laid in manger, always grounds me again and brings a deep abiding peace.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  Luke 2:10-12

Do you have a favorite Christmas or holiday tradition? 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Superlative debuts this year

Today I'm sharing my favorite debut reads this year (authors who published their first book in 2012) for the YA Superlative Blogfest hosted by Katy Upperman. I loved the categories she gave us for today's part of the blogfest. 

Most Envy-Inducing Plot (or, the plot you wish you'd thought of yourself)

Stormdancer, by Jay Kristoff.  The premise hooked me: Japanese-flavored steampunk with wicked chainsaw katanas and furious mythical creatures. The plot is so layered in with the world-building, and yet so simply brilliant, that I can see why there's so much buzz about this book. 

Is it YA? The main character is sixteen years old, so I *think* it's YA. But it has view points from much older adults, too. Also, it's much denser than most YA's (but I don't mean that in a negative way. Maybe "richer" would be a better word than denser?)

Most Formidable World (or, the setting you definitely would NOT want to visit)

The Unsea in Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo. This world is based on tsarist Russia, which had such a deep rift between the nobility and peasantry it eventually caused a bloodthirsty revolution. But Shadow and Bone adds even more angsty divisions among people (the Grisha vs. the non-gifted). And then it adds this horrific place called the Unsea. Is that a cool name or what? Within its dark borders, there be terrible, terrible monsters, the volcra, who feed on humans. But there's something about the Unsea even worse than that, too. 

Most Wanderlust-Inducing (or the setting you'd happily run off to)

Scarlet, by A.G. Guaghn. Because who wouldn't want to hang out with Robin Hood and his merry men for a few days? Sure, the hygiene leaves a little to be desired in medieval England, and the local sheriff is a real downer. But aside from that (and as long as I had access to chain mail for safety)... I'd go back in time to meet Robin's gang in a heartbeat. 

Loveliest Prose

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman. A YA author who is not afraid to use big scholastic-aptitude-test-worthy words and long sentences. And she puts them together beautifully along with her grand new vision of dragons who can turn themselves into humans. 

Bonus: this book not only has a lovely way with words, but it also has quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. It has the funniest cast-of-charaters descriptions in its appendix. And speaking of the cast of characters, they are all freakishly and adorably memorable like the cast from Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. 

Best First Line

I'm totally cheating because I just came across a first line that hooked me without knowing a single thing about this book. The problem is, it's not a 2012 debut - it's a 2013 debut. 

"What do you want your name to be this time?"

Is the first line from The Rules of Disappearing, by Ashley Elston, about a girl in a witness protection program. Bummed that I have to wait until May to read this one.

Most Dynamic Main Character

Eva/Addie from What's Left of Me, by Kat Zhang. Because the premise of this book is about two souls living in one body. A dual personality makes for a pretty dynamic main character, indeed. 

Most Jaw-Dropping Ending

A Spy Like Me, by Laura Pauling. I would so LOVE to tell you about this ending but it would a big spoiler. However, I can tell you about the first chapter, in which Saavy takes revenge on a boy who tricks her into a date just to get information out on her. Saavy ties him up and strips him down to his underwear, and leaves him next to the Eiffel Tower in Paris! One of the funniest first chapters I have ever read and the jaw-dropping ending is - ah - well - darn. I really can't even give a hint without giving too much a way.

Best Performance in a Supporting Role

The Darkling in Shadow and Bone. Oh my trembling knees, the Darkling! The ultimate love/hate character. But I already mentioned Shadow and Bone so I'll also give you a close runner-up: Matthew from the Lost Girl, by Sangu Mandanna. He was an intensely powerful and scary antagonist. I couldn't believe how much I hated him and how scared I was for Eva because of him. The last 1/3 of this book was so intense I think I was twitching from nervous tics while reading it.

Best Use of Theme

Never Gone, by Laurel Garver.  This book runs several themes as it tackles sensitive subjects such as grief, addiction, presumptions and misunderstandings, and religion. It's all woven together beautifully and without making any big dramatic statements. This book, toward its end, could also qualify for the "loveliest prose" category. 

So there you have it, 8 wonderful 2012 books by debut authors I highly recommend, and one bonus for 2013. 

And as a parting shot, I can't believe I haven't mentioned the Hobbit on my blog yet, and the movie has been out almost a whole week already!  The movie wasn't perfect but there were many, many things I loved about it. Here in a few weeks (when I don't have to worry so much about spoilers) I'm going to post my top ten favorite things about the Hobbit movie! (And then I'll have to do a top ten on the Lord of the Rings movies, too). I could never do just a top ten for the books - that would be more like my top 100, ha ha.

One last thought. The recent school shootings are still heavily on my mind. Keeping the families of the victims in prayer, especially during the holiday season which will be anything but a holiday for them. I was driving when I heard the news on the radio of the shootings, and I had to pull over because I was sobbing so hard.  I still vividly remember where I was when I saw the World Trade towers fall, and I'm afraid I'll always remember where I was with these Sandy Hook elementary school shootings, too. Where you when you heard what happened?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Top Ten books read in 2012

Death's handmaidens, bibliophilic dragons, the Big Bad Wolf vs. a smug cat, death's bells, polar bears vs. trolls, a kidnapping king, blue biogel, the Unsea, girlfs and boyfs and going mal were some of favorite things this year. 

Top Ten Tuesday is  an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish blog with a different top ten list theme (all related to books) every Tuesday (see the full list here). 

Feeling a little shame-faced, but all my top picks were fantasy and science fiction. While I also read some wonderful contemporaries and historicals, they just didn't sing to me the same way. What can I say? I'm a SF/F geek to the core. 

There are only three books on this list that were actually new in 2012; most of my top ten list are famous older books that I just now got around to reading. And if you haven't got around to reading them yet, go do so. There is a REASON why they popped up on my radar years after the fact; these are stinking good books.

10. Feed, by M.T. Anderson (2004)
Titus doesn't have a girlfriend; he has a girlf, and a typical teen insult in his time is to tell someone they are "completely unformatted."  Here at the end of 2012, iPhones are so "over" and Galaxies are now in the limelight, but such gizmos are completely redundant in this ironic SF future where everyone is directly hooked up to the internet, the Feed. Inundated with amazing tech and with instant access to everything desirable, it turns out that nothing remains desirable.  This book is brilliant and sad and addictive.

9. The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary Pearson (2008)
The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Jenna Fox Chronicles, #1)
I dropped the book at one point in a "no way!" kind of surprise. But I immediately picked it back up and didn't set it down until I finished. Like Feed, this science fiction book has a contemporary young adult feel to it that sort of lulls you through the SF stuff until it smacks you across the face. Unlike Feed, there's also a lot of heart in this story, too.

8. East, by Edith Pattou (2005)
This is one of those wonderful fairy tales with princes and castles and trolls and enchanted creatures - but with a interesting twist on all the traditional elements. The trolls are not ugly, for instance. The castle is buried inside a mountain. In a nutshell, it's the Scandinavian version of Beauty and the Beast, where Rose, the youngest daughter in a family fallen into unfortunate times, is taken away by a great white enchanted bear under a curse.  There were so many things about this story I loved. The dress made out of aurora borealis. Story knives. An epic quest to the North Pole. Five points of view orchestrated like a symphony. I nearly cried when it was over because I did not want it to end.

7. His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novak (2006)

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, #1)
Temeraire has become my most beloved dragon, among a very rich playing field of famous dragons like Smaug, Toothless, Ramoth, Maleficent, Draco, Eustace, Saphira, Yevaud, etc...  He's a co-main-character, with even more page-time than Saphira from Eragon, so that certainly helps. 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.

6. Sabriel, by Garth Nix (1996)
Sabriel (Abhorsen,  #1)
It probably sounds really wrong to say this, but I have never found death so fascinating. Sabriel can travel into death - a world all of its own - to retrieve the dead and sometimes even bring them back to life. But there's a price to be paid for crossing death's borders. I loved the charter magic in this book, the free magic (especially Mogget!!), the marks, the sendings, the bells, the wall between the old kingdom and the new, all the intricate world-building that is slowly, deliciously dribbled out in a way that is riveting instead of overwhelming.

5. The Iron Knight, by Julie Kagawa (2011)
The Iron Knight (Iron Fey, #4)
Full of delightful contrasts: icy, noble Prince Ash versus irreverent  prankster Puck; the smug know-it-all cat Grimalkin versus the angry, relentless Big Bad Wolf. This is a story of a faery prince on a quest to gain a soul, without which he cannot join his mortal beloved. Both a fantasy quest of highest adventure as well as an inner-quest of soul-searching, this fourth book of the Iron Fey series also stands out brilliantly by itself.

4. Grave Mercy, by R.L. La Fevers (2012)
Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)
Two words: killer nuns. If that doesn't raise an eyebrow, then how about a girl who can see which people who are marked for death, is immune to poison, and is trained as an assassin? And is often forced to assume very un-nun-like roles? A most riveting historical fantasy, set in medieval Brittany, rife with court intrigue and various assassinations and attempts. Topped-off with a great love-hate, I-don't-dare-trust-you-but-I'm-sure-tempted relationship between Ismae and Duval.

3. Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo (2012)
Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)
Ah. The Darkling, the Darkling, the Darkling. For every 20 books or so I read, there appears one character that grabs you by throat and won't let you go. You catch yourself smiling at thoughts of him (or her) at odd and unexpected moments. The Darkling is a character you want very much to love, even when you know you should fear and hate him. And there's plenty of other good stuff in this fantasy version of tsarist Russia, too.

2. Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman (2012)
Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)
To date, the longest review I have ever written, over 3000 words, goes to this absolutely stellar debut. This book is not for everyone: it's very cerebral. There's not a lot of action. But, it has unique dragons. Wait, you say, dragons are so overdone.  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. 

1. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (1987)
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)

So these are my top ten, but fortunately I discovered this YA Superlative blogfest which allows me to share some more great books that released in 2012 tomorrow, by category (e.g. best first line, best setting, etc).

Meanwhile, I would love to hear what your favorite books this year were!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Creating a villain with empathy

Today I have a guest post from Laura Pauling, introducing her new book! I absolutely adored her first book, A Spy Like Me, and am eager to read its sequel and this new "How To Survive" book!

Published by Pugalicious Press
When Bianca and Melvin brave the jungle to rescue their grandfather, they stumble upon the ancient Maya city of Etza, where the people haven’t aged in 2,000 years. They must learn to work together as they face loincloth-wearing skeletons from the underworld, a backstabbing princess, and an ancient prophecy that says in three days the city will be destroyed. No problem. They’ll find Zeb and zip right out of there. The fact that a crazy king wants to serve Bianca up to the gods as an appetizer is just a minor technicality. But this ancient evil dude has finally met his match.

Creating a villain with empathy.

Before I started writing How To Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings, I knew the antagonist or the villain would be an Ancient Maya king. Of course, he’s not the only antagonistic force. Bianca, the main character, struggles against her dad’s disbelief in her theories when it comes to her missing grandfather. She also has a tendency to make impulsive decisions based on the emotion of the moment. She’s loyal to a fault and will sacrifice anything for those she loves. Sometimes our greatest strengths are also our flaws.

But this Crazy King, this all-powerful kind of villain, especially one with the tag of Crazy, came with its own built-in flaws. It was too easy to focus on the big, bad king and the threat he poses to Bianca. I never wanted to forget that he also has a heart.

As the pages turned and the story developed, I wanted readers to have that aha moment where they understood him. Where if they were to see the story from his point of view, if only for a second, they would struggle with what to do. I needed that for this story. I worked extra hard at it because I didn’t want a stereotypical cliché Maya king that rips hearts out due to his blood lust and the demands of the gods. Of course, he’s that too because it was part of the culture.

But the biggest thing I learned through all the research is that the Ancient Maya weren’t too different from us. We might not sacrifice live people by chopping off their heads and watching it roll down steps, we might not filet the skin off of our enemies and wear it over our shoulders in a victory dance, but there are definitely things we sacrifice to the gods/idols in our own lives as a nation/world and as an individual. Have you ever been so passionate about something that you take it a step too far? That you don’t know when to stop? That’s when a character steps over into the role of villain. And for the best villains, it’s just a matter of perspective.

Thanks, Margo, for hosting me on the tour! 

How To Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings released in November. Pugalicious Press did a fantastic job, and I’m extremely happy with the results. This book would make a fantastic gift for boys or girls who enjoy adventure stories with lots of excitement! You can purchase it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You can read the first chapter here. Check out the teacher's guide. Thankfully, my journey is just beginning and I’m excited to see where it leads. Click here for the list of blog tour stops! Enter to win these prize packages!

Prize Package One (signed paperbacks)

Prize Package Two (signed paperbacks)

Prize Package Three

Refresh the page if you can't see the Rafflecopter form! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, December 7, 2012

Memorable characters: sometimes less is more

On the hunt again for what makes characters memorable.

So far this year I have read 58 books, and out of curiosity, I scanned down my Goodreads list looking at those 58 titles and tried to remember NAMES of characters from each of those books. It's just a quick test: if I can remember a character's name, it's a sure bet that it was a memorable character to me (not counting sequels).

The results were surprising. Some best-selling books that I really enjoyed, like the Night Circus, and Cinder, didn't pass my quick test for the memorable character list. (Cinder is particularly funny because I didn't remember the main character's name was Cinder, even though the book's name is Cinder!)

In fact, there were only 7 books* that immediately registered names and made me go, "yup. I loved that character and the way he/she did such and such."

From this list of seven, there is a character called the Darkling from a recently published YA fantasy that tied for the top of my list of memorables. He's in the best-selling Shadow and Bone by debut author Leigh Bardugo. Maybe it's because I'm an analyst at my day job, but I immediately had to analyze what made this guy so memorable for me (and for many others... just look at the number of images tagged as "the Darkling" on Google or Tumblr already, and this book has only been out since June! Btw, here's my favorite.)

First, some background on Shadow and Bone:

Set in a fantasy world version of tsarist Russia, Alina is an orphan who inadvertently uses a special power to save her best friend's life. The Darkling, leader of the Grisha, an order of magician-warriors, takes Alina under his wing to employ her power to supposedly re-unite their divided country.

Right away the book establishes the Darkling as the most powerful of the Grisha, the magician-warriors, the only one of the Grisha permitted to wear black. He's also rumored to be "the strongest Darkling in generations." Here's some other striking things about this character:

1) he's mysterious; no one knows how old he is, but he appears young and he has the sex appeal of a dangerous and powerful man. He goes only by his title, and no one knows his name.

2) he has a scary reputation: "the Darkling had once ordered a Corporalki healer to seal a traitor's mouth shut permanently. The man's lips had been grafted together and he had starved to death"

And this:
"So I'm the Darkling's prisoner?"
"You're under his protection."
"What's the difference?"
Ivan's expression was unreadable. "Pray you never find out."
Oh, and this:
"I hope you don't expect fairness from me, Alina. It isn't one of my specialties."

3) He saves Alina's life in a very dramatic and uh, rather uniquely gruesome way (sorry, can't say, spoiler).

4) He wants something very much (again, sorry, spoiler). He has been waiting for it for a very long time. Do not underestimate the power of want in a character. The greater the want, the more extreme it is, the more implications it has, the more compelling it makes the character. This is amplified because we're not sure about his motives, WHY he wants this thing so badly. It could be for the good of the country. Or for his own selfish use.

5) Despite his power, mysterious and fearsome reputation, he has a vulnerability he tries to hide (but Alina catches a glimpse of it. She wonders about it... which makes us wonder about it).

6) He disappears from his court for lengthy periods of time, for mysterious reasons, and returns unexpectedly (or appears in unexpected places), keeping everyone on their toes. Including the reader.

7) The Darkling appears in 12 scenes in the story. Based on the number of chapters and a rough estimate of scenes per chapter, there's about 60 to 70 scenes in this book. He doesn't show up a lot, which makes him all the more memorable when he does show up. Less is more.

I think there's hundreds of ways to make memorable characters, since the other six books accomplished this in very different ways, and obviously some traits will be more memorable to some readers than to others. What would you list for one of your most memorable characters?

* Six other books that passed my remember-the-name test this year: Grave Mercy (Ismae), Seraphina (Orma), the Blue Sword (Corlath), Shatter Me (Juliette), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Lisbeth), Sabriel (Mogget).

Monday, December 3, 2012

What's harder, beginnings or endings?

Most people start a new novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). That's what you are SUPPOSED to do, according to the rules.

I used it to finish a novel, this year (my YA SF, Star Tripped).

I thought it would be...easier. I already know my characters (or so I thought). I knew my setting. I knew *most* of my plot. Granted, all these things are constantly evolving during the writing process, but having a detailed outline to work off of and a good handle on the first half of this novel, I was sure NaNoWriMo this year would be a breeze.

Cue sighs of frustration, hair-pulling and the constant temptation to buy chocolate and cheetos to get me through yet another difficult scene. For one agonizing stretch of three days, I couldn't write at all (except in a journal format, possibly breaking more NaNoWriMo rules).

I managed to get through it, with much brainstorming and several scenes written purely on a "trial and error" basis, and some frantic stretches of writing to get caught up.

And now I officially think endings are harder than beginnings, because:

1) you have to tie your character's internal arc into the plot's turning points or high and low points

2) you have to ratchet up the tension near the end to breathless levels

3) you can wing a lot of things in the first half of novel because you're assuming you'll have it all figured for the second half. Hah.

4) you have to tie your plot strings together logically. Defensibly. Hah hah.

5) you have to account for all your characters and sub plots. How did this get so complicated?

6) your outline fails you at the end. You thought you had it all worked out, but when the rubber hits the road, it's a whole different story.

Almost literally, a whole different story.

One thing I am still sure of: NaNoWriMo rocks. I love my NaNo buddies. Leslie Rose, Highland Writer, Susan Kaye Quinn, Sunshine 21, Vicki Tremper, you guys and your progress bars kept me going. Really. Thank you, even when I wanted to kill you for almost always being ahead of me. (Except for Susan. Everyone needs a come-from-behind hero).

And you know that feeling when you write the last sentence of your novel?  If you don't, keep at till you get there. Because it is amazing. There are no words to really capture it - and I've been through 50,000 words lately.

here's my last line:

“Don’t worry,” I say with a smile, sure of myself. “He’ll come back.” 

So what do you think is harder, beginnings or endings?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Third culture kids and teen grief

I don't devote a post to a book unless I have learned something valuable from it that I want to share with others. Never Gone, by Laurel Garver, is one I immediately knew I wanted - needed  - to share.

I'll post my own thoughts on Never Gone coming up in December (my blog is shutting down during November for NaNoWriMo). In the meantime, here's the word on third culture kids and teen grief straight from Laurel (who by the way is in the thick of it with Hurricane Sandy right now. Many thoughts and prayers going out for all my east coast friends and family).

What is your novel Never Gone about?

A grieving teen believes her dead father has come back as a ghost to help her reconcile with her estranged mother.

That’s my most brief synopsis. My favorite synopsis is the trailer:

Your main character is a New Yorker with an American mother and a British father. How do cross-cultural issues affect the family?

American and British social rules differ more that you might think. When I studied abroad there, I struggled to get anyone to talk to me. The other British students were friendly with one another, but standoffish with us exchange students. There are rules to the game of getting inside the high walls of privacy that aren’t immediately apparent to outsiders. I didn’t get fully clued in to how these rules worked until my third visit to the UK, when the friends my husband and I were visiting pointed me to Kate Fox’s Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour. It became one of my most useful research books.

Because Britain’s large population is crammed into a small space, personal privacy is highly valued. That’s a major component of why my protagonist’s parents’ marriage works. The mother likes to keep her past in the past and her emotions under wraps, so what could be better than a partner who won’t expect American levels of emotiveness? Humor is also a huge component of communication in Britain, and thus the father’s forte. Any hard-hitting or critical remark is likely to be couched in humor. Embarrassingly tender feelings can be, too.

My protagonist Danielle is what is sometimes called a “third-culture kid”—someone who lives in one culture, but whose family comes from a different culture; he or she teeters precariously between cultures, never fully belonging to either one. Thus Dani struggles with expressing her deepest feelings, suppressing and self-managing more than the typical American teen might. Yet she also wants to call others out for doing the very same thing, her mother in particular. Losing her British father requires Dani to reassess how she fits in the world, and how to reconcile with her American half.

What is unique about teen grief?

When you’re young, it’s harder to deal with major losses because you don’t have experience to draw on that puts the pain in perspective. “Time heals all wounds” is not lived experience; it sounds like a stupid platitude adults say to shut you down. Grief feels overwhelming and absolutely impossible to overcome. Add to that the usual stuff of adolescence—hormonal changes and an identity that’s still under construction—and you can understand why grief can be especially difficult, even explosive for teens.

What’s unique about your approach to grief in the story?

I was particularly interested in exploring the immediate grief experience — those turbulent first weeks immediately after a death. My novel begins a few days after the protagonist loses her dad and the story covers approximately three weeks’ time. Danielle spends much of the story cycling through denial, anger, and bargaining. There are moments of depression and glimpses of what acceptance will look like when it fully flowers. Most of the deepest grief work is still to come for Dani, but the events of the novel prepare her to begin to earnestly do that work, rather than deny or flee from it.

Because of her family culture, Dani especially struggles with feelings of anger. It is one of the toughest emotions to keep under wraps or deflect and soften with humor. She also mistakenly believes that anger has no place in a life of faith. I hope this story will encourage kids growing up in a faith tradition that it’s okay to really wrestle with God in places of deep pain. One of Dani’s friends tells her, “I think God can handle it when we’re mad.” He goes on to point out that large chunks of scripture are at root complaints to God. The Psalmist and other saints of old give us models for talking (and hollering and crying) to our Creator honestly about our pain, which at root is an expression of faith that He hears, cares, comforts and makes things new.

Laurel Garver is a magazine editor, professor’s wife and mom to an energetic fourth grader. An indie film enthusiast and incurable Anglophile, she enjoys geeking out about Harry Potter and Dr. Who, playing word games, singing, and mentoring teens at her church. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cunning plan for NaNoWriMo

Actually it's more of a idiotic rebel's plan for NaNoWriMo.

There are only a few rules for National Novel Writing Month. Excerpted from  the official site:

  • Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
  • Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).
  • Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
  • Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up
See that "start from scratch" in there?

That's the rule I'm breaking. I'm re-writing my book from last year.

Yes, I confess I plan to cut and paste words from the previous version and all the faithful and true followers of NaNoWriMo howl, "that's not fair!" or "that's totally cheating on your word count!"

But it takes me TWICE as long to re-write as it does to first draft. Consistently. I swear. I've been re-writing for months now and it's the slowest, most painful process, like pulling hair and teeth and toenails and brain cells all at the same time.

I would actually much rather be first-drafting my idea for a new novel.

First drafting, you can throw your inner-editor out the door, and that is what makes November Writing Madness so much fun.  Here's a great example of what you normally do to your inner-editor during November:

If I attempt my cunning idiotic plan, this is what my inner-editor will do to me instead:

These animations are from the wonderful Tumblr  Life During NaNo. Go check it out. It will get you psyched for November. Even me got me rarin' to go, even knowing my dread inner editor will be on the loose.

I'd much rather be drafting my new idea but I'm idiotically hoping that I can use the great motivation that is 300,000 crazy writers and creeping word count bars to make at least 50,000 words of last year's novel shinier (Star Tripped) so it can be that much closer to publication.

I just discovered that if I proceed with my plan, I will officially be known as a NaNoWriMo Rebel and they even have their own forum. So there are other disreputable folks like me out there.

And, I have a backup plan. If re-writing for NaNo turns out to be a disaster, I still have my notes on that brand-new idea for a 5th novel...

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Top Ten Too-Hard-to-Rank Authors

The Top Ten Tuesday theme this week is your top ten favorite in authors in the genre of your choice. 

And so I totally cheated and did two genres. Contemporary and Historical Fantasy. Because if ya'll haven't noticed there are a lot of fantasy books that cross the pages of my blog. A LOT. But, really and truly I love many other genres too, I just don't get around to gushing about them as much. 

So this post is compromise. I had to get my fantasy favs in there, but I limited it to just five of a specific fantasy sub-genre, so I could also sneak in my top five fav YA contemporary authors in here too.  

Oh, and also - I couldn't rank these. I tried, I debated, I reshuffled - I finally just deleted the numbers. 

Top Ten Tuesday is  an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish blog with a different top ten list theme (all related to books) every Tuesday (see the full list here). 

My top five favorite YA contemporary authors:

Kirsten Hubbard, author of Like Mandarin and Wanderlove.  Recommended for anyone who has ever befriended a "bad girl" (or maybe was one), and anyone who loves travel (both the good and the bad).

Maureen Johnson, author of Girl At Sea, Suite Scarlett and many others. Recommended for when you need light-hearted laughter and some great sibling or friend interaction. Or friction.

Gail Giles, author of Right Behind You, What Happened to Cass McBride and others. When teenagers go off the deep end; realistic and suspenseful but not creepy. Compelling, compelling, compelling!

Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak, Wintergirls, and others. Serious issues very well done.

Stephanie Perkins, author of Lola and the Boy Next Door and Anna and the French Kiss, and more soon.
Months after reading these I can still remember all the characters so vividly. That's rare.

On the fence: John Green. The Fault in Our Stars, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns. Simply must mention him because he has a character named Margo (grin). Definitely on the edgy/gritty side, but memorable.

My top five favorite Historical Fantasy authors: 

Erin Morgenstern, author of the Night Circus and hopefully more soon! Set in the Victorian time period but really it's all about the circus. I am not even a fan of circuses but I loved this one because it's like a miniature moving fantasy world.

Megan Walen Turner, author of the Queen's Thief series. Set in something close to Ancient Greece and rife with espionage and twists and complexity.

Naomi Novak, author of His Majesty's Dragon and the rest of the Temeraire series. Napoleonic era; think Master and Commander, with dragons. Or even better, Jane Austen on a fantasy rip.

Juliet Marillier, author of the Wildwood and Sevenwaters series, many others. Wildwood Dancing was such an interesting combination of historic setting (Transylvania!) and fairy-tale retelling that I knew instantly I would read anything else by her.

R.L. LaFevers, author of Grave Mercy (YA) more to follow in the His Fair Assassin series. Grave Mercy is set in medieval Brittany and uses real historical characters, with a touch of dark fantastical elements - a girl who can see whom Death has marked, and is trained to assassinate help them along in their fate. Dark and brilliant at the same time.

Also this isn't quite historical fantasy but I simply had to mention it because it is SO YUMMY, Gail Carriger's Soulless series which is a strange brew of historical paranormal and steampunk. Werewolves and vampires in Victorian times - and nothing like any wolvies and vammies you've ever encountered before.

Who are your favorite genre author(s)?

This shall be my last Top Ten for quite a while -- It's NaNoWriMo season! Next week you shall be smothered in plans to recruit you into this wonderful madness. You've been warned.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Saved by the Urban Dictionary

Gandalf is in this post!
and Jane Eyre!
Weird combo, right?
I might be getting too old to write YA.

This doubt insinuated itself after reading a review about Across the Universe (by Beth Revis, great book by the way) in which the (near)teen reviewer remarked:

"Because I like shipping characters and investing myself in relationships as much as the next girl."

Huh? I like shipping characters? Um, yes the characters were together on a space ship, is that what she means? But I thought maybe I was wrong.

So the Urban Dictionary saved me. I typed in "ship" and discovered it's short for "romantic relationSHIP".

But of course.

I love discovering tidbits like this. I'm also prone to reading my teenage stepdaughter's texts, not because I want to police her, but just because I love to soak up the slang of the teenage world. But I still sometimes wonder if having a teenager in the house and enjoyment of said unique species is enough qualification to write from a teenager's perspective.

What thinks you?

So my purpose in this Friday's post is to ponder deep questions about getting too old, but on the brighter side, to also let y'all know about two neat things I discovered on the internet yesterday.

1) Have you read Elana Johnson's books, either Possession or Surrender? If you haven't, here's a great motivation to read them (besides the fact they are great mindbenders), and if you already have, bonus: she is having an amazing giveaway open to anyone willing to post a review either of her books. She has a dozen (maybe more) newly released YA books and ARCs. Like Shadow and Bone, which is AMAZING, seriously, you want to win this book.

2) Jess Keating has the coolest way to get unstuck from writer's block. She gets together with J.K Rowling,  Neil Gaiman, Gandalf, and Jane Eyre (as a wild card) and gets their feedback on what to do about a certain scene or plot situation or what the perfect mix of conflict might be to totally mess up a main character's life. It's such a brilliant idea. Brillig! I am so trying this; check out her guest post at Janice Hardy's blog for more detail.

If you just skimmed over that to get to the bottom of the page, STOP. Let those beautiful names - Gandalf! Jane Eyre! catch your attention and drag you off to that link.

After entering to win delicious books and seeing how Gandalf and Jane Eyre end up together on a discussion panel, let me know if I'm totally too old (as the parent of teenager) to be writing YA. I can take it. I might still write it anyway (it's sort of an addiction) but I will acknowledge the truth if needed.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Top Ten Favorite Fictional Friends

I might have cheated with that title. Because you'll see from my list that I had a specific kind of friend in mind...mostly of the four-legged kind. Are you an animal lover? I highly recommend these books.

Top Ten Tuesday is  an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish blog with a different top ten list theme (all related to books) every Tuesday (see the full list here) This week's theme is "rewind" where we get to pick a past topic that we missed - favorite BFFs. 

10. Pantalaimon, from the Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

In this series, animals are the embodiment of a person's soul, and Pan caught my heart from the very beginning. He is able to change forms, so he appears sometimes as an ermine, a moth, a wildcat or a mouse.

9. Narknon, from the Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
I couldn't even find any fan-art for this noble hunting cat who befriends Harry Crewe after she's been kidnapped by a band of desert horsemen.

8. Mogget, from Sabriel by Garth Nix

I used the Portuguese cover of this book because it was the only one with a picture of Mogget (though Sabriel's outfit doesn't do justice to her bells. The bells are VERY important, much more than the sword. Though the sword is cool, too. Sorry, I digress). Up until this weekend when I finished reading Sabriel, my favorite fictional cat would have been Grimalkin, the smug faery cat from the Iron King and its sequels. But then Mogget came along with all his attitude, plus the fact that he's not just a cat - he's something a little darker, too. But mostly a cat, fastidious and know-it-all and opinionated. And whatever you do, don't take his bell collar off!

7.  Gilbert from the Familiars, by Adam Jay Epstein
A tree frog who can see the future by looking into a puddle - except he sometimes gets his "puddle-viewings" wrong. Part of the wonderful trio of magical misfits in this story.

6. Talat from the Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

See that white horse that isn't afraid of a blast of dragon-fire? That's Talat. Aerin and Talat make this book just about the best girl/horse story I've ever read, and I've read A LOT of them (they don't come much horse-crazier than me). Talat doesn't use words but he has such personality!

5. Einstein, from Watchers by Dean Koontz

So hard to pick a favorite dog! There are so many classics, and I love them all. Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune was a close second, but the golden retriever with a special gift in Watchers is always the first to pop into my mind.

4. Bree, from the Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

As the only Talking Horse among regular horses, Bree developed quite the attitude, not to mention vanity. But you can't help but love his bossy nature and his secret fear of lions.

3. The Phoenix, from David and the Phoenix by David Ormondroyd

After living 500 years, this fussy bird knows a thing or two:  the difference between a gryffin, gryffon and a gryffen;  where sea monsters like to sleep and how to out-race a witch on a new broomstick.  I re-read this book every few years just because I love the Phoenix so much.

2. Ebon, from Pegasus by Robin McKinley

I think it's every girl's secret or undiscovered dream to bond with a creature - a dog, a horse, in a pinch anything furry might do; even a human, if that human doesn't turn out fickle. It's a deep longing for a best friend who just looks at you and understands you. No explanation necessary. No needing to be someone or something you're not; you are loved exactly as you are - more than just loved, but admired, sought out, inseperable; someone who stands at your side when dangers and bullies arise and you know they'll stand with you to the end. Of course this fantasy is all the better if it's a magical creature that introduces you to fantasic places or whisks you off on a magical adventure. And add wings to that? Someone who can take you flying? That's the heady deliciousness of this book. 

1. Toothless, from How to Train Your Dragon

So in the book, Toothless is a female dragon, very small (much too small to ride on) and very much toothless. And very, VERY disobedient. I loved her, and was quite offended when they totally changed the character in the movie version. But when I saw the movie, I fell in love with the other version of Toothless too. My absolute favorite scene is when Toothless and Hiccup kidnap Astrid and terrify her with all kinds of crazy flying stunts.

Who is your favorite fictional friend, four-legged or otherwise?

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