Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

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image: Goodreads
 Belzhar
 Meg Wolitzer
 Young Adult Contemporary
 Published: September 2014

I love this premise: emotionally damaged kids surviving their loss at a tucked-away Vermont boarding school, and the teacher who encourages them to journal while reading Sylvia Plath. This book is like gateway reading to The Bell Jar, one of my favorite books. 

Wolitzer is a wonderful writer, with a number of adult market books of note. Plus, I saw her speak at Anderson's Books YA Literature Conference and bought this book a few days prior to its release (special!). I wanted to 5 star this book in the first chapter, though something about the overall execution knocked this down a bit for me. Perhaps my own inflated expectations. 

I read  Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar at fifteen. It's a complex novel exploring depression. Belzhar, which is a take on the words bell jar, takes a somewhat lighter approach, though the trauma the characters have experienced is quite serious. The lead character Jam (a nickname though I can't remember the full name) plays somewhat of an unreliable narrator. All we know going in is that her boyfriend died, and the details are revealed over the course of the book. To me it seemed the story started in a moody place, but ultimately did not go as deep into their grief and depression as I expected. Instead, the story takes a somewhat higher level approach, and focuses on the friendships between the kids enrolled in the special English course they were each handpicked to take. 

Also, there is a mystical element. I thought I'd mention that, though it sort of veers more Magical Realism than fantasy. I would definitely recommend this for teen readers, especially as a companion to reading The Bell Jar, which might make the classic feel more accessible. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Writing Retreat

This time last weekend, I headed up north with my critique group for two days of writing, plotting, brainstorming, and few distractions (we didn't turn the TV on once!)

If you're interested in trying out a weekend writing getaway, I'll share some insight and tips!

Photo:Stephanie Scott

We rented a bungalow a block from a lake and brought our own food. This was a pretty basic, not-at-all-fancy rental. Our main requirements were enough places to sit and spread out our work, a full kitchen, and Wifi access (you gotta!). We also did not want to drive far, so places within a 2 hour drive were on our list.

Split between four of us, this was a very affordable retreat. We did go out for Saturday dinner and walked two blocks to a local place right on the lake.

As for writing, each of us had different goals, and we determined ahead of time to write out specific goals so we weren't just sitting around chatting (though some of that happened too). In our group, two writers are under contract with deadlines, and two of us are working on drafts.



Since I recently realized my current project has some *issues* I decided to overhaul the plot completely. And I needed help. BAD.

One of my critique group members brought materials that I originally shared with her (LOL) and we went over my new plot idea to determine the story's inciting event, first turning point, mid-way turning point, third turning point, crisis/black moment, realization, and ending. Plus a bunch of character stuff.

(Some of what we used came from writer Robin Perini's website, some handouts linked here.)

So while I literally had these materials already, what I needed was hand holding someone to help  me brainstorm through these points. The collaborative aspect of writers getting together cannot be understated! We went through several variations of the plot, including a few dead-ends that forced us to go back and reconsider.

This is stuff I would have given up on if I was doing this myself, thinking I'll figure it out as I write. But I really didn't want to get stuck again with a plot that didn't have large enough stakes built in.

Tips to a Successful Writing Retreat:

  • Find out what you want out of a retreat
  • Write down your Must list
  • Make it affordable, convenient, and/or flexible for those involved
  • Set realistic, tangible goals for yourself
  • Create a basic agenda and include flexible or fun time
  • Bring games 
  • Share what you know


Have you gone on a writer's weekend away by yourself or with a group? Please share in the comments!




Friday, October 10, 2014

Still Me by Amy Patrick Book Blitz


Still Me by Amy Patrick 
(20Something #3)
Publication date: October 10th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance


Fall in love like a 20 Something….

23 year old Kenley Moran is going through a mid-life crisis… WAY early. Pushed since childhood by a nightmare stage-mom to use her looks to “land a rich man”, she’s reeling from a broken engagement and regretting the day she gave up her career in TV news for a guy.

Now Kenley’s determined to change her life, shunning makeup and fashion and fighting her way back into the highly competitive career she loves, off-camera this time. When she lands a producing job at Worldwide News Network in Atlanta, she plans to keep her head down, work hard, and prove she’s not just another pretty face. And vows NO ONE is EVER going to make her compromise herself again.

WNN anchor Larson Overstreet has it all—old money, good looks, a prestigious job, and more women than he can count throwing themselves at him. Problem is… none of it is real. He’s known his whole life that people are only interested in him for his fortune and his famous family name, in that order. Except for Kenley. The shy news producer isn’t interested in him at all.

Working closely with the anchor of her new show, Kenley’s dismayed to feel an instant spark. Larson’s everything she doesn’t want. He’s too good looking, too charming, and worst of all, too rich. She’s not looking for another big money honey. In fact, she’d prefer a nice little guy from the mailroom, maybe a guy who lives at home like she’s been forced to do.
But when they must travel together for a special report, Kenley realizes Larson’s not the spoiled pretty rich boy she pegged him as, and she’s not as immune to him as she’s pretended to be.
Now, even at the network level, what happens behind the scenes is the real story.

Add to your To Read on Goodreads 
Purchase: Amazon 

And for a limited timeCHANNEL 20 SOMETHING book 1 in the series is FREE on the following formats:

Amazon / B&N / iTunes / Kobo 

Amy is a two-time Golden Heart finalist (2013 and 2014) who writes Young Adult fiction as Amy DeLuca and New Adult romance as Amy Patrick.  She lives in Rhode Island with her husband and two sons and actually craves the heat and humidity of Mississippi, where she grew up. She's been a professional singer and news anchor and currently narrates audio books as well as working as a station host for a Boston TV station.

Author links: 
Twitter: @amypatrickbooks

Friday, October 3, 2014

It's Friday! Plus: Writing Resources

Hey everyone! Today I wanted to share some writerly things in a catch-all type of post.

Classes 

The YA chapter of RWA (YARWA) has a bunch of online courses coming up this month which are open to non-members. $20-$25 gets you some pretty great stuff:

The YARWA group also has a closed group pitch fest with pre-selected agents coming up at the end of the month. It's exclusive for members of  YARWA, and I'm excited I get to work with some agents on planning that!

Romance Writers have a ton of workshops and conferences open for non-members. Many are applicable to writing in general and not specifically romance. ChecFacebook pagek here for updated classes.

Blog Pitch Contests

Nightmare on Query Street starts 10/15 Info Here

The Bakers Dozen hosted by Miss Snark's First Victim in November. Details here
Practice your pitch next week on the blog!

Inspiration

Here's a great post from Delilah Dawson on finding story ideas. I reviewed her Southern Gothic YA Servants of the Storm recently here.

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Writing Support

Check in with the YA Buccaneers on twitter for #FallWritingBootcamp They have a fun care package exchange coming up.

Insecure Writers Support Group has a Facebook group, a twitter hashtag #IWSG and a website. Go forth and network!

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Insecure Writers Support Group (IWSG)


Happy Wednesday! We're back for another check in with a great supportive network of writers. Make sure to check out a few blogs posting today. The full list here.

When You Become the Writer Giving Advice

I haven't been doing this fiction writing thing for very long. Not so many years ago I attended a free, public library writers group with a friend and was completely intimidated to share my work with a table of twenty plus writers.

I didn't know how to critique.
I didn't know plot structure.
I didn't know character sheets.
I didn't know writers calculated word count vs. pages.
I didn't know market trends.

What I knew, was that I loved reading, I was okay at writing things like opinion articles, and blog posts, and diatribes on message forums. I started college as a journalism major. But I knew jack about fiction writing, and once I got a taste, I dove right in. Call me a sponge, because I soaked up everything.

The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully
link: B&N
One of the best books I've read on the business of writing is The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. The reason this book is so great is that it showed me I had no business reading about getting my book published when I didn't know how to write a book. Let alone a marketable one.

It's truly essential to have this pointed out. The book helped me see: OH, this whole book biz is complicated. When I showed up to the signing event for this book, which included a panel of publishing professionals, I 'd never seen my local indie that full. Everywhere, people practically exploding from the aisles, tightly wedged and muscling their way toward the front with hopes of pitching to the panel. (Because unknown to me, this was also a pitch event).

Yeah, a lot of people want to publish books.

So, I spent a few years learning the craft of writing. I did what the Essential Guide advised me to do: I signed up for Publisher's Weekly's free newsletter. I found links to blogs about writing, publishing, and author sites who support new writers. I followed authors on twitter. I found SCBWI and RWA. I attended local writing workshops and conferences. Every six months, I progressed, even surprising myself with what I could accomplish.

Fast forward to now, and it still feels strange to have writers come to me for advice. I'm no longer my agent's newest client. I started a critique group who look to me to organize our meetings (and an actual event!). I am mentoring a writer in Pitch Wars.

Every little bit I've learned I will pass on to those who want it. I have many more milestones ahead, and have so much more to learn from writers further along. But what I have now, I can share. And I'm loving that journey.

What milestones have you achieved in your own writing or reading life? 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fall Writing Bootcamp check in




YA Buccaneers are hosting a Fall Writing Bootcamp to help you make and achieve your writing goals. Check out the details here
Updates:

So far I finished everything on my initial checklist! Critique group completed, beta reading notes for a writer friend completed, notes to my Pitch Wars mentee and alternate completed (though we still have more work to do!). 

What I'm working on this week:

  • Final tweaks on manuscript changes; will send back to agent in the next 2 days
  • Potentially beta readfor a new-to-me writer
  • Continue to brainstorm how to increase the story stakes in my WIP (so far, not much luck)
  • Sketch out preliminary new story idea notes


I want to have sufficient material to work on during next month's writing retreat with my critique group! We booked a cottage near a lake and everything. I need to go in prepared, and right now I'm sort of stuck between projects; not sure how to proceed with WIP. 

Check in on twitter #fallwritingbootcamp and let's keep each other encouraged and accountable. Also, check here for scheduled writing sprints for the week.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Review: Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

Servants of the Storm
by: Delilah S. Dawson
YA Paranormal
Published: August 2014

Goodreads
Do you like the idea of combining Southern Gothic, hurricane aftermath, and abandoned demonic amusement parks? Then this is your bag.

In the year following a hurricane that devastated the city of Savannah, seventeen-year-old Dovey wanders through life in a meaningless fog after watching her best friend Carly get swept up by the storm right before her eyes. Only her fog might not be purely post-traumatic. The mysterious unmarked pills her parents urge her to take every day, and strange sightings--thinking she sees Carly running through the streets--lead her to question what really happened to her best friend.

I loved the Gothic undertones depicting a crumbling and decaying post-storm Savannah, Georgia. The creepy factor is upped further with hints of witchcraft or magic, it's not too clear at the start. Most characters are suspect here, given how Dovey has been in a pharmaceutical haze for the past year, and doesn't know who she can trust. Parts of the mythology reminded me a bit of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, especially how the paranormal world exists within a contemporary "unknowing" world.

And this book gets creepy. People die, and some pretty brutal things go down. There is definitely a horror element here, though in YA you're never really going to get too far in. Still, I was really impressed at the world set up here, and the exploration of the relationships with Dovey, her allegiance to her friend. Add in her school buddy Baker who's by her side no matter what, and the mysterious Isaac, who possibly holds answers to Carly's disappearance, and there's a love triangle that doesn't really feel like a love triangle, in all the best ways.