Sunday, July 31, 2011

Winner of the July Reading Challenge Giveaway!!

How's everyone's reading going? I've had a terrible year for reading, but hey, such is life. :) I'm up to 40 books now (I think), so there's a chance I could catch up and reach my 100 book goal by the end of the year. Maybe. The rest of the year could be as crazy as the beginning, so I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Anyway, it's time to announce the winner of this month's reading challenge giveaway.

Theresa Milstein!!!

Congrats!! I'll get your books out to you asap.

As for everyone else, stop by tomorrow to see what I'm giving away next month!!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Winner of the July Book Giveaway!

Wait a minute. Summer's more than half over? How the heck did that happen?

Anyway, here's the winner for this month's giveaway:

Congrats! I'll get your books out to you asap.

As for everyone else, stop by next saturday to see what I'm giving away!!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

Kate, Michael, and Emma have been in one orphanage after another for the last ten years, passed along like lost baggage.
Yet these unwanted children are more remarkable than they could possibly imagine. Ripped from their parents as babies, they are being protected from a horrible evil of devastating power, an evil they know nothing about.
Until now.
Before long, Kate, Michael, and Emma are on a journey to dangerous and secret corners of the world...a journey of allies and enemies, of magic and mayhem. And—if an ancient prophesy is correct—what they do can change history, and it is up to them to set things right.

I had an unusual experience reading this book. It started out slow, very slow, and I actually set it down a couple of times. When this happens, I usually end up disliking the book (after pushing through to the end, because that’s what I do). But, in this case, the opposite occurred.

After the first fifty pages or so, the story picks up quite a bit, the characters get more interesting, and the plot shifts into high gear. It was easy to see where the story was going, but I didn’t think that was a bad thing. It’s also kind of a compilation of Golden Compass, Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings, but I didn’t see that as a bad thing, either. Stephens has made this story his own, despite the similarities. So many fantasy stories have been told that it’s nearly impossible to create something truly unique. Stephens used certain elements that exist in other stories, but his execution was different enough to keep the reader interested.

I really liked Kate. She’s a strong character, and her heart is in the right place. She’s also courageous, which leads her to make some pretty scary, and sometimes detrimental, decisions. Her motivations are always clear, and we can see just how much she cares for her siblings. Given her situation, this was both realistic and refreshing. She’s the main reason I wanted to keep reading, because I wanted to know what she was going to do next.

By the time we get to the end, it’s clear that the next two books will focus on Michael and Emma. I will miss Kate, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing the other two siblings take center stage.

There were only a few things that gave me pause. The bickering between Michael and Emma was realistic, but did get a bit old after a while. Fortunately, it doesn’t take up much of the overall story. The Countess was truly creepy, but I do wish there had been a tiny bit more to her, perhaps along the lines of how she ended up. I would have liked to see a bit more of that spread throughout the story. I also wish there had been a map of the area. I sometimes couldn’t keep a visual of where they were in my head.

Other than that, though, this is a great adventure story that I think boys and girls alike would enjoy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Agent/Publisher Research Chart

Last week, I shared the chart I used to track what I had submitted and to whom. This week, I thought I'd share the chart I used to research the people I submitted to. And, yes, I realize that I'm doing this backwards, but oh well. :)

Very early on, I decided to try to sell my first book without an agent. So, I went about learning everything I possibly could about the submission process and how to choose a publishing house. These are the things I kept track of:

Editor and house, type of publisher (trade, education, etc), what genres and age groups they publish, how many books they published the previous year, how many of those books were debut vs. known authors, submission guidelines, my reason for submitting to this house, and any other notes I had about them.

When researching agents, you need some of the same info, but not all. When I decided to try for an agent, these are the things I kept track of:

Agency and agent, what they represent, their recent deals, how many of those deals were new vs. old clients, submission guidelines, my reason for submitting to this agency, and any other notes I had on them.

I put all of this into a spreadsheet and started to collect information several months before I was ready to submit. When I was ready, I had no less than 50 agents in my list to submit to. Having so many kept me from freaking out each time I got a rejection and wailing about how I'd get my book published. Rejection is a part of this business, but it's also really difficult to deal with at times. For me, having several backups kept me from losing it. :)

If you don't already have a way to research agents or editors, you're welcome to use the spreadsheet I created. You can download a copy here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.
What's a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program--or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan--or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

I’ve read all of Libba Bray’s books so far, and have enjoyed most of them. Well, sort of. After her last book, I decided that her style just isn’t my taste and figured that would be that. But then I read the summary above. Sounds fantastic, right? Plus, the cover is hysterical. So, I got sucked into reading this book. And…

…Libba Bray’s style just isn’t my taste. I know this now, clearly and unmistakably, and I won’t be picking up another of her books. So, keeping that in mind, here are my thoughts about Beauty Queens.

I will fully admit that I was mesmerized by beauty pageants when I was a kid. All those women looked so glamorous and perfect, and I thought they must have had better lives than mine. As I got older, I learned what pageant life is really like, and that completely changed the way I saw them. Beauty Queens is a spoof on pageants, and parts of it were very entertaining. Such as, Miss Texas’s determination to keep practicing her walk, rehearsing for the show, and quizzing herself on interview questions despite the fact that only a fraction of the contestants survived the plane crash. Plus, a search of the plane turned up as many beauty products as food and water. Those are such obvious clich├ęs that they’re funny, and the story is chock full of them.

The parts I had difficulty with are specifically Bray’s style. She takes reality and turns it around to the point that it’s so clearly not possible and becomes funny. Well, funny for those who like that kind of humor. Beauty Queens is in the vein of Austin Powers meets The Naked Gun. I didn’t care for either movie, and, hence, didn’t care for this story. A girl with a tray sticking out of her head (but suffers from not medical trauma, other than her ‘look’ is ruined) and snakes that snarf people like in cartoons isn’t my cup of tea.

Even more so, that kind of humor sets the tone of the book. So, later on when things start getting pretty far ‘out there,’ I have no idea how to process it. Is Bray still trying to be funny, or is she trying to mix in a deeper message? If the latter, then the message got muddled in the crazy humor. The more 'out there' the humor is, the less you take it seriously (you're not supposed to, because it's a spoof). So, if there's a meaningful message in there, it's going to get lost because no one is taking anything seriously.

That said, I have friends who would think this kind of thing is funny, and I’d definitely recommend this book to them and anyone else with a similar taste in humor. If you’re not so keen on slapstick, though, you might want to skip it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Submission Tracking Chart

When I first started submitting my work to agents, I had no idea what I was doing. In fact, the very first time I sent out my ms, I didn’t properly record what I’d sent or who I’d sent it to. Basically, it was a big mess.

Over the years, I learned from my mistakes and honed my submission process, finally ending up with a workable system. A few people have asked me how I handled my submissions when I found my agent, so I thought I’d share it with all of you, too.

I utilized Query Tracker’s tool for keeping track of submissions, but I also created a spreadsheet of my own. That way I knew exactly what I’d sent out and when I could expect a response. I created a header for all of this information, then created subsections for material that had been requested, rejected, was still out, and who I had left to query.

Here’s kind of what it looked like:

AgencyAgentItems SentDateDue BackReceivedResponse
Hunter Agency John Doequery & first ten pages; first fifty pages1/1/2011, 2/2/114/1/11, 5/2/111/31/2011"Thank you for the opportunity to read your work. I enjoyed your query and sample, and would love to see the first fifty pages. Feel free to email them at your earliest convenience."
Doe Eyes AgencyJane Doequery & first page6/1/201110/31/2011--
Knot AgencyMr. Noquery10/31/20101/31/201111/15/2010form rejection
No Response
Quiet AgencyBusy Beequery & first two pages10/31/20101/31/2011-status query sent 3/31/11
To Query
Agency OneAgent One-----
Agency TwoAgent Two-----
Agency ThreeAgent Three-----

This isn't a great rendition of the spreadsheet, but it's the best I can do with the tools I have in blogger. But, it basically gets the point across. If you like, you can download a copy of the template from my website, here.

I used this spreadsheet to keep track of everything, including feedback I'd gotten on revision suggestions. When I first started out, I didn't collect so much info, and later on I was wishing I had. I also refined my submission strategy.

When I queried a new project, I started out with only two agents at a time. That way, if I got feedback then I could revise and make the piece better before sending it out to the next person on my list. Otherwise, I ran the risk of burning through everyone too quickly, with material that I could easily have made better. Once I started getting more consistent feedback, along the lines of "This is good, but not for me," then I started sending it out to more agents at a time.

How many of you have been submitting for a while? How many of you just got started? How many are getting ready to start? What's your submission process?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cascade by Lisa Bergren

Gabi knows she’s left her heart in the fourteenth century and she persuades Lia to help her to return, even though they know doing so will risk their very lives. When they arrive, weeks have passed and all of Siena longs to celebrate the heroines who turned the tide in the battle against Florence—while the Florentines will go to great lengths to see them dead.
But Marcello patiently awaits, and Gabi must decide if she’s willing to leave her family behind for good in order to give her heart to him forever.

I read Waterfall earlier this year, and it turned out to be an unexpected gem. The characters are fabulous, the story is compelling, and the conflict is realistic. Cascade was more of the same great stuff.

Gabi is just as awesome here as she was in the first book, and I love that we get to see more of Lia and Mom this time around. The interactions between the characters are fabulous, just like in the first book, and I liked that Gabi and Marcello started to see some clashes in culture in how they interact. I’m SO curious to see how that’s going to play out, and I’m glad it was introduced into the story.

I was also glad to see the developments between Lia and Luca, though I had see that coming from the first book. Still, it was pleasant to see. Plus, their interactions are sometimes more interesting than Gabi and Marcello’s. Luca is so straightforward, almost simplistically so, and Lia is more complex. They make a good pair.

The tension in Cascade is through the roof!! I seriously could not put this book down unless I absolutely had to, and even then I couldn’t stop thinking about it and wondering what was going to happen next. From start to finish, it’s an amazing ride. If you haven’t read Waterfall or Cascade, you should!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Various Aspects of Voice

Voice. I’ve heard many people describe and define this, and it always seems to be different each time. Some people said it was how clearly the characters came through. Some said it was how clearly the story itself came through. Others said it was how the author used her own voice to carry everything to the end.

I say this: it’s all of these things. Which makes Voice one of the biggest aspect of writing, and also one of the hardest to understand.

Voice applies to many different aspects of a story. It’s in the characters, the plot, the setting, the time frame, and the author. And Voice comes out through each chosen word, each image created, and each sense invoked. And it’s all different, depending on which part you’re looking at.

Voice of the main character.
Whether the story is told from first or third person, the strongest Voice makes every word sound like it comes from the main character. This is his story, after all, and he should be able to tell it however he wants. After all, everyone is different with different storytelling skills. How does your main character do it? How can he tell his story such that the reader gets lost in it, even forgets himself at times?

Sometimes this Voice sounds like the character is talking to himself. Sometimes it sounds like the character is talking to the reader. However he comes across, the strongest Voice is when the reader feels like the character is speaking directly to him. So, words like heard, saw, noticed, realized, remembered, etc are not words that evoke strong Voice. They don’t evoke anything, actually. They don’t create a consistent visual, trigger a strong emotion, or make the reader feel like he’s a part of the story. Choosing words that show what a character sees and feels will generate a stronger Voice than telling us what the character sees and feels. I’m crossing over into show vs. tell a bit here, but so much of writing is connected that it’s impossible to separate aspects completely.

Voice of the story.
What kind of story is this? Is it humorous? Suspenseful? Introspective? Notice I am not listing genres, but rather I’m listing the different ways your story comes alive. A fantasy can still be humorous. A mystery can still be introspective. It’s all in how your characters choose to carry out the story.

So, for humor, choose words and incidents that will bring a smile to the reader’s face – and I’m not just talking about dialogue. Perhaps your character has a scathing wit, or perhaps he has the worst, most ridiculous luck in the world. For introspective, don’t bore your reader with paragraphs of rambling thoughts. Instead, inject that introspection in key places where it adds the most to the story.

But the most important thing here is that your story’s Voice must begin on page one, then carry through to the end.

Voice of the setting or time frame.
Where does this story take place? New Yorkers use different words and dialect than southerners. Rural Midwest has a completely different culture than California. London speech doesn’t sound remotely like Australian. Present day actions and reactions are not the same as actions and reactions a hundred years ago. When you choose your setting and time frame, choose your words and actions such that it’s obvious when and where your characters are.

For example, red lipstick and sweater sets were popular in the fifties. Train travel was the fastest way to get around in the early 1900’s. The expectations of men women were different twenty years ago. Each of these things matter, and it also matters to use the words and actions popular during your time frame. Otherwise the reader won’t be able to immerse himself.

Voice of the author.
This is you, but it’s not necessarily you talking to the reader. I think this is the most nebulous of all aspects of Voice, because this is the underlying piece of you that goes into all your work, that comes from all your experiences in life. Unless the reader knows you really well, it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to pinpoint exactly when and where your Voice is coming through, but the authenticity of everything you say will make the overall Voice ring true.

This crosses into writing what you know – that is, writing what you’ve experienced in life, not what you can learn through research or imagination. These are the pieces that make you who you are, and they must go on the page. To some, this is one of the scariest aspects of writing, because it’s the part we lay bare to a whole world of strangers. Kind of like running around naked. But, without it, the whole story could fall flat.

These aspects of Voice are essential to every good story. The more compelling the Voice, the more compelling the story. I’ve heard more than one agent or editor stress how important Voice is, so it’s definitely important to bring it out.

But how do we learn to harness that Voice? Well, I can’t tell you how to find yours because each Voice is different. I can only tell you where I found mine. And it was hunkered down inside me, hiding in all the things I thought about but never shared.

So, if you’re still looking for your Voice, or you’re looking for ways to strengthen it, then start looking deep within yourself. I’m betting it’ll be staring right back at you.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins

Sophie Mercer thought she was a witch. That was the whole reason she was sent to Hex Hall, a reform school for delinquent Prodigium (aka witches, shapeshifters, and fairies). But that was before she discovered the family secret, and that her hot crush, Archer Cross, is an agent for The Eye, a group bent on wiping Prodigium off the face of the earth.
Turns out, Sophie’s a demon, one of only two in the world—the other being her father. What’s worse, she has powers that threaten the lives of everyone she loves. Which is precisely why Sophie decides she must go to London for the Removal, a dangerous procedure that will destroy her powers.
But once Sophie arrives she makes a shocking discovery. Her new friends? They’re demons too. Meaning someone is raising them in secret with creepy plans to use their powers, and probably not for good. Meanwhile, The Eye is set on hunting Sophie down, and they’re using Archer to do it. But it’s not like she has feelings for him anymore. Does she?

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, Hex Hall. It was fun, and Sophie is a fantastic main character. She’s got just the right amount of sass and snark, and it kept me laughing out loud throughout the whole book.

Sophie is just as awesome in Demonglass, and I was completely absorbed in the whole book. I was even a bit wrapped up in the love triangle, and I hate love triangles! So I was all ready to love this book just as much as the first. And I did, until I got to the end.

I’m all for main characters having to conquer insane obstacles. I’m all for tough choices, impossible situations, and facing circumstances that seem insurmountable. That keeps the tension high, and it gives us plenty of opportunities to see what this person is really like. So, the harder it is on the characters, the better.

That said, those obstacles have to make sense. If they don’t, then everything that happens afterward feels contrived and the tension plummets through the floor. This is exactly what happened for me at the end of Demonglass. Sophie’s dad is a smart man and has been the leader of the Council for years, so I just don’t buy it that he’d make the decisions he made at the end. It clearly had to happen for the story’s sake, but it did not come organically from the character. That brought my enjoyment down a big notch.

Lastly, and this is more of a rant than anything, but will people PLEASE stop writing trials as simply admission of guilt followed by severe sentencing? That’s not a trial—I get that the idea is to convey oppression and lack of power to the accused, but, seriously, it’s been way overdone. For once, I’d like to see an author create an intricate and involved justice system that has the possibilities to divide those in power and create even more tension. Okay, done ranting.

Up to that point, though, this was just as fabulous as the first book. I will still read the next one, but I’m hoping the circumstances and decisions will make more sense.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Happy Independence Day!!

To all you US folks out there...

Happy 4th of July!!

Hope you have a great holiday, eat lots of barbeque, and don't blow your fingers off with firecrackers. :)

Sunday, July 03, 2011

July Book Giveaway!!

Wow, I'm 0 for 2. I thought this post had been scheduled, and it wasn't. Sheesh!! Anyway, here it is now.

I've got two more books to give away this month.

Moonglass by Jessi Kirby
"I read once that water is a symbol for emotions. And for a while now, I've thought maybe my mother drowned in both."
Anna's life is upended when her father accepts a job transfer the summer before her junior year. It's bad enough that she has to leave her friends and her life behind, but her dad is moving them to the beach where her parents first met and fell in love- a place awash in memories that Anna would just as soon leave under the surface.
While life on the beach is pretty great, with ocean views and one adorable lifeguard in particular, there are also family secrets that were buried along the shore years ago. And the ebb and flow of the ocean's tide means that nothing- not the sea glass that she collects on the sand and not the truths behind Anna's mother's death- stays buried forever.

XVI by Julia Karr
Sandy, and their crew, goes to school, plays with her little sister, Dee. But Nina is 15. And like all girls she'll receive a Governing Council-ordered tattoo on her 16th birthday. XVI. Those three letters will be branded on her wrist, announcing to all the world-even the most predatory of men-that she is ready for sex. Considered easy prey by some, portrayed by the Media as sluts who ask for attacks, becoming a "sex-teen" is Nina's worst fear. That is, until right before her birthday, when Nina's mom is brutally attacked. With her dying breaths, she reveals to Nina a shocking truth about her past-one that destroys everything Nina thought she knew. Now, alone but for her sister, Nina must try to discover who she really is, all the while staying one step ahead of her mother's killer.

To enter, fill out the form below and then come back on Saturday, July 31st to see if you've won. Good luck!

Friday, July 01, 2011

100 Book Reading Challenge: July

How's your reading going? Fantastic? Okay? Miserable? :)

I'm up to 34(ish) books so far. Almost 35.

So, I've got two more books to giveaway for this reading challenge (paperbacks of the following).

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. by Medeia Sharif
During Ramadan, we're not allowed to eat from sunrise to sunset, for a whole month. My family does this every year, even though I've been to a mosque exactly twice in my fifteen years. My exercise-obsessed mom—whose hotness skipped a generation, sadly—says I could stand to lose a few. But is torture really an acceptable method? I think not.
Things wouldn't be so bad if I had a boyfriend, but my oppressive parents forbid me to date. This is just cruel and wrong. Especially since Peter, a cute and crushable artist, might be my soul mate. Figures my bestest friend Lisa likes him, too.
To top it off, there's a new Muslim girl in school who struts around in super-short skirts, commanding every boy's attention—including Peter's. How can I get him to notice me? And will I ever feel like a typical American girl?

The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
Ruby Oliver is 15 and has a shrink. She knows it’s unusual, but give her a break—she’s had a rough 10 days. In the past 10 days she:
lost her boyfriend (#13 on the list),
lost her best friend (Kim),
lost all her other friends (Nora, Cricket),
did something suspicious with a boy (#10),
did something advanced with a boy (#15),
had an argument with a boy (#14),
drank her first beer (someone handed it to her),
got caught by her mom (ag!),
had a panic attack (scary),
lost a lacrosse game (she’s the goalie),
failed a math test (she’ll make it up),
hurt Meghan’s feelings (even though they aren’t really friends),
became a social outcast (no one to sit with at lunch)
and had graffiti written about her in the girls’ bathroom (who knows what was in the boys’!?!).
But don’t worry—Ruby lives to tell the tale. And make more lists.

To enter, fill out the form below. You may join this challenge at any time. Also, you must follow these rules, or your entry will be disqualified:
  1. One URL per entry, and that URL must directly link to a book review. A general link to your blog or Goodreads account isn't specific enough (I simply don't have the time to go sifting through entries to see what you're reading).
  2. You may enter as many times as you like, BUT you must keep to the one URL per entry rule. Otherwise your entry will only count as one.
  3. You must have reviewed the book IN JULY. Past reviews don't count.

 FYI--to get to a direct link to your Goodreads reviews, click on the title of the book, and then click on the "My Review" heading just above where you type in your review. A link to your profile will render your entry invalid.

Come back here on Sunday, July 31 to see if you've won. Good luck!!


Winner of the June Reading Challenge Giveaway!!

Okay, so, I just realized it's July 1st, and I was supposed to announce the winner for this contest yesterday. Um, oops... :) I was caught up writing my WIP and totally forgot about it. So, I'll just take care of this right now, and then post the next contest right after. Yes? Okay.

According to, the winner is...

Ashelynn Hetland!!!

Congratulations!! I'll get your books to you asap.

This month's contest will be up later this morning, and the other contest will be up tomorrow morning. So stop by to see what I'm giving away!