Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 YA Books I've Read

In keeping with last year's tradition, I've put together some of my "Top 5" lists from this year. Here they are:

Top 5 Books to Make You Think:
5. How Not to Be Popular (Jennifer Ziegler) 
4. Hunger (Jackie Morse Kessler)
3. Hate List (Jennifer Brown)
2. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
1. The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness)

Top 5 Books for Hard-to-Please Boys:
5. Across the Universe (Beth Revis)
4. Incarceron (Catherine Fisher)
3. The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness)
2. Pathfinder (Orson Scott Card)
1. Ship Breaker (Paolo Bacigalupi)

Top 5 Fantasy:
5. The False Princess (Eilis O'Neal)
4. Magic Study (Maria V. Snyder)
3. The Iron Queen (Julie Kagawa)
2. Pegasus (Robin McKinley)
1. The Shifter (Janice Hardy)

Top 5 Science Fiction:
5. Divergent (Veronica Roth)
4. Across the Universe (Beth Revis)
3. Ship Breaker (Paolo Bacigalupi)
2. Pathfinder (Orson Scott Card)
1. The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness)

Top 5 Favorite Books:
5. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
4. Pegasus (Robin McKinley)
3. The Shifter (Janice Hardy)
2. The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness)

And the best book I read this year...

1. Divergent (Veronica Roth)

Full list of all the books I read (with links to recommendations):

Ann Aguirre

Paolo Bacigalupi
--Ship Breaker

Holly Black
--White Cat

Jennifer Brown
--Hate List [rec]

Meg Cabot
--Being Nikki
--How to Be Popular

Orson Scott Card

Aimee Carter
--The Goddess Test [rec]

Cassandra Clare
--City of Glass
--Clockwork Angel

Rosemary Clement-Moore
--Texas Gothic [rec]

Ally Condie

Lauren DeStefano

Sarah Beth Durst
--Enchanted Ivy [rec]

Catherine Fisher
--Incarceron [rec]

Gayle Forman
--If I Stay

Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl
--Beautiful Creatures

Janice Hardy
--The Shifter [rec]
--Blue Fire

Diana Wynne Jones
--Cart and Cwidder

Julie Kagawa
--The Iron Daughter [The Iron King rec]
--The Iron Queen

Jackie Morse Kessler
--Hunger [rec]

Karen Mahoney
--The Iron Witch

Melissa Marr
--Darkest Mercy [Wicked Lovely rec]

Robin McKinley

Lisa McMann
--Cryer's Cross

Patrick Ness
--The Knife of Never Letting Go [rec]
--The Ask and the Answer
--Monsters of Men

Lauren Oliver

Eilis O'Neal
--The False Princess [rec]

Erica O'Rourke

Dia Reeves
--Bleeding Violet [rec]

Beth Revis
--Across the Universe

Rick Riordan
--The Red Pyramid

Veronica Roth
--Divergent [rec]

Inara Scott
--The Candidates

Maria V. Snyder
--Magic Study [Poison Study rec]

Jennifer Ziegler
--How Not to Be Popular [rec]

Markus Zusak
--The Book Thief [rec]

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Where I've Been

So it's been a while. Over two months in fact. My blogging hiatus was partly intentional—to give me more time to edit my book—but only partly, and I never meant the cutoff to be so sudden.

But sometimes a lot of “life” happens, and this fall has been one of those seasons.

I won't go into all the details (unless you're a vet and you happen to be interested in the specifics of cat UTIs, or you're an oral surgeon who wants to know all about my reaction to epinephrin in Novocaine). Soon enough the past few months will be little more than a blurry memory.

That being the case, I do want to hold on to a few good things that have happened this fall:

1. I've gotten to know some pretty incredible teens. Underneath all the “totes magotes” and finger hearts and “cool story, bro,” they have a lot of energy and character. I'm even more sure now than I've ever been that this is the age group I want to write for.

2. I've been editing Olympus Gate, which has gone more slowly than I hoped for the same reasons that the blog has been out of use lately, but I'm pleased with the results so far. My new critique partner is making me work hard! You think you know your character pretty well the first dozen times you get the comment “and what is she feeling in this moment?” Then you get to the thirteenth and all you can think is, “She's... um... sad? ...again? I DON'T KNOW!” So thank you, Jamie, for making me struggle through all the hard parts too.

3. I've made some more delectable edibles. Last night I had the pleasure of seeing several people's eyes bug out (in a good way) at the taste of my peppermint bonbons. And my husband got me a book of dessert recipes I've been wanting to try. (I'd have made the Boston Cream cupcakes already if last week hadn't turned out to be an insane mess of hectic days.)

So I'll leave you with a picture of the latest bonbons, a wish for the happiest of holidays to all of you, and my sincerest hopes to post more regularly in the coming months.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

While You Wait...

Things to do while you force yourself to wait and digest a good critique instead of diving right into the edits:

- Tap your foot

- Search YouTube for songs to put on your character play lists

- Check twitter obsessively

- Pretend to read a research book for your next project

- Work on the outline for the next project (that rapidly devolves into squiggles depicting scenes from the current project)

- Play Angry Birds again and try to get three stars on everything

- Read whatever is on top of the TBR list

- Write a blog post about how painful it is to wait and let the ideas percolate


I got a really fantastic critique this morning from Jamie Grey. It's exciting and motivating, and I'm having a very hard time reminding myself that I should let the critique sit for a few days before I go tearing through the ms. But mostly I'm very grateful to have such a fabulous critique group. Don't know where I'd be without my fellow writers. Thanks, you guys!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Well, folks... I'm in trouble.

I've discovered a new hobby, and lately it's about all I want to do. Unfortunately it's expensive (well, not too expensive, but it does require money), time-consuming and fattening. What is it? It's creating these:

These are bonbons that I made a couple weeks ago. They are amazing. Inside is marshmallow fudge (that tastes like it has a hint of caramel). To borrow a quote from a friend, “It's like heaven inside my mouth.”

Of course they're also so full of calories that if I keep making and eating them I'll balloon up 50 pounds in no time. But maybe I'll make some at Christmas and give them all away.

So now that the great bonbon experiment was so successful, I want to try some other things too. In particular I want to see if I can make nougat, caramel and peppermint patties. I might be worried about finding people to give the finished products away to, but I know a whole bunch of teens who would be happy to take them.

Really, the biggest problem is that making candy and chocolates takes all day to accomplish. If I keep heading down that path I'll be in danger of never getting any writing done.

But hey, if the writing thing doesn't work out, at least I know I have a back-up plan now. Couldn't you see me as a chocolatier?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Clarinets and Saxophones

A long time ago I used to fall asleep to the sound of James Galway playing the flute on my mom's old record player. For a very long time I believed that the flute was the most beautiful instrument in the whole world, and if I ever had the chance to play an instrument, that would be the one.

But that was before I heard the clarinet. When fifth grade came around—the year I got to pick what I would play—just before that moment of decision I heard the music teacher perform a simple piece on the clarinet. And suddenly I was hooked.

I loved everything about the clarinet: the nostalgic tone, the look of the silver keys against the dark wood, and the way it seemed to tell me “there's more here if you're willing to look.” I didn't want to try out anything else; clarinet was for me.

And when I first got a clarinet of my own I became even more sure. I didn't just love hearing it, I loved playing it too. We were a great fit. We worked. (And I was ever so glad I had not chosen to go with, say, the saxophone—if the sounds coming from the sax section were any indication, it was a miserable instrument to play.) For several months, my clarinet and I were BFFs.

But then, one day, playing got a little bit harder. I had to transition from the comfortable low notes to the tricky, squeaky high notes. And suddenly I wasn't quite so sure that this clarinet thing was going to work out for me.

I remember something my teacher said at that time. She told us, “Clarinets, do you remember picking on the sax players just a few months ago for all their squeaks and messy notes? Well, now you get to go through what they did. And saxophones, it's your turn to sit back and learn some easier notes.”

That was motivation enough for me. If the sax players could stick with it through the hard notes, then I sure could too. And I did. I stuck with clarinet for a long time, and I never wished I'd chosen anything else. Clarinet wasn't always the absolute perfection I'd first thought it was, but it was worth the hard work.

And I kept that lesson of clarinets and saxophones in mind. I came to learn that a lot of things in life could be separated into “clarinet” groups and “saxophone” groups. Some things come naturally to me and at first seem like the perfect fit. Math was like that. For a long, long time it was really, really easy. Only once I got to college did it get hard. Other things start off really hard and get progressively more comfortable as I go along. And that's writing for me—difficult from the start, so I knew that I must really love it if I was willing to deal with all that difficulty right away. But regardless of whether something is a “clarinet” or a “saxophone,” if it's worth doing, at some point it will be challenging.

I think relationships are like that too. Sometimes we meet people and immediately hit it off and feel that click. Everything is rosy and the other person can do no wrong. The rose-colored glasses can sometimes stay on for a really long time. But eventually, they're going to come off. Something the other person does is going to rub us wrong. Something they say won't ring so well in our ears. And suddenly the relationship isn't so easy.

Other times we meet people we have no spark with. We have nothing in common, and their personalities are grating, and given a choice between talking with them and eating dinner with a hyena, we'd pick the hyena. But sometimes, whether through circumstance or simply being in proximity day after day, we come to find a lot of good in these people. We find that we love them in spite of all those things that originally annoyed us... and maybe we even start to love the very things that used to drive us crazy.

I guess all this is on my mind because right now I've got a lot of “clarinet” people and a lot of “saxophone” people in my life. So maybe this post is for them.

To all the “clarinets”: Some of us still have on the rosy glasses, and that's cool—let's enjoy that for a while. It's fun.

But some of us are starting to take the glasses off. And that's a little scary. I don't know if you'll like what you see in me when they come off. Maybe you'll notice one of my many bad habits and start to flinch every time it happens. Or maybe something you originally liked about me will start to get on your nerves. Maybe I'll start to feel that way about you too. But listen, if you're still willing to be friends with me, then I'm not letting go of you.

And to all the “saxophones”: I already like you more than you probably think I do. Because I know that even if nothing about us seems to work right now, the future has a lot of potential. Maybe one day we'll click. Maybe not. Either way, keep being you. In some way or another, you're awesome, even if I can't see it right now.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Maryland Renaissance Festival

Have you ever been to a really big Renaissance fair? I went to one this past Saturday in Maryland and had a fantastic time. Here are some of the highlights:


One of the first things I did there was go to a music show by the group Wolgemut. It consists of four guys: two on drums, one on a short pipe and one on German bagpipes.

See that guy in the back on the red drum? You can kind of see from the picture that he's got this lazy swagger while he plays the drum. The guy on the far left is the leader of the group, and he puts on a good show. His stage name is Micha. The word Wolgemut apparently means “having a good time,” and he seems to embody that word.

Toward the end of the performance Micha made me get up and dance to one of the songs. My husband got some pictures, perhaps hoping to embarrass me, but they mostly came out pretty blurry, so I guess I'm safe.

One of the most interesting parts of the show was when they invited a jester up to the stage and had him play a saw like a fiddle.

It had the strangest sound, but I suppose this is actually kind of a thing. Here's a video to give you something of an idea.

Other Performers

Over the course of the day I also saw a joust, a Shakespeare parody and some acrobats. The acrobats were probably the most fun.


Of course, one of the main attractions is the abundance of craftsmen everywhere. I saw a lot of great items, but didn't end up buying anything myself. My favorite was probably the glass blowers. They did a demonstration, and then I browsed through their collection.

All in all, lots of fun! Have you ever done something similar?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Last weekend I went to King's Dominion for a few hours. The weather turned out to be cold, and my husband and I weren't really up for riding roller coasters, but we did make it to a few of the attractions. The last thing we did was ride to the top of the “Eiffel Tower,” a replica of the original at one third the height of the actual monument in Paris.

Now... my greatest phobia is a fear of heights. Even completely caged at the top, I shuddered a little bit looking down. I can't help imagining something catastrophic happening to make me tumble all the way to the ground.

One of the other rides at KD is the “Xtreme SkyFlyer,” basically a bungee jump, and while I was at the top of the “Eiffel Tower” I watched as a man was pulled up more than 100 feet and then released. And as he swung down I felt my own stomach drop to my knees.

I have such a strong physical reaction even to the idea of falling. I get a little dizzy just watching other people experience an extreme height. So this video makes me sway a bit every time I see it:

Pretty insane, right? I mean, really... free climbing? How crazy is that?

And yet I keep coming back it. I keep feeding that phobia. Because I don't feel only fear—I feel fascination too.

Is there anything like that for you? A phobia that you can't stay away from? Why do you think that is?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Some days everything just goes right. You get up, the sun is shining, you feel motivated, you get to work, things come together, progress happens. And usually progress feels really good.

Then other days... you run into this guy:

This (in case you didn't notice the underlined name) is Procrastinatron. He's the procrastination robot monster I like to blame for all those times I “just don't wanna.”

Most of the time you can kind of tell he's coming. He loves rainy days. He loves afternoons when you've just eaten a huge lunch. He loves Mondays. He really loves Fridays. If you turn your head quickly enough sometimes you can see him out of the corner of your eye.

But sometimes he sneaks up on you, and those days are the worst. Because maybe you got up and it was sunny and you felt motivated... and then as soon as you tried to be productive, Procrastinatron struck.

He's not very nice.

And sometimes it feels like you're stuck in a cage match with him and all you can see are his big, meany eyes and his angry, grindy teeth.

But today Procrastinatron is going down! Already today the score is Audrinator (that's me): 1, Procrastinatron: 0. And you can beat up on him too! Don't hold back. Show no mercy!

Let's show the procrastination monster that he can't get the best of us!

Friday, September 9, 2011

You Tell Me...

Which of these should I read next? My to-read list is growing, so I'm curious to know if any of you would recommend any of these in particular:

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

Compulsion by Heidi Ayarbe

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly

Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann

Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves

Human.4 by Mike A Lancaster

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M Valente

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Miss Peregrin's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Any thoughts? Let me know!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ice Cream

It's September now, and for me, that means ice cream season!

Every year I go to a tailgating event in September. The food is so so amazing. Everybody goes all out. So last year I decided that I would put my ice cream maker to good use since, in the five years I'd had it, I'd never tried it. The results were fantastic. The ice cream maker came with a bunch of good recipes, and everybody loved stopping by our tailgate (especially since it was a hot day).

Well, this year I'm planning to do the same, but because I can only make about a quart at a time, I have to make ice cream pretty much every day between now and the event. Fortunately the vanilla, which I'm planning to make the most of, isn't that hard to prepare, but some of the other recipes are.

My favorite recipe is a chocolate espresso “gelato” (I'm not entirely sure why it qualifies as gelato, but that's what it's called in the recipe book) that I find almost irresistible. I made some of it yesterday and it was even better than I remembered. I normally don't even like coffee that much. (I know, that's almost blasphemy for a writer.) But somehow the espresso in the ice cream makes it ten times better.

The other one I really like is strawberry frozen yogurt—though don't let that fool you into thinking it's the least bit healthy—because it uses real strawberries. Perhaps I should search for some other good recipes online.

Have you ever made ice cream? What are your favorite flavors?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Book Recommendation: Texas Gothic

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Rosemary Clement-Moore. One of the wonderful things about going to ArmadilloCon every year is that in addition to getting to see her, I also get to buy her latest book and read it on the plane home. Last year was The Splendor Falls. This year, Texas Gothic.

Now I'd gotten to experience the opening chapters at Rosemary's reading, which was so much fun. There's nothing quite like enjoying a story about a girl named Amy Goodnight, who's running across a field in her underwear to yell at a cow, being read in the delightful Texas twang in which it is meant to be heard. I was grinning all through the reading.

And the lighthearted humor last throughout the entire book. There were quite a few moments on the plane ride when I had to hold in my laughter. When I came to the line “Don't ever trust anyone who's writing a book. They make up lies for a living,” well, let's just say it's a very good thing I didn't have any soda in my mouth at the time.

The story is about a girl from a family of kooks and kitchen witches who is trying so very hard to be normal. Too bad the ghost living next door to her aunt's farm—where she's house sitting—has other plans for her. And, oh yeah, the guy whose property the ghost is haunting just so happens to be a hot cowboy whom she can't decide whether she loves or hates.

As usual, Rosemary has given us a cast of dynamic, lovable characters. Amy and the cowboy Ben play off each other very well, and the scenes in which they're both together really come to life. I also particularly liked Amy's sister Phin: brilliant, a touch absentminded and endearingly unaware of how crazy her paranormal technology seems to everyone around her.

The plot moves along well and kept me turning pages pretty quickly. And the details of Amy's world added a lot to the story. I loved Aunt Hyacinth's potions, Phin's gadgets, Uncle Burt's rocking chair and cousin Daisy's wardrobe choices.

The only disappointment is knowing I have to wait another year or so before reading the next RCM book. But one thing's for sure: I'm going to love it when I do.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

ArmadilloCon 33

And now for the daunting task of condensing a truly epic weekend into a few simple paragraphs.

This was my third year at ArmadilloCon. I really debated about whether to go this year. With the plane tickets and not sharing the hotel room this time, the cost was a bit high. But I really didn't want to pass up the opportunity. And I'm so glad I chose to go, because this may have been the best year yet.

The awesomeness of ArmadilloCon comes down to two things: the workshop and the people.

ArmadilloCon consistently attracts some very high quality authors to the workshop. This year the guest of honor was Paolo Bacigalupi, and he participated in the workshop as well. Turns out he's that brilliant sort of person we all wish we could be who is not only a compelling writer but who is also incredibly well-spoken.

Now I personally didn't have him in my workshop group, but that was alright since I had some other pretty high-powered instructors. Scott Lynch was one of them, and not only was he truly funny, but he gave me some really cool ideas to think about for my book. Martin Wagner, who writes reviews over at, and Stina Leight, whose first novel just came out this past year, were my other instructors, and I learned quite a lot from them as well. And the other students in my group made me feel really good about my work.

So my workshop experience this year was as positive as it's been the past two years. But what made this ArmadilloCon better than the last two was that my relationships with the people have evolved over time.

And honestly, as much as I feel dragged down by the weight of social media sometimes, I think I can attribute a lot of that evolution to the ability to stay connected even from a distance. It means the difference between interacting with people as once-a-year acquaintances and feeling like I both know people and am known.

In particular I want to thank Rosemary Clement-Moore, Patrice Sarath and Marshall Maresca for all their encouragement. I admire all of them, and I really appreciate the individual attention they've given me.

And finally, one of the best parts of ArmadilloCon was, as always, seeing some of the people in my critique group. You guys are so much fun. I'm really excited about the potential new members we picked up this year as well. Long live the Pirates of Moo!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Texas, Here I Come

My head is already in Texas at ArmadilloCon, so I don't have much to blog about this week. I'm really excited about my workshop group and about seeing some of my critique partners and people I've met the past two years. I'll be back next week with recaps and maybe some pictures!

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Neeeeeeew Yoooooork!!!

That's where I went last week!

I'd never been before. London, Rome, Beijing... yep! I'd seen all those places. But this was my first trip to NYC.

I went with a small group of students as one of their chaperons. We managed to see quite a lot: the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, Chinatown, the Empire State Building and Times Square in particular. Also, I got some really good gelato—not quite as good as Italy's but definitely worth the money.

I had an amazing time on the trip. It was great to see all of these places I'd only heard of before. The Statue of Liberty was beautiful. Times Square was a lot bigger than I realized. I didn't feel queasy at the top of the Empire State Building like I thought I would.

And I appreciated seeing Ground Zero and remembering my experiences of September 11th. I was just starting my freshman year of college. My world had already undergone a drastic change... little did I know just how much more it could change. Seeing the spot ten years later was sobering.

But we had a lot of laughs on the trip as well. The whole group was great about posing for pictures, and I got a lot of shots that I really loved. And though we didn't go on a spending spree, we made some fun purchases.

So all in all I'm really glad I went. And I'm grateful to all of the people who made it such a great experience!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Getting Ready for ArmadilloCon 33!

My ArmadilloCon workshop placement came last week!!!

I'm so very excited about my group. I'm with three instructors this year: Stina Leicht, Scott Lynch and Thomas (Martin) Wagner. All three are excellent. Couldn't ask for better. This year is going to be really great.

There are three other students in my group as well. Normally by this time I would already have read and critiqued their submissions, but I was out of town most of last week and didn't get a chance. I'm really looking forward to digging into the submissions, though, and hopefully I'll be able to get started on that tomorrow.

The panels also look like they'll be fun. Plus I'm pretty stoked to see all the people I've met the past two years. I can hardly wait!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Research Book Recommendation

I'm very behind on my YA reading since most of what I've been reading lately is for research, so unfortunately yet again I don't have a YA book recommendation.

But I will recommend one of the research books I'm in the middle of for anyone who is at all interested in naval history. It's called The War for all the Oceans by Roy Adkins and Lesley Adkins. It's the story of the British naval battles that took place between 1798 and 1812, and it's so exciting that it reads almost like a fiction book. If you enjoy that kind of book, check it out—it's a good one.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Off Day

Today is sort of an off day for me. (Well, this whole summer has been a little off-kilter, but in a lot of good ways.) My head is in about a hundred different places, so I'm just going to pick a couple random things to talk about and that'll be that.


I went swimming with whales once when I was in Tonga in the south pacific. Awesome experience, and now it's something I can check off as a “been there, done that, got the t shirt” (and the video) kind of thing. But more than that, it was a moment when I really saw just how incredible some of the things in nature can be. The whole trip to Tonga was a good experience for me, because it was basically my first time out of the country, and the only person I had with me was a friend from school. So I look back on that trip and see it as one of my first major “growth spurts” in going from young adult to adult.

High Ropes

Speaking of growth, I had another growing experience of sorts at camp the other week. I'm very afraid of heights, and one of the activities was climbing around on a high ropes course. I was pretty nervous, but I ended up not being quite as afraid as I thought I would be. I felt safe. The biggest problem was knowing that if I slipped I would have a hard time pulling myself back up just because the course required a lot of arm strength. It was a challenge, and I'm really glad I did it.

And that's about all my brain can process right now. I hope you're all having a great week!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ten-Year Reunion

This past weekend I went to my ten-year high school reunion.

I wasn't really sure what to expect. I was that kid in high school who always had all the right answers but never knew the right thing to say to people. So going in I was curious about how it would go—would they think I was still that person? Would they be right... would I revert to acting that way?

But the night turned out to be a lot of fun. I talked to most of the people there, and while I tended to have the same conversation each time, I really had a good time learning what everyone else was doing in life.

And one girl completely surprised me! She's a very creative type herself now, and she told me she's been keeping up with what I'm doing on Facebook because she loves to read and really hopes I publish my book. That comment made my night!

The really interesting thing for me, though, was seeing what has changed in ten years and what hasn't. Half of the people look exactly the same as they did in high school. The other half I would have passed on the street and not recognized. Most of the personalities haven't changed much. And yet the way we relate to each other has... at least in the interactions I was part of. Ten years ago I didn't feel very well-liked, and I didn't have a whole lot of regard for most of the people around me, but Saturday night I came away from the reunion thinking, “If we lived closer, I wouldn't mind knowing you better.” And that was a good feeling.

Friday, August 5, 2011

If I Were an Agent

I saw a fun “if I were an agent” post the other week and thought I'd give my own take.

If I were an agent looking to build my client list, these are the kinds of books I'd really want to see right now:

Historical fantasy set in an unexpected time and place.

Urban fantasy that deals with real-world issues (think Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler).

Classical fantasy with a unique twist I haven't seen before (like Graceling or The Shifter or The False Princess... though since those are all strong female leads I'd love to see an unexpected male lead).

Any book, fantasy or not, that isn't preachy but has a positive view of people of faith.

Any book (not necessarily sci fi) that plays with psychology and manipulation the way a book like Ender's Game or Dune does.

What would be on your list?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Writing Update

Some not-totally-huge-but-not-insignificant things have happened over the last few months with my writing, so I figured I'd do a short update today on what I'm working on.

With regards to Olympus Gate: I've gotten some really helpful feedback from a couple of agents on the manuscript. I really appreciated what they had to say and agreed with the comments, so I'm going to go through another pass at editing the book and then try sending it out again.

With regards to Unmade: To be honest, I'm struggling with this book. It's been a bigger challenge than I ever expected. The biggest surprise was that writing a story set in the real world in the present day is more complicated than I thought, especially when it comes to pacing. My frustrations with the book and the way it keeps changing scope on me have led to difficulty making progress. So I think I need to put the story away for a while, and when I decide to come back to it I'll change my approach.

With regards to the yet-unnamed book: I'm really looking forward to working on it. I still have to find the voice, which is going to be tricky, but I've already started playing around with the first chapter and I'm absolutely loving it so far. After I finish my Olympus Gate edits I'll probably dive in and get to work on it.

And that's pretty much everything there is to tell. What's going on with you?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Random Tuesday Links

I saw these articles today while catching up on my Google Reader. I chuckled and said, "Yes, this," to each of them.

The Solution to Every Writing Problem

Love Triangles

The Eye of Incarceron

Monday, August 1, 2011

Back from Camp

So last week I didn't post at all because I was away all week at a youth camp. It was an incredible experience in a lot of ways, but specifically with regards to writing it was a strong confirmation that I'm doing exactly what I should be: writing books for teens.

I met a lot of really incredible high schoolers who inspired me, challenged me and gave me enthusiasm to come back and continue fighting to make progress as a writer. I heard a lot of stories about how complex and difficult and sometimes messy teens' lives can be, and I want to write books that reinforce that they don't have to go through those years alone.

I guess I won't really go into a lot of depth about that since I'm still processing the week (and catching up on sleep!), but these thoughts really hit me while I was there, so I thought I'd put them down as a reminder to myself and encouragement to anyone else out there writing YA. Books can make a big difference to a lot of people.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Recommendation: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Not too long ago I saw someone recommend The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Knowing nothing about it, I picked it up... and I'm so so glad I did.

Todd Hewitt lives in a world where all the women are dead, animals talk, and men hear each other's thoughts. In a month he will be 13 and make the transition from boy to man... the last to come of age in the entire settlement of Prentisstown. But when he and his dog find a silent gap in the constant Noise of the world, he is suddenly in danger. He must run for his life, trying to keep ahead of the men who are hunting him and who can hear his every thought.

This book did so many things right. From the beginning the Noise—the constant barrage of thoughts from animals and people alike—is totally believable. It's fascinating too, and it really pulled me in. As a Big Idea, it works! And not only that, but the world that has developed because of the Noise works too.

The moral dilemmas are completely gripping. The book doesn't flinch away from questions about morality and the ability to take a person's life, or about what makes a creature a “person” or what separates a boy from a man. Todd faces some very heavy moral issues over the course of the book, and I felt like I was right there in his shoes in every case.

The plot moves quickly and kept me flipping pages. I don't think I put it down for a second all throughout the second half. Ness leaves a few mysteries until the very end of the book, and by the time I got the answers I was half wild with needing to know the truth.

The characters work well and interact beautifully. I adored Manchee, the dog, and he now has a place of honor at the top of my “favorite fictional animals” list. I can't really say more about the characters without giving too much away, but... they were great.

And Todd's voice is just so real and comfortable. I truly enjoyed spending time listening to him.

Overall: definitely one of my favorite books from the past few months, and probably one of my favorites this year as well. I hope I can get my hands on the next book in the series soon!

On Satire

Yesterday I saw the following link on a friend's Facebook page: In praise of Joanne Rowling's Hermione Granger series

I followed the link and read the article, and as I read I found myself growing more and more upset. When I finished I wrote the follow comment on my friend's link:

This article made me really angry.

Maybe it's that I'm just too close to too many authors who work so so very hard to achieve even a fraction of what Rowling has. Maybe it's that I know that if I ever have the amazing good luck to be published myself, someone could probably say the very same things about me.

Rowling had no idea that her books would become such a phenomenon. She was just trying to write a story she loved in order to make a little more money to keep herself afloat. And suddenly, because she happened to do a really good job of that, she's supposed to be perfect? That's like people complaining about Martin taking so long to write his books. Somewhere along the way, people take something that's good, and decide that because it's so good, it ought to be flawless. Well, flawless isn't possible, even for people who may seem superhuman. Since when do we have the right to make demands of something we haven't created ourselves? Because we paid money? Sorry, but that money went to something already created, not something to be created. It's the author's right to take a story in whatever direction he or she wants.

And yes, there's a place for criticism. Good criticism helps authors individually and the literary community as a whole to grow. It's necessary and it's good. It makes books better. But I don't think there's a place for sarcasm. Sarcasm says, "You really should have known better" to the person who has struggled and cried and fought to tell the best story they know how to tell. Sarcasm says, "I could do better," but without ever really trying.

So ok, write your critiques--they're very welcome. Authors want to learn. Authors want to make readers happy. And good authors will continue to grow. If you put out there that gender equality and racial equality need to be highlighted more, people will listen. Change comes slowly, but it comes, and that's thanks in large part to thoughtful readers.

But the next time you start feeling the urge to make demands or say, "I could do better," just try doing half so well.

First, try telling a story that somebody will love. Try coming up with a plot that doesn't have a single cliche. Try writing any character, male or female, that isn't one-dimensional. It's harder than it looks.

Then try doing all of that in a competitive market where people are saying, "Sorry, but we already have far more female protagonists than male protagonists. Oh, your female protagonist is a spunky, take-charge kind of girl? Well so is every other. But you know what we don't have much of? Male-led romance. How about you give that a try?"

Then try writing from the perspective of a race other than your own. (While the whole time the voice in the back of your head is saying, "But you've never lived in their shoes. What if someone calls you a fraud?") Try having the necessary confidence for writing when you're worried you may unintentionally be doing harm.

And then, if by some miracle, you actually manage to publish a book, try braving all the vicious barbs of reviewers like this one. Try keeping your head up and your heart steady while people gleefully tear apart this thing you've put so much love and effort into.

I can guarantee you won't be sarcastic any more.


Over the course of the day I got quite a few likes on this comment and a couple people even said they strongly agreed. So by the end of the day I was feeling pretty self-righteous about what I'd said.

But now that I've had a day to cool off and think and read some of the comments on the article, I'm starting to wonder why I really reacted the way I did and whether I was right.

Here's the thing: the article was satire. Whether it's good satire or bad satire I don't know as satire isn't a literary form that I have enough experience with. But it's an established literary form that is considered to be of value in our society.

So the question for me, I think, is do I just not like satire? Is my problem with this article only, or with the literary form in general?

On the one hand, I think this article bothered me because it was attacking a book series that I love. While I acknowledge that Harry Potter is by no means perfect, I think that it was an incredible achievement by a remarkable woman. The tone of the article is “These books would have been so much better if...” So my gut reaction every time is going to be, “Well, if you can write a book that's so much better, why haven't you done it already?”

But I think in general I grow weary of satire, even about things that aren't my favorite books. Sometimes it makes me laugh, but quickly that laughter becomes empty. Satire will pretty much always make at least one person really angry, and to me that just doesn't feel effective. If I'm angry, I'm not going to take to the message of the piece, and even if I'm not angry, I think I'd be far more likely to be swayed by a calm, well-reasoned argument than a sarcastic one.

Again, though, maybe that's just me. I'm not going to ask that all satire be abandoned. But I do ask this: if, in the process of reading or writing satire, you start to think, “I could do so much better,” then please stop for a moment and take a reality check. Being able to point out the flaws in something is not the same as being able to do better. Please don't confuse the two.

What do you all think? Do you like satire? Dislike it? What do you think the value of it is?

Monday, July 18, 2011

I'm Back! (Plus Harry Potter and Other Updates)

I'm finally back from (yet more) traveling, and I'm feeling better, so it's really high time for an update.

First, my thoughts on Harry Potter (warning: unrestrained gushing ahead).

Have you seen it yet!? If not, WHY NOT?!?! Forgive my incoherence, but wowowowoweeeeeeeeek!

I love Harry Potter. I love the brilliantly complex plot. I love the larger-than-life characters. I love the actors who play those characters. I love the magical world with all its quirks and delights.

But I think, most of all, I love the fans. Being part of Harry Potter fandom feels very special. I would love the books and the movies even without the other fans, but the real magic is in the community. Without the community the characters exist only on the page, but because we all know them and add tiny pieces of ourselves to them, they become so full of us that they're almost real.

So when I watched the movie on Friday night, every time I thought “Eeeeeeeeee, Neville, Neville, Neville!!!” or “Sob! Snape, Snape, Snape,” I knew that all over the world other people were thinking the exact same thing.

And then there was this: Yeah, that was so me. Ok, so maybe I wasn't crying, but my hand was over my mouth and all I could think was “No, this can't be the last one.”

Second, everything else.

Family reunion. I had wonderful conversations with all my cousins, who are growing up into such fascinating people. Being the oldest and the only girl until I was... eleven? … meant waiting a very long time for all the others to grow up into people I could really interact with. But the people they are now were worth the wait. Also, I connected with a really cool third cousin once removed, plus I got to hear my second cousin Julia sing. (She's the only person I know who is not only trying out for American Idol but may actually have a chance.)

Google+. I am on it, at least for now. You can find me here if you haven't already. I had some initial frustrations with it, mostly because I have more than one gmail account, and each Google+ account can only connect to one gmail account. Now that I've decided how I want to use it and gotten over that hurdle I'm a little happier, but the verdict is still out... mostly because, like with Wave and Buzz, very few people are doing much of anything so far.

Getting rid of phone and cable. My husband and I are making the switch to internet/Xbox television only. And we really don't need our home phone, so that's out too. Has anyone else done this? What is your experience?

Anyway, I need to take back the cable box today, so I should run off and do that. But it's good to be back!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Extended Delay

Hello everyone!

So last week I was away at a family reunion, collecting all sorts of interesting fodder to write about. I had planned to be home Friday and back with a new post, but plans changed. And now I've come down with a post-reunion cold, meaning I'm not going to have anything substantial to say until I'm feeling better. (Perhaps when I'm back up to speed I should think about writing some rainy-day posts in case this sort of thing happens again.) In the meantime, I hope you're all happy and healthy.

Now I'm off to take a nap before I start drooling on my keyboard.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Just Here to Say...

Family's still in town. Lots happening. No time for posting. I'll be back Friday.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th!

Happy 4th of July, my fellow Americans!

Now what are you still doing online? Go enjoy some watermelon and fireworks!

Friday, July 1, 2011

New Blog Design!

Look, look, look, everybody! My blog has a new design! And isn't it lovely?

I've been thinking of doing a redesign for a while, and I knew what I wanted, but at first I didn't know how to get it. I'm not much of an artist myself.

Then I remembered Sen Holiday. I know Sen through her sister, who is one of my critique partners. A year ago I connected with Sen about the video game design group I'm part of (GeeQ Studios), which she joined soon after. I knew she would be perfect for getting my idea into an image.

And I was right! I love it!

About the quill key:

I consider myself to be very lucky to have married into such a beautiful last name as Lockwood. The name combines two things that I consider to be magical: keys (which always make me think of secrets and hidden doors) and trees (which are not only magical themselves, but are also where books come from).

The magic of my last name was the original inspiration for using “writelock” for my blog address. In my head I had this idea of writing opening the locks on the doors of our minds. And that lead to the idea of the quill key.

So I knew exactly how I wanted the image for my new blog design to look, but without Sen it would never have happened. I'm so grateful to her for her help! I love her work and I know other people will too.

If you want to know more about Sen and her art, you can visit her here. Thank you so much, Sen, for making this happen for me! I'm so pleased with the result.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Technology "Cool" Gap

For me, not all technology is equally cool. What do I mean by that? In this case, “cool” is all about whether I want to know more about the technology and find it interesting to learn about. And some things are simply cooler than others.

For example, on a “cool” scale from 1 to 10, my smartphone would get a 6 and my refrigerator probably a 2 or 3. (Which doesn't mean I appreciate the fridge any less seeing as I would rather go without my phone for a week than without my fridge.) In my head, technology has a whole range of cool.

In thinking about that I started comparing technologies I think of as cool versus those I don't. So I decided to do a rough graph of average technology cool factor by era:

Clearly time period plays a huge role. Ancient Baghdad Battery? Totally cool! Modern batteries? Eh. On the other hand, the average for modern technology is probably around 5 to 7, but for future tech? Well, I only have two words: flying cars!

But you can see that the least cool time period, for me, is the Industrial Revolution. Now why is that? Is it a gender conditioning thing? Girls aren't supposed to like trains and gears and pistons and all that? Is it brainwashing from reading Lord of the Rings at an early age? Trees good! Factories bad! Is it the fact that we always studied that time period at the end of the school year when all I wanted was to be out for the summer? Or is it just the idea of all that dirt and smoke and grease? Ick, ick, ick!

Whatever the reason, that time period has a clear “cool” gap. And it has a major effect on my literary preferences. Because of the cool gap, I prefer reading science fiction set in the ancient past or far future. Because of the cool gap, I'm not a big fan of steampunk. Give me some well-designed ancient tech or future tech, though, and you have my full attention. Because of the cool gap, my next book will be set on a clipper ship instead of a steamship.

Does anybody else have a cool gap? Where is yours? What technology do you find interesting or boring?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Firefly Fields

“When I grow up,” I used to think, “I want to be an astronomer.”

Back then I thought astronomy meant staying up all night developing a killer crick in my neck from keeping my head tilted back so far my mouth couldn't close. I thought it meant looking through telescopes whenever I wanted, like the powerful amateur telescope my granddad bought for all of us, or even better, like the one at the observatory an hour away.

Where I grew up, I could always see the stars on a clear night. Even when the moon was full, no other light got in the way. And when the moon wasn't full, the whole sky was cluttered with tangled strings of glowing beads. Sometimes I saw the milky way. Then I'd look down around me at the fields speckled with fireflies and think some of the stars had fallen just for me.

Those wide fields were my retreat any time the world grew too heavy. I'd walk outside, sometimes barefoot in my pajamas, and take a deep breath as I tilted my chin up. The stars may look small from earth, but they're not; they're huge and massive and have a lot more gravity than earth. When I needed it, that gravity would pull at me too, and all the things sitting heavily on my shoulders would be pulled away, into the sky. I'd be left with nothing but me and a sense of contentment.

But then sometimes I'd see a shooting star, and instead of making a wish I'd remember that our galaxy isn't so very empty. A tremor would go through me at the thought of a chunk of rock hurtling through the sky straight toward me. So I'd race back into the house, not because it was safer but because I could turn the lights on and forget how big the universe really is.

Here in the suburbs, I can't see the stars so well. I can't see the milky way or the fireflies, and the only gravity I feel is earth's. When I remember the open fields, I remember that I miss them.

But I can close my eyes and pretend I see the stars against my lids. I can go back to visit from time to time and see the stars again for real. And when I can't do that I can listen to this song and think about those nights in the firefly fields.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Recent Reads

Recently finished:

Delirium by Lauren Oliver – This book was pretty much exactly what I was expecting it to be: intense, beautiful and heartbreaking. I read the second half of it certain that any minute I would turn a page and something disastrous would happen. There wasn't any surprise to it for me, but it was a good book. If you aren't sick of dystopian stories yet and you're willing to read something heavy, you might appreciate this book.

Enclave by Ann Aguirre – Generally zombie books aren't really my thing, but the Freaks as they're called in this book didn't bother me... probably because the story wasn't really about them so much as about the main characters. (Actually, I think my problem with zombies is that often zombie stories are depressing and the few human survivors are rapidly dwindling and have no hope.) Enclave turned out to be a brighter-than-expected adventure.

Currently reading:

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard – I'm not all that far into it yet, so I don't quite know what I think of it. Mandarin herself is interesting. The verdict is still out on the other characters.

Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin – I got this without realizing it was supposed to be a follow-up to another book, but so far it has read as a stand-alone. I'm finding myself drawn into it more than I thought I would be.

Vikings, the North Atlantic Saga by William W. Fitzhugh and Elizabeth I. Ward – My current nonfiction research book. Viking research is altogether too much fun. But I'll probably talk about that more in the next couple weeks, so for now let's just say I'm entertained.

What have you been reading lately?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Where are the Superheroes?

Do you have a favorite superhero?

Sometimes my favorite is Superman, but that's probably because Lois and Clark was one of the only TV shows I watched when I was younger. (I even had two teddy bears named Clark and Kent.)

My actual favorites are the X-Men. I think it's because I love how all the different mutant powers are like puzzle pieces, and in order to solve a conflict they all have to fit together.

My husband and I went to see the latest X-Men movie a week and a half ago and I thought it was fantastic. Now granted, I'm an action movie girl. I like watching things blow up. (A fact I finally realized when watching Live Free or Die Hard, a movie epitomized by the quote: “You just killed a helicopter with a car!” “I was out of bullets.” It's completely over-the-top, and I love it.) But I think X-Men: First Class is a good movie, not just a good action movie.

Well anyway, watching that and watching The Invisible Man as I mentioned on Monday got me thinking about superpowers and superheroes. And I got to wondering... are there really any superheroes in books?

I keep going over and over this, and I can't seem to think of any. (And I'm not talking about random people with mysterious powers. I mean full-scale, masked, caped superheroes.) They seem to be confined to comic books and television. Why not books?

Now maybe I just blanked on novel-form superheroes, or maybe I haven't read any and you guys know of some? If you do, I'd love to hear what you come up with. But if I'm right and there are no superheroes in novels, I'm curious as to why. Is there a reason comic book superheroes don't work well in novels?

Maybe there is. Maybe certain superpowers are more impressive in a visual context. Maybe there's a different expectation of how much suspension of reality is too much in books versus comic books. Maybe the kinds of conflicts typical in superhero stories just don't fit in a standard novel-length book. Or maybe it's something else altogether.

What do you think?

Monday, June 20, 2011

To Catch a Thief

How many of you use Hulu? I'm a big fan of it. Between that and Netflix I'm pretty much set for TV for a long time to come.

One of my favorite things about both is that I can watch shows that I never knew existed back when they were actually airing. I've found a lot of great shows this way, most recently The Invisible Man (2000-2002 series).

Now I don't know if any of you have even heard of this show, much less seen it. I didn't know anything about it until it came up on my Hulu recommendations. So I'm surprised by how much I'm enjoying it, particularly the chemistry between the cast members. The show is about a thief who has been caught and is given the chance at a free get-out-of-jail card if he is willing to be the subject of a government test.

Watching it got me thinking about just how many movies and TV shows have a thief as the main character. Makes sense—characters need flaws, and of all the acts that'll get a person on the wrong side of the law, thievery is perhaps the least offensive. So here's a list of some of my favorite TV thieves.

Darien Fawkes (The Invisible Man)

As thieves go, he's not the best. He got caught because he let compassion get in the way. He's not really such a bad guy, which is often the point of main-character thieves. But he does have a lot of tricks up his sleeve, and the invisibility adds a whole new layer of potential to the mix.

"By the way, I want my tombstone to say, 'Too late, he's already dead.' You know, just in case more people show up wanting to screw my life over." - Darien Fawkes

Why he works:

Darien is funny, and humor always gets points. He likes to pretend he's tough, but he's a major softy. And he's got a knack for getting out of trouble. I think what really makes him work, though, is how well he plays off the people around him. He's just the kind of guy that you'd want to work with.

Flynn Rider (Tangled)

The number one comment when this movie came out was how much everyone loved Flynn Rider. I was no exception—I thought he was fantastic. (The whole movie was great.) He's one of the few animated characters that transcends the animation and becomes almost real.

Flynn: "You can't tell anyone about this, okay? It could ruin my whole reputation."
Rapunzel: "Ah, we wouldn't want that."
Flynn: "Well, a fake reputation is all a man has."

Why he works:

It's the smolder. Or maybe the writing. Or the fabulous animation. Or Zachary Levi's inherent awesomeness coming through. Actually... it's probably a combination of all of them. And if the final scenes of the movie don't make you melt, then you have no heart.

Neal Caffrey (White Collar)

If I had to be the victim of a theft, this is the guy I'd want robbing me. He's just so charismatic that the whole sting of the crime would disappear. Plus, he has really good taste; if he was stealing something from me, I'd take it as a compliment.

Peter Burke: "This could work."
Neal: "All we need is a bad cop."
Peter: "I can do bad cop."
Neal: "I've seen you do mildly irritated cop."

Why he works:

Again, it's all about the charm. But in Neal Caffrey's case, there's a whole lot of skill involved as well. I love watching people who are really good at what they do, and Neal is an expert. This show works for me because all the characters are brilliant in their fields, and I enjoy seeing them work together to pull off complex cons.

Who are your favorite thieves?