Saturday, October 29, 2011

Kiersten White's SUPERNATURALLY is a Sparkly Batch of Awesome!

ZOMG, I love Kiersten White's Paranormalcy series! I just devoured the second book, and it was so much fun. Like: laugh out loud funny at parts. And let's face it, YA can be heavy with heavy sometimes. Ok, a lot of the time. There's lots of family members dying and betrayal and violence and sadness in YA lit. Did you read the last Hunger Games book? It's like a non-stop PTSD trip, only barely able to breathe before something else horribly traumatic happens.

So it is just so refreshing to read a book that's so spunky, and again I say, fun! And yet it  also has a deep core of great story-telling, themes, and heart underneath. You can't say Evie doesn't face some difficult *bleep* (to use her stand-in word), but the story-telling voice is still so snarky and funny, exemplified in the hilarious chapter headings. My favorite, the one that had me seriously rolling laughing: Sparkles Make Everything Better.

 Yes, Evie. Sparkles do make everything better :D

Also, from a writerly point of view, I'm kind of obsessed with seeing how writers handle sequels. Can the romantic tension keep up? Can the character's voice stay compelling? And are characters not put in just such horrible circumstances that it's hard to read the dang thing? White's book is obviously a check, check, and check.

It's not lightly that I say that this series is one of the few around right now that I'm super invested in and can't wait for the third book!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Between The Sea and Sky Review

Between The Sea and Sky by Jaclyn Dolamore. So, full disclosure: I watched The Little Mermaid every single day after school for a YEAR in 2nd grade. I have a special warm place in my heart for mermaid stories :D  And Jaclyn Dolamore more than fulfills all those old-world mermaid fantasies and introduces a new generation to the romantic mermaid fairytale in this book!

My first impression of this book was that it reminded me of Robin McKinley's books back in the day, like Beauty and Rose Daughter and The Hero and the Crown, those epic fantasy/fairytales that completely sweep you up. The suspension of disbelief is instant--this is a novel not aiming for realism--we don't get a modern day exploration of the logistical ins and outs of being a mermaid. Instead we are presented with the fantasy world, and it is so instantly compelling you allow yourself readily to be taken to the story-realm.

Here's the Goodreads description, that summarizes better I can:

For as long as Esmerine can remember, she has longed to join her older sister, Dosinia, as a siren--the highest calling a mermaid can have. When Dosinia runs away to the mainland, Esmerine is sent to retrieve her. Using magic to transform her tail into legs, she makes her way unsteadily to the capital city. There she comes upon a friend she hasn't seen since childhood--a dashing young man named Alandare, who belongs to a winged race of people. As Esmerine and Alandare band together to search for Dosinia, they rekindle a friendship . . . and ignite the emotions for a love so great, it cannot be bound by sea, land, or air.

I liked the build as Esmerine travels into unknown lands (the surface) without knowing what's coming next. Her relationship with Alandare is pitch perfect. A girl of the sea and a boy of the sky: could there be a more star-crossed pairing?  At the beginning there's that awesomely awkward stage of getting to know a childhood friend as an adult, on adult terms. And Alandare is so delightfully flawed, bookish and slightly socially awkward, but still charming. . The build of romantic tension and then the climax of the book, so powerful and so emotional and sigh! I loved it. Five stars.

Between the Sea and Sky hit shelves this week! Go grab a copy!!
*My thanks to NetGalley for providing a review ARC of this book.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Randomosity, aka What I've Been Up To This Week

So this week I:
- finished editing a solid draft of book 2!!!!!!!!!!
- am working to finish a couple beta reads still out
- finally acknowledged the extra ten pounds I gained this year aren't going to magically melt away went and bought pants that actually fit. Fitting into your pants in the morning and not having to squirm like a pig trying to get into its blanket = WIN!
- cleaned out my inboxes
- am toying with the idea of writing book 3 during NaNoWriMo. I have the time. I'm not in school and don't have a job, so I guess that theoretically means I'm a full time writer ;)  And drafting is a great high. There's nothing like that piling up word count. It feels so tangible, in a job that is often so not. I don't know if I'd get the whole thing done in a month, but I think I could get at least a hefty half, and I like being part of the energy of people around the country, even the world, all writing together. I have an outline, and I've been day-dreaming scenes from it the past couple weeks, a sure fire Good Sign.
- am reading the Game of Thrones series and trying to remember how to speed read ;)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Game of Thrones

I'm reading the second book in the Game of Thrones series. It's quite strange to read when I pretty much ONLY consume YA lit the rest of the time. The tone is so different, the shifting point of views, the slow and drawn out story-telling. And it is taking me so long to read! I've been at it half the day and have barely made a dent in the 750 page tome. But I am just a slower reader lately, though I didn't used to be. I know I consumed Terry Goodkind's entire 11-book series last year, and each one was as long. But this has been such a strange year all around.

In this series, there is so much to like. I love the epic scale. The slow build, character storylines that never meet each other, but there's that unspoken promise that eventually they will tie together. I like that George R.R. Martin tells the story from the point of view of the outcasts of society, from that of an old man who has trouble climbing the stairs and who's counsel is no longer sought, from the little person mockingly called Imp, from the eyes of children, the disabled, from the woman who was all but sold and then holds the key to bringing dragons back to life. I like that kingdoms may rise and fall on their doings, and not those of the beautiful and strong.

As I said, it has been a hard year. I park in disabled spots and limp exhaustedly into stores. Other days I don't have energy to leave the house. George R.R. Martin's book here reminds us that people, of all shapes and sizes and abilities, matter. And matter on an epic scale ;)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When You Can't NOT - What Being a Writer is Really About

A common story gets told about when a more experienced writer or poet comes to a class of new writers: when the eager young writers ask for advice, the seasoned, wizened (and one can assumed, a bit weather-worn) writer says this, "First Piece of Advice--do anything else other than be a writer!"

This was kind of novel the first time I heard it. It speaks to how hard it is to make a living as a writer, of the trials and tribulations within the writing lifestyle itself, and of how little appreciated writers may be within our society.

But let's be honest. None of the young writers listen. We all still want to be writers!!! Perhaps we think: our path will be smoother, our genius more quickly recognized, that our success can be attained! But once the rejection piles start stacking up, the young writer looses their first enthusiasm, and hopefully, their delusions of grandeur. And yet some of them will just keep writing anyway. The pack thins out.

Because here's the deal. If you're a writer, you just can't NOT write. It doesn't matter how many time rejections bury you under your covers for days on end. It doesn't matter how darling your story or novel was that has been unanimously rejected across the board. You just keep writing because you can't not.

That's what being a writer is about. And sometimes, as my fellow Apocalyspies and I have discovered, it can even lead to the impossible: a book deal.

And sure, that's a brief awesome blip in your life as a writer. But then the day of the big announcement comes and goes, and it's still back to the bones of being a writer: the page in front of you, and whether you'll write today.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cover Reveals!!

It doesn't take much to get me encouraged and back on track again, and a couple of peeps' kindness in the past few days have allowed me to do just that. I'm fired up with edits on book 2, making lists of the things left to fix, and generally being enamored with all things.

And to celebrate, let's all look at some gorgeous newly released covers of fellow 2012 debut-ers:



Kathleen Peacock's Hemlock
Anne Greenwood Brown's Lies Beneath
Suzanne Lazear's Innocent Darkness
S.J. Kincaid's Insignia

I can't wait to read these!!!!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Discouragement & Solitude

So my chronic illness relapsed about three weeks ago (right after that post about how great I was feeling, naturally!), and I’m trying to dig my way out again. I can manage about two hours out and about in the world each day, as long as there is comfortable enough seating.

Which is a problem at the Zen Center. I’m discouraged that even a group founded on the basis of SITTING still involves too much athleticism for me. I need to sit on something that has back support, and here’s the kicker: head support as well. And, understandably I suppose, there are no lounge chairs at the Zen Center. I tired more quickly than normal during the hour-long class this morning, which itself is in a room up three flights of stairs.

Still, I thought, perhaps there is a way for me to be involved at the center and to meditate during the week with others. I can manage 30 minutes of sitting on the floor if I can rest my back against something at least. I asked if it was all right if I sat leaning against the wall, and was very kindly informed that no, meditation during the week at this center is done facing the wall, not leaning against it. It’s okay, I understand—there is order and ritual involved here, and I’m not going to try to tromp in like a bull in a china shop demanding accommodations.

But I am discouraged. It all circles round to what I’d rather it not: that if I’m going to do this and really develop a meditation practice, I have to do it alone. More solitude, in all it's many textures.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Natalie Goldberg & Author Signings

I talk a lot about Natalie Goldberg. I first was introduced to her when I started writing and heard about this Must-Have Writing Book: Writing Down The Bones. I picked it up, wondering if it would turn into a case of over-hype. It didn't. There is something really special about that book.

Only now, finally (though it has been sitting on my shelves for a couple years) am I reading her first memoir piece, Long Quiet Highway. The cover is gray. The name sounds slow. Quietness is not much of a hook. And we in YA circles are so very interested in good hooks ;) But now I am so eager to devour stories of people engaging in meditation, especially women. So I read Eat Pray Love (I'm still in the middle of it), and devour Goldberg's memoir, so youthful, hopeful, optimistic. She goes and lives in a tipi in a commune in Taos. She is a hippie. She loves writing. She wants to meet her own mind. The book is saturated with these loves and longings. The book is written in 1993, when she's around 45 years old.

I met her in person a couple of years ago, at a reading and signing. 'Met' is a strange word when it comes to author signings. You have a minute, maybe more, with this person you've all but idolized, and here they are, in person! but they are tired and there is a long line behind you, and all you can sputter off is some quick nonsense about how much you've been moved by your work, and they sign your book, and look you full in the face maybe, and then it is over.

And I have a crap memory, so I don't remember much about it, except, she seemed like a very strong woman. Strong, opinionated. A teacher who had so many students she didn't put up with much crap anymore. A strong woman, comfortable in her age. And I have her signature on a book in my apartment. Meanwhile, I feel far more connected to her through this memoir of hers I am reading. And this place, meeting people at the Zen center here in Minneapolis and trying out sitting in meditation, I feel more connection to her than ever.

As a writer, I wonder, when my book is published and people read it, will they feel connected to me? Will they feel like they know me? And appropriate me for themselves, as I myself have done with so many authors in my long reading history? I think this will be a funny moment, when I am the one signing books at readings.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Beginning Zen & Crumbling Idols

I went back to the Zen center today for another beginner's class (the 2nd of 4). I've been sitting for meditation by myself most days this past week. It is... Well, now I don't really know how to describe it! It is calming. It is not earth-shattering. But on days that I do it, I find myself more mindful of my thoughts as they pass the rest of the day.

And I have been writing, really writing again. I'm getting ahold of the book finally, it starts to feel less chaotic, less disorienting. I have set a deadline for this draft. The self-discipline of meditation has spilled over into that of writing. When I face resistance in writing now, it is no great shock. As most writers will attest: it is what happens. I acknowledge the resistance, I gently nod to it in greeting. And then I put my pen back on the page and keep writing.

It's funny, reading Natalie Goldberg's writing books was my first introduction to Zen (though I didn't know it at the time, I just knew I liked the way she saw the world). I found out only after I'd visited the Zen center here in Minneapolis that it was founded by her teacher, Katagiri Roshi. She wrote Writing Down the Bones and Long Quiet Highway while still half-idolizing him, before she became so disillusioned after his death when she discovered he'd carried on affairs with some of his other female students.

I'm glad to hear this tale of disillusionment as I begin. Is that funny? I like to see things get real, to have the illusion debunked that there is any way of life that will keep men holy. I saw it enough in Christianity, I was not surprised to find it here as well. People are people, thier foibles and sins remain. All idols have clay feet, and tend to crumble given enough time (and power or authority). Our human-ness will out.

I feel more compassion for this condition than I have in the past. But then again, I am more compassionate with myself. Most days anyway ;)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Zen & Meditation & Eat Pray Love

I have a bit of a pattern to my days now, though I hesitate to write it down, because I feel like every time I assert something lately, it's doomed to change the next day. But I will chance telling you all anyway ;) 

I wake up, take my son downstairs and wait for the bus, come back up to my apartment, make some coffee and read and meditate. Well, sort of meditate. Usually I sit quietly and listen to music and try to focus on sensory input and still my wandering mind. I watch trees out the window. At my old apartment I watched the birds in delighted fascination. But I tried it 'for real' this morning, with the whole sitting quietly for a set period, just focusing on breathing. I don't know what to think of it yet. But I liked what the teacher last Sunday at the Zen center said: that this is an experiment, something we are trying out as a way to be present in our lives. He repeated part of a poem by Dogen several times: "to study zen is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be connected to all things." I like that.
So I go write in the afternoons, take care of my son on alternate days after school, and spend most evenings reading. And lately my evenings have been spent reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love. I thought this book sounded silly when it came out and became so popular. Sure, I thought, rolling my eyes, some chick going around the world to find herself and talk about some spacy God-hybrid (you know, all the religions mixed into one), complete with having heart-warming stories that sum up nicely at the end of each chapter and make everyone who reads it feel good.

But then, I watched Gilbert on a You-Tube video, and you know what, she seemed pretty great--down to earth and compassionate. And then I looked up a bit about her book and realized: a woman who hits a crisis, goes through a divorce, and talks about meditation? I need to read this book ASAP.

So I picked it up last week and am reading slowly through it. I like it. Some moments are just perfectly captured, even transcendent. I've cried several times while reading. Gilbert is very likeable, even if some of her stories do have that too-familiar 'testimony' feel--you know, that art of crafting stories out of one's daily life more according to the lines of narrative punch than actual reality, where there's always a lesson to be learned, some clear out-come to be gleaned (a good testimony even follows the narrative arc: conflict, rising action, climax!, resolution). And when Gilbert asks questions of god, she gets (or as she says, some part of herself provides), answers. Like answers answers. In words. Which always disturbs me a bit, because it was stories like this that were so confusing when I was very religious for a full decade, and so desperately hoping to hear an answer from God.

Here's the thing--I may take up meditation, I may try out participating in the community at this or another Zen center, but I am not looking for enlightenment, I'm not looking for an intense spiritual experience, and I'm certainly not looking for God.

But I would like to be a little bit less bewildered feeling all the time. I would like some peace. And I have seen the way that this lifestyle engenders compassion. That's what I would like to see organically grow in myself: peace and compassion. If there's a long history that says this kind of meditation can bring that, then I will try it out, and try it genuinely. I can do self-discipline. I face resistance and overcome it with writing fairly regularly, I think it will not be entirely foreign to sit everyday and try to focus my breathing and let go of the monkey thoughts.

We'll see. Like the teacher said, it's an experiment.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Hardest Question in Life: What Do You WANT?

The instructor in my writing class said that what drives plot is this question: what does your character want?

This is a devilish question. It startled when she said it, because I've been quite tied up with plotting out this book (book 2 in my trilogy) very externally: this happens, and then this, which leads to this. The cause and effect thing I had down. But I realized there was a problem as I was reading through the first draft I'd written this summer: it had no heart, it had no soul. There was no reason to care about my main character, because she's a muddle.

What does she want?

Oh, you horrible, very important question. And it only hit me today, because I must be slow, and because things in my life have been quite hard lately--she's a muddle because I'm a muddle. What do I want?

Believe it or not, it was this exact question that set me off on some of these Big Change Life Choices earlier this year. I read this question (or a version very similar to it) in a book and literally threw the book down as if it had burned me: "Where do I feel good? What is giving me joy?" --Joseph Campbell, in A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living

My answer to what my character wants as I looked through my muddled draft today was: she wants things to start being okay, for them not to be bad for awhile. But really that is what I want. On my quest to find joy and to answer the question of what I want, all I have so far  discovered is What I Do Not Want: loneliness, sadness, bewilderment. Divorce is hard.

My novels are in first person. My main character, Zoe, is both like, and unlike, me. I think she will need different motivations from me--that the motivation that drives a novel cannot just be for things to be okay. Though maybe she's a little understandably shell-shocked from some things that have happened. And I have always used writing as a way to work through and understand my own world. If I can let my main character be more honest, let myself be more honest, I think it will give soul to the book. But I don't want this to be a sad book. I'm tired of the cliched middle novel of trilogies being The Sad Book ;)