Thursday, August 29, 2013

My Weeping Heart

The stories leading in the media this week both perplex me and fuel my outrage over another story. One you definitely didn't see plastered on CNN's website.

It's about a male teacher being arrested for soliciting a twelve-year-old girl online. Only this time, that child was really an undercover cop. Here's the link, if you're so inclined. Score one for the good guys, right? This time.

The story hits home because this is the county where I went to high school. This coach didn't have his contract renewed last May, for undisclosed reasons. But I bet I have a good idea.

During my high school years, two different male teachers had "affairs" with young female students. Can I say for a fact that these "relationships" took place? No. But I had classes with both of these guys, and I one hundred percent believe it. Both of them were not renewed for undisclosed reasons in the years after I graduated. They both went on to teach at other places. One is now successful in a high profile job. The other is serving a thirty year jail sentence after being found guilty of nine counts of sexual assault on a student.  

I understand that school systems have legal issues to deal with. Charges filed and investigations held. But to suspect someone of rape, and let him move on to his next victim with a pat on the back, is outrageous. To do it over and over again? That's criminal.

We're bombarded by sex every day. And in this sex-centric American culture, the insidious belief has taken hold that a female child can consent to sex with an adult man. Well, guess what? Even when she doesn't say no, he's still a pedophile. Period. I don't care what either of them watched on MTV last night. It's the adult's responsibility to say no.

I spent my teen years convinced that I'd never live to see the other side of twenty.

To people who knew Teen Me, that may seem strange. I am now, and was already then, a Christian. I prided myself on academic success. I filled every day with extra-curriculars. Even my wildest moments were tame in comparison to many of my classmates.  On the outside, I guess I appeared to be constantly preparing for my future. But really, I was certain that I was an adult trapped in a teenage body, that I knew all, and that I'd better fill every moment with the opportunities offered to me, because the clock was constantly ticking down to a certain end.

I used to think that I was unique in that way. But I'm starting to realize that maybe many teen girls feel the same. And that fear and insecurity must make an easy mark for guys on the prowl.

As a former middle school teacher and a reader and writer of young adult lit, these issues are heavy on my heart. I'm not sure if I love YA because it speaks to that perpetual sixteen year old trapped inside me, or because my heart weeps for what it lost by trying so desperately to be an adult when I was still a child. And I never had to deal with rape, or half of what girls today are facing.

As parents, teachers, YA writers, or just plain adults in a struggling society, I hope more of us can find the courage to protect our children. Protect them from predators. Protect them from a world that says their sexuality defines their worth, because it doesn't. Protect them from themselves. Even when it's hard. Even if it means reminding them that they are children, even when that's the last thing they want to hear.

Music for today: Stockholm Syndrome by Muse

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light

Today I'm reviewing Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light by Jaimie Engle, an ebook ARC received through Library Thing. Clifton is already available in paperback through the usual channels, and will release in ebook format on September 1, 2013.
The summary, adapted from Goodreads:
A strange arrow transports young Clifton Chase to Medieval England in 1485. Thrust into adventure, he must evade the king's army, rescue the two princes from their uncle, King Richard III, escape the fierce fires of a Crestback Dragon, outsmart the Mer King, and get the girl, all the while protecting the Arrow of Light. And when Clifton discovers the arrow’s purpose for choosing him, he must decide if he is willing to risk his life for the lives of others.
The review:
Clifton Chase is a middle grades adventure novel that combines historical fiction and fantasy with a religious twist. My favorite parts were the historical elements, from the descriptions of Medieval England to the political intrigue of the War of the Roses. Engle weaves the history into the story in a way that teaches without dumping facts on the reader, with just enough fantasy to keep things interesting. The pacing in the beginning was a little slow for me, and I would have liked a more concrete connection between the modern-day elements and the fantasy world, but this is still a solid middle grades read.
4 out of 5 stars.
Music for today: Heavy Feet by Local Natives. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Book Review: The Pirate's Wish

The Pirate's Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke is the sequel to The Assassin's Curse, reviewed here. In the interest of remaining spoiler free, I'll keep my summary brief. Pirate Ananna and Assassin Naji are bound together by an impossible curse, which can only be broken by completing three impossible tasks. Less a sequel and more the second half of one story too long to be published in its entirety, The Pirate's Wish follows Ananna and Naji on their journey to break the curse, amidst enemies attacking them on all sides. 

The review:

I loved the first book in this duology. I reviewed it, tweeted about it, and recommended it to dozens of reader friends. I'd been eager for the conclusion ever since I put down the ARC. Clarke builds an amazing relationship between Ananna and Naji, and the first half of this sequel didn't disappoint. She sucked me right back in to their subtle affection and bickering while keeping true to the unique voice and style of her writing. 

But the nature of the story was to slowly reveal how these three impossible tasks were in fact possible, and this is where I had issues with the plotting and pacing. The fantasy genre gives a writer endless possibilities of imagining solutions to problems. But just because an event is plausible inside the rules of the fantasy realm, that doesn't always make it acceptable or satisfying to me as a reader. I have a fine line between wow, that was unexpected but cool and whoa, things just got too crazy for me. Without giving anything away, The Pirate's Wish crossed that line.

Even though the conclusion wasn't quite what I'd hoped, I'll always be a sucker for awesome characters and a steamy romance.

4 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: Love is Blindness by Jack White. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book One

I love a great series of books. In a series, you get more time with great main characters.  You can see secondary characters grow. And the author has more time to expand the plot and the action.

But when you read too many series, it's hard to keep up. I fall behind on which ones are out, and lately I'd vowed not to start a new series until I complete one on my list. Which brings me to the subject of today's post. When I read the first book in series, that I didn't realize was a series, I get upset. And when that book just STOPS instead of coming to some kind of conclusion, I get angry enough to not pick up the next one.

(My critique partners are probably snickering right now because of a certain tendency in my own writing. But I'm talking about a different animal here.)

This week I read Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris, the conclusion to the Sookie Stackhouse series.  It ended just the way I thought it would all along, the way it probably should have three books ago.

Next I read The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson, quite possibly the best second book in a trilogy I've ever read.

And then I read The Lying Game by Sara Shephard.

I'd been meaning to read one of Sara's books since I heard her speak at the SCBWI conference in LA last year. Of course I knew her name; her Pretty Little Liars series is a popular TV show. But I didn't want to start another series, so I picked up The Lying Game at Books a Million. Nowhere on the cover, front or back, or on the interior flap copy, did it mention that this was a series. So I erroneously assumed it wasn't.

I'm not reviewing the book here, which I actually enjoyed, although it does literally stop with no real mysteries solved. (The extra pages that misled me to believe there was more to the story were a teaser chapter from the next book and an interview with Sara. I didn't read them, because I was MAD.) Of course after a little research, I now know the SIXTH book in the series is due out soon.

My issue is not with the book, but with the marketing. I picked this book up the old fashioned way,  at a store. It was on a summer reads table, without any of its series sisters. At my Orlando conference, we talked about how an author should fulfill the contract she has with the reader. But what about the publishers and book sellers? Although I probably should have known better, I felt duped. Like I'd been tricked into starting another series. Not cool, guys. Not cool.

As I'm typing, a big box of books arrived at my doorstep. Two (I hope) stand-alones, the conclusion to another series, and three first books in new series. I know, I know. According to my own rules, I should only be starting two new ones. But at least I know what I'm getting myself into.

How about you guys? Am I the only one who has a problem with the element of a "Book One" surprise?

Music for today: Love is Blindness by Jack White

Monday, June 17, 2013

My summer started with a bang last week. The Florida mid-year SCBWI conference was at the Disney Dolphin Resort, and I knew my kids would never forgive me if I went to Orlando without them. But with more than a few Disney trips under our belts, this time we went to Universal Studios, and a place I'd been dreaming of for years, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

I've had a few days to reflect on our week, and it was an all-around amazing experience. At the conference, I learned about writing fantasy and sci-fi with Matthew Kirby and Joe Monti. Matthew is the author of The Clockwork Three and Icefall, and a thoughtful instructor whose lessons really click with me. (I took one of his classes at the LA conference last year.) Joe is an agent with Barry Goldblatt Literary, whose humor and industry knowledge made the day memorable and informative. My favorite take-away from the session: fantasy creations work well when they combine the unique and new with something familiar. Something that gives the reader a framework to understand the shiny new thing.

This concept came to life for me at The Wizarding World. I loved every moment, even waiting in line at Hogwarts, spending too much at Honeydukes, and sweating for an hour outside of Ollivanders. And with each exciting slice of the Potter pie, I saw how it became meaningful because the reader can relate to it. We understand what it's like to cheer for a Quidditch match because we've cheered for our school's football team. We relate to picking the perfect wand because we've tried to pick the perfect book bag or shoes or notebook for the first day of school. We love Dumbledore because we've had a teacher whose wise advice has influenced our lives. My only regret is that too many kids will come to love these things through movies instead of where they were truly born, on the page.

The one downside of our trip? Now the rest of the summer will have a hard time living up to this first magical week.

Music for this week: Stay Young and Go Dancing by Death Cab for Cutie

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Review: A Tale Dark & Grimm

I have Son 1 to thank again for today's review. We went to the bookstore together, and this is the first time he's chosen a book to read completely on his own. (Meaning not influenced by me, a teacher, or a friend.) The cover and the title attracted him, and it turned out to be a great read.

A Tale Dark & Grimm (A Tale Dark & Grimm, #1)

The summary, adapted from Goodreads:

Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm-inspired tales. On their journey through a forest brimming with menacing foes, the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches is revealed. Fairy tales have never been more irreverent or subversive as Hansel and Gretel learn to take charge of their destinies and become the clever architects of their own happily ever after.

The review:

In a book with many classic elements, my favorite in Grimm is the narrator. The narrator opens by warning the reader in a quirky, engaging voice, and he continues with a colorful commentary throughout. The warnings are warranted; like the original tales, these stories are violent. Again and again, Hansel and Gretel are let down in the worst ways by the adults in their lives. But my son and I both learned from the siblings' journey to understand independence, sacrifice, and forgiveness. With a well-woven plot and a cast of characters more often grey than simply good or evil, A Tale Dark & Grimm is likely to become a classic on its own merits.

4 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: If So by Atlas Genius 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review: Darth Paper Strikes Back

I while back, I read a YA reviewer's blog who named Tom Angleberger's The Strange Case of Origami Yoda as her favorite book of the year. This really struck me, since she'd read and reviewed most of my favorite YA titles. I was excited to finally read the series with Son #1, and we just finished the second book, Darth Paper Strikes Back. Son #1 is busy creating a new cereal to promote the book for a book report, and I couldn't let him have all the fun.

The summary, adapted from Goodreads:   NOT SUCH A LONG TIME AGO, IN A MIDDLE SCHOOL NOT SO FAR, FAR AWAY...

Something amazing happened. A weird kid named Dwight made an origami finger puppet of Yoda that gave great advice. He could predict the date of a pop quiz, tell a guy if a girl likes him or not, and keep kids from embarrassing themselves in a dozen different ways. Most of the sixth graders were convinced he was using the Force.

But a year later, Dwight has been suspended and may be expelled, which means no more Origami Yoda. Even worse, Darth Paper, a puppet created by Dwight's nemesis, Harvey, has taken Yoda's place. He spews insults and evil and just may be responsible for getting Dwight kicked out in the first place. Now the kids of McQuarrie are building a case to save Dwight. This is their case file.

The review:

Something amazing DID happen. This book, even more than the first, managed to get Son #1 reading when he didn't HAVE to read. He laughed out loud. (And so did I.) He read chapter after chapter for fun. (And so did I!). Angleberger has an easy, distinctive voice that keeps the pages turning. Perfect for the 8-12 age range, the series is both multi-media and interactive, with illustrations and origami instructions. Those things alone would have made me recommend Darth Paper, but this sequel has so much more.

The characters have unique quirks and believable motivations. The vignettes in the case file could have easily worked by themselves, but the plotting carefully developed one of those great "Ah-ha!" moments in the end in which everything comes together. And just like the reviewer who spurred me to give these books to my son, I really enjoyed Darth Paper as a reader and not just as a mom.

5 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: My Number by Foals



Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"It's okay to take a break."

My husband said this to me yesterday. It's one of those things I know to be true, but it helps to hear someone else reaffirm it. In the ever-shifting balance of life, family time and writing time keep up their antagonistic struggle. The blog usually gets the shortest stick in that draw, but I wanted to stop in with a run-down on my time away.

In Reading:

Used book store finds have been filling my reading list, so instead of long reviews, I thought I'd give a shout-out to two oldies that really stuck with me.

Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves blew my mind. Imagine a world of infinite dimensions, with an incarnation of the boy who can save the universe in each one. Now imagine they all get together, form an army, and fight the magic and science extremists who want to take over.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson made me think of what would happen if Chuck Palahniuk wrote for teen girls.  Anderson's chilling voice explores anorexia with depth, intrigue, and complex characters.

In Writing:

Revisions on my WIP are trudging along. I'm over half way through, but the further I get down the line, the more early changes start affecting later events. Also, shiny new ideas keep popping up and begging to be explored. I've been debating taking them on in short story form, even though I don't have enough time in the day for all my other obligations.

In Music:

The Muse concert in Ft. Lauderdale was phenomenal, as expected. On the horizon, we're taking Son 1 and Son 2 to their first rock concert to see Imagine Dragons in May.  Happy Mother's Day to me!

And happy reading and writing to all of you! Until next time...

Monday, March 4, 2013

On any given day in the writing community, you can find a new batch of query contests, pitch competitions, and giveaways. I love that part of the blog-o-sphere, but over the past year or so, I've been truly struck by the added dimension of generosity in our industry. So many agents, editors, and authors donate their time to raise money for worthy causes, like Crits for Water, Publishing for Vision and Hearing, and Kid Lit Cares, for Superstorm Sandy Relief.

And today I'm excited to share that the annual Pens for Paws Auction is only one week away!

Headed by my friend Angelica R. Jackson, writer, blogger, and all-around extraordinary person, the event raises funds for Fat Kitty City, a no-kill, cage-free cat sanctuary in El Dorado Hills, California, that also rescues dogs (as foster homes allow).  Click here for more information about Fat Kitty City.

The auction begins on March 12 and runs through March 16 at Pens for Paws.

What's up for grabs?
  • Signed copy of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, with a drawing especially for Pens for Paws
  • Signed copy of Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, with bonus Steampunk Swag
  • Picture book and query critique by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
  • Query, synopsis, and first chapter (up to 15 pages) critique from Pam van Hylckema Vlieg of Larsen Pomada Literary Agents
  • Query and first 10 pages critique from Sara D'Emic of Talcott Notch Literary
  • Critique of 50 pages by Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary Agency
  • 5 chances at a query critique by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary
  • Signed copies of the 1st three books in the Elemental Series by Brigid Kemmerer (yes, that includes an ARC of Spirit!)
  • E-copy of To Trust a Thief by Michelle McLean, plus bonus swag
  • Signed copy of Interred by Marilyn Almodovar
  • Signed copy of The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman
  • Books by Kelley York, plus a 20-page critique
  • Query plus first chapter critique by Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown Ltd
  • 2 (!) signed copies each of Jeff Somers's Trickster and Sean Ferrell's Man in the Empty Suit
Please hop over to Pens for Paws to check it out, and also be sure to follow Angelica in all these places:

Group Blog: Operation Awesome

Happy Monday!

Music for today: Breathing Underwater by Metric

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Revising a novel can be overwhelming. It requires a different frame of mind than drafting, and it can take so many different paths. I've always used story-boarding for revisions, meaning I have a large white board with a chapter grid and tons of sticky notes. But I feel like I've gained so many different perspectives since the last time I chipped away at a first draft.

1. This post by Susan Dennard is fabulous. She explains her technique for addressing plot, character, setting, and pacing in a really manageable way.

2. Back in 2011, Donald Maass tweeted 58 prompts for writing a breakout novel. I've been looking back over these as I tackle character revisions.

3. At the SCBWI conference last August, G.P. Putnam's Sons editor Ari Lewin talked to me about manuscript real estate. This was a new concept to me. Basically, she encouraged me to look at a chapter and ask, "Why did I spend three paragraphs, or two pages, etc. on this event or description, but only one paragraph or one page on another?" When I look at my story board now, I can already see where I've spent the most words. This concept is helping me to evaluate whether those are the areas I want to emphasize, or if they need to be cut.

4. I'd heard of other writers outlining and color coding their favorite books to use as a road map for their own manuscripts. (I'm not talking about plagiarizing here; I'm talking about taking a successful novel and trying to find out what techniques made it work. For instance, looking at how many scenes took place over a certain period of time. Or how many lines of internal monologue were included per page of action.)  I'd never done anything like it until I watched season 6 of Dexter.

The story was so exceptionally well told that, in true English major style, I wrote out a diagram of the themes, internal and external conflicts, the ticking clock for pacing, and an episode by episode story arch. This story couldn't be more different from my WIP, but I'm learning from the way the elements worked together. The themes were touched on in each episode (book translation=chapter). The over-arching external conflict is hinted at in the beginning, but grows to be the focus about 1/4 into the story. Lesser but connected plot threads are introduced in the early episodes and resolved before the half-way point. And the ticking clock is introduced around that same time, increasing the pace up to the climax.

These aren't one-size-fits-all formats, but by understanding how other effective storytellers work, then maybe I can improve those same elements in my own writing.

Music for today: Stand By Me, the John Lennon version

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

For a while now, I've thought that the greatest secondary benefit of being a writer was fulfilling my fan-girl fantasies of meeting the authors of books that I love. At my first writing conference, I had lunch with Charlaine Harris. (Well, we sat at the same table, and I was so tongue-tied that I barely said two words to her, but it still counts, right?) At  my second conference, I had an intensive workshop with the lovely Kristin Harmel. (Her amazing new book The Sweetness of Forgetting is an international best seller.) And don't get me started on SCBWI. Jay Asher. Ruta Sepetys. Sara Shepard. Patricia MacLachlan. Tony DiTerlizzi. I could fill up a whole post with all that awesome.

But, you know what? I've decided there's an even better writerly by-product.

I knew I'd struck gold with my critique partner Kip Taylor. I was so happy when my her first book was finally released, and you can read my review here But I had no idea then that I would keep hitting the writer-friend jackpot.

You guys, I am reading some amazing books. Books that I can't wait to review and share with you, so that you can see how awesome they are. But I can't do it yet, because they haven't been delivered into the world yet. These manuscripts belong to my beta/critique partners.

And just like I felt when I first read Kip's book Finn Flanagan, I cannot believe how lucky I am to get to read these novels before the rest of the world. But that's all I can say for now.

How about you? I'd love to see some CP love shared in the comments below!

Music for today: Chained by the XX. (I get to see them in 4 days!)

Monday, January 21, 2013


Welcome, 2013! Sorry I'm a little late to the party, as usual.

The blog was a bit quiet this holiday season, but I'm hoping to be back in action starting next month. I wanted to get at least one post in for January. I'm not doing resolutions this year, but I do have a few exciting things in the works.

1. I was so, so lucky to be chosen to participate in Brenda Drake's Pitch Wars. Brenda is constantly working to help other writers on their journeys to publication, and Pitch Wars is the most special contest she's held to date. Over thirty agented or published authors and literary interns agreed to each mentor one writer seeking representation and publication, culminating in a Pitch War on January 23-24, vying for the attention of sixteen agents. When I saw Deana Barnhart was one of the mentors, I knew I had to enter. Deana gives so much time and effort to this community, too. And, you guys, she chose ME. She has been so patient and amazing this past month, and I am so grateful for this whole experience. Please stop by and check out Deana's blog.

2. I finished the first draft of WIP! This is a project that had been bumping around in my head for months, and I finally started it during November for NaNoWriMo. I did manage to write 50,000 words in November, but I didn't finish the full manuscript until early this month, ringing in closer to 80,000. I'm nervous to read those early, rambling chapters, but I am very excited to dive back in and get to work on this story.

3. In the next month, I'm going to see two sure-to-be-amazing alt-rock concerts: The XX and Muse. Music inspires me and keeps me moving, through life and writing, and looking forward to seeing great live bands just keeps everything on the up-and-up.

I hope 2013 is off to a great start for all of you, too! Until next time...