Monday, May 19, 2014

Spring Writing Bootcamp Check-In #12

My first week of Bootcamp went well. I made progress on my goals and completed one! Hooray!

I attended my first meeting with a new writing meetup group. Basically we meet in a lounge at a local university center, there's no shortage of schools around here. After talking and discussing what we're going to be working on that night, we write. Writing with other people, even though we weren't working together or talking, was awesome. I've always had a lot of success writing in public, the presence of other people keeps me focused. This was even better. I spent the hour and a half there revising. I'll definitely be back. The meetings are during the week which I really like as I have a hard time squeezing in writing time after work, catching up with the dog and making dinner. I might squeeze in an hour but, but most weeknights I end up reading on the couch, too tired to think about my own words or what to do with them. That leads me to another goal-

I've put a big dent in Outlander and I'm headed out of town today. I love traveling, particularly all the reading time I get while someone else is in charge of flying, driving, or conducting me to my destination.

Most importantly, since this is a writing bootcamp, I've made it through about a third of my revisions. Don't get too exuberant though, that's only a guesstimate. When I can spend hours on a paragraph, it's tough to judge how long edits will take. A third of what I know needs to be edited has been, but there's always the chance of unforeseen trouble. I would have liked to be further along at this point, but I feel good about where the story is so I'm not going to beat myself up.

May Goals

1. Finish revisions for my YA Retelling Update: About one-third of the way through revisions.
2. Read An Echo in the Bone (Outlander #7) before my library eBook expires on 5/24! Update: I'm on page 500.
3. Read Perks of Being a Wallflower before Book Club on 5/25.
4. Attend at least one Tuesday meeting of my local writer's group Completed on 5/13

Monday, May 12, 2014

My First Spring Writing Bootcamp Check-In

I'm a little late to the party, but I promise to make up for my tardiness with enthusiasm. The YA Buccaneers Spring Bootcamp started in March, and I've just joined with Team Rainier. I'm excited to have such an awesome group of writers holding me accountable for my writing goals.

May Goals

1. Finish revisions for my YA Retelling
2. Read An Echo in the Bone (Outlander #7) before my library eBook expires on 5/24!
3. Read Perks of Being a Wallflower before Book Club on 5/25
4. Attend at least one Tuesday meeting of my local writer's group

That might seem like a lot for just under three weeks especially when you consider the Outlander book is 1,100 pages! Fortunately, I'll be traveling for work and I'll have lots of reading time on the plane. The real crunch will be the revisions. Eek!

Book Report Monday: Monster by David Zeltserman

Author: Dave Zelsterman

Genre: Horror

Synopsis: Friedrich Hoffman, the so-called monster, recounts how he was falsely accused of killing his fiancee, tortured and executed for his 'crime', and awoke hideously deformed on the lab table of Victor Frankenstein. He embarks on a single-minded quest for vengeance; but at what cost to the remnants of his humanity? Intense and chillingly supernatural, Monster depicts nineteenth-century Europe in a blaze of depravity, from inside the mind of the man forever remembered as Frankenstein's creature, in an ingenious tribute to one of literature's greatest works. (from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: A retelling where the original villain is actually the hero, sounds like the Wicked version of Frankenstein. I couldn't pass that up.

My Review: First, let me say I didn't feel that this was scary-Stephen-King-book-in-the-freezer-horror. The character of Victor Frankenstein is creepy and sadistic but the way it was presented by the narrator, in matter-of-fact manner, softened the shock of Frankenstein's actions. Perhaps it was also that Frankenstein is simply a man and as a man is repulsive but I was not frightened of him. So don't be put off by the genre alone. It was a fast read and I enjoyed the story. As something of a Frankenstein nerd myself, I could tell and appreciate that Zelsterman did his research.

When Mary Shelley was writing Frankenstein, it was common practice for men of science to acquire the corpses of condemned criminals. This was preferred over dealing with resurrectionists, men who sold corpses that were at best stolen from their graves and at worst murdered for the profit. Sometimes there would be an autopsy performed before an audience, a horrible fate which was included in the sentencing as an added punishment. It makes perfect sense for Victor Frankenstein to have acquired the brain for his creation from a criminal. It's also possible that the brain would hold on to its former memories.

The story is a plausible alternate telling of Shelley's novel, it achieves this by claiming Victor Frankenstein's account was a lie. Though there is no explanation as to why he would make up such an elaborate tale on his deathbed in the frozen arctic sea. Zeltserman's character is nothing like Mary Shelley's, which was hard for me to accept. This may have been why I wasn't scared of him, I had a hard time believing he could be real.

Despite having been a man originally, Friedrich Hoffman (the monster) struggles with the same crisis of identity as the monster in Frankenstein. Was he made to be a monster or was the darkness instilled in him after? How can one find peace when craving vengeance? Can justice be achieved without losing his humanity? Will there ever be a place for him in the world? Friedrich is ostracized for what he is though he did not ask to be resurrected any more than the nameless creation in Frankenstein asked to be brought to life.

My Recommendation: Good for curling up with on a dark, stormy night. Obviously any Frankenstein fans should check it out.

For Next Time: Ash by Malindo Lo

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Books! Coming To a Television Near You

There's a conspiracy afoot! The entertainment industry is determined to make a TV watcher out of me. First they pull me in with Game of Thrones, forcing me to pay for HBO even though I watch it on my friend Sarah's "Dude TV" every week because it's more entertaining on a very large screen and with friends who also read the books. Then they send me Entertainment Weekly, eventually getting me hooked on Orphan Black.

Fun fact: The new Daario Naharis from Game of Thrones was on Orphan Black this week!

But apparently those shows weren't enough. Now they're making even more books I've read into TV shows and miniseries! C'mon you guys. I've got writing to do. It's not fair.

Spoiler: Jamie and Claire always end up looking like this.
The one that has me the most excited at present is Outlander, based on Diana Gabaldon's series, coming to Starz this summer. I love everything about these books. Their length, history lessons, the many references to Jamie's hair color (No, it's not just red!). 

I'm about to begin the seventh book in the series. The eighth book comes out in June. Cue fangirl squee.

If like me you are not fluent in Gaelic or perhaps just appreciate a Scottish accent check out this video sent to me months ago by my friend Julie, who got me reading the books and in fact loaned me the first six. The video really helped with an important word which I mispronounced for five lengthy books.

I told you they were lengthy
With something like 10,000 pages in the Outlander series alone Gabaldon has given Starz more than enough material for the show (Dear Mr. Martin, please take note). That's not counting The Lord John spin off books or the novellas. I have no idea how many of them there are as I'm wary of spoilers and won't even add those on Goodreads yet.

It doesn't end there. While I'm incredibly suspicious about what my TV is trying to do to my writing time, I'm also thrilled to have more book adaptations on the way.

I saw on Lev Grossman's Twitter earlier this week that The Magicians will be coming to the SyFy Channel. The third book in the series, The Magician's Land, is coming out this August.

Just last month it was announced that HBO and the BBC will be co-producing a three part miniseries based on J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy.

The Dovekeepers will be a four-hour miniseries on CBS sometime in 2015. I first heard about it from Alice Hoffman herself. Sorry I'm not sorry that I'm still bragging about that time I met one of my favorite writers.

Finally last Sunday waiting for Game of Thrones to start, I saw a commercial for The Leftovers series coming to HBO, which is based on the novel by Tom Perrotta. I've been meaning to read this since it was on The NY Times Best of 2011 list. I know it's currently 2014...I'm so behind. At least the show will force me to read it now.

I'm sure there are even more books coming to the small screen, but these are the ones that have reached me over the last few months. Perhaps a trend started after HBO's success with Game of Thrones? I'm just hoping the schedules of these shows are staggered or I'll be forced to invest in DVR. Who'd have guessed that being an avid reader would lead to such an uptick in my cable bill?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Writing Process Blog Chain

Thanks to the fabulous Michelle Tran who tagged me in the Writing Process Blog Chain last week. Be sure to check out what she has to say about her process on her blog, here.

1. What am I currently working on?

I just started editing my second draft of my YA retelling. It's a loose retelling and I hope to share more details later. It has elements of science fiction. I would classify it as light sci-fi as it's set in our present world. The first draft took almost 2 years, a long time compared to my other books. Partially this was due to the massive amount of research I had to do, part of the trouble with having a hyper intelligent main character. I also suffered from a rough bout of writer's block for a while and I couldn't be happier to have that behind me.

I also am working on a YA Fantasy about a girl struggling to accept and make sense of her own abilities while the magic community she lives in is rife with political drama and civil unrest. So far I have the complete outline and the first two chapters written, but it'll be on the back burner while I edit.

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

There's no clearly defined villain or evil force at work. My characters do a fantastic job of ruining their lives without outside help. Likewise, there's not a hero. My main character is not a bad person, but I wouldn't say he's a great one when the story starts either.

Another thing that sets it apart is that my main character is a teenage boy. While that's not unheard of it is rare in YA. Many books with male MCs still focus on a female character, such as the Caster Chronicles which are told from Ethan's perspective but he shares the story with Lena. Maybe YA books with male MCs don't sell as well? Obviously, I'm hoping that's not the case.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I'm going to sound like a total hippie (because I kind of am) but I write what comes to me. I can't force plots or characters to reveal themselves, I've tried. I get an idea, I don't know where they come from. Usually it happens when I'm in that fragile place between sleeping and wakefulness. When an idea grabs me I try to make sense of it the best I can.

I've always been partial to fantasy and all kinds of speculative fiction, though I have written short stories that were contemporary Adult fiction. I read a lot of fantasy and I think my brain is tuned in to that genre. I like the examination of ordinary people forced into extraordinary situations which is common in fantasy novels. For better or worse, it forces the characters to evolve.

4. How does my writing process work?

  • Get idea-Thank the gods of inspiration for choosing me!
  • Type frantically in fear of losing idea
  • Outline the whole book-I've been getting better at this. 
  • Write the rough draft- Sometimes I know I'm writing crap. I need to do so to get through a slump or a difficult scene. I know this doesn't work for all writers but this is the best method I've find for me. 
  • Edit rough draft-This is when I smooth out the rough parts until I have a clean first draft.
  • Send the first draft to my Betas-My friend Ashley has been the first to read each of my completed books. Jess is a close second and helpful grammar guru.
  • Edit with Beta feedback into a polished second draft.
After that I decide if I think the book is worth working on or if it's time to give up. That might sound harsh or even like I'm calling it quits too soon, but the truth is I've written a lot of crap. I'm undoubtedly going to write a lot more crap in the future. It takes a long time to write something that you're proud of. And while editing can improve a book drastically, there is a point when it's clearly time to move on. For me it's usually around the second or third draft.

My first two books were great learning experiences and those characters will always be with me, but I wouldn't want them to be published because I wasn't proud of the stories or the writing. I knew I could do better and so I shelved them and moved on to my next project.

Currently, I still feel good about my YA retelling, but it's too soon to say anything. If I feel good after I'm done with this round of edits, I'll send it to be critiqued and keep editing from there. I've never queried agents, because none of my books have ever been ready, but I imagine after lots of editing it would be time to query. Of course, then there will be more editing. Basically, the editing doesn't end until the book is published or the writer surrenders.


I'm passing the chain along to fellow blogger extraordinaire Cindy R. Wilson, check out her blog and see what she says next Monday. Thanks for letting me tag you, Cindy!

Cindy R. Wilson grew up telling her siblings stories she invented every night before bed, and realized quickly she wanted to be a writer as an adult. As a mother of three girls, YA drama is a big part of her life. Writing for young adults gives her the opportunity to combine her passion for romance with elements that are more out of this world. Cindy resides in Colorado near the foothills, where the mountains and forests often inspire settings in her stories.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Report Monday: Out of the Easy

Title: Out of the Easy

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Genre: Young Adult

Synopsis: It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. 

She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny. (from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: My friend Liz handed it to me saying, "I think you would like this." She was right. Thanks Liz!

Favorite Lines: "I didn't ask for a light," Willie said.
"No, but you've tapped your cigarette fifty-four times and I thought you might like to smoke it."

My Review: I loved Josie right away. She's a no-nonsense girl who from a young age is exposed to the details of her mother's life as a prostitute. At seven she can make a martini and sass the madam at the brothel where her mother later works. Josie moves out on her own, living and working at a bookstore. As if I needed more of a reason to relate with her, she views college as a way to change her unpleasant situation.

Her mother is rarely seen in the story but her actions are widely felt. A realistic scenario for negligent parents. Josie seems to be bombarded by her mother's unseemly profession and bad decisions at every turn. In lieu of a traditional family Josie has Willie the brothel madam, Cokie the loyal chauffeur, and the father and son in charge of the bookstore, Patrick and Charlie Marlowe. Every member of her motley family recognizes Josie as an exceptional young woman and does what they can to help. But when her mother gets involved with a notoriously dangerous man there's nothing anyone can do to stop Josie's life from being turned upside down.

The writing is succinct and keeps the story moving along a quick yet unhurried pace. Sepetys provides just enough details about the French Quarter and life there in the 50's to intrigue and educate but not to weigh the story down with lengthy descriptions.

I've often read and enjoyed YA novels that while entertaining for me are setting poor examples for adolescent girls. Characters who take no initiative but wait for the male lead or villain to force her to react. There's nothing wrong with these characters or stories. I don't think teens are all so impressionable that they will mimic that behavior. However Out of the Easy is not one of those books. Josie is smart, independent, and determined to do something to improve her prospects. Of course being a 17-year old girl and desperate to get out of New Orleans she does make a fair amount of poor choices that had me cringing. Josie tells more lies than she can keep track of, withholds information from police and blackmails a wealthy man. None of which serve her any good or help her to reach her goal of attending college in New England.

I wish there were more books like this and have added Between Shades of Grey to my read list.

My Recommendation: Fans of YA

For Next Time: Monster by Dave Zeltserman

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Outlining and Plot Mapping

Historically, I've been more of a pantser than a plotter when it comes to writing. This is quite the opposite of how I behave in every other aspect of my life. I love planning and in certain situations require a plan or else. Seriously, if you ever see a distressed woman in glasses rushing through the aisles at Whole Foods, picking things up and putting them back down that's me and I forgot to make a grocery list. 

Ideas for stories usually come to me in pieces. The initial idea sneaks in and leaves me with a premise, a scene, or a character. Once I start writing, I hope the rest of the story presents itself. Usually it does and I'll throw together a shaky outline then. If it doesn't, I'm left staring at my word document until I start to wonder if that flashing cursor could be some form of message like Morse Code. Only I don't know Morse Code and each flash seems to be of equal length. 

In an effort to avoid that I decided to put an outline together for my new story which I'm currently calling TEMPEST. My outline method was the basic Outline Format in Word. I kept it chronological, though I included quick summaries of back story where relevant. Right now it looks like each bullet point is a chapter but it's unlikely they'll stay that way. I know myself better than to think I'll stick exactly to what I have in mind. My characters take over and I generally let them lead the way. 

One thing I know will be an issue in this story is when to reveal information. Fortunately I stumbled upon an awesome blog post by Chersti Nieveen on how to do a basic outline. It explains how to make a plot map just like Jo Rowling uses. The chapters are listed vertically and the top row lists each plot in the story. This makes the plot development visual. Once everything is filled in, a quick glance can tell you if you've lost a plot along the way or have gone too long without mentioning it.

 I know she prefers pen and paper, but why so messy, Jo? Of course, I knew I'd be plot mapping Jo Rowling Style only neater and in Microsoft Excel, because I use Excel for everything. If your familiar with The Order of the Phoenix you'll note how even the best and most successful writers allow the story to change when the characters and plots demand it. 

Can't believe Umbridge's name was originally Elvira. Umbridge was the worst. Just thinking about her makes me grumpy, but as my friend Sarah always says when hoping someone gets their comeuppance, "The centaurs will come eventually." and they certainly came for Umbridge. Thank goodness for that.

Seeing the plots this way is particularly helpful for me since the amount of time I spend writing is not proportionate to the amount I've written. It may feel like forever since I've mentioned the subplot involving my character's best friend, but in reality it may have just been in the last chapter. There's also the possibility that you might forget to wrap up a subplot before you send your book to your first set of beta readers. That happened to me and I'm still filled with regret. If I had this plot map for my last story I could have avoided so much self shaming. Don't be like Monica, friends. Make a plot map.