Reading Challenge Accepted

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Part of my ritual for starting a new year is joining the Goodreads Reading Challenge. In years past, I’ve set my goal between 30 and 35 books. 2017 ended up being the year I couldn’t read enough and I topped out at 48 books, (well above my goal of 35).

What can I say? It was a good year of reading! In the spirit of celebrating a goal reached and to perhaps inspire readers to join this year’s challenge, these are my Top 5 favorite books from last year. By all means, add them to your list!

  1. Turtles All The Way Down – John Green

Wrought with both brutal and tender honesty, this is Green’s best novel to date. This is not just another YA novel as the emotions are too real and too relatable to be just for teens. This is for anyone who has ever felt trapped or knows the pain of loss.

2. Crazy Rich Asians Series – Kevin Kwan

Kwan’s satire slices right into an utterly preposterous world that is far removed from the reality where most of us reside, which makes it all the more irresistible and hilarious. In many ways it’s reminiscent of Wuthering Heights; a world filled with detestable characters that bring disaster upon themselves and you just can’t look away. Kwan, however, turns the detestable into a hysterical spectacle that perfectly blends dry British humor with spot on commentary of Chinese culture. This combination is particularly strong in Kwan’s sometimes snarky, but brilliant footnotes. A great beach read, while also inviting deeper contemplation of social norms and class society.

3. Lord of Shadows – Cassandra Clare

One of the things that always amazes me about Cassandra Clare’s work is her ability to make the Shadow World mirror the real world. In Lord of Shadows, the arrival of The Cohort and it’s desire to return Shadowhunters to a position of power at the expense of Downworlders has so many parallels to our world today, I’m eternally grateful that so many young people will be reading it, (and will hopefully take it’s message to heart).

4. Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli

Albertalli offers up a fun yet socially conscious exploration of the LGBTQ youth experience. She touches the entire spectrum from fear, acceptance, bullying, self-doubt, and ultimately love. Love, of course, being the common denominator that pulls us all together.

5. We Are the Ants – Shaun David Hutchinson

While alien abduction and saving the world seem to be the central plot line, this is really an exploration of mental illness on a number of different levels. References to depression, anger issues, Alzheimers, cutting, grief, and suicide are brutally honest and dig into the underbelly of a reality that is often ignored. At the same time, this is a story about finding self-acceptance, which is beautifully aimed at the LGBTQ community, but also reaches far beyond to anyone who has ever felt like they didn’t belong.

I read a lot of YA and I know that raises some eyebrows. However, they are well worth reading no matter where you fall in the age spectrum. The stories are powerful, the characters are compelling, and the insight is deeper than you think.  Aside from long held admiration of the genre, I happen to write YA as well!

My full reviews for these books are on Goodreads. Please friend me and lets embark on a reading adventure in 2018 together! Search for me by my name or just click on the reading challenge button on my sidebar.

For 2018, I’m joining the Goodreads Reading Challenge with a goal of 40 books. That’s the highest goal I’ve ever set and it’s a little scary! But, I’m off to a good start – I’m already one book ahead of schedule. I started reading the Mara Dyer Trilogy by Michelle Hodkin and it is amazing. I read the first two in under a week. Add it to your list!

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Happy Reading! 🙂

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c.b.w. 2018

 

 

Killing Chapter 1

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My decision to cut the entire first chapter for The Muse came when I realized I had started my novel with just about every single thing most agents hate to see in an opening chapter. After reading multiple articles and long lists of tweets from agents, a definitive list of things agents hate in an opening chapter began to emerge:

  • Too much backstory
  • Describing the weather
  • Describing the sky
  • Main character waking up
  • Prologues

It’s funny how you think you are not doing these things as you write, re-write, and edit. Even after multiple rejections, I still believed I had a strong opening. However, once I compared the list to my novel, I realized I had committed every novel sin except for the prologue.

Then, I visited the YA section of my bookshelf and started scanning through all the first chapters of my favorite books. Keeping the list in mind, it was easy to see what they were doing right and what I was doing wrong. A change needed to be made and it needed to be big.

editwars2 I pulled up my manuscript on my Kindle Fire and read the first chapter multiple times. The biggest issues were backstory and weather description. Luckily, the solution for backstory was easy. I could track each segment of backstory to another section of the novel, so I truly did not need it in the first chapter.

As for weather description, the foreshadowing was nice, but not entirely necessary. With these two elements eliminated, there wasn’t much left of Chapter 1. Hmmmm . . . that got me thinking,  why don’t I just delete the whole thing?

Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as just hitting the delete button. When I scrolled down into Chapter 2, it was promising in that as the new start, the reader is dropped right into the story. However, Chapter 2 begins with the main character waking up. Ahhhh! Another thing on the hate list. Two paragraphs down, a sky description shows up! Yet, another thing on the hate list!

Before total panic set in, it became clear that both issues can be easily fixed. A sentence here and a slight deletion there should clear up the hate list issues, while also transitioning Chapter 2 as the new beginning to The Muse.

I guess we’ll see how it goes!

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c.b.w. 2015

Writing Process Blog Hop

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If you ask five writers about their writing process, you’ll get five different answers. That’s part of what makes reading writer blogs so interesting and inspiring. So, when I got tagged for a writing process blog hop, I was thrilled! Susan Rocan of mywithershins invited me to jump into the fray and I’m more than happy to do so. She is the author of two YA novels and an amazing crafter! I love her blog and highly recommend it for readers, writers, and crafters.

I’ll be answering four questions about my process and current projects. Then, I’ll be tagging three other bloggers to take part in the blog hop.

1) What am I working on?

Currently, I’m working on a number of things. Recently, I’ve started taking my poetry much more seriously. Over the last few months, I’ve tinkered with different forms and experimented with new concepts. As a result I’ve written more poetry over the last couple of months than I did all of last year.

I’m also starting to answer the call of my muse regarding the sequel to The Muse. After a long break of relative silence from my characters, they are starting to pop back into my head. My novel notebook goes everywhere with me and I’m busy scribbling notes, ideas, and concepts. It’s really very exciting to be immersed completely in the creative process.

Speaking of The Muse, I recently hired an editor to comb through my manuscript and help me make it as perfect as possible. I’m super excited to embark on yet another another phase of revision. With the help of my editor, I’m hoping to end up with an even better version of my passion project!

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The Muse stands apart from other YA fiction for two reasons:

1. It puts a twist on mythology and art.

I include references to actual Greek myths and works of art with a high degree of accuracy, but I’m also not afraid to alter the truth. Reality and imagination are mixed together to create fictionalized layers to famous works of art and literature.

When it comes to the mythological elements of The Muse, I combed through ancient texts until I hit something rather interesting regarding muses and their origins. Instead of playing with the obvious gods and a goddesses, I took a relatively small aspect of Greek mythology and essentially rewrote the canon. The general structure of the myth surrounding muses remains, but I expand on lesser known elements by creating a backstory with new characters and new “rules.” In my world, there’s a such thing as male muses!

2. The villains are not evil.

After reading a number of YA paranormal/fantasy novels, the one thing many shared in common was an outright evil antagonist. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it got me wondering, what if the villain wasn’t evil?  Thus, my imagination went wild in creating antagonists that are mesmerizing with beauty inside and out, yet still pose a grave threat to my protagonists.

3) Why do I write what I do?

The funny thing is I didn’t “get” YA fiction until I was well into my twenties. My students actually persuaded me to read a book they liked and it turned out to be fantastic! As I continued to delve into YA books, I realized the insight they offered helped me understand students on much deeper level.

That being said, I discovered a genre that tells some pretty great stories.  YA authors deserve far more credit than they receive for being incredible storytellers and world builders. This is especially true when it comes to YA fantasy and paranormal genres.

I discovered a deep passion for urban fantasy and magical realism. Once I started experimenting with the style, I loved the freedom of having absolutely no limits on where a story could go. The concept of taking elements of the real world and giving them a sprinkle of fairy dust is just irresistible. So is having a platform to explore real emotions and issues experienced by young adults.

So often, young adults are portrayed as being oblivious to life and the world around them, but my experiences with them have given me a different perspective. They are smart, observant, and often wiser than people give them credit. At the same time, they can be insecure and impressionable as they are people still trying to find themselves.

In many ways, I want my fiction to change the way people perceive young adults, while also capturing the internal experience of growing up.

4) How does my writing process work?

My process varies depending on the project. When it comes to poetry, I am very inspired by images. Photographs in particular seem to get my muse rolling. Because of that, I consciously take a lot of photographs of different objects, textures, and locations. Whether I’m at home or abroad, I know my camera is going to unlock poetic verse, so I better pay attention to what’s around me!

For novel writing, I keep a novel notebook. I’m a big believer in brainstorming, so I scribble every single idea that comes to mind. Sometimes it’s a bulleted list of plot points  and at others it’s an erratic semantic web of random thoughts. I’ll sketch out locations and make scrapbook pages of character wardrobes. Some pages are reserved for playlist songs or research notes.

In the midst of all the chaos, pages are numbered and details are color coded and/or symbol coded to help me keep spread out ideas connected. I swear none of it makes sense to anyone, but me!

Above all else, I make time to write every single day. Even if its just gibberish, I still write. Sometimes that gibberish leads to an unexpected and wonderful journey!

Psssst … gibberish lead to The Muse!

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Tag, you’re it:

The Everyday Epic – A fantasy writer who documents her journey into fiction both as a writer and reader. Visit her blog for all things Tolkien and inspiration.

Rita Ackerman – a writer that delves into non-fiction, fiction, and the writing process. Her blog offers very informative and inspiring posts on the writing process.

The third blogger I contacted has yet to answer me, but if she does, I’ll add her to the list!

Visit these blogs to see how they respond to the above writing process questions as well who they tag to keep the blog hop going!

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c.b.w. 2014

22 Writers Worth Reading (Part 1)

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Every avid reader has a list of writers they’d recommend to anyone who will listen.  These are the writers readers look for every time they visit a book store or keep permanently on bookshelves and night stands.  Every list is different and personal, but also inspiring as nothing piques a reader’s interest more than the possibility of a new favorite author.

In keeping with the idea of 22 Things (see 22 Moments of Gratitude), I combed through my book collection and selected 22 writers that consistently have me turning pages into all hours of the night. They range from literary legends to phenomenal YA storytellers, but they all share the distinction of being great writers who know how to keep a reader engaged with great characters and plot lines. Over the course of two posts, each writer will get a moment in the spotlight along with my favorite pieces of work.

Writers 1 – 11 in no particular order:

1. David Foster Wallace
I’ve written of Wallace on a number of occasions, so its no wonder I thought of him first.  His writing is wholly original in terms of style, humor, and language.  Wallace tackles the truth with a point of view that is brutally honest, but also warm-hearted and humorous.  He’s not afraid to take readers on a journey into less glamorous parts of life, like grocery store lines or the cubicle of an IRS employee.  For that I applaud him and embrace every word.

Favorite Book(s): This is Water and Oblivion

2. Jane Austen
When I visited the British Library for the first time, I left a print of my forehead on the glass that shields Jane Austen’s journal.  No matter how many times I see her delicate handwriting, I am always in awe. Words were her gift and she never gave up on writing for a living – I love that about her.  Austen’s stories and characters are so beautifully crafted, they feel real every time I open her books.  No one can write the heart of a woman quite like Austen.

Favorite Book: Pride and Prejudice

3. Charlotte Brontë
Right next to the forehead print I left for Jane Austen, I left another one for Charlotte Brontë. There’s nothing quite as incredible as seeing the last chapter of Jane Eyre written in Brontë’s script. I almost cried as Jane Eyre is my favorite book of all time (so far).  Brontë’s stories are dark at times, but her heroines embody the kind of strength I admire greatly and strive to possess.

Favorite Book: Jane Eyre

4. Ivan Klíma
I discovered Ivan Klíma when I went to Prague a few years ago.  Klíma caught my attention because he knows the power of an idea and the necessity of voicing that idea. For years, his words were banned in an attempt to silence his view of the world. Communist Czechoslovakia had no tolerance for any truth beyond their own making.  Yet, Klíma kept writing. Word after word, he protested the injustice of suppression. 
The passion, love, and creativity in every human being is not something to be wasted or forgotten.

Favorite Book(s): No Saints or Angels and My Golden Trades

5. Dennis Potter
Potter is best known for his screenplays, but I’m a huge fan of his short novels.  He is a gritty writer, who dares to challenge our view of reality and human behavior.  His main characters are usually twisted and amoral, but his focus on emotion makes them relatable regardless of their faults.  Potter is a magician with original description and storytelling, which makes his work an experience unlike any other.  For example, in my favorite book he tells the story of a character who knows he is a character in a writer’s  novel.

Favorite Book: Hide and Seek

6. John Irving
Irving is an elegant writer that dazzles me with emotional honesty and wordplay.  His stories and characters are quirky, but they always hit upon a greater truth. Irving delves into difficult concepts such as challenging moral standards, societal expectations, and the human condition with engaging prose and sharp metaphors.  The last line of every book always leaves me pondering and questioning the world around me.

Favorite Book(s): The Fourth Hand and Cider House Rules

7. J.K. Rowling
I was very late the Harry Potter party, but once I read the first book I was hooked.  Rowling is the only writer who has ever convinced me to follow a main character who is a child.  Throughout the entire series, I was awed by Rowling’s imagination as she conjured an entirely new world filled with dynamic characters. Hermione felt like my twin and Ron an older brother I wish I had.  And Harry, of course, unexpectedly captured my heart.  Who knew a children’s series could work such amazing magic?

Favorite Book(s):  Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows

8. Stephanie Meyer
My love for Stephanie’s Meyer’s work started with the Twilight series, but it only grows as I read more of her work.  Meyer likes to play with convention and create stories that break all the rules. This is a writer who truly knows the meaning of fiction because she traverses all boundaries as if they don’t exist.  In Twilight, she decided vampires could sparkle when everyone else said “No, they can’t.”  I find that very inspiring and empowering!

Favorite Book(s): Twilight

9. Guy de Maupassant
One of Maupassant’s strengths is his ability to transform a rather simple story into something beautiful with well-crafted imagery and flowing prose. Rather than explore these realms the old-fashioned way through the mind of the character, he creates magnificent and sometimes haunting images of emotion with landscapes, water, and overall atmosphere.

Favorite Book: Bel-Ami

10. Vladimir Nabokov
Whenever I finish reading a Nabokov book, everything somehow looks a little different.  Nabokov likes to explore the darker corners of the human mind and he often dredges up parts of the psyche most people would prefer to ignore.  Many of his characters are extreme personifications of human behavior, but Nabokov paints them so realistically they could be the next door neighbor everyone knows, but would never invite for tea.

Favorite Book: Invitation to a Beheading

11. Peter David
Geek alert! Back in my Trekkie days, (Oh, let’s face it, they never ended), I always looked forward to any Star Trek book written by Peter David.  He portrays the main characters better than most Trek writers and he has a great sense of the overall scope of Gene Rodenberry’s creation.  Every one of his books had me at the edge of my seat with suspense, laughing from well-placed humor, and dreaming of The Final Frontier.

Favorite Book(s): Imzadi and Q-Squared

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Stay tuned for 12 -22!

c.b. 2012

A Bookshelf of Organized Chaos

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Recently, the photograph that runs along my sidebar was a topic of conversation with a friend.  It isn’t something I pulled off the internet, but rather a photograph I took of my personal bookshelf.   The shelf is one of the more noticeable features of my home as it covers the an entire wall in my dining room.  It reaches all the way to the ceiling and it is rammed with hundreds of books.  With such a large collection, it would make sense to have  a sophisticated system of organization – like alphabetizing or Dewey Decimal – to make it easy to find any book.  I’ve mentioned my highly organized nature, so naturally there is a system in place, but no one really knows how it works except for me!   Nothing is alphabetized or numbered and genre based categories are not utilized. Everything is neatly shelved, but aside from that it looks like a haphazard stack to the untrained eye.  Despite my unorthodox ways, I know where each and every book is located.  Below is a larger scale photograph of my shelf and a list of the categories I use to keep everything in working order.

Writers I Admire
Location: Second Shelf

I carved out a special section to store the books of authors who I hold in high regard as a reader and as an aspiring writer.  The likes of David Foster Wallace, Ivan Klíma, John Irving, Michael Chabon, Paul Auster, Dennis Potter, Guy de Maupassant, Vladimir Nabokov, and Paulo Coehlo populate this area of the wall along with a few other new recruits.  I keep these writers grouped together because they inspire me to continue experimenting with my own style of writing.  I don’t want to emulate them, but rather write with the same spirit of courage, creativity, honesty, boldness, and heart.

Books I’ve Read
Location: Second Shelf (far right, part of which is not visible in the picture), Third Shelf (1/4 way in from the left and extends to the far right which is not visible), Fourth Shelf (From the left edge up to The Da Vanci Code).

If you have visited the “My Bookshelf” tab, you’ll probably spot several of those titles stacked on my shelves.  I keep most books I’ve read if I enjoyed them, (some are double stacked behind what is visible).  Whatever I don’t keep is sold to Half-Price Books where I usually have the cash in my hands for an entire five minutes before buying something “new.”

The books are grouped in such a strange pattern on different shelves in order to link different categories without creating too much disruption.  I tend to read YA at a fast pace, which means just about every book in that section has been read.  That creates a nice meeting point to start stacking all other books I’ve read.  The other meeting point connects to Authors I Admire as the vast majority of those books have also been read.

These books are shelved in the order in which they were read.  Books on the right are the most recently read, which makes it easier to distinguish them from the next category . . .

Books I Haven’t Read
Location: Third Shelf (far right, starting after Martin Amis and continuing to a point that is not visible in the photograph), Fourth Shelf (starting after The Da Vinci Code and extending beyond the scope of photograph).

The largest category by far, but I would rather have too much to read than not enough.  The books are stacked on different shelves for a purely logistical reason – size.  The hardcovers are too big to fit on the third shelf and the collection as a whole is too big to fit all on one shelf.

Almost Finished Reading
Location: Third Shelf (in the middle, right after Water For Elephants and stopping at The Collected Short Stories of Anton Chekov)

These are books that for whatever reason I never got to the last page.  Perhaps another book caught my attention or I just didn’t get into the story.  I can usually remember where I left off and almost always return to them at one time or another.  I figured the perfect place for them was right in between read and unread, like a buffer zone of sorts.

Young Adult

Location: Third Shelf (left Side) and Fourth Shelf (left Side)

Ever since I read Twilight, (yeah, I’m one of those people), I found myself drawn into the YA genre.  There are a number of series of which I’ve become a devoted follower.  What I love about YA is the storytelling aspect.  The writing may not be fine literature, but the stories are usually very original and always a good bit of fun.  After reading something heavy or difficult, I love jumping into a realm where I don’t have to analyze every single word.

The series I’ve collected include, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games Trilogy, Twilight series, (which has actually turned into anything by Stephanie Meyer), Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series, Lauren Kate’s Fallen Series, Percy Jackson, and Claudia Gray’s Evernight series.

I tend to mix read with unread, but only because I go through them so quickly.  At the moment, there’s only a few I haven’t read, which means it’s time to start stockpiling again!

Size again plays a role in why YA occupies two shelves instead of one.  Harry Potter and parts of the Twilight collection are too tall to fit the third shelf, while the rest of YA is too short to properly fill up the fourth shelf, (sometimes aesthetics have to be considered).

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