Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Clue 10

[This is a clue for the BEST Book Giveaway! Remember, don't post what you think the book is until October 5, or someone might steal your idea!]

The Handbook

Writer's Book Review: Diana Peterfreund's RAMPANT

Be sure to read the whole review for a special surprise!

Why I Bought This Book: Instead of telling you why I bought RAMPANT, I want to take you back a few weeks ago. I'm the club adviser to my high school's creative writing club, and I was going over some recently released YA titles with the group (they know the best writers are the best readers, too). I flashed 'em this cover.

"Whoa," said one girl. "What's that one about?"

I grinned at her. "Two words: Killer. Unicorns."

The class went wild.

Elsewhere on the web: Diana Peterfreund runs a great blog here (I particularly like the info on her unicorn research). An interesting article/interview on the subject here. Also: twitter.

Five Sentence Summary: Astrid has never believed her mother's stories about killer unicorns and her family legacy as a unicorn hunter--until a unicorn tries to kill her boyfriend. Before Astrid has a chance to wrap her mind around it, her mother ships her off to Killer Unicorn School in Rome (aka, The Cloisters, home to the Order of the Lioness). While there, Astrid grows to become one of the most prestigious hunters, in part because of her blood...but neither she nor any of the other hunters are ready for the real unicorns they face...or the secret plot that might bring the Cloisters down for good.

So what can we, as writers, learn from this book?
NOTE: As always, highlight for spoilers.

1. Feminism: In dealing with a book tied to the unicorn legends--yanno, the legends that deal with women, particularly virgins, being the only ones that can associate with unicorns--a bit of feminism was bound to come up. What I loved about RAMPANT, though, was that the feminism was presented as an argument--not as an authority. In other words, the girls discuss their roles as women, and as virgins, in society--but it's a discussion, not a rant or a speech. There is no feminism preaching, yet throughout the book, there are common sense solutions to women's rights. For example, one of the hunters, Phil[lippa], believes strongly that while being a hunter requires her to be a virgin, she should still have the right to date, and whether she gives up her virginity is her own choice, not the choice of the Cloisters or the other hunters.

The key here is that there's nothing preachy. It's a part of the story--a logical part of the story--and is presented in a clear, logical way. I never once felt like I was being haggled with a feminist agenda, yet by the end of the book, I felt a lot of issues on femininity were expounded on, and I left thoughtful on the subject. (Compare this to, say, my reaction to GRACELING and later FIRE, which I did feel was a bit pushy on the subject of feminism.)

2. The Gun on the Mantle:
Likewise, in a book about unicorns, there's one clear gun on the mantle from the start: sex. The rest of my thoughts on this are all spoilery, so, yanno, highlight and such. OK, for me, one of my first thoughts when I started RAMPANT and realized that Diana was going to maintain the female virginity part of the legend, was that not just sex, but also rape would be an issue. I was thinking--and worrying--about rape almost from the first chapter, when Astrid's boyfriend is a bit too pushy for some outdoor lovin'. But even though I was expecting it, I wasn't expecting it the way Diana wrote it. Phil, Astrid's cousin, is raped. But it's a weird sort of date-rape, stuck in the limbo of did-she-want-it, did-he-mean-to-rape-her. Although I hated this for the character, I love that Diana wrote about it. As a high school teacher, and as someone who's worked extensively with teens, I know how confused many of them feel about rape. The way it is presented in the book is the much more common issue that teens face. Teen girls fear rape from a scary stranger with a gun or a knife, but more often rape is from a boyfriend who's more eager than they are. Presenting rape in this way is something that I wish every teen girl could read. Phil's reaction--a mixture of hate and love, of revulsion and enjoyment--is the exact sort of confused and mixed-up reaction I witnessed from girls I helped counsel in college. For that scene alone, I wish I could give every girl in America a copy of this book.

Furthermore, while I'm on the topic, I'd also like to add that the discussions on virginity were just so tastefully done. I know that many parents may object to the frank way the girls talk about sex and virginity, especially in my area, where abstinence is queen. But the way the girls discussed it in the book is the much more modern way girls talk about sex now. Phil's attitude, about saving it for a guy who wants her, not sex, is more realistic of girls saving their virginity (as opposed to the religious reasons that many conservative parents would wish the girls' priorities lie in). And Astrid's feelings of virginity as a burden is likewise an expression that I hear very often from teen girls.

3. Realistic Female Relationships
: When you group together a bunch of girls in a book, there's almost always cattiness. For some reason, girls together, such as the hunters grouped together in the Cloisters, seems like a reasonable time for a writer to tap into her inner America's Next Top Model and bring out the bitch. Thankfully--oh, so thankfully--Diana doesn't fall into that trap with RAMPANT. Despite the fact that there are so many girls together, none of them are evil to be evil, there's no level of cattiness, and the characters are characters, not cliches. I wish so much more girl books could focus on girls being girls, not witches.

Take, for example, Astrid and her cousin Phil. Phil is older, more beautiful, more composed, more athletic, and all around the preferable of the two girls. When I first met Phil in the text, I was sure she'd be a snide little witch. BUT. She's not. She's caring and loving and Astrid's best friend--and they treat each other like friends, not competition. Sure, there's some realistic jealousy on Astrid's part, but it's a reasonable part of her character, and she never lets her surges of jealousy stop her from loving Phil.

Even the characters who would seemingly fill that role of cliche witch--Zelda, the model; or Grace, the power-hungry girl--don't. Zelda's sweet and quiet, and Grace may be power-hungry, but her character is realistically portrayed, not a paper-cut-out of a character from The Hills.

Quibbles: My two quibbles are both spoilery. First, there's Lillith, Astrid's mother. I HATED HER. She was annoying in the beginning, but when she comes back as the donna of the Cloisters--ARGH. But I have to admit, while I hated her character--she seemed almost too obsessed, too focused--my opinion of her was assuaged after she thought Astrid had died and relinquished her role as donna. My second quibble comes in the character of Brandt, and this is the real kicker. It seems to me obvious that Brandt was kidnapped, not that he ran away, and that he's being used by Marten or the corporation to develop the Remedy. From the first mention of it, this was my assumption. While this plot twist isn't resolved--something I expect to see in the sequel--I do wish at least one character had just questioned the strange disappearance, especially after Seth ended up missing, too.

The Bottom Line: Two words: Killer. Unicorns. Go on. Buy it. You know you want to.

SPECIAL SURPRISE!!! Diana sent me some bookmarks and temporary tattoos to give to my students...and I saved one for you! Leave a comment to this review for a chance to win a beautiful RAMPANT bookmark and temp tattoo!! Contest ends Saturday @ midnight.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Clue 9

[This is a clue for the BEST Book Giveaway! Remember, don't post what you think the book is until October 5, or someone might steal your idea!]


Critter the Writter!

So, on Sunday I introduced you to Critter, the monster on a mission to travel the blogosphere! After I showed him around my home, he decided it was time to do more adventurous things. Well, when you tell a writer to go do adventurous things, that writer's first instinct is simple:

Go to the coffee house.

But we weren't just here to drink coffee. Oh no! This is Critter's first critique meeting! See, that's my friend Robyn's manuscript under his tush, and we're reviewing our notes for Robyn. Critter is a critiquer!

Of course, I always get to the coffee house way early for my critique meeting, so that I can get properly strung out on caffeine so I can review my critique notes. So while I was chugging coffee making some final comments, Critter started looking at the Scholastic book order form.

What are you looking at Critter? Any good books there? Let me see...
NO, CRITTER!!!! NO!!!!!! LOOK AWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHAT IS SEEN CANNOT BE UNSEEN!!!!!!!!!!!

Fortunately, Robyn showed up soon afterwards, and I tore Critter from vampiric-messy-haired boys.

Where will Critter go next? What adventures will he get into? And will he ever meet a vampire with sexy enough hair? TIME WILL ONLY TELL.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Clue 8

[This is a clue for the BEST Book Giveaway! Remember, don't post what you think the book is until October 5, or someone might steal your idea!]


The Problem

...with pre-writing posts and scheduling them throughout the week, is that I find myself clicking over to this blog to find out what you think about X, then remember that's not being posted until Wednesday.


Writer's Book Review: Maria Snyder's STORM GLASS

Why I Bought This Book: STORM GLASS had been on my radar for awhile when Midas PR sent me a review copy. And lemme tell you: I devoured that copy. Three nights in a row I stayed up until 1am reading!

Elsewhere on the web: My review of the first two books in the STUDY trilogy here, and my review of FIRE STUDY here (the main character of this new series features in both FIRE STUDY and MAGIC STUDY). Author's website here (click around--she includes bonus stories if you sign up for her newsletter, and a chance to win signed copies of her book). The First Novels Club did a guest post with Maria and a review of STORM GLASS here. Also, Maria's on GoodReads (and does great posts on the GR blog).

Five Sentence Summary: Opal has what she thinks is a useless magical gift: the ability to trap magic in glass. That's it. But when the Stormdancer tribe, which uses glass globes to capture the energy of storms and use it in factories, needs Opal's help, she finally finds a use to her seemingly pointless ability. As she learns more about magic and glass, however, she discovers that not only is her gift very much more important than she ever thought, it makes her more powerful--and more dangerous--than she ever imagined.

So what can we, as writers, learn from this book?
NOTE: As always, highlight for spoilers.

1. Voice of POV characters: I have always personally been wary of first person POV. Here's the thing: it's easy to do a book in first person POV. It's hard to do another one. I've read several books by authors where the use of first person POV makes the books all sound as if they're being told by the same character, even if they're surrounded by different characters, in different settings, with different plots. Creating one character in first person POV with a unique voice is good--but creating a totally different character in first person POV with a totally separate but still unique voice is astounding.

That's what Snyder did here.

Opal is so different from Yalena, not just in her past, her setting, and her knowledge, but in her voice. As I read, there were situations where I knew what Yalena would think, or how Yalena would react--and Opal didn't think or react in that way. Yalena is strong, impulsive, and confrontational. Opal is strong but self-doubting, careful, and meek. Snyder doesn't just tell us this, but shows us this through the voice of the novel. Not to say that Opal is weak--she's just different--beautifully, achingly different.

2. The little details mean a lot:
My absolute favorite thing about a book is when the author leaves us clues about the plot, but I don't catch them. I LOVE THAT SO MUCH. That's what made the Harry Potter series sing for me: JK Rowling wrote about polyjuice potion in book 2, then used it as a plot twist in book 4; the vanishing cabinet was a throw-away detail in book 5, the crux of the plot in book 6. It's when the author gives us all the tools to solve the plot, but writes so cleverly that we don't even think of them that makes a book brilliant to me. Snyder did that here in STORM GLASS. In the first third of the book, Opal meets a man who can shape-shift so convincingly that she believes he's someone she knows and trusts until she notices his shadow is different. From that point on, Snyder's given me the clue: there's a character who can appear to be someone else. But later, when Opal's friend seems to act different from usual, speak differently, etc....I didn't catch on that he actually WAS different and was the shape-shifter in disguise! I figured it out about a paragraph before Opal, and was still shocked to see how cleverly Snyder layered in that clue.

3. Consequences to Magic:
This is one of the things I like most about Snyder's writing, from the STUDY series to this new one. Magic has consequences. While this is shown most often in stories where magic weakens a character, Snyder is never one to go for the cliche. Instead, the magic Opal uses makes her a danger to those around her, someone to be feared, someone to be used by the bad guys. The consequence isn't something that will hurt Opal--it's something that affects the way she's viewed in her society. Doing it this way shows just how deftly Snyder weaves her magic-building and world-building skills--the two are closely tied together.

4. Complicated love: I'm not much a one for a love story, but if there is a love element to a story I'm reading, I don't want it to be obsessive, head-over-heels, fairy-tale love. One of my favorite things about the STUDY series was that Valek and Yalena loved each other in an unconditional, not to be distracted by pesky love triangles, sort of way. There is a bit of a love triangle in this story, but it's realistic and convincingly written. And complicated in a similarly realistic way. For example: When Opal sleeps with her boyfriend-who's-really-the-bad-guy-in-disguise, I love how Opal's thoughts are so layered and complicated. It's a little bit of violation, a little bit of attraction. It's disgusting but in an almost romantic way. It feels like rape and love. I don't love that it happened--I felt deeply disturbed by what I assumed was Opal's loss of virginity and the deep violation inherent with the act--but I did like how Snyder pushed her character to this point, and how well crafted the scene was, adding to the complexity of Opal's love.

Quibbles: Um...none. Originally, I was going to say that Opal's acceptance to being the bait, and her lack of an escape plan in the end was a weakness in writing, but actually, it fell right along with her character. It wasn't what Yalena would do--which I'd become a bit accustomed to--but it *was* what Opal would do, and I can't fault the character for acting in character.

The Bottom Line: A great start to a new series. If you're a fan of fantasy, buy the STUDY series and the GLASS series. You will not regret it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Clue 7

[This is a clue for the BEST Book Giveaway! Remember, don't post what you think the book is until October 5, or someone might steal your idea!]


Critter Comes to Visit!

I got Critter in the mail from PJ Hoover last week, the day before I fell into the clutches of pleurisy. So I tucked Critter back into his envelope for a week while I coughed my lungs out. Now, with new lungs, I present to you:


Critter comes from Christy at Christy's Creative Space. You can learn more about Critter and his mission in the blogosphere from Christy's video:

During his stay with PJ Hoover, Critter not only got a chance to see Texas, but he also got to shop for new toilets, drink beer from a Star Trek mug and dine with a tortoise, and make a new Critter friend! Clearly I have a lot to live up to in the Critter exchange!!

First things first: I had to get Critter acclimatized to my home. Which means: books. I showed Critter my massive TBR pile, and he picked out a book for me to read. His choice: RAMPANT by Diana Peterfreund. He thinks killer unicorns are boss.

(Hey Heather, see that book over Critter's head? I got QUEEN OF ATTOLIA finally! Waiting to read it until November....)

I tried to start reading to Critter, but then he found my Tardis. (PS: He told me in confidence that Doctor Who was way cooler than Star Trek, but I promised not to tell.)

After this, I tried to get Critter to make friendly with my dog, Sirius. Siri, however, was pretty much indifferent to dear Critter's pleas for friendship.

Until Critter found the tennis ball.

Off to play now!!

Do you want Critter to come to your house and play with your dog and try to escape in your Tardis? That is possible! Keep week you'll have a chance for Critter to come to YOUR house!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Clue 6

[This is a clue for the BEST Book Giveaway! Remember, don't post what you think the book is until October 5, or someone might steal your idea!]

The Olympics

Writer's Book Review: Maria Snyder's FIRE STUDY

I meant to review Maria Snyder's FIRE STUDY and the first book in her new series two weeks ago, but getting sick laid me low.

Why I Bought This Book: Well, honestly, I had to, didn't I? I mean, this is the third in the trilogy--I reviewed the other two here. Maria's style of fantasy is so refreshing. It has such a wonderful mix of classic epic and innovation, of unique characters and worlds, of new magic and old.

Elsewhere on the web: My review of the first two books in the trilogy here. Author's website here (click around--she includes bonus stories if you sign up for her newsletter, and a chance to win signed copies of her book). The First Novels Club did a guest post with Maria. Also, Maria's on GoodReads (and does great posts on the GR blog).

Five sentence summary: Yalena's dealing with a lot of consequences: the consequences of revealing that her magic is dangerous to everyone around her (even the most powerful magic users), the consequences of being in love with the most-feared man in the land, the consequences of crossing paths with people willing to do things worse than death to acquire more magic. The blood-magic takes a dark twist here from the second book in the trilogy as the people lusting for power gain more control and go further to get it. Yalena's solution to dealing with these dark blood-magic users may work--but it will require the help of everyone around her, and might cost her everything she has.

So what can we, as writers, learn from this book?

NOTE: As always, highlight for spoilers.

1. Resolution: This applies mainly to those of us who want to write books with sequels. In a stand-alone, we expect the character to be resolved within that one volume. But when more books about a character are involved, it becomes essential to carry some problems into the rest of the books. You don't want three stand-alones dealing with the same character. You want a trilogy, with pieces of the story arching throughout. Maria delivers with these novels. Although the second novel felt more like a bridge between the two than I'd like, I love how Maria brought up issues from the first novel again here. For example, in the first novel, Yalena is haunted by a ghost. Although a clever plot twist, I thought it wasn't going to be much more than a plot twist. Where the ghost comes from and why Yalena is haunted is explained in the second book. Well, I thought, that's a nice little detail. In the third book, you find out even more about that ghost, and what his presence indicates in relationship with Yalena's magic.

Not only that, but all the characters in the novel, not just Yalena, have some sort of resolution. Opal, the sister to the girl attacked in the second book, is brought back for a key role. The street urchins Yalena helps in the second book have grown by this third one. Even the Commander shows up again with a stronger understand of his/her life story. By the end of the novel, we have a greater understanding not only of Yalena, but of all the people important to her life.

2. Happily ever after...with consequences:
If everything ended with a smile and a bow on top, the story would be boring...and unrealistic. Let's face it: life is never perfect, even after happily ever after. In this story, there IS a happily ever after for Yalena, but the reader is well aware that her relationship with Valek, although strong and given every indication of remaining, will have difficulties. Her magic, although now somewhat accepted, is still feared--as she herself is. Her powers, now that she's accepted them, are going to cause her continued problems and hassle and unhappiness. In the end, rather than making us sad that this isn't a tied-up-neatly-perfect-happy-ending, we are satisfied that Yalena has a realistic but still intrinsically happy life.

3. Richly detailed world:
One of Maria's strengths as a writer is in her world- and magic- building. Although I knew that FIRE STUDY would be followed by a new trilogy based in the same world, starting with STORM GLASS, I was still in awe of how neatly Maria tied in new details to the already-established rules of magic to include the possibilities for more stories. For example: In the second book, Opal is a minor character who works with glass with her family. In the third book, Opal's glass making ability becomes the key to Yalena's solution against the bad guys. And now, Opal's glass making is the plot of the new trilogy. That's a neat way to layer in a new series of books based on an already established world.

Quibbles: Reading this last in the trilogy made me even more aware of how much of a bridge the second book was. Ironically enough, this third book made me dislike the second one just a bit, and I wonder if the series would have been stronger had the second and third book been combined instead of separated into two different books. However, that's splitting hairs: in the end, I enjoyed the trilogy quite a bit.

The Final Word: If you find yourself a bit burnt out on Yalena's world after reading the second in the trilogy (as I was for a time), give this third book a go. It provides the perfect resolution to the series, as well as opens you up for the new series by Maria.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


On Sunday, I not only pre-planned all my clues for the contest, but I also planned out a whole week's worth of posts. I had four book reviews sketched out, a series of posts on revisions, and a few other things, including a link spam.

I was so proud of myself.

Then on Sunday, I got sick. (For those of you who like being grossed out, go look up pleurisy.)

So this week has become an inadvertent Unplugged Week. Sorry guys! I didn't mean to leave you with nothing but a few-word posts of mysterious clues.

And now...back to bed!

Clue 4

[This is a clue for the BEST Book Giveaway!]

Comic Book

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Best Book in the WORLD Giveaway!

Read below for a chance to win the BEST book published in the last five years!

When I started this blog, I didn't think I'd ever get more than a handful of followers. In fact, I hesitated to put up the follower widget, because I feared that I would just embarrass myself like that time I threw a party and no one showed up, not even my best friend.

But look! I've just hit 200 followers! Which is so cool I can't even stand myself. So, to celebrate this momentous occasion, I'm going to give away a book!

But not just any book. No, this deserves something special. I'm going to give away a very special book. This book is one that I consider to be the BEST book published in the last five years.

What book is that, you might ask? Well, here are some clues:
  • This book has been marketed to both teens and adults
  • It is a hard-to-define genre
  • It is award-winning (and deservedly so)
  • It is a best-seller in several countries, including America
  • It gives a new spin on a subject that is often written about
Do you know what it is? Have a guess?

Your Mission: Figure out what the mystery book is--and win it!
Since I'm celebrating having 200 followers, I'm going to have 2 weeks worth of clues. From now until October 5, I am going to post a clue a day. On October 5, you'll have a chance to guess what the book is--the first person to figure out what book I think is the best book written in the past five years gets TWENTY FIVE additional entries into a drawing to WIN a brand new paperback copy of that book. Everyone else still has a chance, though! If you correctly guess the book, but aren't first, you get TEN extra entries into the hat. And ANYONE who posts here what book THEY think is the best book published in the last five years gets an entry, too!

How to Win:
  • Comment to this post by telling me what YOU think is the best book published in the last five years for ONE entry
  • Since this give-away is in celebration of my followers, all people who are followers of my blog get FIVE entries for commenting on this post and mentioning they are a follower
  • On October 5, I will post the final clue to the mystery book. The FIRST person to comment with the correct title of the book gets TWENTY FIVE entries
  • Anyone else who comments with the correct title in that post gets TEN extra entries
  • There will be one winner, drawn from a massively big hat
Enter now! Comment below and let me know what YOU think is the best book published in the last five years.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Today, In Class... Of War & Bananas

We had a guest speaker today in class. (YAY!) She was talking about her missionary work in Africa and showing us pictures in preparation of the African current events project they're doing next week.

Guest Speaker: And here's Liberia. I went there after there was some civil conflict. See these buildings? They were destroyed by guerillas.

Half the Class: *heads pop up, confused looks washing their faces*

Me: She meant the soldiers, not the apes!

All the Class: Ohhhhhh....

Kid Nearby: *whispers to kid next to him* Yeah, I didn't think no monkeys coulda done that much damage.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Today in Class: Not for Clothes

We read West African proverbs today in class. I then had the kids illustrate the literal and figurative meanings of the proverbs.

Kid: Mrs. Revis! Mrs. Revis! Come look at my drawing!

Kid shows me a drawing. His proverb was, essentially, about avoiding danger.

Me: OK, I see where you're going with this. That guy's running away from this guy with a gun, and this one with a knife. But what is this girl holding?

Kid: A hanger.

In the kid's defense, it totally looks like a hanger. I just could not tell how a hanger would mean danger for a person.

Me: Why is the girl chasing the guy with a hanger in her hand?

Kid: Cause she wants to hang him!

I have excellent taste...

See? Janet Reid agrees with me.

(Congrats Casey!!)

A Solution

Thanks for all the suggestions on getting over the writing hump, guys!

I think, in the end, I do just need a break.

But I also think that break is coming to an end.

So, what next?

Well, I've been playing around with this idea.

See, as most of you know, I believe that most people's first novel is a practice novel. But, in my case, I needed more than one practice novel.

But there's this one practice novel...I love it. I've come back to it again and again.

And now I think I'm going back to it one more time. Like a moth to a flame. I'm going to completely rewrite it. Bones up. Take the plot from the story I love, and dress it with the writing skills I've developed since I've written more, different novels.

In the past, I took the original file and tweaked it.

Not this time.

This time, I rewriting. Every word. From almost-scratch (there are a few scenes I want to keep--but literally, just a few).

How about you? Have you ever gone back to a rough draft after writing another novel since then? Link

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How Long to Wait

I've asked this question of my writing group.

I've asked this question of the vast world of Twitter.

And now I'm turning to you.

How long do you wait between finishing one writing project and starting a new one?

I ask because I am not doing what I normally do. See, I have to focus on only one project at a time. HAVE TO. If I start thinking about another project, I will drop the first, never finish it, and always sort of regret that little story that might have been. So when I write--in all stages of writing, from planning to editing--I am entirely, 100% focused on that one project.

But I always know that I'm done with that one project when I start thinking of another one. I knew I was done with my MG WIP because when I sat down to work, I couldn't think of anything else to add, change, or edit on that WIP...I was thinking of a new story by that point. Coming up with a new idea, new plot, new story is my personal signal to move on--because otherwise, I'd worry a story like a dog worries a bone.

But when I look at my current WIP, the YA SF...I think it's done. I look at it and am satisfied that this is the best I can do. I read through it without thinking of what to change. I have a sense of closure with it--to me, now, it's done.

(That said, there's every chance that if it wracks up a ton of rejections or something I may re-evaluate and go back to it. I'm not so stubborn that I don't think it needs work--I just don't see how I can do anything to it now.)

This should be about the time that I come up with a new idea. A new story to write.

But I'm not.

I think perhaps this problem is because my YA was so emotionally draining to write. I made a real effort to write with my finger on my characters' emotional pulse, to draw out the pain. I made an effort to make things worse for my characters--worse and worse, and not just physically. Even the ending, which is not entirely happy, is one that was draining to write in such a way that after writing it, I felt, literally, exhausted.

It was tiring to write it, too, in that I tried to make the language beautiful. With this work, I didn't focus just on story (as I am apt to do), but also on the actual written language, trying to make the turns of phrases beautiful, struggling to find the right words in each situation.

But either way I look at it, for whatever reason, when I try to tap that creative well now and move on...I'm coming up dry.

It's a very very strange reality for me. I am usually a fast writer, and I usually have between 2 to 3 good book ideas in me per year. But here it is September, and I'm still not untangled from the work I started in January.

Has this ever happened to you? Do you have to take a break from writing when you finish a project? What do you do when the ideas run dry?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

E-Reader Features

E-Readers, as we all know, are growing in popularity, but have yet to make the mark in the market as real books. It all comes down to one simple word: features.

What features are essential to an e-reader? What are the best features?

To me, an e-reader must, at the very least, have a readable screen in both dark and light situations--giving it an advantage over books at night (built-in nightlight anyone?) as well as still being usable when books are (during the bright daylight).

Some other features that are nice (and, frankly, expected) include being lightweight, easy to download books to, and easy controls.

But to me, an ideal e-reader needs more than this. Here's my wishlist of e-reader features:
  • Side viewing. Have you ever used an iPhone or iTouch? When you move them on their side, their screen shifts to the side. I want that on an e-reader, especially as I think it would be more natural holding it on its side.
  • Multi-function. I would use an e-reader to critically read, if I could. So if there was a feature where I could add comments (as in MS Word), that would be really cool. Likewise, a mini-writing program, a slim version of Word, would make it really useful for me.
  • Wi-fi and browsing access. If I can read books on it, I want to read the web on it. It's that simple.
But right now, the thing holding me back from purchasing an e-reader is simple. PRICE. The most important feature of an e-reader to me, right now, is to have a functional e-reader with the minimum of my standards, at a price I can afford. Likewise, e-books need to remain at a reasonable price. When the prices for both readers and some books go down, I'll be in that line to have purchase an e-reader.

So, why all the thoughts on e-readers? Because Book Blogger Appreciation Week is giving away an e-reader! Click here to enter.

Today, In Class... Shoot-out at the Egyptian Corral

We're learning about Egyptian literature in class now, and I mentioned King Tut.

Kid 1: How'd he die?

Me: Well, no one knows for sure. There was some suspicious stuff surrounding his death. But archaeologists have examined his body, and he does have a big hole in his head. (I take a breath to explain more...)

Kid 2: Ohmygosh! Did someone shoot him?!

Entire Class: *slow-turn of heads to stare at Kid 2*

Kid 2: What?! Is that what really happened?!

Entire Class: *facepalm*

Genre Wars

Literary Lab is hosting it's first fiction contest! If you haven't heard about it yet, I've got the info posted below...but this seems like a great opportunity to get some of your short stories out there! I especially love how they're playing with genres--it is so much fun to see different genres compare.

From Literary Lab:

We invite fiction writers to submit your 1 to 2,000-word short stories to us. The contest deadline is December 1, 2009 at 11:59 p.m. PST, and we plan to announce the winners on January 7, 2010, which marks the Literary Lab's 1st anniversary.

With Genre Wars, we want to celebrate all genres of writing. So, whether you write science-fiction/fantasy, horror/crime, literary, romance, children's literature/middle grade/young adult, or experimental, send in your work!

Write something new. Send something old. Polish something up. If you've never written a short story before, now's your chance to try it out!

20-30 special selections will be chosen for inclusion in the 1st Genre Wars Anthology. All of the profits from this print-on-demand publication will be donated to a writing/reading non-profit organization that will be announced in the future.

6 genre class winners will be selected, one from each of the genres listed above (assuming we have entries in all genres). Each of these stories will be posted on our blog, followed by an author interview. Each winner will also receive a $10 gift card to a book store of their choice.

1 overall winner will be selected from the genre class winners. In addition to the prizes listed above, this writer will receive an additional $50 gift card to the book store of their choice.

Contest Guidelines
1. E-mail your 1 to 2,000-word short story to before December 1, 2009 at 11:59 p.m. PST. Paste the work in the body of the e-mail with breaks between paragraphs (hit return twice). We will be reading all submissions blind, thanks to a kind volunteer who will send us the entries with all names removed. No attachments will be opened.

2. In your e-mail subject line type GENRE WARS ENTRY. In the body of the email include your name, the title of your work, word count, and which genre category you'd like to compete in: 1. science fiction/fantasy, 2. horror/crime, 3. literary, 4. romance, 5. children's literature/middle grade/young adult, or 6. experimental--yes, you have to pick one.

3. Works must be previously unpublished, and we ask for the rights to post the winning stories online and/or in print in the anthology. Afterwards, you are free to include the story in your own collections or as a reprint in another anthology.

The judges for this contest will be the Literary Lab co-authors: Michelle Davidson Argyle, Scott G. F. Bailey, and Davin Malasarn. (We'll temporarily post our own writing samples in the comments section.)

Please Spread The Word!
We've created a button for you to put on your blog posts, sidebars, and websites. Please help us spread the word. The more entries we get, the more exciting it will be for everybody! Remember, all proceeds of the Anthology go to charity.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Guest Post at Literary Rambles

Just in case you missed it, I blogged here about how to research comparable titles to your book and how to use that in a query.

Interview with Casey from Literary Rambles

As you know, Literary Rambles is Writing it Out's Blog of the Month! You can see why I selected her blog here, but you might get a better idea of how great Literary Rambles is from reading about it in Casey's own words!

Why did you start blogging?
Before the creation of Literary Rambles, I had a slew of other blogs. There was one for life rambling, one for photography, and even one for awful, angsty poetry, so when I started getting serious about being a writer, it was only natural for me to start another with a focus on my newest journey. In the beginning, I just wanted to connect with the awesome kidlit blog community and had no clue what to post, pretty embarrassing when you’re claiming to be a writer and all. Now, all those other blogs are gone, and I think Literary Rambles finally has a greater purpose.

What do you hope people get from your blog?
I hope people can come to Literary Rambles to learn and find the information they’re looking for on the submission process and the agents that interest them, and I’d like to think my blog has the potential to inspire other bloggers. It wasn’t much when I started it, but I think it has grown into something really useful and fun.

There’s another thing, and I’m not sure if I’ve really stressed it enough, but I hope people come away from my blog knowing how important it is to respect themselves and their careers as writers. Slow down, do your research, make informed decisions. If you’re in it for a career, you need to know what you’re getting into, and you need to make decisions based on what they mean for your future. Don’t just take whatever agent will have you (really, even if it’s only one), respect yourself enough to ask the right questions, get in touch with a couple of the agent’s clients if you have any doubts, and try to make a truly informed decision. It’s true that you can’t know how you and an agent will work together until you’ve tried, but there are certainly things you can do to lay a strong foundation for success.

What kinds of features or memes do you try to do with your blog?
My main feature is Agent Spotlight, which goes up each Thursday. Many people seem to think they’re interviews, but they’re actually profiles. I compile whatever information I can find on an agent from general knowledge like the genres they represent to information that’s harder to find, like known sales and whether or not they’re editorial. Right now, Agent Spotlight focuses on agents who represent at least one area of children’s fiction.

Then there’s Wednesday’s Word Count, which goes up on, you guessed it, Wednesday. It’s your typical, weekly work-in-progress report. I post my own progress, state a new goal for the week, and try to encourage my readers to do the same. For the writer that doesn’t have a daily writing schedule, I believe goals can make the difference between making real progress and getting nowhere fast.

Every once in awhile I do have an actual interview or guest post and those generally go up on Mondays. I’d like to host them more often, but I haven’t had as much time as I need to get a strong schedule going. I’m working on it though, and have a few exciting things lined up, so definitely stay tuned!

My newest addition is Research Tip Tuesday. I’ve been collecting research tips from my readers, and I post one each week. I’m only one person and I’m always, always learning so it’s great to tap into the collective knowledge of the community and share some of what’s there.

On that note, if anyone here is interested in submitting a research tip, writing a guest post, or being interviewed please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com and I can give you details on what I’m looking for. I’d love to feature more people!

What have been the best advantages of blogging? The biggest downfalls?
Making friends and networking is by far the best advantage. I’ve made many great friends in the writing community (you’re all so wonderful and giving!), and I’ve networked with numerous other writers and agents who, in time, may yet become friends as well. You just never know.

Blogging has also been a sort of vessel for personal growth. I’ve learned a lot through the discussions we’ve had, the comments people have left, and it’s pushed me to research a lot of things (and agents!) I might not have otherwise. If nothing more, a blog can give you an outlet for a different kind of writing than you do in your books, which can be a surprisingly good exercise or warm up.

The biggest downfall probably lies in time-consumption or expectations. It takes a lot of time to run an active blog, and even more to be active in the community. Then there’s the added stress of expectations. My readers expect certain things from my blog (and rightly so) and I have to deliver if I want to keep their respect. Fortunately, I really do enjoy the upkeep (obviously, I keep adding more features rather than less!) and view it as a kind of test. If I publish someday, I’m going to have many similar responsibilities, more even, and each challenge I overcome makes me more confident about the future I’m striving to reach.

What is your favorite blog on writing or reading? Why?

Gosh, this is the hardest question of the set! Each blog I read offers a little something different. Some inspire while others teach and others humor. There really isn’t a clear favorite among them. I do tend to get more out of agent blogs and blogs that regularly talk about the craft, but sometimes it’s that funny or inspirational blog that means the world to me in the moment I’m reading it. That said, if you hop on over to my Lit Rambles, there are several lists of blogs there that I read regularly, though these days my Google Reader is home to many, many more.

Thanks so much for the interview, Beth. Literary Rambles is truly honored to be your Blog of the Month for September!


Friday, September 11, 2009

Today, In Class...

The kids gave me the plague. So I'm giving them a test. HA! Take that evil kiddy germs that make me want to do nothing but expel snot and sleeeeep.

Since I'm in a foul mood, I found this especially appropriate. It's not very clean so, you know, don't look at it at work.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Author Interview: Elana Johnson, author of FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL

Elana's book (which I reviewed yesterday) was so inspiring that I couldn't help but call email her up and bug her with some more questions!

What inspired you to write FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL?

When I started writing for the QueryTracker blog, I realized there was an audience hungry for knowledge about literary agents, and more specifically, for information about the querying process. I’d had some experience. I liked writing query letters (it’s true; don’t throw Coke cans!). I’d had success with my query letters. The thought lingered in the back of mind, dormant.

Then I was asked to speak at a local conference—way next year—about writing a query letter and querying the national market. So it sort of snowballed from there. I wanted to produce something beneficial for the conference attendees, all of whom would be authors. That evolved into desiring to produce something that I wished had been available when I started the querying process for the first time. Something with the answers to every question an aspiring author has—and is afraid to ask. So I went for it, and here I am!

What makes you qualified to write this sort of book?
I feel like I’m qualified because of my experience. My query letter receives a 35% request rate (sometimes it’s a bit higher, sometimes a tad lower, depending on how fast the responses come). So out of every three queries I send, I get one request. That’s pretty high. So I feel confident in my query letter writing abilities.

On top of that, I’ve sent out submissions. I know how to correspond with agents (through my submissions and through my work on the blog). I work in the professional world, and I know how important it is to be professional when working in a business relationship—which publishing is.

And finally, I wanted to write a book for authors, written by an author. Someone just like them. Someone who feels their joy over a request. Feels the sting (okay, knife-in-the-heart) from a rejection. Someone who gets them, because they’ve been there. Believe me, I’ve been there.

What do you hope readers take away from reading this book?
I want readers to realize that they are capable of writing a killer query letter. I’ve been on writer’s forum for a couple of years now, and there’s so much negativity about the query letter. I’d like to see some of that turn around. I’d like readers to realize that this publishing thing isn’t unattainable. That it just requires patience and hard work—and research. Oh, and professionalism. I think all of that is covered in From the Query to the Call.

Who is your target audience?
The target audience is anyone who’s written a book, short story, article, etc. and wants to submit it for publication. That’s a huge step—admitting you want your work to be published and then going for it—and I figured there should be a guide for how to do it. That’s what From the Query to the Call is.

Do you have any other nonfiction plans in your future?
I’m not sure. I definitely loved writing the ebook. Using color was fun—and totally different from writing in black and white. So anything is possible.

Describe your reasoning when laying out the book—how did you decide to organize it, and why did you do it that way?
When I started, I knew I wanted to have three basic parts. 1. How to write a query, 2. A section about agents, and 3. Samples

So I started with what an agent would see—the query letter. That seemed like an obvious place to begin. Then I thought of the next steps in my own query process. I remember thinking, “I’ve got my query. Uh…now what?” And so the ebook progresses from there. Researching. Sending queries. Then requests. Corresponding with agents. Revising for them or according to their suggestions. And finally, getting the call.

I used samples throughout the section on writing a query letter, and then included an entire query samples section in the back of the book. And it was done!

Why did you go the e-book route, instead of seeking other publishing methods?
I actually prepared a non-fiction proposal for From the Query to the Call. (Hey! That could be my next ebook—Writing a non-fiction proposal. Hmm…) I researched agents who represented “How To” non-fiction. But even as I was doing it, it felt false. Because so much of the ebook is based on it’s interactivity. The clickable links that take you to the section you want. The links to blogs and webpages. These are things I felt absolutely could not be cut from the book. Without them, the book isn’t what I envisioned.

So I saved the proposal and shelved my agent research. I went forward with the ebook plans, confident that it was the right format for this type of how-to book.

What are some of your favorite features of the book? Why?
  • Clickable links: From the Query to the Call has websites, blog posts, etc. that are the absolute best source of information—information I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t find. I’ve spent hours finding the info I needed along my publishing journey. Now all of that is compiled into one neat package, and the reader can click on a few links and have everything it took me months to learn.
  • Query samples: I was hungry to see queries that worked. Ravenous. I think most aspiring authors are. From the Query to the Call provides several samples of successful queries, query letters broken down into pieces so the reader can see how to construct theirs from the bottom up. I think that’s awesome. I would’ve loved something like this when I was “building” my query.

You included several different samples of queries in your book--why did you decide to include some from published or agented authors, and some from authors not yet agented or published?
I wanted to show MY process—and I used the queries from published and agented authors as well as non-published and unagented authors. I think it’s important to note that just because someone isn’t agented or published doesn’t mean the problem is their query letter (many times it is, but sometimes it’s not). So I included samples from people who haven’t quite made it yet—but who totally will. I think, for me, it infused an element of hope into the book.

Any chances you'll be writing one on how to write a synopsis? *waggles eyebrows hopefully in your direction*
Oh man. I might need an advanced degree for that!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Writer's Book Review: Elana Johnson's FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALLS

Here's something I've never done before...reviewed a book on writing from a writer's perspective. I just...never really saw the point, to be honest. I mean, I read writing and publication books. But not often. They're either too general ("keep trying! you can do it!") or aimed at people just starting writing ("first, brainstorm an idea"), and while there's a place for both books, they're just not for me.

Elana Johnson's FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL doesn't fit in either of those categories. Instead, it's an intelligently laid out look at effective methods of querying. Neither too simple to the point of uselessness nor too complicated for the everyday man, FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL is a great read for every writer, from those just starting out with only a vague idea of what a query is to those who've queried before and are looking for a better method.

Five sentence summary: FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL is laid out in two main sections: "Writing a Killer Query" and "Entering the Query Trenches." While the "Writing a Killer Query" seems fairly self-explanatory, it goes into more detail than the basic "pitch goes here, bio goes here" format of many query-writing how-to's. Instead, this section focuses on style, tone, why parts of the letter work and don't, and how not just to write a basic query, but, a true, attention grabbing "killer query." Even better, "Entering the Query Trenches" takes the reader to the next step--how to research agents, respond to requests, revise for an agent, and even, as the title suggests, respond to an agent call.

So what can we, as writers, learn from this book?

1. Professionalism: Here's what too many of us forget. Writing is an art...but writing for publication is a business. This book effectively reminds us that a) publication = business, and b) how to be effective in that business. As writers, we necessarily get too close to our own work...which makes us lose sight of how unemotional business is. Especially for new writers, this reminder of writing as a business is necessary to write an effective query letter.

2. Sample Queries:
Oh, this is priceless. PRICELESS. If you don't buy the book for anything else, buy it for the sample queries.

I have an old copy of FORMATTING & SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT, which taught me things like the basic format of a query letter...but I remember the part that I flipped to over and over were the sample queries. In that book (and remember, I have the first may be different in the new edition--think they're up to 3 or 4 now)--anyway, in the book, there were 2-3 letters by published authors, and 2-3 fake mock-up letters as samples. None of them were in my genre and, to be honest, none were that helpful. One of the letters was by Nicholas Sparks, and I'm fairly certain his signature at the bottom of the letter is enough to nab any agent.

But the samples in FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL are different. First, they're all real letters--the actual letters used by authors to gain their agents. Some are just linked, some are reprinted, and some are broken down in more detail. With genres that matched my own (most notably Jessica Verday's letter for the recently released THE HOLLOW, but also full reprints to authors with either requests or offers from the queries), these letters were modern, up to date, and just the samples I needed to compare with my own query.

Probably the most helpful was a break-down of a sample query, from a rough draft, to a draft with comments from Elana, to a draft that has fetched the author several requests.

3. Going beyond the obvious:
Look, we can go online and see the basic set-up of a query. We all know the standard formatting.

But do you really think I'd recommend a book to you that just showed you standard formatting?

Elana breaks down the query in minute detail--but even better, she shows you where and how to inject voice, how to make your query stand out, and how to increase your chances of attracting an agent. Here's the thing: she doesn't show you just how to format a query--she shows you how to write a query, and that is a far different thing.

Bottom line:
Appropriate for any level writer, this book is effective, well written, and a good investment in your time and money. Totally worth it.

Two notes:
If you're looking for a very effective format to an e-book, check this one out. I don't do many e-books, but, to me, this is the way they should be formatted. With an effective use of color, clear organization, and easy navigation, this e-book is not a .pdf of a black and white print book, but a vivacious and ambitious collection of articles, links, color, and information that makes it stand out from the crowd. This is what an e-book should be, people.

Also: page 27 is the coolest page in the whole book. Wanna know why? GO BUY THE BOOK. And then flip straight to page 27. Cause it's pretty cool. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September Blog of the Month!

Remember when I was researching agents? As I was scrolling through all my starred articles, I noticed that nearly a third were all written by one delightful person: Casey McCormick at Literary Rambles. So, of course, I had to make her Writing Blog of the Month!

Casey's blog is immensely helpful to any writer. Not only does she post inspiring updates of her own work (with the super-useful context of goal vs. success), Casey also posts Research Tip Tuesday articles (expect one from yours truly soon!).

What really sets Casey and her blog apart, though, is that she truly cares about promoting the knowledge and aiding the research of aspiring authors. The most helpful feature of her blog is the regular posts of information from agents called Agent Spotlight. While this may not sound like much--after all, you can just go to Query Tracker or Agent Query for agent info--Casey's made an effort to not only compile ALL the information on the agent, but also to add in the extras that are often over-looked by big-name databases. With quotes from clients, snippets of interviews, and direct links to helpful sites, Casey's blog is one of the FIRST places I go to for agent information...even before the big-name databases.

We'll have an interview with Casey soon, but until then, be sure to check out her blog. It really is one of the best ones on the web for aspiring authors!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Obama's Giving Homework

As some of you know, Obama's giving a speech to school children next week in an attempt to socialize our children into zombified-brain-eating-monster-socialists, or something like that.

There's been a flurry of parents against the topic, requesting their children not be shown the speech.

But the best response I have heard so far?

A kid who, red-faced and angry, insisted she was not going to watch that speech because Obama was planning on assigning her homework.

Today in Class: The Final Frontier

Hi! I plan to be back on regular scheduled posts next week--taking this week off has been a real relief both in getting my class schedule back on track and with getting back to my writing life, which I'd put on hold as well. As a reward for your patience: a TiC!

We're studying the role of religion in society (in terms of how it applies to literature) in my class today.

Me: [Reading an excerpt from Joseph Campbell.]

Kid 1: Yeah, but he's just some guy. It's not like this effects us today.

Me: Well, George Lucas sure liked some of Campbell's theories. Campbell's not some random dead old guy--a lot of people like George Lucas are influenced by his writings.

Kid 2: Who is George Lucas? Is he that guy who does commercials? For like insurance or something.

Me: What?!

Kid 2: Yeah, you know. Those commercials. And he talks funny.

Me: What?! No!

The entire class:
*strange looks as we try to figure out what she means*

Kid 1:
Wait, are you talking about Captain Kirk?

Kid 2: I dunno! Some space guy!


Sorry, PJ!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Despite what Meg Cabot says, I do happen to believe that my students need certain works of literature in their lives. So I've got nothing writerly right now....I'm drowning in lesson plans!

I'll have something more coherent and writerly soon, promise!

PS: I know I owe some of you emails...but uuuughhhrhgrrrghhh.....