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???
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