Hello, fellow book junkies! Well, it seems lately my blogging is pretty much down to monthly wrap-ups, so here’s my entry for May. I hope you’re enjoying a great spring and that loads of good books are finding their way into your book-loving hands.
— Eve Messenger
Illuminae Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff audiobook – This was a thoroughly entertaining YA sci-fi read. Space battles, romance, horror–Illuminae has it all. Katie and Ezra are my new favorite OTP, by the way. Oh, and the computer. You MUST read this book for A.I.D.A.N. the computer. 5/5 stars
Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff audiobook – Once I got over the disappointment that book two, Gemina, did not feature Katie and Ezra, I got into it, though the large cast of characters was a bit confusing. Like book one, Gemina has a chilling horror element that REALLY WORKS. 4.5/5 stars
The Art of War by Sun Tzu (translated)-kindle – The Art of War is one of those classic books I felt I needed to read. It’s short and full of smart philosophies about working in groups and wisely engaging in battle. Coincidentally, Sun Tsu is referenced several times throughout Gemina, another book I read this month. 4/5 stars
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova 336pp – I’m always up for a good story. Labyrinth Lost was about brujas (Spanish for “witches”). What made it special was the infusion of pan-Latin bruja folklore. Honestly, I expected Labyrinth Lost to darker and, frankly, better, but it was enjoyable overall, somewhat reminiscent of (though not at all as poetic as) Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen.3.5/5 stars
Anansi Boys (American Gods #2) by Neil Gaiman – A relative gave this book to me for Christmas because he knew how much I’d love it, and he was right. In Anansi Boys, Gaiman continues to flex his genius imagination, and his characters leap off the page.Thrilling, unusual, and darkly humorous, Anansi Boy is now my second favorite Neil Gaiman book (the first being The Graveyard Book). 5/5 stars
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling – Of the several autobiographical books by celebrity comic actresses (Amy Schumer, Lauren Graham, Anna Kendrick) I’ve read lately, this was the best–which makes sense since Mindy Kaling got her start as a writer. The most powerful part of Why Not Me? comes at the end when Mindy responds to a question a girl at a panel once asked her but that Mindy felt she’d answered flippantly. She more than redeems herself! 4.25/5 stars
Within a week of reading (and loving!) my first V.E./Victoria Schwab book, A Darker Shade of Magic, the author tweeted that she would be doing a book signing 15 miles from my home. My first book signing? With my new favorite author? Sign me up!
Though I was crazy nervous, I got myself to the event without hyperventilating. Alas, I had to go alone because I couldn’t find anyone else who was available.
My First Book-Signing Event was. . .
Perfect even though the meet-and-greet line was super long and slow-moving (over a hundred fans were there!) But here’s thing, the REASON the lined moved slowly was that fabulous Victoria Schwab spent lots of time talking with each and every fan. I LOVED watching fans step away from the authors’ table carrying freshly-signed books in their hands and HUGE GRINS on their faces.
Perfect because Marie Lu and YA horror writer Gretchen McNeil were there, too! Marie Lu signed my copy of Legend. 🙂 All three super-talented authors were friendly, enthusiastic, smart, and super fun. They were obviously good friends, and their banter created a positive vibe for the entire event. (Note to self: Someday, when I have my own book signings, I will ask author friends to join me.)
Perfect because, even though I THOUGHT I didn’t know anyone there, I ended up running into and chatting with a writer I’d met through NaNoWriMo. Unbeknownst to me at the time, writer/reader/blogger, Jennifer F. Santucci, was also there. And SHE noticed that Nicola Yoon (Everything Everything) was there as a fan, too!
Author/fan Nicola Yoon is on the left. The top of a blonde head in the back is me. 🙂 Photo by V.E. Schwab.
Meeting Victoria Schwab
Okay, so I mustered up the courage to ask Victoria Schwab if–since I am an aspiring writer–she might write something inspirational in my copy of the first book of hers I’d read. She wrote something nice in all three books. 🙂 Thank you, Victoria Schwab!
Interesting Things the Authors Said
Victoria, Marie, and Gretchen have known one another since before they were published, as members of a writers’ group called “YA Rebels.” They initially “bonded over all things evil.”
Victoria Schwab calls herself a “chipmunk author,” or a “connect the dots writer,”gathering little pieces for a year and a half until she has enough for a story. Darker Shade of Magic started with an image of a boy walking through a door covered with blood and then running into a girl dressed as a boy. Once she has images for her story, she asks herself questions about them to fill out the plot. Before she starts writing, she needs to have five to ten moments, one of which must be the ending.
Gretchen McNeil’s microphone kept cutting out, so she said, “No problem. I can project because I used to be an opera singer.”
Marie Lu said that when she was a little girl there were two things she wanted to be, a writer and a fighter pilot.
Marie Lu said that her agent, Kristin Nelson, is so blunt that when Marie sent Kristin the first 100 pages of her early draft of Young Elites, Kristin asked,“Marie, when you sent this to me, did you think it was good?” Ouch. Marie ended up completely rewriting Young Elites from the villain’s point of view.
All three authors agreed that every single book is, in its way, painful to write.
Victoria said she bought an audio version of her own book, A Gathering of Shadows, so she could repeatedly listen to pp. 307 to 308– a super hot scene between Prince Ry and his ex-boyfriend. 😉
One of My Favorite Author Questions: Do You Listen to Music While Writing?
Victoria said she listens to a lot of music–but never while writing. Because she started out as a poet, listening to music messes with the rhythm of her words. Instead, she listens to white noise and uses a site called noisli to build her own white noise with sounds of rain, static, coffee shop sounds, etc.
Marie Lu said she has to listen to music while writing because the “silence gets too loud.” She splits up her playlists by mood, e.g., exciting, evil, happy (which she says she never uses, haha).
Writers are fangirls, too.
All three authors talked about writers they get totally starstruck around. Victoria is a huge Neil Gaiman fan and wears her WWNGD (“What Would Neil Gaiman Do?”) bracelet every day. Why? Because Neil Gaiman was the first writer to teach her that she didn’t just have to write one thing, that no matter what genre she writes, her voice will still come through.
I am now seriously toying with the idea of getting my own “What Would V.E. Schwab Do?” bracelet. I am so glad I overcame my introverted nature and got up the nerve to attend my first book signing. I honestly don´t think it could have gone any better. I´d love to attend another one, and the only thing I´d change is to find other people to go with next time– there was just too much excitement to keep all to myself!
You know how sometimes you’re moseying through your life, teaching classes, reading great books, tending to the family, house, groceries, and pets, writing each morning before work (like you promised yourself you would, yay), and then someone says something nice to you out of the blue like, “You’re pretty,” or “You told me something wise in high school that stuck with me,” or whatever it is, and suddenly life feels more sparkly? There’s a shift. The current changes, and you feel as if you’re not swimming upstream anymore, or maybe your eyes are open wider to see the other bright, kind fishes swimming alongside you.
Three things happened this week that made me feel that kind of happiness, and they all have to do with writing since that is my life’s ambition and mostly what I blog about here. 🙂
Melanie Noell Bernard invited me to post a guest blog in a special series she’s running in January. I really love Melanie’s blog, and it’s an honor to be asked. (I hope I don’t let her down.)
A writer I crossed paths with during NaNoWriMo 2015 messaged me through the NaNo site (it’s crazy that I decided to check my message box there six days after the event ended) saying he “liked my style” in the WIP excerpts I posted in the forums and asked to be a beta reader for my novel. Wow, someone WANTS to read my book.
In the mad rush of writing, reading, and living life, it’s important to pause and reflect because from reflection comes awareness, and from awareness comes new goals. Setting new goals helps me continually improve myself both as a writer and as a human being. It isn’t always easy, especially because there are so many things I could improve upon. Where to start?
I decided to reflect upon why I was able to write twice as many words during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last year than I did this year. This November, I crossed the NaNoWriMo 50k finish line with 1,535 words to spare. Yay, I’m a “winner,” but it’s a far cry from last year’s 112,000 words. What changed? Here are some of the things I did differently during NaNoWriMo last year.
-I wrote every morning.
-I frequently left the house to write. Coffee houses, the public library, and the university library all worked well.
-I had not yet started blogging and tweeting. Surprise, social media sometimes draws my attention away from writing.
-I wasn’t reading nearly as many books. This November I read eight novels while participating in NaNoWrimo. In order to do this, I had to cut out pretty much all TV shows and movies–which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
-I was a lot more interested in last year’s novel than the one I wrote during NaNoWriMo this year.
-I wrote with 100% carefree abandon. This year I was a tad bit more careful so the resulting first draft wouldn’t be quite such a traumatic mess.
-I didn’t have other areas of my life crowding out my writing time so much. Oh, dear reader, over the past couple of months I had a major personal thing happening and, boy, did it take me emotionally and physically away from writing, but hey, no excuses, right?
So. . . this year, things changed. Life does that. In reflecting on the differences in productivity between NaNoWriMo past and present, I’ve decided to:
Make it a priority to reestablish a morning writing routine.
Be more mindful of the time I spend on social media. I’m SO grateful for the kind and talented writers and readers I’ve connected with through blogging and social media. They have made the pursuit of a writing career so much less lonely. And I’ve learned so much about publishing and writing, as well as great new books to read. I’ve also gotten a good grasp on what makes a good query letter (thanks especially to literary agent Janet Reid of Query Shark). And I have assembled a long list of excellent literary agents with whom I’d like to work, thanks to lots of internet research, agents’ blogs and tweets, and industry insights gleaned from sites like querytracker.net. Those are all good things to be aware of, and to be prepared to execute well when the time comes. But…
To publish books, you must write.
Though I’m not at a place where I feel the need to set limits on my social media time, I do realize that–as a person whose dream, goal, and mission is to publish successful YA books–more of my free time should be spent writing.
If you’ve come up with good ways to create a balance for yourself between social media and writing, I’d love to hear about them.
For many writers, National Novel-Writing Month has become a joyful tradition like Christmas or the Super Bowl. NaNoWriMo is also crazy–riding-a-bucking-bronco kind of crazy (50,000 words in month?!). The good thing is that for the whole month of November we get to indulge in pure, unadulterated writing bliss. The bad thing is that, because we’re writing so much so fast, we sometimes end up with 50,000 words (or more) of “litter”-ature.
I hereby declare that it is possible to enjoy the adventure, camaraderie, and thrill of NaNoWriMo while also writing a cohesive first draft.
Like the Boy Scouts motto goes: Be Prepared.
In the final days leading up to NaNoWriMo:
1. Write an outline. In the interests of avoiding a sprawling, unworkable mess of a first draft, head into NaNoWriMo with a plot outline. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, just key plot points or, at the very least, knowing what ending you’d like to write toward.
2. Make up a word, any unusual, distinctive word. This will allow you to write faster. As you’re typing away at a breakneck speed, rather than lurching to a stop to mull over what name you’d like to give a character, place, magical fruit, etc., type your made-up word (i.e., “zibbit), which you can then search for later and replace with real names you like better.
3. Find write-ins you’d like to attend. Write-ins are good. Repeat. Write-ins are good. Write-ins mean rooms full of creative energy, discovering new local places to write, and proving to yourself that you can write anywhere. To find write-ins near you, go to the NaNoWriMo site, click on “Region,” then “Find Region,” then “Make this region my home.” Your home region should show a list of planned weekly write-ins.
4. Mark your calendar with virtual write-ins. In case there aren’t any live write-ins near you, or if you’d like to supplement with virtual ones, visit this YouTube link and make a note of upcoming virtual write-ins.
5. Prepare your family. Your loved ones may not like giving you up to the writing muse for a whole month.
Do whatever you can to ease your family’s pain. Bribe them with money for pizza delivery, tell them you’ll get them a really nice present at Christmas or Hannukah, whatever it takes. Then on November 1, say “See you at Thanksgiving,” get out of your house, and write.
Recently, I’ve had to face the cold, hard fact that I do not write simple plots. Very “not simple” plots, though I will stop short of calling them complicated. In coming to terms with this, my first instinct is to get very, very nervous, as in: how in the hell am I going to weave all these plotlines together into a cohesive story? Sure, the plot makes sense in my head, but piecing it all together on the page is another matter entirely.
So how do I avoid getting tangled up in plot threads? Since I don’t personally know any professional writers To ask, I turned to my good friend Google for advice.
One of the first things that pops up is “Calendaring Your Story,” an article by writer Mindy Obenhaus. One of the things she says that really pops out at me is that she is “a visual person, not to mention somewhat detail-oriented.” That’s me, too. I am most comfortable processing information visually, so when it comes to plotting a novel, it makes sense to create a visual representation of my plotlines, a timeline that shows all the major plotlines side by side.
Obenhaus apparently uses a calendar, a large, desk-sized one. Other writers create Word tables or Excel spreadsheets. Still others use flashcards, a different color for each plot thread. And there are surely plenty of other methods crafty writers have come up with for calendaring their plotlines. (If you have any ideas you’d like to share, please feel free to comment.)
Then I remembered that at a company I once worked for we entered departmental events into an online calendar, with each department displayed in a different color, a multi-person event calendar, something like this:
Maybe this could work for calendaring plotlines, thought I.
So I tried it.
First, I found a decent online multi-person calendar at TeamUp.com, a free version that allows you to calendar up to ten different people/plotlines.
Then I got to have fun deciding which color best represented each of my major characters/plotlines.
After that, I started entering major plot points and, right away, the process got me thinking about my novel in new ways. For instance, I realized that my original plan didn’t logically allow enough time between a couple of key events.
Now the “heavy lifting” begins. I’ll need to really think about each major milestone and decide precisely when it should occur so I can put it on a calendar. I KNOW (as hard as I try to resist this) that calendaring my plot lines will make me much less confused than I was with my first two novels. As convoluted as those first drafts were, I’m thinking surely this will be an improvement.
There’s this YA dystopian thriller I’ve been dying to read. Very hyped, mentioned in lots of blogs, highly ranked on Goodreads. I won’t mention the title because — call me superstitious, or maybe respectful or polite — I won’t publicly write negative things about another writer’s published work. Who knows, maybe you’ll guess it from the references I’m about to make. Anyway, I was excited to read this book, but I stopped myself. I stopped myself from reading any fiction. Why? Because I’ve heard from other writers that reading while you write can be detrimental.
But reading is the shizzle!
So two days ago I picked up this hyped novel-that-shall-not-be-named (henceforth known as NTSNBN), and I began to read. Even though I’m working on my own novel.
And it’s been really helpful! Possibly because NTSNBN is in a different enough genre from my own YA fantasy adventure. Or maybe because it’s a good book but not so brilliant that I’m utterly intimidated. Or maybe (and probably most significantly) because the plot and characters of my own novel are well-formed enough that reading someone else’s novel — both as a positive and negative example — gives me ideas on how to enhance what I already have.
Back when I was tapping and scribbling out the nucleus of a plot in coffee houses, libraries, and all the other free places writers and homeless people hang out, reading someone else’s novel might have been detrimental to my process. Consciously or subconsciously, another writer’s plots and characters could have crept their way into my own writing. (Though I probably will take the chance and try it while writing the next novel.)
After two days of reading NTSNBN — while working on the 2nd/3rd major revision of my own — here’s how reading someone else’s novel has been beneficial. Throughout the narrative, NTSNBN gives a very clear sense of the main character’s emotional state. It contains too much a lot of internal self-talk. With a keener awareness of this, the next time I sat down to work on my own book, my characters started spilling their emotional guts a lot more.
I like that.
The author of NTSNBN also employs several quirky stylistic devices, such as replacing number words with the alphanumeric, as in ‘2’ instead of ‘two.’ Also, there are long passages that deliberately avoid commas. Thirdly, there is a lot lot lot of too much striking out of lines and words, which signify the MC censoring his/her own thoughts. Though I probably won’t use those devices in my own writing, the stylistic experiments definitely inspire me to try new things.
Lastly, NTSNBN reads really fast. All the chapters flow really well, each with its own grabber that takes you right into the heart of the scene and an ending that propels you further into the story. All wonderful things to keep in mind while revising and polishing my own work.