Road Trip Wednesday: #145

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

This Weeks Topic is: What was the best book you read in August?

I feel I must say — and I think I’m touching on a something being expressed by a collective moan among  others, and especially school teachers and children — that I would like to know where the hell August went? At the beginning of this month I actually recall saying to my husband that I couldn’t wait for the end of August. (At the time my son’s school situation for the fall was a lot more solid and my babysitter had not returned to college, how a month can change things?) August put me through the ringer, as it somehow always seems to, and I am left now breathing both a sigh of relief and scratching my head at it’s ending.

I read four books this month— four!— which was incredibly awesome considering I also finished a major rewrite at in the early part of the month as well. Woo-hoo! August was productive. Maybe that’s why it disappeared…? Anyway. My August books are:

So, clearly a trilogy and a stand-alone. Clearly, high fantasy and contemporary. Clearly, very, verydifferent books. If forced to pick a BEST book, (which I am if I want to participate in this RTW — and I do) I would have to go with…

Bitterblue!

Description courtesy Goodreads:

Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle–disguised and alone–to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

As the final book in the Graceling Realm, I was already deeply invested in these characters and the Seven Kingdoms created by Kristen Cashore. In some ways Bitterblue could be considered weaker than the first two books in the series, primarily in the romance department (Cashore has this to say about that), but what it lacks there it makes up in vivid storytelling, drama, and such intricacy’s to plot that I found my mind reeling at the work she had to put in. But that’s not why Bitterblue wins out. For me, Bitterblue herself is why I fell so hard for this book. Bitterblue is a character I sort of relate to. Not in the sense that I had a pathological father who was also a demented king of a fictional land. (Although, wouldn’t that be a a shocking coincidence?) More because she was grappling with very human questions about love, sexuality, family, truth, and ultimately what all of those are wrapped up in, identity.

Much of my quest as a writer — mother, wife, friend, human being — is about the need to solidify and mold our (my) identity within the many confusing hats we are forced to wear as people. I think this is true at sixteen or twenty seven or whatever-age. I love watching Bitterblue come to terms with her world, it’s history, and the people she loves, in the midst of helping her kingdom do the same thing. I also adored Kristen Cashore’s passion and open-mindedness. Plus, I learned a lot about ciphers and code breaking. Really, send me a ciphered message, I’ll crack the bitch.

I am thankful for this writer, these books being on the market, and the joy that was reading them. The End.

Inner Itch

Image Credit Charlesroper

THWACK! My fly swatter made contact with the dashboard, not the fly. The fly spun in the air toward the back seat of the car where the baby snoozed, neck contorted, his plump lower lip sticking out and gleaming with spit. The fly landed on the baby’s plump, white arm.

“Lovely,” I groaned, catching my own eyes in the rearview mirror. The fly is now throwing up its microscopic stomach contents onto the baby’s skin. The baby’ll suck that same wrist all slobbery and sticky when he wakes up. I’ll have to get to him before he does. I glare at the drivers side window. This window is why the stupid fly got inside and now sits on the baby’s arm in the first place. This. Stupid. Window.

I guess if I’m going to blame the window for my problems, I may as well blame the loser who bought a car with a window that wouldn’t roll all the way up in the first place. That idiot is my younger, slightly more attractive sister, Layla. Being twenty four with breasts like melons and hair from a Pantene commercial does not afford Layla with the foresight to anticipate needing a window to close all the way when driving through the sweaty, insect infested roads outside Houston-hot-as-hell’s-asshole-Texas. Stupid Junior College Dropout.

The fly is taunting me. This is now clear. It has flown to the ceiling above the back window, I can actually see the blasted thing rubbing it’s creepy little hands together. I wish Layla would hurry up so I can pee, and then maybe I’ll forget about the fly altogether. It’s just a distraction really. I’m not dense.

My cigarettes are empty. Layla again. Though, I guess maybe I shouldn’t smoke with the baby in the backseat like that. Secondhand smoke kills. It killed our cousin Larry. Larry had a brother who smoked like the tailpipe of a dying jalopy. His brother burned their trailer down with a lit cigarette while Larry slept off his high in the bathtub. Larry was an idiot.

Out my back window, where the fly now crawls, I see a rusty red pick-up squeal into the parking lot. My heart in my ears. That’s his truck. The truck! Layla. I grab my cell and text rapid fire:

Trck, hrry, go round back — bring tp, i still hav to p. 

It’s too late. Layla, her shiny blonde hair and vacant blue eyes, those long legs that used to be so tan and muscular, saunters the front door of the Stop-N-Go. She’s not looking because she’s pulled out her phone to see my text. She doesn’t see him rush her, his t-shirt showing off tan arms made for beating little woman, the lip of his cap blocking his face from the security camera. She doesn’t notice until his hand grips the hair at the top of her head, a huge clump of golden, and yanks her into the truck. I see him send a lightening quick smack to her face and then I don’t think anymore. Inside I feel the itch to press my foot to the pedal. At least the baby, me, and that damned fly will get away.

This post was inspired by BeKindRewrite’s stellar InMon prompts.

Road Trip Wednesday: #144

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

This Week’s Topic is: Inspired by Stephanie Perkins’ post on Natalie Whipple’s blog, what is your novel’s “Love List”?

I had to go read the post (as if they were twisting my arm, or something) to understand what this question meant. Once I did, I realized two things:

  1. This is a brilliant idea, it’s also something I have done mentally since my first draft without ever putting a name to what I was doing.
  2. I am now following this authors blog. My blogroll grows again.

So, you may or may not want clarification, but I’ll give you some anyway. As Stephanie says in her post, the “Love List” is a list of things that remind why you love you WIP and why should keep pressing forward to make it what you in your heart believe it can be. It’s like a Pro’s list about your book. It’s also a guide to the strongest parts of your book, and can help you focus when you lose your way in rewrites. The “Love List” is your breadcrumbs home.

So, here is my “Love List” for my Manuscript (or what I can say without giving too much away):

A field of Poppies

Fur

Hands

Velvet

The silent child

Moonshine

The Way of the West

Poaching

A beautiful, lopsided face

The smell of her blood

Telling a secret

Lamplight

The Forest

Dangerous kisses

That was fun. Hmm…it also makes me miss my Manuscript, which is just minimized in my dock. I think I’ll open it, just to be close to them.

A Quandary in Exposure

Image by mikerigel

There’s an issue that’s been weighing on me lately, one that I think may or may not press on the minds of other writers seeking publication. It’s something I wonder about, I question, and then I throw out the window to hopefully see it splat against the wall because that’s how annoying I find this issue.

The issue? What people learn about you when they read a novel you wrote, and how much you cannot control the perception of you created by that novel and its moral or world view.

I think this accompanies the reality that when we write, the very cultivation of the words digs into our soul and pulls pieces out. I think this part is freaky and also exciting. It comes from the same part in us that rubber-necks alongside a car wreck and secretly smiles when a celebrity is arrested. It’s that kind of morbid fascination we have with pushing our boundaries, social or otherwise. It also lets us get to know ourselves and our world better, which is good, though can be a little embarrassing. But when you are writing in the hope of being published, this excavating also reveals the bones of the author to the reader (critics, friends, and bullies, alike) and that is the part that makes us recoil.

I recently did some work on my manuscript. Some necessary exposition, so to speak. This work will appear largely in the first third of the book. It deals in an aspect of the protagonists backstory that I have fought with putting in for every rewrite up to this point. I have lost the fight. My agent friend, in her editorial feedback, wanted to see this particular experience is technicolor. I wanted to hide from this particular experience. I wanted to hide from it, and yet I could neither change it nor make it less gut-wrenching.

This fact made me feel immediately exposed, like I am in front of a camera with noonday sun overhead. Whenever you write anything, it comes from a place in you. Either a place where you have been , or a truth you understand. We cannot be separate from our words, and therefore, when our words are read by others we cannot pretend it comes from a foreign place. It doesn’t. And owning that is what make this so hard. It’s also what makes it so rewarding for the reader.

My Companion

I spent hours dreaming of a different life as a child. My life was rich and engaged, but my heart was a butterfly never satisfied with the flower she rested on. Once, at nine-years-old I ran away. I packed up my pink and purple Caboodles box with stupid shit like hair ties, bubble gum, and lipstick, and set out due west for California on foot. It took my older brother maybe ten minutes to figure out what I’d done and come find me on a busy street neighboring our house. “Where are you going?” He asked me, arms crossed, all domineering-protective-big-brother-like. “California.” I replied, squinting at him defiantly. “Your headed toward McKinney, and in a couple more blocks you’ll be in the only projects in Denton.” My face fell, but I was not easily deterred. I started stomping still for California, even though I was walking east and toward a dangerous part of town. After following me for a block or two, he grew weary and maybe bored, and just picked my skinny pre-adolescent ass up and carried me home over his shoulder. This would not be  the last time I considered running away, though future attempts were far more feather-brained and rage driven, but it was the first time I gave in to the siren call of my longing.

Longing leads us places, and then it forces our eyes to open and see that we can run but not hide, we can hide but not be safe. The idea is one I chew on in my novel, and also one I dance with in my life. I have never been one for absolutes, I need the possibility that maybe offers.

I fidget and flutter around my home, I fly through ideas and scenario like an easy summer read. The longing lingers, and it makes me eternally wonder where the road is taking me. Writing helps because I can let the longing overtake me, in that quiet place where my mind meets my story and possibility is born. I can feel it powerfully directing me on a twisting road. I can handle it with abandon. The only sufferer of my longing then is my own mind and the characters that populate it.

Crickets

The fire-like leaves of an aged oak rustled above Polly’s head as she lay watching clouds carried by the wind. Blue sky and the birds overhead — mockingbirds she thought — the sun dappled prairie that stretched beyond her forever, like a sheet of paper she could write her life on. This was her childhood playground. It had been years since she’d been here, she’d never really intended to come back, and now she was. Now she was laying in the same place she ‘d spent almost every afternoon as a girl. The same place where she’d seen him fall.

The memory crashed to the front of her brain like a truck to a brick wall. Tanner staring at her through the tree’s limbs, backlit by the noonday sun. Smiling. He had the most beautiful smile. White teeth, crooked on the bottom, his lips pink and soft. He always wore chapstick.

She closed her eyes, banishing his image from her mind. This was why she didn’t want to come back here. She stood up, brushing the debris from the ground off her jeans and straightening the hem of her denim button down. Clothes she’d uncovered in the attic of the house. Boxes of her mothers things, from the years before her mother stopped trying, stopped keep up the appearance of a woman who cared.

Polly had spent her entire life trying to get away from the truth, one that ended a life she loved more than her own. She’d wandered around. She’d had meaningless flings with tall, dark, northerners who talked about Faust and Niche. She’d made herself a medallion wearer, two years now, sober and sulking. She’d liked the feeling of a motor buzzing her away from his sandy blonde hair. Or how the boys in New Hampshire had all complimented her accent and the freckles made from too much time in the sun.

The truth was, Polly had enjoyed the distance, but then her trek was halted. Her mother had finally given up completely, the war she’d fought with a man Polly was supposed to call “Daddy” had ended, and it had been accompanied by a loaded shot gun. But what could Polly have done about that? She hugged herself, the smell of her mother’s perfume in her nose somehow, and she felt a tear squeeze into the corner of her eye. She could have done more than she wanted to admit, but she couldn’t with his memory hanging onto her like a barnacle.

She bent her knees, plucking from the ground a lonely, fading bluebonnet. The wind caught her hair, sending it out from her neck like she’d been shocked. No, she hadn’t helped her mother, just like she didn’t warn Tanner he was too high. Just like she didn’t believe him when he said his head hurt from the fall. Polly’s silence had killed them both.

“Remember what your mother told you,” Tanner’s words as he limped up the hill. “Listen to me, Polly Anne. Listen to my heart, and not my words.” Tanner was talking nonsense, but he was right, and she should have listened.

This post was inspired by a brilliant InMon Prompt.

Road Trip Wednesday

Wednesday, which means it the day to Road Trip with YA Highway. Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and we bloggers link back with our response.

This weeks question, and it’s a good one, is: What music has been your summer soundtrack?

Now, my summer soundtrack consists of the music I listen to when I write. Writing music is a funny animal. It’s music I like, but can’t be distracting, and it has to evoke the mood I am trying to convey in my words. I have listened to a wide variety of stuff — from instrumental film soundtracks, to pop, to moody bluegrass. Here are just a few examples, courtesy YouTube.

 

You get the idea. The mood and tone of my manuscript is not entirely heavy, but the intensity with which she is pursued and with which she must battle is akin to the crashing symbols and abandon of these singers. I used Spotify to make playlists, as well as have access to way more music than I have in my iTunes. Spotify is good for us as writers because the possibilities are limitless, as long as we always remember to support the artists beyond the easy listening of the internet. Uploading these videos got me distracted, what was I doing?— oh, yes, a make-me-gag-synopsis.

The Choices We Make as Writers

from stickynotethinkers.com

I’m grappling right now with choice. I find choices relatively easy in my everyday life. To me, a decision is never the final say on something, so it doesn’t scare me. But when you are writing for a character, making choices can be a little bit more difficult. Most of my major rewrites have involved choices I made that were lazy. I can be a little lazy.

Occasionally. Let’s not get crazy, mostly I’m obsessive and manic. This can be good for a writer. In the first draft of my manuscript I wrote the entire inciting incident without my protagonist seeing it. She was told about it after the fact. I did this for a few reasons.

  1. I was new to writing action and felt a little intimidated by it.
  2. I didn’t really want go there. It was a lot more pleasant to hear someone else’s account rather than put her — or myself — through it.
  3. I didn’t know her that well.
  4. I had fears it would be a jumbled mess.
  5. Lazy ass.

Now, when I had done all that writing (6,000 words give or take, from the inciting incident to what followed) I began to feel uneasy. I knew that this was not good enough. I knew that I was being a coward, but the thought of cutting all of that and doing it over made me ill and need more coffee. Eventually I gave up. I cut, I rewrote, and it is one of my favorite passages in the entire book. It is emotional and nerve-racking and dark. It also prepared me for future massive cuts (the largest being the last 20,000 words almost completely) and taught me how to be a better writer.

That was a choice I made for the audience, and for me as a writer, it wasn’t for my protagonist. There is a choice I’ve made for her, a decision she actually comes to in the end of the book, that I’m not sure I can live with. It’s a bad choice. It’s murderous and selfish and kind of outside her character. It’s also exciting and willful, but I’m not sure it’s necessary. It’s something I’m grappling with right now. What do I do? I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’m also feeling rather lazy.

Why lazy? Why do I keep referring to myself as “lazy”? Because I had felt done, at least, done from the perspective of a writer who’s never been published feels done. Then I made the royally stupid to choice to write a synopsis of my novel (something you need for your agent) and it brought to light this potential flaw. Maybe I’m not lazy, I’m just obsessed. Maybe I should take up knitting or start to exercise, maybe that will distract me?

(*I’m just throwing those out as two options. Two, very boring options.)

As a writer we are forced to make choices as our characters. We are forced to get inside their minds and root around for truth. It makes us feel ugly things sometimes. It makes us shock ourselves. We also have to choose when enough is enough, or when there’s more.

Author Platform Building

Authors with a mortgage never get writers block.

— Mavis Cheek

I have been looking a lot at writing as a profession, and not just an outlet for the crazy inside my own brain. When you sit down to write your first novel the tendency — at least this was the case for me — is to get wrapped up in the new romance. This can manifest itself many ways. I fell in love with my protagonist. I fell in love with her love interest. I fell in love with what she was fighting for, and consequently, against. But, eventually you finish the manuscript, you do your rewrites, and you get it to an agent.

If you are lucky enough to hook an agent, you then have to wait for them to read it and give you notes (if they’re going to take it on) or pass (at which point, chocolate and a bottle of wine may be in your immediate future.) Either way, waiting is involved. I’m an inherently impatient human being. I can blame my father— who is the same way — or the instant availability of entertainment and information in this age — because they have screwed my generation over when it comes to attention span — or just bite the bullet and admit I just can’t sit still. I can’t.

This means I seek the next step. I file a preemptive strike against patience. And I research what authors, especially YA authors, are doing to get their names out there. That is where I learned the phrase author platform. Apparently, romance with your work is great, researching agents is smart, doing the hard work of actually editing and submitting your novel is valuable, but author platform is increasingly vital in this growing, merging world that is publishing.

Publishing is changing. It’s largely electronic now. The audience you are trying to reach wants things now  — I’m not alone!— and they want to know EVERYTHING. They need multiple ways to interact, not only with celebrities, but writers, friends, family, celebrity pets. In other words, if you want to be a writer, you must develop a platform from which to build your following. You must become a presence.

This may send you to a dark room with heart palpitations. You are not alone, I was there earlier this week. But, once you stop panicking, you then start to grapple with the reality, you then develop a plan. Dan Blank writes a clear, cut-the-shit article about it here. His basic take, and here he’s referring to branding (a not four letter word that feels like one):

…it is about communication. Effectively understanding your own purpose, that of your audience, and the ways to connect the two. That’s it, just a word to describe a much deeper and more meaningful process.

He goes on to break it down for us. It’s helpful. Still scary. Why does it scare me? Because it feels like admitting that I’m really doing this. There is a place where you can still go back. I left that place two weeks ago when I stopped rewriting and handed my manuscript over to an agent. I drank a lot that day and watched Batman Begins. (I was gearing up for The Dark Knight Rises too!) It felt like a weight lifted and then was replaced by an anvil. It felt real — the tangible step toward the abyss of publishing or crashing-and-burning.

I already had a blog. I’m gonna be honest, that is the easiest step. Blogging is fun, and as long as your blogging you can feel like you are accomplishing something just by clicking publish. This can be a delusion when you only have three people reading your blog. The real challenge is then producing real interest in yourself. That takes time, consistency, and you actually putting something out their that other people want to read.

On writer Bill Henderson’s blog, Write a Better Novel, he explains that utilizing the planks — haha, since your building an author platform, get it? — of Facebook, Twitter, and blogging is an easy, free way to do that. You still have to be smart about it, though, and not just think by having an account people will magically care. But if you can’t be smart about it, maybe you should be a baker. Of course, if you’re trying to make it as a baker in this day and age you probably need a Twitter account and Facebook page so people can like you. In other words, everyone looking to make a career needs to build themselves a platform.

In the spirit of that, I started a Facebook fanpage. This is separate from my personal, private account, and is set up for me to funnel all of my internet writerly escapades to one, easy source. Check it out if you are so inclined. But further, make your own if you are at this stage. And then let me know so I can like it. We need each other, we reclusive, obsessive writers. Planks laid, platform being nailed.

Road Trip Wednesday #141

For this weeks Road Trip Wednesday the question is: What was the best book you read in July?

I read two books this last month, excluding my own manuscript twice, one was Literary Fiction and the other YA Fantasy. The first, Bridget Asher’s (one of the pen names Julianna Baggott prints under) The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, and the second was Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo. For me there was no better, but only completely and utterly different. How do you quantify the value of two things that in no way relate to one another? Let’s see if I can.

Time it took to read:

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted was a slower ride. It wasn’t something to consume quickly. It was like chocolate — or one of the French pastries she talks about in the book. I had to savor my time with it.

Shadow and Bone took me two days. It was rich and full, but the pace was active and the story filled with intrigue.

Narrator:

Both books were written in first person, past tense. The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted is composed in the frazzled voice of Heidi Bartolozzi, a young widow. Shadow and Bone is told from the perspective of Alina, an orphan girl living in a magical offshoot of Russia. Both are strong, flawed, funny women with a lot going on in their lives. Both made me smile. Only one made me cry.

Plot:

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted follows Heidi to France with her son and niece, on a mission to salvage the families home there and rediscover herself separate from the loss of her husband. Heidi wars with these tasks, often times unwilling to let go of the loss and equally feeling to pull to be renewed.

Shadow and Bone is about the country of Ravka, and how Alina may be the key to saving it from the magical darkness that surrounds it. Her awkward rise to the top, and her sexy though foolish romance with the man who discovered her gift, is captivating.

Character:

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted is cast beautifully. From Heidi, a ruffled woman in her mid 30s, to Charlotte, the sixteen year old niece with a secret. Her young son, the neurotic and curious Abbott, is deeply compelling. (I am a sucker for sweet, wounded children.) Her romantic, though cold, mother — the matriarch that forces Heidi to confront her loss— is alive on the page. But for me, a woman who really loves her husband, Heidi’s long-dead husband really hit home for me. He’s beautiful, strong, and slightly nerdy. Their romance was genuinely heartbreaking to experience in the context of knowing he was dead.

Shadow and Bone is filled with characters that immediately feel fantastical but human. Alina, as a heroine, is incredibly compelling. Her perspective is sort of cynical, and I kind of love that. Mal, her best friend, is a cunning and genuinely selfless boy she has loved for years in secret. I was drawn the most though to The Darkling, the most powerful man in the kingdom next to the King, and also the most dangerous. Everything about him is sensual and mysterious. There’s also the funny, beautiful friend and the boy she loves. A crazy old woman, beautifully illustrated, as well as a combat teacher modeled — it would seem — after Jackie Chan.

So, overall, which is the best? I’m still undecided. They serve very different purposes and create totally different emotions in me. It’s an example of why it’s so important to read in different genres. Each genre has something brilliant to offer.

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