April 30, 2012

Z is for...ZOMG! CPs R GR8

And I hate myself right now for typing that title. I'm one of those freakshows who insists on typing full words with proper punctuation in text messages and the like. That title just made me shrivel up and die a little inside (despite being entirely true). For those who don't get this gibberish, allow me to translate:

ZOMG→ Oh my gosh!
CPs→ Critique Partners
R→ Are
GR8→ Great

I've listened to so many of you rave about your CPs and how much they've helped you in your writing journey. Secretly, I was always thinking one or both of the following things:

1)  No way, no how am I comfortable sending off my writing to somebody I've never actually met.
2)  Is it really necessary to have a CP? I mean, I'm the one who wrote the story. I'm the one who knows what happens. CPs will just force me to change stuff I don't want to change, blah blah blah.

[Insert giant raspberry sound]. But what was really my underlying problem? → In a word, FEAR. I was terrified to find a CP and send them my WiP, because "ZOMG, my writing probably sucks!" And if my writing sucks, they're going to criticize it, and I'm going to have to change everything... You get the idea. It's that first humongous step you take, putting yourself and your work out there.

ZOMG! IT'S NERVE-WRACKING.

And then Elodie 'popped the question', asking me if I'd like to be her CP. I had to decide between being a chicken, or seizing a really great opportunity. I chose the latter. And you guys? It's been great so far. My sister, Erin, and I bounce story ideas/details off one one another, and have read parts of each other's WiPs. We know the ins and outs of both stories, so much so that's it's probably difficult at this point to be completely objective. We're too close to them. Our 'writing conferences' are invaluable, but both of us know that an outside source who doesn't know our stories is going to catch potential problems that we might miss. A CP is a pretty important ingredient in this process.

Enter Elodie and the really useful suggestions she's already given me. We've swapped just the beginning of our stories, but already I can tell that this is going to be good for both of us. I'm enjoying her WiP, and vice versa. And not only is Elodie's advice helping my writing, critiquing her story is helping my writing too. I'm really happy I stopped being a chicken and took that plunge.

And you know what? My story doesn't totally suck! ☺

*     *     *
I've enjoyed this A to Z Challenge immensely, but I'm also kind of relieved that I won't have to blog every single day anymore. It's going to be quiet on the blog for the next three weeks because we're headed to Scotland the day after tomorrow—ZOMG! That came up quick. But, I'll be back, and I'll have fun pictures and stories to tell. If you're looking for blogging prompts for the month of May, you should check out Blog Me MAYbe. It's a Monday—Friday blog schedule with really great topics.

P.S. This will quite possibly be the last time I ever use ZOMG or other text-speak. Just. Can't. Do. It.
  

April 28, 2012

Y is for...YA: So Much To L♥VE

We've almost reached the end of this A to Z journey, and as much as I've enjoyed it, I'm looking forward to a break from blogging daily. If you know your ABCs, you know that today is the second last day of the challenge, and we're on the letter Y. In my mind, Y stands for one thing only→ YA.

YA: So Much to L♥VE

When I've approached this topic in the past, I've always focused on a YA vs. Adult kind of conversation. I don't really see the point of doing that today. Both markets have their merits and drawbacks, so why bother comparing them? Leave that to the blowhards who like to slam on YA.

While YA fiction isn't perfect, there's so much to love about the books in this market. Here's what keeps me reading YA:

ACCESSIBILITY
The themes, the struggles, the things that make the reader smile or cry—they reach a whole multitude of readers on so many different levels. As an adult, I can still relate to many teen themes, because once upon a time I was a teen too. And the crazy thing is, many of the issues that crop up—acceptance, identity, relationships—are all things that I still struggle with in my thirties. To some degree we can all relate to these stories. We might not know what it's like to be a vampire, a siren, a tribute, or whatnot, but we do remember what it's like to be a teen and everything that goes along with that.

HOPE
The characters in these books might be dealing with the death of loved ones, battling diseases themselves, fighting for their lives in a dystopian or post-apocalyptic future, or just trying to make it in the minefield that is high school. The common thread in nearly every YA book is the element of hope. Circumstances may be at their absolute worst, but somehow hope manages to creep its way in. 

STORYTELLING
There are just so many really compelling YA stories. They don't tend to meander, or waste page after page digressing on this or that subject just to sound deep. They tell a story and do a darn good job of it. Happy, sad, heart-stopping, heart-warming, or hilarious—we care about the character(s) and their journeys. There are definitely profound points made, but how they're made is what shines. In her NY Times article Authors Taking Risks Isn't Kid Stuff , author Patrick McCormick says:
For a young adult audience, authors have to be at the top of our game. We're competing with Facebook and smartphones, DVRs and iPods—not to mention SATs and extracurriculars. We have to capture and hold our readers' (limited) attention on Page 1 and sustain it until the end. Young adults are willing to accompany an author just about anywhere—to a dystopian future or the ancient past—but they will not tolerate anything extraneous or self indulgent.
As an adult, I won't tolerate that kind of self-indulgence. And anything pretentious? Gah! Loathe it.


There are so many other things that I could spend time praising in YA—swoonworthy romance (neither gratuitous nor nasty), fantastic world-building and character development, pretty covers (silly to mention, but totally true), unique takes on storytelling—but I need to wind this post down. 

My name is Jaime, and I read (and write) YA.
(And I'm proud of it. So there!)



April 27, 2012

X is for...XY and XX

We've finally reached the A to Z letter with hardly anything to write on. Unless you really have a thing for xylophones or something. I don't. And seeing as how it's also Friday today, I figured I might as well do a final Friday Fives-inspired A to Z Blog Challenge post. My mashup topic is:

Five Favourite XY + XX POV Books

That sounds a little confusing even to me, so let me explain. I'm referring to books with dual POVs—from a girl's perspective and a boy's as well.

There are few things more frustrating when reading a dual POV book than POV confusion. Do you ever get this? It's that seriously irritating need to flip back to the start of the chapter or section to figure out who the heck the perspective belongs to. It's even worse when there's little to no distinction between a male and a female POV.^ Because guys and girls totally sound the same and think about the exact same things all the time (*snort*). Not really the case in my own experience. 

The following books do an excellent job of juggling the XY POV with the XX POV:
(In no particular order. All books are linked to their Goodreads descriptions.)

1)  Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
I've already mentioned how much I loved this book. The two perspectives bring very different things to the table as they come from opposing worlds—she's a Dweller and he's an Outsider. Of course, these differences provide all sorts of conflict, part of what makes these characters and their story so fascinating.

Perry→ An Outsider from The Death Shop, a "hunter for his tribe."
Aria→ A sheltered Dweller exiled from her home, cast into Perry's world.



2)  Legend by Marie Lu
This is another case of perspectives from different worlds. Us versus Them misconceptions abound, and our MCs must sort out fact from fiction and find common ground. Hard to do when one of them is a criminal, and the other has been given the task of catching said criminal. What happens when they meet?

Day→ "Born into the slums...the country’s most wanted criminal."
June→ "Elite...groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles."



3)  Across the UniverseA Million Suns by Beth Revis
So, you've been cryogenically frozen with your parents and packed away on a generation ship, only to wake up fifty years too soon (300 years into the future) while your parents remain frozen. Oh, and you're the only redhead aboard a ship full of brunettes (smallish breeding circle). Talk about sticking out like a sore thumb. Not to mention the huge cultural and generational gaps you'd face.

Elder"The future leader of the ship", Godspeed, groomed by Eldest.
Amy→ "Frozen cargo" thawed, because somebody was trying to kill her.


4)  The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
The word 'favourite' gets a bit murky here, as I wouldn't classify this book as a list-topper. But, I thought that the dual male/female perspective was done really well (likely due to the male/female authors). There was no POV confusion for me at any point in the reading, so I think it should make this list. The premise of this book was so unique, and you've gotta love the 90s setting.*

Josh→ Gives Emma a free AOL CD to install on her new computer.
Emma→ Emma signs on and ends up on Facebook?? But it's the 90s!


5)  The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
I feel like I'm cheating a bit with this one, because I still haven't quite finished it. But I don't need to finish it (I will) to know that it is extremely well-written, and the two perspectives are equally wonderful. Right off the bat (from the book's description) we know that both of our MCs intend to enter these deadly races. Opponents with their own reasons for racing, both POVs are engaging.

Sean→ "The returning champion...a young man of few words."
Puck→ "Never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races", and the first girl to do so.


I know there will be others to add to the list soon,—Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, and Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld—but I have to get to them first. I'll let you know what I think when I finally do. All three come highly recommended, so I'm expecting a lot! ☺

How about you? Do you have a favourite XY + XX POV story?
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NB: Character descriptions from Goodreads.
^ As much as I wanted to love Ally Condie's Crossed, I felt that it suffered from POV confusion.
* This could/should have been played up a little more, in my opinion. I'm a 90s high school grad...

April 26, 2012

W is for...WiP, Word Count, and Whoa!!

Okay, now go back and reread that title, and make sure you say "Whoa!" like Joey Lawrence from Blossom. Did you do it? Good. Moving on... Every topic I thought of for today's 'W' post seemed to somehow come back to writing. The topic I chose is no exception. If you can't already tell from the title, I've reached "Houston, we have a problem"-level status in my WiP, which coincidentally (on 'W' day) is called Watch of Night. Or better yet: Wordier Than Heck.

WiP→ As mentioned, Watch of Night (YA sci-fi).

Word Count→ So embarrassing to admit, but it's in the 120,000 words range now. O_o

Whoa!!→ Yeah, I need to lose about 20,000 words. Too bad I'm still not done the first draft.

I have discovered the joy of hitting the Delete key on my keyboard, and I'm kind of addicted to it now. One day recently I sat down and just started reading over parts of my story, and doing exactly that. Extraneous words? Delete. Repetition for no other reason than trying to sound profound? Delete. And those pesky adverbs that the road to Hell is supposedly paved with*? Delete.

In finally locating my Delete key, I've also discovered that there is always something to delete. Back when I first started working on this story I thought there was no way under the sun that I could write enough words to actually make up a book. No way, no how. So I wasn't mindful of just how wordy I was getting. I'm ashamed to admit that there were times when I would consciously throw in an extra word just to hit my daily word goal sooner, and to make that overall word count climb. Of course, this was back when my WiP was in its infancy. Not that I'm much better now (still wordy), but at least I'm aware of how much I'm going to have to cut in revisions.

I read this recently on Janice Hardy's** blog The Other Side of the Story and it gives me hope:
"Long" novels are most often ones that are 120,000+ words. A 120,000 word novel is roughly 480 pages (based on the traditional 250 words per page format). You can cut 4800 words out if you cut just ten words per page. That's one sentence in most cases. Cut twenty words per page and you've practically hit your 10K mark. Twenty words is nothing. A 150,000 word novel? 600 pages, and 6000 or 12,000 words gone. Cut thirty words -- 18,000 words down.
Really? Well that's cool. She actually goes on to demonstrate how this can be done with one of her own already edited, printed, and published books (further proving that you can always lose words). I will be taking this under advisement, and I will  be getting better acquainted with my Delete key.

How about you? Do you tend towards wordiness too?

Addition: I knew that there was a blog post somewhere that gave great tips on cutting words from your WiP, but do you think I could remember it? Anyway, just stumbled across it again, and it was on Agent Rachelle Gardner's blog→ How to Cut Thousands of Words Without Shedding a Tear.
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* Thank you, Stephen King. And yes, you are right about this.
** Janice Hardy is a YA author and taught writing through Writers Digest Online Workshops.

April 25, 2012

V is for...Veronicas

Hmm...what? Weird title, I know. What is it about VERONICAS, though? It's like the name is a direct conduit to sheer awesomeness→ VERONICA=Awesome. Three of my favourite things are somehow linked to a VERONICA:

I've mentioned this before in past posts, but Divergent is the only book that I've read more than once in the same year (in a span of about two months). Usually, I've got tons of books waiting in the wings so I don't want to take up my time with rereading. After reading The Hunger Games, I was hungry (pun intended) for more dystopian and/or post-apocalyptic reads, and Divergent stands out as especially great in the string of books that followed. I've always loved reading and had toyed with the notion of writing my own stories, but had never gotten up the courage to give it a go. This book was the nudge I needed to get started.

I'll admit to suffering confusion of the "What the heck is going on?" variety at the beginning of this book (What is the Aether? Why do they live in pods?) It's a prime example of dropping us right into the action sans prologue or setup. In the end it didn't matter because what I needed to know became clearer, and the rest just didn't matter. The book was just so darn compelling that I got sucked right in. The story is told from Aria and Perry's POV (third person), and the author made me care about each of them equally. I loved reading from both of their perspectives. The romance, the supernatural abilities, the story...love it all.

3)  Veronica MarsVeronica Mars (TV show)
For those of you unfamiliar with Veronica Mars here's what it's all about: 
"In the wealthy, seaside community of Neptune, California, the rich and powerful make the rules. Unfortunately for them, there's Veronica Mars, a smart, fearless 17-year-old apprentice private investigator dedicated to solving the town's toughest mysteries. Veronica used to be one of the popular girls, but it all came crumbling down around her after her best friend, Lilly, was murdered, and her then-sheriff father, Keith, was removed from office for naming Lilly's rich father as the lead suspect. During the day, Veronica must negotiate high school like any average teenage girl. But at night, she helps with her father's struggling, new private investigator business--and what she finds may tear the town of Neptune apart at the seams." (Source) This TV show only ran for three seasons which is unfortunate because it was totally interesting, and such a unique idea. Veronica was wry and witty, and the relationship between her and her dad was both heart-warming and hilarious. It was really fascinating to watch the overarching mysteries in each season unfold and to follow Veronica as she solved them. The episode specific cases were also interesting. But, as is usually the case, if I like a show too much it inevitably gets cancelled. You can totally blame this show's cancellation on me.

So what do you think? Is the name VERONICA synonymous with awesome or what?

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* I haven't read these sequels, but I fully anticipate a continuation in greatness.

April 24, 2012

U is for...Unforgettable Characters

Today's Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish is about our all-time favourite book characters. It's 'U' day in the A to Z Challenge, so I've decided to do a bit of a mashup of the two. This is what I came up with:

UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTERS

Let me tell you, this was hard to narrow down. I stuck to YA because that's what I read most of the time, and I went with the first characters that popped into my head. I'm sure I'm probably overlooking scads of really great characters, but since we don't want to be here all day...


(In no particular order. All books are linked to their Goodreads descriptions.)

1)  Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games series)
Despite driving me a little bonkers when it came to Peeta, Katniss is one of the best YA characters ever. She's self-sacrificing, stubborn, tough, and smart. Katniss is a survivor despite the unfavourable odds.

2)  Peeta Mellark (The Hunger Games series)
Peeta's one of those all-around great characters. He's steadfast and loyal, clever, strong in more ways than just physical. Peeta's self-sacrificing, artistic, and his love for Katniss is unconditional. Team Peeta! ☺

3)  Katsa (Graceling, Bitterblue)
Of all the characters listed here, Katsa's probably the one I'm most envious of. I would love to have her fighting/survival skills. Katsa is a kickass and compelling character, but she's still relatable. 

4)  Po (Graceling, Bitterblue)
Po's another one of those book boys who puts up with a lot from his book lady. Katsa's a handful, and Po just takes it all in stride. He's loyal, understanding, strong but gentle, and a skilled fighter.

5)  Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series)
Hermione's the spokesmodel for bookish gals the world over. She makes being smart and nerdy look really good, which is just fantastic. Hermione can kick your butt with a thousand different spells.

Such a unique individual in so many respects. Karou is memorable for so many reasons, but I don't want this to get all spoilery. I pretty much just love every little thing about Karou. End of story.

7)  Lola Nolan (Lola and the Boy Next Door)
Speaking of unique, Lola stands out in my mind for that reason in particular. Her love of costume as everyday fashion made me smile. I envy her confidence, and how she's unafraid of standing out.

8)  Alianne (Aly) (Trickster's Choice, Trickster's Queen)
Aly's kind of stuck in the shadow of all the powerful adults who surround her, so it's awesome to see her come into her own. She's witty, determined, and a skilled spy, which is pretty darn cool.

9)  Four (Divergent)
I'll try to avoid descending into fangirl squealing. Four embodies what the original intent of his faction, Dauntless, was supposed to be. He's brave despite his fears, strong, loyal, and intelligent. 

10)  Saba (Blood Red Road)
The first thing that springs to mind when I think of Saba is her voice. The book is written in Saba's dialect, and it has a way of lodging itself in your memory. I loved it! To borrow from Goodreads: Saba is "a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent." Unique and compelling.

Which YA characters would you give the label UNFORGETTABLE?


P. S. I just realized I forgot about Cinder (Cinder). A cyborg Cinderella? Totally memorable!

April 23, 2012

T is for...TBR

Today's 'T' post is brought to you by the letters TBR*, and the number TOO-MANY-TO-COUNT. Seriously, there are just so many great books out there and not nearly enough time in the day to read them. My at-home TBR stack was getting so big and so tumbly that I had to come up with a new home for them. Books piled all over can be hazardous.

So I now have a TBR shelf in my office. There's plenty of room for all of the books I can't wait to read, and once I finish them I'll just have to find room on my other shelves.

For my TBR post I thought I'd spotlight some of the books that have made it to this shelf and are waiting to be read:


•  The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
•  The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe
•  Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway
•  The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
•  Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
•  The Death Cure by James Dashner
•  The Duff by Kody Keplinger
•  Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
•  Heist Society by Ally Carter
•  The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
•  As You Wish by Jackson Pearce
•  Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia
•  Tempest by Julie Cross
•  Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts
•  and TONS more

This new TBR shelf doesn't even hold all of the Classics I have that I plan on reading at some point before I'm eighty. My other bookshelves hold any number of other books that I've collected over the years that I still haven't gotten to yet. I should take cues from some of you who have opted to read what's currently on your shelves before moving on to other books on that TBR list. I'd say it's like finishing your dinner before getting dessert, but then it would be like I'm implying that the former isn't as exciting as the latter, which isn't the case. There are just too many good books and nowhere near enough time to read them. I guess it's the same as how you eat a whale**→ one bite at a time.

What's on your TBR list? Do you have a policy for tackling books you own vs. books you want?


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* TBR=To Be Read (i.e. books that I still need/want to read)
** Ewwww!

April 21, 2012

S is for...Sports Movies

I am not an athlete. The extent of my athletic endeavours was: tee ball (hardly counts), a brief stint in soft ball, some volleyball and basketball in Grade 7 (both on the 'B' team, meaning "we're too nice to not let these kids play at least a little"), cross country running, and some track and field. I wasn't all that good at any of them. Whatever. I was more of an academic kid, so it never really bothered me much. The only sports that I watch are hockey (the Pens v. Flyers series is going to kill me, I swear), CFL football (only because my husband is watching it), and I saw almost every wonderful moment of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. That's about the extent of my interest in sports.

Except for→ Inspirational SPORTS MOVIES

I'm always a bit hesitant to sit down and watch another sports movie. I'm not really sure why this is, because every single time I do I get so wrapped up in it and end up loving it. I love cheering for the underdog, for the teammates who have overcome enormous challenges to get to this point, all the while learning valuable life lessons. My pulse races, my heart swells, and I'm grinning like a fool.
Because inspirational sports movies aren't just about the sport, they're about being winners at life.

There are many SPORTS MOVIES that I love, but these are my all-time favourites:

1) Remember the Titans (2000)
In my opinion, the thing that brings this movie up several notches from others in this category is the biggest issue the team overcomes in the movie: Racism.

Set in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971, the fact-based story begins with the integration of black and white students at T. C. Williams High School. This effort to improve race relations is most keenly felt on the school's football team, the Titans, and bigoted tempers flare when a black head coach is appointed and his victorious predecessor reluctantly stays on as his assistant…The players represent a hotbed of racial tension, but as the team struggles toward unity and gridiron glory, Remember the Titans builds on several subplots and character dynamics to become an inspirational drama of Rocky-like proportions. (Source)

Titans Spirit (Score)
 This is one of THE best pieces from any score. Especially 4:48 onward.
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2) Forever Strong (2009)
Rugby is one tough contact sport, and these guys wear hardly any equipment! Not for the faint of heart, that's for sure. The best part of this movie were the Gelwixims*...and Sean Faris, of course.☺ Best Gelwixim: the kia kaha, from which the movie's title is taken→ "Be forever strong on the field, so that you will be forever strong off the field." And who doesn't love a good team haka?

A troubled young rugby player is given the choice between jail or playing for a rival team coached by a man known for building not only championship teams, but championship boys. Based on a true story, Forever Strong offers stand up and cheer sports drama combined with the consequences of a strong ethical code to achieve victory on and off the field. (Source)

3) Invictus (2009)
Looky here, another rugby movie from 2009. Invictus takes place in South Africa, and like Remember the Titans it tackles issues of racism and coming together as a team, but in this case in the wake of apartheid. A great movie!

What does Nelson Mandela do after becoming president of South Africa? He rejects revenge, forgives oppressors who jailed him 27 years for his fight against apartheid and finds hope of national unity in an unlikely place: the rugby field…An uplifting film about a team and a people inspired to greatness…Mandela asks the national rugby team and his squad to do the impossible and win the World Cup. (Source)

4) The Blind Side (2009)
2009 was a great year for sports movies, and this is no exception. There's so much to love about The Blind Side, and I think this description says it best:

Michael Oher knows little about family. Less about football. What the homeless teen knows are the streets and projects of Memphis. Well-to-do Leigh Anne Tuohy knows little about his world. Yet when she and Michael meet, he's found a home. And the Tuohys have found something just as life-changing: a beloved new son and brother. This real-life story of family and of Michael's growth into a blue-chip football star will have you cheering with its mix of gridiron action and heartwarming emotion. Share the remarkable journey of the college All-American and first-round NFL draft pick who was a winner before he ever stepped onto the playing field. (Source)

5) Hoosiers (1986)
My love for Chucks, or as I always called them 'Hoosiers shoes' came from this movie. Hoosiers is probably the first real sports movie that I remember seeing and loving. To this day it's one of my favourite movies of any genre.

One of the most rousingly enjoyable sports movies ever made, this small-town drama tells the story of the Hickory Huskers, an underdog basketball team from a tiny Indiana high school that makes it all the way to the state championship tournament…As the drama unfolds we come to realize that many of the characters are recovering from disappointing setbacks, and this depth of character is what makes the otherwise conventional basketball story so richly rewarding…This is a quintessentially American movie about beating the odds and rising above one's own limitations. (Source)


So are you a fan of SPORTS MOVIES? If so, tell me which one is your favourite in the comments.

P. S. I forgot that I did a bit of curling in high school too. We wore kilts while we curled. Drafty.
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* Gelwixims: What the real-life Highland rugby players call their coach's notable sayings.

April 20, 2012

R is for...Recommendations

If you've been following along you know that today is 'R' in the A to Z Challenge. It's also Friday, so I've chosen:

RECOMMENDATIONS:
FRIDAY FIVES STYLE

Instead of just going with five book recommendations, I'm going to mix it up and pull from different things I like:

• Books
• Music
• Travel
• Movies
• TV

And all of them start with 'R'! So here are my Five 'R' Recommendations:
  
1)  BookRUBY RED (Rubinrot) by Kerstin Gier & Anthea Bell
From Goodreads: Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!
Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon--the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.

I read this book almost a year ago now, and I've been waiting impatiently for the next in the series Sapphire Blue (Saphirblau). As you can probably tell from the titles in brackets, these are German books that have been translated to English—hence the wait. Ruby Red was a fun, light time travel read with romance, ghosts, mystery, and a secret society. And that cover is just beautiful, right?

2)  MusicRIVER DRIVER by Great Big Sea
Let me preface this by saying that this music isn't for everyone. It hails from Canada's East Coast (the Maritimes) which is rich in Scots-Irish heritage. As such, the music from the Maritimes has a strong Celtic flavour. Since the Maritimes are named for the word 'maritime' (meaning 'of the sea'), you can probably guess that fishing is a large part of their economy. Maritimes music often reflects this...and a love of the drink O_o (like I said, Scots-Irish heritage). Anyway, I ♥ Maritimes music.
  
Great Big Sea - The River Driver

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3)  TravelROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER, Germany

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a Bavarian medieval town which I've had the privilege to visit three times now. The entire town is surrounded by a wall, and all of the buildings look like the ones in the picture—all shlumpy and just really cool. Rothenburg was established in 1170 and still maintains many centuries old buildings and sites. Rothenburg Fun Fact: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 had scenes that were filmed here (which I only just discovered today)! My favourite place of all to visit while in Rothenburg is K├Ąthe Wohlfahrt's Christmas Shop (Weihnachtswerkstatt). It's easily one of the coolest places ever (especially if you love Christmas).

4)  MovieRETURN TO ME (2000)
With the arrival of Judd Apatow and his gang on the romantic comedy scene, it feels like these types of movies have taken a serious turn for the low-brow and raunchy of late. Back in the day there were gems like Return to Me which were cute, funny, romantic, and even a little bit sad at times. This one has all of those things, with a cast that includes: David Duchovny, Minnie Driver, Bonnie Hunt, James Belushi, and Joely Richardson, among others. It has great music too, mostly oldies like the Dean Martin track the movie is named for. Just a fun, sweet romance all around.♥

5)  TV ShowREVENGE on ABC
I'm not sure if this show will be renewed for a second season, so I'm hesitant to suggest it. I don't see why it wouldn't be, but then ABC is one of the top offenders for yoinking shows I've gotten hooked on.

Revenge "centers on a young woman who is welcomed into a community filled with people who don't know she's only there to exact revenge on those who had destroyed her family." (IMDB)

It's said to be very loosely based on Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. The show's protag, Emily, is the perfect example of a sympathetic villain, heavy on the sympathetic. Right off the bat we want her to bring down the Graysons and their entitled cronies.
Well, most of them anyway. There's also some swoon factor with some of the show's leading men. Just an interesting show to watch.

So this is long and rambly (as per usual), but those are my Five 'R' Recommendations for you.

April 19, 2012

Q is for...Query and Queasy

The word QUERY feels like it should have a duh duh duhhhh* sound after it (that sound following things that are supposed to be foreboding). To me, the thought of QUERYING is QUEASY-making.

Some time back I started looking into what this query business was all about, and started crafting my own long before my story was even done (it still isn't). I'd read somewhere that this was a good thing to do to get a better idea of whether or not your story was compelling enough, or if you even had a story to tell at all. One resource on writing queries suggested looking at the book jackets of books that you read, particularly in the same genre that you're writing, to get ideas for wording your query (they often sound similar). This sounded like a really good idea to me, so I gave it a try.

In the process of trying to write a query I discovered a few things:
1)  I have a story to tell, which I believe is compelling (phew).
2)  I have no credentials to add to the conclusion of my query.
3)  I suck pants at writing a query letter (at the time I tried).

Those things are hard. Making sure it has the right tone, the right information, the most compelling details...not easy. Any way that I wrote it, it came off sounding cheesy or comedic (it's not). I know this just means that I need practice, and the letter itself needs work. And I'm prepared for that, but still. Aside from inadvertently spewing out a cheestastic description of my story, the part of writing a query letter that freaks me out the most is #2 on the list just above. I don't have an MFA, I've never published anything in this journal or that newspaper, nor do I have professional experience on the subject that I'm writing. I'm just a 30-something unemployed teacher plunking away on her keyboard trying to tell a story, hoping that somebody out there might read it.

Does this matter? I sure as heck hope not. Many of the agents advising on query letters say that it's not crucial, but I wonder if they really mean it. Will they make assumptions about my writing based on my lack of credentials? Do I really need to step up the rest of my query letter to make up for this?

Like I said→ QUEASY-making.

In my search for query-writing tips I came across some tools and information that I found helpful:
Query Shark→ She may be harsh at times, but her query critiques are really informative.
Query Tracker→ Under the heading "Querying", author Elana Johnson has some good tips.
Agent Vickie Motter→ She provides both a skeleton and details about what to include.
The Other Side of the Story→ Janice Hardy breaks down the query into manageable parts. She also has many other posts on this topic which you can find here. And here's her own query broken down.

There are many other valuable resources out there for navigating the querying process, I'm sure.

How about you? Have you written a query already? What resources did you find were most helpful?

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* I typed this into Google to see how to spell out the sound I was thinking of. Google's autocomplete feature brought up duh duh duh duh song. I totally lol'd because I knew the exact song someone had been searching for→ Beethoven's 5th Symphony. We spent the better part of a semester in my grade 11 Strings class studying the finer details of this symphony on vinyl, so I couldn't help laughing.

Beethoven - 5th Symphony 1st Movement

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April 18, 2012

P is for...Pass

I got about 3/4 of the way through a too-large POST on POLYGRAPHS for my A to Z Challenge 'P' POST, and realized there's a really strong POSSIBILITY that I signed something stating that I wouldn't go PUBLIC with the details.* Hmm...(*face PALM*) (*qwerty face*). Needless to say, I'd rather not risk it, so I deleted that sucker PDQ.

Anyhoo...

I came up with other ideas: PLAYLIST (for my WiP), POP Culture, PACING, and a number of other topics. After all that PONDERING, I've opted to just PASS. There's a really good reason for this. I PROMISE. I'm on PRESCRIPTION PILLS (antibiotics), and lucky me, I've got about 3/4 of the POTENTIAL side effects. Yay. So I'm going to take my POUNDING headache, dizziness, hot then cold spells, and nausea down to the couch for the day. Seems like the PERFECT excuse to spend the day reading, wouldn't you agree? And I'll have some decaf tea since I can't have caffeine.

Yeehaw.

Back tomorrow with my 'Q' POST→ Query & Queasy (here's hoping I'm not feeling like the latter).



*From my own POLYGRAPH experience with the POLICE.

April 17, 2012

O is for...Online

I could write about a great many things that relate to my A to Z Challenge 'O' word→ ONLINE. I could write about how Twitter and this blog have connected me to many of you; how I finally got so sick of Facebook recently that I deleted my account; or how I all too often fritter away hours on end on the internet, wasting time when I should be writing or doing something that is more worthwhile.

But instead, I'm going to write about some of the disturbing (jaw-dropping, rage-inducing) trends, applications, and practices I've stumbled across in the past little while during my web wanderings.

First On the DocketEnemyGraph*


For those of you who don't know about this god-awful new Facebook application, let me fill you in. EnemyGraph is the brainchild (demon spawn?) of a University of Texas at Dallas professor and his two students. For some time now there has been a public cry for a 'dislike' button on Facebook, and since such a button isn't forthcoming, these geniuses** decided to come up with this app that allows FB users to make enemies of everyone/thing from 'friends', to celebrities, to fast-food franchises. As of yesterday, Trending Enemies included: Justin Bieber, Sarah Palin, FarmVille, and Jesus Christ, among others. But it doesn't stop there. Users can make enemies of people in their friend list as well. Why, you may ask, would someone do that to one of their friends? Well, we all know—especially in high school—how a person can be a best friend one day and get relegated to mortal enemy the next.

As if this labelling isn't bad enough, EnemyGraph allows people to band together around common 'enemies'. Denise Restauri, contributor to Forbes online, sums up the inevitable damage from this:
"Here's the harmful reality:  EnemyGraph gives bullies and people with a sick sense of humor a great way to bully and attack. It's another example of 'Absolutely nothing good can come of this.'" —Forbes.com (April 3, 2012)
She couldn't be more right. Cyberbullying is a very real and disturbing problem in this day and age. Why empower these bullies with a tool that makes bullying easier? Shame on everyone involved.

Next On the DocketAm I Pretty or Ugly? (on YouTube)
Disclaimer:  I'm including this video as a means of informing, not of perpetuating this awful trend.


As I understand it, this heart-wrenching trend started cropping up on YouTube as a way for young girls (not sure about boys) to gather public opinion on whether they are pretty or ugly. These often beautiful girls have taken their self-esteem issues to the web. To echo the Forbes article's verdict of EnemyGraph, nothing good can come from this. Online predators, bullies, and people just looking to be perverted or hateful flock to these kinds of things. It begs the question: Where are her parents?! It's a toss-up which is more disturbing: that this video has more than 5 million views (I guess I'm adding to that, sadly), or some of the things viewers wrote in the comments section just below it.

A heartfelt response to these Am I Pretty?  videos→ More people need to speak out about this:


From the time the internet hatched we've been warned about the potential dangers to be found there. We all know what these are. But then I see things like EnemyGraph and the Am I Pretty?  videos, and I know that the problems are just mutating, multiplying, and finding new and insidious ways to harm people. What can we do to stop this? I honestly don't know. But I think we can all agree that the best way to protect people from these dangers is to spread the word that this is not okay.

________________________________________________________________
* Seeing this was what finally gave me the nudge I needed to delete my Facebook account (already wanted to do it). It sickens me that the "servers are struggling" with the high demand for this app.
** Note sarcasm.

April 16, 2012

N is for...Naming Characters

How was your weekend? Mine was a sweet mashup of assembling shelves, doing our taxes (yay for refunds!), immersing myself in all things Titanic, troubleshooting issues in my WiP, thinking about doing housework, and watching worse than brutal Penguins v. Flyers games (boo). Exciting stuff.

And now back to the reason why we're here. It's 'N' day in the A to Z Challenge, and my topic is:

Naming Characters

If you're not a writer, then this is not something you probably ever think about. Unless you have a whole host of imaginary friends who require names, in which case, you might find this interesting.

When it comes to naming your imaginary friends characters, just how important to you are such things as name meaning and origin? Do these factor in at all when you're planning out the details of your WiP? Or do names just pop into your head that simply feel right for your characters?

With few exceptions, I'm really big on assigning names to my characters that have some kind of significance. A name is not usually just a name in my writing. Of course, it has to be right for my character→ suited to the time period, doesn't feel awkward, isn't too much like another character's name, isn't tough to pronounce or remember (Beef #1 with most fantasy), and it just feels like it suits that particular character and his/her personality.* 

I've had the misfortune to come across some of my characters' names in other books that I've read, and sometimes these books are even similar to what I'm working on. When that happens, I go back to the drawing board and search for something that feels really close to the name I originally chose so that I can still feel connected to that character. Here are a couple of recent examples of this:

Caleb→ For my MC's brother, I initially chose the name Caleb. Now, I started writing this story in June/July of last year...not long after I read Divergent by Veronica Roth. If you remember, Tris's brother's name is Caleb. Whoops! My book isn't really like Divergent, but it has influenced me, so I axed the name. I chose Callum instead, because I like it, and it's close in sound to my original pick.

Evie→ I knew that Kiersten White's MC in the Paranormalcy books was called Evie, but as my WiP is nothing at all similar to this series, I figured it was fine. Until I read A Million Suns by Beth Revis (which is sci-fi like my WiP) and she had a secondary character called by this name. Derp! Again, back to the drawing board. I settled on Elli, because it's very similar, and I like it.

So where do I go to find fitting character names?
Behind the Name (great for name etymologies) 
Baby Name Wizard (awesome search options)
• and tons of other online resources
• a book called 35,000+ Baby Names


Most people will never know (if I get published, that is) that I chose character names with attention to meaning and/or origin. And that's just fine. But, should anybody do a little digging, they'll get why I went with Callum over Conor, for instance. Not crucial to the story, just kind of interesting.

Plus, I'll know that my characters' names are significant, and that actually matters a lot to me.

Does this matter to you too? And if it does, where do you go for your character name inspiration?

_____________________________________________________
* If only we were all lucky enough to choose a name that suits us. I certainly wouldn't pick Jaime.

April 14, 2012

M is for...(In) Memoriam

Before I get into what I mean by the title '(IN) MEMORIAM', may I suggest that you click play on the mp3 just below to get the full effect (it provides an appropriate soundtrack* for today's post):

Nearer My God to Thee

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Now, I know that many of you are probably sick to death of hearing about the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic sinking, but I wanted to write about it so... There is just so much to learn from history and it's important to remember events like this so we don't repeat them. The Titanic sinking is a modern-day tragedy with hubris at its core. We can all learn from that, wouldn't you agree? Here's how hubris brought about the completely avoidable sinking of the RMS Titanic:

• racing across the Atlantic at breakneck speed to prove a point
• ignoring multiple warnings from other ships about ice in their path
• cutting corners to leave more room for finery, to be seen as the most luxurious of ocean liners, which meant that there were not enough lifeboats for even a third of the ship's passengers and crew (which they proceeded to lower into the ocean only half full)
• those with money and status were the first to be loaded into the lifeboats (women and children, primarily) while most in steerage (Third Class) were not even really given a chance at survival

Pride, arrogance, proving a point, cutting corners for appearance's sake, playing God and deciding whose lives were worth more than others... We all know the story, but it bears remembering. Why is it so important to rehash this tragedy? Here's the reason in all its stupid glory: NOT just a movie.

The Details:
April 10, 1912→ RMS Titanic sets sail from Southhampton with 2,200 passengers and crew
April 14, 1912→ RMS Titanic strikes an iceberg about 400 miles south of Newfoundland
April 15, 1912→ in the very early hours of the morning (0220), RMS Titanic officially sinks

1,517 lives were lost, most to hypothermia. Of the 700 or so lives saved, the majority were First Class passengers, then Second Class, and a small number from Third Class. The greatest percentage of those saved were women and children. Only about 20% of male passengers aboard the RMS Titanic survived.

You can view a passenger manifest broken down by class by following this link. They've got a wealth of information pertaining to many of the passengers→ photos, where they boarded, their ticket fare, their occupation, and whether or not they were rescued.


My husband and I were fortunate enough to visit the Titanic Exhibition in Las Vegas a few years back. I was a little apprehensive, thinking that this so-called exhibit set where it was on the Vegas strip could end up being a totally disrespectful sideshow. Quite the opposite, actually. Sure there was a gift shop, and sure you could have your picture taken on the Grand Staircase (which we did→ you can see the pic here), but all in all it was very respectful and very informative, in my opinion.

When we entered the exhibit, we were given this information about real Titanic passengers:






















Once we reached the end of the exhibit—which had artefacts retrieved from the sunken ship**, more info about the passengers, and a piece of the ship's hull—we found out what happened to the people on our cards. Major Archibald Willingham Butt (left) died in the sinking, and his body was sadly not recovered. Mrs. George Dunton Widener (right) was rescued in Lifeboat 4 and lived until 1937. We didn't even know these people, but I was really anxious to learn what happened to them. I was saddened to hear that one of our passengers hadn't survived. This was not merely a sick sideshow.

100 years later there are still lessons to be learned from this tragedy, as is usually the case with historical events like this. If nothing else, take a moment today to think about the 1,517 lives lost.

P.S. I'm currently reading Fateful by Claudia Gray, a story of the Titanic with a paranormal twist.
P.S.S. Notice how I made no mention of Celine's My Heart Will Go On (until now)? You're welcome.
_________________________________________________________
* This hymn was allegedly the final song played by the RMS Titanic band as it sank into the ocean.
** Some would argue that this is like desecrating a grave. I'm not sure how I feel about it, though.

April 13, 2012

L is for...Lady of Shalott

If you follow Liz Parker's blog, The English Bad Ass, you already know that April is National Poetry Month. For a great poem every day this month you should check out her blog (which you should just do anyway). It is #FollowFriday after all. Today's A to Z letter is 'L', so I've decided to take a page from her book and post an 'L' poem that I've always liked, along with a painting or two of the poem. I'm only posting a segment from this poem because it's a gargantuan beast. I give you:


[Part II]
The Lady of Shalott (1888) by John William Waterhouse
Current location: Tate Gallery, London
  There she weaves by night and day
  A magic web with colours gay.
  She has heard a whisper say,
  A curse is on her if she stay
  To look down to Camelot.
  She knows not what the 'curse' may be,
  And so she weaveth steadily,
  And little other care hath she,
  The Lady of Shalott.

  And moving thro' a mirror clear
  That hangs before her all the year,
  Shadows of the world appear.
  There she sees the highway near
  Winding down to Camelot:
  There the river eddy whirls,
  And there the surly village-churls,
  And the red cloaks of market girls,
  Pass onward from Shalott.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, said the Lady of Shalott (1916)
by John William Waterhouse
Current location: Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
  Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
  An abbot on an ambling pad,
  Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
  Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,
  Goes by to tower'd Camelot;

  And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
  The knights come riding two and two:
  She hath no loyal knight and true,
  The Lady of Shalott.

  But in her web she still delights
  To weave the mirror's magic sights,
  For often thro' the silent nights
  A funeral, with plumes and lights,
  And music, went to Camelot:
  Or when the moon was overhead,
  Came two young lovers lately wed;
  "I am half-sick of shadows," said
  The Lady of Shalott. 

- Alfred Lord Tennyson -
       (1809 - 1892)


*     *     *

My first introduction to this poem was in the book-to-movie adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. If you've seen the movie, you'll probably remember this classic 'Anne with an E' scene:



Links to other Lady of Shalott paintings:
William A. Breakspeare (1872-1903)
John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)
John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)
John Atkinson Grimshaw #2
Arthur Hughes (1832-1915)
George Edward Robertson (1864-1926)
William Maw Egley (1826-1916)
Emma Florence Harrison (1877-1955)
William Holman Hunt (1827-1910)
Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (1829-1862)
Sidney Harold Meteyard (1868-1947)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
Walter Crane (1845-1915)
W.E.F. Britten (1848-1916)
Toby Edward Rosenthal (1848-1917)
Edmund Blair Leighton (1852-1922)
• and many, many more

It's like some sort of Pre-Raphaelite hazing ritual→Thou shalt paint The Lady of Shalott, or else!

How about you? Do you have any favourite poems? Do you have a favourite painting? My favourite paintings are Boreas, Destiny, and Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May  all by Waterhouse.