Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Writing Communities

The past few months have been an eye-opening experience, discovering how many resources are available for someone like me, who is as green as can be when it comes to writing and publishing. I suppose it all goes back to National Novel Writing Month and their incredibly helpful community, but onward I've plunged into finding what else is out there.

Yesterday evening I joined in an online chat over at She Writes, which is a pretty cool site for networking with other women writers. The topic was Young Adult fiction, and the atmosphere was inviting, collaborative and friendly. I bookmarked half a dozen new websites for future reference. It felt nice to have that comradarie among other women.

One thing that has newly piqued my interest is short story contests. I've stayed away from them since I was primarily working on my novel, but I have a few short stories I wrote the last couple of years that I thought I could revisit. One of the stories takes place in the same universe as my novel, and since I wrote it before the novel, it's kind of funny to see how I imagined things would work. I found a contest through Women on Writing, which seems fairly approachable and not too intimidating. It is for  flash fiction, which they define as between 250 - 750 words. I'm telling you, that is short. I had to hack up my short story pretty good to get down to 690 words or so, and it's now kind of a mess. I have until the end of May to submit it.

Which brings me to my next new discovery, a local writing critique group. My friend Catherine invited me, and we both made our initial visit in January. The group meets twice per month, and we just went back again at the end of March, this time picking up submissions to review for the next meeting. The group skews older in age, I think we may be the youngest ones there. They are professional, give constructive criticism, and the leader is excellent. He's a teacher, and you can tell. The group has a topic for discussion to start off the meeting, and I've learned quite a bit just from the two meetings I've attended.

I am timidly getting my flash fiction piece in decent enough shape to submit to the critique group. I figure it's a good start with something so short. The leader of the group submitted a few flash fiction stories for review back in January, which was my first exposure to that type of writing. If it's done well, it's pretty cool. If I don't feel confident enough I'm not going to submit, but I'm going to use the next few days to research flash fiction a bit more to see if I'm getting the right elements put together. Depending on how the critique goes, I will decide if I am going to submit to the contest.

To those of you reading who are writers/writers-to-be, are you part of a local critique group? Or, have you found a place online that works for you?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reading, Reading and More Reading

I've been reading a ton lately. I'm currently reading 3 books using 3 different mediums: print, Kindle for Android, and audiobook in the car.

My current print choice is The Dead Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan  (YA), a companion book to The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I had mixed feelings about Forest, but after meeting the author and hearing her more detailed thoughts on the story and her writing in general, I felt more inclined to read the second book. It's not a straight sequal, instead taking place in the same world around 18 or 20 years later. I think I like the pacing of the second book better. It's just as bleak, dark and haunting, and I mean those things in a good way.

The book I'm reading using the Kindle app on my phone is my first foray into ebooks. Part of me is just excited to read a book in a new way. I am definitely In for a Kindle, or a Nook, at some point in the near future. Being very much a NON-early adopter, I want to wait for the next upgrades and see what's the best deal for me. So, I won a free e-book copy of Trail of the Tudor Blue by Gwen Roman from a Publisher's Weekly blog promotion. Now, the cover art is something I admittedly would walk right past and even avoid if I saw it. It's a shirtless dude with super cut abs, looking all, "yo, what up?" which doesn't really tell me anything about the book other than it probably has a sexy guy in it. The story is a fast-paced crime caper, and occassionally quite funny. This is the author's first book, and I think it's a good read if you like commercial fiction with a mystery and romance slant. For the cover, I would personally have gone with an image of a woman dashing through a cobblestoned European street, maybe with a shadowy mysterious guy in the background.

The third book I'm listening to as an audio book is Vixen by Jillian Larkin (YA), which is the April pick for the YA Book Club group on Goodreads. I'm about a quarter of the way in, and it's already taken a few turns I didn't expect. It's about a group of girls coming of age in 1920s Chicago, complete with speakeasies, gangsters, bobbed haircuts and midwestern aristocracy. I'm a bit surprised at the reading age recommendation of 12 - 17 since the subject matter is pretty mature for a 12-year-old. I like that each chapter features a different girl's voice, and I also appreciate that it's written in third-person; for awhile it seemed like every YA book was first person, and that tends to grate on me after awhile. Personal preference.

Recently finished:
So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld (YA), on audiobook. I love pretty much everything he writes. This was a quick, fun read about a NYC teen named Hunter who helps define what's cool to the people who make cool happen. A rather dangerous adventure ensues while Hunter and his new friend unravel a conspiracy of sorts, trying to track down one of Hunter's coworkers who has gone missing. There are some great pop culture observations here, plus some sly working-in of larger thoughts on consumerism and the global economy.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver (YA) on audiobook. I referred to this as 1984-for-teens at one point, which is a total generalization, but it kind of fits. Those who have just turned 18 are surgically "cured" of love (lobotomy?), keeping this near-future society rational and free from delirious folk who do terrible things in the name of love. Marriages are arranged based on scores from the test that qualifies them for their surgery. Lena discovers through her new friend Alex that there is a world beyond this, where "Invalids" live free from the confines of their society and can love and marry whoever they want. I wanted to like Alex more than I did, he seemed a bit flat. I liked this book for the most part, especially the quips at the start of each chapter that wove together psuedo-science with religious texts that defined their culture. It leaves you with a total cliffhangar though; wait for book 2 to find out what happens to Lena.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Diary Days

Here is where I take a look back at a memorable diary entry of the past.

In 1995, I wrote:

Things I'll Do Once I'm Out of My Parent's House

  1. Color my hair as often as I like with whatever crazy (or normal) color I like.
  2. Paint some walls purple or black and do some mod decorating.
  3. Tattoo... maybe. Something small and pretty.
  4. Eat generic GRILLED CHEESE every day for lunch and a gourmet dinner.
  5. Get pets! Dog, cats :) [drew cartoony sketch of cat and dog face]
  6. I hate clutter. Junk. Get rid of stuff (unless I like it.)
I think I've done pretty well on my list. I definitely took advantage of hair coloring, starting with highlights and moving through shades of brown, burgundy, red, blond highlights, really blond highlights, full on blond, then dark brown and once, jet black. 

I have not painted any walls purple or black, and I'm not sure what either of those colors has to do with mod style, but I do appreciate retro-modern decorating.

Tattoos - not yet. Still would like something pretty, though. 

I have no idea why I would want to eat grilled cheese every day, and then a gourmet dinner. I guess we'll just say I had an appreciation for the simple and rustic, and also for more sophisticated cuisine. Although, I don't know that I ate anything classified as cuisine at that point in my life. It was pretty much just food.

Pets: YES. I still love cats. Although to be fair, my mom was OK with having pets, just not my dad. When she struck out on her own when I went to college, she adopted a cat, which became my first pet, although I only lived there in the summer and during breaks.

Lastly, I still hate clutter. Even more so, now. I get rid of so much. I contemplated trashing all these diaries but I'm glad I have them for now. Maybe once I transpose everything note-worthy to this journal, then I can ditch them for good. In that tire fire I mentioned awhile back.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Another Author Signing Night!

Tonight is Carrie Ryan, author of "The Forest of Hands and Teeth," a YA novel about a village tormented by zombies. The event is again at the wonderful Anderson's.

I read the book last week in about 2 or 3 days. It definitely took a few turns I didn't expect, and I have to say, overall it's pretty bleak. I suppose any story about zombies, which this book refers to as the "unconsecrated," isn't exactly light reading (Oh, wait, not true!) but for young adult fiction I felt like some parts were pretty intense. The author does a decent job of meshing these elements within a larger story of a girl and her two love interests, and the future of their community. Midway through, the story takes a bit of a turn, and it really kicks up the suspense. There's a scene with an unconsecrated infant and, well if you know anything about zombie lore there's really only two options: kill or get infected. Yeah.

I'm interested to hear about Carrie Ryan's experience from working a full time job to now a full time writer. I have the sequal to her first book, "The Dead Tossed Waves," which is really more of a companion novel that takes place in the same world but is about different characters. That threw me off at first, but I think I actually like it more since it further explores how their world came to be overrun with the undead.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Author Tour: Fri March 18

I'm excited for tomorrow night's Dark Days of Winter Tour at Anderson's Books (who just won Bookstore of the Year from Publisher's Weekly), which features four Young Adult fiction authors. They are: Kim Derting, Claudia, Gray, Courtney Moulton, Ellen Schrieber.

This is the first time I've been to an author event where I haven't read any of the books, so that will be different. I'm familiar with many of the titles, which are new releases being reviewed on YA Fiction blogs, and I already have Kim Dertring's book on my To-Read list. I'm hoping that a four-author panel will give a good perspective on the genre and the industry in general. These authors all write paranormal fiction, so I'm thinking they will have some overlapping views on this niche. I have a friend joining me tomorrow, so it should be fun.

Plus, it's free!

I have to give Anderson's credit for the authors they bring in. They support writers from a first novel on to the Big Time (like Twilight's Stephenie Meyer), and they regularly bring in Jodi Picoult, Neil Gaiman and some well known younger children's book authors. I'm making a point to go to more author events this year, especially for those whose work I'm interested in but may not have read. I figure this is the objective for book signings: to get their work out there and read. What a great chance to hear from the person behind the book.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blogging Pays Off!

I won three books from two different blog contests this week. Good times!

The first book is YA fiction title Goth Girl Rising by Barry Lyga. It looks like a sequel so I'll need to see whether reading the first will be beneficial. I usually prefer to do this. I won the book by commenting on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. The author's other books look like they have interesting and rather complex sounding storylines. I'm intrigued.

The other two I won came from a major freebie giveaway on the Beyond Her Book blog linked with Publisher's Weekly. They were giving away e-readers and tons of books by various authors in different genres. I won an advanced copy of the YA book Invincible (Chronicles of Nick) by Sherrilyn Kenyon which is the second in a series. 

Lastly, I will get an ebook version of Trail of the Tudor Blue by Gwen Roman, which is romance fiction. I'm not a regular romance reader, and even the cover looks different than pretty much everything I read, but I will give this a shot. I like to branch out and will give any book a fair chance. Since I don't have an e-reader yet, I'm going to download it to the Kindle app on my phone.

Yup, the To Read list just got longer. This is fine by me! I just need to keep up the dedication to keeping up with it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Possible Breakthrough?

Regarding my own work-in-progress (WIP), I've spent several weeks internally agonizing over how to structure my story. There are so many pieces I know are good, so many concepts I know will work, and characters I really like and can't wait to share. But putting all of this together, and getting over the fear, or perhaps, humility, of editing, has been a new challenge.

I spent the better part of two weekends in January revising my draft, adding depth and detail to characters, developing scenes, adding in transitions. So much of that work is now scrapped. That's a little hard to take at first. BUT, I know that work is helping me get to where I want the story to be.

The problem was, I spent far too much time giving backstory on a secondary character, and it took too long to get to the fun part of the story. It's just that I had this great opening line, and a few scenes I could vividly imagine, and I didn't want to lose it. Losing it is what I did though, and finally yesterday I constructed the first 4-5 pages to be more of what I originally envisioned for the story.

Reading author and agent blogs has helped tremendously. I cannot overstate how helpful people are in their blogs to those of us who are so green to publishing we literally look up phrases on google as we're reading them (like "upmarket women's fiction"). Anyway, I know that when querying a book (publishing-speak for shopping around for an agent), agents often ask for the first chapter or the first 5-10 pages of a manuscript along with the formal letter. I want those first pages to show my favorite characters getting into all the trouble they need to in order to set up the book. I don't want to waste this space on stuff that I can weave into the story later.

So, I think I have that part set a little better. I have so far to go, but I'm excited to have a little piece of this come together. Some days I feel like it's impossible and wonder why I am putting all the effort into a book when there is such a narrow window for what gets published. Each time I get a small achievement, it reminds me.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Diary Days

I wanted to return every so often to reflection on my old diary writing days, since that's where the title of my blog came from. In one of my journals, I found a reading list from my early teen years. Through the wonders of amazon.com, I wanted to  look back on some of the books I read then.

I mainly used the public library as my source, and frequently the bookmobile. Maybe lack of variety can explain some of the selections:


  • I was heavily into Nancy Drew books and a series called Sweet Dreams, which I'm guessing correlates to something like Harlequin Teen these days. They must have been true easy reads because I was burning through a couple books a day at some points (according to the helpful chart in my diary. I was years ahead of Goodreads!) Other series I read were Babysitters Club and some Sweet Valley High, which I distinctly remember reading due to lack of options and never really cared for them.
  • Sunset Island by Cherie Bennett  - OK, looking at this cover, I REMEMBER it. I recall zero details about the book, but I think the cover says it all anyway: bright colors, seashells, hot dogs, shirtless guys. Classic literary work, here. It looks like I read several in the series.
  • Spellbound by Christopher Pike - A bit formulaic, but edgy for me at the time. I read several of his other books, including Remember Me.
  • A series called River Heights - This cover looks vaguely familiar, and painfully dated. It's the same author as Nancy Drew, so you can see my loyalty.
  • The Babysitter by R.L. Stine - Lighter than Christopher Pike, but the same horror/mystery deal. 
  • Jilly's Ghost by Dian Regan - I remember loving this book despite knowing it was not that great. Considering my taste in books at the time, credit for branching off into supernatural subjects.
  • Call of the Wild by Jack London - at least school was making me read something worthwhile. I also read Ann of Green Gables and Little Women around this time. 
  • Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson - also for school (thank you, school!)
  • House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton - I definitely don't recognize the cover art, it's a later edition, but I remember liking the story and being fascinated by the underground railroad.
What were some of your favorite series and books from pre-teen to early teen years? One thing is certain from looking over my list, kids have better options in fiction these days. So much better that even adults are reading YA books. I can't imagine any childless adult reading the Sunset series unless they were dared to.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book: Journal Revolution

This is a clever and creative take on the idea of journaling, combining collage art and crafting methods. Cool ideas if you want to preserve memories being the typical diary approach.


Journal Revolution: Rise Up & Create

This is really more of a crafting book, but how it ties into journaling is it encourages you to take your own photos, mementos and miscellaneous stuff and create a "journal" out of it. There's everything from calendars to shadow boxes and even a bra (??). Fun ideas. 

A Reading Vacation

Not a vacation from reading, but a vacation in which all I do is read.

I am thinking this may be a requirement in my life since my To-Read list is so long. I just added at least 4 books to my list today, all of which I'm excited about. Pretty much all are YA fiction since I'm immersing myself in the genre lately.

What's funny is, recently my husband said he wanted to take a week off from work and completely write and record an album. Now, you would think this would be ideal; we both take a week off, he records and I read. Except that the music project he wants to do involves me (eep! I'm a Guitar Hero vocalist at best; I have admitted numerous times that I have a "choir voice," you know, the kind that sounds good when it's drowned out by other voices). I had my heart set on a real vacation, one involving a beach and all-inclusive drinks, but I have to say, a week at home doing everything I'm trying to squeeze in now sounds nice, too.

Since it's the season of Lent, I had it in the back of my mind to forgo playing any video games (Dragon Age 2 will have to wait) which would help me out with taking on that pile of books. As a side note, it's interesting to me that such a self-denying spiritual discipline is still so active in our culture. People I know who haven't been to church in years give up things like chocolate or sugar for Lent. You may think giving up video games seems a bit cheap for a full-time working adult, but let me tell you, there are therapeutic effects to mowing down evil spirits as a noble warrior princess (first Dragon Age game). I have not stated outloud whether I am participating in giving up gaming for Lent, because if I do that, then I have to actually give up gaming for Lent.

I suppose it's a timely thought, though. There is only so much time. What I allot time for in each day is something to consider. I have a stack of books waiting to be read, and novel that needs an ending before I can send it off to my beta-readers. Giving up a game that requires major time-suckage is probably a smart move. And not to understate the spiritual aspects of Lent, the whole self-denying thing can be great for actually doing what Lent is intended for; spending more time on spiritual things.

"I would have given anything to be like..."

The writing and book blog YA Highway has a cool little thing going on. For the promotion of one of the contributing author's books, they posted the question "I would have given anything to be like..." asking readers to fill in what they wished they were like as a teenager. The book, called Like Mandarin, is about a 14-year-old who looks up to an older girl named Mandarin, who seems to be the very essence of cool.

Thinking about this question for myself, I don't remember necessarily wanting to be a specific person. One fleeting thought I had was admiring a group of girls I met at summer church camp. They were beautiful, dated beautiful (older) guys, and they were homeschooled. All of it was so foreign from my own life, I guess it seemed exciting. In those days, we wrote actual letters to each other (I know, right?) and later, some emails, although we lost touch.

But, what I remember daydreaming about the most, was moving to New York City. I wanted to be an artist or a designer in some capacity, living an exciting life in NYC. Everything about big city life seemed alluring; all of the culture so close by, like museums and concert venues, all of the different restaurants and shopping, taking the subway to different neighborhoods. I have always been into maps and feel the need to know where a place is situated in relation to everything else, so I would literally study the Manhattan page of our atlas, marveling at how large Central Park was, and how many little teeny streets branched off from each other.

I never ended up moving to New York, although I've visited, and nothing can quite compare to the view of the city from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. I did, however, move to Chicago and had a little run at city life in my trendy little neighborhood. I commuted daily to my job downtown just off of Michigan Ave. In the end, it was not for me, but it could have been more due to living alone, which I hated, and the terrible, demeaning company I worked for. But for a short time, I made that city girl dream a reality, and I'm proud of that.