Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! I hope everyone is doing well this holiday season, no mater what you celebrate. It's time for a holiday edition of the blog chain.

Cole posed the question:

Christmas is a time of gift giving. If you could gift aspiring authors with one piece of advice, 
what would it be?

Now, I am an excellent re-gifter. My birthday is a month before Christmas, so I can easily unload the robe my mother-in-law gives me every year on the old lady I get stuck with for the office secret santa.

There's lots of writing advice I've received over the years that I can regift now. A lot of it is cliched but true. Here's the 3 things I tend to come back to:

Butt in Chair
I like this one, simple and straight to the point. All that dreaming, hoping, and researching about your writing career means diddly-squat if you don't put in the time to just sit down, shit up, and write.

Work on the next book
I've been told this is as true if you're querying your first novel or have several published books under your belt. There's a lot of waiting in this game and the best way to fill this time is to start the next project. I know. Sometimes it seems the best way is to stalk editors on twitter, but really just start s new book.

What? I know what you're thinking, that's horrible advice! But really, one of the best things I've been told as an aspiring author is: Quit. If you can stop writing, then you should stop. If you can give up your pursuit of publication, then you should give up. Because this industry will chew up your heart and spit it back out. But if you can't quit, if you need to do this, then do it.

These days, I'm not getting a whole lot of writing done. I have a two-month-old baby and if I can take a shower and make it to the grocery store, then that's a big accomplishment for the day. So I'll re-gift the advice I've been giving myself lately. Set small, measurable, manageable goals. Writing a novel and/or pursuing publication is a HUGE task. It's easy to be discouraged and feel overwhelmed. But if you take it one bite at a time, or bird by bird, you can do it.

Hope y'all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Check out Michelle's post from yesterday and Cole's post tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Somewhere over the rainbow

It's my turn to post the topic for the blog chain. I asked: 

How important is setting when crafting a story? How do you choose where your stories take place? How do you research setting? Do you have to have been somewhere in order to write about it? What are some memorable settings from books you've read?

I posed this question because, as a reader, setting isn't something I'm particularly concerned about. Hearing a book beautifully captures the essence of a small southern town, or 1890's London, or any other particular time and place does not make me want to read it. If the best part of a book is its unique setting, then count me out. I'm not a fan of historical fiction.
In Kate's post, she mentioned the amazing setting in Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races. I agree that she does a magnificent job of creating this odd little island full of magic and violence. But there are so many other reasons to love that book, I wouldn't think to list its setting when singing its praises.
photo source

As many of the posters before me in the chain have pointed out, setting can be extremely important in a story and almost serve as another character. I find this challenging as a writer. I'm not a fan of research so I tend to set my stories in familiar places. For my last book I changed the setting from Orange County, CA (where I grew up) to Houston, TX (where I lived at the time) on a whim. 

For my current book, I wanted an urban setting. I wanted my protagonist to use public transportation and be able to become lost in a big city. She's afraid of the dark and sees monsters in shadows. So I decided San Francisco with its blanket of fog was the perfect setting. 

Now I've never lived in San Francisco and only visited a handful of times, so I did have to do a fair amount of dreaded research. I spent hours zoomed in on google maps, following Jung, my main character's, bus route, deciding what street she lived in, and examining the building of her therapist's office. I used my small amount of personal experience along with countless maps, satellite images, and pictures found online to create a contemporary San Francisco setting. I hope I succeeded.

Check out Michelle's take on the topic from earlier today and read Cole's tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My goal for today is to take a shower...

Hello! Time for the blog chain again. Sandra chose the topic:

During National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), writers attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Do you set daily writing goals for yourself, either a certain word count or time spent on writing? Does this include other writing-related activities, like research, plotting, or revising? Do you focus on reaching the end of the journey (such as finishing your current project), or do you enjoy the writing process along the way?

I attempted NaNoWriMo once but found the pressure made me less productive. Or at least that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. I have a full-time day job and find time to write in the evenings and on weekends. While drafting I usually set the goal for myself of 1,000 words per day. I can write a lot more than that, but I'm a slow typer and it's usually better if I set small goals and then become an over-achiever instead of constantly disappointing myself.

How am I supposed to get anything done when I have this face to look at?
When revising (which seems to be the majority of the writing process for me) it's harder to set goals. If I'm only making small changes, then I can revise 6 or 7 chapters in one sitting. If I'm stuck on a plot problem, then I might spend a few days on one chapter. Usually I set my revising goals one day at a time.

Now, though, I'm on maternity leave and my days are completely different. I have a 3-week-old baby and finding enough time to feed and clothe myself is challenging, let alone finding time to write. I just received revision notes from my agent and they're minor changes, something that I could normally knock out in a weekend. But now I have to squeak out time to write between the endless feedings, diaper changes, and loads of laundry. Although I'd love to get this revision done before Thanksgiving, setting any kind of goal for myself just seems unreasonable.

What about you? Any NaNoers out there?

Here is Michelle's take on the topic and you can see what Cole has to say tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

From page to screen

Hey y'all, it's my turn in the blog chain again and this time Michelle picked the topic:

There are so many book-to-movie adaptations out there. Which are your favorites? Which are your least favorites? Why? Do you make sure you've read a book before you go see the movie adaptation, or do you prefer to read it after, or not at all?

My favorite part of going to the movies is the previews. Every time I see a trailer for a new book adaptation, I get super excited and punch my husband in the arm...even if I've never read the book. I recently saw the teaser trailer for Life of Pi and was so proud of myself for recognizing it right away, that I jumped up and down in my seat. Later, my husband pointed to the movie poster and said, "There's that book you like so much." I've actually never read it.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been on my to-be-read list for a long time. I'm a firm believer that the book is always better than the movie. There are so many nuances to a written story that can't be captured on the screen. Plus, I prefer my imagination to most of what Hollywood dreams up. I usually like to read the book before seeing the movie, but I'm tempted to make an exception for Perks of Being a Wallflower. It looks so good! And I've heard so many great things. 

I like watching the movie versions of books I love to see how someone else's vision compares to my own and of course to point out all the things that were cut. I love the Harry Potter movies for this. For me, Prisoner of Azkaban is probably the movie that got it most right, but Goblet of Fire is a plain old fun movie even if it's not as true to the book.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events has to be the WORST book to movie adaptation ever. They took three books and tried to cram them into one movie. Jim Carey totally ruined the movie by hamming it up with his stretchy face instead of actually playing Count Olaf. I love that series and it's a total shame that movie was so bad.

What about you? Which adaptations do you love to hate?

Check out Michelle's take from yesterday and see Cole's tomorrow. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Name of the Game

Hello! I was content to let my little blog die and then wallow in the graveyard of the interwebs, but my amazing critique partner, Kate Karyus Quinn, convinced me to join this blog chain. So I've resuscitated this little space and now I'm back! Like a zombie blog.

I'll post every other week as part of the chain, and I'll try to do more than that, but my life is about to get crazy, so we'll see what happens. Kate chose the first topic of the chain:

What's in a name? What if Harry Potter had been Larry Snotter? What if Edward was Jacob and Jacob was Edward? What favorite books had character names that you loved or hated? And how do you come up with your own character names?
I've actually been thinking about names a lot lately. I'm expecting my first baby in a couple of weeks (hence the life about to get crazy thing). My husband and I went on a road trip and for hours did nothing but bounce names off each other. We wanted to choose a unique name and at some point we started joking and suggesting every word on passing street signs and bumper stickers as names for our son. We got to the point where one of us would say a name as a joke and the other would say, "Wait! I actually like that." Eventually we found one.

I think of a name matching an individual's personality but most of us don't choose our names. Our names are often more meaningful to our parents than to us. 

A lot of the time I don't pay attention to character names as I'm reading. There are tons of books I love, but I have no idea as to the main character's name. 
But sometimes a name stands out and that character and his/her name is forever burned into my brain. Hermione can only be the brainiac at Hogwarts and Katniss is forever the girl on fire. I love the name Lennon, or Lenny, in The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.

I recently read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. There are two narrators, a husband and wife. I can't remember the guy's name. (Actually, did he have two?) But Amy. It's a common name. I have multiple friends named Amy, there are tons of celebrities and characters with the name. But Amy. The way the male narrator said her name in my head with such emotion (whether it be love or hate or both). Amy is now imprinted in my mind as Flynn's brilliantly written character.

I'm currently reading The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown and all three main characters are named after Shakespearean characters and they carry with them the burden of their namesake's story.

I don't get too attached to my own characters' names. I tend to like boy's names for girls. My first novel starred Sam (Samantha), my second had Alex (Alejandra), and now the girl occupying my brain is Jung. I found the name on a random name generator website. She's of Korean descent, so I looked up gender neutral Korean names and found Jung. It works because the story is about mental illness and so it also alludes to Karl Jung, the psychologist.

I think names, whether they be fictional or actual, are things we grow into rather than labels that define us. I have so many friends that when I first met them, I had a hard time pronouncing their name or thought it was a bit unusual, but once I got to know them, that was their name and I couldn't think of them as anything else. That's why we're not sharing our son's name until he's here. It might be a bit unsusual, but once he's born, he'll be so adorable no one will question it as he grows into it. I hope. :)

Check out Michelle's take on names from yesterday and tomorrow see what Cole has to say.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Breathless Reads in Houston

L to R: Andrea Cremer, Marie Lu, Jessica Spotswood, Beth Revis, Mary Lindsey
So last Wednesday, I took off work early and drove down to Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston for the Breathless Reads Tour. Because I have my priorities straight.

Marie Lu and Jessica Spotswood listening to Beth Revis
Mary Lindsey (Shattered Souls) moderated, asking Jessica Spotswood (Born Wicked), Marie Lu (Legend), Beth Revis (Across the Universe and A Million Suns), and Andrea Cremer (Nightshade series) questions.
Andrea Cremer explaining string theory

Beth Revis snaps a pic of audience.
All four ladies were hilarious and brilliant. It was so much fun, from listening to Andrea Cremer discuss string theory, to Marie Lu turning bright red when Mary asked her about writing the steamy scenes and Marie said, "But my mom is in the audience!"

Blue Willow always puts on great events and I loved the chance to meet 4 authors whose books I love. It was also fun to say hi to Houston area writers and bloggers.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Cate Protects Her Sisters in BORN WICKED by Jessica Spotswood

So my dad is a big YA reader and he often asks me for recommendations. Last week I texted him, "Loved Born Wicked, it's like Little Women if the girls were witches." But I realized that assessment doesn't come close to describing how amazing this book is.

In Born Wicked, Jessica Spotswood has created a brilliant and believable alternate history. New England was once governed by witches, but by the late 1800's the Brotherhood  rules the province. Women have been stripped of all rights and witchcraft is the highest crime, punished by life-long imprisonment. Before their seventeenth birthday, girls must declare their intention to either marry or join the Sisterhood, a convent of devout women.

Cate Cahill is approaching her seventeenth birthday and in making her choice she thinks only of what will keep her sisters safe. Because Cate and her two younger sisters are witches. Since their mother's death it has fallen to Cate to protect them from the Brotherhood and ensure their magic remains a secret. But when Cate falls for Finn, the subversive scholar, Cate must choose between love and safety.

I love the relationship between the three sisters. The affection and rivalry between them feels so real. I'm also a fan of the hot kissing scenes (closets! gazebos! feathers!) and Finn is definitely a swoon-worthy love interest. Oh and I loved the ending! Actually, it broke my heart, but it broke my heart so effectively. I can't wait for the sequel.

I'm most impressed with how Spotswood built the suspense and secrecy. Among the corsets, gas lamps, and horse-drawn carriages the tension was as thick as in any spy novel. Cate is compelled to protect her sisters and cannot trust anyone with their secret. Each time her magic is revealed, my heart hammered in my chest, because it was inevitable someone would betray her and every character has secrets of their own.

The Brotherhood is also eerily familiar in today's political climate. Watching Congress hearings on contraception, the Brotherhood's supremacy doesn't seem so far-fetched. And that is Spotswood's brilliance. She's given us a fun novel in a historical setting with magic, kissing, and political undertones so subtle I didn't really think about them until days after I'd finished the book. Born Wicked is first and foremost a magical and romantic read, but like all great novels, I know I'll find a lot more to think about upon rereading it.

Oh, and for those in the Houston area, Jessica will be at Blue Willow Bookshop on Wednesday 2/22 as part of the Breathless Reads Tour. I can't wait to meet her!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Writer for a Weekend

 During MLK weekend (1/13-1/15/12) I was fortunate enough to attend a Novel Revision Retreat facilitated by Darcy Pattsion at the beautiful Camp Allen.  I had heard about the retreat from Vonna Carter over a year ago. I saw her highlighted shrunken manuscript and was blown away. So when Darcy came back to Texas, I jumped at the chance to attend.

The group minus Linda Leschak, who I stole this picture from.

I had HIGH expectations for this retreat. I expected to come home with a completely revised version of my new YA ms and I expected my life as a writer to be forever changed. Well, of course those expectations were ridiculous. Only one of them was met.

I still have a lot of work to do on my revision.

For the retreat we sent in a complete draft of our manuscripts and were placed in groups of 4. I read my group members' novels along with 2 required craft books and showed up to Camp Allen ready to revise. I was lucky enough to be placed in a group with Linda Leschak, Melissa Buron, and Bettina Restrepo. Their stories are wonderful and their feedback was invaluable.

Throughout the retreat we used Darcy's workbook, Novel Metamorphosis, to dive into our stories and begin our revision. The shrunken manuscript technique is incredibly useful and what this retreat is known for. But I felt the most valuable part of the retreat was to spend an entire weekend thinking about nothing except writing my book and having three writers who had read my story available to bounce ideas off of.

The retreat was intense. If you're looking for a writerly vacation, this is not it. We started early and worked late, breaking only for food (mmmm blackberry cobbler and ice cream), coffee, and the occasional glass of wine. Darcy's jam-packed workshop coupled with Camp Allen's rustic and peaceful setting made it easy to focus only on the writing.

I left for the retreat as a girl who writes books. It was a secret ambition, this dream that is too big to say out loud. I didn't talk to my co-workers and non-writing friends about my writing very much. When I left work early on Friday for the retreat, I was coy about where I was going, making jokes about going to summer camp.

But once I arrived at Camp Allen, I was no longer Alyson-the-financial-aid-advisor, Alyson-the-former-teacher, Alyson-the-wife, Alyson-the-daughter, or Alyson-the-sister. I wasn't Alyson-whose-leaves-need-to-be-raked, or Alyson-who-really-needs-to-start-excercising. I was Alyson-the-writer.

I was a writer for an entire weekend. I took myself and my craft seriously and the other writers did so as well. It's a weird thing we do, sitting alone in a room with our imaginary characters. Spending time with other people who do the same thing was incredibly validating.

It's been almost a month since I've left Camp Allen, but the feeling has remained. I'm not a girl who dabbles or plays or scribbles. I'm a writer and my stories are worth telling.