Monday, March 29, 2010

I have a pet peeve in fiction. This may not be my most politically correct post ever, but that's appropriate enough, since my peeve is political.

I recently read, and greatly enjoyed, the YA novel Girl, Hero by Carrie Jones.  It's a good book, with a believable young heroine, Lili, with a complex family situation. Jones' work has a few political themes. Lili comes into her own as she develops her own interests, including human rights issues, and accepts her father's homosexuality and cross-dressing.

I am all for political themes in a novel. What dragged me out of the story was Lili telling her hero, John Wayne, in one of her letters that she'd have to take issue with all that "conservative political stuff you pulled" (paraphrasing, my apologies, as I don't have the novel on-hand right now).

To me, direct political commentary always comes across as jarring in a novel. It's certainly more appropriate in a first person novel, as part of Lili's voice, but I still find it sort of -- rude  (I don't want to sound like I'm picking on Carrie Jones, as I very much enjoyed her novel; this was just the most recent example I've seen).  It's like violating the old mandate about not talking about sex, religion or politics in polite company. By all means, SHOW about sex, religion or politics; but spare me the author's opinions about any of the same. Compel me with your worldview instead. ;)

Why is it rude? Well, to me it always seems like the political commentary comes along with an implicit message that THIS is the right political view, and obviously you, Dear Reader, agree with me. Maybe it's because I'm a libertarian and we tend to think everyone around us is crazy, but I think there are only a few items politically-speaking where there's one clear-cut right answer.  All the other issues, from health care to foreign interventions, are a bit too complex for anyone to have all the right answers.  I think this can make an otherwise excellent book less accessible to a broad audience of readers, unless you expect that only people who agree with you on all points will ever pick up your book!

If there's no reason plot-wise for political expression, I don't want to know if the MC is a Democrat or a Republican,  pro-life or pro-choice, etc.  Now, if the character is working on Obama's campaign or facing an unplanned pregnancy, by all means, get political. Just show me. Don't tell me.   It's a novel, not a political treatise.

I don't think I'm guilty of this one in my own writing, but I'm going to have to double check...

What do you think, crazy pet peeve or no?  Do you have your own writing pet peeves?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I'm trying to get back into my posting schedule after the chaos of the past few weeks! Unfortunately, I don't have much to report for the Wednesday Weekly, so this will be a short post and a jumping-off point for future weeks:

First of all, I started rewriting Bodie's Men in the first person. I only had a few thousand words written in third person, so no big deal. I actually don't mean to work on Bodie's Men at all right now, since my focus is on revisions for Shards and writing Goddess.  It just sort of happened. Bodie's Men, 1st Person, is at 516 words. And it should stay there for a while as I work on these other projects! I am not that much of a multitasker.

The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes now weighs in at 7,118 words. I can't weight to spend some of my vacation time working on this book. It's written up so quickly and painlessly so far, and I was even able to add to it during the last terrible month of fourteen-hour workdays and statistics homework (I am so over this full-time dayjob with crazy hours and school, but unfortunately it's something I have to work around).

Shards of Glass revisions? Well, I have it printed out and I have a red pen. Doesn't that count for anything?

My goals for this next week are to bring Goddess up to 10k words, and revise the first 50 pages of Shards of Glass.

OMG, and I have so many amazing books to read right now. I love you, local library! I have The Everafter and Magic Under Glass and I Capture the Castle and House Rules: A Novel and a bunch of others. 

 Lastly, I am caught up on work and school right now, if not sleep. I am going on vacation for a few days (thank you, destination wedding bride!) but I expect to return to my regular blogging schedule. I've missed you all! I can't wait to go visit the blogs of the new followers from the contest as well as my old friends. :)

How's your week been? What's the planned reading/writing for the week ahead?

Monday, March 22, 2010

The first piece of writing most of us receives is, "Write what you know."   That's how Shards started out, for instance. It contains some of my own experiences losing my father to cancer, the first terrible time I fell in love and the wonderful second time, my sense of having a charmed life broken up by the occasional, truly tragic experience.

But stories, even if there's a grain of autobiography in them, take on their own logic and progress differently from our reality. April is partially me, but also very different. The secondary characters in Shards all contain a trace of someone close to me - my best friend, my first love, my own parents - and then change into completely unfamiliar shapes.

And, of course, the characters determine the story.  So, while we may write sometimes while exploring an unresolved portion of our lives, the resolution of those stories can be completely different between real life and the created life.

I had a great reminder of this recently. Nick in my novel is based on a real-life guy (we can call him Mark).  In my novel, April and Nick had a terrible relationship, that she has never really quite gotten over. In the end, April finally gets over Nick and leaves him in the past, with the two at their final meeting agreeing to never see each other again.

In real life? Well, ditto with the terrible relationship.  It took me forever to get over Mark. The first time he and MJ met was terribly awkward.  But we've got a lovely platonic friendship now, I adore his wife, and we all enjoy hanging out. Mark and I went to get coffee and see Repo Men recently, and it was not weird.

That ending wouldn't work in Shards, at all. But it works in real life.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sometimes, I get the baby rabies.

I am 26 years old. I am not quite ready for a baby, and in fact (being the exhaustive planner that I am) I have a laundry list of goals to meet before MJ and I start trying for our first child. This makes my mother quite nervous about the future of my ovaries and the numerous grandchildren she would like to have, but that is a post for another day.

So whenever I start to get a little wiggly about the idea of a blue-eyed, funny-faced baby of my very own, I focus on why I'm waiting and I'm happy to wait a little longer. But... first I indulge in  bit of fantasizing about the future. And because I'm the person that I am, that involves quite a bit about books.

You see, reading was a huge part of my childhood.  I remember my favorite picture book, reading the comics with Dad (especially Calvin and Hobbes!), Mom reading to me before bed, and most of all... insatiably devouring endless books as a kid once I was reading on my own, at least one and usually two (or more) a day.

So I fantasize about the names we've picked out (Conner, Logan, Christina and Victoria) and what our kids might be like as they grow from babies into their own little people. I fantasize about a gender-neutral, animal themed nursery, and having an excuse to play with Legos, American Girl dolls, Play-doh, and chemistry kits with them. I fantasize about teaching them about measurements and fractions, how to make pancakes from scratch, how to paddle a kayak, and good manners.

But most of all, I think about the library I'd like to have for them and what I can't wait to read out loud.

Picture books, first of all, that are Must Haves:
The Monster at the End of this Book (Big Little Golden Book)The Monster at the End of this Book (Big Little Golden Book)  This was my all-time favorite picture book.  In it, Elmo is frightened by the title and doesn't want to meet the monster at the end of this book, and tries all sorts of crazy things to prevent the reader from turning the pages -- but look at that! HE is the monster at the end of the book!  Man, I thought this was hilarious when I was three.

I loved Just Go to Bed and all the other Mercer Mayer books. Best picture books ever!

Just Go to Bed (Pictureback(R))Of course I enjoyed the standbys of a childhood in the 80's...  The Berenstein Bears (I must have had thirty-something of these books) and Curious George. Doctor Seuss was a little trippy for me as a kid. However, I did enjoy One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, even as Green Eggs and Ham made my literal childhood self frown. :p

I always loved my old-school The Tale of Peter Rabbit and its ilk. And of course, Winnie-the-Pooh. Not quite a picture book, but perfect for a read-aloud.

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-PoohI had another favorite, the name of which eludes me... it was a book of bedtime stories where an older brother bear is telling his little sister stories to get her to be quiet and go to sleep. It included one where she was fussing about not having her sleeping bear (the pink one) because she left it outside, and he gets frustrated and tells her a story about a spoiled princess who gets kicked out of her castle!  I am soo frustrated myself that I can't remember the title. I hope my mom still has it, because I want that book!  (If you know the one I'm talking about, please let me know).

So... this is a long post about picture books I've loved, and those aren't even the ones that REALLY stand out for me (I really fell in love with reading when I got into independent reading!).  I can't wait to discover more great picture books that have come out in the last 20-odd years when the time comes, too. :p  I was going to write about kids' books in general, but I'm out of space (and time!) for tonight. What were your fave picture books as a child?Any must-haves to read aloud to the children in your life?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I've been pretty bad lately at getting around to everyone's blogs, as much as I want to catch up on what I've missed, and at blogging myself.  Just a quick update before I dash back off--

I'm in California for business until this weekend (I get to fly home Saturday, yay!). Lots of long hours right now - yesterday I was at work from about 7am to 11pm, so that was lovely. What can I say? It was a Monday.

But, I got the chance to write a bit this weekend and FOUR THOUSAND words just poured into my keyboard in the space of a few hours at Starbucks.  I can't believe how quickly The Goddess of Vengeance is starting to write up.  Is this the miracle of outlining, or the miracle of writing something less personal than Shards of Glass? I don't know, but I love it!

The writing keeps me on the edge of my seat. Literally. My MC, Lauren is working in the coffee shop when what she assumes is a mentally ill homeless lady, Willow, comes in and begins rambling to her about the dispossessed "old gods".  Lauren gives her a cup of tea and a scone on the house, but Willow wants more than that from her. Willow thinks she seems like a kind, strong woman, and she lets Nemesis, the greek goddess of vengeance, pass out of her and into Lauren.  That night Lauren begins to dream of people in danger, people hurt... people who need vengeance.  And she can't stop herself from running out into the dark to provide just that.

This weekend I also read Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) by Suzanne Collins. I can't even tell you how much I love these books. I can't wait until  Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) comes out. I think that's going to be a pre-order, which I never do.  Such brilliant books.

Although, I do sort of wonder why every good book begets a movie deal these days.  Is it just me, or does it seem like the pace of movie deals from books has picked up recently? I don't know how I feel about The Hunger Games as a movie, even though I think it's pretty much the best thing I've read this year.  But then, I'm also more of a "word" person than anything else, so that might be it. I enjoyed the Harry Potter books, but thought the movies were rather dull without J.K. Rowling's rollicking writing style. 

Next week I should be back to my regular blogging life. I think. :)

Miss me? Also, how do you feel about books being made into movies? What books would you love to see as movies?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I'm happy to announce the winner of my 100+ follower contest!

Drumroll please...

Terresa, of The Chocolate Chip Waffle!

Terresa wins her choice of either All Unquiet Things and Scones and Sensibility, or a 9 West Kendal hobo bag (reminiscent of the one April carries in Shards of Glass).

If you didn't win, sorry guys... but I already have big plans for the next contest, so better luck next time!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

All Unquiet ThingsSo far this year, I’ve read a lot of YA books, most of them very good. I’ve read three YA books so far, though, that I have to buy copies of to keep on my bookshelf for years to come: THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, IMPOSSIBLE by Nancy Werlin, and ALL UNQUIET THINGS by Anna Jarzab.  They’re all very different types of YA novels (one thing you have to love about the genre is the diversity!).  The Hunger Games is dystopian; Impossible is an urban fantasy based on folklore, and All Unquiet Things is commercial fiction/mystery.

Today’s review is about All Unquiet Things (which you can win here, by the way).  It’s going to be short, like the ones for books I love usually are. Here’s the synopsis off

Carly: She was sweet. Smart. Self-destructive. She knew the secrets of Brighton Day School’s most privileged students. Secrets that got her killed.

Neily: Dumped by Carly for a notorious bad boy, Neily didn’t answer the phone call she made before she died. If he had, maybe he could have helped her. Now he can’t get the image of her lifeless body out of his mind.

Audrey: She’s the reason Carly got tangled up with Brighton’s fast crowd in the first place, and now she regrets it—especially since she’s convinced the police have put the wrong person in jail. Audrey thinks the murderer is someone at Brighton, and she wants Neily to help her find out who it is.

As reluctant allies Neily and Audrey dig into their shared past with Carly, her involvement with Brighton’s dark goings-on comes to light. But figuring out how Carly and her killer fit into the twisted drama will force Audrey and Neily to face hard truths about themselves and the girl they couldn’t save.

 What was so great about All Unquiet Things? First of all, the characters were believable, but also very smart kids.  I appreciate YA books with smart teens, especially ambitious smart teens.  There was great voice to the characters.  Even the character, Carly, who is dead at the start of the book, and that we meet only in flashbacks, comes through strong and sympathetic.  Anyone else a fan of Veronica Mars? All Unquiet Things reminded me of Veronica Mars – smart teens in a dark situation who’ll figure their way out of trouble (and make no mistake, All Unquiet Things is very dark!).   I had some issues with the transitions back and forth between characters, but the author clearly delineated the switches with separate, marked sections – it might just be an effect of my attention span!

Speaking of my attention span, the pacing of this book was also terrific. The tension was strong throughout, and the plot was surprisingly believable and not forced (something that is tricky with a mystery, but especially with a mystery being investigated by two teenagers). Bonus points for the disturbing and beautiful cover.

Here’s an excerpt, one of the early interactions between Neily and Audrey, from Neily's POV:
    “Whatever. Cell phone. Now.” I held out my hand, which she ignored.
    “Why would I have your cell phone?”
    “Actually, the question is, why would you steal my cell phone?”
    “I. Don’t have. Your cell phone. Maybe you dropped it or left it at home or something.” She gave me a phony smile, clutching her books to her chest like a beatific Norman Rockwell child.
    “Cute. But I know you do. And if you’d rather me not make a scene here, we can always take this up to Finch’s office. You know how much he likes a good afternoon he-said-she-said.”
    She narrowed her eyes at me, hesitating. I could tell she was weighing her options. If she told me what she wanted with my cell phone now, she risked deflating all the curiosity she had built up in me; on the other hand, if she kept playing dumb, I might actually take the matter to Finch – less because I wanted to rat her out than because I was bored.

This is a debut 2010 novel, but for me it's already a classic -- hence why it's getting a place in our rec room/library shelves already. And you too can have a copy for free if you stop by my 100+ follower giveaway, but you knew that already. ;) Even if you don't win, I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy and reading All Unquiet Things.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

There are many, many reasons why I write. One of them, to borrow from the movie title, is that the world is not enough.

I've always had a lot of things I wanted to do with my life. As a kid, I thought that I could fit into one lifetime the following careers: jet fighter pilot, F.B.I. agent, novelist, elementary school teacher. Also, I would have twelve kids. And I would be tall and gorgeous and wear a brown leather jacket. This was my life plan as a child.

The truth is, however, I am neither tall nor short, I'm not likely to be mistaken for a supermodel (which I am quite comfortable with), and F.B.I. agents just don't make enough money.  I have done some pretty neat things with my life so far -- traveled to all seven continents, served as a Marine, interned in a museum of arms & armor, flown a plane solo, taught Iraqi kids how to play kickball. Oh, and I do have the jacket.

But I'm never going to get a chance to do it all. I can only be one person, living one life.  And I want to do so much.

Being a writer lets me step into another life, even more intensely than reading does. There are so many interesting people out there, doing interesting things. Maybe I dream of being vegan but can't let go of my carnivorous urges -- my character can be a perfect vegan, though.  Maybe I quit boxing after my first few classes, but not my character. Maybe I'll never be a forensic pathologist, an architect or a stockbroker, but with a whole lot of research, I can write it.  And while I don't expect to ever have a one night stand, get a tattoo, have a dozen kids, or live on a farm, I can write those things too, using my imagination to experience what I doesn't fit into my own life.

As writers, we aren't confined to our own lives. That experience of walking in someone else's world is a gift we give our readers, but most of all, it's a gift we give ourselves.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

You can win these:
All Unquiet ThingsScones and Sensibility
or this:

So what are you waiting for?

Go enter.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Work hasn’t left me with a lot of time with the blog lately. Basically, I’ve been working from 630am to 7pm or so, when we adjourn back to the hotel, eat dinner, and go back to work from 8 until 10. Or 11.  I’m delinquent on the blog. I’m also fearfully delinquent on the writing.

I always worry about missing out on my running and gym routine, which has taken an awful hit in recent months, again thanks to the job.  I have to work Saturday, in which case Sunday will be my one-and-only workout, and I know how much harder it is to get back in shape than it is to maintain.

The same worry plagues me with my writing.  It takes time to develop good habits, like going to the gym over lunch or getting up an hour early to write.  Skill sets are generally either atrophying or improving – you’re becoming a faster runner, or slower, developing a stronger sense for dialogue or losing some of your skill with it.

Of course, the loss never has to be permanent. You can always get back into shape, or re-develop your skill sets. The problems are twofold, though. First, it’s painful to work to regain old skills.  I feel that way when I’m running and don’t understand why my body doesn’t do a six-minute mile anymore (although the fact I no longer run 50-mile weeks… in fact, I often don’t do five miles in a week, is an obvious factor).  I feel it, too, when I’m writing.  When I come back from a long time away, I second guess myself. Is this writing as good as what I wrote a month ago? I can’t do justice to this story anymore… I don’t know where I was.  I thought my dialogue was cleaner.

Right now, I’m losing my schedule. I’m hoping that April is a better month, a month where I write for an hour every morning and start training for another marathon.  I know I’m not improving as a writer now – since I’m not writing – and I may be slipping.

But I’ll be back.  I’ll lace up my running shoes, crank my iPod, run too far, cramp up and walk home, at first.  Then one day, I'll run six miles and won't want to stop again.  I'll power up my laptop, toss licorice-flavored jelly beans and orange M&Ms at the muse (she’s very picky) and write. Every day I tap away at the keyboard, I’ll get a little better, just like I’ve improved during every early hour I’ve spent writing.  And before I know it? I’ll be back in the game.  It'd be easier to never lose what we've gained, of course, but this little thing called life can get in the way.

What do you think? Do writing skills atrophy like so many other developed abilities, and if so, how do you keep them strong/rebuild/retrain?
I’m out of town on business, and I’ve been gone since Sunday. Oh, how was my flight, you ask? My flight was delayed due to a mechanical issue, which is always especially lovely on a cross-country flight, and I arrived in San Diego around 1 a.m. Silly safety, and pilots refusing the plane!

So it was about 1:30am when I got to the rental car counter, and of course the lady behind the desk said, “We’re out of compact cars. We can give you a minivan. Complimentary upgrade.”

It’s amazing how many times I have this exact same conversation at different car rental companies all over the country. It is the middle of the night and I really want to take whatever conveyance I can find to a bed, but this is not going to happen.  I am 26 years and childless for a reason, people; I’m just not ready for the minivan.

“That’s not an upgrade,” I say with a smile, every time. “Do I look like I should be driving a minivan?”

This time, I walked away with the keys to a shiny black Mustang convertible. I was too exhausted to bother putting the top down, though. However, it did take me quite speedily to my bed, so it’s a good conveyance. (Who are we kidding? It’ll be a blast this weekend)

The writing story I wanted to relate is from before I left, though. MJ and I are clingy, like socks fresh out of the dryer or, well, newlyweds who in 2+ years of marriage have spent more time apart than together. We spent all the time we could together before I had to fly out, including a Last Nice Dinner (For Three Weeks) at 1905 in D.C.  Because he loves me, and therefore humors me endlessly, we spent a good part of dinner discussing a) cats and b) writing. MJ spent about two minutes a year thinking about those subjects before we met, but it’s okay… he likes it now.

My incredibly pragmatic husband said something very sweet about my writing, even if it was offered with a certain brick-like delivery.

“I realize the odds are against me as a writer,” I said. “There are a lot of talented writers out there, and statistically speaking, it’s not the most promising career field.”

“I’m pretty confident you’re going to make it,” MJ said. “I think anyone who analytically considered your chances would come to the same conclusion.”

(I think the couple at the oh-so-swankily-close-table besides us, between our long discussion of our cats’ eccentricities and this conversation, were beginning to roll their eyes over their bread basket and jalapeno-honey butter, but we are what we are.)

“Yeah?” I'm always interested in a more detailed discussion of my qualities.

“You’re not just talented, but tenacious and dedicated and thoughtful about your work,” he said. “If I didn’t think you were going to be successful, I wouldn’t encourage you. I wouldn’t discourage you, but I wouldn’t encourage you.”

“You’d want to see me put my efforts into one of my other schemes.” (I have many, many things I’d like to do with my life, enough to keep me busy into my three hundreds or so; writing remains my most fervent passion, though).  “Like my real estate projects.”

“Exactly,” he said.

It gave me a truly warm and fuzzy feeling, although it might not sound that sweet to a passer-by  (or someone squeezed into the Ambiance besides us, trying to decide between the rack of lamb or the pork loin with a sweet potato brulee).  My practical husband analyzed me, my talents and my writing, and he decided my writing stood a chance in  a ridiculously competitive world.  He even takes his stand by letting me lounge on the couch with my laptop, typing away, and calling it “work”, right down to supporting my Starbucks habit and often bringing me blankets, post-it notes and soft drinks as required.

I love that man. And I love that he believes in me, and through me, believes in SHARDS OF GLASS and THE GODDESS OF VENGEANCE WORE PINK GALOSHES.

Tell me about your support network, if you'd like.  Who keeps your confidence up? Who believes in you and your work?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I've read a few paranormal YA romance novels recently. Memorably, the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, Impossible by Nancy Werlin, The Dark Divine by Bree Despain, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, and Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)These books leave me with some questions as to what we're teaching the teenagers who read the genre about relationships. I'm not going to pick on any particular book, or rehash the Great Feminism/Anti-Feminism Twilight Debate.  I think authors have to be true to their story, even if aspects of it are objectionable to some (and let's face it, paranormal romance by its nature is going to have objectionable elements for a decently sized group, both those who object to the paranormal and those who object to the romance). I really enjoyed all these books, and I don't want to take anything away from them.
Hush, Hush
But as a genre, there are a few elements I see over and over again that bother me. These are:

1. The Fated Love. The majority of the books I listed above have Love At First Site to the Nth Power. This isn't a teenager's instant crush; it's a meaningful soul mate relationship established from first glance. To me this implies that there's no need to worry about getting to know a guy and choosing a mate carefully, because after all, you just knows when it's meant to be. Which brings us to point 2...

2. Even if he says he's dangerous or no good for you, even if others tell you that your relationship is inappropriate, whatever you have to give up... you know you're meant to be, so just hang in there to your happy ending.  After all...

3. No one can understand your love! (Many teenagers in love think this on their own, of course, but it is not a concept deserving of constant reinforcement).

ShiverI don't think any of these elements are inherently dangerous -- I think teenagers are capable of reading a book where the main character dreams their lover and then meets them, or is pregnant and married by 20 as a happy ending, for instance, and realizing that this is not a universally accurate depiction of life. It's the combined effect that worries me, when many of these stories have such repetitive concepts.

When I was a teenager, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson's Creek taught my friends and I about relationships to some extent. We argued about the concept of soul mates, whether or not it was okay for Buffy to forgive Spike for almost raping her, and when to give up on a relationship. These shows did help form our view of what we should expect, since they seemed a little more relevant to us than our middle-aged parents' marriges. (And I will admit that even in my 20's, I have described MJ to my friends with the words, "He's my Pacey," but that is another story).

So what expectations are we forming for today's teenagers? In Beautiful Creatures, Ethan and Lena know each other in their dreams; in Shiver they fall into love instantaneously, Sam saving Grace's life and Grace knowing Sam by his beautiful, distinctive eyes; in Hush, Hush, Patch pursues Nora no matter how hostile she is at the beginning. Well and good, for their stories, but no resemblance to real life here. Getting to know someone takes work, relationships themselves often take work (although it should be a joyful sort of work, in a healthy relationship), and people are vulnerable when they put themselves forward.

I just worry that, if these story components are repeated often enough, teenage girls will expect teenage boys to pursue them in the face of snarky rejection, find themselves more reluctant to cast a bad fish back into the sea, or be disappointed by the lack of magic in their romantic entanglements or the work it takes for a serious relationship.  I'm not trying to be the humorless adult here -- I like these stories. Romance was disappointing enough for me in my teens, though, with only middling-crazy desires, like a bad-boy soul mate who would always be there for me a la Pacey or Angel.

For teenagers who are a fan of the paranormal romance genre, are they reading a little too much about fated, perfect loves? What do you think?