Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Sun Sets for Twilight

That's a good title. I'm clever ::pats self on the back::

I finally, FINALLY saw Breaking Dawn Part II. Just like the end of the Harry Potter franchise, the closing credits left me with mixed feelings. I was happy to see the conclusion and excited to see how some of the interesting subject matter was handled, but it was bittersweet.

There's something magical in a cultural phenomenon like Twilight. It was beautiful to see some friends, who weren't fans of reading, get swept up in a story and gush about it. For that, I was grateful. It also introduced me to a great group of ladies. For that, I was also grateful.

However, just like Beatlemania and Titanic fever, there were some enthusiastic fans that made us all look totally nuts. That was unfortunate, but not entirely unexpected. There will always be people who take a work of fiction a little too seriously.

As for a non-spoilery review, I liked it. There were some cheesy moments, of course, and there were also some heartfelt times that helped me remember why I fell for Twilight to begin with. I think that's what makes a good book-to-film translation - the ability to take what you love and what you don't love and put it all up on the screen for you to smile and cringe at.

I'm going to miss planning date nights with my girlfriends to catch the next movie premiere. I'm going to miss the camaraderie of loving something that transforms strangers into...well...less strangery.

I look forward to the next big thing and finding myself lost in the melee of a midnight book release. Good times.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

November Recap

Shit. It's been over a month since I've written a blog. I feel ashamed and a bit like my blog is that sad fern in the corner of the room that I've forgotten to water...for a month. The metaphorical shriveled leaves are staring me down and making me feel like complete crap. They could teach my mom a thing or two about a good guilt trip - and that's saying something!

So, to begin my mia culpa, I'll start by saying sorry and offering a feeble excuse. I started a new job (you know, the one that helps pay the bills?) and it's kicking my ass in a really good way. I'm slammed 8 to 5, and by the time I get home, I'm usually too gassed to do much of anything besides eat dinner and hang with my kiddo and man. I've been meaning to blog more, but starting to post after a lengthy break is a lot like jumping on the treadmill after a long time. The first session is always the hardest.

What's new in my writing world? Not much which kind of sucks. I was planning on NaNo this year, but just couldn't get my ducks in a row in time. I was hoping to give it the college try next month instead; however, that's looking doubtful too. My current WIP is sitting half finished in the corner and also giving me the stink eye next to the blog and metaphorical fern. I generally avoid that corner of the room with the judgement trifecta.

Well, at least my followers know I'm not dead and that counts for something, right? *crickets* RIGHT?!?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wise Words Courtesy of Tim Gunn

"The times when you most want to panic are the times you most need to take a deep breath and pull it together."

Tim Gunn on WhoSay

Tim Gunn, you are a wise and worldly man. Please take me under your wing and teach me all you know. Love, Katie

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Yummy Eats: Pumpkiny Pumpkin Treats!

It's been a while since I posted something on the deliciousness of my favorite fall ingredient. Don't worry though; I've been a busy little beaver whipping up a plethora of pumpkin treats. If you're looking for something full of fall spices to warm you as the weather cools off, check out my fall faves:

1. Pumpkin Bread: I already posted this recipe last year, but this is a fall staple out my house and my son can't get enough of it!
Photo: Allrecipes.com
2. Paula Deen's Pumpkin Cheesecake: Y'all, this got RAVE reviews from many cheesecake connoisseurs. It's delicious and very rich. You've been warned.

3. Pumpkin Butter: Skinnytaste's pumpkin butter has been this week's obsession. I put it on bread and found tons of recipes that call for it.

Photo: Skinnytaste
4. Pumpkin French Toast Bake: This is the real deal and a great, easy weekend breakfast. You prep it at night, then just pop it in the oven in the morning. Prepping at night also gives the bread time to soak in all the pumpkin goodness. It does call for the pumpkin butter recipe posted above, but you can just use canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling) and amp up the spices.

Photo: Minimalist Baker

Happy baking!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Quote of the Day: Maya Angelou

"I believe the most important single thing, beyond discipline & creativity is daring to dare." -Maya Angelou

You said it, Maya. That quote so elegantly states the purpose of this blog. No one ever achieved greatness without taking risks and that, to me, is just as important any achievement. Try and fail. Try and succeed. The important thing is to try.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Raven Boys Book Review and Maggie Stiefvater

I have a girl crush on Maggie Stiefvater, and, after attending her book signing on Saturday, I love her even more. I finished Maggie's latest release, The Raven Boys, last week. I've read all but one of her books and I think this one was my favorite.

The Raven Boys opens on St. Mark's Eve in the tiny town of Henrietta, Virginia. On this night, Blue Sargent goes to an old churchyard to see the spirits of everyone who is to die in the coming year. Well, Blue doesn't actually see them per se, she helps her psychic mother (or aunt or fill-in-the-blank relative) see them. Blue isn't a psychic; she's an amplifier. Her presence enhances her physic family's gifts. On this St. Mark's Eve, Blue sees her first spirit - a boy named Gansy. The only reason Blue, a non-psychic, would see a spirit is if he was her true love or she would be the one to kill him.

Gansy is a student at the prestigious Aglionby Academy. Students at Algionby, also known as Raven Boys, are wealthy and on their way to Ivy League schools and lives of luxury after. Gansy isn't like all the rest of the boys. He is fabulously rich and has never wanted for anything, but money can't buy what he seeks. He has spent years searching for a Welsh king named Glendower. His quest has landed him in Henrietta and he has enlisted his closest friends - Adam and Ronan - to help. Adam Parrish is a scholarship student at Aglionby who's trying to make his way through the world as his own man. Ronan Lynch recently lost his father and is content to lose just about everything else but his friends.

After the fateful St. Mark's Eve, Blue and Gansy's paths cross. Blue can plainly see that Gansy is someone she could never love or kill, but joins the gang in the hunt for Glendower. Their exploration of Virginia's ley lines lead them to unexpected discoveries and danger.

I loved The Raven Boys. I wasn't completely sold on the concept, but like all of Maggie's books, I wasn't disappointed. Maggie has the unique ability to bring the past into the present and  to construct characters that matter to me. I was intrigued and surprised and adored the book. Credit to Maggie for her pacing and delivery. The story's cadence was somehow very Virginia-y. It wasn't the language, though it was spot on, it was something else that gave the story an almost Southern Gothic feel.

On to Maggie! I went to a book signing with my friend Rheana at Denver's best independent bookstore (Tattered Cover shout out!). Maggie attended the signing with author friend Brenna Yovanoff. Maggie and Brenna, who are critique partners, interviewed each other, did dramatic readings, and took questions. They were utterly charming and had great chemistry which made the whole experience more lively than if it had been just Maggie or Brenna by themselves. I was happy that I got the book first from the library so that my shiny, autographed copy can remain in pristine condition.

Me, Maggie, and Brenna

Maggie and Brenna interviewing each other
If you haven't read any of Maggie's work, check it out and be sure to follow her awesome blog.

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Querying: I Walk the Line

I follow a number of literary agents on Twitter. I enjoy the funny (and sometimes biting) #querytip and #pubtip tweets that say charming things like "Don't come to my office and demand to see me!" or "Do NOT mail your query and first chapter to my home address!". It's insane how many writers a) query before they're ready; b) have no sense of standard timelines; c) refuse to read query guidelines; or d) resort to measures that are stalkerish in nature.

Querying is a tough gig, and when I first began I fell into category A - querying before I was ready. I learned very quickly that my MS and my query letter were not fit for public consumption. I took a step back, went through more revisions, and sent my query to anyone I knew who would read it. But I can proudly say I never stalked an agent (at least I didn't think so).

My process for selecting the agents I wanted to query looked like this:
  1. Go to querytracker and screen agents who rep my genre.
  2. View agent profiles.
  3. Visit agent websites, blogs, and twitter accounts to get a feel for how they operate as an agent and to verify they are accepting queries and looking for the kind of story I wrote.
  4. If I liked what I saw, I then ran a google search for interviews they'd done to learn more about them.
This is where I stopped. I found that this was all it took for me to make a decision one way or the other. And though I felt that my thorough research process was necessary, it still seemed a little creepy. Is there a distinct line in researching potential agents that moves past comprehensive into invasive?

I think there is such a line, but where it lies on the spectrum is different for each person. Generally, I feel that people have a right to privacy. If someone writes a guest blog post or gives an interview, that's the kind of thing they want found and want read. I don't think they want some random stranger searching through images to try and glean some personal fact that can be woven into a query.

Maybe it is a tough line to walk. I want to come across as someone thoughtful who isn't just query bombing, but I don't want to seem like I've spent a little too much time on my research. Hopefully, my future agent will find my attention to detail endearing instead of weird.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

I read too much YA. I've recently discovered that I can download audiobooks from the library to satisfy my need for instant gratification and the result has been a marathon of YA. In the last two weeks, I've listened to If I Stay, Where She Went, Cinder, and The Selection. I've got Matched by Ally Condie up right now and I think it's time for a break. But that's my problem, not yours.

The Selection by Kiera Cass is a YA mash up of a number of popular genres with themes that feel very "of the season". If I were to describe the book in a single sentence it would be: The Hunger Games (minus the Capitol) meets The Bachelor (if the bachelor was a prince). Yup, that's pretty much it.

In the ruins of what was once the United States, now stands the country of Illéa. Its society is defined by its caste system - each family operates within the same caste and their children are born into a number which determines their place in society and their future occupation. The story follows the tragically-named America Singer as she enter into the selection - a process that young women participate in for a chance to marry her country's prince. She uses the selection as a way to escape a broken heart, courtesy of her ex-boyfriend's pride, and as a means to better her poor family's circumstances. Our America is a five, the caste of artists, which is pretty low on the Illéa totem pole. But, if she married Prince Maxon, her whole family will be elevated to ones and have a life they couldn't ever have dreamed of.

Confused and brokenhearted, America strikes a deal with the prince to befriend him in exchange for removing herself from the running while remaining in the palace (and securing the stipend sent to her family in her absence). As America glides through the "dates" and endure the pettiness of the other contestants, she discovers her feelings for the sweet, sheltered boy. If dealing with her own teenage torment wasn't enough, the entire process is filmed and televised for the whole country.

Set against the backdrop of an interestingly structured world and the rumblings of war, The Selection was a good, though somewhat formulaic, read.  I enjoyed the premise and the story, but wasn't as engaged as I hoped to be with the characters and the dialogue. Also, I'm not sure who started this weird naming convention in YA dystopian books, but it needs to stop. Characters should not be named America or Aspen. Just no. Stop it.

The Selection is the first of a series. Book #2, The Elite, is due out in 2013.

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carlson is the first in the Fire and Thorns series. First, why does it seem like being a part of a series is a prerequisite for publishing these days? I love series books, but I'd love a really good stand-alone YA novel even more right now.

Elisa, Princess of Orovalle, is, in her own words, fat and unremarkable. Though she has been marked by for greatness, she doesn't have the confidence in herself to really believe she will make an impact on her world as is expected of the bearer of the Godstone. The mystical Godstone is bestowed upon one person a century; this person carries a bright jewel in their navel that becomes a part of them - thrumming when the bearer prays or warning them of danger with ice shooting through their veins. Many bearers of the Godstone never accomplished anything of note before they died, others have been praised in the history books as great heroes completing their "Act of Service".

At 16, Elisa is married off to the beautiful king of Joya D'Arena. She learns early on that her king, while handsome, is not the kind of ruler who could lead his country through the impending war with a neighboring, godless nation. Elisa relies on her faith and wit to see her safely through her first weeks in the unfamiliar court. As Elisa finds her footing, she begins to learn more about her Godstone, things that were kept from her by those she loved most, and discovers more about the role she may play in defeating her nation's enemies and saving its people.

When Elisa is kidnapped by rebel bandits, she's introduced to life on the front lines. Her notions of war in the not-too-distant future become her immediate reality. She also finds herself falling for one of her kidnappers, the charismatic and kind Humberto. Her new life in the remote desert teaches her self-reliance, strengthens her faith, and cements the idea that her life will serve a greater purpose.

Generally, I liked this book. The magic element was different from what I usually find in YA fantasy with its overt religious tones. More than once I found myself asking if this was a Christian fiction novel, but it never bothered me. I enjoyed the transformation of Elisa's character to a strong, independent woman worthy to be a queen to the people she'd grown to love. However, I never understood why she was the self-hating mess we met in the first chapter. I feel that Carlson could have focused more attention on how Elisa had come to be what she was.

When the plot moved to the kidnapping stage, I almost quit. I wasn't invested in Elisa and was irritated that she was moved so quickly from her new life before I had my fill of court intrigue. I'm glad I stuck it out because her story became more interesting with every chapter. The quasi-romance between Elisa and Humberto never felt central to the story. It's not clear whether Carlson did this on purpose to keep us focused on Elisa's journey of faith or because it wasn't well executed. When the dreaded L-word comes up, I better be clamoring for it or else it feels forced. This felt forced.

Despite a number of typical YA plot twists, there were a couple near the end that caught me off guard, which I appreciated. (Sometimes I like to be wrong about where I think a story will go. Keeps me on my toes!)

The second book in the series (sigh) is due out this month. I'll add it to my list, but I'm not in a rush to get my hands on the next installment. Take that for what it's worth.

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Fixation Friday: John Green Poster

This will be a short one.

John Green (aforementioned object of my most serious nerdcrush), just posted this poster to his tumblr account.

I love it for several reasons:
  • Word art is kind of my thing. I think this is a symptom of my marketing brain seeping into the rest of my consciousness. Cool things people do with words and interesting typography is fascinating to me. I mentally collect neat things like this and physically collect cool direct mail pieces. It's an odd fetish.
  • I love the message. John Green is a nerd and figurehead of the nerdfighteria community. Being a nerd is nothing to be ashamed of and I love this empowering message. Don't ever let anyone make you feel bad about something you love and how excited you are about it. People love to shit on other people's happiness and it isn't cool. Making others feel bad isn't cool. I'm a nerd and I own it.
Happy Friday! DFTBA!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fall Fever

Some people have spring fever when the sun starts to shine longer, the temperature rises, and everything is blooming. Me? I have fall fever. I love budding trees and green grass as much as the next girl, but spring has nothing on the crisp air and autumn colors that roll in each September. So, in honor of my favorite season, here are my top fall faves.
  1. Pumpkin. Spice. Latte. Need I say more? Yes, probably so. PSL (that's the abbreviation the baristas at *bucks write on your cup) are God's gift to the world for surviving another miserably hot summer. It's like the coffee gurus distilled everything quintessentially fall - the warm, burnt orange colors, the spice that seems to scent the air, the lick of heat that touches your face when you cuddle up in front of the fire - and placed it in one (unbelievably good) cup. It's fall's famous decadence and I do a dance each year when it's released. (This means I danced on Monday of this week.)
  2. Pumpkin patches. Last year, my family took my son to his first-ever pumpkin patch. It melts my heart each time I think about it. He was so adorable nestled in a mound of pumpkins laughing away while I snapped a thousand photos. He's a bit older now and able to participate more in the fun activities for kids. I can't wait to take him out again this year.
  3. The colors. I live in Colorado where there are many, many aspen trees. They grow like weeds. Not even kidding. You plant one and you'll have three more the next year. While sometimes bothersome, the aspens are beautiful. One of my favorite fall pastimes is to drive up to the mountains (normally in mid-September) to see the colors. Every shade of gold imaginable adorns the mountainsides where aspens dominate the landscape. When the wind blows through them, it looks like a vast gold sea. It's incredible.
  4. Back to school. This may sound weird (and if you're reading this you probably have come to accept and expect my weirdness), but I love the back-to-school hype. This may be because I am no longer in school, though I don't think so. When I was a kid, shopping for school supplies was this oddly comforting ritual. I loved all the folders, notebooks, pens, and backpacks. I always watch the commercials touting back-to-school sales with interest. This time of the year was especially great when I was an undergrad. Football games and tailgate parties stand out in my memory as some of my favorite college moments along with the promise of a fresh school year each fall brought.
  5. Oktoberfest. Beer is good. Celebrations honoring beer and beer-loving cultures are even better. I'm a big beer fan and am fortunate to live in a place with excellent microbrews. There are like four consecutive weeks from September to October in CO that hold different Oktoberfest celebrations. They are a great four weeks.
Hope everyone is enjoying September so far. May you have PSL wishes and apple pie dreams!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Review: Ready Player One

So this is only a kind of quasi-review and more of an endorsement of the audiobook version. 

I finished Ready Player One (hardcover version) by Ernest Cline last fall. I was totally smitten with the book and loved finding a great YA read from a male perspective - and not just any male, a geeky boy narrator! Ready Player One has picked up some steam throughout 2012 and I have enjoyed seeing all the positive reviews and general gushing. Recently, I found out that the audiobook is narrated by Will Wheaton.

If you live under a rock and don't know who Will Wheaton is, stop right now and go Netflix every season of The Big Bang Theory. Will makes many cameo appearances as "himself" on the show. (Like stars who turned up on Entourage were "themselves" in that they weren't playing the part of anyone else, they were just their own asshole alter egos.) One of RPO's many charming qualities is the glorification of all things 1980's, and as Mr. Wheaton played boy genius Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, he is mentioned in the novel. I can't tell you how delightful it is to have a self-proclaimed geek narrate a book about a geek in which he is mentioned. It's like the ultimate nerd trifecta!

Ready Player One is set in a tragic future where the energy crisis and economic recession has led to collapse of modern society. Many people spend the majority of their free time in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game called the OASIS. The OASIS is a brilliant virtual reality developed by computer genius and eccentric James Halliday. At the time of his death, Halliday had no heir and left his vast fortune and controlling stock in Gregarious Simulation Systems (the company that runs the OASIS) to the person who could find his Easter Egg (in gaming an easter egg is a hidden message generally left by the game's creator). The hunt for Halliday's Easter Egg took over the world, but five years after his death no new progress has been made. Until Wade Watts uncovers the first of three keys in the challenge. The book follows Wade's rise to super stardom and his quest to find the other two keys and unlock Halliday's Easter Egg.

Filled with endearing 80's pop culture references, Ready Player One takes the reader on an amazing journey through the mind bending world of the OASIS where anything is possible. It hits the mark with themes like user privacy and is an interesting treatise on how we, as a society, are changing the way we communicate, conduct business, and live our lives online. I can't say that I've ever read anything like it and loved the character development and Cline's worldbuilding. The amount of information relayed in the first chapters is a tad overwhelming, but I hungrily devoured all the details (as already stated, I'm a detail glutton).

I encourage anyone looking for something different in the YA genre to read this book and then go pick up the audio version because Will Wheaton crushes it (get it? It's funny because Will Wheaton was Wesley Crusher! Yuck, yuck, yuck).

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fixation Friday: Sam Clafilin as Finnick Odair

Fangirl or not, no one is free from the clutches of Hunger Games mania. The internet was a-Twitter on Wednesday with the news that Catching Fire favorite Finnick Odair has been cast. Drum roll please...Lionsgate announced that Snow White and the Huntsman star Sam Claflin is to join Katniss and Peeta in the much-anticipated second film adaptation of Suzanne Collins' best-selling series. (Wah wah waaaaah).

Not to be hating on the newly-minted franchise star, but come on, Lionsgate! You're killing me! To fully understand the heinous nature of this crime against the Hunger Games fandom, let's review the facts we know about one Mr. Finnick "Want Some Sugar" Odair.

1) He is drop dead gorgeous.

Cute? Sure. Unbelievably beautiful? Meh.
2) He is alluring in the same way a Venus Flytrap is - beautiful and dangerous.

3) He is a bronzed sun god from District 4 (where everyone fishes and sunbathes for a living).

4) To win his games, at the tender age of 14 thankyouverymuch, he wielded a trident. A trident, people. Nothing says bad ass like kicking butt and taking names in the dreaded arena with a friggin' trident.

I've been praising the casting decisions thus far for Catching Fire (Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee? Inspired!), but I'm not overly enthused about this one. While I enjoyed Claflin in his role in the last Pirates of the Caribbean jaunt, I saw nothing to convince me that Claflin is up to the challenge on embodying a character many readers have proclaimed to be their favorite.

I will admit that, as a fan of the book series, I was weary of many of the actors cast for The Hunger Games – except Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket because Elizabeth Banks, as an actress, makes everything better. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how effortlessly each of the actors embraced their roles and won me over. I’m hoping this latest addition to the franchise will have me eating my words next fall. Until then, I can only speculate and stalk the photos that are bound to be leaked from the set.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Fixation Friday: Skinnytaste

My name is Katie and I'm a recipe hoarder. I freely admit to having 200 pins on my Pintrest recipe board (I think I've made maybe 15 or 20 of them). I have a fascination with squirreling away recipes for a hypothetical day in which I decide that I can make three dozen macaroons. Sadly, this day has yet to arrive.

One of my favorite places to find new recipes to pin (and possibly one day maybe make) is Skinnytaste. Skinnytaste is the home of delicious recipes created or modified from others to be lower calorie and less fat. Now before you go screaming for the hills, they're really good. I've actually made a few of them and was able to fool my husband into thinking they were unhealthy. (It's a complicated dance we do at dinner each night whereby I fail to disclose the healthy nature of anything that might be mistaken as "good for you".)

I made this recipe!

Chicken Parmigiana Burgers

If you in the need of some new recipes to spruce up your own Pintrest board, or would actually make food (who even does that?), then check out Skinnytaste. Tell them Katie sent you ;)

And this!

Crock Pot Santa Fe Chicken

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fixation Friday (Book Review): A Discover of Witches

Damn, this is a good book. (I bet there's some rule somewhere that says not to start a blog post or book review with a curse word, but I'm a rule breaker. What are you going to do about it? That's what I thought.) Back to A Discovery of Witches. This is the first installment in Deborah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy and her first novel (she's apparently written some non-fiction too).

When I first started hearing about this book there were quite a few "It's like Outlander meets X" mash ups (the "X" was different for almost everyone, but the comparisons to Diana Galbaldon's Outlander were pervasive). Because you don't all know me personally, I'll let you know that I'm a huge Diana Gabaldon fan and regard the genre-busting Outlander series as one of my favorites. So with all the comparisons, I went into ADoW with high expectations. I was not disappointed.

If you're a fan of rich, detailed background, then Harkness is probably a strong fit for you. I read multiple complaints on Goodreads about the amount of detail and information some readers found superfluous. While I get where these readers are coming from, I just don't care. When dealing in the quasi-fantasy genre, I think detail is important. I want to know, as a reader, that you, as the writer, have thought every last detail through. I'm not the kind of reader who easily forgives shabby worldbuilding. I want the constructs of the setting leaping off the pages and playing a major role in how the characters operate.

A great world filled with lackluster characters a great novel does not make. I was instantly drawn to Diana's academic mind and willful personality. Matthew, with his darkness and unapologetic alpha personality, was a close second for me. They were frustrating at times and utterly real. There was a certain fragility to Diana that, while I didn't mind, landed her in the constant care of others. I don't think this a flaw in the story, and I liked that Diana persevered through many trials but certainly not unscathed. Harkness artfully remained true to her characters while letting them grow.

I can't say enough about how well written and well researched this book was. As a history nerd, I geeked out at all the interesting facts about alchemy that were woven into the story. As much time as she spent unveiling Matthew and Diana, Harkness also made time for each well-rounded supporting character to shine (which is probably why this book is hella long). When a house is one of my favorite characters, you know you've done your job!

Survey says? Well played, Deborah Harkness, well played. I've already got #2 in the series downloaded on my Kindle and ready to rock.

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars | In which I review The Fault in Our Stars

So...um...yeah. The Fault in Our Stars was released early this year, but I only just got to it because I have a TBR list a mile long. That's still no excuse, but it's all I got.

The Fault in Our Stars is John Green's latest YA novel. It's a story about two young people who fall in love and who happen to have cancer. I've read in a million places that this a cancer book that's not about cancer and I'd say that's accurate. It's about how you live when dying is your reality.

John Green is amazing in many ways and I have a nerd crush on him. (A nerd crush ((a word I just made up)) is a non-sexual crush you have on someone who is too awesome to not have a crush on, but who you are incidentally not attracted to in any way.) His books are great and everyone should read them because he is an adult who has somehow never forgotten what being a teenager feels like. I had a good time as a kid in high school. I wasn't overly popular, but had friends. I wasn't a genius, but was liked by my teachers. But I, like many adults, can no longer recall what it felt like to by sixteen.

Back to TFiOS. The story is narrated by Hazel - a sixteen year-old girl who is dying of cancer. She struggles each day to keep on living with lungs that "suck at being lungs". I wish I could find the words to describe Hazel that Hazel herself wouldn't hate, but I'm kind of at a loss. I guess what I can say is that TFiOS is like the anti-cancer cancer book. It is well written and executed beautifully, but the story is ugly in that it is, to me, truthful. Cancer is ugly and awful and life can be equally awful and entirely unfair. I was constantly reminded that people fighting a losing battle with cancer are still people, just like me. They still deserve to be treated as people, not the walking dead. We don't need to eulogize cancer patients while they still breathe, we need to remind them that they are still them and we are still us and cancer can't change that. For people whom death is imminent (b/c I guess I can't say dying b/c we are all dying, just at a different rates), and I don't know this for sure, I think they want to maintain their dignity and we could all do more to help that. I think this is best achieved by doing nothing. Not nothing, just nothing special.

I hate that so many books or movies or tv shows about cancer allow the disease to become the defining trait of someone or a modifier to their pre-cancer traits. I love that TFiOS doesn't do that. I would consider it a personal favor if everyone would read this book. Then, go here and learn about Esther Earl. (I realize that it sucks that to learn about someone who touched many lives, I have to send you to an obit. It sucks that you learn about how someone was amazing by reading about what people said when they died. I find this point awful and I wish there was a better summary I could find for people who don't know who Esther Earl was, but I don't have one. This is the best I could do. I encourage anyone unfamiliar with Esther to read the obit first and then do some googling because your experience with the plethora of videos and such will be heightened when you have some context.) Then donate to the charity Esther's family created in her memory.

Coincidentally, today is Esther Earl day. A celebrated by Nerfighteria as an occasion to tell the people you love that you love them. I think in honor of the girl who influenced a book I now love, I will tell people I love that I love them. And, as always, don't forget to be awesome.

Educate yourself about the topics in this post:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Here's the thing about spoilers *no spoilers*

I hate surprises. Absolutely can't stand them. I've often considered what this says about me and here's what I think: 1) With surprises, comes the fact that other people know more about what's going to happen to you than you do. I'm a control freak so I loathe being out of the loop b/c it means other people have more information than I do and that doesn't sit well with me. 2) I feel like I'm that person who hates secrecy in general. Most surprises are shrouded in secrecy and deception. I've often found myself on the receiving end of many surprises that came with equal parts boldface lies and half-truths. 3) What's the point to surprises anyway? If an event (say a surprise birthday party) is truly unexpected, it would be just as surprising to the recipient to learn about it weeks in advance as it would be when people jump out from behind living room furniture - and far less likely to induce heart failure. To me, a book ending is just another surprise - one which many people know about and that gives them an unfair advantage over me.

Back to my original point, which I have yet to state: almost nothing I read is a complete surprise because I almost always spoil the ending for myself. This fact draws the ire of many serious readers. ("What do you mean you read the last pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows before you read the first chapter?!" "You googled the ending before you finished Mockingjay?!" "We're not friends anymore.") But the funny thing about spoiling book endings for myself is that even when I know with relative certainty how a book is going to end, especially if the ending is tragic and heart-wrenching, I still hope until the very last pages that all of the internets is wrong. A character may be hurtling to a certain death, of which I may or may not know the details, and I still turn each page hoping for a different outcome.

I guess the purpose of this post is to say that while I spoil books for myself, it doesn't mean that I don't enjoy them. I may know the final destination, but the journey is still every bit as exciting. Everyone reads differently and I just so happen to be an adept googler who knows the ending before I become acquainted with the beginning. I don't spoil anything for anyone because that would be just as distasteful to me as someone willfully withholding information from me and that's just not how I roll.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Make Good Art

Some of you may have seen this already, but it's a message worth repeating. Neil Gaiman is the author of some amazing books (American Gods, Neverwhere ((my favorite))). But he isn't just a writer of adult fantasy. He's written television shows, children's books, and worked in audio books. Plus, he's funny in a charming, self-deprecating English way.

This is a link to the commencement speech he gave at The University of the Arts (Phl): http://vimeo.com/42372767

In it, he makes one central point: make good art. When things are hard, make good art. When no one believes in what you're doing (least of all you), make good art. No matter what the world is throwing at you, make good art. His point is that people do a lot of things for many reasons, but there's only one that matters. Make art for yourself and make it how only you can.

It's a beautiful message. In today's material society, it's tempting to take a job you don't love just to pay the bills. (I'm not saying let your family starve because you're too proud to take something that's beneath you. I'm talking about taking something you don't have to just for the sake of a few extra bucks.) It's easy to compromise yourself and do something that's more fashionable and less authentic. There's that silly saying about choosing between what is right and what is easy. If you're lucky, they're the same thing. But I've found that, more often that not, I'm unlucky.

I have uncompromisingly high standards for myself, and putting forth less than my best is infuriating. I'd rather do nothing than produce something I don't love. Sure I worry that others won't like it, but if I think I've done my best then there's no room for doubt. Right now, I'm in that hard place where I won't work because it's not going the way I want it to. I refuse to move forward until I believe it is where it should be and I'm kind of stuck.

I need to take Neil's advice to heart and make good art, but I also need to kick myself in the pants and do something. If I find that middle ground, I'll be sure to let you know.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fixation Friday: Olympics!

*Warning: Sap-O-Meter Running High*

It's been too long since I actually logged one of these segments on a Friday. My apologies. I was traveling last week and the craziness before the travel didn't allow me to do anything but run around taking care of last minute errands. Anyhow, on with the show...

The 2012 Olympics start today. I am no-joke-pee-my-pants excited about this. I've always been a summer Olympics kind of girl, so this comes but once every four years for me. The first Olympics I can remember seeing as a kid was the 1992 summer games in Barcelona. I have no idea why it took me eight years of life to register the world's biggest sporting event when I have clear memories of things from before I was four, but that's how it is.

For as long as I can remember watching the games, they've been an emotional experience for me. I get caught up in the collective excitement of everyone around me and the patriotism that's okay (and even expected) to display. It's the Olympics. There's nothing else in the world like it.

There's something about witnessing athletes put everything they have on the line to win, at the most, a gold medal, or, at the very least, be able to look back at their performance and know that they held the world's attention and shared the stage with the best of the best. The honor that athletes display in representing their home and their countrymen is palpable. You can tell that each participant, while they'd love to go home with gold, is deeply thankful to even be there.

There's a purity to the event and less ego than you'll see at any professional sporting match. I believe there is a tremendous amount of pressure on all of the athletes. They don't have the luxury to win or lose for themselves; when they compete, the hopes of an entire nation rest on their shoulders. We match their thundering pulses beat for beat because we, as a country, have sent our delegates to race in our stead. Our hopes are impossibly high for our champions, but we all secretly root for the underdogs. As 1980 taught us in Lake Placid, miracles can happen if you just believe.

I'm looking forward to spending the next two weeks parked on my sofa with my eyes glued to the tv. I hope everyone enjoys the spectacle tonight at the Opening Ceremony.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Yummy Eats: Cookie Dough Dip

This chocolate chip cookie dough recipe has been hanging out in my recipe box for a while. Like a loooooong while. You may be thinking, "Katie, why did it take you so long to try this? It sounds amazing!" I've been avoiding it because *leans in close* it's actually a somewhat healthy alternative to the hard stuff.

What?! That's right kids. I said it. Healthy. It's made with garbanzo beans, nut butter, and a touch of sugar (I used less than what the recipe calls for and it was still great). Once you read the ingredients you'll get why it took so long for me to make it. Who makes a dessert out of the same stuff hummus comes from? But no joke, it was actually delicious. I'm big on texture and this recipe nails the creaminess of actual cookie dough. I think I may need a better food processor to perfect it, but my cheapy mini-processor did a fine job. It even passed the toddler taste test. When my husband asked what my son and I were eating and I told him it was cookie dough dip, I got a "that doesn't sound healthy." Little did he know it is (sneakily) a healthy dessert.** Muah ha ha ha.

Photo Credit: Chocolate Covered Katie
Cookie Dough Dip via Chocolate Covered Katie

Inspired by: White Bean Blondies.
  • 1 1/2 cups chickpeas or white beans (1 can, drained) (250g)
  • 1/8 tsp plus 1/16 tsp salt
  • tiny bit over 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup nut butter (You can get away with using only 3 tbsp. If you use peanut butter, it’ll have a slight “pb cookie dough” taste, so if you don’t want this, try the recipe in this link instead. Just don’t bake it.)
  • up to 1/4 cup milk of choice, only if needed
  • Sweetener (see note below, for amount)
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips or Sugar-Free Chocolate Chips
  • 2 to 3 tbsp oats (or flaxmeal) (You can omit for a thinner dip.)
Add all ingredients (except for chocolate chips) to a good food processor (not blender), and blend until very smooth. Then mix in the chocolate chips. (Some commenters have had success with a blender, but I did not. Try that at your own risk, and know the results will be better in a high-quality food processor such as a Cuisinart.)

See the following link for: Sugar-Free Version.

Sweetener Notes: I used 2/3 cup brown sugar when I first made this for the party. Liquid sweeteners (agave, maple, etc.) are fine as well, as is evaporated cane juice. You can easily get away with less sugar– some people will be perfectly fine with just 3 tbsp for the whole recipe! And if you don’t want any sugar, be sure to check out the “no-sugar” version linked above. (You can also use stevia, if you like the taste of stevia-sweetened desserts. Try 2-3 packets of NuNaturals stevia, and add more sweetener if needed. I wouldn’t recommend serving an all-stevia version to party guests, though.)

**And by healthy I mean not as bad as actual cookie dough. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Katie and the Subject of Time

I tell people this frequently, but my most valuable and limited resource is time. I think this comes across as kind of snooty (as in, "my time is so valuable that you should feel honored that I'm granting you five minutes"), but I don't mean it to be. Let me explain.

I'm a wife and a mom. I read. I write. I'm blessed to have my immediate family living in the same state as me. I have a tight network of close friends. I have a full-time job. My days are usually packed and my weekends are almost always booked a month in advance. I know this is not unusual in today's world. People are busy. My struggle to balance those I love with things I am passionate about and a job I still need is not unique. That doesn't make it any less challenging.

When I say my time is valuable, I mean that when I'm doing something I usually have five other things I could (or should) be doing instead. The number one thing on my list is spending time with my son. If I have free time and he's awake, I want to be with him. I want to watch him discover the world and revel in the wonder that is being a kid. If I'm not with him when I could be, I have the mommy guilt. It sucks.

So my "free time" is usually in the evenings (because I already get up at 5:15 am and I REFUSE to get up any earlier), after my son has gone to sleep. I try to spend those precious hours with my husband doing things we both enjoy (like eating ice cream or watching tv), writing (b/c I have to every day or else I can't call myself a writer - I checked), or exercising (to work off the ice cream). There's always something I feel like I should be doing instead of what I am doing. It's a hard pill to swallow and I have prayed for a time-turner to magically appear under my pillow on more than one occasion. But until such time as the time-turner appears, I make compromises. Let me tell you I hate to compromise. I want it all. It's in my nature.

Day by day, I do the only thing I can - make best choices and hope they're the right ones. If anyone has discovered a way to make more hours appear (and still keep my bank account in the black), you let me know.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review: Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

I guess my review can be summed up in one word: wow. Easiest review ever. Done.

Well, maybe I'll expand on the "wow". In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned the 2012 Lit Fest put on by the Lighthouse Writer's Workshop in June. At the event, I had a chance to chat with Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency. One of her authors is Jamie Ford and she mentioned how great his book is. I liked chatting with Kristin enough to pick it up. For her great rec, I've now moved Kristin up on my awesome people totem pole.

I've always been fascinated with the WWII era. Our history books do a great job painting a picture of life in the 40's and explaining the far-reaching effects of the war - especially how we view topics like religious and cultural tolerance. One thing that I don't think I ever learned enough about (because the subject was barely touched on in all of the US history classes I took ((this is not meant to be a discussion on how we view the historical atrocities committed by the United States (((of which there are several))); I'm only referencing my personal experience.))), was the internment of Japanese-American citizens after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet explores this subject through the eyes of a Chinese-American boy living in Seattle. In many aspects, it's a classic coming of age story dealing with fitting in at school, familial expectations and prejudices, and first love. For those reasons only, I loved this story. I connected with Henry in a very real way and cheered him on through his ups and downs.

The historical element of the story was brilliant. To me, Ford dealt with a sensitive subject in a way that let the reader determine his or her own judgements. Through Henry, we saw the injustices done to many innocent Japanese families and feel the effect of this in a personal way. Henry's anger and frustration was my anger and frustration.

The story splits itself between Henry's life in 1942 and 1986. As we uncover pieces of Henry's past, we see how those events shaped his future. I've read complaints about some anachronisms and I would agree that the internet was not something readily available to anyone in 1986. I also doubt there were online support groups at the time either. Sure there were a few minor hiccups, but they didn't distract me from the story.

From the opening pages, I wasn't convinced I was going to love this book but I did. I really did and I couldn't be happier to have read it. This is one of those special books that becomes a memory. The experience I had reading it is something special to me. It's something I'll remember and hold on to.

Thank you, sir. You have a fine day.

Educate yourself about the topic in this post:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On Waiting and Hoping

Krista over at Mother. Write. (Repeat.) just posted about the publishing waiting game. She had some interesting thoughts on why the road to become a published author, while nerve wracking and sometimes unbearable, isn't the worst thing. Her point was that as long as you're waiting, you're still in the game. Even in the loneliest, darkest pit of limbo, there's a glimmer of something wonderful to keep you going - it's hope.

Writing has been an adventure that has taken me down the rabbit hole where down is up and up is backwards. Sometimes, I feel like I'm in a foreign country (digitally speaking) with its own customs, celebrities, and history. Through it all, even when things are looking bleak, my hope refuses to die. It manifests itself as a tiny voice encouraging me to keep writing, keep revising, keep working at my craft. Often I find myself wanting to tell it to take that cheerleading bull and shove it. Then I remember that I'm having an argument with myself in my head and I stop because I'm not established enough to be haunted by inner demons (yet!).

The process of querying, entering contests, and finding new beta readers for more revisions is tiresome. There are days when I want to quit just so I can sit on my butt and read a good book (which is how I got myself in this predicament in the first place). But I know that I will never be satisfied until I'm published. I won't ever quit because I'm compelled to forge on for reasons I don't even understand myself. As long as there are stories that need to be written, I'll write them. Plain as that.

While waiting still sucks, I'm happy to look at it from a fresh perspective. Waiting is the place where my hope lives and thrives on the limitless possibilities to come. I'm grateful to be in the game at all, so I wait. Hoping, I wait.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fixation Friday (on a Monday): Books on Tape

I did it. I listened to my first book on tape (or rather, cd). I have no idea why I avoided them for so long, but I've always had an aversion to listening to books instead of reading them.

When I read, I develop a really vivid picture in my mind. I'm addicted to detail in stories because I want to form the most complete picture possible. I'm all for writers allowing readers to fill in the minutia, but I will always take more detail instead of less. I want my reading experience to be authentic, and I think the best way to achieve this is by the writer giving me a thorough description of what they see.

How does this rambling relate to books on tape? Well I'll tell you, smartypants. I was afraid, literally scared, that my experience as a reader would be diminished if I listened to the words instead of read them on a page. You know in elementary school where they teach you about the different kinds of learning - visual, verbal, and physical? I am a visual learner. I can't learn anything from listening to someone explain it. I need to see them do it or I'll never retain it. With this knowledge of how I interact with things and that awful episode of Seinfeld where George tries to listen to a book on tape, I just wrote audio books off altogether.

Fast forward to today: I'm a mom who works full-time and I drive my son to daycare everyday. I spend a lot of time in my car commuting. I used to waste this time listening to news radio for traffic updates, now I fill it with books I want to read. The only problem? Getting to a point where you can't stop listening so you have to sit in your car in the parking lot of your office building until you can tear yourself away. Needless to say, I've been a few minutes late recently.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fixation Friday: Book Review of Shadow and Bone

Isn't the cover gorgeous? I bought this for my Kindle, but I may need to own a copy too.

It's not very often that I find myself falling through the pages of a new book and landing in a richly drawn world of wonder. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo did just that. I wish I had the words to accurately describe the elation that comes with a great book. It's better than chocolate. It's better than a good red wine. It's better than most things, but that's probably because I'm a huge book nerd (and proud!).

Shadow and Bone, the first installment of the Grisha trilogy, introduces us to Alina Starkov - assistant cartographer in the Second Army, orphan, and lovesick over her childhood friend Mal. The story is set in the country of Ravka (think old world Russia with sleighs and a lot of words with the letter "k" that end in "i") which is hewn in half by a swath of "nearly impenetrable darkness" called the Shadow Fold. As Alina's regiment prepares to make the dangerous crossing through the Fold, and face the night monsters that live there, we're fed small bits of the country's history and its magician/scientist/soldier caste called the Grisha. The Grisha stand apart from everyone else in the land as having special abilities and they are used as weapons, protectors, and sometimes cheap entertainment. The leader of the Grisha, and second in status to only the king, is the Darkling - powerful, dangerous, gorgeous.

As all journeys through impenetrable darkness go, this one ends in horror. The only bright spot is literally Alina herself. She is a gifted Grisha Sun Summoner, only no one knew it. Quickly whisked away from danger to the capital city and the intrigues of court, Alina discovers who she is and finds a place for herself in the world. Here we see some common YA tropes in typical boarding school fashion, but nothing could keep me from reading on. I was intrigued by the world, Bardugo's clean, easy style, and in love with Alina herself.

The story's themes of belonging, finding a true sense of self, and the murky lines between light and dark were wonderfully executed. There is so much more I want to say about this read, but none of it can be done without spoilers. I hope more people pick up this read soon so I can have someone to gush with. There is no doubt in my mind that this book is taking off. I expect great things from Bardugo and the the rest of the Grisha series.

Verdict = Favorite read of 2012

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Book Review: Insurgent

What's this? A book review?! *Gasp!*

I know, I suck at the writing of book reviews. I promise, *promise* that I read more than I review.

I am a huge fan of Veronica Roth's DIVERGENT. It is the first in an eponymous three-book series that chronicles the changing life of Beatrice "Tris" Prior. In a dystopian Chicago set in the undetermined future, we find 16 year-old Beatrice as a member of the faction Abnegation. In this future, everyone chooses a faction in their 16th year to belong to for the rest of their lives. The premise is that our broken world was caused by human frailties, but not everyone agreed which faults were to blame, thus society was split into five factions: Abnegation (the selfless); Amity (the peaceful); Candor (the honest); Dauntless (the brave); Erudite (the intelligent). Each faction believes their way of life is the best method for humanity to move forward and there's more than a touch of animosity between the five factions. The city exists within a fence to keep whatever exists outside of it out.

Insurgent begins almost exactly where Divergent ended. It took me a while to remember everything that had happened at the end of Divergent, but eventually I caught up.

Here's a recap:

In Divergent, Tris decides to leave her family and the Abnegation faction behind in favor of Dauntless. Each person is given an aptitude test to tell them which faction they have an affinity for, but it is ultimately a personal decision where they go. Tris' test came back as having an aptitude for three factions, she is divergent. To be labeled divergent is dangerous, and the person who administered her test helps her cover up her results. She goes through the Dauntless initiation, a dangerous process that leaves more than one initiate dead or exiled as one of the "factionless". The first novel ends with a coup by some of the faction leaders to gain control over the rest.

In the second installment, Tris has managed to escape capture and mental enslavement (thanks to her divergent nature) with her boyfriend, brother, and an enemy. The skirmish to stop the coup cost Tris more than she bargained for and forced her to take the life of a friend to save her own. Dealing with the fallout causes her to distance herself from the swoony Four and creates a rift between the two that spans the book.

I loved, loved Divergent, but I was less enamored with Insurgent. I still enjoyed the story, but I was a bit frustrated with the characters at times. I did remind myself more than once that this is a YA series with young, inexperienced characters. That aside, I loved the twist that Roth works in (and hints at several times). All in all, I was pleased with the read and can't wait for the as yet untitled conclusion. I suggested it be called Detergent, but I'm not sure Roth would agree.

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fifty Shades: Why Everyone HATES It

Okay, tons of people are hating on E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey. I'm talking spewing vitriol hate on this book series and its author in ways that are normally reserved for Justin Beiber. Like anything that's popular, some people dislike it because others love it. But, there is a small, vocal minority that hate it for completely different reasons. I don't hate it. I hate racism and narrow-minded bigots. I do think the book is poorly executed and that most of the world likes it because it's taboo (Chains! Whips! Control freak billionaire sex gods! Oh my!).

So here's my personal opinion as to why the books are fundamentally stealing: Fifty Shades of Grey was written as a fanfiction. If you're not familiar with fanfiction, go to ComiCon and meet some lovely people who spend hours of their lives re-imagining other people's characters in interesting scenarios. I know many fanfiction writers who also write original fiction. They are fabulous and talented and fiercely loyal. I have no qualms with fanfiction/ff writers and have read and enjoyed many ff stories. The first, and biggest, objection I have to the Fifty Shades series is the fact that James wrote this series as Twilight fanfiction. Is the storyline hers? Yup. Are the characters? In my mind, no. Now this is where I (and others who share my opinion) lose most of world. Who cares if she "based" the characters on already existing fictional characters if she had them placed in entirely unique scenarios? Well, here's why:
  • When writing fanfiction that is AU (alternate universe) where characters act OOC (out of character), you're still taking the essence of that character and using it. It wasn't "What would Christian Grey do here?" it was "What would Edward Cullen do if he were a naughty, naughty boy?". See the distinction? James took characters already in existence and applied them (and their previously established personality traits, decision making processes, and distinguishing smirks) to something new. Is it entirely stolen? No, of course not. But the application of someone else's work via the way the characters behave is not original.
Reasons to add a concrete block to smash your head against in your Amazon cart along with the books:
  1. It is so badly done. Come on, people! Come on! Can't you see that she thesaurused her way through the whole effing thing?! And the ellipses. Oh, the ellipses. I can't even tell you how sad I am over the misuse of such beloved punctuation. I have PTSD flashbacks every time I try to use the once easily applied ...
  2. There was little to no editing by a person who has the title "Editor" on their business card (I'm aware any bozo can call themselves an editor. I'm talking about someone who other people call an editor). If you live in London and write using a vernacular specific to the place where you live, and not where your story is taking place, you no write good. There were so many Britishisms in the books that I thought I was back on the Tube en route to Leicester Square to catch a West End production of something starring Daniel Radcliffe. Those are the sorts of things that a professional editor would catch and have an author fix to create a more polished manuscript.
I'm tired of hearing about it and am probably adding fodder to the fire, but I don't care. If people want to read the books, they will. I can't stop them and Stephenie Meyer refuses to sue E.L. James, so I guess we're all stuck. I'm just waiting for all the drama and hype to die down so I can unblock people from my Facebook feed.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fixation Friday: Agent Reads the Slush Pile with Kristin Nelson

Yesterday was my first official day at Lit Fest 2012 put on by Denver's own the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. It was really great. I started my day with an agent critique of my manuscript. It was an enlightening experience and I was grateful for such solid feedback on areas I need to work on. These kinds of meetings can be a difficult pill to swallow, but writing forces you to grow a tough skin. I've trained myself to see every bit of constructive criticism as a positive thing. When the advice is good, it will help improve your work and make you a better writer. If you don't agree with the criticism, that's fine too. Not everyone will love your work. It's best to get used to that idea sooner rather than later.

My favorite part of the day was An Agent Reads the Slush Pile with super agent Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency. All attendees of the workshop submitted their first two pages for Kristin to read aloud (anonymously, of course!) as if they had come across her desk from the slush pile. As she read each one, she explained to the class when she would have stopped and why. There were a handful of standouts that she would have asked to see more pages from. Most of what she explained were the tried and true tips I've read in a lot of places:
  • Watch the use of a prologue.
  • Don't open your novel with a dream sequence, someone waking up, or any kind of bodily function.
  • Don't overload your first pages with exposition or too much background.
Some of the tips she mentioned that I never really considered were:
  • Sometimes as writers we tend to break up a scene with extraneous information. It's best to be mindful of how and when we pepper in any commentary. Sometimes that extra information can get in the way of the action and stop the flow of the scene.
  • Some of the best opening lines can be found two or three paragraphs in. The first line of a novel has to grab attention. We don't need to read the first page and find ourselves in the middle of a fight scene, but you can't afford to have a lackluster opening. There were several examples where the perfect first line - either witty, scary, or strange - was buried under paragraphs of exposition.
All in all, great first day. I'm looking forward to what I'll learn and who I'll meet this weekend!

Educate yourself about the topic in this post:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lit Fest Tomorrow

Wow! I can't believe how quickly the middle of June arrived. I signed up a while ago for Lit Fest 2012 through Denver's Lighthouse Writers Workshop (an independent creative writing center in Denver, Colorado, founded and operated by working writers and university-level teachers of writing).

The conference has been running since last week with intensives and other specialty workshops aimed at honing your craft. I wasn't able to attend any of those (Work? Who needs it? Oh, right. Me.), but I signed up for a pass that allows me access this Thursday-Sunday.

Tomorrow, I have a chat scheduled with Brooks Sherman of Fine Print Literary Management and then I'm hitting An Agent Reads the Slush Pile with Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency. This weekend has some great workshops and the event's first-ever book fair.

I'm nervous and excited all at once. My goal in attending is to make some local connections, meet other writers, and absorb as much as I can. I'm pretty green when it comes to publishing, so I feel a bit like this is the first day of school and I'm the new kid who doesn't know anyone. I just hope no one makes fun of my Hello Kitty lunch box!

I'll post pics and thoughts this weekend.

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Friday, June 8, 2012

Fixation Friday: New Library!

I can't help but smile every time I pass a public library. I'm not sure why this happens, but inevitably I see a mom and her 2+ kids scampering out the doors with arms full of books. These scenes seem so idyllic that I end up looking over my shoulder to see where the director for the lifestyle commercial they must be shooting placed the cameras (b/c these things don't happen like this IRL, do they?). Unless the director has craftily hidden the cameras in bushes, this does happen regularly and it warms the cockles of my cold, jaded heart.

I say jaded because here in Denver most libraries are only open four days a week, and it breaks my heart. When I frequent my local library (as often for books as I do for access to a cheap printer ((because I don't have one and really don't care to buy one))), I see the same situation each time - kids running around the courtyard, families playing in the toddler area with kids books and stuffed animals, adults taking continuing education classes on the Microsoft Office Suite. It makes me so happy to see how the library isn't just a quite place for reading, it is a community gathering space. It's a place kids can go to safely waste away the summer. Where adults looking for jobs can brush up on their Excel skills. It's a valuable resource that should be open every day of the week. Money is tight, and I understand the need for cities to reign in their spending. I just wish there was a way to do it without sacrificing these neighborhood jewels.

This sums up EXACTLY how I feel (via Bookshelf Porn)
Enough of the sad stuff and on to the good news. A new library is about to open up near my office in Denver. The last one that the City of Denver opened up is the penultimate modern library with a huge selection of books, media, and space for study groups or informal business meetings. I'm counting down the days until August 11th!

Educate yourself about the topic in this post:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Camp NaNoWriMo in Two Days!

Somehow, I managed to talk myself into June's Camp NaNoWriMo. Last November's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was my first 50k-word writing blitz. It's a challenge that takes commitment, but I was so glad (and exhausted!) when I reached December 1st.

I tell everyone I talk to about writing to check out NaNoWriMo. I found that I really did well when I broke down the process of writing a novel into (somewhat) manageable chunks each day. It also gave me a great feel for how much I was writing. And because it's a true marathon, I adopted the "just get the words out" mantra. Any first draft doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be done. NaNoWriMo taught me a lot the first time, and I'm excited to see what I learn my next time through.

I've got a great new plot bunny that I'm in love with and I can't wait to get started. I am, however, also terrified. It's hard to believe I'm already staring down June's doorstep.

I'm taking the next couple of days to try and rest my brain so I can roll into Camp NaNo with my writing guns blazing.

Educate yourself about the topic in this post: Camp NaNo: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/campnano

Friday, May 25, 2012

Fixation Friday: Spotify

As a writer, music is very important to me. There's just something about the way music can affect you and influence the mood and tempo of your writing. When I need to write a tough scene, I usually try to find something melancholy that speaks to me. If I'm doing a scene that is more action-oriented, I blast club and dance music with a fast beat.

The best tool in my music toolbox is Spotify. It's amazing. I have dozens of playlists from classical to 90's hits to my morose mix (my favorite moody, broody songs!). Here are some of my favorite playlists from my WIP:

In Other Words - Ben Kweller
The Freshmen - The Verve Pipe
The Shining - Badly Drawn Boy
Transatlanticism - Death Cab for Cutie
Title and Registration - Death Cab for Cutie
Falling Slowly - Glen Hansard
Mad World - Gary Jules
Pink Bullets - The Shins
Slow - Grouplove
Orange Sky - Alexi Murdoch
The Scientist - Willie Nelson
Heavy In Your Arms - Florence + The Machine

If I'm in the groove and just need music to be playing in the background, I go to my classical mix of Debussy, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven. What does everyone else listen to?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Pandemonium

*Some spoilers to Delirium*

Pandemonium is the second book in Lauren Oliver's Delirium series. The first book, Delirium, introduced readers to a dystopian future where love is outlawed. Known as Amor Deliria Nervosa, love is a disease which every citizen in the future United States is inoculated against. Those who choose to refuse the vaccine are imprisoned, killed, or escape the fenced in cities for the wilds and the life of a fugitive. Love, we learn, is a killer and the stability of the world is only secured when people are free from its clutches. Our heroine Lena is only months from receiving her 'cure' and can't wait for an adult life away from turmoil and feelings.Of course, this was all before she met Alex. Beautiful, uncured, and dangerous, Alex teaches Lena that life without love is a terrible substitute. Love is what sustains, heals, and yes, hurts, but it is worth it to Alex to be free to feel.

Delirium ends with Alex and Lena's botched escape from the city of Portland, Maine. Lena makes it out to the wilds without Alex and runs across a group of uncureds trying to live free from the influence of the heavily governed cities. We meet a brand new cast of characters, some good, some bad. The story of Lena's arrival and assimilation with the group of outlaws is interspersed with her new life posing as a cured girl. Lena has adopted the role of freedom fighter in New York and has the task of taking down the system from within. It is unclear what Lena's exact role is, but she joins a radical group called the DFA which seeks to cure the population earlier than the standard age of 16. Through her spying, she meets Julian, son of the leader of the DFA. When a rally turns into a riot caused by a radical group of uncureds, Julian and Lena are forced to work together to survive.

I really liked the premise of Delirium when I read it last year, but it was a slow start for me. I put off reading Pandemonium, but eventually picked up my copy. Once I started, I finished with a couple of days. It was packed full of action and the pacing flew through Lena's changed world. I was completely taken in by her new, stronger self and was cheering for her success the whole way through. I can't wait for the next book to come out. If you're looking for a new dystopian YA to read, check out Delirium. Be prepared for a slow start, but stick with it. It's worth it. Promise.

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fixation Friday: The Fray & Red Rocks

Now that I'm not tweeting for my life with The Writer's Voice, we return to our regularly scheduled programming.

I talk about living in Colorado a lot because I love it. I feel blessed to live in a place with so much natural beauty. If I drive 45 minutes west from my house, I hit the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. How lucky am I? Anyway, one of my favorite pastimes is going to concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, CO. Red Rocks is the only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater in the world (according to their website). It is magical. That may sound corny, but there is no place in the world I'd rather go to see a concert.

See? Awesome.
I was fortunate enough to catch a hometown favorite, The Fray, play at the last show of their tour. One thing you learn about living in CO is that the weather can turn on you in an instant. This last Saturday was one of those times. It was cold and rainy and my friends and I were drenched by the time The Fray hit the stage. But you know what? It was awesome all the same and I had one of the moments where I stopped and took a look around and felt so grateful. Grateful for my amazing friends. Grateful for my wonderful husband (who took baby duty for the night so I could spend a night out with my girls). And just plain grateful.

I hope everyone has a great weekend and a moment to stop and smell the roses!

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book Review: The Exiled Queen

I read The Demon King, book #1 in the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima, a few weeks ago. It was a slow start for me, but I kept going based on the glowing reviews I'd read. Ultimately, I was so glad that I plowed through the first couple hundred pages because I rewarded with a rich portrait of the Seven Realms and some great action.

I picked up The Exiled Queen (book #2) shortly after finishing the first, but didn't get a chance to dive in until after all The Writer's Voice competition craziness died down (see multiple posts on the insanity below). I was happy to find myself thrown back into the Han and Raisa's world as each reaches a turning point in their young, troubled lives. Han Alister, reformed streetlord, and Princess Raisa ana’Marianna, heir to the throne of the Fells, make parallel journeys to Oden's Ford (think boarding school for wizards, soldiers, and scholars). One forced to flea from an arranged marriage and the other out of options and without a family, they meet again in a completely new environment.

As a student at Mystwerk House, school for wizards, Han learns to unleash the power of his amulet and harness his own innate skills. His street savvy helps him stay alive in the blue-blooded world of wizardry, but he finds he lacks many of the social graces necessary to live amongst them.

Raisa escapes an arranged marriage to a boy whose family would use her to centralize their own power and travels to Oden Ford with life-long friend (and recent crush) Amon Byrne. Under the guise of Rebecca Morley, Raisa attends the military academy Wein House. Though Raisa was brought up with a thorough education, she discovers she was never taught many of the essential traits necessary to be a strong queen.  

Both Raisa and Han are in places of great personal change, but find themselves drawn to the other. The growing relationship is threatened by the secrets both keep. Han has no idea that Raisa is a princess and part of the royalty he blames for the death of his mother and sister. And Raisa doesn't know that Han has embroiled himself in conflict between wizards and the upland clans of Fells.

I'll try not to spoil too much, for those who haven't read this series yet, but I loved seeing the unique place of Oden's Ford which exists free from the influence of the ruling royalty and the wars that continue to ravage the land surrounding it. I've become very fond of both Han and Raisa and liked how the story is told from their distinct perspectives. They come from separate worlds and see each other so differently. I enjoyed their budding romance, which never struck me as particularly juvenile as is the case with so many YA relationships.

I had such a great time with this book and am dying for the next one. Lucky for me, this is one series that is near completion with the fourth and final installment due out this fall.

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

For When You Feel Like Giving Up

“Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” ― Harriet Beecher Stowe

I entered The Writer's Voice competition to try and earn a spot on one of four teams and have my query and first 250 read by some stellar agents. So far, all the spots have been taken with a few alternates moving into the competition tonight. I wasn't picked, which is a bummer, but I know better than to give up. I've picked myself up, dusted myself off, and this post is me getting fired up to move forward.

So, for everyone out there who has been bitten by bitterness or is just plum out of fuel, here are the greatest motivational speeches of all time:

Monday, May 7, 2012

What I've Learned from the Writer's Voice Competition

**Looking for my entry (#94)? Click here.**

Well, about half of the spots in the final round have been selected so far. I'm happy to see so many of my favorite entries make the cut (I knew I had great taste!). There is some serious talent in the pool of 200 contestants and everyone has sure made the coaches jobs of selecting only 40 entries very difficult.

I'm so glad to even be a part of the contest (not that I wouldn't L-O-V-E to be picked to move forward), and if nothing else, I've learned a lot about how wonderful and supportive other writers are. Even though we're all competing for the same spots, everyone is cheering other entries on and celebrating the great work others are doing.

I feel so warm and fuzzy about everyone that I just want to say thank you. Thank you to everyone who has read and commented on other entries. Thank you for creating a sense of community surrounding this crazy contest. And thank you to the coaches for putting this all together.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Writer's Voice Contest Entry

I'm so excited to have landed a spot in The Writer's Voice contest! “The Writer’s Voice” is a multi-blog, multi-agent contest hosted by Cupid of Cupid’s Literary Connection, Brenda Drake of Brenda Drake Writes, Monica B.W. of Love YA, and Krista Van Dolzer of Mother. Write. (Repeat.). It is based on NBC’s singing reality show The Voice.

For my entry, I'm submitting my Adult Fantasy manuscript AMORTAL.

Plot Summary:

a·mor·tal noun /āmôrtl/ Someone who lives outside of the bounds of mortality, but can, with a single choice, be mortal once more.

When his mortal girlfriend is kidnapped and held for ransom, 360-year-old amortal Marcus Brandon has from sunrise to sunset to save her and his dreams for a normal life.

As long as he’s born his talisman, an ancient amulet and source of his amortality, Marcus has struggled to maintain his grasp on his humanity and himself. The talisman is one of five that imprisons fractures of a primal spirit, and as such, the magic has a will of its own. It seeks to reunite itself with its missing pieces into one. It is Marcus’s sworn duty to see this never happens. Being the guardian of such a force is not without drawbacks. Its inherent darkness has driven Marcus to blackout bouts of depravity over the course of his tumultuous amortal existence.

On the day Marcus plans to ask Nicola for her hand in marriage, she is abducted by Marcus’s dangerous underworld associates. The cost of her freedom is nothing less than the talisman Marcus holds, a price he can’t pay. Though he would sacrifice his amortality for Nicola’s life in an instant, and planned to do so once their life together began, the nature of the talisman will not allow him to relinquish it under duress. He must freely will it to another.

Teaming up with new acquaintance and fellow amortal, Ana Sofia, Marcus embarks on a rescue mission while internally battling the force of the magic that threatens to consume him. As Marcus and Ana unravel a plot to usurp the five talismans, they’re faced with betrayal, murder, and the consequences of choice.

First 250:

He sat with his head bowed, as if in prayer, but those who knew him understood he prayed to no one. The bloodstone in the center of his talisman emitted an eerie glow in the early morning light. In the pre-dawn moments of the quiet morning, only a week before his 360th birthday, Marcus was finally ready to resume the life he paused so many years ago.

His head raised to watch the sun crest over the San Francisco skyline from his favorite bench in the park near his apartment. This was his final sunrise as a true amortal. By sunset, his life would begin anew with the only love he had ever found in his lifetimes wandering this world. Her heart was his home and he was grateful his talisman, for all its destructive forces, had given him the centuries it took to meet her. He would relive every achingly lonely year again if it would end with her in his arms.

Lingering in his mind was not the talisman he was about to eschew, but another stone, one more recently procured. The small blue box adorned with its dainty white ribbon was easily concealed in his grasp. Its weight was feather light compared to the heft of the promise that came with it. Forever. Some might think he was rushing headlong into his proposal. After all, he was only 20 years old. His time after tonight would no longer be endless, but he’d give her every moment nonetheless.