Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!!

To those of you who love to celebrate the ghouls, goblins, vampires, zombies, witches, skeletons, and other such scary creatures, HAPPY HALLOWEEN! And in case you want to read all about how we get to celebrate Halloween twice this year, check out my personal blog.

I'm celebrating my Halloween with gusto because I just finished some pretty hefty revisions for my agent, and I'm really excited with how the story turned out! It wasn't easy, and I had to go through the entire manuscript several times to make sure all the affected characters and subplots were changed appropriately. But the story is so much better, and I'm so excited that I want to scream from the rooftops how much I love my agent!!!!

I hope everyone has a safe and fun Halloween! Be sure to eat enough junk to rot your teeth out.
*throws candy*


Winners of the October book giveaway!

It's that time again! Time to announce who won October's books. So let's just get to it, shall we?

The winner of THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD is...

The winner of DEMON PRINCESS is...

Congratulations to the winners!! Send me an email at tabitha at tabithaolson dot com with your postal address, and I will get those books right out to you.

Don't forget to stop by next saturday to see what I'm giving away for November!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ash by Malinda Lo

Plot Summary: In the wake of her father's death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted. The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash's capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Ash’s story follows much of the traditional Cinderella story, except with a fairy godfather instead of godmother, and a pretty hefty twist at the end. The story was intriguing and compelling, and I really cared about what happened to Ash.

That said, I am not sure why the author chose Cinderella to tell Ash's story. The Cinderella story has a good-girl main character who always does what she's told. She's not strong, she's not overly intelligent, and she doesn't act to make her life better. Instead, other people do it for her.

Ash isn't like that. She's an independent thinker, strong-willed, and smart. She doesn't wait for someone else to come along and change things, she seeks them out. First, it's the faeries, then it's the huntress. Not very Cinderella-like.

So, after I finished the book, I was left wondering why the author had worked so hard to create so many Cinderella elements in a story that is as unlike Cinderella as it can get. Especially with the ending.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

The traditional Cinderella story is about a girl who cares nothing for herself, and in the end a man sweeps in to take care of her. Without the man, the story doesn't feel like a Cinderella story.
There is a large absence of men in ASH.

The only consistent male figure throughout the story is the faerie, Sidhean, and his appearances are few and far between. There is Ash's father, of course, but once he dies that's it. She doesn't even think about him until late in the story, when she happens to pass by the graveyard where he's buried. That didn’t ring true to me, because I just can’t see a daughter completely forgetting about her father after his death. Especially since her mother had already died, and he was all she had left. Not only that, he left her in a terrible situation, and she should have been furious with him for leaving her. Instead, she focuses her anger, hurt, and love on her mother. Didn't make sense to me.

If this had not been written as a Cinderella retelling, but had been an original story with maybe a few parallels to Cinderella, I would have loved it. But the author worked so hard to tie her story to Cinderella's that it ended up lessening my enjoyment and left me scratching my head. It could have been so much more powerful, and it's a shame it didn't turn out that way.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rejecting Rejection and Embracing Revision

Rejection is part of the publication-seeking process. But that doesn't mean it won't hurt each and every time we're rejected. So, how do we find ways to keep going?

Easy. All you have to do is realize one simple truth: rejection is a good thing.

“Right,” you say. “Why would we want to be rejected?”
Well, true, no one wants to be rejected. Even the word, re-JEC-ted, sounds so harsh. But that doesn’t mean we can’t turn it into a good thing.

First, let’s take a look at the kinds of rejections that agents send out.

The Form.
This is the standard rejection letter that agents send to everyone. It takes them two seconds to either copy and paste into an email, or stuff into an envelope. It means that either your query or your story didn’t spark enough to warrant more.

The Personal.
This is a rejection with specific comments about the content of your story. The agent may say your writing is good, or that certain aspects of your story work well, and she might even make suggestions for improving it. But, ultimately, it’s not right for her. So, even if you take her suggestions and revise your story, don’t send it back when you’re done. However, you can send her future projects. Side note: this kind of rejection often comes after a request to see the manuscript.

Revision Request.
This is the best kind of rejection because it isn’t really a rejection. The agent has made a connection with your story, but finds it lacking in specific areas. So, she asks you to improve those areas and then send the story back to her. Agents don’t say these things lightly, so, unless the suggested changes don’t resonate with you, don’t ignore this request. On that same note, don’t assume that you’ll get an automatic acceptance once you’ve revised. She might still say no.

No Response.
This is probably the most difficult and confusing rejection of all, because it leaves us wondering if our query was even received. It’s also becoming more common. The number of queries has risen so dramatically that agents just can’t keep up. Many have decided not to respond unless interested in seeing more.

When you start sending out your query letters, keep this in mind: your query isn’t perfect. Because of this, you absolutely should not send out fifty queries at a time. Not even twenty. Really, you shouldn’t have more than ten queries out at a time. Less is better, especially when you’re first starting out.

The reason is this. If you send your imperfect query to fifty agents, you’re hurting your chances at landing a contract. You get ONE shot with an agent, so you can’t afford to blow it. Instead, send your queries out in small batches, and then you can analyze what needs improvement by the kinds of rejections you receive.

If you’re getting all form rejections, that means your query needs work. Maybe the story summary isn’t compelling enough, maybe you sound desperate or flat instead of passionate about your work, or maybe there’s a glaring error that you missed. Either way, it’s time to revisit your query and make some improvements.

If you’re getting mostly personal rejections, that means there is something lacking in your story. Or, at least, in the beginning of your story. If you can’t hook an agent in the first twenty pages, they aren’t going to keep reading. So, it’s time to revisit your story, armed with any suggestions for improvements.

If you’re getting revision requests, but still getting rejected afterwards, then take a look at the way you revise. Did you really address the issues raised? Did you take the time to absorb the suggestions before you began revising? Did you keep the heart of your story in mind as you made changes? It’s easy to get so excited about an interested agent that you can lose sight of everything else. Above all, you need to stay true to your story so it remains consistent, and at the same time you need to address the issues being raised. Sometimes the agent’s solution will work fine. Other times, you’ll need to come up with your own.

So, as I said in the beginning, rejection is a good thing. Why? Because it tells us how to improve. We just need to figure out how to listen, and then improve our work until there's no way an agent can say no. That's when we'll get THE CALL...which is the topic for next week. :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Front and Center by Catherine Murdock

Plot Summary: After five months of sheer absolute craziness, D.J. Schwenk was going back to being in the background. But it turns out other folks have big plans for her. Like her coach. College scouts. All the town hoops fans. A certain Red Bend High School junior who's keen for romance and karaoke. Not to mention Brian Nelson, who she should not be thinking about! Who she is done with, thank you very much. But who keeps showing up anyway...

I loved both DAIRY QUEEN and THE OFF SEASON because of one person: DJ Schwenk. She’s such a great character, and I relate to her on so many levels. So, when I heard about the release of FRONT AND CENTER, I snapped up an ARC.

I wasn’t disappointed. I read it in one sitting, and laughed so hard my sides ached! DJ is her same old self – gifted in some things and absolutely horrible in others. Which is partly why I like her so much.

This time, her story revolves around basketball, and the Schwenk trait of not talking. DJ has never had any trouble acknowledging her weaknesses, but she does have trouble overcoming them. But, in order to get what she wants, she will have to face and overcome her biggest weakness yet. And that makes for a very interesting story, with lots of character growth.

This was such a fun story, just like the other two DJ books, and one I definitely recommend.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A New Blog!

I recently started a new personal blog, for things I do with my family. Check it out if you like!

Recent posts:
Three cakes I decorated for my sons' school's bake sale at Fall Fest.

Also, our trip to Paris is on there - and we wouldn't have gone on this trip if it hadn't been for my oldest son. :)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Interview with PJ Hoover!

Today, PJ Hoover, author of THE EMERALD TABLET, is joining us! EMERALD TABLET debuted a year ago, and she is here to tell us about the second book in her Forgotten Worlds trilogy, THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD. So, let's get to it!

THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD is book 2 in The Forgotten Worlds Trilogy. It has the same base set of characters as THE EMERALD TABLET (Benjamin, Andy, Heidi, Gary, and Iva) with the addition of a new gal friend who seems to have a ton in common with Gary, a guy who quotes Iva love poetry, and a special appearance by a Nogical named Lulu. As if one Nogical weren't enough :) Greek gods come onscreen when least expected, and, best of all, it's got time travel. I love time travel!

It’s such a unique title; how did you come up with it?
Thanks! The Navel of the World is actually a reference made to many various places around the earth. These include Easter Island, Delphi, Arizona, Peru, and Jerusalem, just to name a few. You can read more about the navel of the world here:

As to which I'm referring to, you'll have to read the book to find out!

You bet I will!!
Did your writing process change from the first book to the second? Was the number of drafts more or less?
The main way my writing process changed from THE EMERALD TABLET to THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD was in my understanding the value of taking time between revisions. Like lots of time. As soon as I had a complete draft of THE EMERALD TABLET, I wrote a draft of THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD. But after that, I began heavy revisions on THE EMERALD TABLET, and set aside NAVEL for longs periods at a time. And I'm talking six months to a year at a time. Then I took the time to write a draft of book 3, THE NECROPOLIS. What would happen is that each time I came back to NAVEL and re-read it, what I needed to cut and add and revise became so much more clear. I willingly cut things I wouldn't have even considered six months before, and I cut them without remorse.

Overall, I'd say the number of drafts was less, but only because on each draft I made so many more vast changes.

How long did it take to write this book? Was it more or less time than the first?
My first draft stage was maybe a little bit shorter (around three months), though overall time of first word to time of publication was about the same: four years. I started writing NAVEL September of 2005 and it's being published in October of 2009.

How often do you write, and how much do you write in one sitting?
I used to work full time as an electrical engineer which pushed my writing to evenings only. I would write two hours a night—every night. Now that I have more time during the day to write, it varies. Some days I spend doing administrative and marketing things, and other days I'll write for four hours during the day and then maybe another one or two at night. I find when the words are flowing, I try to write as much as I can to get them down. This is a golden time.

What are you working on now?
I have a few different projects in the works and tend to be really tight-lipped about them. But I'll try :)

I have a MG fantasy book heavy in Egyptian mythology that I love. I also have a YA urban fantasy with roots in Greek mythology. And because mythology seems to be the key to everything for me, I also have a YA horror/fantasy with elements of (you guessed it) mythology scattered about.

What does your writing space look like?
I'd have to say in transit. Up until a couple months ago, I had a very organized space with everything within hand's reach. The problem with this writing space was that I had EVERYTHING within hand's reach. I looked up one day and realized I needed to free my writing space. To make it less cluttered and more Feng Shui. So I've taken down tons of shelves, moved office supplies into closets, and am shopping for new bookshelves and a new desk. I want as much as I can out of my office so it's only me and serenity and the word. Sounds nice, doesn't it :)
How much do you read, and what are you reading now?
I read a ton! And I'm trying to read more and more. I think I forgot how much I love to read and felt so stressed for time that I let reading take a backseat. Only in the last year or so have I rediscovered the joy of reading a book. And also the value of it for my own writing. I think it beyond all else has helped my writing in the last year.

To date I've read 56 books so far this year. My goal was 50, but now I'm shooting for 75!

Currently I'm reading THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stewart and am listening on audio to I'D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU by Ally Carter. I read mostly in genre but have to admit I'll be reading Dan Brown's latest next. I do love a good action-packed novel!

Woohoo!! I'm sure you'll reach your goal. I have had BENEDICT SOCIETY next to my table forever. I really need to move it up. And I loved Ally Carter's books.

Thank you for joining us! Again! :)
Thank you so much for the interview!

To see more of what PJ is up to, check out her website,, and her blog, Roots in Myth. To read reviews of her book, go here, here, and here. For a chance to win a copy of her book, go here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Plot Summary: Micah will freely admit that she’s a compulsive liar, but that may be the one honest thing she’ll ever tell you. Over the years she’s duped her classmates, her teachers, and even her parents, and she’s always managed to stay one step ahead of her lies. That is, until her boyfriend dies under brutal circumstances and her dishonesty begins to catch up with her. But is it possible to tell the truth when lying comes as naturally as breathing?

I'm not usually a fan of unreliable narrators, but the first half of Liar was so intriguing that I was hooked. I mean, Micah admits up front that she’s a compulsive liar, so I was expecting a great battle between her desire to tell the truth and her compulsion to lie. I wasn’t disappointed.

That said, the second half of the book completely lost my interest. For me, the author took things a bit too far...

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below. Big ones.

There is a huge twist in the middle of the book, which is that Micah is a werewolf. I was focusing so much on the compulsive liar aspect of the story that I missed the clues leading up to the werewolf reveal, so it was a bit jarring for me. Though, once I sat and thought about it, I remembered the clues leading up to it and was able to read on.

But soon after that, I lost interest. Micah gets more and more unreliable, contradicting herself so much that the clues she leaves really lead nowhere. What the reader chooses to believe will be completely based on what he wants to be true because Micah has left things completely open, with not even a nod in the general direction toward the truth. Which means that anything could be true.

That really put me off. It makes me think that the author either didn't know what she wanted to be true, so she went in circles. Or, she was trying too hard too write something revolutionary. For me, it didn't work. But I still would have liked the story if not for one particular scene.

At one point, Micah tells us she lied about having a brother because she wanted to see if we, the readers, would believe her. That bothered me for a couple reasons. First, it made me wonder if this 'wanting to see if we'd believe her' thing was on a larger scale. Like, a book-wide scale. It also bothered me because it's easy to lie to a stranger, and readers are strangers. If a complete stranger told you something that sounded reasonable, you'd believe him because you have no basis for comparison. Same is true for Micah.

If she was trying to prove her prowess about lying, then she should be testing those skills on someone who knows her well. Lying to the reader, and then pseudo laughing at us for believing her, is what killed the book for me. From that point on, I didn't believe a word she said, which kind of makes it impossible to care about how her story is going to turn out.

I really have no idea what her motivation was for the circular lying at the end. If it was to show that she is really a compulsive liar and can't do anything about it, well, she succeeded. If there was another point, then I didn't understand it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Writing Extraordinary Queries

The journey to signing with an agent is almost always a long and hard one. There are the few exceptions, where the writer got it right in the first book, and the first query letter, and nailed the agent research in the first try. But that doesn’t usually happen. Most of the time, it takes years of hard work. Not including the time it took to write however many books in order to get your writing to a certain level of quality.

But, once you’ve finally written that book, had it critiqued, and revised it, and revised again, then it’s time to move on to the next beast: the query letter.

I wrote a post a year ago about query letters, and how the key to a good query is to put a bit of yourself in it. But today I wanted to break down the query letter itself to examine the different components, and figure out how each part can be the most effective.

First, let’s talk a bit about query letters in general.

The standard length of a query letter is one page, single-spaced. The font should be 10 to 12 points, usually in Times New Roman (this font seems to be the favorite in the industry). If you’re sending an e-query, it should still be one page, and it goes in the body of the email. If you send it as an attachment, it will likely be deleted, unread.

While we’re on the subject of e-queries, never never NEVER send a query to multiple recipients. Copy and paste each query into a new email, addressed to one specific person, with the word QUERY in the subject line.

Now that we have the overall basics down, let’s look at the components of a query.

“Dear Mr./Ms. ,”
Be sure you get the name right. When I get letters in the mail from a company advertising a new service or product, nothing turns me off faster than being addressed by the wrong name. Or even “Resident.” Makes me feel like the company couldn’t be bothered to look me up, and therefore doesn’t really care about me as a consumer. I would imagine that agents feel the same way when getting an incorrectly addressed query. Worse, actually, because a good agent/client relationship has a connection on a personal level. So, never address a query to “Dear Agent.” It makes you look bad.

Opening paragraph.
If you have a specific reason why you are sending your query to this agent or editor, this is a good place to state it: she worked on a book similar to yours, you read her blog and like her style, you met at a conference, etc. No matter what you say, keep in mind that this is your query’s hook, and it needs to be good. Stating that you found this person on Agent Query or Query Tracker shows that you’re doing your research, but it’s also pretty generic (this information can be said later on). Same with things like “I am seeking representation.” That’s obvious, or you wouldn’t be sending the query. Instead, open with a specific reason why you think this agent will love your work. If you don’t have a specific enough reason, then skip this paragraph and go straight to your story’s summary.

Story Summary.
This is a compelling summary of your work, similar to what you’d read on the jacket flap (or the back of a paperback). In fact, before writing this piece, read a bunch of summaries on published works to see how those were done. Then, sit down with your story and capture its essence and flavor in a few short sentences. If it’s funny, then inject it with humor. If it’s dramatic, show some drama. If it’s horror, well, you get the idea. :) If all else fails, write this paragraph as if your main character is writing it, and his/her voice will shine through.

This is about you, the writer. If you have any publishing credits, this is where you list them. If you don’t have any, don’t panic because they aren’t necessary. The focus of your query is the story you’re currently selling, not stories you’ve sold (or haven’t sold) in the past. If you like, you could mention why you write – just don’t say it’s because all the other books out there are terrible. If you are working on another story, then a one-sentence summary could be included here. You can list memberships to writing organizations, like SCBWI, as well. But try to keep this paragraph short and sweet.

Closing Paragraph.
If you haven’t yet mentioned word count, genre, age group, or potential marketing (as in, fans of Author or Book Title will like your work), do so here. If the submission guidelines state to send material, like a synopsis or the first few pages, you can state what you’re including, as well as where you found those guidelines. Also, always thank an agent for her time. That’s something they don’t have a lot of, especially nowadays.

Writing compelling queries is an art in and of itself. And it’s not easy, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it right the first time. In fact, you’ll probably revise several times as you get responses...but that’s the subject of my next post. :)

An additional resource on queries is Elana’s Johnson’s ebook, From the Query to the Call. It's excellent, mostly because she has good examples of query letters. Definitely worth getting a copy.

Happy Querying!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Plot Summary: For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf--her wolf--is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human . . . until the cold makes him shift back again. Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human--or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

This is a somber and subdued story, yet it's powerful, with plenty of depth. The writing is excellent, the characters are well drawn, and the story draws you in. I truly cared about Grace and Sam, so, even though it wasn’t a fast-paced adventure story, I was still glued to the pages. I think I even finished it in one sitting.

I think this story is the best example of love at first sight, EVER. Grace and Sam are so drawn to each other, even under such strange circumstances, that there is nothing more natural than for them to be together. Some have compared this story to TWILIGHT, but, in my humble opinion, SHIVER blows TWILIGHT out of the water. Mostly because SHIVER makes the reader feel love at first sight in such a tangible way. TWILIGHT didn’t quite do that.
Also, can I just say that I LOVED the cover?

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

The werewolf folklore is quite unique and intriguing, as well as the destined end for all of them. I loved the suspense around Sam’s fight to stay human, and what it would mean when he finally turned back into a wolf. It added an incredible layer to his relationship with Grace.

My one complaint was Grace’s best friends. Rachel was fantastic in the beginning, but then she kind of disappears, and her role becomes more superficial. Which was a shame. As for Olivia, I didn’t understand her motivation behind the fight with Grace. Or the lack of communication thereafter. I thought that could have been explored more.

But still, the story is quite amazing. I recommend curling up with it under a nice warm blanket. :)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Rant About SCBWI in The Washington Times

Today, I read an article Julia Duin wrote in the Washington Times about SCBWI conferences and content in children's literature.

This is what she has to say about the conferences given by the Western Pennsylvania SCBWI chapter.
These conferences lure you with the hope that you can be the next J.K. Rowling.
The reality is far nastier...

I've been to several SCBWI conferences. Not once have I been promised to walk away from one with a contract in hand. What I have been promised is this: to learn more about children's publishing, hear a professional's take on what's currently selling, and learn more about the craft of writing. I am not sure where Ms. Duin got the idea that these conferences promise you fame and fortune. In all the conferences I've attended, I've never been promised that. If I had, I'd be wary of money-sucking scams.

She goes on to talk about the current state of literature for children.
Such is the 21st century, where much juvenile literature is a mile wide and an
inch deep. The discerning parent and teenager will have to seek meatier stuff
from previous centuries, when heroism and ideals still carried the day.

This quote probably disturbs me the most. There are a lot of great books available to kids, many of them published in the last decade. The fact that Ms. Duin disagrees means two things.
1) She isn't reading current children's literature.
2) If she is reading, then she's either not reading enough or is looking in the wrong place.

If she wants to publish a children's book, she must know what's already out there. To do this, you have to read everything you can get your hands on - this familiarizes you with who is publishing what, and you see how different authors handle various aspects of the craft of writing.

The other thing that's terribly wrong with this quote is that she's basically trashing all the current books out there. I could talk about how unprofessional and dangerous that is, but Nathan Bransford has done it for me. So I'll defer to his professional opinion. :)

Basically, Ms. Duin's article comes across as a rant about her personal experience at one conference. And if one conference was this way, then the rest of them are, too, right? Wrong. Sure, conferences aren't perfect, and not everyone gets what she wanted out of it, but that's not how it is for everyone.

To be clear, I'm not saying that Ms. Duin has absolutely nothing to complain about and should keep her mouth shut. There are definitely ways to improve conferences, and to minimize disappointment in paying attendees. Also, if she was concerned about an undeveloped area in books for kids, then she should voice those concerns.

But that isn't how her article comes across. Her ignorance regarding children's publishing is painfully obvious, and the saddest part is that a little research would have alleviated many of her complaints. Instead, she came across as someone unwilling to learn the basic necessities needed to succeed in children's publishing. Which is kind of sad.

What do you think?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Interview with Michelle Rowen!

Today we have Michelle Rowan, author of DEMON PRINCESS REIGN OR SHINE, joining us for an interview. This is her first young adult novel, but she has several adult paranormal books under her belt.

Sure! It’s the story of a sixteen-year-old girl named Nikki who finds out that the father she’s never met before is the demon king of a place called the Shadowlands -- kind of a buffer-zone that protects the human world from Hell. Now that she’s sixteen she’s going to start manifesting certain hard-to-manage “powers,” as well as busting out some horns and wings when she gets upset (fyi, very inconvenient), and must keep all this a secret from everyone she knows. Her father sends a cute guy named Michael to be her guide and protector and it doesn’t take long before Nikki realizes that he has a whole bunch of secrets of his own -- one of which is that it’s forbidden to like him as more than a friend. Not that she does, of course. She already has a sort-of boyfriend. But Michael is pretty hot.

What was the inspiration behind the series? Was it always a series or did it start as a single book?
The original inspiration was wondering what would happen if your average, everyday teenager found out that her father was a demon. If you don’t know who one of your parents is, you can imagine all sorts of different people. I figured, what would be the worst thing ever that would affect you in crazy, unexpected ways? (and give you cool powers, of course). Then I added on the fact that she would be a princess (although as far away from Disney as you can get, LOL).

I always get ideas that are series-length -- or, at least, more than one book. When I wrote Demon Princess: Reign or Shine I approached it as if it would be the first book in a potential series so there are lots of things that aren’t totally resolved. It was not certain it would be a series for a while, but luckily my publisher really loved the idea and agreed that Nikki and her friends should have more than one book. Hooray!

How do you get to know your characters?
Sometimes they arrive in my imagination fully formed and I know exactly what they want and even what their names are. Other times, I don’t find out until I start writing. I don’t try to force it, instead letting their personalities come out gradually. Mostly I just put hands to keyboard and hope for the best!

What was your favorite part of writing this book? Least favorite?
Honestly, my favorite part of writing this book was Michael, the boy Nikki’s father sends to protect her and bring her to his castle. He was just so mysterious and cryptic and angsty -- I got to know him as Nikki got to and he surprised me a couple of times. He’s still surprising me in book two. My least favorite part was doing a bunch of rewrites on this book. I first wrote it in 2006 for Nanowrimo without an outline. While it was fun discovering my characters “by the seat of my pants” I had to do a lot of work to make it into a real book.

How did you go from writing adult books to young adult? Was it difficult to find a new editor, or did your adult books help you out there?
I started off wanting to write young adult books, but I got distracted when an adult book I wrote -- Bitten & Smitten -- got published. But in the back of my mind I still wanted to write for teens since I love YA books. Whether my previously published track record had any influence on getting published in YA, I really don’t know. The two genres -- romance and YA -- are very different so I think editors look at new stuff completely on its own. Now I definitely want to keep writing for both markets.

How is writing for young adults different from writing for adults?
It’s really not that different at all. At least, I don’t think it is. I approach the writing exactly the same way, the only difference, for me, is the age of the main character. Sure, in my adult books I can be a bit more salty with the language and adult situations, ahem, but at its core, the writing process is exactly the same for me.

What are you working on now?
Right now I’m writing the first book in a new urban fantasy duology about vampires that’s going to be a bit grittier and edgier than my other Michelle Rowen books (which, for the most part, are light and funny). I’ll be writing these under a pen name. So far it’s a lot of fun.

What does your writing space look like?
I have a desk that I never use. For some reason I’ve gotten into the habit of writing on my couch with my legs up on the coffee table. It’s not good for my back but I can’t seem to think creatively when I’m in a chair at a desk. I really need to break myself of that bad habit. I took a picture of both of my writing areas so you can see that I’m a bit, uh...messy is a good word. The files on my MacBook, however, are very neat and organized!

Thanks again for doing this interview!!
Thank you very much for inviting me! :)

To see more of what Michelle is up to, check out her website,, or her blog, For a chance to win a copy of DEMON PRINCESS, go here.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

October Book Giveaway!

This month, I will be giving away two great books, from two great authors.

THE DEMON PRINCESS by Michelle Rowan



Be sure to read the entry guidelines carefully, so you get all the entries you're entitled to.

To enter: - Leave a comment on this post.
- For an additional entry, become a follower of this blog and leave another comment telling me so. If you already are a follower, leave a comment telling me this.
- For an additional entry, post a link to this contest, then leave a separate comment with the URL. If you post to muliple locations, then leave a separate comment for each URL.

I will announce the winners on October 31st, and you will have thirty days to collect your prize. Also, look for interviews with both authors later in the month!

Good luck!!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Plot Summary: Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

This book is the second in a trilogy, the first being THE HUNGER GAMES. At the beginning of the year, I wrote a comparison between HUNGER GAMES and BATTLE ROYALE, two similar books that sparked many discussions about whether HUNGER GAMES was a rip off of BATTLE ROYALE. Surprisingly, the comments on that post are still going.

But we are here to talk about CATCHING FIRE.

There is no question that Suzanne Collins knows how to write a fast-paced, can't-put-it-down-even-though-it's-3am kind of story. I read the book in one sitting, which I didn't intend to do when I sat down with it. Also, she is incredibly creative and comes up with great devices with which to torture her characters. That said, I am beginning to wonder at her ability to shift a premise into something truly unique and original – though that doesn't mean I think HG is a rip off of BR. :)

But I did think several of the elements in CATCHING FIRE were too similar to HUNGER GAMES.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below. Big ones.

I think the reader knows from the beginning that Katniss will go back to the games, but as a mentor instead of a participant. I thought she’d have to mentor both Gale and Prim. But Collins throws us a twist and sends Katniss back to the games as a participant. Peeta, too.

I understand why she did what she did, and I like the way she resolved it. But it just didn't have as big an impact on me the second time around. Even with Katniss's changed attitude and goal of keeping Peeta alive, it still felt the same. So, to me, the second Hunger Games felt like filler in order to get to the real stuff, which will be in book 3. I kind of wish she'd spent less time in the arena and instead gotten to the real story: the uprising.

Plus, I just didn't buy that the other players in the game were also trying to keep Peeta alive. It seemed so obvious that Katniss was the real goal. And there were other aspects of the story where I thought Katniss should have caught on easily, like the games director’s watch. It gets frustrating when I, the reader, figure things out before the main character does.

I wish Collins had played the games differently this time around, and let Katniss figure out what was going on with the other champions. It would have heightened suspense, because they are constantly monitored and the Capitol could expose them at any time. And it would have given an entirely new flavor to the games themselves, rather than the same old same old of trying to figure out how to stay alive. That was incredibly compelling the first time around, but the second? Not so much.

I also had trouble with her connections to both Gale and Peeta. About halfway through the book, she seems to have made a choice. Then, at the end, she seems to go back on that choice. Why? We don't know because she never tells us. She doesn't even think twice about it, which doesn't make sense. Based on her personality, I think she would have.

Still, I enjoyed the adventure, and will read the final book when it comes out. But I’m not dying for it.