Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Muse, a Fickle Beast!

Muse: a goddess that inspires a creative artist*

The definition makes a muse sound so eloquent but let's face it when writing, sometimes the muse is nothing but a downright menace. I've named my muse Orion after the constellation (yea space geek!), but I often wonder if I should have called him Loki. He's one mischievous little bugger.

He rarely cooperates, and likens himself to an unwanted house guest. Showing up at the most inopportune times, taking over with a mind of his own, giving me ideas that either are eight steps ahead of where I am currently or throws entirely unrelated ideas my way, and just when I start to get used to him he takes off on vacation.

Most recently Orion has visited me in the worst possible places. When I'm driving in the car and can't possible write a thing down, and the only place I cant bring a pen and paper, the shower! I find myself scrambling to repeat again and again the ideas so I don't lose them. I know as a writer you should have a pen and paper handy at all times, but that's just insanity! When someone invents a water proof pen and paper for the shower let me know, I'll be forever in your debt. Until then maybe I need a tape recorder for my car. Oh the things a muse will drive you to, and surprisingly it hasn't been off a cliff... at least not literally.

But at the end of the day, I've grown quite fond of Orion's visits. He's been most cooperative these past few days. Lending ideas that will ultimately help me finish my book. And as strange as the hostile takeover is at times, I am quite thankful for my muse, mischievous or not. Because without him, I think I'd be utterly lost, and probably not writing at all!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

YA Reads For the Holidays

Looking for that right book to get someone for the holidays or something to dig into yourself? Here's a list of suggestions for holiday ya lit reads and there's something for everyone. Some of these books are known, while others you may not have heard of but you should definitely give them all a look, especially if you enjoy Young Adult Literature as much as I do.

For the YA Fantasy/Mythology/History Lover: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
If you are a Harry Potter fan like me, then the name Nicholas Flamel probably grabbed your attention, but what a lot of people do not know is that J.K. Rowling borrowed Nicholas Flamel from history (he's a real guy google him). But aside from Flamel, the use of magic and prophecy and the page turning read, the similarities between the two series deviates there. The Flamel series, is a wonderful, action packed, magical adventure centered around fifteen year old twins Sophie and Josh Newman, who soon learn they might be the twins of legend mentioned in an ancient prophecy in a magical book called the codex, which is guarded by Nicholas Flamel. At the onset of the series, the evil Dr. John Dee steals the book from Flamel, and Flamel takes it upon himself to awaken the magic in the twins and train them in various forms of elemental magic. This series is fast paced taking place over the course of two weeks, and author Michael Scott masterfully weaves characters together from history and numerous mythologies. In fact every character except the twins is someone that can be looked. If you are looking for a post Potter read, this is it. The first five books The Alchemyst, The Magician, The Sorceress, The Necromancer and The Warlock are out now and the final book the Enchantress is due out in May 2012. And if that wasn't enough to keep you busy for a while, there are a couple of short stories related to the series available in eBook format, and an offshoot series loosely linked to the Flamel series entitled Earthlords is due out in the next year or two. You can watch the book trailer for The Alchemyst here.

(And shameless plug if you've read the series, then you must check out the official fansite
complete with news, a podcast, and forums that Michael Scott visits)
For the YA Paranormal Romance Lover:
Falling Under by Gwen Hayes
Gwen Hayes knows romance, and Falling Under is her debut novel to the ya paranormal romance scene. Falling Under is a unique twist on the typical paranormal romance. You wont find vampires, werewolves, angels or zombies in this book which is one reason its so refreshing. I know you aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover but this book has an absolutely gorgeous one that is just as beautiful as the romance written inside it. Theia Alderson leads a sheltered life, but one part of her is free from that, her dreams. And when the mysterious boy she's dreamed about shows up in her school, she is naturally intrigued. She is inexplicably drawn to Haden, but in the real world he wants nothing to do with her. So every night when she closes her eyes, Theia draws closer to him but is pushed away when her eyes are open. What is Haden and why does Theia feel such a strong pull to him? Why is she falling under his spell every night? You'll have to read to find out more. The sequel Dreaming Awake comes out just after the holidays on January 3, 2012, and its cover is equally as stunning as its predecessor. You can watch the book trailer for Falling Under here.

For the Middle Grade Fantasy Lover:
Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
John Stephens is a new author on the scene but you might know him from his previous work in tv. He wrote for both Gilmore Girls and Gossip Girl, so his debut middle grade novel Emerald Atlas is one to check out. Emerald Atlas is a fantasy adventure about 3 children Kate, Michael, and Emma, who are "orphans", I use the term loosely because their parents are not dead but lost. They are whisked away in the middle of the night from the parents and transferred from orphanage to orphanage until they end up at the home of Dr. Pym. In Dr. Pym's house the children find a magical atlas that allows them to travel into the time of photographs when they are placed into the Emerald Atlas. Along the way they encounter dwarves that end up aiding them and an evil countess that is involved in a plot to acquire the magical atlas. This book has the feel of Narnia, combined with a splash of lemony snicket, and the prologue read very much like Harry Potter. So if you are looking for magic with adventure and a splash of time travel, Emerald Atlas is a book to check out. When all is said and done it will be one of three in the Books of Beginning Series. You can watch the book trailer here.

For the YA Dystopian Romance Lover:
Matched by Ally Condie
Cassia Reyes has just been matched with her perfect mate, her best friend Xander, which in her world is nearly unheard of. Most perfect matches live in different cities and meet slowly over time but Cassia has known Xander her whole life. She lives in a near perfect world that has eliminated disease and crime. So why classify this as dystopian? Well it reminded me a bit of the world in The Giver. Every aspect of Cassia's life is controlled, specialized. Her meal comes to her house ready to eat in the right portion. School, work and "free time" is scheduled for them, and their society is tightly controlled by officials. They don't run or yell, they keep even tempered at all times, and their lives end on their 80th birthdays. If you or I lived in this world we'd probably be miserable but these people at the onset, don't know what they are missing. Early on in the story, Cassia plugs in her microchip from the matching ceremony to learn more about her match Xander and another boy's face mysteriously pops up on the screen. Another boy she knows and grew up with, Ky Markham. When the society tells her its a rare glitch she begins to doubt her life and the society. Things slowly start to unravel and she even starts to fall for Ky despite deeply caring about Xander. A beautiful and confusing forbidden love begins to develop between Cassia and Ky. Matched is truly wonderful and gut wrenching, as Cassia decides between Xander and the society life she has always known to be right, or following her heart, her gut, and what feels right when she is with Ky. And if you've finished Matched, Crossed the second book made its debut on November 1, 2011. You can watch the book trailer for Matched here.

For the YA Sci Fi Lover:
Quantum Prophecy by Michael Carroll
If you like action, scifi and a fast paced read then Michael Carroll's Quantum Prophecy series is for you. In the first installment The Awakening, we learn that Superhumans used to help protect the world, but in the height of their reign they mysteriously disappeared. Ten years later a new era of superhumans is rising. Danny Cooper and Colin Wagner discover that they are children of the original superhumans and are developing abilities of their own. When they are kidnapped and used in a plot to rid the world of superhumans forever, they join with past heroes and fight back to try and save the superhumans. This series is an enjoyable read for all ages that is hard to put down and one that young boys would especially like. The series continues with The Gathering and The Reckoning and also has prequels Superhuman, Ascension, and Stronger which is due out summer 2012. A book trailer with information on the first two books can be found here.

So why these books out of all the ya genre? Well they are all books that I found to be refreshing, thoroughly enjoyed, couldn't put down, and wanted to share with others. Plus I've met three of the five authors and they are all as wonderful as their books. When I meet great authors, I love to share their amazing stories with as many people as possible. This list should keep any reader busy during the holidays, and provides great gift ideas for the book lovers in your life. I'd love to hear some of your holiday reads suggestions. What great books do you want to share with others?

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Year Long NaNo

Its national novel writing month, and in honor of that, among other things that I will get to very shortly, I make this post. I know NaNo is only supposed to last a month, but earlier this evening I finally reached 50,000 words on my work in progress, Abducted. I started Abducted last year as a NaNo project.
The idea for Abducted came to me on September 30th, 2010. Shortly after having the idea, I wrote a few paragraphs of chapter one and started an outline. After a week of this idea completely consuming me, I decided to give NaNo a go. So I spent the entire month of October outlining, and on November 1st I began to write. In about a week I laid out over seven thousand words. And before I knew it I was at eleven thousand. By the end of NaNo i made it about halfway to the 50k goal.
This was an enormous feat for me because prior to this, the longest things I'd ever written was a 20 page research paper in high school, another in college, and over the course of three years, a 15,000 word story that I didn't know where I was going with. I was ecstatic because this was by far the biggest writing endeavor I had ever taken on, and I had a clear path to the end of the story.
However, I found Nano and I didn't entirely get along for the following reasons.
1.) Time - I have a full time job, and have very little time to write. Not that its an excuse but it does limit my free time. Combine that with all of my other hobbies and obligations outside of work, and the number of available hours dwindled to near zero. Not to mention during one week of NaNo I was at a women in engineering conference, which inhibited my NaNo participation.
2.) Motivation - I hadn't yet developed a writing rhythm. Because I was so new at it, I struggled to just sit down and write and make time in my schedule. I have since developed a schedule and try to stick to it. I don't always get to write every day but I know that I have times laid out to write and my mind easily slips into writing mode when those times approach.
3.) Editing - I am a compulsive editor. One of the things I do to get myself into the mindset of writing, is read the last chapter I wrote. As I do this I'm constantly correcting mistakes and making tweaks as I see fit. And every so often I felt the urge to read everything I'd written for a continuity and flow check. All things that are not conducive for NaNo, which pushes you to ignore mistakes and just write.
4.) Validation - As I wrote, and despite my fairly well plotted outline, I found it increasingly difficult to continue without validation. I got "Crap" syndrome. Something I think most writers experience at some point in their writing process. The feeling that everything you've done is complete and utter shit and no sane person would ever want to read this. I began to feel like I was wasting my time and wondered if I should even bother. A feeling that I should have never let get to me because even if I was only writing just for me, I had an idea and an obligation to see it through. I had a story I desperately wanted to tell but sadly I let "Crap" syndrome almost completely consume me.
At this point I began to look into critique partners and groups to seek validation. I didn't consider my friends because I was afraid they would just tell me my writing was wonderful because they are my friends. Call me a sadist but I wanted someone to tear my work to shreds. And believe me if you want that, you can find those people online. For every person out there to build you up there's at least thirty waiting behind them to tear you down.
So I joined a couple of critique groups and threw a few chapters out there and waited for someone to bite. In doing so I found my wonderful critique partner Julie S. She not only gave me some of the validation I needed but also was honest and pointed me to things I needed to work on. She also directed me to a critique group that has proven to be invaluable.
From this group I learned a few things.
1.) You can't please everyone - Not everyone will enjoy your story and that's ok. There is always someone out there who will enjoy it, even if its just one person.
2.) I knew next to nothing about the formal writing process, pov, showing vs telling etc. but that was ok because you can learn technique but creativity comes from within. People tore me to shreds for things that are considered basic writing skills but despite my "bad form" I heard time and time again that I had a good story. I knew I was probably onto something special and should have never doubted myself.
3.) I'm not a juggler. Writing, editing, critiquing, reading feedback all at the same time was overwhelming and stressing me out. I couldn't do it all at once but that was ok. I had found my limitations to the craft.
4.) Writing is not a race. Take the time you need to make things right. Don't sweat the small stuff. If things aren't flowing don't push it, walk away and come back later.
So with my new found validation and a sense of balance, I took a step back from the critique group and began to write again. I had a renewed sense of strength and courage and I wanted to not only write but finish my book, something I'd never done before.
Although I have not finished Abducted this evening I am one step closer to my final goal. The huge milestone of 50,000 words achieved. When I decided that I would finish, I set a goal of 60,000 words, the bottom limit for a ya novel. So here I sit, less than 10,000 words from my ultimate goal and five and a half chapters to go to finish my first draft. I'm amazed at how far I've come in a year and excited for the road ahead. Although the month of NaNo didn't work for me, I'm glad I tried, because it led me down the right path. It gave me the courage to write, and pushed me down the road that allowed me to find my writing rhythm and continue on. NaNo helped me do something I never thought possible; Write the story I never knew I had in me, and find the drive to finish it. Even though its taken a year, my NaNo is complete, and Abducted is soon to follow.
**DOES THE 50K word dance** (feel free to join, you know you want to ;) )

Monday, November 14, 2011

Out of Reading, Writers are Born

I’ve heard it many times before, and most frequently from one of my favorite authors Michael Scott, “If you want to be a writer, you have to read.” At first I thought he was crazy to say this. How could writers come out of reading? It made zero sense to me. I had absolutely no desire to write, so I had no concept of how this could be true, or what it took to be a writer. Growing up I hated English class. There’s a reason there’s all those jokes about engineers and English, writing and grammar. Trust me most of us engineers suck at writing, hate it and cant form a coherent sentence, but we learn to do it when absolutely necessary.
I wasn’t a reader for a large portion of my childhood. But I hit the ground running in second grade when my teacher, Mrs. Lovegreen, created a way to make reading fun. She had a solar system on the front wall of the classroom (including Pluto, which was a planet then). Each planet had a number of minutes associated with it, and each week we’d bring in a form filled out by our parents that stated how many minutes we’d read. We all had our own rocket ships and each week the teacher would move them to the appropriate planet that corresponded with our reading minutes, starting at Pluto and working our way towards the sun. When we reached the sun we got a sticker on our rocket, a prize and got to start over again. Looking back the prizes were those cheap dollar store type gimmick items like candy and giant erasers the size of a Hershey’s bar but it wasn’t the prizes that appealed to me like most the other students. It was the giant solar system and the idea that my rocket was traveling the stars. (It’s also where I got my idea for wanting to become an astronaut but that’s an entirely different blog entry.) That year I passed through the solar system more times than any of my classmates, and it was because I was excited by the sense of accomplishment and its link to space. (yea nerd alert, should have seen it coming then!)
Flash forward to high school, because unfortunately it pains to me to say it, but my reading died down from the time I completed second grade until high school and after. Homework became the number one priority and for some reason I wasn’t interested in picking up a book for fun after I finished with schoolwork. Not to mention I am a goal oriented person and unfortunately I saw zero reward for reading, outside of that which was assigned to me in English class. Reading became a struggle for me as I averaged between 1-5 minutes a page and fought to retain details I had just read moments prior. Looking back I know I was wrong in thinking that reading was not rewarding, because there is more to reading than just getting a good grade for reading an assignment. It’s about enjoying a good story among other things. This is something that I learned in one of my high school English classes. Picking them was always a struggle. As I said English was not my thing despite getting good grades in it most the time. However, I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that offered an English class in science fiction, and taking that class was the best decision I ever made. In this class I discovered short stories that wet my appetite for a genre I already loved in tv and movies. The real zest for reading science fiction though, came from our novel assignment, Ender’s Game. For the first time in my life I found a book I not only liked but could not put down. I read ahead of the reading assignments because I couldn’t wait to read what happened next. And when I devoured that book, I ran out and found the rest in the series. Shortly after, Orson Scott Card started releasing a companion series from the POV of a character named Bean, Ender’s second in command. It didn’t take much, but I was hooked and couldn’t get enough. And yet this was the only thing I wanted to read. I struggled to find anything else equally as interesting.
Then came Harry Potter. I know this series is a jumping off point for a lot of people and one that made many young people want to read. Funny enough, I’d never heard of the series until the movie came out. My sister and mother both were reading the series and dragged me to the first movie during Thanksgiving break of my sophomore year of college. I admit at the time I was hugely skeptical. What’s so great about a kid who can do magic? But immediately following the movie I picked up The Sorcerer’s Stone and began to inhale it. Mostly because I kept saying when does Harry get to Hogwarts, when’s he going to be sorted, when’s the troll going to attack, when do they go into the trap door? I was excited to read about all the scenes I’d seen in the movie and see that there were in fact other scenes that hadn’t made it into the movie. Normally I didn’t read for pleasure during school, but once I picked up Harry Potter it came to school with me and I read. I finished the fourth book before I returned to school for the spring semester. Out of Harry Potter a reader was developing. When the fifth book came out I sat on summer break and read nonstop for 3 days, briefly pausing only to eat and sleep. But between reading next books in the Ender’s Shadow series and waiting on Harry Potter books, nothing else interested me.
Then nearly four years ago I stumbled upon an online Harry Potter quest. I met a wonderful group of people who not only loved Harry Potter but also loved reading. They were going crazy about a book called Twilight. Admittedly I rolled my eyes at vampires, but didn’t know much about the book. I went out and bought it though because if people who loved Harry Potter loved this book, then I most certainly would. And I was right! On a four hour plane ride out to Seattle for a business trip I tore through half of Twilight, because I absolutely couldn’t put it down. When I got to my hotel, I walked across the street to the mall to grab lunch and stopped into the bookstore to buy New Moon which I started on my flight home. I’d found another book I couldn’t put down and was amazed. There had to be more books out there in the world I’d enjoy. And of course there were.
From the friends I met during the Harry Potter quest a monster was born. (I mean this in the best possible sense!) A dear friend of mine, Jules that I met during the quest, said to me and others, if you like Harry Potter and magic you have to check out this series called The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. I immediately ran to Amazon and bought the first two books, and of course wasted no time plowing through them. In the time it took me to read them, she had come up with an idea to start a fan site for the series and contacted the author Michael Scott who graciously not only gave Jules permission to start the site but said he would also come onto the site and answer questions and interact with the fans. The combination of being surrounded by people who had a true lust for reading, finding a series I’d fallen in love with and couldn’t stop researching, working on a fansite, and interacting with one of the most wonderful authors in the world, created my love of reading as I know it today. I was ecstatic to find a genre that I loved and a group of people to talk about these books with.
I found myself surrounded by people just like me and hundreds of books I wanted to read. I began to frequent the young adult section of the book store and especially focus on the science fiction and fantasy novels there. Now the ya section is the only place in the bookstore I go to buy new books. The more I read, the more ideas started forming in my head. I started playing the “what if” game. Asking myself what if we lived in a world where… or what if things weren’t really what they seemed to be… or what if things from our wildest imaginations were real? Out of that “what if” game, ideas were born. Most were small one sentence ideas that I wrote down and filed in a drawer. Others produced a paragraph or two of related sentences. A few produced pages of ideas, a rough outline, or even numerous chapters, that I’m sure ill revisit later. But one single idea took over my life. From the moment I had the idea till just over a year later now, I’ve outlined and written and edited and written and researched and written and written and written. The idea not only came easily but it took over. I’d be sitting in a meeting or in the shower or driving my car, or anywhere really and the story would just start writing itself. I’d find myself needing a pen and paper pronto, because I couldn’t focus on anything except the story. It had a mind of its own! It became a monster that I suddenly was really starting to get to know and love.
So after experiencing a hostile takeover of an idea, I now understand where Michael Scott and so many others are coming from. Writers have to be readers first and foremost. You really don’t know what to write, until you’ve read the works of others and started thinking about all the stories you never knew you had in you, but suddenly want to tell. Although it was never in my wildest imagination to write a paragraph let alone an entire book, or two or three, I now find it high on my list of things to accomplish in my life. Who’d have thought that seven year old girl that used to sit at the kitchen table crying because she had zero ideas on how to finish the story starter assigned to her for first grade homework once a month, would turn into someone who not only wanted to write but needed to? I certainly never saw it in the cards then but after finding my love for reading, and through that a joy for writing, I have to wonder if one day I may look up on my ever growing bookshelf and see a book that says by Jamie Krakover.