Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book Review: Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

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image: Goodreads

Falling into Place
Amy Zhang
YA Contemporary
Published: 2014

From Goodreads:
On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road. 

A beautifully written and haunting story of a teen girl's life circling depression and suicide. As a reader, I devoured this book in a couple sittings. As a writer, I noted how this story defies many "rules" we are taught that current young adult fiction has to follow. Here we find wandering narrative (third person present tense, not often used since it can be difficult), switching within scenes from different characters, and non-linear storytelling. 

Oh, and addition to that? The author wrote this in while in high school. 

This is a great book to show the nuance to depression, and how it's never just one incident that causes a person to attempt suicide. Here we see the whole spectrum of  Liz Emerson's life, including how others see her, and the step by step progression. There's a bit of  a twist in the story, and the ending worked really well for me. I can see educators using this book to show depression in a realistic way and told in an engaging story. 


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Do You Podcast?

Or more so, do you LISTEN to podcasts?

I have a confession.

I didn't know HOW to listen to a podcast until very recently. I thought you had to have an iPod (which I do) and that you had to subscribe and download specifically to iTunes, and for years my iTunes crashed my Windows laptop. How could I listen to podcasts if my iPod wouldn't sync up???

What I didn't realize is anybody can listen to a podcast on a website. You just click play and listen through a speaker. It's literally that easy. I was tripped up on the name podcast thinking pod = iPod = iTunes = i-everything-domination.

Nope!

(I also have my iTunes fixed on my new laptop, so that whole mess is figured out).

But where do you FIND podcasts?

You're in luck! Here are a few of my favorites. Go ahead and try one if you never have. Sometimes podcasts will even reference other podcasts. Win!

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Don't let the snarky name deter you. This is smart talk on romance fiction and its industry, plus special related topics. It's feminist and literary-leaning, and oh so funny.

Most recent listen: a chat on this week's yearly ComicCon-level book con RT (Romantic Times)

NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour

Smart and funny examination of what's going on right now.

Most recent listen: The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Pop Culture Pariahs

Nerdist

Pop-culture everything. There is SO MUCH on here with multiple channels specializing in topics or with specific hosts (several of whom are comedians and are awesome). My favorite is the Nerdist Writer's Panel, which interviews writers for TV, movies, comics, etc.

Most recent listen: Nerdist Writer's Panel: Wayward Pines

Book Riot

Everything books. Recommendations, bookstores, industry stuff, fun stuff. Varied content but if you like reading, it's got you covered.

Most recent listen: Book Riot: Not Without Genre

General Topic:

How Stuff Works podcast Everything from Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff Mom Never Told You, Tech Stuff, Brain Stuff, Stuff They Don't Want You to Know

A few fun Star Wars podcasts:

Nerd Lunch discusses Star Wars: A New Hope 
Mos Eisley Comic Port archives

Do you listen to podcasts? Which is your favorite?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Book Review: Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Macke

image: Goodreads
Damsel Distressed
Kelsey Macke
Published: Oct. 2014
Young Adult Contemporary

I want to hug this book.

Many writer friends gushed over Damsel Distressed, and now I understand. I'm surprised, even if I shouldn't be based on the tastes of those friends, at how this Cinderella send-up is so emotionally resonating. That was likely my miscalculation, since this isn't a retelling, and even the gimmick of a character being named Ella Cinder itself is pulled apart and laughed over by the other characters. 

Imogen struggles with grief, self-harm, and low self-esteem after losing her mother at a young age. Now, she's expected to adjust to her father's remarriage, a new step-sister who hates her, all while Dad is barely around due to work. Additionally, Imogen's feels like she doesn't belong in her own overweight body. So many times this book could have gone to cliche plot devices or eschewed mature conversations, and yet did not. By mature, I do not mean swearing or "bad" language, but by not watering down or simplifying for a teen audience themes that require emotional maturity to grasp. 

The setting of a stage production of Once Upon a Mattress was completely fitting for the fairy tale deconstruction theme, and was just fun to see the joy Imogen and her friends experienced as stage crew for the school production. I loved the intimate conversations that cropped up in the sound booth or backstage while being fit for costumes. That's where those discussions happen--not saved for the right moment when characters take a walk by a stream, but right there among the chaos, and whispered behind a barely closed door. It took me right back to my own days in the school musical where some of my favorite high school memories originated. 

Other non-cliches: no "evil" stepmother here, only Imogen's changing perception of stepmother Evelyn. Supportive friends who were affected by changes in their relationship with Imogen, not from random plot devices. A BFF-potential love interest with a complex, believable relationship. Moments where Imogen shows huge maturity, and moments where she's allowed to be what she is--a hurting teen girl. Therapists who are helpful, and several teens who take medication and not shamed, though again, Imogen has her own personal struggle with how she views herself.

A highly recommended read full of depth and wonderful, real moments. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Querying Writers: Upcoming Opportunities

You've set deadlines. You've ditched friends. You've allowed entire seasons of TV to be auto-deleted from your DVR.

Because you've WRITTEN A BOOK.

Writers, if you're ready to move to the next step, here are a few resources for you on querying and pitching to literary agents.

Query Kombat, May 22

This is a single elimination, tournament-style query off with an agent round featuring 23 agents. If this piques your interest, read all the details here.

For the first time, I'll be working behind the scenes as a Query Kombat judge! Judges details here

And while entering this contest is FREE, the person behind the contest Michelle Hauck does all this at her own expense. If her contests have helped you, see her message on funding here.




Query Pop online workshop, June 8-19

The Young Adult Romance Writers of America chapter's June online course is dedicated to query writing. You don't have to be a member or write romance to participate, and it's just $20 for 2 weeks of content. The course is through Yahoo Groups and you choose your preference of email digests. Learn at your own pace when convenient for you.

Register here YARWA.com

Image: Brenda Drake's blog 
Pitch Wars, August 

Pitch Wars, where querying writers enter to be matched up with a mentor before an agent round, is back! The submission window opens August 17, but keep your eye on the #PitchWars twitter tag and Brenda Drake's blog in the coming months for query workshops, first page critiques, and more.

This year, I'm partnering with another mentor, YA writer Valerie Cole, who I met through chatting about contests on twitter several years ago.

Not only do we have similar taste in books, but Valerie is a wealth of knowledge on the book industry and trends in YA. She has a wonderful agent, and she's talked me off the proverbial ledge more than once over my publishing journey.

If you finished your manuscript (or several!), this could be your year. Take advantage of what's out there and get your work out into the world!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Insecure Writers Support Group: May


Welcome to Insecure Writer's Support Group, where the name is self-explanatory, but if you want more information anyway, go here. And join the Facebook group for daily support and conversation!

I've been on somewhat of a writing break the past few weeks. One thing I've been pondering is the inevitable shift from unpublished to soon-to-be-published writer. The first quakes apparent to me were on Goodreads. I'm no longer only using Goodreads to track and review books I read, but I HAVE A BOOK LISTED ON GOODREADS.

(Sorry for the All Caps but I still have to pinch myself).

So what does that mean? I don't post snarky, bordering-on-mean book reviews because that's not my style. Even the books I don't like or was disappointed by, I point out what I did like, why I had an issue, etc. But being an "author" I'm worried at what I post even more. I've heard some writers say they clear all their star ratings and reviews. Or they only review books they would give 5 stars.

You can't please everyone, and I do want to be a real person, but there's a shift when you're no longer "just a reader" (I don't like that label, because all of us are more than readers--we're real people). You can't as objectively review books when your part of the publishing wave. It all becomes ... complicated. I think I need to look at it differently, but still enjoy the community sites like Goodreads offers.

So, writers, how have you progressed through this transition? Or if you use book review sites or Goodreads, how do you feel about authors being present on those sites? Rules they should follow?

Please go check out a handful of the linked blogs in the monthly IWSG tour here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

When Your Dance Fitness Class is your Safe Place

Image: YouTube 
One of my favorite parts of the week is Monday night for the WERQ dance fitness class at my gym.

Excited about the gym? I know--crazy. The class is full of regulars, and the instructor is always energetic and friendly. With the high energy music, the class feels more like a dance party than a grueling workout. People cheer during their favorite routines, and the instructor cranks up the music after the cycling class lets out next door.

So, last night on the way into this favorite class, I caught a disturbing interaction on my twitter feed. A writer and librarian I follow was harassed after making a comment about how women are harassed online. It's unsettling to hear about this second hand, but worse to see it in unfold in real time. (Purposely not linking here so this jerk doesn't get any further attention.)

Her original comment referred to how women are braving online harassment and aren't being scared off by creeps. To which some guy accused her of having a "suggestive" profile picture, implying her opinion was not valid since she presented herself a certain way.

I should note, her photo shows her in a sweater and knee-length skirt, you know fully clothed and just looking like a woman wearing clothes. She responded back boldly how she has the right to post whichever photos she wants. He then accused her of "playing games."

The only games played here is someone trying to assert control over someone else's choices. And why? I can't pretend I understand.

But I kept thinking about that exchange when I got to class. The studio space was maxed out, with all the regulars, plus some new faces. The class is typically all women, and is about the most diverse class I've taken as far as age, race, cultural background. We're talking poster child class for "Everyone is welcome." The woman in front of me was barely five feet tall, probably in her fifties, and rocked out to the music just the same as the teen girls on the other end.

This is a place I feel safe and welcome. All these women forget their stresses for an hour and practice choreographed dance routines together and it's awesome.

We need these safe spaces. The world can be cruel, and people with no personal investment in your life or well being will seek to hurt you.

I'm so glad I was reminded that there is joy to be found in unlikely places. Even a gym.

Where is your safe place? Which unlikely place have you found joy or peace?

Friday, May 1, 2015

One Step Forward for Baltimore, One Brave Act of Empathy

It's been a tough week watching what happened in Baltimore. Only months after the events in Ferguson, Missouri, it seems like a replay of the same over again.

What happened to Freddie Gray--an African American man violently apprehended by police, whose injuries resulted in his death--spurs divisive reactions, with those calling for action on systemic racism, to those decrying property damage from looting.

Among all this, here is the image which struck me:

Facebook image Shameeka Dream
Credit to the source who pointed her out:


This image struck me because it's the direct opposite of the heated judgments in our media. It contrasts the widely-shown images of burning and looting. This was a spiritual response to the loss of human life and the chaos that followed.

Shameeka showed empathy and strength in the face of divisive, violent aftermath.

No matter what your thoughts on what happened in Baltimore, empathy is a powerful tool. When pursue empathy, we put ourselves in another's shoes in attempts to understand. We don't assume, we don't shame. We listen.

What if we set aside our own experiences to listen to those whose lives are so different from ours that we don't immediately understand?

What if instead of posting inciting Facebook memes, we prayed for those who are mourning? What if we prayed for those who are so angry by injustice, their reaction was to set fire to their city? Can you imagine praying for those you don't understand, and maybe don't respect? Many faiths urge us to pray for our enemies and to serve everyone. Not just our friends, but everyone.

What would that look like? What if we listened to the Whys leading to the anger, the violence? Would our world look any different?

I'm glad to see the charges Attorney General Marilyn Mosby stated today, that Gray's death is ruled a homicide, and the officers involved will be charged. It's one step forward to address this loss. My heart hurts for those who lost their chance to mourn when things turned violent. I also hurt for those in law enforcement who seek to protect without resorting to excessive force, and are unfairly lumped in with the rest. I hurt for those who lost a son, a brother, a friend. All of these things can co-exist with the loss of property and looting. Violence on one end does not negate the loss of life on another.

Martin Luther King, Jr. also said this less-often quoted lines:
“I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.” Source
It's a problem that doesn't have an answer that fits in a tweet or a passive-aggressive Facebook post. It's a problem that means more of us need to listen.