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Friday Reads: Matched

Genre: Young Adult Dystopian

By: Ally Condie

What's it about?  Teenage girl discovers her society's perfection isn't all it's cracked up to be.  And boys.

Why did I pick it? Another library pick--I'd heard a lot of chatter about it and it seemed quite popular.

Who will like it?If you like your dystopian with a heavy dose of romance and a light hand on the science, this one's for you.  More about teenage coming of age and emotional growth than the more action-oriented dystopians.

Judging a book by its cover: Can you for this book?Great symbolism of feeling entrapped by society, with the green dress that figured prominently in the plotline.

Celebrating the Small Things with Something Like Champagne

Last week I was maneuvering a grocery cart crammed full with a baby and a week's worth of food plus the ingredients for my contribution to Thanksgiving when I turned the corner in the wine section (between the boxed wine and the "imports" which were mysteriously all from Australia and all named after an animal and a body part) and saw the mini Champagne bottles.

I bought one.

To celebrate.

I had just finished a draft of my WIP and emailed it off to my agent.

Big deal?  In the long run, not really--we're probably far from done with this project, and the big finish of publication is still a long way away and, of course, not even assured for this particular book in any case.

But I believe in celebrating the small things.  If we waited until we reached the finish line, we'd be in for a long wait.  Or perhaps we'd never celebrate--after all, what is the finish line for a writer?  Publication is a milestone, but there's always the next book.  Reaching a certai…

Magpies, Back Pockets, and the Shiny

I have a theory that most writers are magpies.  We can be working diligently on The Idea that we're super-excited about, typing away, maybe even editing and then--Shiny!  Shiny New Idea!

And like a distractable magpie, we either flit off after it or have a very hard time resisting the pull of the Shiny.

We talk a lot about how to keep focused on the project at hand, which is important, but--the Shiny is important, too.

The Shiny is our creativity, and our drive, and, in the end, it's the heart and soul of our books.  Because without the Shiny Idea, there is no story, no intriguing character, no exciting setting or innovative concept.

Yet we can't run off after all the Shiny Ideas, unless we never want to finish anything.  It's true that, after lots of work and wear and dare we say, love, an idea gets a little worn.  It's easy to find more interest in something Shiny than in something you've been drudging away on for weeks, months, years.

This is why we all nee…

Friday Reads: The Night Circus

Genre: Magical Realism, Historical-style

By: Erin Morgenstern

What's it about?  Why, magic, of course.  And a magical circus spun like sweet, delicate, precarious sugar candy out of a competition between two young magicians, groomed for the challenge by old rivals.  

Why did I pick it? I kept hearing and reading about this book, and it was too strange and beautiful of a concept not to give it a go.  Plus I ran across it in the shelves of the library on my last pre-baby visit.

Who will like it?  If you don't demand that things make sense--because while this book is beautifully written and imagined, it creates a world where magic simply happens.  And if that sounds lovely, this book is for you.  Language, imagery, and almost aching pretty-ness take priority; the plot is relatively simple.  Also, a warning--if you want to believe in magic, you will want to dive inside this book and live in it.  And if you like caramel apples, you will want to dive inside this book and live in it.

Judg…

Indispensable Tools for Writers

Every writer has a few tools that make writing easier or, sometimes, possible altogether.  Aside from the obvious "paper and pen" or "laptop" tools, my indispensable tools are as follows:

1) Purple pen.  I love editing with a purple pen.  I'll use light blue and pink when necessary, but for some reason it's always been purple.  I'm picky on the ink flow, though.  My current one is a little stingy.

2) French press.  Something about the ritual of coffee making gives me the break I need from the page more than the actual act of drinking coffee.  Not that the caffeine doesn't help, too.  (Hint: Add a sprinkle of good cinnamon or a drop of vanilla extract to the beans pre-brew.)

3) Giant Blue Notebook.  Everyone needs someplace to jot down ideas and make a big inky mess, right?

4) List pad.  I tend to remember that I need to buy eggs or mail the mortgage payment right before digging into writing the Scene of the Day.  There are two choices unless I want …

Maternity Leave :)

Just wanted to explain my recent (and forthcoming) absence--Baby E was born Tuesday night.  We'll be prioritizing all the new baby awesomeness and a little writing--and considering the next few weeks maternity leave.  Have fun without us!

Recipes for Writers: Turkish Lentil Soup

Writers have to balance their time effectively--we spend too much time in other worlds to waste on fussy recipes in our kitchens (unless we *want* to.  For funsies).  So, a quick, easy, freezable, delicious soup to get you through fall:

Why is this good for writers?  It involves minimal prep work--chop an onion and mince some garlic.  You can handle that in the ten minute break you need between writing scenes, right?  And then it just...simmers.  You can enjoy delicious smells wafting from your kitchen while you edit, right?

1 stick of butter (oh yeah, butter!)
1 large or 2 little onions
6 cloves garlic
3 cups lentils (standard size bag)
12 cups vegetable broth or stock (or--I use Better than Boullion soup base.  Much cheaper unless you've made your own veg stock)
6 oz can tomato paste (the little can)
Spices: 2 t each cumin, red pepper flakes, paprika, salt, black pepper
Herbs: 3 T each mint, oregano, parsley (I use extra mint!)

First, stop writing.  Find a problem to work out wi…

Friday Reads: The Great Gatsby

This week--one of those books that, really, has anyone *not* read given its proliferation in high school reading lists?

Genre: The American Classic

By: Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. Yes, he was named for the fella who wrote The Star Spangled Banner.

What's it about?  Privileged people and the tangled webs they weave.  And nearly crippling emotional issues and partying.  (I kept wanting a glass of Champagne while reading--I mean, all the characters got to have fancy cocktails!)

Why did I pick it? Two reasons--I haven't read it since high school and remembered enjoying it then, and with the film adaptation in the works, it came to mind.  That, and my husband was glued to the Bears/Packers game last night and I needed something to do.  This was handy.

Who will like it?  It's not pacey, it's not high-action, but it's still engrossing if you like digging into characters and a little bit of intrigue borne out of shadowy pasts.  When we talk "plot driven" vs "c…

Show Your Work

If your math classes were anything like mine, there was one golden rule:  You had to show your work.  When ferreting out the value of x, you couldn't just slap the answer on the page--you had to show each painstaking step of stripping the equation down to the answer.  And sometimes this took line upon college-ruled line.

OK, so math homework could be a little anal.  What does this have to do with writing?

Quite a bit, I'm finding.  I keep reminding myself as I write and revise my current project that I need to show my work to my reader--that the reader doesn't know anything unless I tell them or lead them to discover it.

Writing a story is kind of like knowing the answer to a math problem already.  You know your characters, the plot (well, most of it, anyway...), the conflicts, the ending.  You know the details--why Susan is shy around strangers, why Bob is afraid of spiders, why no one can see the ghost in the attic except for Aunt Bessie.  Some of those details you keep…

Friday Reads: Einstein's Dreams

Something entirely different this Friday:

Genre: I think the only moniker that could possibly work is literary fiction.

By: Alan Lightman

What's it about?  It's 1905, a young Einstein has just written 26 pages that will become his theory of relativity, and he's been thinking about time.  A lot.  The short vignettes that make up the book each explore a world in which time functions or is perceived differently.

Why did I pick it? I had to read this for a class in college, and it stuck with me, so I decided to reread it.

Who will like it?  If you like to ask "what if?" and appreciate a more literary style of prose (not dense--just a definite and deliberate use of language for beauty as well as function).  You'll probably have thought of some of these scenarios before, and some will be new, but all are approached in such an intimate, human-based, emotional manner that it feels like genuine exploration either way.  It's not a science book, despite the fact that it…

The Seamstress Writes: Starting a Project

You know I write.  My other odd obsession?  Sewing.  (There's a blog about that here.)  I'm starting a new sewing project, and I got to thinking about how the different types of inspiration for a new project can be pretty similar, whether written or stitched.

I get inspired by a lot of different "stages" of a project.  Sometimes what sets me off are the basics--the bones of the story or the garment.  For this gown it was all about the construction.  I knew exactly what I wanted the basic drape and shape of the gown to be.  This is kind of like when you get an idea that's all about storyline--you already know the plot before you sit down to write.  Honestly, this kind of project can be a lot easier to tackle, because the hard questions are answered--what do I do first?  What do I do after that?

Other times, I'm inspired to start a story or a garment based on something a little more vague.  Maybe I just love a fabric and want to use it--somehow.  Maybe I have…

Friday Reads: Lord of the Rings

To be fair, this has been an off and on read of mine for about a month (and I'm still not done--I keep going back to it and reading another book from the story).  My Nook died in the middle (the MIDDLE!) of Martin's A Dance with Dragons and I needed a chunker to get me through.  I found this in my husband's section of our library--yes, that's right, I'd never read it:

Genre: Fantasy--in all its original epic-ness.

By: JRR Tolkien.

What's it about?  When accessories go bad.  

Why did I pick it? Aside from just needing something to read, I felt my geekiness was not complete unless I read these books.  I love the movies, and no nerd should see the movie and not read the book, right?

Who will like it?  If you like immersive, loooong books, give this one a try--lazy summer afternoons and long winter evenings would be a good backdrop.  There's also something nearly anthropological about Tolkien's exploration of the cultures and places the characters visit, so it&#…

Reviewing Books: What's a Writer To Do?

You'll notice something about my blog: I don't write book reviews.  I do Friday Reads every week, but I don't tell you if I'd recommend the book or not, or pick apart what I thought worked well and what I thought   was a little meh.

This is deliberate.

I've noticed something in a lot of writerly blogs and Goodreads reviews--we're squeamish about truly reviewing books.  We're happy to recommend and gleeful about sharing what we love, but we're hesitant to say "This wasn't up to par for reasons I shall enumerate herein."

Yes, there are nasty reviews out there.  And yes, there are still honest, forthright reviewers, too.  But for the most part?  We as writers are kind of yes men to books.

Maybe it's because we're all reading things we truly, truly enjoy and can find nothing negative to say.  Maybe it's just because we appreciate the work and dedication that go into a book and gloss over anything we're not fond of relatively …

Friday Reads: Throne of Glass

Reading this Friday: Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

By: Sarah J Maas, about whom more can be found here.  Debut novel.

What's it about?  What if the pretty princess was an assassin, and the big event was a competition to be King's Champion instead of a ball?  But you still kept romance and intrigue in the mix and threw in some mystery and magic for good measure?

Why did I pick it? I've been an avid reader of the blog PublishingCrawl ever since before it was PubCrawl and was Let the Words Flow.  Sarah has been a regular contributor and I've loved her story of how Throne of Glass evolved from being a FictionPress story to a published book.

Who will like it?  I won't say you  have to like fantasy to like this book, but if you are a fantasy fan, this is a great pick.  It also helps if you like strong but complicated heroines and love interests with some depth.

Judging a book by its cover: Can you for this book?  I love the nearly etched look of the Glass Castle in the backgrou…

YA Highway Road Trip: Dear WIP, I Think I Like You

I love a good blogaround, and YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday is pretty much one of the best.  I couldn't resist this week's topic:  A "this is why you're awesome" list to your WIP.

Dear WIP,

You know I love you to spend this much time with you every day.  But just in case you forget how much I like you, a few gentle reminders of the things that make you grand:

Based on my favorite fairy taleArtificial intelligenceRooftop gardens and fantastical poolsBiscuits and silver-grey catsAcerbic old ladiesGirl technical geniusesBoys who dig thatInsecurityVillains who aren'tUnwanted immortalityTchaikovsky shout-out, tulle and organza Weirdsies genetically modified fruitThanks for all the awesome,
Rowenna
And now I think I want to get back to writing and discover a few more things to love...
How about you?  Are there a few things in your WIP that have you head-over-heels? Meet me in the comments!

Cliches: You Can't Swing a Dead Cat Without Hitting a Dead Doornail

Writer's Digest website had a fun little article on the top 12 cliches to avoid like the plague (ha! sorry) and invited readers to contribute their own.  Yes, most of these turns of phrases have been overused to the point of complete staleness (though some contributions I had never heard of...making me wonder if some folks were stretching a little too hard to contribute an "original cliche" which may be my new favorite contradictory phrase).

Still, they're not the worst cliches in writing, in my view.

These are just sloppy description, placeholder ideas.  They're easily seen and easily edited out.  You might stumble across one while revising on your own, or a crit partner will point it out to you.  You'll see right away how it made the paragraph in which you unwisely included it as bland as beige.

The worst cliches are the storytelling cliches.  Everyone has their pet peeve cliche or two, but cliched storytelling is when the characters feel "done" …

Friday Read: Shadow and Bone

So it isn't strictly a #FridayRead since I finished two days ago.  But I can certainly recommend it as a future read for you!


Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

By: Leigh Bardugo, about whom more can be found here.  Debut novel.

What's it about?  Magic, monsters, an overwhelming darkness and a girl who can master light.

Why did I pick it? I have a weird obsession with all things related to Russian folklore and Russian culture.  Don't get me started on Russian short fiction, either.  And this book was not only awesome for its own story, but also kind of a giant homage to imagery and tropes familiar to the Russophile.

Who will like it?  Fantasy fans who are looking for something a little different, and nonfantasy fans who like a good yarn.  I may have covered a pretty broad range there.   But so does the story--besides magic and adventure, there is a great story of friendship and love, plus court intrigue.

Judging a book by its cover: Can you for this book?  Most definitely--the image c…

Thinking About Sex...In My YA WIP

When it comes to sex in my young adult novels, I've come to the Decision Point.  I'm surprised, honestly that I haven't before--but none of the YA stories I've written or plotted up to this point demanded that I broach the question of what to include and how to include it.  The characters, the situations, the cultures--all of it added up to books where sex just wasn't going to be an issue.

To preface--I have no issue with sex in young adult lit.  Teens have sex.  People writing for teens include this realistic scenario in their work.  Yep.  No biggie.

Still, I do think that every author has to answer the question for herself what she's comfortable including.  I tend to believe that sex isn't always a great choice for teenagers--not in all cases, but often enough to warrant being cautious about how and when I as an author present it.  I don't want to treat it flippantly, nor do I want it to be some hulking Big Deal or Moral Issue.  Yet, regardless, it&#…

Recipes for Writers: Versatile Fruit Tart

I've been thinking about this lately.  A lot of writers I know love to cook (or love good food, or both).  Yet talk about a difficult choice--bake a gorgeous chocolate cake or write?  Make a homemade, from scratch meal or write?  Kitchen or computer?

I thought about my favorite recipes.  They're versatile, they're easy, they don't take much time.  They get me back to my keyboard quickly.
Then I thought--why are they sitting in the box on my kitchen counter instead of getting shared?  Therefore, a new series: Recipes for Writers.  
Fruit Tart
The reason this recipe is so perfect for writers?  One, it's easy.  And it takes barely any hands-on time, so if you have, say, a weekend afternoon to write or an evening after work, you can easily take a fifteen minute break, whip this up, and get back to the words.  Two, it's versatile.  All the ingredients are either pantry staples or totally swappable depending on what you have on hand.  So--no wasting time you could be …

Agented: An Update and Announcement and Plea for your Patience

I've been worried about writing this post.

That seems kind of silly, actually, to be worried about sharing good news.  But there it is--worried that this somehow changes things or, worse, sounds awfully braggy.

The skinny: I signed with an agent and am now represented by Jessica Sinsheimer (who is awesome).

Whew, that wasn't so hard.

Needless to say, I am very excited to tackle the next step in my writing career, and very excited to be working with Jessica (did I mention that she is awesome?).

I know that this blog has a short history, but I've been plugging away at this whole writing thing for a while, and though I know there have been times I've been quiet about where I've been at, this was not my first visit to the querying rodeo.  Not by a long shot.  At some point I'll write a big, giant "the long road up until now" post to illustrate this point (including, for instance, that I completely thank the economy tanking and the small business I worked …

E-Readers: In Which I Am Addicted

A year and a half ago, my husband gave me a Nook for my birthday.  I've never been against the introduction of e-readers, though I probably wouldn't have been quite so early an adopter without his gift.

It's been my constant little companion ever since.

I still love hard-copy books, don't get me wrong.  I love paper and bindings and that inky smell.  I really love old books--I've always chosen to buy vintage or antique copies of classics because they look so darn gorgeous on a shelf.

Still, I really love having the Nook.  It comes on vacation with me and amuses me for days with hardly any luggage space taken up.  It can hold the three books I'm reading at once on my bedside table without falling over.  It's a giant help when I'm beta reading friends' projects because I can just pop a pdf on it and go anywhere.  And when I'm reading a Giant Tome my hands don't get tired or fall asleep from trying to hold five pounds of book.

Then it happene…

The Books We Went To

Last time I talked about unpacking boxes of childhood relic books and being somewhat struck that, if you based what I would be writing now off of what I read then, you'd be way off.  Then I started thinking about the books that really informed my writing style and how I feel about writing, if not necessarily the subject matter.  You know what?  Many of those books came from long ago in my reading past--many were high school finds--but they weren't in boxes.  Nope, they're on my shelf.

They were the books I was so thrilled to discover and read that I couldn't leave them behind through my moves, and they came with me.

A few of them:

All Quiet on the Western Front.  Even before Downton Abbey I had a soft spot for World War I, and perhaps some of it comes from this book.  Yes, it's a war book with a pretty specific theme and message, and a lot of the scenes are pretty graphic.  But here's the thing--it's also the book that taught me that any prose can also be po…

The Books We Came From

It's a time-honored maxim:  With moving into your first house comes moving crap out of your parents' basement.

For a few years my parents been kind enough to store a few things in their house as my husband and I bounced from apartment to Very Nifty 1835 Rental House to, finally, Rather Old 1874 House We Bought.  They're all mine now (yay?) including several boxes of books that had been packed up years ago.

Unpacking those boxes was kind of like a family reunion--I was excited to see some books I'd missed, surprised to find some that I'd forgotten I'd loved, and there were even some books that I'd forgotten completely and didn't recognize.

What was in the boxes?  Lots of historical fiction and quite a bit of fantasy, too.  The historical fiction didn't surprise me--I remembered reading it a lot as a kid, and since I loved history, it was always a "safe" choice.  There were the American Girl books (of course...didn't most of us read th…

Things Not to Name a Character

One of my favorite parts of developing a new story is naming the characters.  I have noticed, however, that there are a few "rules" of names to avoid that keep things from getting off-track.

1) Created names that are too evocative of real words.  Now, sometimes this can work--you want to hint at a trait or plot point through a name.  Think Greek myths--we know that the story of Arachne is going to relate to spiders because, well, her name basically means spider.  And the storyteller wants us to be aware of this, and it's not a bad thing that we "get it" right away. Often it's either too obvious or unintentional.  When it's too obvious, it can ruin a great plot twist--if, say, it's a giant twist that your character Atalante is actually a reincarnation of the Greek mythological character Atalanta...well, you kinda gave it away too soon.  (PS Wouldn't a contemporary YA based on that myth be kinda fun?  Maybe sparring cross-country runners end up ro…

How Naming Characters Is Not At All Like Naming A Baby

In case I haven't mentioned, I'm expecting.  This post makes a lot more sense with that info in hand.

To the point--naming babies is harder than naming characters.  I never considered I'd have such a tricky time pinpointing potential names for The Little Stranger, but here I am, a couple months out from zero hour, still dithering on the name front.  Completely unexpected--because character names are never an issue for me.

Our temporary placeholder name, to avoid calling the baby "It" or "The Uterine Parasite" (for some reason that bothered my husband), is "The Bean."  This was easy to come up with, probably because it's not permanent.  We aren't stuck with calling another human being "Bean" for the rest of our lives (nor is the Bean stuck with being The Bean).  Plus I had just looked at one of those food-chart-fetal-growth comparisons and the Bean was, at that point, the size of a bean and I joked about it until it stuck.  (C…

Claiming Time

We're all busy--with jobs, families, school, kids, volunteering, laundry...so how do you find time to write?

I say it's all about claiming time.

Obviously, there's the time you devote to writing--either hitting your goal word count or sitting butt-in-chair for a set time each day.  But that isn't what I'm talking about.  It's the other time--the time when you're doing other stuff--that I'm saying you can claim.

Wait a second, you say--I have to be at work from 9 to 5.  Or I'm home working my tail off chasing kids around.  Or even But this laundry HAS to get done.


Yeah, that laundry does need to get done.  Believe me, I hear you, and so does my overflowing hamper.  Here's the thing--you can still claim that time.

I've been painting a lot lately.  The 1870s house that is our new home is beautiful--and covered with kitschy wallpaper and questionable paint choices from the previous owners.  A lot of my time lately has been stripping wallpaper, …

Best-Laid Plans: Outlining

Every writer has answered the question at least once--panster or plotter?

I'm sure there is no right way--maybe there are more efficient ways, or ways that produce more creative twists, or, most likely, ways that are the most right for each individual.  In college I had a roommate who literally outlined every paper down to the paragraph.  Beautiful, typed, complete outlines, and they took forever to create--but the actual paper-writing part was shortened because she already knew what she was going to say.  Me?  I never outlined more than what was in my head already.  Even my thesis outline was pretty much section titles and quick notes.  (I think that drove my advisor batty.)

Still, a novel isn't a five-page essay, a twenty-page paper, or even a thesis.  Despite that, I pantsed at first.  It was what I knew, and what worked for me.  You know what?  It worked for writing novels, too.  Just not very well.

That is, I doubled back a lot.  I struggled to figure out what was missi…

Plot Crap

If you ever watch a movie with my husband and I, you're very likely, if it's not a great movie and sometimes even if it is, to hear me exclaim at some point, "OK, this is total plot crap, right?"

What do I mean by plot crap?  And does it apply to books?

Plot crap does not mean crappy plot.  In fact, it can often have nothing to do with how well a story is plotted.  A great example of plot crap is the movie Gladiator.  Now, I love this movie.  I love the story, the incredibly orchestrated battle scenes, even the soundtrack.  But the historical facts framing the film?  Total plot crap.  Sure, Marcus Aurelius and Commodus existed...but there are a lot of factual missteps.  There's no evidence that Marcus Aurelius ever wanted to restore the Republic, therefore the basis of the film's struggle is historical plot crap.  (Commodus also didn't die in the arena, but was strangled in his bath.  Sometimes truth really is more interesting than fiction.)

However, most…