Friday, November 28, 2014

Favorite Christmastime Books

I have my favorite fall books, for sure, but it's books for the holiday season that I really do come back to every year.  They're part of the tradition, like decorating the tree or making mincemeat (some of my traditions are a little weird).


A Christmas Carol In Prose.  Confession: I am not a Dickens fan.  I find it somewhat sloggy, and though I have good intentions of attempting a serialized read to mimic how Dickens meant his books to be read, I can't get up the enthusiasm when there are other things to read.  But my Dickens reticence does not extend to A Christmas Carol.  First, the length--it's technically a novella, and the pace is downright sprightly for Dickens.  Moreover, it has a bright wit that most film renditions don't quite capture what with the focus on the saccharine-sweet "God Bless Us Every One" moments.  There are complex family dynamics and a far clearer understanding of a broken man, Ebenezer himself.  Well worth the read.


Nutcracker by E.T.A Hoffmann. Forget the ballet for a moment.  The book is weird, beautiful, and winsome.  The ballet takes some sharp turns from the "kernel of a hard nut" found at the heart of the original book, and though the ballet is lovely, reading the book deepened my appreciation for the story.  It's a love story, a story about growing up, and everything is possible--including a Land of Sweets that (spoiler) *isn't* merely a dream. Do yourself a favor and get the version illustrated by Maurice Sendak--yes, that Maurice Sendak--which captures exquisitely the fabulous, somewhat dangerous, fantasy that is Nutcracker.  (The staging of the ballet that Sendak designed sets and costumes for is on Netflix--it follows the original story more closely than most and is a delight to watch after reading the book.)


The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  Not technically a Christmas story, but remember--the enchanted Narnia is always winter and never Christmas, and Father Christmas does make a brief cameo in the story.  It's an old favorite that I love re-reading in the holiday burst of childhood nostalgia.

A Christmas Treasury of Yuletide Stories and Poems.  This anthology is one of many out there, and though many of the works found in it are certainly found elsewhere, it's the one I happen to have.  So I'm listing it.  Ha.  There are lesser-known gems in here--"The Water Bus" by Agatha Christie, "A Kidnapped Santa Claus" by L. Frank Baum (of Wizard of Oz fame--and yes, this is weird and fun, too), "The Sheep-Herd" by Sister Mariella (I cry every time), and "Christmas at Sea" by Robert Louis Stevenson (see previous).  Take the discovery challenge and read something you've never stumbled across before--like unwrapping a gift.


Do you have any holiday stories or books that you come back to every year?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Favorite Fall Books

I associate books with seasons, especially favorite books that I want to read over and over.  They become tied to times of the year, with some evoking lazing on a porch swing in deep, humid summer and others bundling up with a cup of tea while winter blusters against rattling windows.

A few of my favorite fall books:

Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky

It's no secret to anyone who's known me a while that I love Irene Nemirovsky, and this is one of my favorites.  The ultimate unreliable narrator delves into his memories and proves--he doesn't know himself as well as he thinks he does.  Cold and gorgeous and fading.  (For what it's worth, I'm already cranky about the movie adaptation of Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise, so don't even ask.)



Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Something about a going to school story appeals to me in fall.  Descriptions of old-fashioned trains, classes we'd all love to take, and a fascinating school?  Beats even back to school shopping.



Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

Rilla is my favorite of the Anne books, I think because it takes a more solemn turn than any of the others.  There's a sweet wistfulness hidden in its pages, Anne bidding farewell to her children's childhood and her own all over again, in a way, kind of like the last turning of fall leaves.  Also, Veteran's Day (November 11) will always be a little bit Armistice Day for me, so a World War I story fits fall very well.



I love this new cover, for what it's worth--I may have to treat myself to a duplicate book, because I always hated the cover of my copy. Rilla looks like she's wearing a crappy 1980s nightgown.  



Pretty Much Any History Book

Again, it's that back to school feeling.  My list keeps growing, but a short sampling of what I might pick up and LEARN ALL THE THINGS:






...But I definitely won't have time for all of them before it's time to break out my favorite Christmas season books.  Which I'll share in due time!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Importance of Writing Something New

There's one question that led to me signing with my agent.  I didn't ask it--she did.

"Are you writing anything new?"

I had queried with a project I was really excited about, and was checking in on a full request.  My now-agent Jessica responded promptly and kindly (as is her wont) that she hadn't forgotten about it, and, by the way, was I writing anything new?

Fortunately, I was.  I had two projects going that I was excited about--both departures for me in terms of sub-genre within young adult, but both really fun writes that I was enjoying.  I told her about both, quick pitches that summed up the basics of the plot and what made the stories unique.  (Side lesson--be able to sum up your project effectively at any stage in the writing game.)

"I'm so glad I asked!" she replied.

No, I'm so glad I was writing something new!

This led to a request for material, and then The Call, the paperwork, and the All That Jazz, in an admittedly pretty unorthodox situation (yes, I signed with only about a quarter of the manuscript in anything close to polished completion).  Unusual?  Yes.  But here's the thing--many opportunities are unusual.

Which is why it kills me when I see writers putting all their publication eggs in the same manuscript basket.  Now, I don't knock taking the time you need to create the best book possible.  I don't knock sticking by your project until all avenues have been explored.  That's what determination and perseverance are made of.  However, when you focus on The One project to the exclusion of others, you might be shooting yourself in the foot and crippling your chances in a competitive market.

You come to a place where you have to decide--start writing something new or revise the old project again?  Start writing something new or write a sequel to a book I have yet to place?  Start writing something new or spend my time query-query-querying?  Sometimes it's not an "or" question, but an "and."  (I'm a huge advocate of starting to write something new when you start querying.  Keeps your writing mind in a good place.)

In my case--the project I had queried with was a dystopian.  I started writing it before Hunger Games came out, believe it or not, but by the time it was finished and polished and entered the query derby, the market was gummy with dystopian and post-apocalyptic.  (Cue "Just my luck.")  Agents were wary to take them on, because selling was an uphill battle, if the numerous "I really enjoyed this but I don' think I can sell it" rejections were any indication.  Yes, I could have trained my focus solely on getting the book out there--querying to fatigue, entering contests, pursuing self-publishing.  Nothing wrong with any of these (I admire indie writers incredibly)--but realistically, my goal was and is traditional publication and while bludgeoning my options would serve that One Book, it would not serve my goal. Instead, I started writing something new while maintaining a slow-but-steady query process.

It doesn't really matter why that first book doesn't get picked up--it might be market, it might be timing, it might be that it's (brace yourself) just not as good as your NEXT book will be.  Before deciding to pour heart and soul into that One Book, consider writing Something New.  This doesn't mean giving up on the One Book--but after all, as a published writer, either traditionally or self-published, you don't get to make a career of one book.  Plus there's that whole thing about baskets and eggs.