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.