Monday, December 27, 2010

My Writing Process--Riding the Groove

Woo hoo! Finally the writing mojo is back and I hit my stride again, wrote 2,500 words today. This book's been a little slower in getting started than projects in the past. Probably b/c I jinxed it by breezily saying to others, "oh, I write books fast, most of the last book was written in a month." Yeah. With this one I've barely been keeping up with my word count (I set a goal of 1,000 words a day). [Side note on word counts: Some people hate making word count quotas for themselves. I've heard some authors say it makes them produce the required amount of words, but then later they just end up cutting most of it! Not so for me. If I can push through a scene or two, it's usually a usable first draft.]

But still, it's been a bit like pulling teeth, until today. I'm finally IN the story enough (third chapter) where I'm familiar enough with the characters again and the words and scenes flow out like smooth, smooth butta. It's a good feeling, because I was afraid I'd lost my magic. Lo and behold, it just took two weeks of getting back in the writing groove to find it.

Really, what it took was getting excited about the story again. I'd outlined this book, and it's the second book in a trilogy, which I've never done before. I've written about 4 1/2 manuscripts before, but each time I started a new project, it was totally fresh, with new characters that were jumping like popping popcorn in my head to get out. With this one though, I'm picking the story back up that I'd brought to resolution in the last book and having to work hard to build up fresh tension and interest--both in the story itself, and in myself FOR the story! But it's like I finally reminded myself why I loved these characters in the first place, all their many complexities and quirks that made me so interested in them as I created them in the first place. And their relationships with each other, which is really when the pages start to fly.

The writing process itself is a little hard to describe. We writers keep trying to explain it, and I imagine it's different for everyone. For me, pardon my mysticism, it's kind of like magic. Not like there's some divine aura or muse directing my words or anything. I use the word "magic" to mean that it's just something I don't really understand. When I get in the groove, I lose sense of the world around me, what's playing on my mp3 player, how far down the page I am, page count, etc. The scenes happen. I look up, realize seven songs have played on the album I'm listening to and I've written a bunch of pages. Magic. Like dancing or any activity where you lose sense of time and are totally absorbed in the moment and the movement without thinking ABOUT what you are doing. You just groove.

It took two weeks to catch the groove again, and I only get one more week to spend before I have to put the book down again. I'm taking Agent Dude's advice, and am not going to put a lot of energy into this one till Book 1 sells. But still, I'm giving myself another week to luxuriate in it. After that, it's time to put this away, then turn to working on my thesis. My advisor said she needs to start seeing chapters by the end of January!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Top Ten Reads of 2010

I read a little over a hundred books this year, not as much as my benchmark set last year, but still a lot. Note: a lot of these are young adult books, the kind you can down in a single sitting. it's not like I a read a hundred dense books like Crime and Punishment or Middlemarch :)

And there were definitely some that stand out, almost all paranormal or fantasy ya reads. In no particular order:

1. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta. Okay, this might actually be my top favorite read of the year. I know Jellicoe Road got all the praise and attention last year, but I didn't really like it. This one, though, god it was full of great characters and it rang out so many notes of hope of restoration, forgiveness, and reconciliation after the horrors of war. So many books are about the falling apart and climax of wars, but this one is about the aftermath, plotting the path back to healing and wholeness. But this is just the underlying theme, it's far from didactic. Marchetta does what great writers do best: write something incredibly meaningful through the medium of engaging characters, tension, and epic plotting. Both covers of this book have been bad, though. Kills me, because it's such a GREAT frickin book!

2. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. This book might win my award for most beautiful writing of the year. The author also writes poetry, and not only is the language itself poetic in the prose, but the snatches of poems at the beginning of chapters are also really evocative. Lots about loss, love, sexuality, a really honest depiction of this girl emerging from a painful event back into life.

3. The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan. This book came out a year (or two) ago, and I'd always heard/read good things about it, but for some reason had stubbornly refused to pick it up --maybe b/c it had a male protag, and I'm not usually into dude narrators, but that was actually one of the things that made this book absolutely amazing--being inside Nick's head and getting his unique view on the world, being part of his confusion about all the emotions in the people surrounding him but not knowing how to share them. There were seriously cool supernatural elements to Brennan's world, but really, it was getting in Nick's head that just wrenched my readerly heart out. I couldn't stop thinking about this book for weeks after I'd put it down. And bummer about the not-very-good covers (both hardback AND paperback), it deserves so much better!

4. Nightshade by Andrea Cremer. This book was fabulous, and a surprise. I got an ARC of this book and was happily surprised to find it wasn't just the cliche paranormal fare. Cremer creates an intelligent mythology and does intricate world building. It's awesome because the reader is introduced to the world through Calla's eyes, and to her, the flawed power structures and strict gender (and creature) roles around her seem normal. But with the introduction of Shay into her world, she slowly begins to question everything she thought she knew. The book keeps up action, tension, and sexy elements all the way through.

5. The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith. I just read this book this week, but haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. I wrote a pretty big fan-girl post about it last week, but yeah, it's a great story, so piercingly honest. It's about race relations, yes, but also just about being human, and Smith excellently uses supernatural elements to help the characters see just what it means to be human, to be haunted by the past, and how to work to overcome pain to keep on living.

6. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. Loved this book hard. I liked it's pacing and setting a lot more than I did the modern world of her Mortal Instruments Series. The late 1800's with the supernatural and a little bit steam-punk? Along with delicious, tormented boys and a strong female lead? Yes please.

7. The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger. Bianca's acerbic sarcastic wit is frankly refreshing in a YA world full of weaker female leads. Bianca's got problems, sure, but she's dealing with them the best way she knows how. She doesn't fit in the cookie-cutter pattern expected of young girls, and she's not shy about it. I love, love, love Bianca's character. She's complex, has plenty of vulnerabilities underneath. And then there's Wesley. Yum.
8. Paranormaly by Kiersten White. I'm surprised I haven't seen more buzz about this book around, because I totally loved it. Again we're introduced to a main character who accepts the world as it's presented to her and all of the limitations imposed on her, and through the introduction of an outsider, begins to question they whys of her confinement. The action, pace, and lighter voice of this book made it a really fun read. It was the perfect balance of tone--not light enough to be fluffy, but not so dark it was hard to read.

9. The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell. Okay, maybe this isn't fair, because this one won't come out till March, but it was still one of my best reads this year. It has a haunting tone underlying the glitz and glitter of life in Victorian Baltimore. The language alone makes this book worth a top ten read. The characters are all complex, especially the main character--her transformation throughout the book, for better and for worse, really resonates through the text. And the romantic aspects of the book are also so realistic and full of aching, unresolved tension because of the setting (boys and girls are barely allowed to touch, much less kiss!).

10. Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers. Sexxxxxxxxxxxxxxxy. This book is wicked sexy, with a demon and an angel vying for Frannie's soul, and her supernatural abilities that could change the course of the world as we know it. Apart from the super sexy factor was the appealing nature of each character, especially the character growth of the demon Luc. Being inside his head was awesome. This book was fun, but again, not fluffy. Can't wait for the sequel next year. Only flaw is the cover, which is so mass-market-paper-back cover, and the book deserves better!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

You Should Read This Book

The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith.

This book. This book. This book. It's worming it's way inside me. This book makes me want to start giving a shit again, about entering into the suffering of others, about the worth of all the lives around you and the acknowledgment of the difficult legacy of race relations left to young Americans today. The Other Side of Dark is one of the most poignant and honest fiction books I've read about the haunting (dramatized literally) legacy of slavery, so honest and transparent about all the complex ways we think--the good and the bad--the multiple truths that exist alongside each other in our heads. Our UNlovely motivations. This book makes me want to crack open my hardened chest again and start giving a crap about people, with humility and love.

During my very religious years I kept repeating words and trying to feel the things I ought to feel. Trying to love my neighbor. Trying to do charity and want to keep doing it. Wishing I didn't hate working at the soup kitchen and scrubbing the very dirty bathrooms afterwards because it was the one time a week some people had access to hot water. Because out of all the many shoulds that I accomplished with great zeal, I smiled and lied about how I really felt. Because to admit my less than lovely thoughts meant I was wrong and sinful.

And then afterwards, I told myself I'd give myself a few years off from charity, from giving a fuck about others. To cleanse my palate maybe? To stop living like Jacob Marley with chains of guilt banging around my neck? And then when I was so sick for years, nobody cared, and I thought, maybe that's just how we all are--selfish and self-involved.

I think enough of that pain has scar-tissued over now. The clouds of anger and bitterness have cleared enough where maybe I can try to love other people and still be honest at the same time. Not expect perfection of myself, or be disappointed when I don't find perfection in the people around me. Maybe there's still hope for truth and beauty in the world? In others? In myself?

Quote from near the end of the book:
Death sucks. Life is a lot more fun. So live, huh? Even when it's hard.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Writing Life

The semester has finally ended and I find myself with a bit of that precious commodity: time. Of course, the accompanying necessary ingredient: motivation--now that one's still missing a bit. I know logically that after the stress of the semester that I'd have to just be prone for a week, but there's a buzzing under my skin to get started on all the projects I couldn't during school. Like writing!!

I'm doing last edits on Glitch before Agent Dude sends the manuscript out on submission in Jan. He's mentioned some impressive publishing houses, now we'll just see if they want me. Do you remember the refrain of that 90's song by the Cardigans:
Love me, love me, say that you love me

Yeah, the entire querying, trying to get an agent, and now sending it on submission to editors makes that song refrain sound over and over in my head. Love me! Love me! Say that you love me! And my book!

But then, because I'm me, this leads to larger existential questions - isn't that the refrain to most our lives - would someone or multiple someones just love us and want us around? Sometimes I've thought the epigraph of my life would be: she wanted to be wanted. Which um, yeah, sounds a little emo and pathetic, but really, I think it's what most of us just want. It's what I wanted when I was a dorky 7th grader hoping for a seat at the lunch table with the cool kids, it's what I wanted when I went off to college and started dating, it's what we want when we are interviewing for jobs, when looking for agents, and now publishers. Like me, like me! I swear I'm cool enough to belong here! I'm unique and special, like the snowflakes!! Like the snowflakes, dammit!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Duff by Kody Keplinger - Review

Goodness gracious, I loved this book. From varying reviews I've seen around, people either loved this book, or hated it. It surprised me at first when I looked after I'd read it, but upon further reflection, I get it. The main character, Bianca, is a bit acerbic, with a biting bitter wit that I, for one, appreciate. People have called Bianca our generation's Holden Caufield, and I'm tempted to agree. She's so wonderfully displaced in her own life, so correctly cutting in her views of the world around her. And then there's the fact that she's just a friggin' teenager who is going through some really tough sh#%.

But of course, since it's YA, people get all book-baning on Keplinger's ass, even though SHE'S STILL AN ACTUAL TEENAGER!! Yes, and don't think I'm not depressed at this debut by such a talented 19-year-old, but this amazingly-voiced novel is from an actual teenager. And for that reason alone, she should get past all the fuddy-dudding book-banners.

Everything in this book is so funny, and HONEST. Want to hear an authentic teenage voice with a less-than-conservative-happy take on the world? Pick up this book. Plus, can I just say, hot love story, while also poignant and honest? This book is a crazy mix of tear-your-heart-out honesty and suprising-love-story. I read this book without knowing how young the author was, and then when I found out, I was absolutely-frickin-shocked. You will not believe how friggen good this book is. Absolutely, one of my top-ten best reads of 2010.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Memories of the Wheelchair Days

Life's been too good lately, if you know what I mean. I'm not so pessimistic that I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I am trying to enjoy the happy while it's here. Earlier this week, when I realized I wasn't going to be able to finish a paper in time, in spite of all the research and effort I'd put into it, I started laughing- literally laughing out loud. Just like, oh well, it was bound to happen sometime! I sound a little manic here, but I'm actually not. Just happy.

I'm generally wicked happy and in a great mood almost all the time now, but it's not so far removed that I don't remember some really horrible years I had, mostly in Chicago, when I was in a wheelchair because the CFS was so bad, and I really hated people like me--you know, the bouncing around, cheerful kind of people. I have these very vivid memories of wheeling around my undergrad college campus, staring at people's feet, and wanting to just run the hell into them with my footrests, especially people who were overly nice to me or tried to open doors for me, or stopped me in the hallway because they wanted to pray for my healing (no lie, this happened on several occasions, it was a Bible college after all). I was so angry, so incredibly angry, sick, and unhappy. For years, you know? I don't know how my then-new husband put up with me, but he stuck it out, constantly supported me, used to all but carry me up or stay with me as I miserably crawled up the two flights of stairs to our damnable tiny one-room apartment (most of the smaller apartment buildings in Chi-town don't have elevators). I think a lot of lesser men would have left me.

So I think back to that person, and it seems incredible that it was actually me. At the time, one of the things that angered and hurt most was how hard it was for people to continue to caring about what a hard time I was having- people who were supposed to care, like friends, or church. People might care for a moment, a week or two, but all anyone wants to hear when they ask "how are you?" is that it's getting better, not the same or getting worse. But sticking it out for the long haul with a sad or sick person? For months, years? One of the Bible verses that still resonates with me is "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn." Be willing to hear that the answer to "how are you?" is "man, not good, not good at all." Especially around the holidays, when holiday cheer makes the juxtaposition of melancholy feel all that much more heavy.

No great resolution here, just let's try to love on people more.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lots of Delicious Reading, So Little Time

This week, in between maniacally working on edits for the book, finishing a paper about an 800 pg Renaissance book, and finishing classes, I also downed a few YA books that were really delightful. I'll rank them in order of awesomeness.

The Vespertine
by Saundra Mitchell
. I'll post a fuller review closer to when it's published next March, but it was A-MAZING!!!! Set in Victorian Baltimore with a hint of supernatural elements, this book was thick with longing, so achingly decadent in every sense of the word. In a time where touching bare hands was considered wanton and dangerous, every intimate moment Amelia and Nathaniel steal alone has a heightened sense or eroticism (even though their contact by today's standard would be considered chaste). The tension and haunting narration also adds a depth that really launches this book beyond the normal YA fare. I can't say enough about how happily surprised I was at devouring this advanced readers copy. Five stars.

It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han. The first book in this series, The Summer I Turned Pretty, was one of the few non-paranormal reads that has really stuck with me. Han has a knack for capturing real-life emotions, weaving the present in with memories of the past that make you feel like you really know all of the characters, in all their complexities. And a love story that was so real, and so, so satisfying. The sequel was just as satisfying, but had some surprising twists. I can't say too much without giving away spoilers, but I was really happy about where Han took Belly's story in the sequel. I'm also glad there's just two books in the series, which felt like bringing the story full circle without dragging it out to make it a trilogy just for the heck of it. Four stars.

Wish by Alexandra Bullen. This book was kind of fluffy, with fairy-tale elements (hello, magic dresses you can wish on), but at the same time, it was attempting to tackle some heavy issues: death of a family member. I feel like this is becoming a young adult lit trope: kill off a family member and suddenly your main character is deep because they have really been through something. It separates them from all their classmates and gives them a more mature perspective on things, and when done right, it's very effective (like in one of my fav reads of the year, The Sky Is Everywhere). But here, eh, it was like the frosted cupcake version of the dead-sibling narrative. Which was a little disconcerting, though it was an okay read in and of itself. Three stars.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

CAN Men and Women Ever Be "Just Friends"?

This is the age old question, awesomely dramatized in the classic When Harry Met Sally. And it's one I've certainly wondered about often enough, because here's the thing: a lot of the time, I get along better with dudes than I do with other women. I don't know if this is because I grew up with brothers or because of the difference in topic in conversations I can have with guys.

I have several guy aquaintances that I wish I could spend more time with and who, if they were girls, I'd want to be besties with. But then I worry if its inescapable that b/c of the tension of opposite sex relations (or same sex relations if one swings that way), that you always have to tread a certain boundary line. You always have to be careful not to create too much of an emotional connection with any dude other than your spouse. But these are still some awesome unique people who I feel the better for knowing, who push me creatively and intellectually, and who are just plain fun!

I think about things too much, probably. Over-analyze things that are no big deal. In my mind, I generally just make categories, and guy friends are firmly put in the "brother" category.

So take that, Harry. Men and women CAN be just friends, I hereby declare it! with the caveat not to be stupid and pretend making too-deep emotional connections with people won't affect you. What do you think?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Back to the grindstone

All week, I have been luxuriating in edits on my novel, diving back into the story-world and losing myself for hours at a time. Seriously, one day I edited for 11 hours and still didn't want to go to bed b/c I wanted to keep going! It's like delicious magic time, especially compared to writing shitty academic papers!

But alas, edits are done, new draft turned in to Agent Dude. And yeah, that paper that I've been putting off and already got an extension on? It's due Monday. I should be writing it right now. As we speak. But what fun would that be?

I'm still giddy with fiction world, and wanting that future to work out so badly my stomach curls up just thinking about. That's what I want to be doing with all my time. Being a writer was always Plan A, but I always thought it a ridiculous pipedream b/c I know how hard it is to make it as a writer, even to get published. So it was on to Plan B--getting my Master's and Doctorate and teaching. But now that Plan A is a possibility suddenly, it's ALL I WANT. So forcing myself to still keep working on Plan B stuff--every hour spent and page written is grueling and feels IMPOSSIBLE!!! How did I ever make myself do this before????

All right, whiny rant over. Agent Dude sounded excited about the changes I'd made on the book, but he thinks it might be best to wait until January to start submitting to editors at publishing houses b/c people are already checked out for the holidays. I'm glad it's him and not me having to make these decisions, because I have the patience of a three year old.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

In My Mailbox! Gorgeous Dress Edition :)

Okay, only three of these covers have gorgeous dresses, but still! We YA lovers are suckers for a gorgeous period-looking dress, even though only one of these, The Vespertine, is actual historical fiction!

Wither by Lauren DeStefano - Cover lust, cover lust, cover lust! This might be my favorite cover of the year, a toss up with Crescendo and Torment. As for content, it's a dystopia that I've been super stoked to read, although some chatter on goodreads has me thinking it might not be as good as I was hoping. We'll see, I haven't been amazed by any of the romantic dystopias I've read yet. March 2011.
The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell - Love this gorgeous cover!!! Victorian Baltimore drama plus cool powers and dark secrets. Sounds stellar. I might have to check this one out first. March 2011.
The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder - Unpopular girl vaulted to popularity, but it comes at a price. Good reviews, sounds like a good read about girl power dynamics in high school. April 2011.
Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough - I just read the first book in the series last week, Once a Witch, and it was a-ight. Good story, time travel, cool Talents, prophecies, though I'm not super attached to the characters. I'll probably read this though, at least to review it. Much better cover than the first book. August 2011.

In other news, the kiddo is playing with marbles (racing them down his hotwheels race-car track). I'm glad at six he has yet to succumb to video-game craze--we're hoping to hold off as long as possible. This has been a great holiday weekend, at least after I got better from the stomach-flu-OF-DEATH! We put up the Christmas tree yesterday, the boys went bike-riding today, the weather's finally nice, and it feels like Christmas-time. Without thinking about Black Friday especially, we did actually leisurely pick up most of our presents yesterday (several bought off Ebay). I think I'll wrap them tonight and put them under our newly glowing tree :)

Exciting things in my mailbox this week! Most exciting of all, my early Christmas present, because who can really wait for a month to open something so exciting and handy--a Kindle!! Also the means of reading several of the e-galley's I've just received this week.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A little hubris never hurt anybody...right?

I’ve taken a different approach to the term paper for my Renaissance prose class. I’ve had a general idea in mind since the beginning of the semester (wanting to investigate the passion vs. reason binary). The past two weeks I’ve done leisurely research, lots of pre-writing, written several alternating thesis’, changed ideas back and forth about how I want to focus the paper—now all that’s left is to actually write the frickin' paper!

I’m a little nervous about putting off the actual writing of the paper, but at the same time, I’m pretty confident about my ability to produce a quality product. Confidence is the name of the game for me lately—both in my fiction and academic writing. I really think I’m getting stellar at both—here’s hoping that it’s not over-confidence dipping into hubris, right?!?!

But then I figure, I was so non-confident for so many years, a little bit of kick-ass feeling can only be a good thing J

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Review of TORMENT

One of the most gorgeous covers of the year, hands down. I could just stare and stare at the gorgeous image. So evocative, so full of longing. This is Book II in the Fallen trilogy by Lauren Kate, I liked this installment better than the first. This book, in cover images, tone, and release dates shares so much with the Hush, Hush series - both are about bad boy fallen angels in which the girl main characters are magically entranced by the beautiful boys, even when it endangers their life.

In Torment, suddenly the main character, Luce, realizes just how quickly she "fell in love" with Daniel, how little time they've actually spent together, and how superficial it might all be. A similar thing happened in Crescendo (Book II in the Hush, Hush series) that was recently released. As a result, I thought Torment presented much more complex characters. Luce seems like a real girl who starts asking real questions about this suddenly consuming relationships. Some reviewers have thought that Luce makes stupid decisions throughout this book, but I didn't find that at all. Her decisions in this book actually make sense. I was so bummed by the lack of time spent on Luce and Daniel's connection in Book I, that I was fine with Luce's wavering here. It made the ending of the book feel real, and fought for. I hate easy outs, and I was glad the author is willing to continue developing Luce, and that she is letting Luce finally discover herself, without Daniel around treating her like an infant. In a manner generally unlike myself (I love me the romance!), what I found most interesting about this book was Luce's personal development, not her romantic connections. Four out of five stars.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In My Mailbox!

After going awhile without being able to get my hands on any good new books, I'm now swimming in great reads. Here's what's in my (metaphorical) mailbox this week, based on a meme started by Kristi at The Story Siren!

-Numbers by Rachel Ward - Jem sees numbers in her head that predict the exact date people will die. I've seen this one out for awhile, and always liked the cover and been intrigued by the concept. We'll see how it is!
-Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon - This one caught me by the cover, then read the flap and it seemed interesting too. Set in a boarding school with gothic elements and hot love interest named Dante. Yum.
-The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger - what girl, at one time or other, hasn't felt like The Duff? Pretty sure for me it was the entirety of my Jr. High experience. I heard great things about the book, and then almost choked when I heard the author is 19. Wowza's.
-Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly - I heard amazing things about Donnelly's first book a few years back A Northern Light, also historical fiction. Reviews of Revolution have sounded pretty positive as well.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld - Review

Oh, can I sing the praises of the YA god that is Scott Westerfeld! I was looking forward to this steampunk series from him ever since I heard about the first book Leviathan coming out last year, and over the weekend, I just read book II in the trilogy, Behemoth. Westerfeld's Uglies series was so fabulous-- everybody talks about The Hunger Games as starting the dystopia craze in YA, but it was totally this series that was first written and became popular. And they had great covers, and a great underlying theme, and romance, and were so well written. Yes, I can gush and gush about this man. He seems pretty awesome as a human as well, and is married to the fabulous Justine Larbalestier (How to Ditch Your Fairy). In my head I envision them as this awesome funny creative couple.

SO! On to the Leviathan series! It's basically a revisioning of WWI, but steampunk, so the opposing armies are an army with mechanical creatures against an army using gigantic animals (some of which are filled with hydrogen and are turned into organic airships!). He's created a world so much more complex and complete than most YA storyworlds, down to the very language that his protagonists use. All of their sayings relay culture, making the alternate reality he creates feel real. There are pictures every so often, which I thought was a little dorky when I first saw it in Leviathan, but then realized was necessary because of all the crazy contraptions and creatures he describes--you seriously need pictorial representations to figure out what the crap some of these things are supposed to look like. But soooooo cool.

The books are very episodic, and there's so much going on in each episode, it was a little harder to feel hang on to larger storylines going on. But the characters and their motivations and feelings are always clear. I'm always a fan of too much complexity rather than too little. Reading this book felt SO different from the normal YA fare--Westerfeld just takes it to a completely higher level on all accounts. Reading the book was like a mini master class on how books should be written. I'm trying to hijack some of his methods for culture building to make the storyworld in my novel fuller and more realistic.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Lazy Saturday Afternoon

I love lazy Saturday morning/afternoons with my beautiful little family. We've made a tradition over the past few months to have a brunch of eggs and sweet rolls, then D (the husband) and I catch up over coffee while Joseph plays around. Then today we all sat together as a family and read J the books I got for him at the library this week, then all wrestled together and had a mini pillow fight. I think there's something magical and beyond-words awesome about being part of a family like this.

D and I were talking this morning about the future. Changes they are a-coming, and D's anxious about making it in the research world of PhD-land. He's studying to take the GRE in a couple weeks, and I'm helping him write his personal statement for the PhD applications due in December. Part of what he's afraid of is that he'll get into this program and STILL be so busy he can't have a life. This is a theme I've been talking about with other friends lately too. It's so easy to get caught up in what we're "supposed to do" as adults, that we can waste years forgetting to really live. D feels like there's an expected sacrifice of all free time in PhD programs, and I keep telling him that NO, it doesn't have to be that way if we don't let it. He's been working like a zombie for at least three years now--first in his corporate job, and then this semester with research project. He's been living like this so long, it's hard to believe change is possible.

But that's the real kicker about so many things in life--change seems impossible when you've been in a rut for so long. It genuinely feels impossible. But then, something good or bad happens, and change occurs anyway. And it's shocking when it does. But all these American myths that tell us we have to constantly worry about the future and live in fear of "not making it," not having enough 401k stored up or money for the future--it's all enough to choke the life out of a person. I refuse to believe it anymore. Bad things will happen, things might not work out like we hope, but I genuinely believe that together, we'll be okay. We'll make it. And in the meantime, let's get busy living the hell out of every single day.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reading My First E-Book

Oh irony, you saucy little minx. I read my first e-book tonight, and it was a dystopia about a society in which almost all of life is experienced online, people stuck watching computer screens--which was exactly what I was doing all night as I read the book on my computer :)

It was an advanced reading copy I requested from the publisher through a galley request web service-- Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky, and it was really wonderful. I'll do a full review closer to when it comes out next May, but it was compelling. I read it all in one sitting, and it had well-developed relationships and a quality story. The author doesn't have a web presence, though, and I wonder if that's because in real life she is so against being "plugged in" all the time, or maybe she just hasn't gotten around to it? I just take it for granted these days that after I read a book I like I'll be able to google the author and find their blog!

I will say, if the ridiculous occurs, and I get a book deal, the first thing I'll do is buy a Kindle. Well, okay, the first thing I'll probably do is get a new tattoo to celebrate, but the second thing will be a Kindle! Reading the book on my computer wasn't as frustrating as I thought, but I've been a long hold-out for paper books. I think Kindle will be the best of both worlds, b/c you can't beat the convenience of e-books, but pushing the PgDn button on my computer was a bit annoying, as was staring at the screen for three hours straight.

Yes, I'm unapologetically part of the generation that will never be unplugged. Though now that I think about it, in my novel, I'm also examining our reliance on technology, envisioning a future where we start implanting it in our bodies more and more. But even that, to me, isn't an entirely a horrible concept. I just think humanity's relationship with technology is always going to be a mix of good and bad, something we're going to have to negotiate.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In My Mailbox!

Inspired by a meme from The Story Siren, this is my first edition of In My Mailbox! I've long beg, borrowed, bought half-price, and when all else fails, bought full price the newest young adult titles, and when I can get my hands on them, Advanced Readers Copies. Voila, here's the lovely books I have acquired and will be reviewing soon (though some reviews I won't post till closer to their release date)!

-Delirium, by Lauren Oliver (who wrote Before I Fall). This is a dystopia that I'm super stoked about. Oliver is such an excellent writer, but I'm trying to temper my excitement (trying not to over-hype it in my mind so it doesn't suffer the fate of over-expectation like Matched did). This one is an ARC, will be released in hardback early next year.
-Torment, by Lauren Kate, book II in the Fallen series. Oh this cover is so gorgeous. I have some serious cover lust, I think it's one of the best covers this year (along with the Hush series, these are the best--and both about fallen angels too. Apparently I'm a sucker for grey and black covers). I've heard some mixed reviews about this book, so I'll keep that in mind as I read. This book is already on bookshelves.
-Everything I Was, by Corinne Demas. Awesome cover, very striking. The story is about a rich girl who is forced to move from the city to the country. I'm hoping for a good fish-out-of-water story. Comes out April 2011.
-Awaken, by Katie Kacvinsky. Lovely concept cover. It's a dystopia imagining a near-future in which everything is done online and society seems to be becoming less and less physically connected. Comes out May 2011.

Seriously kid? You're killing me here!

Oh, the trials and tribulations of parenthood. My wonderful little six year old is becoming a Problem Child at school. His kindergarten teacher called me yesterday and we had a thirty minute conversation about his behavior problems. He's not mean or cruel or hits other kids or anything--he's just, well, I'd say naughty, but that word has all kinds of weird connotations these days. He's mischievous, and too smart for his own good. His Romanian grandmother, when she visited earlier this year, used to call him nasdravanul which roughly translates to "rascal". Which yeah, is appropriate, though maybe too nice sounding for his constant trouble making.

At school this week, when there was a sub, he snuck into the craft box, stole some glitter, and put it EVERYWHERE, in the classroom, and then the bathroom and toilet before the sub caught on. Yesterday, the teacher took away a contraband car he'd brought to school (after his dad had EXPLICITLY asked him the morning of to check his pockets and backpack for any toys--he'd hidden it in his shoe, of course!). So my lovely progeny watched where the teacher put it after she took it away from him--and then stole it back when she wasn't looking.

Then to top it off in the trifecta of bad behavior, he repeated something he must have heard from some older boys at extend-a-care (daycare after school ends at 2:30, till we pick him up at 6). He told another boy, and I quote: "You need to get a girlfriend, so you can have sex". I have no idea where he heard this, but the other boy's parent heard about it and came to the school to register a complaint about my kid telling it to her kid!

Seriously, I'm pulling my hair out at this point. At least I know he didn't hear that at home, and I've never heard him say sex or girlfriend before. The only tv he watches is SpongeBob and X-Men cartoons, so yeah, it must have been the older kids at extend-a-care, which his teacher thought too. But this kind of thing goes straight to the principle, and has yet to be sorted out.

He just keeps pushing and testing limits, even after he knows we don't budge or let him get away with stuff. It's like he's waiting for a weak link or chink in our armor somewhere, or at least, looking for moments when we aren't watching him like a hawk. As for the sex stuff, freaking A! The kids at his extend-a-care are only up to fourth and fifth graders. Are they thinking about sex at that point? Is that how few years I have left before I have to start worrying about my kid thinking about and figuring out sex? Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Forced to spend time with the wife, when I want to be with the mistress

Metaphorically speaking, that is. A.k.a., I have to write a paper today on Wordsworth instead of gleefully working on my fiction. The paper's not due till Thursday, but I'm pretending it's due tomorrow instead to force myself to finish it TODAY so I can get it out of my head-space and move on to happier places. And yes, I dream of the day when the mistress becomes the wife and I can give her all my attention ;)

When I finish the paper, I'm going to reward myself by blogging my first In My Mailbox edition - I've got some exciting titles coming this week to review!!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Malinda Lo's ASH

I've been trying to track down a copy this book since it came out last year--the gorgeous cover first caught my eye, and when I heard it was a retelling of Cinderella (I'm a sucker for retellings of any kind--fairytales, myths, Jane Austen novels, etc!) with LGBT themes, my interest was piqued. They finally got it at my local library, and I picked it up this week. It was a lovely read. Today has been frantic with an unconscious stress that had been making my jaw tense and tired all day, but settling into Ash tonight helped everything slowly unwind. It was the perfect kind of retelling--keeping with the spirit of the tale, but taking it to new and unexpected places. Too many modern Cinderella stories are heavy-handed about reversing the problematic gender stereotypes it reproduces, but this one was beautifully written and paced. It was nuanced in all the right places with a story that unfolded naturally. And, you know, with some tricky fairies thrown in for good measure :) The setting was a little removed, set in a story-world that felt akin to a high-fantasy with villages and princes and forgotten magic and such, and it didn't quite pull me in as entirely as other books, but it was still a high quality book. I look forward to Lo's forthcoming Huntress.

A passage from the climax of the book (but I don't think it's spoiler-y, just lovely):

As the people swayed and stamped and sung their way around the bonfire, Ash knew that this was what the fairies were always hunting for: a circle of joy, hot and brilliant, the scent of love in the deepest winter. But all they could do was create a pale, crystalline imitation, perfect and cold. How it must disappoint them: that they would never be human.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

SEX?! In Young Adult Novels?! Oh my!

I was reading a YA author's blog recently, and when asked why she wrote in the YA genre, she answered frankly that one reason was that she didn't want to write sex scenes! This cracked me up because it is so spot on! My graduate studies in children's literature has made clear the long tradition of viewing children as innocents who are not to be corrupted, not to mention the notorious history of book-banning. Consequently, there's traditionally hasn't been too much sex in YA books. But this is changing, most notably among some excellent male authors willing to transgress normative YA sex-talk boundaries like Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and John Green's Looking for Alaska (mainly in their *shocking* frank discussions of masturbation, which really, is even more transgressive than talking directly about sex!). For all the girls, on the other hand, there are several writers who are talking details of the deed (albeit couched in someone ambiguous terms, at least as far as naming body parts goes) in their books:

Simone Elkeles: Both Perfect Chemistry and Leaving Paradise are so, so good, surprisingly good. And yeah, sexy too. No problem talking about melodramatic sexy situations here! Unfortunately, the sequels to both of these books bummed me out, but the initial books are great reads.

Jennifer Echols, who's recent two books, Going Too Far and Forget You.
I've been seeing a lot of attention toward, and for good reason, they are quality chick-lit reads. These books are fluffy, but oh the most delicious and well-written kind of fluff. And unabashed with the sexy.

One of my favorites is Elizbeth Scott, who continues to take on such a variety of interesting projects, mixing up really difficult stories like Living Dead Girl and her newest one, Grace (which I really want to read), with other plain-talking very real feeling stories of teenage girl life. She's like Sarah Dessen, but with more honesty and real-to-lifeness, and she doesn't seem to feel the need to wrap up every little ending with a happy, unrealistic bow. I first read Bloom by her, which talks about a girl dealing with burgeoning sexy feelings and just last week read The Unwritten Rule, the rule being, don't want your best friend's boyfriend. But the stories are so much more complex and honest than their cover blurbs. I love every one of her books, but they are always too short!

And one by a debut author this year that was absolutely amazing, top ten reads of the year: Jandy Nelson's The Sky Is Everywhere. I mean, this is amazing writing, hands down, poetic and gorgeous and with a super compelling story, and again, not afraid to talk about female sexuality.

Kindle Giveaway!

Check out Sparkling Review's blog for details about the giveaway!

I love YA review sites!!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Am An Agented Author!!!

That’s right folks. The illusive dream has been made real, and I have my name signed on the contract to prove it. With Charlie Olsen of Inkwell Management!! And really, while this feels like the end of one journey, I know it’s really the beginning of another—the real stuff of being an author.

So allow me a bit of memory lane--I started writing prolifically in 2006, the first time I’d ever done so in my life.I hadn’t written so much as a short story since I was in high school, so needless to say, the learning curve was high. And slow. Much slower than I’d anticipated, and if I’d have known then that it would take me four novels to work out all my crappy first attempts and that I wouldn’t really get anywhere until the fifth, I don’t know if I would have had the mojo to keep going. But alas, as ignorance is bliss—I thought that first novel was going to be amazing, that I was already fabulous, that I’d be one of those amazing people who writes a kick-ass novel their first try. Yeah. Or not. J

But perseverance, willingness to take critiques to heart, continuing on try after try after try, through hundreds and hundreds of wasted pages, querying two failed novels, and figuring out what the hell they mean by voice, I’ve just signed with an agent for my novel GLITCH. Which is where we get to the part about this being a beginning.

This does not feel real yet, and maybe that’s just because I was really confident in this book, and I’d had so much interest from agents—so I can’t tell if it’s just because underneath I was confident it might happen this time, or if good things just take a really long time to click with me as real (I felt the same way about being a mom, to be honest—they handed me this squirming squishy mass with big eyes and tiny fists and I was like, oh, wow, well, this is, you know, cool, I guess). Talking with my rockin’ agent doesn’t make me feel very nervous either, it just seems all like—yeah, I was ready for this, I put in the work and it was time.

And digging into the new edits feels like a delightful vacation from the detestable grad school papers I’ve been trying to force myself to write—because this is where I want to spend my energy and brain power and creativity. I’ve been itching to get back to storytelling, and now I get to.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fabulous Life

I just got back last night from an academic conference in Fort Worth where I presented a paper on Ursula LeGuin and Terry Pratchett. The conference went well for both me and my buddy Phillip who went with me, but more even than the conference itself, what was sweetest about the entire trip--was coming home. I've never traveled without the hubster and it was strange not to have him there with me. Coming home and spending some sweet time with him made me realize just how precious he is, how beyond ordinary he is, and how much I genuinely adore him.

And of course the kiddo is super stoked about Halloween, and wasn't as interested in me hugging the stuffing out of him when I got home, but I just wanted to hold and hold and hold him! He kept squirming away until I finally told him he owed me three hugs, one for each night I was away, and he complied--and then twisted away to show me all the candy and toys he'd gotten at a halloween festival he went to last night. He's going to be a skeleton when he goes out tonight. He's very excited about looking as scary as possible

So life is good, very, very good. There are some exciting things brewing in my professional life--more news to come on that later in the week. In the meantime, I'm trying to batten down and focus on finishing the first six cantos of The Faerie Queene for my Renaissance class tomorrow night. Not exactly my favored reading, but I'm stoked to have some great YA books coming in the mail next week--including an ARC of Ally Condie's Matched!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

X-Men, Feminism, and the Idealized Body

Watching the first season X-men with my son—the 90’s cartoon, not X-men Evolution--brings up a lot of feminist considerations, probably in part due to my recent Feminist Composition class, and doing research on Twilight.X-men as a concept, is pretty damn great. I’d love to read some cultural studies scholarship on the comics and the cartoon versions. It’s such a charged metaphor of for the persecution of Others in society. Senator Kelly, with his ‘Let’s round up all the mutants!’ seems an implicit echo of Senator McCarthy and McCarthyism witch hunts.

But on a feminist level, it’s pretty great—all these girls and women are equally kicking ass alongside the dudes. Mutant powers have leveled the playing ground of physical difference and strength, so tiny Rogue is able to flip over giants three times her size. Everybody in third-wave feminism talks about Buffy, but surely these super-hero chicks were her forerunner.

At the same time, the way they are visually depicted is evidently male-gaze driven. All the women are busty, with long gams, and very developed hour-glass figures. This is only true of the super-heroes though. Other women in the series are more flat-chested and, while they have long hair and wear conventional feminine garb of the 90’s, they are not hyper-feminine. This is true for the men as well—all the X-men are super-ripped with idealized bodies, and normal dudes are well, normal. So I think that’s more what the busty women are about—all the good guys have great idealized bodies (even Beast, while blue, is strong-chested and slim-wasted).All the guys have super strong jaw lines, wide chests, ripped arm muscles.This all seems very Tarzan to me—or maybe it’s just most pop culture phenomenon and literature, started in the penny-dreadfuls and pulp fiction and continuing on through comic books and romance novels.

I don’t have any real conclusions to draw from all this. Just interesting observations. At least in our heroic asthetic, even the Others can be the beautiful people, the ones we identify with and want to emulate. Also I can see why this is so appropriate for adolescents who are attracted to texts like this. And you know, for grown ups who never seem to have gotten past adolescence ;)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Crazy Week & Good Book

This has been, wow, one hell of a nutty, busy, wonderful week. I just finished planning out and outlining the other books in what I hope can be a trilogy, and I'm emotionally exhausted after losing myself in the fiction-world and figuring out the end of everybody's story. In the last week and a half, I also finished a paper for my Renaissance lit class, finished revising and editing the Twilight paper for publication, did a big edit on the novel, finished the outlines for the two books, and today, had a birthday party for my wonderful kiddo--he just turned six!

Oh, and I had a parent-teacher conference with his kindergarten teacher yesterday and talked about all the things I already knew--he's smart, but has behavior problems, like talking back and never doing what she says the first time (apparently he's one of six boys in the class who are the bane of her existence, though she put it in nicer words than that). Leaving the meeting, all I could think was: Thank God I'm not a kindergarden teacher! I mean, my kid's not that bad when he's at home, prob because he's an only child and so doesn't have to share his toys, and we discipline and do lots of consequences and rewards for positive reinforcement. But I can't imagine being surrounded by twenty crazy-o kids. Everyday. For eight hours. I shudder just thinking about it.

Also! I finally had time to pause and enjoy some great YA lit, which I haven't had time for all semester. But the library told me the book I'd put in a hold request on was in, so I've read it this week and just finished it tonight. And damn, it was a good one, really good: Clockwork Angel (don't like the title, but do like the cover). I read Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series and was like, meh, it's okay--lots of action, but I didn't feel totally connected to all the characters. But this one, zing, straight to my melodrama loving heart, mixed with great action, set in Britain in the 1890's, a bit steampunk, all done really well. Love, love, love.

Now I'm going to go shower, sleep, and wake up tomorrow and start the paper due next week on Samuel Coleridge.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Writing Your Way (into &) Out of Doom Moments

I think trying to work one's way out of problematic theoretical knots is similar to figuring out plot problems/solutions. In revising my article on Twilight for publication, an article which reads the implications of the phenomenon positively instead of negatively, I find myself navigating feminisms to work out an alternative reading from the easy and obvious--that Twilight is bad, bad, bad and gives negative examples of a passive female main character. Ok, yes in some instances it does, and it certainly reflects a conservative ideology in places, but at the same time, it taps into a female fantasy that is so well done it has become virulently popular. My question is, why? What psychological needs is it meeting? And can we provide an answer that doesn't result in saying women/girl readers are stupid/bad//wrong and should feel guilty for liking it?

Plot-wise, I just watched an episode of Stargate Universe for the first time last night, and it reminded me of the importance of constantly creating "doom moments" where it seems like there is no way out and everybody is going to die. I think really every action sequence should have a moment like this, it makes the reversal (after the author ingeniuslly writes a way out of the doom) that much more satisfying. However, creating these moments (unless you are Joss Whedon who revels in them) can be difficult as a writer, uncomfortable in much the same way tackling difficult theoretically dilemmas can be. On both fronts, I'm forcing myself into the difficult places, because the results are always worth it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My First Dystopian Crush: 1984

So, I was reflecting this week on my long-time love of dystopias, now more popularly celebrated because of the success of the Hunger Games trilogy (and recent release of the last book). A lot of people of my generation were introduced as children to the genre with Lois Lowry's The Giver, a book I remembered liking a lot, but not one that had too lasting of an impression. My long-time love affair with dystopias didn't start until I read 1984 as a sophmore in high school. No one else seems to have loved this book as much as I did. Maybe it was just one of those books that hit at the perfect time. I'd always heard about it as one of "those classics,"--even after I'd started it, and come across the phrases and concepts I'd heard bandied around for so long "Big Brother" "thought police" etc, it was just an interesting assigned reading. It hadn't yet occurred to me that school required reading could actually be enjoyable, much less, personally momentous. It wasn't until the introduction of Julia that my interest really sparked. When she hands him the note that says "I love you," it's so unexpected, so the opposite of the last ninety pages you've just read, it was shocking. Then they embark on their most desperate rebellion--daring to love each other, daring to begin to feel again, to be wild and reckless, no matter the danger.

It's so analogous to the teenage experience--where everything feels new and overwhelming, where you are sure it's the first time you've ever felt truly alive, truly felt happiness or sadness or any emotion, because you feel everything so intensely. Life felt new and dangerous and exciting and terrifying. I wanted to grow up as quickly as possible so I could be an adult and really be free to experience and feel and do. Of course, once you actually become the adult, the fire and passion and newness gets muted or worse, smothered. It's no coincidence all the revolutions are led and fueled by students and young people. Emerson, as young man with fiery ideals, looked around him in confusion and wondered, "where are all the old transcendentalists?" not realizing then what I imagine he came to understand in old age: that it's almost impossible to maintain the energy and naïveté necessary to sustain that kind of idealism over a lifetime. And not necessarily healthy or wise.

I didn't know enough about the story, or Orwell for that matter, to know as I should have from the beginning, that this was never going to end well, so for that brief heady space I hoped with them in a giddy hope that love would triumph, that they would be able to escape. But like all dystopias, underlying the story is the message, and a happy ending wouldn't have accomplished what Orwell was trying to achieve. Don't get me wrong--I agree, this particular story had to end the way it did. And all stories have a motivation--I think I like it that the themes in dystopias are so much more surfacely apparent. A happy ending would have been a false one--this book was meant as a prophetic warning, born out of justified fear and disgust at the destructive nature of man in the new atomic age. So dear Winston and Julia don't even get the honor of being martyred, but are lobotomized and then returned as productive drones to society.

God, the ache of that stayed with me for weeks after I read it, I guess, really, years (the mark of all those really great momentous books in life). Because I had so identified with their wild joy, it had dug down deep inside, and I was just ripped apart when they lost it. I suppose a 20th century girl’s teenage angst wasn’t exactly what Mr. Orwell had in mind when he wrote it. As a good postmodernist, I don’t really care about his intent, though, now that I think about it, maybe he wouldn’t have minded after all. I’ve always thought 1984 a much more effective book than Animal Farm, but then, I would, wouldn’t, since I care much more about reader response than critical greatness or lack thereof. And what can be more affecting than taking an idea, a fearful scenario, and giving it flesh in these characters on a page, and then making you freaking care about them.

Ok, I have too many thoughts, and this post is already too long. This is freaking getting into my philosophy of writing and I haven’t even begun to talk about the characteristics of dystopias, and list off the ones I love the best (after 1984, of course). Alas, for another post, coming soon.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mockingjay Review - A Satisfying But Exhausting Read

Fear not, no spoilers! This book was excellent, but it was an emotionally hard read. Collins doesn't pull any punches about the gruesomeness, loss of life, and emotional toll of war. Being inside Katniss' head the whole time puts you in the head of someone constantly struggling with what is basically Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder, except that she never gets to recover before the next impossibly hard thing comes up. Kat certainly felt very real, exceptionally drawn. All the characters were, and the plot, as always, was great--it hit at all the right moments. It was a satisfying, but not exactly fun read. I guess I prefer my fantasy fiction with a little more of the wishfullfillment elements and less of the pain of reality--just enough, but not too much. Either way, it's unlikely that Kat's going to get out of my head for a week or two. Had a hard time getting to sleep last night, my mind was still so enveloped in the world of the novel.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Look What I Just Picked up at the Bookstore!

I've loved dystopias ever since reading 1984 as a sophmore in high school, so I couldn't have been more thrilled when the brilliant Suzanne Collins brought dystopias into the lens of young adult literature. Love, love, loved the first two books, can't wait to sit down tonight and devour the conclusion!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Heather's Secrets to Avoiding Melancholia

Secret # 1. STAY BUSY. This is really the key to all following secrets, so let me break it down. My go-to activities: reading, painting, more reading, cleaning, organizing, basically any and all frenetic activities are welcome. Oh, and beer (I'm nothing if not classy). The most interesting of these of course is the painting. Voila, more in my graveyard statues series. Kind of macabre, I know, but that's not the point, I just find them gorgeously visually appealing. This one I painted tonight is of a pretty well known statue:

I figure I can use this week to do a couple paintings before classes start, while I'm in between everything and waiting and going crazy. My friend D sells jewelry at fairs and market days and things and keeps looking for people to share her stall, so I think I'll try to go with her and sell some of these. So I'm being productive, not just busy!

Secret #2: Reading for classes before classes start! I emailed my profs to ask for reading lists. I'm going to be knee deep in Renaissance lit and then Wordsworth for my other class, so I know it's going to be dense reading all semester, which I will surely get behind in. So I spent all day today reading Sir Sidney's Arcadia. Which is 800 pages long. I shit you not. It was written in 1593, but it's actually not as bad as I feared. It was my second day just reading all afternoon, and I'm a hundred pages in. Yeah. It's gonna take awhile.

Secret #3: More reading! Catching up on all the delightful YA books I've got from the library, and the others I've bought. I just read an Advanced Reading Copy of Nightshade by Andrea Cremer that I got off Ebay (shh!), and out of all the ARC's I've tracked down, this was the first to actually live up to the internet hype. I read it last night and it was surprisingly good. It was really smart, but still lusty, my two major criteria in my off-school-time reading material ;)

So, until school starts up again or I hear back about other projects, busy remains the watchword. Ooo, and maybe get some more done on the background of my Mucha tattoo!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

I realized today that I'm always the friend--when around others tempted to excess, be it food or alcohol or anything--who's like, hell yeah, have another beer! Have three more! More oreos! Another screwdriver, coming up! I think it's my antinomian streak (ok, looking that word up to double check it's the one I mean-yep, it is--first learned it back at the Bible College). It means being anti-law. Anti- doing the staid and steady thing, with all the responsibility and guilt when you transgress. Back in Bible College, of course, antinomialism was a bad thing : )

And it's not really how I live my life, in spite of the stereotype associated with my pink/purple hair and copious tattoo-age. I'm so safe in my real life rebellions. I live conservatively. I'm not particularly anti-establishment either. But what occassional excess really signifies to me is freedom. Yeah, I might choose not to go on benders every night (or okay, barely ever), but I like the possibility being there. It means that the rest of the time, I'm making a choice--not because it was written in stone that I shalt not drink. Having the choice to do so means also having the choice not to. It means not having to walk anesthetized through my life on the staid patterns of decisions I made years ago. It means the requirement that TODAY I be active in my own life, tasting and touching and deciding and partaking.

So chill out and drink up, my people! Enjoy life, don't hold back!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

ARC Giveaways!

Oooo, more giveaways, and for some YA titles I'm looking forward to--Matched; Halo, Torment, and more. Exciting stuff. See link for more info!

How Would You Like to Win Some ARCS? I've Got 7

ARC Contests Giveaway Sites

I love getting my hands on advanced reading copies. Here's a contest site for some titles I'm looking forward too, merely from cover lust alone :)

Go here to check it out:
Summer Saradise 7 ARC giveaway!!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Night Thoughts, Life Thoughts

Can't sleep, and am trying to cut down on artificial sleep aids, so here I am at 3:19 in the morning. I spent all night reading some heavy crap-- Roland Barthes on semiotics, some of which is great, some of which is so f'ing dense! Then I read half of The Scarlet Letter, which I do not know how i have come to this point in my life and literary career without having read before. I love this book. I can tell it's going in my all time favorites list, maybe even top ten. It feels very much like Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis - so perfect in its psychological pictures in these people, and of course, some of which, I am so familiar with. I'm freaking crying through the whole novel, the useless guilt, the way people destroy themselves for nothing. And the beams of hope, and freaking awesome little Pearl jumping around like an elf, literally dancing on graves!

I've also recently read Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance and House of Seven Gables (I read them first), and they are so, so, so much LESS engaging than this first one. Some of his short stories have always stuck with me, most notably "Young Goodman Brown," but in The Scarlet Letter he was really able to do something extraordinary, truely amazing.

And so many other things going on, and I feel like a confessional poet in the middle of the night, bare my soul right down beyond the bone to the marrow, all the things I would trot out and line up in this public sphere. I just feel raw lately, like everything that happens in the day affects me so hard. There are these moments of clarity, wicked clarity, followed later by the dull, thudding sadness. I've been so godawful tired too lately with more bodily responsibilties and taking more care of the beautiful Joseph, my own beam of sunshine, perfection, wonderfulness, cuddlyness, wrapped-up-in-skin-amazingness. But tiring, and then the mountain of my own making of academic to-do's. Trying to be a person, really alive, every day, fresh, shaking off the molds of stagnation, expanding to understand all the knowledge and wonders I can't even comprehend today, the world is so fucking big and mind-blowing, and my small experience with ideas so limited. Today especially, I was just bowed over in awe and wonderment--there is so much to learn! so many amazing ideas that I haven't even encountered but are out there waiting. And all of these thoughts and intensities toss me back and forth between exhilaration and exhaustion.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Kerouac, joy, sadness, then joy again

What a strange, long, complex, filled up day. It started to early in an Ambien haze that still couldn't get me to sleep, me wandering around, shapes-shifting, on too few hours of sleep my necessary fuel, with all these impossible tasks banging at the door needing to be finished, a scholarly article and another abstract for another paper that I only dreamed up four days ago, due now, and all my straining at the bit, and my crap ass body that has just jumped ship on me lately, dragging around these leaden bones, and somehow, in a strange turn of events that never usually happens, I finished everything that needed finishing.

Picked up Joseph since D had class all night, already exhausted, but Joseph and me still had this lovely little evening together, eating pita chips and this to-die-for hummas, then eating broccoli and hummas till the whole little container was used up, used broccoli to wipe up the last little bits, me and him on the couch, munching down, watching Mythbusters. But ramping up the discipline too b/c he's been a little butt lately, and drinking a beer while he wailed his head off in time-out, then snuggling close again and doing I Spy before bed.

Then reading poor sad Jack Kerouac, bearing down on me hard he's so sad, watching him spiral down in Big Sur, but he's such a damn good writer, he takes you down with him. But that's not the place I want to be. I had to stop reading, even though it's due to be read by class tomorrow. Everything to him is frightening and terrors, sinister hills and mad drinking binges making his nightmarish images all worse. And then so much death, and this class has gotten kind of all conflated in my mind and emotions with this girl who killed herself midway through the semester. Sort of I feel like it's not even my right, my place, to talk about her. I didn't know her, had only spoken to her directly a few times. A bunch of other people in the class have been in the poetry program with her for three years. And when dear old Jack sees death everywhere, in his favorite cat, an otter on the beach, a mouse because he left the lid off the rat poison--I just... and I don't have a place to talk--I've had some hard stuff, but never the death of anybody close to me, I don't know what that means, I feel sacriligious like an outsider in a class full of grievers, but then I think about her a lot too. Alive, then not. It's something I can't wrap my head around.

Sad Jack, I can't bear you right now. I know there's a time for entering down into other people's sadnesses and the art too, but I've built my life around acknowledging grim reality while still building up a structure of meaning to raise my head up out and manage to tread water. Happiness. Positives. Comfort. John Green, a YA author I love, I came across a quote of his today, watching a videologue he'd done: the idea "that true love will triumph in the end, which may or may not be true, but if it’s a lie, it’s the most beautiful lie we have.”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Book Signing - Claudia Gray

I went and saw the lovely Claudia Gray tonight at BookPeople in Austin (she's a fun young adult author, for those of you out of the YA loop). Yes, she writes about vampires, but she does so more intelligently than others. Good plot and characters.

I love going to author readings, meeting them, getting to see a little of thier personality, ask them questions about the book, thier road to getting an agent and publication, thier writing process. I've been to about six or seven readings now, and it's so funny to see authors who you think are somber be funny, one's you think would be charismatic seem stilted, and others just going with the flow and having fun, like she was tonight. She also read really well - almost theatrically. It was a nice change from the last author I heard read.

It was fun, though I was sad more people didn't show up. I always want authors I like to do well, like I become emotionally invested in thier success! Book signed, to be read maybe this weekend. And now I'm off to sleep before my big day tomorrow (getting new tattoo! half-sleeve!).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Heather is alive again! And hence, not sleeping

Yeah, remember when I said a few posts back that insomnia was a good thing? F*%k that. Insomnia is the devil, pure and simple. So yes, I don't have insomnia as much when life is crappy and I'm living unconsciously and not very excited about waking up the next day. But when I'm back to my normal self, like now, I can't wait for the night to be over because I'm so frickin excited about all the things I want to do tomorrow. All these new ideas relating to literary theory are burning through my brain, dialogue for the story I want to get back to working on since it's spring break and I can have some head-space to write, but then also thinking I should get started on research for the term papers in my two classes, but then screw that, I want to write!

Turning on the light and writing down stray thoughts for research papers and story ideas. In the dark laying in bed, the brain just tick tocks back and forth between them, while usually I feel like the academic and the creative parts of my life are so disparate. Here in the silence space, I flip-flop back and forth, then think about the book I was reading, then about my in-laws leaving in a couple days, then how much I freaking love my amazing son, etcetera, etcetera ad nauseam.
Oh, and blog thoughts ;)

So, yay, ra, I'm a thinking, passionate about my projects human again. But damn, is this laying in bed for hours each night freaking worth it?! Ok. Rant over. Now that I've let some spillage seep out via 3 a.m. blogging, let's see about trying to actually SLEEP!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I need to be sleeping, but instead I'm blogging. I feel revived after road-tripping like a teenager with the hubster (kid left with in-laws). I felt young and free, but kind of old at the same time, like when I look in the mirror and see new lines and saggy places and think eek! adult is written on my face now. There's no escaping it - soon will come saggy jowls and southward pointing boobs and wierd hangy neck skin. I've seen pictures of the women in my dad's family (who I favor in looks) as they age, and all of them grew to be ugly women. They were stout and jowl-y.

That's all I got. I was gonna try to expand on some of the thoughts I've been having lately, and some really interesting things brought up by conversations with friends, but I'm brain-fried from thinking through deconstructionist philosophy all day. Time for bed.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Painting Again

So, I haven't touched my painting of "The Storm" (which my great-grandmother had painted a reproduction of, and I'd always loved staring at as a kid) since 2007. It's been sitting around gathering dust with the two figurines briefly painted out in blocks. Until a few days ago, when I decided I needed a project to distract me until classes start this week. So here's about where I left off two years ago:
And here's where I've gotten in the past few days. I figure, if I get thier faces done, I'll be inspired to finish up the rest and get it finished.

His face is still wonky, but I'm too tired to fix it tonight.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Heather's Best Reads of 2009

Okay, I officially need to get the hell out of my own head and stop overanalyzing things to death. SO! The post about my best reads of 2009! that I've been planning on writing since about August =) Beware, these are almost all young adult titles. I'm a giant nerd, and I keep a spreadsheet of all the books I read. I know this is extreme nerd behavior, and I wish there were adult merit badges, because that's the giddy sense of glee and accomplishment I felt everytime I added a book to the list. I read 133 books last year, and I'm pretty sure that's an all time high, except for maybe somewhere in seventh and eighth grade where I was an antisocial acne-covered hermit. Ahem. I digress. To the list!

THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH (I knew I was going to love this book right when I read the title. I think this is my vote for Best Title of the Year. It's about a zombie postapacolyptic future. I don't love the zombie genre, but I loved this. In a year of fluff books, this one stuck in my mind. I like the cover too =)

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GRACELING & FIRE by Kristin Cashore These are two separate novels, only loosely connected, and the best damn books I read this year. They are high fantasy, which is not popular, but the characterization, themes, intelligence--I seriously can't say enough about how much I loved these books. Crappy covers though! Why coudln't they get better covers??? The UK cover for each book is a million times better.

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WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson - there is no more lyrical YA writer of this generation. This is a book about girls with eating disorders. And it is the most beautifully written (as in, the poetry of language) book I read all year. Her book SPEAK is also one of my all time favorites.

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WAKE & FADE by Lisa McMann - Two books in three book series, I think, and a fabulous read. As far as sit down and read in one sitting, good writing, exciting stories--these two books are tops. Grounded in gritty reality with supernatural elements and sexy love. Good covers too. I'm excited to read the last book that comes out this Feb!

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PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles - as far as straight, great hot sexy, teen love stories, I'd say this is the best and hottest I've come across. It's a lot smarter than it looks, with a Romeo & Juliet theme about two people from different worlds attracted to each other. Lots of good characterization, and my favorite element of all: melodrama. Cover, eh, okay. Oh, and I also read LEAVING PARADISE by her, and I really, really enjoyed it too.

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SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater - Okay, I almost bought this book for its cover alone. Then I read the flap - human/werewolf love melodrama. Oh yeah, ch-ching, and I was walking out the door with it. There's a lot of crap in the YA supernatural themed department. I'd know - I've read a ton of it! But this was intelligent, good writing, good story. I'm looking forward to the sequel out next year.

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THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher - This book I'd heard a lot about before I read and was skeptical of. Girl leaves tapes after suicide, hence the titular "reasons why". I don't know - it sounded kitschy and over-sentimental. Turns out I was totally wrong. It was amazing - a story that has stayed with me and stuck out in my mind. Fabulous story, great narration by teenaged male protagonist, very real feeling characters, another thing that's often off in YA lit. It was great. If the time-line aspect of it bothered me a bit, the rest made up for it. I'm not a fan of the cover.

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Has it become aparent yet that I ALWAYS JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER?!?!

So here are some where that bit me in the ass. In the category of Best Cover That Seemed So Promising And Stuck In My Mind So Much That I Bought An Illicit Advanced Read Copy Off Ebay:

Hush, Hush

Isn't it beautiful?! Doesn't it tell you exactly what kind of book it is and make you want to snap it up and salivate over the story late into the night?!? Tragically, the insides didn't live up. The male love interest (i.e. cover fallen angel dude) is a bastard, creepier than Edward from Twilight with the stalking and the almost killing the wimpy female protagonist.

Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my system, let's move on.

THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary Pearson - again with the Fabulous Title. The cover drew me (at least for the hardcover, they just released a softcover version with different cover, and I think it's total crap compared to the first one. I'll post both below). Anyway - great storytelling, fabulous idea, slight dystopia which I always love. It stuck with me.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson: Book Cover and then crappy softcover Product Details

but then, I really don't like white backgrounds on book covers. My preference: Black, simple concept covers, and matte, NOT glossy.

THE DARK DIVINE by Bree Despain. Another of my very few good finds for urban fantasy YA, which is the uber trend now, but rarely done well. I was drawn in by the cover, hooked by the flap. I liked the characters who didn't feel weakly drawn. Good story.

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And now for my other big discovery of the year: Terry Goodkind and the SWORD OF TRUTH Series. I read all eleven books, but the first is still my favorite.

WIZARD'S FIRST RULE - I only read these because of how much I LOVE the show Legend of the Seeker in all of it's fantasy melodrama deliciousness. Usually I can't stomach male fantasy writers - it's all battles and crap with no sexy love. Goodkind amazes me with balancing both. I mean, everything about Wizard's First Rule (other than what I consider a dumb title) is absolutely flabergasting. This guy seriously affectected the way I think about writing, good storytelling, strong noble characters, beauty, and the surprising ability to keep the same characters interesting for the duration of a 11 book series, which I've never encountered before. Unfortunatly at the same time, some of the later books did get a little preachy with his obvious love for Ayn Rand's objectivist philosophy, but just when I thought I'd throw in the towel, the next book in the series would blow me away again. But I'm still grumpy about what I consider a crap last book - I was fine with the ending for my beloved characters, but it meandered and wasted so much time without giving the proper page space to character's I'd grown close to and spent useless time on dumb shit. But I digress. Best books of the series, Books 1, 6, 9, 10

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I still think about these characters and re-read portions from the books. That's how much I heart them.

And to finish off a post that's probably already too long, here's some more books I'll put in the category:
DON'T BE FOOLED BY THIER COVERS! i.e., they weren't nearly as good as I'd hoped they'd be. Beautiful Creatures was the best, but just didn't live up to the too high expectations I had before reading it.

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct DetailsI promptly resold each on Ebay.

Happy Reading in 2010!