Monday, June 30, 2014

Ready, set, write: jinns and unicorns

Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at in our writing—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin Funk, and Katy Upperman. Find the rest of the details HERE.
1. This is my first week, my goal last week was to finish up another non-writing project (done!) so that this week I could get back into writing!  My goal this week is to finish working in some ideas for richer characterization to the book I'm currently querying (Star Tripped: YA SF) and write two chapters on my WIP (MG fantasy: Refuge). 
2. I set myself some reading goals at the beginning of the year: 12 debut authors (7 read), 3 Newbery books (2 read), 2 Printz books (not yet), 2 science fiction classics (1 read), two classics (not yet), and 10 books with diverse main characters  (6 read). The only goal I'm not on track for is limiting myself to one book a week, since I get carried away with reading and let my writing slack! So my goal this week is NOT to read more than a chapter a day!  This is what I just started reading, and its starting off both whimsical and lyrical: 
The Fire Wish (The Jinni Wars, #1)
Jinns! Wishes!
3.  I'm trying to lose 10 pounds this summer and another 10 pounds this fall, which means tracking my food daily and exercising 4 times a week, at least 3 hours total.  Last week was pretty good, I lost 1.5 pounds, going for that again!
* A favorite line from my project OR a word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised.
This is an attempt at the idea I had to make my MC's characterization stronger, her way of viewing the high school crowd as a palace court full of intrigue:

I want to call Juno, my guide dog, to have at least something standing by me. Liz’s friends have always made me think of courtiers at a palace, all contending for positions closest to the throne. My popular sister played the role of princess; the volleyball team were her ladies-in-waiting, and the football team, her knights. Skizz was her court jester, and me – well, I was the court ghost. I saw everything, but no one ever noticed me.
* The biggest challenge I faced this week.
Countdown to county fair:  23 days. That means we're trying to get into full swing to get my two older girls all practiced up and ready with their horses. It's fun but it's also stressful and time consuming. Last weekend we were at an INTENSE 4H horse camp, riding literally all day (but it was amazing. We all learned so much). This weekend we were at a barrel race on Saturday and a schooling show on Sunday that both went for 6+ hours.  Next weekend - the same thing again plus 4th of July activities! So my challenge is using my time wisely during the week days. I usually rely on my weekends to get a lot of writing done, but not until fair is over. 
The 10 year old and her horse Tuffy at 4H camp
* Something I love about my WiP. 
That my girls are still begging for me to work on my middle grade fantasy (Refuge) and read it to them. Because it has unicorns and magic and I love that my almost 13-year-old doesn't think she's too grown up for unicorns yet.
Whats your biggest challenge or inspiration this week?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throwback Thursday: my prom, and Prom Impossible

Yesterday was the big YA Prom day, and I had so much fun putting together a "dream prom" - but today is where I share my real prom, set in 1988. Also, because everything I do is pretty much paired with a book, I simply must talk about the recent book, Prom Impossible.

I love that line in the movie What Women Want (with Mel Gibson) where a woman advises Mel about his daughter's prom - "it's all about the dress, you know."  And so it is. Unable to find the perfect dress at a store, my parents graciously paid extra to have one custom made for me. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out quite as I expected... and, let's face it, my 18 year old taste in fashion wasn't that great. I've never liked peach since :(

I can't remember if the dress planning began before or after I actually had a date. I think it began BEFORE the date was secured, because my best friend and I decided that we'd go anyway even if we didn't get dates. But then someone asked me, and after a moment of "huh? I didn't expect that!" I was remember feeling quite pleased. The hilarious thing is that yesterday when I picked my  YA prom date (a fictional character from a YA book), at first it didn't registered that the YA boy and the real boy had the SAME NAME. Wesley from The Archived and The Unbound books, by Victoria Schwab - and here's my real life Wesley (Hi Wes! if you happen to come across this post!) (we still keep in touch online occasionally).

The funny thing about my prom is I actually don't remember much about it. I can't remember where it was (some generic hotel ballroom?), how the room was decorated, who was king or queen, memorable dance songs...(I do remember my best friend's date sneaking outside to smoke cigars). What I remember MOSTLY was after prom when the four of us went cruising. All over Buffalo, NY, from parties to parks to open-all-night hangouts and maybe even a midnight crossing over the Peace Bridge into Canada and back.

This was our prom car - a 1966 Buick Electra, fondly named Sofie.

Good memories, and thankfully, mostly drama-free, unlike the escapades in Prom Impossible, a hilarious YA book that's billed as a modern day Shakespearean comedy.  Truly, this story has shades of the mixed up romantic mess of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The main character, Cassidy, has her sights on going to prom with Michael, an adorable geek, but he barely notices her. So her plan is to use Jasper, the popular jock, to make Michael jealous, but when the Jasper plan starts to backfire, Cassidy gets even more creative: "I wanted to use Zeke to make Jasper jealous to make Michael jealous so I could have my dream prom date."  Cue: disaster.

What I love about the cover of this book is it gives you a little about the three boys right up front.

Of course every step of Cassidy's ever-changing plans goes awry, and is further complicated by the other prom-date seeking girls: Cassidy's cousin Jules, her ex-best-friend Elena, and  her arch-enemy, Ava.
So why would Ava rush after Zeke when it just made her look weak, pathetic and needy? I had no clue. Maybe someday I'd figure that out along with everything else like world peace and poverty and how to make cafeteria food edible.
Also, Cassidy just has this hilarious knack for talking herself into trouble:
I have this problem with silence. It tends to draw words out of me even when I don't want to talk. 
And then there's her flare for drama, which kept me cracking up:
Mom hovered, trying to say something. 
"Out with it. If you don't tell me now, I'll have this lecture of doom ganging over my head all day, and that could affect the start of my relationship with teachers who ultimately hold my collegiate future in their hands." 
She sighed. "oh, Cassidy. Do you need to be so dramatic?"
What really made me laugh out loud was when Cassidy tries to talk herself out of a situation with her overbearing Aunt Lulu, and ends up asking her aunt for help in straightening out her prom-date-seeking mission. Nothing like a fussy aunt getting involved in your romantic life and even worse, getting involved in the prom-dress-selection-process.

Aunt Lulu's a rip, but the boys are also really great characters. Jasper is like sleek, well-fed trouble, stalking the halls in his moccasins. But Cassidy is his match. There's this one scene where she confronts him in the boys' bathroom that had me grinning, and another where she tries to trap him into her prom-plan in front of his mother, but he has a solid comeback. Terms such as "romance and stars" and "therapist" and "personal stories" and "binge eating" are wielded like chess pieces between opponents.

Then there's Zeke, who is... multifaceted. Here's one side of Zeke:

He asked me questions. How'd I do on the science test? Do I like bunny rabbits? What's my favorite color? Where was I applying to college? Had I made a snowman yet this year?

I don't know about you, but sounds like excellent prom conversation to me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My dream prom #yaprom

YA Prom is a chance for you to pick your favorite YA boy/girl, find a dress, and attend prom in the YA world, along with a twitter chat at 8:30PM EST, #yaprom. There's still time to link up at the host pages, Queen Ella Bee Reads and Alexa Loves Books

Let's not even think about how long ago it was when I actually went to prom - for Throwback Thursday tomorrow I'll post my old prom pictures here if anyone wants to guess. But the lovely thing about reading Young Adult is that we can live a dozen or more proms with all the dresses and emotions and flutters and theme songs (and pay a lot less).  Here's the dress I picked for this year - I would have picked a deeper purple color, like violet, for the bottom, but it's close enough. 
And for a prom date, I pick Wesley from The Archived and The Unbound books by Victoria Schwab. He's a prep school boy that likes to dress goth. I LOVE that contrast. Here's a little Wes dialogue:

Wes hits the table. “You broke into a crime scene without me?”

“Be glad, Wes, or we both would have been caught.”

“We’re a team, Mac. You don’t go committing a crime without your partner in crime. Besides if I’d been with you, we probably wouldn’t have been caught. I could have stood at the door and made wild bird sounds or something when the cops came back. And if we did get caught, our mug shots would look fabulous."

Here's how I imagine him dressed for "work" (his work is very unusual; it involves policing not-quite-human Histories):
Attribution: Nagate_by_kirasanta on

And here's how I picture him dressed for prom. Forget the standard tux!
Attribution: Jeb_by_fuchsiart on
This is what we would drive to prom, and cruise around town afterward with the top down, because after prom I wouldn't care what the wind would do with my hair. 
1965 Ford Mustang
My YA prom would held in a school gym decorated with swaths of black and tons of tiny black lights to give everything a lovely blueish glow: picture a white wedding with white satin and white twinkle lights but in reverse: everything black and bluish sparkly and twinkly instead (and lots of glow sticks too and dry ice smoke). And half way through we'd all do face painting with glow in the dark paint, because hey, I'm still a kid at heart and I like contrasts like formal dresses and silly face paint. 

You didn't know I was into black so much, did you? (actually, I sort of surprised myself).

The theme song would be the new version of "Once Upon A Dream" that plays at the end of Maleficent with Angelina Jolie.

So that's my YA prom fantasy (for this year, at least).

Take a moment and share a few prom or fancy-night-out ideas of your own.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Diverse also means disabled

I love stories about underdogs and overcoming against all odds, and achieving with a handicap makes for an inspiring story. With all the talk lately about diversity in YA, I've been thrilled to see disabled included as a category of diverse, especially since one of my books includes a main character who has lost her sight.

Here are some excellent young adult books (and one middle grade) with main characters who are disabled.

Push Girl
She Is Not Invisible
Breaking Glass
The Fault in Our Stars
The Queen of Attolia
I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade
The Window

Otherbound, by Corrine Duyvis. Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he's yanked from his Arizona town into Amara's mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible - and results in an accident where he loses his lower leg. Talk about an unusual type of portal into another world! This book just released last week: see below for more details!

Push Girl, by Chelsie Hill and Jessica Love.  Another new release, Kara is having the perfect junior year until she became paralyzed in  a car accident. I haven't read this one yet, but will soon.

Dangerous, by Shannon Hale.  Maisie isn't going to let being born without  a hand stop her from her dream: becoming an astronaut. Thrilled to be accepted to astronaut bootcamp, her dream seems to be coming true, until everything starts going wrong and she becomes a reluctant superhero instead.

She Is Not Invisible, by Marcus Sedgewick. When her father goes missing, 16 year old Laureth and her 7 year old brother Benjamin travel on their own to New York City to find him. This wouldn't be so incredible journey if it weren't for the fact that Laureth was born blind. Seeing the world from her perspective of never even knowing sight is amazing!

The Window, by Jeanette Ingold. Mandy loses her sight and her mother in a car accident and she handles it with silent strength. Her independent, I-can-take-care-of-myself vulnerability comes through as a strong voice I quickly fell in love with.

For more books with blind characters, check out this Goodreads list: Awesome Blind Characters

Breaking Glass, by Lisa Amowitz. Jeremy loses his lower leg in an accident, and because he's a runner and track star, this devastates him... along with the mysterious disappearance of his friend and crush, Susannah. What I loved about this book is that Jeremy hits bottom first in despair, before slowly rising to face his alcoholism, and overcomes his grief and disability to solve the mystery.

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. If you haven't heard of this book or movie yet, most of the kids have disabilities as a result of cancer. They struggle with depression, anger, and doubt but this book is far from a pity party. Augustus will win your heart with his humor and outrageous metaphors.

I Rode A Horse of Milk White Jade, by Diana Lee Wilson. This story of a girl with a lame foot is especially striking because she lives in Mongolia during the time of Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. Her horse and her cat enable her to achieve an absolutely amazing journey.

The Queen of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner. Set in a world similar to Ancient Greece, Gen is at the top of his game as his Queen's celebrated thief - until he's caught, and his hand is lopped off for stealing. Can he regain his confidence... and steal the most difficult treasure possible... I can't even hint what that might be without spoiling this amazing story.

So, more about Otherbound - the most unusual portal-to-another-world story I've come across, bonus points for originality! So your classic portal story is someone in the real world steps through a portal of some sort into a fantasy world. In this book, the portal is another person, and when Nolan steps "through" he is stuck as that other person... and he can't NOT step through... every time he blinks he's seeing into her world. At first he's just a silent observer through Amara's eyes, and she doesn't realize he's there. But eventually he learns how to influence, even control Amara. So it's a fantastic set up for conflict in so many ways.

Amara's country sounds similar to an older version of the Netherlands, with some steampunk (maybe?) touches like pneumatic air trains. Amara's a servant, which basically means she's a slave - and all servants have their tongues cut out (so she's mute - disabled too - but marvelously expressive with her signing). She's a servant to a princess who is hiding from the usurper to her throne, who is searching for her to eliminate her to keep her from regaining the throne... and has placed her under a really, really, scary curse. The magic in this world is has powerful repercussions such as "backlash": different spells and curses can react to each other in unpredictable and very dangerous ways, so you want to avoid "mixed magic" at all costs:
Sometimes, mixed magic flared tenfold. A single bolt could destroy the whole street. Other times, spells canceled each other out.... 
Instances of backlash - water frothing, flames flickering, bugs spasming and plants wilting - must be warnings.... 
Thunderclouds met overhead. Magic backlash, she was sure of it.
In addition to the fascinating rules of magic, another thing I really liked about this book was the complicated friendship between Amara and Cilla, the princess she serves. Amara has to serve Cilla, even protect her life at risk to her own, but she's curiously loyal, and she's Cilla's only friend. I'm not sure if I've ever run across such a complicated relationship.

And then add Nolan and his unwanted, involuntary "eavesdropping" on Amara and you've got another whole other layer of complication... especially when he realizes how crucial his relationship is to the lives of Amara and Cilla. The book alternates between Nolan's perspective - his difficult home and school life which is so messed up by his frequent "seizures" (when he's in Amara's world) - and Amara's perspective, sometimes in control of herself and sometimes being controlled by Nolan.
Have him in her head for hours on hours or risk his being out of her reach when she needed him. Invade her mind or break her body. 
....He shouldn't hijack you like that," Cilla said. "But I like the way his face looks on yours. He looks more relaxed in your body than you do." 
Of the two main characters, I tended to look forward to scenes from Nolan's perspective a little more, partially because it was kind of fun to see a guy deal with being in a girl's head (!!!!!) and also because I couldn't get enough of his little sister, Patli (Pat). She was SO NEAT! She was a little sass but also compassionate, confused and freaked by her brother's "seizures" but also concerned and curious about him.  And she's full of attitude...
Pat's scoffs had as wide a range as Nolan's smiles. At the bottom rung was Seriously? followed by I'm really too cool for this but, whatever I'll play along. Somewhere at the top sat This is the most important thing in the world, but OMG I'll die if anyone knows.

Another thing I liked about the "real world" was Nolan and Pat's parents:
Nolan and Pat always spoke English together, but their parents stuck to Spanish around the house, or simple Nahuatl between Dad and Pat as practice. Dad saved English for his rare Talks, capital T. 

Reading this, I had to pause and google Nahuatl.  It's a language spoke by the Nahua people in central Mexico, and is informally known as Aztec. Which gave me all kinds of cool vibes, that not only was Nolan's family of Mexican background, but possibly Aztec descendants.

There was some neat world building in Amara's world, too. I loved the references to the Diggers,  unique creatures that inhabited the sand dunes, which are a big part of the setting in this land (I wish they had gotten a bigger role in the story). Other touches I loved were little geographic details, things like the great land of snow to the SOUTH; which to this Northern hemisphere oriented gal, made me pause and consider that Amara's country, for all its hints of Netherland, might actually be a Southern hemisphere sort of country. I also loved that the captain of the ship that Amara and Cilla escape on was a female captain, and loved this description given aboard the ship:
The rising sun threw pinkish rays over her face and tintned the air a gray that hovered between yellow and blue, painting the clouds colors Amara couldn't find names for.
And oh my goodness the last two pages were so poignant and beautifully unresolved, as Nolan writes his concluding thoughts in his journal.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

#Bookaday and #BookadayUK

There's nothing better than a month of books. On the scale of things I love, talking about a different book every day a month is right up there with a big wall covered with maps, a big mug with hot steaming tea inside, and a couple recent good movies full of mythical creatures (Maleficent; How To Train Your Dragon II). 
Hiccup and Toothless with a map! (map geek alarm going off here)

Oh look at Hiccup growing up!
The young Maleficent - her own mythical creature
ah, more magic, more mythical creatures... makes me happy

Sorry, I got a bit distracted...

I ran across this image on Twitter and decided to tweet every day in June about books I've read (see my list for June 1-16 below). 

A few days into June there was a big bruhaha about how the #bookaday tag had already been claimed by another group for another challenge, so the tag was changed to #bookadayUK (since the challenge was started by a publisher in the UK). 

I checked out the original #bookaday challenge out too - where instead of just tweeting everyday in June about books read, you actually have to READ A BOOK A DAY. For thirty days. Only for truly serious book lovers, this challenge at the Nerdy Book Club! (Fortunately, picture books are acceptable). I am so tempted to try this next year. 

But for now, here is my June #bookadayUK list so far:

Day 1  Favourite book from childhood: I read Bambi and Bambi's children over and over again from age 8 to 10

Day 2  Best bargain: seriously? all books are a great bargain! You can buy many of them for little more than a grande from Starbucks.

Day 3  Today is a book with a blue cover. The Fault in Our Stars

Day 4   Least favorite book by favorite author: Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley. Couldn't get past first chp. love Blue Sword!

Day 5  A friend lent me Francis Chan's Crazy Love two years ago and I still haven't returned it. Just need to buy my own copy

Day 6  Books I always give as gifts: the Help by Katheryn Stockett and Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

day 7  Forgot a book I own? Nope. More likely to forget I don't yet own awesome books Doomsday Book, His Majesty's Dragon, Holes

Day 8  I have multiple copies of many C.S. Lewis books - everyone knows he's my favorite! if I love an e-book I'll buy hardcopy too

Day 9  Book with a movie tie in. True story: I discovered Neil Gaiman books because the movie Star Dust.

Day 10 Reminds me of someone I love: I like to think Gandalf is like one of the grandfathers I never got to know.

Day 11 Secondhand book shop gem: recently found Writing Down the Bones, $4, at my local independent book store. Score.

Day 12  Pretend to have read it: Catch 22.

Day 13 Makes me smile:  Holes by Louis Sachar

Day 14 an old favourite:  My Friend Flicka (the reason I moved to Wyoming)

Day 15 favorite fictional father: Atticus in To Kill A Mockingbird

Day 16  Can't believe more people haven't read Linked by Imogen Howsen... space pirates! 

Part of my reasons for doing the #bookadayUK challenge is I'm trying to get more active on Twitter  to promote more excellent books  (and to discover more excellent books) (and connect with other readers and writers). Here's a few great tweets:

Three other things:

1) Otherbound, by Corrine Duyvis, releases today! I just finished reading it, and will have a review up here next week. I'm not sure what attracted me more, this fascinating cover (look at their contrasting expressions!) or the premise of a boy linked into a girl's thoughts - a girl from another world. Whoa.

2) Inspired by Throwback Thursday on Facebook, I'm going to start a book-related Throwback Thursday on this blog. Every other Thursday I'll be posting something from the past - next Thursday it's going to be my memories from my senior prom - along with a related book (Prom Impossible, by Laura Pauling).  I have so many books that I want to highlight, and this will give me the opportunity to pull up some oldies but goodies, too, in addition to new releases.

3) It's now a few minutes past midnight of June 17th and I am off to download and START READING Ruin and Rising, the end of the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo that has just RELEASED. Firebirds!! Darkling! here I come.

What book would be on your #bookaday list?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fascination with volcanos and ancient Rome

Ancient Rome is one of my most favorite time periods to visit in historical fiction, with all the drama of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, the slave rebellion of Spartacus, the chariot races of Ben Hur, Pontius Pilate "washing his hands of this", the destruction of Jerusalem, the seige of Masada, the gladiators of the Colosseum, and all the scheming and backstabbing immortalized in I, Claudius (such a good book!)

In the midst of all this dramatic history was a particularly vivid and frightening moment, the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii (79 AD). Most of us know the horror left behind by the pyroclastic surge of that volcano: bodies forever frozen in positions of agony. I'm surprised I haven't run across historical fiction set in Pompeii before, but as soon as I heard about Curses and Smoke, released last month, I snatched it up.
Obviously not the eruption of Vesuvius, but the
pyroclastic cloud of death might be similar
This young adult story was rich with historical and cultural details, and I luxuriated in them like my own historical hot tub. This book truly transports you back in time: not just the setting, but the food, the attitudes of slaves, lanistas, gladiators, patricians; beauty rituals; curse tablets; natural history (references to Strabo and Pliny); beautiful Latin ("deliciae meae"); ancient medical treatments...even graffiti on the market walls. (Also LOVED that the author included historical notes at the back of the book.)

The point of view switches between Lucia, a daughter of a rich owner of gladiators, and betrothed against her will, and Tages, a slave, and also a medicus (healer).  

How I pictured Lucia
Lucia has a knack for scientific observations and longs to share her theories about Vesuvius with Pliny (a famous naturalist and writer). But she faces scorn from other Romans because she's just a woman, therefore her theories are automatically discounted. 

While basically a forbidden love story, this story surprised me with two unexpected twists: one with Lucia's mother and father (please read the historical note in the back about the letter from a husband to his wife that inspired this shocker!), and the other with Quintus, the spoiled rich patrician who flirts with Lucia but is... ah, that would be a spoiler. 

Each chapter heading includes a countdown, starting with One Month Before and ending with Minutes Before. Such a simple but effective way to heighten tension. But there's a surprise twist with this countdown, too. 

My favorite quote:
They promenaded around the market, occasionally stealing glances at each other as they chatted about the household. Sometimes they bumped shoulders or brushed arms. Lucia felt as if all her awareness and sensation were gravitating toward Tag like iron to a magnet rock. She wondered how the weight of it didn't make her tip over into him.

Definitely a Caesar's thumbs up for this book: 

And, since the movie Gladiator is one of my favorites, I just had to throw in my favorite quote from that movie, too. 

What's your favorite historical fiction or  favorite period from history? 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Insecure writer: my query is out

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
I have queries out - sitting in the limbo of several agents' inboxes or "for later" folders, so of course I am wildly insecure.  I'm so insecure that I'm afraid if I start writing about it here, all my emotions will splatter across this screen like rotten fruit.

To try to keep my current emotions under check, I'm attempting have fun with this whole query letter thing.  

The query writing process (especially the pitch part of the query, the part that's supposed to read like the jacket copy of a book) is quite the adventure. The first time I tried it, four years ago, I dreaded it. I wrote some drivel, did some research, had an epiphany. I had long philosophical discussions with myself about what my novel was really about... what the heart of it was.

 I ended up shelving that novel (I definitely plan to return to it, but it needed more time to marinate). 

Then I moved on to another novel. The query pitch seemed to write itself. I was so proud of myself! I'm getting the hang of this thing! 

I submitted my lovely query to an online contest, and an agent ripped it to sheds. Direct quote: "Playing coy with agents on this point isn't going to incite most to want to read further."

Cue sobbing.

After I got over being crushed, I admitted the agent was probably dead on right, and I put on my studious glasses and looked at a bunch more query examples (WriteOnCon forums and the Pitch Wars and Writer's Voice events at Brenda Drake's website are a great source). 

I came up with a fresh query that was straightforward and not coy and had the requisite three C's (character, conflict, choice) and put it up for critique at Matt Rush's wonderful blog, the Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment. I got some positive feedback. It seemed I was on the right track, just needed some tweaking and a little more voice. 

So I tweaked and added a phrase with a little more voice, and sent that query off for reals (not just a contest). 

And got form rejections.  This time I didn't sob, because I kind of had a gut feeling that despite my tweaking and attempt at voice, I still hadn't nailed it. When I read my own query, it kind of made me feel like this: 

Instead of like this:

So, went back to searching for more query examples and dissecting the ones I really loved. The queries I really love are ones with characters that grab you with some specific details and voice. (of course, queries, like novels, are also very subjective: some will love it, some won't. You hope for a majority in your favor). 

My current version of the query is now rich on character, but maybe too long. It will probably evolve into yet another version, but I feel happy enough about it (for now) to send it out again. 

What I'm still really unsure about is the personalization to the agent part. The part that goes something like "I read in a recent interview you are looking for a YA romance layered with big stakes" or "I loved so-and-so book that you represented".  I wish all agents were like Janet Reid, the Query Shark, who thinks that the personalization is a waste of time, just get to the story, please. 

Sigh... just another thing to be insecure about.

I won't even start on the sample pages that come after the query....

But ultimately I guess my determination outweighs my insecurity, because I keep trying, I keep writing, I keep putting things out there and taking the feedback and fixing and trying again.

Because I LOVE writing, I love learning, I love the whole long messy process. Even if Miranda, my favorite character from the Devil Wears Prada, would probably say this about me: 

It's only failure if you give up!

What part of the writing process is on your mind today?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Best friends and ex best friends

Four things I want to share today:

1) For writers: I'm always slow to hear about things on Twitter, but #diversitywl is worth mentioning: agents have started using it to express what they are looking for in relation to diversity. Way cool! (also #WeNeedDiverseBooks)

2) For readers: I think the #bookaday tag - sharing 30 books in June - is really neat. I'm going try to remember to tweet daily on this one and write a couple posts on it too.

3) I am seriously excited for June 17th when Ruin and Rising releases, book three in Leigh Bardugo's fantasy with Russian roots. Also July 24th when Like No Other, by Una LaMarche, releases. Two kids with very different cultural and racial backgrounds who lived across the street from each other their whole lives but never met - until a hurricane hits and they're stuck in an elevator together.

4) Today is the release for My Best Friend, Maybe, by Caela Carter.  Four really cool things about this book (it's a day of fours!)

1) it's set in Santorini, Greece. Love love love love....

2) Amazing writing

3) A complicated friendship between two girls

4) Thoughtful handling of religious issues

I recently wrote about some of my favorite YA books centered on friendships instead of romantic relationships, or where the friendship is more than just a prop or plot device.  This is a great addition to that list; and one of the more complicated friendships I’ve come across in fiction.  Colette and Sadie used to be best friends, until Sadie started putting other friends in front of Colette.  That’s the gist of it, but there’s so much more to their story.

Friendship dynamics are fascinating and with so much potential for hurt and misunderstanding, and this book does a great job handling both the good: wonderful flashbacks of the strong moments in the friendship –

– and the bad: the weirdness and awkwardness of life when BFF turns to XBF.

“Do you really need for me to get milkshakes?” she asked. I did. I clearly did. But that word “need” sounded so pathetic. I needed her to want to get milkshakes. I needed her to rank all her friends for me so that I could hear my name at the top of the list. I was afraid I was sinking lower and lower on it, and if I sunk too low on Sadie’s friend list, I might sink out of real life. 
I loved Sadie’s nickname for Colette: Coley. Some names just make me smile, and this one hit the spot.

I liked that Coley’s confusion over Sadie and her yearning to understand what happened also affected her relationship with her boyfriend – because real relationships are messy, like that. So often friends get neglected when a girl gets involved with a boy, so it was kind of nice to see the reverse here since Coley’s plans are to spend the summer in Costa Rica on a mission trip with Mark, but she chooses to change her plans at the last minute when Sadie invites her to join her family in Greece.

This wasn’t an easy choice. There’s something really drawing about a character with conflicting wants, torn between two “loves” and uncertain about the best path to take.  I liked how Coley would swing from one side to the other, and then back; that indecision and uncertainty just rang true to me.

Poor Mark! I really liked the guy, because he treats Coley like a gentleman, and then there’s his freckles: “His smile makes his cheeks puff out and rearranges his freckles. I love how I never know quite where to look for them.“  Another scene: “he looks so sad, hazel eyes pasted to the driveway, freckles practically drooping.”

Coley’s life is also complicated by her mother, who is a control freak (“She can give me a guilt trip even internationally.”) And a religious control freak, to boot. More about that in a moment.

The story really takes off though once Coley’s left her boyfriend and her family behind and arrives in Santorini. Oh my goodness, Santorini! I’d read just about any book set on a Greek island, but the descriptions were so well done in this story, and fit so well with the complicated friendship.
It’s impossible to sleep long enough on an island this beautiful. All of this beauty makes me wonder why God decided we ever have to sleep in the first place.

Coley’s hotel room was in a cave! So that actually makes sense on a very steep island, where just about everything is built in the hillsides. And it sounded like a really lovely, cozy cave.

But now we’re here, across the world in a cave in Santorini where the sun is so strong it almost has a smell and the stairs carved into the sides of the cliffs allow you to see everything at once and yet have a million surprises a day.

More complications ensue between Sadie and Coley while on the island, and a surprising secret is revealed that complicates things even more. It’s spoilery, so I won’t go into that, but Coley didn’t process it very well at first. But I loved her eventual conclusion, because I could really relate to it in one of my own complicated friendships.

I have to mention Sam – Sadie’s adopted Haitian brother who Coley starts crushing on. I wanted more of Sam! – though I know the focus of the book had to be on Coley and Sadie, I sure wish I could have gotten a few more details about Sam. He only mentions once how it felt being adopted into a white family. I could eat up a whole book about such a character. More, more! Also, he and Coley had such chemistry:
“Yes?” Sam says.

“I thought I screwed everything up,” I say.  
He smiles. “You’re only one person. In the whole universe. You can’t screw everything up.”

Sam actually had me googling Haitian models, and this is what I came up with.
Karl Daniel, from Haiti

Kendrick Kemp, from the Bahamas
I'd love to share more pictures, but... ahem. Back to the story.

So I mentioned that Coley’s mom was a religious control freak. As a Christian mom, it was good for me to read about Coley’s mom so I could learn what kind of mom I don’t want to be. Until the end, that is, when she says this really cool thing:
 “Look, I don’t know what’s happening with your father. After all these years I’m finally going to apologize and I hope he’ll hear me. But no matter what happens, you’re my kid, my daughter, okay? And when you get home, the first thing I’m going to do is listen to you.”
I struggled with the parts of the story that involved Christian activities (e.g. youth group, mission trip) and Coley’s perception of these: they were just a rote part of her life. She had no passion for them, which actually makes sense, since she didn’t ever mention a passion for the Lord. That’s not what I’m complaining about; and I realize if she WAS passionate about the Lord, this book would have been published by a different publisher. But I can’t help wishing the book also included a contrast to Coley’s perception. Just so readers could get a little taste of what a mission trip means to a passionate believer. I love it when stories show contrasts like this.

But as far as other contrasts and complications, especially with friendships, this book was spot on! And did I mention Santorini?

What dreamy setting are you craving for your summer reading?

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