Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On Pitch Wars and why I love Stacey Lee

If you haven't heard of Pitch Wars yet, here is the information.

I entered the day it opened, and I've been waiting (and waiting and waiting--why does waiting have to be so hard?) for the results. Well, they went up today, and I'M IN!

Here is the announcement of the teams. (I'm toward the very bottom.)

I'm so excited about this contest because I get to work with a super fantastic mentor, Stacey Lee. I knew as soon as I saw her bio and interests that I wanted to sub to her. She likes historicals, fantasy, pirates, male MCs... in other words, everything that's in my book.

A few days after I submitted, she emailed me asking for my first few chapters, and since then we've been chatting regularly through email. We have a lot of off-the-wall stuff in common, so I'm really excited to be working with her.

But I'm also excited because she gives AMAZING critiques. She already sent me comments on the first several chapters of my MS, and you guys, she is putting me through my paces!

I know that the coming month will be the most challenging I've had in a very long time, but I am really looking forward to it. (And looking forward to the reward of crossing the finish line!) I'm ready to work.

So now I'm off to dive into revisions, aka "Hello darlings, let me murder you." See you on the other side!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Writing a Book Like a Movie

A few weeks ago I wrote a review of Locked Within by Paul Anthony Shortt. This month he's doing a blog tour to talk about the book, and today I have him here to discuss his methods for writing a vivid, action-packed scene in clear detail.

Without further ado, here's Paul!

Writing a Book Like a Movie

Thank you for having me on your blog, Audrey! I’ve loved reading your blog all this time since I started out way back in 2010. Seems like a lifetime ago.

I’m an extremely visual person. Even when listening to music, I can’t help but picture a scene in my head, whether it’s from a movie that used the music, or a scene I’ve come up with for a story of my own. Early on in my efforts to become a published author, I used this tendency to help craft my book.

When I write, I imagine the scene in my head, like I’m watching a movie. I’ll spend weeks imagining and choreographing key scenes in my mind, listening to music to keep me in the mood. Then, when I get to that point in my writing, I know I have the scene already set.

This is perhaps one of the most useful tools I have, and it was invaluable when writing Locked Within. It’s actually a pretty simple process. Starting with a character, I pick an actor who could “play” the part, and keep that image firmly in mind while I write that character’s actions, thoughts and dialogue. I find it helps keep a unique and consistent personality throughout the story.

The same applies for setting scenes and describing locations. I use Google Maps and its Streetview feature as my “location scout” in this regard. Keeping photos of the location, or a suitable stand-in, helps me visualise the scene precisely and pass that detail on for the reader. Believe me, just having a few details set in stone for you, like the colour of a storefront sign or height of a wall, can add a whole new dimension to your writing. It may not make it to the final draft, but having that knowledge ready while you write, I feel, gives your description a depth and focus that the reader will, in some way, appreciate.

I love action scenes. They’re some of my favourite scenes to write. Having a firm concept of what happens in the scene and where all the pieces go as the scene progresses is essential. There’s nothing worse than your character taking the same action twice in the middle of a fight, or pulling out a weapon that they’d dropped on the previous page. In cases like these, an ability to properly picture the scene in your imagination is crucial. Again, think like the director of a movie. You’re shooting the scene. Make sure your actors are in the right positions and they have all the props they need.

The time you take to plan these scenes out may delay your actual writing, but believe me, it will pay off. If nothing else, knowing in advance where all your pieces are going to move will help keep your writing consistent.

Another advantage to writing like your book is a movie comes from pacing and plot structure. Movie audiences are impatient. They have two hours to take in an entire story. That leaves comparatively little time to set the scene and introduce characters. Today’s readers are quite similar. Gone are the days of 400-page novels with 100 pages of world building and character introduction before the action starts.

Agents and publishers know that most potential readers will flick through the first ten pages or so, either in the bookshop or the sample pages on the likes of Amazon. If those ten pages don’t grab the reader, they’ll put the book down and check out something else. Learn from the great movie makers. Make those ten pages count. Work hard. Make each word gold. Write an opening so engaging, so seductive, that the reader won’t want to wait until they’ve bought the book to keep going. If you can set your scene, your characters, and a hint at the story to come in those first few pages, you’ll hook your readers for sure.

About Locked Within:
The supernatural realm and the mundane world have existed side by side since the dawn of time. Predators walk the streets, hidden by our own ignorance. Once, the city of New York was protected, but that was another age.

Now a creature emerges from the city's past to kill again, with no one to hear the screams of its victims. The lost and the weak, crushed under the heels of the city's supernatural masters, have given up hope.

But one man finds himself drawn to these deaths. Plagued by dreams of past lives, his obsession may cost him friends, loved ones, even his life. To stop this monster, he must unlock the strength he once had. He must remember the warrior he was, to become the hero he was born to be.

His name is Nathan Shepherd, and he remembers.

About Paul:
A child at heart who turned to writing and roleplaying games when there simply weren't enough action figures to play out the stories he wanted, Paul Anthony Shortt has been writing all his life.

Growing up surrounded by music, film and theatre gave him a deep love of all forms of storytelling, each teaching him something new he could use. When not playing with the people in his head, he enjoys cooking and regular meet-ups with his gaming group.

He lives in Ireland with his wife Jen and their dogs, Pepper and Jasper. Their first child, Conor William Henry Shortt, was born on July 11th, 2011. He passed away three days later, but brought love and joy into their lives and those of their friends. Jen is pregnant again and is expecting twins.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

Hi everyone! This past month I've had a lot going on, much of which I can't talk about right now, so I've been a bit silent online. But now it's Thanksgiving, and today I'm making one of my favorite contributions to Thanksgiving dinner: chocolate chip zucchini bread.

It's definitely not a typical holiday choice. I love pumpkin and apple pie. I'm a very very big fan of mashed potatoes too, though I'm not really a gravy or cranberry sauce person. Thanksgiving traditions are great, and I enjoy celebrating some things the way most everyone else does, but I like adding my own flavor to the mix as well.

So generally, if possible, I make a dessert bread. Chocolate chip zucchini bread is my absolute favorite. It doesn't dry out and it's very sweet. I got the recipe from a friend, and today I'm sharing it with a group of teenage girls, who will be coming over soon to bake with me. Let the mess and silliness begin!

Do any of you contribute an unusual dish to your Thanksgiving meal?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Writing the Book You Want to Read

What is the one story idea you want to read more than any other? If only one plot could exist in all the world, what would you want it to look like? What book would truly be the very best book you could think of?

Is that the book you're writing?

I used to think about those questions years ago. I tried to come up with all the very best ideas and mash them together into a single plot. Generally the results were either derivative or nonsensical.

But then for a long time I forgot those big questions and followed the lure of Shiny New Ideas—a unique setting with unexplored consequences or a dream that captivated me and needed to be told. And these were good ideas, fun ideas. They were books I would have enjoyed reading had someone else written them.

There's nothing wrong with writing a good book, especially a book you love.

When I began to write The Never Silent, though, I went back to those questions I had ignored for so long. I added new questions, too, that would further define what I wanted to create. And then I constructed my new plot with intention, structuring each piece around my answers.

This is one way of writing a book. It's not the only way, and maybe not even the best way. But I really like how it's turning out.

At first, writing The Never Silent was like writing any other book. It was just as much of a challenge and still is.

Now I'm editing. I'm in the process of going through each scene to add in a bit more description. I'm having more fun than I probably have any right to, but for some reason I've always loved the early stages of editing.

There's more to it than that, though. As I was going through one of my scenes the other day I had an experience I have never had before while writing. For the very first time I felt that the book I was working on was THE book I wanted to read.

I don't know if that means other people will feel the same way. I don't know if this book is any better than my others or if it's the one that will finally be published.

What I do know is that I'm accomplishing something that's meaningful to me, and that is making all the difference.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Recommendation: The Scorpio Races

If you'd asked me a month ago to list off as many fantastical creatures as I could think of, water horses would not have been high on the list, if I remembered them at all. I'd seen them pop up a few times in minor plot lines from some of the books I'd read, but until The Scorpio Races, I'd never read a book specifically about them. Now, though, I have a feeling they'd be pretty high on my list.

The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater, is about a girl named Puck and a boy named Sean, living on an island called Thisby where the capaill uisce—horses from out of the sea that devour human flesh—are caught and raced. Both have desperate need to compete in the races and win, but in the annual November races, not everyone survives.

Sean is the son of a racer who was killed by the water horses. He enters the races to be with Corr, the red capaill uisce he rides but that does not belong to him.

Puck is recently orphaned, and without the prize money she doesn't know how to care for herself or her family. She's the first girl to enter, and the only rider racing on an ordinary horse.

I picked up The Scorpio Races on a whim, not knowing what to expect. I recognized Maggie Stiefvater as “the author of that werewolf series,” but wasn't familiar with any of her other work. To my pleasant surprise, The Scorpio Races was the most beautifully-written book I'd read in a long time. I frequently found myself noticing a perfect analogy or a beautiful line of description. None of the writing felt tired or mundane. The book impressed me enough that I expect I'll seek out more of her work in the future.

As for the story, it was compelling and developed at a good pace. I never felt that the relationships between characters were rushed. Their actions made sense, and Maggie Stiefvater made good use of the tension she'd created through the conflicting desires of her cast of characters.

Most of all I enjoyed the atmosphere of the book. There's a wild magic in the ocean, and this book captured the untamability of the sea. The island was as fully developed as any of the characters, and the water horses demonstrated perfectly how one can fall in love with danger, but must respect it or be consumed by it.

Bottom line: Good books always leave me inspired, and this one has inspired me to work all the harder on crafting the language in my books. It's a beautiful story too, and not to be missed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What's with the Bunnies?

I like soft, cuddly animals. I feel like I should say that right off. I have a cat, and she is the princess of the house. And I like real bunnies too. Every time I see one I want to smoosh it's little face. (In a totally non-lethal way of course.)

But lately, everything's coming up killer bunnies.

It started with a video game. My husband and I are casual gamers. (That is, I'm casual. He loves games like I love books.) Sometimes we'll pick up an mmo to play together for a while, and the mmo of the season happens to be Guild Wars 2.

I'm not going to go into much about the game, apart from saying that so far it's one of the best I've played. The point is that whoever designed one of the starting areas must have had a bunny obsession. Within the first ten levels of playing in that area, I captured bunnies to sell to giants, was turned into a snow leopard and hunted bunnies, and—my favorite, by which I mean NOT my favorite—was attacked by bunnies.

Yes. Knocked over by hungry bunnies who would steal the bunny food I was trying to gather for their farmer.

Now typically I'm very pro-animal. I hate seeing animals suffer, even fake animals. In video games I go out of my way to avoid killing little helpless critters, even though they're nothing but pixels on the screen. But I'm telling you, as those hungry little rabbits knocked me down over and over, all I could think was “Die, bunny, die!”

And suddenly I remembered all the bunny terror in the media. Jimmy Carter's bunny attack. Anya's bunny phobia on Buffy. The Rabbit of Caerbannog.

Suddenly, marauding bunnies didn't sound like such an insane idea after all.

So here's my question for all of you: What's YOUR contingency plan for the bunny apocalypse?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Book Review: Locked Within

I'm here today with something a little different from the usual. Paul Anthony Shortt, a writer friend of mine from Ireland, is launching his debut novel, Locked Within! I've read the book, and today I'll be posting a review.*

But first I have a few questions I've asked Paul in order to introduce him to you folks:

Tell us a little about where you're from.

I grew up in a town called Bray, not far from Dublin. It's a seaside town, and used to be a pirate hideout centuries ago. I've lived in the Dublin area all my life, except for when I briefly lived in Manchester. My wife and I live in Bray, in a house with two energetic dogs.

So why did you choose to set your book in New York City?

As a kid I was enamored with New York. All the best movies seemed to be set there and it personified what I thought of as America. As I grew up and learned more, I understood the city's historical significance, not least of which in terms of Irish immigrants. A great many Americans have their roots in Ireland and a lot of those arrived through the port at Ellis Island. When it came time to choose a setting for Locked Within, I knew I wanted New York, and nowhere else. It's a melting pot of so many different cultures, yet the city itself is its own culture. People who live there aren't just Irish, or German, or Jewish or African. They're New Yorkers. There's an identity there, a power all of its own, and I wanted to explore how that could play a part in a setting where even places can have an energy of their own.

Do you travel often?

I lived for 5 months in Manchester, as I mentioned above, but beyond that I've been to Canada, London, France, Italy and, of course, my beloved New York. My wife and I honeymooned there and we returned for a week earlier this year. We also travel around Ireland a bit when we feel like a weekend break.

What was your inspiration for Locked Within?

A lot of it came from researching mythology and occultism. I've always been fascinated by reincarnation. It occurred to me that if someone were reborn many times over and could remember past lives, they would find themselves able to pick up old skills more easily. I decided I wanted to see humans back in the forefront in fantasy fiction. There are a lot of stories out there about strong vampires or wizards, so I wanted to try and create a hero who really didn't have much power. Just knowledge and a desire to help people. Nathan Shepherd started out as that.

What do you most enjoy about writing?

Telling stories has always given me a high unlike anything else. I get hooked on the response from someone who's enjoying a story I've come up with. It gets that not writing makes me antsy and even irritable. I can be downright miserable if I don't get to write. Discovering the story for myself is the first kicker, the hit that drives me. But I know I'm really doing it for the end goal, knowing that someone out there is that little bit happier because they've enjoyed my stories.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I've actually been incredibly lucky. Granted, it took me 20 years from my first thoughts of "I want to be a writer" to get here, but it was only about 3 years ago I started writing Locked Within in earnest. I spent a little over a year writing and editing it, though I broke one of the golden rules and started querying before I'd finished my edits! I only had about 3 chapters edited when I started. Anyone at home, don't do that! Finish your book before querying! Believe me, it makes the few days after "we'd like to read more" a lot less stressful.

It was a contest that got me the contract in the end. Karen Jones Gowan, author of Lighting Candles in the Snow and managing editor at WiDo Publishing, hosted a contest for people to send in their queries. Three winners were to be chosen, who would each have the option of receiving a free critique of their manuscript or have their book considered for a contract. I was one of those chosen, and I knew which prize I wanted. I signed my contract in April 2011, almost exactly a year after I finished the first draft of the book. Since then I've been working with an amazing team to get the book ready for publication. It's been a challenge. As scary as it was to send my first query letter, that was nothing compared to the amount of work that went into editing Locked Within.

It's been great working with WiDo. They're very hands-on with their writers, but still give an immense amount of freedom. I was happy to dive into self-promotion and building my author platform, and every step has felt like a partnership. I know they want the best for my book, and my editor and I work incredibly well together.

What are some of your favorite things to read?

At the moment I'm really getting into a lot of Young Adult. For years I was hooked on the Dresden Files and I'm a very slow reader, so that took up a lot of my reading time. Now that I'm caught up on the series I've been taking time to try other authors. I'm particularly fond of Janice Hardy's Healing Wars series.** In general I prefer a good series over a standalone story, because I love spending a lot of time with characters and getting to know them and watch their lives change. That said, if you're looking for a good YA standalone author, check out Hannah Moskowitz. Her Invincible Summer made me cry. I'm looking forward to checking out Linda Poitevin's Grigori Legacy when I get a chance.

What are you working on now?

For now, Nathan Shepherd is firmly entrenched. I'm working on a re-write of the sequel to Locked Within. Originally I was planning a 6-book series (I think that's a hexalogy...) but after discussing things with my editor I decided to shorten it into a trilogy. I'm hoping to have the sequel, Forgotten Cause, sent back to my publisher by the end of October, with an aim to getting started on edits as soon as possible after that. I'm one of those authors who just can't sit still. I need to be working on something, so you can bet that once I've got Forgotten Cause sent, I'll be starting work on the third book.

Thanks for having me, and for reviewing the book. I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it!

Now on to the review!

Locked Within is the story of Nathan Shepherd, an ordinary New York resident with a not-so-ordinary interest in unsolved crimes. When his insatiable curiosity leads him to investigate a string of murders recurring every decade, he stumbles into the “other” side of reality—the place where vampires, ghouls and creatures yet more nasty dwell.

But Nathan isn't quite as unprepared for this world as the average mortal. For years, memories of previous lives have come to him in dreams. He's fought the monsters before... in memory. Now he must choose—return to an ordinary life or accept the memories and become a warrior once more.

I really love the world Paul has created. It's fascinating. He has pulled pieces from several mythologies but worked them together in a way that feels completely organic, not patched together with the assembly showing through the cracks. Everything ties in seamlessly, centered on this idea of what can happen to a soul both naturally and unnaturally in a reincarnation-based world.

One of the things I especially enjoyed about the world was that, while there was a vaguely good side and a vaguely evil side, the fight between the two wasn't entirely black and white. I liked that the hero was able to act independently of both and choose his own identity.

The villains of the book were a particular highlight for me. They presented a compelling challenge, had sympathetic motives but also acted in a way that made me cheer for the hero, and kept popping up to add interesting conflict to the story. I found the “monster” of the story to be imaginative and deliciously gruesome.

The hero, Nathan Shepherd, was likable and easy to root for, but I found his motives less clear. I had to keep reminding myself of who he was when he wasn't out fighting bad guys and wished that I had more of a picture of his life before the opening incident. His job was a throwaway detail, except when it benefited the plot, and I never felt invested in his relationships. Nevertheless, I enjoyed following him through his discovery of his past lives and full potential. He's smart, he's proactive, and his heart's in the right place.

As for the plot, it was creative and had a lot of fun action scenes. It kept me engaged and was exciting through to the end. The story had a good balance of conflicts, though I thought it could have used some tension between Nathan and his father. I did feel that the plot could have been tighter in places (the story line with Nathan's father's bar didn't go anywhere, for example), but I didn't notice any glaring holes.

My main criticism is with the pacing. In general the writing is good. It sounds American. Aside from vague language in some of the early dialog, the writing didn't get in the way of the story. However, I did find the transitions to be abrupt with very little down time or opportunities for reflection. There were few, if any, “deep breath” moments between scenes. So overall the pacing felt choppy and rushed. I think Nathan's motives would have come across more clearly if the reader had more chance to see into his thoughts. Additionally, though the description that was included was all very well done, I felt that the book needed more description.

All the same, I really enjoyed Locked Within, and Paul is to be congratulated on a strong debut. It kept my interest, and stands solidly on its own merits. I'm looking forward to the next book, and I wish Paul continued success. All the best to him for an auspicious launch!

*Keep in mind that, while I generally focus on young adult novels in the context of this blog, Locked Within is adult fiction and does include some strong language and graphic material.

**As am I!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fall Traditions

Running outside regularly in the mornings for the first time in my life has given me a new perspective on seasons. Over the past few weeks I've watched the trees evolve from lush green to foggy, muted mystery to thin sticks surrounded by brown and orange detritus. Running has given me much more time to dwell on the changes than hurried driving, and I feel more in touch with fall this year.

It's a good season for me, and aside from the winter holiday season is the time of year with the most ritual and celebration.

This past weekend held two of my favorite fall traditions: the Maryland Renaissance Festival and my church's tailgating night. I wrote about both of them last year, and I don't have anything new to say about either of them, but I do have some new pictures.

First, from one of the best demonstrations at the festival, the glassblower. New this year—seasonal glass pumpkins.

Second, part of my contribution to tailgating. In addition to ice cream I made bonbons this year, and here are a few I photographed beforehand.

I hope all of you are well and enjoying your own fall traditions.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Archived Give-away

So Victoria Schwab is doing a really fantastic give-away contest, which includes a critique for one of the winners! Check it out here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Recommendation: Marcelo in the Real World

Sometimes a book is really good medicine for getting over a passing obsession. Take this week, for example. I'd gotten a bit caught up in re-watching a favorite old tv show (which may have involved Scoobies and pointy stakes), and every time my mind wandered, it kept rehearsing some of the scenes... and making up some new ones. Not exactly what I needed in my head when I had lots of editing to work on.

Fortunately I still had some books from the library I hadn't gotten around to reading yet, so I picked up one that I had checked out on a whim. It turned out to be a pretty perfect choice for distracting me from the tv characters.

The book was Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork.

Marcelo hears an internal music that nobody else can hear. It's been part of him all his life. It's like an emotional compass, and it's something he draws on to find peace. He spends time every day sitting in quiet, listening to the music, an activity he calls “remembering.” It's a bit like prayer, or like memorizing passages from the religious texts he enjoys studying.

Marcelo has a condition similar to Asperger's syndrome. He works diligently on his communication skills, but he is uncomfortable in “the real world.” All of his life he has gone to a school that allows him to learn at his own pace and in his own way. Now he's seventeen and about to enter his final year of school.

But now his father wants to change everything. He wants Marcelo to be part of the real world, to go to a “normal” high school and be friends with “normal” kids. Still, he gives Marcelo a choice: he can work all summer at his old school and then join a normal school in the fall, or he can spend the summer working at his father's law firm and then decide for himself where to attend school.

Marcelo isn't happy about working at the firm, but it's better than giving up his school. What he doesn't expect is to learn things in his new environment that force him to make ethical choices he's never considered before—choices between acceptance and friendship, between loyalty and restitution, between doing what's right and getting what he wants.

The book really surprised me. I went into it expecting it to be a story about a boy's personal journey from isolation to integration, but it was so much more than that. It addressed deep questions that all people face, and in poignant ways that weren't too heavy-handed.

Bottom Line: Through Marcelo's unique perspective we're able to think about our own lives in ways we may not have before. To me that experience made the book very worth reading.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

7 Random Things

On Monday Bridget tagged me for a 7 random things post, so here are seven very random things that fit my state of mind right now.

1. I realized the other day that I think of the alphabet in 4 sections: “before G,” the 2nd quarter mess (everything from H to M), the N-O-P/Q-R-S triads, and “after T.” I don't always know exactly where a letter is in its section without going through a piece of the alphabet, but I do always know what section it's in.

2. I've spent a lot of time in the past few months playing tafl for research. Verdict? I'm still terrible at it.

3. Yellow has been my favorite color for almost a year. My favorite color used to be green. Still is sometimes (for loyalty's sake and because I do love it). But not really.

4. Palindrome should not be a word. It should be palinilap.

5. Even though yellow's my favorite color, it seems I only wear purple any more now. Purple and yellow really don't go together. I don't care what color theory says about opposites on the color wheel, they don't work.

6. I haven't been swimming this summer. I really love swimming, but I never have a chance to go. Last time I went was a year ago, when I was at the beach and got stung by a jellyfish.

7. Speaking of colors that go together... everything goes with green. Nothing goes with orange. I'm really obsessed with colors today, aren't I? Weird.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Six Weeks in a Day

So I've been gone for the past month and a half. The blog has been silent (like, passed-out-in-the-back-of-the-car-during-a-road-trip kind of silent), and mostly that's because this is the internet, and I'm much more interested in talking about where I've been than where I'm about to go. Safety and all that.

But a month and a half is a very long time for a recap, so I'll make it short. This is what my month and a half would have looked like if it had been condensed into a single day:

Attempt to help make breakfast, eat breakfast, and play 20 board games, all at the same time, while catching up with aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, and various boyfriends attached to said family members.

Sit down to do a little work, only to be interrupted by coffee (or in this case ice cream) with a very dear friend, followed immediately by a wedding.

Go to camp, where all the teenagers in the world (or, you know, 140 of them) converge, cut off from the rest of the world, and get up to various shenanigans. Have a brilliant time, but leave feeling rather sick.

Upon return, host a bridal shower. Realize that you won't be getting any work done in the afternoon either.

Cake! Wedding cake, that is. Try to hold together when giving sister-of-the-bride/matron-of-honor toast. Try to hold everyone else together when the AC goes out.

Relax with good friends, celebrating another new engagement, another beautiful wedding yet to come.

Stumble into bed, reliving the whole glorious day, but thinking you really ought to get some work done in the morning.

And that is where we are now! It's been an overwhelming month and a half, but I wouldn't have given up any of it.

But now, back to work. Time to make some book magic happen.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Three Drafting Lessons from a Brand New WIP

Learning how to write a book is such a long, long process, isn't it? I find myself constantly thinking, “Huh. Well that's something to remember for next time.” Each new book comes with new lessons and new insights to carry into the next book.

For the past month and a half I've been in new book! mode. So far, this has been one of the most enjoyable first draft experiences I've ever had. I think there are a few key factors to making it so much more successful, and they're all going on the “remember for next time” list. Here are the top three:

1. Planning Ahead

In the past I've tended to be more of a pantser than a plotter. For the longest time I cringed at the thought of planning out a book, because as soon as I wrote an idea down on paper to “plan” it, all of my inspiration dried up.

I'm not sure what's changed or why, but my process is completely reversing. This time I kept note cards (no, I don't have Scrivener yet) of all the scenes in the book. I could flip through them and see the plot taking shape. I could rearrange them as I thought ahead to what came next. Those note cards helped me visualize the arc of the book.

The unexpected consequence is that my finished rough draft is only about two thirds the length that the final book should be. As I've tended to go too long with my previous projects, I'm a little baffled by this result. But I'm also glad. I think in the past a lot of that word count was extra fat from rambling on in a scene instead of transitioning into the next scene. Now I have the leisure to go back and add in more meat where I actually need it to go.

2. Knowing the Characters

In addition to keeping note cards of all my scenes, I've been keeping note cards of the characters as well. I created all of them before writing the first draft, and added information such as characteristics, flaws, speech patterns, and perhaps most importantly, a brief life story.

Some of these I've added to while writing. Others I've changed drastically. Overall, though, I went into the book knowing a little more than I usually do about the people I was working with, and that has made a huge difference for me.

Writers often say that their characters take on lives of their own, and will often do completely unexpected things. These surprises can be really exciting. They've happened to me, and they've always taught me a lot about my characters. But they've never happened as much as they did in writing this first draft. Knowing a bit about them ahead of time gave them so much more room to show me new things about who they were. And I've been so happy with the results.

3. No Re-reading

I've heard authors say before that the best method of drafting is to end in the middle of a sentence one day, and the next to pick up in that same place and keep going without looking back.

Until this book I had never actually tried that. I would spend the first half of a writing day going over the scene from the day before and tweaking it to excruciating degree. Only when I was satisfied with it would I move on to the next scene.

This time I ignored everything that came before and focused only on what came next. And the results? Wow! The words came so much more fluidly. The scenes, while less “perfect” than they would have been under my previous method, are still quite good enough for a rough draft, and they're still new and fresh. When I do go over them again I'll be able to look at them with a more critical eye. I'm SO glad I finally followed that advice.

So how about you? What new lessons has your writing taught you lately?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Book Recommendation: The Crow God's Girl

Today's Book Recommendation is a particularly special one for me. Here's why:

That's me! I read this book before it was a book!

Patrice Sarath was one of my mentors my very first year of ArmadilloCon. She gave me some great advice on description that changed the way I think about writing. We've stayed in touch since then, and last year Patrice honored me with a request to read The Crow God's Girl.

I read it again this past week to prepare for this post, and I found myself in the same position I had been in the first time—racing through the second half to the end, and neglecting dinner in order to finish it, even though I already knew what was going to happen.

Summary: Kate Mossland is an American girl stuck in the very foreign world of Aeritan. The only thing making her new life bearable is her engagement to her Aeritan boyfriend Colar, and the position that gives her in his great House of Terrick. Only her position isn't as secure as she once thought, and when the politics of Aeritan tear her and Colar apart, the only place left for her is among the crows—the wild, landless wanderers that plague Aeritan. With them she has a chance of making a better future—for herself, for the crows and even for Aeritan—but only if she can survive the scheming of the Houses.

What I liked: Kate goes through a beautiful transformation from a young girl struggling under the rules of a patriarchal society to a strong woman who makes her own path. I love seeing how her understanding of her new world changes, and particularly the way in which her view of the crows changes. Most of all I love how everything weaves together in the end of the book. As I said above, I couldn't put it down.

Bottom line: This book gets a place of honor on my shelf, not just because my name is in it, but because it's a book I love to read.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Movie Analysis: Unstoppable

Last week my husband and I watched Unstoppable for our weekly movie night. Have you seen it? If you haven't, the main idea is that a runaway train carrying hazardous cargo is heading full-speed for a major city. If it is not stopped before it reaches the city, a sharp turn in the track at the city limits will cause it to derail and release said hazardous cargo and kill lots of people. Big stakes.

Now I'm not going to say that it was the very best movie I've ever seen, but this movie did one thing really really well:

It created tension.

For example, in the very beginning of the movie we see a crowd of little children visiting the train yard on a field trip. These children have one obvious purpose—to be put in danger so that we're on the edge of our seats waiting to see if they'll be okay. Looking ahead I thought, “Well, there you have it! The final showdown will be train vs. tots, and the main characters will have to come in and save the kids. Ho hum.”

Ten minutes later that very showdown happened (minus the main characters), and I realized maybe my prediction had been a bit premature. That dangerous scenario I'd been envisioning was only the first tense moment in a string of ever-increasing conflicts. I'd have only a moment of relief after each near-disaster before being presented with the next impending catastrophe.

This movie kept me hooked.

And that tension came down to a few major components:
-great pacing
-characters who had been given enough history for me to care whether they lived or died
-build-up to higher and higher stakes with increasing difficulty of resolution

As far as action movies go, this is a great one for studying how to keep an audience riveted.

If you've seen it, what did you think? Do you agree? And if you haven't seen it, what movies keep you on the edge of your seat?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Keeping It Together

Sometimes you can take over the world.

Or at least it feels that way. Sometimes all the things you used to think were impossible don't seem that far-fetched after all.

Like running a 5k. I never used to be a runner. I was a dancer for a good while, and that meant I was exercising, so that was quite good enough as far as I was concerned, never mind that I'd never run a mile.

But dancing costs money, whereas using the treadmill at my apartment gym does not. So I've started to run a little, and now I'm in transition to running outside, like for real. And maybe I'm not there yet, but 5k doesn't seem so impossible now.

Maybe I can do this.

And sometimes you consider something that you always believed was out of reach and you think... but why should it be? Like starting a business. After all, my grandfather started two of them. Oh, but he was a man, and despite all the powerful women blazing the way I still always believed deep down that girls don't really do that. And he was professional and, well, old, and I'm...


[dawning realization]

...not a kid any more.

There was a moment this past weekend when that occurred to me. I haven't been a kid for years, but somehow, in some of the dark corners of my mind, I'd never quite made the jump to adult. Until now. And suddenly I looked at the world and thought to myself, “Why not me?”

Not that I'm going to drop everything and start some bold new endeavor just because, but my mentality shifted just enough to let me see what the world could look like if I'd only stop being my own worst enemy. It was beautiful.

[Dramatic pause.]


Sometimes there's a catch.

Sometimes, directly on the heels of empowerment, comes the dose of reality. Less than 24 hours after my beautiful epiphany everything started to go a little bit wrong.

I said something, a small thing, that was perfectly innocent. But I realized a minute later that it could have been taken the wrong way, and more people than myself might have been affected, and by then it was too late to take it back.

Professional people don't make those kinds of mistakes. Right?

I had to make a phone call, and I got the voice mail and left a message, and it was one of the most convoluted messages I've ever sent. It was awkward and all over the place and I felt like a disaster.

People who are “with it” aren't people who make messes. Are they?

Then I tried to write, but the words wouldn't come (and I took half an hour agonizing over the ending of a chapter before remembering I was only on the first draft), and I wondered if I'd ever get my head on straight, and I complained on Twitter, which I always tell myself I should never do but then do anyway.

And then everything in the world decided it needed my attention. Emails, errands, appointments. One doesn't take over the world by... (well I was going to say “by endless trips to the bank,” but maybe that is how one takes over the world). By picking up graduation cards, let's say. What's more, I did all this in shorts and a tank top, the first two things I pulled out of my unprofessional closet. Not exactly a power suit.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to keep it together, you end up a little bit messy.

But maybe that's ok. Maybe real accomplishment isn't just about inspiration and determination but about working through the messes instead of fretting over them. And maybe “keeping it together” isn't as much about perfectionism as it is about attitude.

So what's that mean? This all comes down to a net sum of... what? Have I gained anything by going through the high and the low?

Yes. One lesson: keep going.

That's it? An abrupt little platitude?

Or is it...

Take the next step, whatever the next step might be. When I want to do something big but that thing seems impossible, be brave and take the next step. When nothing is going right and I feel like a walking catastrophe, suck it up and take the next step.

And when I'm sitting in front of the computer screen, fighting whatever battle I'm facing, close my eyes, count to ten, and take the next step.

1... 2... 3... ...

Friday, June 8, 2012

Breaking the Rules

My last post is a bit of a spoiler for this one, but I'll go ahead with it anyway.

While I was in New York I went to the Met, and in the special exhibit there I saw this piece:

Take a wild guess—who do you think drew this? (I'll tell you in a moment.)

If I didn't already know, I'd never be able to guess. In person this drawing is so life-like. The eyes and the mouth seem real. I was impressed with how well the face was captured. I felt like I knew this boy.

In order to create this piece, the artist had to have sound technique. None of the lines are haphazard or out of place. The drawing took real skill, attention to detail, and a solid foundation in the rules of composition.

This piece was drawn by Pablo Picasso. Does that surprise you? I was certainly surprised.

When I think of Picasso, I think of the artistic absurdity of Cubism. I think of an art form that breaks all kinds of rules in order to create something new that had never been done before.

But as I stood in front of this drawing, Head of a Boy, from 1905, I realized that Picasso would never have been able to break all those rules successfully if he hadn't known how to follow them to begin with. So it is with any art.

And maybe that's a lesson that most of you already know and have moved beyond. I know that for me, however, there's a temptation to dive straight into the chaos without first becoming familiar with order. Here's an example:

When I was in middle school I had this thought one Saturday morning of “Wouldn't it be cool if I could write a conversation between several characters in which the personalities and speaking habits of each of the characters are so distinct that the dialog can make sense without tags?” So I tried it. I wrote a page-long conversation with a happy character, a grumpy character, some others (Sleepy, Doc and Bashful, maybe?) and excitedly took this page to my mother to see if she could distinguish the various voices without any tags. You can probably guess what happened. She couldn't. She was completely confused. I was completely crushed.

I hadn't learned the rules yet. I didn't understand the subtleties of tagging and voice and dialog. I didn't know why tagging and distinctive voices were both important. So I was going in a great direction in one sense—trying to make very clear characters—but diving straight off a cliff in another sense.

So what's the take-away in all of this? For me it's that there's always another layer of subtlety. I will always have to keep studying and developing my instinct for the rules and why they work. Because the more I understand the foundation behind the rules, the more I can stretch myself to create something new.

What's the take-away for you?

The Archived Cover Reveal

YA fans: have you seen this yet?!

This is the cover and blurb for Victoria Schwab's upcoming book, The Archived. It sounds absolutely amazing, and it's one of the books I'm really looking forward to next year!

Any upcoming books you're looking ahead toward?

Friday, May 25, 2012

NYC 2012 Research Vacation!

Just got back from a research vacation to NYC and Mystic, CT! I don't really like to tweet/post while traveling, but if I had, this is what my posts would have looked like:


Pouring rain, no umbrella, heavy luggage, and now we can't find a taxi. Obviously we're doing something wrong. Welcome to NYC?

Nice hotel! Ok, maybe things will be looking up now that we've gotten through the initial ordeal. And the guy at the desk is kind enough to pretend I don't look like a drowned rat!

Oooh, so MoMA is pretty fab. Starry Night is so much more powerful in person. And the Monet! How do you create something so huge and actually manage to make it look like something?

Just shared a gigantic sandwich at Carnegie's Deli. Tasted great, but I don't think I've ever eaten that much turkey, even on Thanksgiving. Not sure I ever want to look at meat again.

Times Square. Was here in August. Enjoying M&M World a whole lot more this time, maybe because I'm not quite so dead on my feet.

Um... so why is it that the nicer the hotel, the more ridiculously massive the pillows? My neck will not be thanking me tomorrow.


So apparently we just shared an elevator ride with Kris Allen. I didn't even recognize him. Too busy admiring his jacket.

Why is it so impossible not to fall asleep on a train?

We're here in Mystic! Trying so hard not to freak out about the fact that I'm about to see my inspiration for The Never Silent. Obviously failing.

The Morgan is under major repair, so she's de-masted, on land and under tarp. But we can still walk all around on and 'tween deck.

I can see it all so much better now! This is perfect! It's the right size, and everything is in the right location. I can't express just how right this is.

Extremely knowledgeable volunteer just came on board to answer questions. So much great information, plus her email address if I need more. Thank you!!!

Ok, so the rest of Mystic Seaport is also cool, just not as cool as the Morgan. And it's still raining. And we still have no umbrella.

Oooh, figureheads! Still haven't decided on the one for TNS.

And chanteys! Another detail that fits so perfectly into the story!

Ugh, it's POURing now. Fine. We'll buy an umbrella.

Oh, of course, the rain is letting up now.

So many books in the gift shop, and none of them *quite* what I need. Oh well, it was superfluous info anyway.

Seeing an old friend for the first time in 7 years. So great to catch up!

Ok, maybe not going vegetarian quite yet. We're in prime seafood country. Trying the lemon butter cod from S&P Oyster Co.

Why is it so cold on this train???

Oh hey, the decorative pillow is a lot less bulky than the others. Maybe this'll save my neck. Why didn't I think of this last night?


So now that we've bought the umbrella, what are the odds that we see no more rain all trip? Probably around 99.99%.

Bouchon Bakery for breakfast.

Taking advantage of the sun to go walking through Central Park :)

Reeling just from the quantity of exquisite art in the Met. So. Much. Monet. And I love every one of them.

Oooh, special exhibit of the Stein collection. Some early Picasso sketches that serve as further evidence that you can't start breaking the rules successfully until you've mastered them.

Taxi driver just stopped to buy bananas for his lunch and gave us each one. Probably the only fruit we've eaten all trip. Definitely earned his tip!

On Fulton Street. Trembling very slightly. Everything looks completely different now of course, but I can imagine how it might have looked in 1847.

Lisa's Pizza. Tastes incredible, great location.

So the South Street Seaport Museum isn't quite as informative as I hoped, but I still learned some useful tidbits.

Taxi back north is taking a while, and the video in back keeps playing this ad with “Mambo Italiano” background music. I'm never going to get this song out of my head. Nooooooo.

Eating at Pearls. (Chinese food.) Good eating for a really decent price.

Wicked! Wicked Wicked Wicked Wicked Wicked! Wicked on Broadwaaaaaaaaaaaay!!!

O.O So so sooooo gooooooood. What an AMAZING show. Totally loved it. Defying Gravity was sensational.


Final taxi to the train station. “Mambo Italiano” again. Cringing.

Me: We're on a public train. You shouldn't be making a commotion. Hubby: It's a locomotion commotion. Me: -_-

Back home. And now it's raining here too. At least the cat is happy we're home :)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Fascination of the Sea

I find it kind of funny how completely fascinating a subject becomes once I've decided to make it part of a book.

Back in 11th grade I did a brief report on Herman Melville, and after seeing him described as one of the best writers who ever lived I determined to read Moby-Dick “some day.” Every few years I would pick it up, read a chapter or so, and then never continue. It isn't exactly an easy book to get lost in.

But recently, owing entirely to the subject matter of my current WIP (tentatively titled The Never Silent), I've decided to read Moby-Dick for real. It was written only four years after The Never Silent takes place, and, like TNS, it involves a voyage on sea. So far I've read 100 pages, and I'm actually enjoying it this time.

In particular I've marked a few quotes that really struck me. Here's one, only a few pages into the book:

“meditation and water are wedded forever”

One of the things that makes great quotes so great for me is that I know immediately what the person is talking about. Perhaps for some people the above quote doesn't mean as much, but for me it immediately transports me back eight years and several thousand miles to a beach in northern Wales.

I was there for a weekend during the summer with a small group of other students. We were about to leave for Cambridge later in the day, but that morning we had some time and chose to spend it along the rocky gray beach. The place was deserted but for us, despite the city (Rhyl) being decently large, though I suppose the early hour and overcast sky made it less appealing.

A long beam of wood jutted out from the shore—a sort of pier perhaps, though it was hardly a foot thick. I walked out along it as far as I could go and stood looking at the sea.

I'm not entirely sure I could describe what I felt. Or perhaps The Never Silent is my attempt to convey that feeling of weighty nostalgia that consumed me there on the edge of the sea. It was almost as if the lonely gray water carried all the memories of all the world, and if only I listened closely enough I would gain something by them.

So when I read that quote in Moby-Dick, I felt all those memories once again crashing against the shore, and I remembered what the ocean means to me. It's a wild, unkempt place, and, at least for the duration of The Never Silent, it's the most fascinating place on earth.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Book Recommendation: Eon & Eona

First, if you haven't seen this list yet, go check it out: Recommendations of Non-European Fantasy by Women

One of the books on this list is Eon by Alison Goodman. Eon (along with its sequel Eona) was one of my recent impulse picks at the library. The promise of dragons and swords and deception drew me in, and I was quite happy to find that the plot did not disappoint.

Summary: Eon is has been studying for years in the hope of becoming the next Apprentice Dragoneye—chosen to forge a union with one of the eleven remaining energy dragons who protect the land and its people. Of the twelve boys competing for the title, only Eon can see all of the dragons, but then... only Eon has difficulty completing the drills necessary for training. Worse, Eon is secretly Eona—a girl, and therefore one who is forbidden from using dragon magic. But when the ambitions of another Dragoneye threaten to topple the Empire, a girl may be just what is needed in order to save it.

What I liked: Alison Goodman has done some beautiful world-building for these books. The dragon magic is particularly exciting and fun to read about. Magic in this world has appropriate consequences, and those are explored in interesting ways. The setting provides a rich environment for the plot, which is carried out through complex characters. Each character has individual goals and secrets which make for some great tension and intrigue.

Bottom line: Eon is a strong, rich fantasy, and its sequel (Eona) is even better.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Writer's Voice Contest!

I've just entered The Writer's Voice contest! More information here. I'm in good company--best of luck to everyone!

Per the contest rules, here are the plot summary from my query and first 250 words of Olympus Gate:


Plot Summary:

Annie always believed she was just another girl orphaned by the nuclear wars... until the anonymous package arrived on her doorstep. Piecing together the clues inside reveals that she was born thousands of years before in ancient Rome, and that time travel is possible. She discovers that she had a twin sister, who was murdered in 83 BCE.

When she learns of her sister's death, she realizes she has a choice—stay with the people she has known all her life or return to ancient Rome in the hope of saving her twin. What's more, Annie believes that by changing the past she could create a new future, one not destroyed by war, but that in doing so she would erase the lives of everyone she loves. Uncertain whether she is making the right choice, Annie travels back to Rome.

Now she's stuck in the past, hiding her true identity and falling for the guy who loves her twin. She can't find her sister. She can't figure out how to change the world. And as the ancient superstitions that led to her sister's death close in, she fears that she may run out of time for both.


First 250:

Someone told me once that before the end of the world apples were available year-round.  People could go to food stores and expect to find them regardless of the season.  Earth had a lot more apple trees back then.  A lot more people too.

The few of us who survived the apocalypse made a new existence for ourselves, one in which apples are only available in autumn.  I guess we're lucky--that Helsa Labs had the foresight to build this underground facility before the bombs fell; lucky we had the technology to preserve some of our way of life; lucky we rescued enough people from around the world (myself included) to have the genetic diversity necessary to prevent extinction.

But sometimes I think about life in the old world.  As I reach for the first apple of the harvest I wonder—would I like them so much if I could eat them whenever I wanted?

My hand closes around the fruit and immediately I know exactly how it will taste—tart for a gala, but with precisely the right amount of crunch in each bite.  A bruise mars the flesh—a surface wound only.  It doesn't reach the perfect core with its three teardrop seeds.

No... I don't know for certain, but three sounds right.

I pivot to scan Helsa's cavernous dining hall for a place to sit and jump as two lanky arms drape over my shoulders, the gold-skinned fingers grasping my fruit.  The vegetable soup in my left hand sloshes over my thumb.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Research Links

The research for my current project has spanned a lot of material and topics. Since some of my online resources took a little digging to find, I figured I'd share the best links here in case they might be useful to anyone else. Most of these have to do with mid-1800s New York.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Not Quite Normal

“You are almost obscenely normal, my dear. You really need to let the inner-writer-wacko out more often.” - My critique partner Ico.

Way back ages and ages ago being a writer type meant you were something like this:

A philosophizing old man.

You walked around draped in voluminous robes with one arm raised imperiously in order to appear as sophisticated as possible. These were the guys who shaped the world as we know it, for good or ill, though for the most part we tend to say “good.”

But somewhere along the way, being a writer type came to mean that you were almost guaranteed to be quirky. Maybe this state of wackiness derives from having one's head perpetually in the clouds. Maybe it stems from a need to sail against the wind. Or maybe, after so much critical scrutiny, writers simply come to the point of shrugging off the judgments of other people:

I'm beautiful in my own way, thank you very much.

But what about those of us who aren't really that quirky after all? We don't walk around quoting dead French poets or dress up in flamboyant costumes or stay up all night in our little writing den with a dozen cups of tea and then sleep the morning away.

We can still write... right? We can still be in the club?

You mean you can be artistic without acting adorably weird?

“I think it's part of your mystery that you appear normal on the surface,” Ico continued. “But underneath... you definitely have to be one of those people who only seems mostly normal.”

And maybe she's right. Maybe that's the kind of person I am. Because I am the type who walks into a room and forgets why I'm there because I've been listening to the imaginary people arguing in my head. I'm the type who has a tight little personal bubble, and everything inside it has to be just. so. My quirks aren't always the obvious kind, but if you could come take a vacation in the wilds inside my head, you wouldn't have any doubts that you'd gone some place not-quite-normal.

And that's good enough for me.

How about you other writer types? Just how “not normal” are you?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Book Recommendation: The Near Witch

This past weekend I finally got a chance to read Victoria Schwab's The Near Witch, a book I'd been hearing about for months. I really loved it, but I'm having a hard time putting together my recommendation because my normal approach doesn't quite fit this book. For The Near Witch, the answer to “What is it about?” has so many layers. So instead of going through a brief overview and then highlighting my favorite aspects, I want to talk about the three major layers.

The first is the surface plot. The book is about a girl in an isolated town who has grown up all her life with the wind and the moor and the stories of the Near Witch. For the first time in her life, a stranger comes to town, and right away children begin to disappear from their beds.

This is the plot, and it's “what the book is about,” but for me it's not really what the book is about. The plot is solid and well-crafted and entertaining, but it isn't the most important thing. Some questions never get answered, like how the town came to be so cut off or what the rest of the world is like, but those things aren't vital to the story.

Instead the story is more about a girl who is learning to fight against her society's fear of the unknown. It's about how an isolated group can turn what is “other” into a scapegoat. It's about falling in love with something wild, because love is in some ways about seeing the beauty in something that is outside of us and not in our control. The characters all work very well in the roles they fill in the story. Their relationships are believable.

But even this isn't quite what the book is about for me.

For me The Near Witch is about the wind. It can be so many different things, but this is the first book I've read that really digs deep into what the wind can do to us. The writing is gorgeous. This is one of my favorite passages: “If the moor wind ever sings, you mustn't listen, not with all your ears. Use only the edges. Listen the way you'd look out the corners of your eyes. The wind is lonely, love, and always looking for company.”

This is the sort of writing that evokes strong emotions in me. I know exactly what Victoria Schwab is talking about when she says this. The wind has so many depths of subtlety. So to me the book is really a love story about those depths.

I really appreciated the quality of writing throughout the book, and I even brought out my kindle's highlighter for the first time to mark a few lines. I have a feeling Victoria Schwab is one author I will come to enjoy more and more with each book she writes.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Book Recommendation: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

I've had a bit of a reading slump lately and haven't been particularly excited about most of the books I've been reading. I do recall racing through Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why last month (and it's a worthwhile book to put on the TBR list), but most of my other reads have taken a while to get through.

Until last weekend. Friday night I started Rae Carson's The Girl of Fire and Thorns, and by the end of the day Saturday I had finished it. If you haven't heard of it, the book is about a princess who was marked at birth to “do something special” for her world, only she's starting to wonder if maybe she's missed her chance. After all, what can the fat, awkward second daughter of a minor king do to change anyone's life for the better?

Quite a lot, actually. Elisa is very determined and has a head for strategy. She's married off to another king within the first chapter, and while we get the impression that she hasn't done much with her life so far, as soon as she leaves home she makes the most of her situation. She has her share of flaws, but she always pushes herself to her limits.

Personally one of my favorite pieces of the story was the religion. Fantasy religions are often hard to make feel authentic. So often the religions invented for made-up worlds are either slightly ridiculous (taking a sarcastic view of faith) or are so wrapped up in the magic of the world that there isn't really a faith component. Now the religion portrayed in The Girl of Fire and Thorns is perhaps a little too familiar, depending on your perspective. (One of the rituals has several parallels to Communion.) But I really appreciated the authenticity of the struggles that Elisa faces in relation to her faith.

I also appreciated that the book didn't shy away from the realities of death and havoc during wartime. While the story remains positive and hopeful overall, it doesn't let everyone live simply for the sake of a happily ever after. I was glad that Rae Carson chose to make tough choices with the characters.

Which ultimately means that I'm hooked on the series and looking forward to book two. Hopefully by the time it comes out in the fall you'll have read the first one and be looking forward to it too!