Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Holidays!!!


I hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday season, and wishing you all a very happy new year!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman


Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

When I first read the summary for this book, my palms began to itch uncontrollably. I could not wait to get my hands on it! When I finally got it, I dropped everything and sat down to read. It took a while to get into it, but once I did I could not put it down.

The world building is so rich and vivid, the supporting characters are real and hilarious, and the plot has layers within layers. And dragons can shape-shift into human form. Bonus!!

As the story unfolds, the plot gets even more complex—deliciously so. The pacing could have gone faster (hence it took me a while to get into it…a long while, like 150 pages), but that doesn’t bother me as much as it might others. If I like a character, then I will follow him/her through the story no matter how long it takes. And I loved Seraphina. She is so realistically caught between her two worlds, and the writing reflects it perfectly. I identified with her in a big way.

Believing she is the only one of her kind (and knowing the extreme consequences if she’s discovered), she lives her life in neither dragon nor human world. She’s in the human world on the surface, and it’s too dangerous for her to go to the dragon world because she'll be discovered. She can’t identify with either world because no one can understand her situation, and she can’t risk trusting anyone with her secret. Then, we learn more about her garden of grotesques…I am completely hooked on the possibilities that can come from this.

The romance was interesting, but certainly not the most compelling part of the story. I’m wondering how it will be explored in future books, though. I’m very glad it didn’t turn into a wretched love triangle, and I liked how Seraphina came to terms with her feelings. Actually, the best part of the whole story is the complexity of the relationships. Seraphina’s relationship with her uncle and her father, the grotesques in her ‘garden,’ and Princess Glisselda are deep and intricate. Which goes against how Seraphina tries to keep herself away from anything that goes beyond the surface. The contrast is compelling.

If pacing isn’t the most important part of a story to you, then you will probably enjoy the rich and fulfilling plot. And the last ten to fifteen chapters will leave you on the edge of your seat. 

Monday, December 03, 2012

Inspirational Quotes

I've got another batch of great quotes for you all. Enjoy!

Only a mediocre writer is always at his best.
- William Somerset Maugham

I have rewritten- often several times- every word I have ever written. My pencils outlast their erasures.
- Vladimir Nabokov

Writing is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent elimination.
- Louise Brooks

When you sell a man a book, you don't sell him 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue - you sell him a whole new life.
- Christopher Morley

A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor.
- Ring Lardner

Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.
- Don Marquis

If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad.
- Lord Byron

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.
- Samuel Johnson

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
- Mark Twain

The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
- Mary Heaton Vorse

We don't write what we know. We write what we wonder about.
- Richard Peck

Good things, when short, are twice as good.
- Baltasar Gracian

Monday, November 26, 2012

What’s In A Name?


When your parents gave you your name, they probably didn’t open a baby book, close their eyes and point, and pick the name their fingers landed on. In fact, it’s likely that there’s a reason behind the name you were given. I.E., they liked it the way it sounded, they liked what it means, another member of the family had it, etc.

The same holds true for naming our characters. More so, actually, because we authors have more insight into what kind of people our characters are. Our parents didn’t know who we were going to be when they named us because we were still babies. But authors get to look at the character as a whole person, and we have the opportunity to make the name match the personality.

I’ve seen writers do the random baby book thing, and, to me, that makes it seems like they don’t care enough about this character to put any thought into choosing a name. If they don’t care, then why should I care? However, if they take the time to figure out who this person really is and then choose a name that reflects that personality, it shows. I can’t write a single word of my story until I know my main character well enough to name him/her. Once I have that, then his/her personality has an easier time shining through.

I probably spend an inordinate amount of time choosing character names, but, to me, it’s worth it. It’s part of my world-building and structuring of the story.

Baby name books are too tedious for me to use, but I’ve found a few websites that are very useful. My favorite is Behind The Name. The database of names on this site is enormous, and it’s searchable. You can search by name or you can search by the meaning of the name. The meanings often include a history of the name and people who’ve carried it. They also have a site for surnames.

After I have narrowed the name choices down to a handful, I double check the meanings on these sites.

Sometimes sites will have different meanings for the same name, and I like to make sure I’m taking all of that into account. So, this is why I cross-check everything. Once I’m done, I’m 110% sure I’ve chosen the best possible name for my characters.

How do you choose your characters’ names? Do you have a favorite site or book for researching names?

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Opening Hook, Part 2


Last week, I talked about how to utilize your first sentence with respect to where you begin your story. Today, I want to expand that into the first paragraph and the first page.

Once you’ve written the best first sentence you possibly can for your story, your work isn’t done. Not by a long shot. I can’t count how many stories I’ve read that have had amazing zingers of a first line, and then fizzle a few paragraphs later. That could happen if the story didn’t start in the right place, but it also could happen because the author didn’t build upon that great opening.

The opening to a story is like leading your reader up a staircase. Each step is built upon the last, and each step gives the reader some kind of reward or motivation to keep climbing. If your opening levels out at all, say, with a bunch of backstory, then the reader is given the chance to look around and wonder why he’s climbing all these stairs. If there’s no payoff, he’s going to turn around and go back where he came from (i.e., put your book down). Each sentence is built upon the previous, ensnaring your reader and gluing him to your pages.

I found a couple examples of first paragraphs that I found very effective.
“Bronwyn Alessia St. Vincent Clare!”
Four names, five words, one pissed off werewolf. The math in this particular equation never came out in my favor.
--Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
This is so simple, and yet it hooked me right away because of the sheer amount of information it conveys, but it also leaves out key pieces. So I wanted to keep reading to find out more.
Prayer candles flicker in my bedroom. The Scriptura Sancta lies discarded, pages crumpled, on my bed. Bruises mark my knees from kneeling on the tiles, and the Godstone in my navel throbs. I have been praying—no, begging—that King Alejandro de Vega, my future husband, will be ugly and old and fat.
--The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
The first three sentences didn’t really do much for me here. Pretty basic, interesting but not especially gripping. But that fourth sentence? Zing! Why on earth would someone want her future husband to be ugly, old, and fat? I had to keep reading to find out.

Here’s an example of a first page that I found highly effective. Though, I do have to admit I was hooked from the first sentence. :) But I think this is a perfect example of how each sentence is built upon the previous. Whenever I can't figure out how to write the beginning to my story, I examine this first page. It always helps.
It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shear’s house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog. The points of the fork must have gone all the way through the dog and into the ground because the fork had not fallen over. I decided that the dog was probably killed with the fork because I could not see any other wounds in the dog and I do not think you would stick a garden fork into a dog after it had died for some other reason, like cancer, for example, or a road accident. But I could not be certain about this.
 I went through Mrs. Shear’s gate, closing it behind me. I walked onto her lawn and knelt beside the dog. I put my hand on the muzzle of the dog. It was still warm.
--The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
This concept of sentences building upon each other doesn’t apply just to the beginning. It applies to the entire book. Everything needs to be there for a reason, and that reason needs to be clear. It’s just the most crucial in the beginning because that’s when it’s easiest for a reader to set the book down.

Do you have any favorite beginnings to share? 

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Opening Hook


Four years ago, I wrote a post on the opening hook in a story. As it happens, it’s the only post I’ve *ever* written on the subject, which kind of surprises me given how important it is. If you can’t grab your reader right off, then many people aren’t going to read your story.

Anyway, many people say that the best way to hook your reader is with action. And I say…not really.  The best way to hook your reader is to make him want to read more. It could be done with action, yes, but it could just as easily be done by giving the reader some information that makes him wonder. I.E. what happened? How did the character end up here? Why does he/she want this? If the wonder is strong enough, then the reader will keep reading.

So, let’s look at how to build such a hook. I break the hook down into four parts:
  • Where the story begins.
  • The first sentence.
  • The first paragraph.
  • The first page.

 I’ll talk about the first two points today, then get to the other next week.

Where the story begins.
This means pretty much what it sounds like: start your story in the correct place. This means you start your story the moment Change enters the character’s life. What happens that sets him/her on the path to obtain what he/she wants? (You do know that a character must *always* want something, right? Good. Just checking) If you start the story too early, as in before the moment Change happens, then the reader will be wondering why he needs to be privy to everything that’s going on. If you start it too late, he will be confused and have a hard time figuring things out. So, first and foremost, you need to figure out the exact moment that Change enters your character’s life, and that’s where you begin your story. This piece is the basis on which your hook is built.

The first sentence.
This is where you get to play around with your words to dig your hooks into the reader as deeply as you can. What is unique about your character? His/her situation? Sometimes, you can boil the event of Change down to just once sentence, and this is where it will end up. If you can’t get it into one sentence, that’s fine. Just pick the most interesting part to begin with so you can draw your reader into the next sentence, and then the next, and the next, etc.

I went through a few books and found some of my favorite first lines. Each and every one of these sucked me in completely, and I just had to keep reading.
“It used to be a house.”  --A Room On Lorelei Street by Mary Pearson
It *used* to be a house? Why isn’t it a house anymore? And what does that mean for the character?
“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”  --Feed by M.T. Anderson
This made me laugh out loud, and then I had to keep reading to find out why the moon sucks.
“I was seven the first time I was sent away.”  --The Miles Between by Mary Pearson
The *first time* she was sent away, meaning she’s been sent away more than once. Why? How many times?
“My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”  --Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
This is one of the best examples of first lines *ever*. It has Voice, supporting characters, and the entire premise of the story. I simply had to know how she ended up with a dog instead of groceries, and how her father, the preacher, was going to react to this.

What are some of your favorite first lines? Feel free to share. Or, feel free to share the first lines from your own work! We’d love to hear them. Tell ya what, I’ll go first. Here’s the first line from my YA contemporary titled FLAWLESS.
“I spent most of the summer wondering if I was adopted.”
Your turn. :)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Darkness Falls by Cate Tiernan


Nastasya has lived for hundreds of years, but for some reason it never seems to get any easier. She's left behind her days of debauchery to find peace and forgiveness at River's Edge, a safe haven for wayward immortals. There she's uncovered her family's epic history, reclaimed her magickal powers, and met Reyn, whom she dubs "the Viking god." Just as she settles into her new life, Nastasya learns that her old friends might be in town....
Reuniting with her gorgeous and dangerous ex-best-friend, Innocencio, Nas wonders if she'll ever be truly free of her dark legacy. Is Incy dangerous, power-hungry, and wicked? Or is he the only one who truly understands Nas's darkness? Either way, Nas is desperate to find out who she really is-even if the answer kills her.

I read the first book, Immortal Beloved, last year and was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved it. I’ve been looking forward to reading this book, but it’s been a busy year and it took me this long to find the time to read. But it was SO worth the wait. Plus, the next book comes out in only a few weeks, so I don’t have to agonize for a year. Bonus!

Nastasya is such a frustrating character. She’s selfish, prickly, self-absorbed, and cowardly. But, dang it, she’s funny. Her scathing sarcasm had me laughing out loud more times than I can count. I’m pretty sure I’d hate her if I ever met her in person, but I love following her through all her ordeals, stupid decisions and all. She is so flawed that she feels completely real, but not in a tragic hand-upon-brow-woe-is-me way. She knows she’s a screw-up and she’s trying to do better. She just sucks at it. It makes for a very compelling read.

This story reminded me so much of how addicts or abuse victims can slide right back into their old lives, even though it’s the worst thing for them. It’s often easier because it’s what they know, and they don’t have to face anything difficult about themselves in the process. There are lots of addiction themes running under the surface here, which I think will really resonate with some readers.

The romance is a perfect balance of frustration and the promise of more. I knew how the two would end up, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching them get there. They are a good match, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out in the next book. The end is quite satisfying, almost feeling like an end to the whole story. But there were a few clues planted here and there, hinting at the danger and drama to come. I cannot wait to read more.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Surprise Vacation!

My birthday is this week, and my husband gave me my present a little early... It's a surprise trip to NYC!! So, that's where I am right now, and that's why I'm not at home writing a post for today. But I'll be back tomorrow, so the blog will be back to its regular schedule.

In the mean time, hope everyone had a great weekend!!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood


Rosemary Bliss’s family has a secret. It’s the Bliss Cookery Booke—an ancient, leather-bound volume of enchanted recipes like Stone Sleep Snickerdoodles and Singing Gingersnaps. Rose and her siblings are supposed to keep the Cookery Booke under lock and whisk-shaped key while their parents are out of town, but then a mysterious stranger shows up. “Aunt” Lily rides a motorcycle, wears purple sequins, and whips up exotic (but delicious) dishes for dinner. Soon boring, nonmagical recipes feel like life before Aunt Lily—a lot less fun.
So Rose and her siblings experi-ment with just a couple of recipes from the forbidden Cookery Booke.
A few Love Muffins and a few dozen Cookies of Truth couldn’t cause too much trouble . . . could they?


I love baking, so I was really looking forward to this story. It was cute enough, I suppose. Rosemary's insecurities definitely felt real and believable, and they explained her naiveté and poor choices. Though some of the issues she overlooked felt contrived (like the tart and the key at the end), so that was disappointing.

I also could not get over some of the plot points of the story—it takes much more than an hour or so to prep a bakery for the day, and bakeries open *much* earlier than 8:30am (because everyone is at work by then). So those running a bakery often have to start preparing well before the sun comes up. I also did not buy it that Rose wouldn’t have a way of getting in touch with her parents immediately (they were in another town baking, where there’s plenty of phones and cell coverage). The logical part of my brain kept kicking in and pointing out these inconsistencies, keeping me from enjoying the story.

My eight year old son read this book and said that it doesn’t really ‘get good’ until the halfway mark. I have to agree. Not much happens in the first half, but once Rose and her brothers break out the cookery booke it gets more interesting. My son found it funnier than I did because the humor is definitely geared toward a younger audience.

In the end, though, neither my son nor I were interested enough to seek out the next book once it comes out.

Age appropriateness: there are no incredibly tense moments, so I think this book would appeal to grade-schoolers who have advanced reading skills. 

Monday, October 08, 2012

Quotes from Writers

Here's some more great quotes for you all. Enjoy!


If you wish to be a writer, write.
- Epictetus

Don’t expect the puppets of your mind to become the people of your story. If they are not realities in your own mind, there is no mysterious alchemy in ink and paper that will turn wooden figures into flesh and blood.
- Leslie Gordon Barnard

A good title should be like a good metaphor.  It should intrigue without being too baffling or too obvious.
- Walker Percy

One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.
- Lawrence Block

Loving your subject, you will write about it with the spontaneity and enthusiasm that will transmit itself to your reader. Loving your reader, you will respect him and want to please him. You will not write down to him. You will take infinite pains with your work. You will write well. And if you write well, you will get published.
- Lee Wyndham

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.
- Robert Heinlein

Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Review. Reread. Rewrite.
- George Mair

A writer's voice is not character alone, it is not style alone; it is far more.  A writer's voice line the stroke of an artist's brush- is the thumbprint of her whole person- her idea, wit, humor, passions, rhythms. 
- Patricia Lee Gauch

My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) Everybody drinks water.
- Mark Twain

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Unleashed by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguié


Katelyn McBride’s life changed in an instant when her mother died. Uprooted from her California home, Katelyn was shipped to the middle of nowhere, Arkansas, to her only living relative, her grandfather. And now she has to start over in Wolf Springs, a tiny village in the Ozark Mountains. Like any small town, Wolf Springs has secrets. But the secrets hidden here are more sinister than Katelyn could ever imagine. It’s a town with a history that reaches back centuries, spans continents, and conceals terrifying truths. And Katelyn McBride is about to change everything.
Broken families, ageless grudges, forced alliances, and love that blooms in the darkest night—welcome to Wolf Springs.



There are a lot of werewolf books out there (I'm not spoiling anything by saying this--the cover is a dead giveaway), so when I pick up another, I've got pretty high expectations. Unfortunately, this book didn't meet them.

Katelyn is okay as a character, I guess, but I didn't connect with her. Mostly because it was obvious from the start that there are werewolves in the story, but it takes her two thirds of the book to figure it out. I spent that time wishing she would hurry up and figure it out, which took away most of the reading enjoyment. I don't like figuring things out so far ahead of the characters.

I wasn't fond of the love triangle, either. Justin is a creep and Katelyn has no reason to trust him. And the mystery behind Trick felt purposely withheld, also making it feel contrived. There was no chemistry between Katelyn and either boy, so I wasn't invested in either.

Lastly, I had a major issue with how she ended up with her grandfather. He insists she come and live with him, even though her best friend's family has offered to let her stay with them so she can finish senior year. Instead, he brings her to his house, which is in the middle of nowhere, and is incidentally unsafe to be outside after dark. Why would he bring her there under these circumstances? It doesn't make sense, especially considering how the story unfolds with her and the werewolves. I couldn't get over that.

Overall, this wasn't unique or compelling enough for me, especially when there are better werewolf books out there.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Book Bloggers Harming Literature?

Last week, Peter Stothard--chair of this year's Man Booker prize judges--wrote an article in The Guardian on how he thinks book bloggers are harming literature. He says more on this in an interview with The Independent.

Basically, he's concerned that literature will be swallowed up by mainstream fiction, because that's what most bloggers talk about.
"If we make the main criteria good page-turning stories – if we prioritise unargued opinion over criticism – then I think literature will be harmed."
The problem is that literature isn't so easy to define. For example, Shakespeare is considered literature today, but when these plays were new they were written for the masses. I.E., mainstream. So who is to say that some mainstream fiction of today won't be considered the literature of the future? There are plenty of books out there that are good, page-turning stories that also have deep and important themes running through them.

He also said some pretty, erm, inflammatory things:

"It is wonderful that there are so many blogs and websites devoted to books, but  to be a critic is to be importantly different than those sharing their own taste… Not everyone's opinion is worth the same."
"...as much as one would like to think that many bloggers' opinions are as good as others. It just ain't so. People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good."

I'm not going to touch the 'not everyone's opinion is worth the same' because that's so obviously narrow-minded that nothing more needs to be said. That also comes through with the comment about books that are no good--this is another opinion, and people should be able to read whatever books they want to read. Not what critics dictate that they should read.

But this is what really puzzles me. He's saying here that the role of a critic and the role of a blogger are one and the same. I don't agree. Sure, some book bloggers might be trying to take on the role of critic, but that doesn't mean everyone is. I mean, I write book reviews and I try to critique the work in a diplomatic and professional manner, but that doesn't make me a critic. He says "literary criticism is...work, a technique, a skill." EXACTLY. I have not been trained to be a critic, and don't consider myself to be. I think most bloggers probably share this opinion.

Mostly, I think we set out to just talk about the books we've read. It's the same as having a conversation with a friend about books we've loved or hated--it just so happens that the 'friend' is everyone in the blogosphere. :) Since when is a conversation about books a bad thing? 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Crown of Embers by Rae Carson


Elisa is the hero of her country. She led her people to victory against a terrifying enemy, and now she is their queen. But she is only seventeen years old. Her rivals may have simply retreated, choosing stealth over battle. And no one within her court trusts her-except Hector, the commander of the royal guard, and her companions. As the country begins to crumble beneath her and her enemies emerge from the shadows, Elisa will take another journey. With a one-eyed warrior, a loyal friend, an enemy defector, and the man she is falling in love with, Elisa crosses the ocean in search of the perilous, uncharted, and mythical source of the Godstone's power. That is not all she finds.

I’ve been looking forward to this book since the first one, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, released last year. And I wasn’t disappointed, at all. I love these books.

In the first book, Elisa shows an incredible amount of growth, going from a clueless, sheltered girl to a leader of a rebellion. But she takes another step in Crown of Embers as she slides into the role of queen. There is so much she needs to learn, and she makes a mess of things in the beginning. But, eventually, she begins to figure things out and grow into herself as a person—which is starkly illustrated in the last few pages. It was beautiful to watch.

The romance was pretty easy to see coming, especially given their interaction in the previous book. But I loved the way it was done. There was a clear definition of what a wholesome and healthy relationship is, as well as how certain relationships can degrade and devolve a person into becoming less than what they are. I felt for their struggle, cheered for them, and was heartbroken at the harsh realities of their world.

The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger, though it also feels satisfying at the same time: the conflict of this book is resolved well, and then we get a teaser of the conflict to come in the next book. And I *cannot* wait for it! Definitely recommended.

Monday, September 24, 2012

"I Hate This Book So Much"

I came across this article last week and found it amusing.
I Hate This Book So Much

I think every single writer out there has had this reaction to a book at some point. I know I have.

What do you do when you come across a book you hate? Do you put it down? Do you keep reading, hoping for redemption in the end? Do you shred it when you're done? Do you politely set it down and swear off the author's future books? Do tell!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Green Belt Test

I didn't get a chance to write a post today, or even find a gem to share with you. I'm testing for my green belt in karate on wednesday, and I've been working on my essay and making sure I know all my material. So, I'm taking the week off from my computer--both to prepare for the test, and to recover from it. It's three hours long!

So, hope you all have a great week, and I'll be back next monday. Wish me luck!

Monday, September 10, 2012

500 Word Critique: MG Fantasy

I have another request for a critique, and this is a revision from a previous piece, too! To the author: you are a brave and wondrous soul. :)

I do hope those of you reading will offer your thoughts on this story. If you like, you can read the original by clicking on the link above. The new version is below:

***

~Prologue~
                Come at eleven, he had whispered. No earlier, no later.
                Sifting and searching through the chest at the end of her bed, Annie’s fingers finally found the dark red cloak she had been looking for. Hastily throwing it on, she grabbed the basket of food off her bed and set out into the hallway, headed for the front doors of the academy.
                Finally reaching the ground level of the school, Annie flung the heavy oak door open and set out into the freezing night. It was quarter to eleven, which meant she had to hurry to make it to her destination in time.  She almost made it to the bottom of the concrete steps when she saw something in her peripheral vision. Her curiosity getting the best of her, she sat down the basket of food and bent down towards a bush. Illuminated by a street light, a piece of sparkling purple fabric was hanging off of a branch.
                Just a piece of fabric, she thought, and glanced at her watch. Now I’ve got to leave.
                And she almost did.
                She picked up her food and finished descending the stairs. But then she heard something that forced her to stop. The voice of a scared, nervous child came from the bushes. It was barely a whisper, but it was loud enough for Annie to hear. She knew she needed to hurry to make it to her plans, to Anthony, in time, but she couldn’t leave. The child sounded so scared.
                “Emmy? Emmy,  where are we?”
                Annie jogged back up the stairs and walked into the landscaping. Peering around the same bush from before, she looked for the source of the voices.
                “Hello?” She called quietly. “Who’s there?”
                The sound of rustling bushes came from behind her.  When she spun around, she came face to face with four little girls, no older than four or five years old. They looked scared and exhausted, and their clothes were clearly old and stained. Dark rims were definite and sharp underneath their eyes. They made Annie’s heart break instantly.
                They’re homeless, was Annie’s first thought. What I am supposed to do? Annie bent down to their height to talk to them.
                “My name is Annie,” She said, “What are you doing out here in the cold? Who are you?”
                The little girl with short, brown hair cut off at her chin stepped forward. “My name is Emmy. I’m fow-a.” She spoke with a small lisp. “I do not know why we are here. Please help us.”
                Annie could not believe her eyes or ears. This kind of stuff just doesn’t happen. She looked at her watch and saw that it was only three minutes until eleven. She couldn’t leave the children now; she had to know why they were there. She would just have to explain to Anthony another time.
                “Here,” she said, holding out a hand. “Come inside the doors with me, and we’ll figure this out.”
                She stood up and motioned them forward. On the way inside, Annie picked up the basket of food up and hurried the girls along.  Just as the last girl was entering the building, a small piece of paper fell out of a hole in her pocket. Staring at it for a fraction of a second, Annie scooped it up and closed her fingers around it.  Printed in large, loopy handwriting was one important, crucial word:
Instructions

            Sneaking one last look behind her, Annie walked into the school, latched and locked the door behind her, and turned to face the mysterious strangers.
~ ~ ~   
The Note that Annie Read

***

My Comments:
~Prologue~
                Come at eleven, he had whispered. No earlier, no later. (Interesting request. Sounds kind of ominous. Is that the intent?)
                Sifting and searching through the chest at the end of her bed, Annie’s fingers finally found the dark red cloak she had been looking for. Hastily throwing it on, she grabbed the basket of food off her bed and set out into the hallway, headed for the front doors of the academy. (So, she's off to a clandestine meeting? :) I'm hoping this will play a big part later on.)
                Finally reaching the ground level of the school (might be a good opportunity to tell us the name of the school, plus Annie's role here--student, teacher, assistant, etc. It sounds like she's a student, but it would be nice to know for sure.), Annie flung the heavy oak door open and set out into the freezing night. It was quarter to eleven, which meant she had to hurry to make it to her destination in time.  She almost made it to the bottom of the concrete steps when she saw something in her peripheral vision. Her curiosity getting the best of her, she sat (set) down the basket of food and bent down towards a bush. Illuminated by a street light (Hmm, I'm intrigued. Annie has a cloak which implies a time long ago, but street lights imply modern. Are they gas street lamps? I love that you add this detail, and I think a little more will paint a clearer picture), a piece of sparkling purple fabric was hanging off of a branch.
                Just a piece of fabric, she thought, and glanced at her watch. Now I’ve got to leave.
                And she almost did.
                She picked up her food and finished descending the stairs. But then she heard something that forced her to stop. The voice of a scared, nervous child came from the bushes. It was barely a whisper, but it was loud enough for Annie to hear. She knew she needed to hurry to make it to her plans, to Anthony, in time, but she couldn’t leave. The child sounded so scared.
                “Emmy? Emmy,  where are we?”
                Annie jogged back up the stairs and walked into the landscaping. Peering around the same bush from before, she looked for the source of the voices.
                “Hello?” She called quietly. “Who’s there?”
                The sound of rustling bushes came from behind her.  When she spun around, she came face to face with four little girls, no older than four or five years old. They looked scared and exhausted, and their clothes were clearly old and stained. Dark rims were definite and sharp underneath their eyes. They made Annie’s heart break instantly.
                They’re homeless, was Annie’s first thought. What I am supposed to do? Annie bent down to their height to talk to them.
                “My name is Annie,” She said, “What are you doing out here in the cold? Who are you?”
                The little girl with short, brown hair cut off at her chin stepped forward. “My name is Emmy. I’m fow-a.” She spoke with a small lisp. “I do not know why we are here. Please help us.”
                Annie could not believe her eyes or ears. This kind of stuff just doesn’t happen. She looked at her watch and saw that it was only three minutes until eleven. She couldn’t leave the children now; she had to know why they were there. She would just have to explain to Anthony another time. (I'd love to know the nature of her meeting with Anthony. The 'no earlier, no later' request sounds a little business-like, but the basket of food sounds personal. I'd like to know exactly what she's giving up in order to help these girls. And to risk getting into trouble with the school for being outside at night when she found them. Knowing this info will help me know Annie better, which will help me connect with her.)
                “Here,” she said, holding out a hand. “Come inside the doors with me, and we’ll figure this out.”
                She stood up and motioned them forward. On the way inside, Annie picked up the basket of food up and hurried the girls along (Are the girls hungry? Does she offer them the food inside the basket?).  Just as the last girl was entering the building, a small piece of paper fell out of a hole in her pocket. Staring at it for a fraction of a second, Annie scooped it up and closed her fingers around it.  Printed in large, loopy handwriting was one important, crucial word:
Instructions (Great hook!)

            Sneaking one last look behind her, Annie walked into the school, latched and locked the door behind her, and turned to face the mysterious strangers.
~ ~ ~   
The Note that Annie Read

This appears to be the title of the first chapter, yes? I am quite interested enough to keep reading so I can find out what was inside that note. Also, I think this opening is more effective than the first one you sent in. With a little more clarification on Annie's midnight picnic, you'll have one heck of a hook here.


What do the rest of you think? Leave your feedback in the comments, and please be honest AND constructive.  


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Publishing Is Broken...

I finished my revision! Finished!!! Woohoo!!! But I still didn't have the chance to write a post for this week, but I have this interesting article to share.

Publishing is Broken:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2012/08/15/publishing-is-broken-were-drowning-in-indie-books-and-thats-a-good-thing/

Enjoy!

I'm going to go collapse in a chair and stare at the walls for a while...
:)

Saturday, September 01, 2012

September Book Giveaway

I've got two ARCs to give away this month.

ARC of Every Day by David Levithan
Every morning, A wakes in a different person’s body, a different person’s life. There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.
It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

ARC of Outpost by Ann Aguirre
Deuce’s whole world has changed. Down below, she was considered an adult. Now, topside in a town called Salvation, she’s a brat in need of training in the eyes of the townsfolk. She doesn’t fit in with the other girls: Deuce only knows how to fight.
To make matters worse, her Hunter partner, Fade, keeps Deuce at a distance. Her feelings for Fade haven’t changed, but he seems not to want her around anymore. Confused and lonely, she starts looking for a way out.
Deuce signs up to serve in the summer patrols—those who make sure the planters can work the fields without danger. It should be routine, but things have been changing on the surface, just as they did below ground. The Freaks have grown smarter. They’re watching. Waiting. Planning. The monsters don’t intend to let Salvation survive, and it may take a girl like Deuce to turn back the tide.

To enter, fill out the form below, then come back on Saturday, September 29 to see if you've won. Good luck!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Winner of the August Book Giveaway!

*facepalm*
I thought the last Saturday in August was next weekend, not last weekend! Sorry about that...and thanks much to those of you who reminded me of the actual date. :)

Sooo, here's the winner of this awesome trilogy:



Jerry!!

Congratulations! I'll get your books out to you asap. As for everyone else, stop by this Saturday to see what I'm giving away next month.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Clues To A Great Story

I'm still revising. Still. Revising. *deep breath in...slow breath out* But I can see the finish line. Thank God.

I have no post for you today, but I do have this Ted Talks gem. It's chock full of great stuff about story telling. Fair warning: there is kind of an inappropriate joke in the beginning, but after that it's all great stuff. If you don't want to hear the joke, you can read the transcript and skip it. The rest is totally worth it.

Andrew Stanton: The Clues To A Great Story

Enjoy!

Monday, August 20, 2012

500 Word Critique: Adventure Story


It’s been a while since someone took me up on my offer to critique 500 words, and recently a lovely fourteen year old stepped up to the plate. So, here’s the snippet, followed by my critique. Please give your own feedback if you can (and keep it constructive!).

***
Raven gritted her teeth in frustration, her knuckles turning white against the ship's helm as she clutched it to bring the ship to a heave to, ready to meet the storm. Hazel eyes ringed with dark green blazed in anger and defiance, her jet-black hair plastered onto her forehead. 

"Cap'n, they've spo'ed us! She's headed our way! They be comin' from larboard!"

Damn it! she thought. Rain beat down in a relentless torrent upon the world, the waves roaring as loud and wild as a captured beast finally set free. Again and again, the vessel was jostled to and fro at the ocean's whim. It wasn't that Raven disliked the rain––she loved the feel of the drops cascading down her face and relished the wet that it brought with it––but she disliked the problems that it brought for her ship and her crew. Shutting her eyes, she tried her best to calm herself down and calm the ocean down, but to no avail. The sea had a will of its own. 

"All hands on deck!" she hollered in a loud, carrying voice that contrasted with her small build. She whirled to the man standing beside her, her first mate. Wide, light blue eyes studied her with an unnerving calm, as if the two of them were taking a stroll in the park and not riding the storm of their lives, and his auburn hair clung to his head.

"Jory, make sure tha' the loot is safe. Don't let anythin' happen to it, understand?" she commanded. 

"Aye aye, captain," he replied, and dashed down toward the bay, his tall, lithe figure lumbering farther away from her.

"Rags! Scrat!" she shouted at two men that were standing port, near the bridge. "Man the tiller!" The two nodded as they understood the command. "Kar!" she bellowed to the man on the crow's nest, and he looked down, though it was hard to make out the movement in the rain. "Keep an eye on the enemy!" She then yelled out for everyone to hear, "Free the sails! Put your backs into it! We be ridin' out this blasted storm!"

Raven struggled against the wheel as it tried its hardest to turn the opposite of the way she wanted. The rain beat down harder and faster than before, a feat she had considered impossible. It seemed that God had decided to turn the water on full blast, icy sheets pouring down with heartless abandon. Colorful curses flew from her mouth as she heard the dreaded cry of "Wave!", and she braced herself for impact. 

A wall of liquid ice slammed into her, the rain seeming almost warm in comparison, and she tightened her grip on the wheel to keep from losing her footing. Just when she was sure that she would have to open her lips and inhale a mouthful of cold water, the wave passed, leaving her rasping for breath and shuddering with cold in its wake.

Running her eyes across her ship, she scanned the occupants to ensure that none had become at mercy of the sea. Satisfied that everyone had made it, she returned her attention to the task at hand––steering her ship.

"Captain!" one of her crew called. "She's sprung a leak! Water's leakin' in fast in the hull!"

A few choice words flew out of her mouth. "Take Blarn and a few men to patch it up. Hurry! We've no' go' much time!" 

She would've gone herself, but she had to evade the cutlass flapping Navy dogs that were on her tail and steer in this blasted storm. 

"Aye aye!" he said, and then clambered toward the carpenter, Blarn.

Wave after wave of sloshing seawater slammed into the side of the ship. Sheet after sheet of icy rain rammed into her. Burst after burst of howling wind made her fingers, her face, her body go numb.

But none of that compared to what she heard next––cannon fire. Nearby. Her heart jumped into her throat and her eyes widened.

"They're here! They're near! Cap'n, they sneaked on us!"

"Rags! Weren't you keepin' an eye on 'em?!" she asked, her eyes narrowed and her mouth twisting into a frown, annoyed with the fact that he hadn't done his job. She was almost thrown off her feet as a succession of cannonballs collided with the larboard side of the ship. 

"Cap'n, they've hi' us with cannonballs! They've started firin'!" Rags replied, rather than answering her question.

"Oh, really? Couldn't have figured tha' one ou'!" she snapped, her temper sparked. "Rags, make yourself useful 'n' tell me how many they've go' onboard!"

"They've got...two dozen a' least! No, add another dozen to tha'! The ship's huge!" he shouted back, shocked, and then added with a touch of fright, "Cap'n, if they get us, we're doomed!"

***

My Critique
-------------
Raven gritted her teeth in frustration, her knuckles turning white against the ship's helm as she clutched it to bring the ship to a heave-to, ready to meet the storm. Hazel eyes ringed with dark green blazed in anger and defiance, her jet-black hair plastered onto her forehead. (This is the perfect way to introduce your character's description--using action and not a laundry list. I'm not sure it fits just here since we're in the middle of action. Or, at least, maybe not all of it. The hair could work, but the eyes could come later)

"Cap'n, they've spo'ed us! She's headed our way! They be comin' from larboard!" (I had to read this a couple times, but this is actually a clever way to show that Raven is the captain. At first, I thought it was Raven speaking, but then it becomes clear in the next paragraph that she didn't. So if the person speaking here is identified, that will solidify Raven's status aboard the ship)

Damn it! she thought. Rain beat down in a relentless torrent upon the world, the waves roaring as loud and wild as a captured beast finally set free. Again and again, the vessel was jostled to and fro at the ocean's whim. It wasn't that Raven disliked the rain––she loved the feel of the drops cascading down her face and relished the wet that it brought with it––but she disliked the problems that it brought for her ship and her crew. Shutting her eyes, she tried her best to calm herself down and calm the ocean down, but to no avail. The sea had a will of its own. (I like this bit of insight into Raven. I'm not sure it fits just here, since I've got a burning desire to know who's chasing them and why. This would be a good spot to reveal that info)

"All hands on deck!" she hollered in a loud, carrying voice that contrasted with her small build. She whirled to the man standing beside her, her first mate. Wide, light blue eyes studied her with an unnerving calm, as if the two of them were taking a stroll in the park and not riding the storm of their lives, and his auburn hair clung to his head.

"Jory, make sure tha' the loot is safe. Don't let anythin' happen to it, understand?" she commanded. 

"Aye aye, captain," he replied, and dashed down toward the bay, his tall, lithe figure lumbering farther away from her. (These two words contradict each other. Perhaps choose one and then a different descriptor?)

"Rags! Scrat!" she shouted at two men that were standing port, near the bridge. "Man the tiller!" The two nodded as they understood the command. "Kar!" she bellowed to the man on the crow's nest, and he looked down, though it was hard to make out the movement in the rain. "Keep an eye on the enemy!" She then yelled out for everyone to hear, "Free the sails! Put your backs into it! We be ridin' out this blasted storm!" (The first two commands make it seem like no one was manning the tiller, and that no one was keeping an eye on the enemy. But I'm sure they were or the situation would be very different. The last command seems like one she'd shout at this moment. Perhaps scale it down to that and have her direct the order at Rags, Scrat, and Jory. Or, Introduce them at a later time)

Raven struggled against the wheel as it tried its hardest to turn the opposite of the way she wanted. The rain beat down harder and faster than before, a feat she had considered impossible. It seemed that God had decided to turn the water on full blast, icy sheets pouring down with heartless abandon. Colorful curses flew from her mouth as she heard the dreaded cry of "Wave!", and she braced herself for impact. 

A wall of liquid ice slammed into her, the rain seeming almost warm in comparison, and she tightened her grip on the wheel to keep from losing her footing. Just when she was sure that she would have to open her lips and inhale a mouthful of cold water, the wave passed, leaving her rasping for breath and shuddering with cold in its wake. (nice description)

Running her eyes across her ship, she scanned the occupants to ensure that none had become at mercy of the sea. Satisfied that everyone had made it, she returned her attention to the task at hand––steering her ship.

"Captain!" one of her crew called. "She's sprung a leak! Water's leakin' in fast in the hull!" (How did it spring a leak? Waves on their own can't puncture a ship, but if the person chasing them managed to nick them with a cannon or something, that would do it)

A few choice words flew out of her mouth. "Take Blarn and a few men to patch it up. Hurry! We've no' go' much time!" 

She would've gone herself, but she had to evade the cutlass flapping Navy dogs that were on her tail and steer in this blasted storm. 

"Aye aye!" he said, and then clambered toward the carpenter, Blarn.

Wave after wave of sloshing seawater slammed into the side of the ship. Sheet after sheet of icy rain rammed into her. Burst after burst of howling wind made her fingers, her face, her body go numb.

But none of that compared to what she heard next––cannon fire. Nearby. Her heart jumped into her throat and her eyes widened. (We are in Raven's head for the first part of this sentence, but this last bit takes us out and puts us outside. Things that describe what she looks like go from in to out and removes the closeness that the reader feels, and they're often not necessary. Keep an eye out for these)

"They're here! They're near! Cap'n, they sneaked on us!" (Not sure how you sneak up on someone in a storm. It might be possible, but I'm having a hard time picturing it. Is it necessary that they sneak up on Raven's ship? Or can they just gradually get closer while Raven's ship tries and fails to lose them?)

"Rags! Weren't you keepin' an eye on 'em?!" she asked, her eyes narrowed and her mouth twisting into a frown, annoyed with the fact that he hadn't done his job. She was almost thrown off her feet as a succession of cannonballs collided with the larboard side of the ship. 

"Cap'n, they've hi' us with cannonballs! They've started firin'!" Rags replied, rather than answering her question.

"Oh, really? Couldn't have figured tha' one ou'!" she snapped, her temper sparked. "Rags, make yourself useful 'n' tell me how many they've go' onboard!"

"They've got...two dozen a' least! No, add another dozen to tha'! The ship's huge!" he shouted back, shocked, and then added with a touch of fright, "Cap'n, if they get us, we're doomed!"



General Thoughts: This sounds like the start of a great adventure. I like Raven. She feels real, and we are solidly inside her head. There are a few moments where we're brought outside of her, which was a bit jarring, but that's easily fixed. I would have liked to know why they were being chased--I'm guessing Raven is a pirate and 'the law' is chasing her to bring her to justice. But why? What did she do? And why is it so important that she get away? I'd rather have this info up front, and then show insights or the incompetence of some of her crew later on. 

But, overall, this is well written and sounds like a lot of fun. Keep going!!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Best-Ever Teen Novels?


NPR put together a list of what they consider the best ever teen novels. Some of them are classics, and some were recently published. They’ve announced the top 100, so you should check it out.

I always find polls like this interesting. They are completely subjective, and often turn into nothing more than a popularity contest. Which sometimes angers me if a book I find lacking in writing quality wins over books that are amazingly well-written and have layers and layers of depth—and it happened in this list. But hey, a poll is just for fun.

I found this one particularly difficult, though. Not just because there are 235 in the list, but because of the huge variety. There’s light and fun books next to raw and gritty ones. I like both, but need to be in a particular mood for them. So my favorites reflected the mood I was in at the time of voting, which might be different next week.

There were books missing that I thought should be there (not the classics outlined here, btw), and then there are books on the list that I hated, which I think is to be expected.

I would have liked to see Anna Dressed In Blood and Girl of Fire and Thorns on the winning list, because I think they are far better (and better quality) than several of the ‘winners.’ But that’s me. :) What would you have liked to see make the list?