November 26, 2012

Santa, Smiles, and Stress

So this totally happened:

"You smell like beef and cheese! You don't smell like Santa!" - Buddy the Elf

About a week ago, I was kind of bummed and was sick and tired of lazing about the house feeling like a cotton-headed ninny-muggins*. So I decided to head to the mall to take in some of the Christmas cheer that I knew I'd find there.

I was strolling around, and that's when I saw him. Santa!

I don't know if I've ever had my picture taken with Santa before. If I have, I really don't remember it, likely because there's no proof of it anywhere. Crazy, right? So of course I had this wacky notion that 34 years of age is not too old to get your picture taken with Santa. I was alone, so I didn't have to worry about embarrassing anybody besides myself. There were no kids waiting in line who I'd be forcing to wait while I took my turn. So I did it. I got my picture taken with Santa.

He was a pretty good mall Santa and only made a couple of slightly frisky comments when I sat on his knee. (For example: "Mrs. Claus said no kissing today." Hmm...'cause that's going to happen. Not.) He gave me a candy cane, I bought some pictures, and then I went on my merry way. You guys, I could not stop grinning for a full half hour after that. I felt silly, brave, and kind of like a kid again. It was exactly what I needed that day—something to get me out of my head for a while.

Life is stressful. Querying is stressful. And waiting for the results of querying is also stressful.** It's easy to start feeling negative, to get down on yourself and throw a one-woman pity party (or one-man if you're a dude). But nothing good ever comes from that, as I'm sure you know. So sometimes you just have to do something zany like get your picture taken with Santa while people stare at you funny. Trust me, it works wonders. And I dare you not to smile 'til your face hurts. ☺

* I watched Elf last night. Can you tell? I'm singing. I'm in a store and I'm siiiiinnggiiinng!
** I wasn't stressed about querying before. I am now.

November 16, 2012

Dear Teen Me: Listen Up

Dear Teen Me,

Are you listening? It's you from the future2012 to be precise. We're rapidly approaching the end of the Mayan calendar and whatever that means. It's also just shy of three years 'til we reach the year in which Back to the Future Part II was set. Spoiler alert: We don't yet have hoverboards, flying cars, shoes that do themselves up, or scary weird taste in fashion. (Well, except Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj. Don't ask.) BUT we have Apple and handheld phones with computers built right into them. Seriously, buy stocks in Apple stat. Also, Facebook is kind of lame and feels like high school all over again.

Post-Romulan bangs, but still iffy.
You're going to waste most of your teen years stressing over things that, in the broad scheme of things, really don't matter. I have SIX extremely important words for you:

STOP OBSESSING OVER WHAT OTHERS THINK. 

I know it's hard, but you will never see these people ever again so their opinions don't count. Let people know who you really are, get involved, and stop caring about whether this guy or that guy might like you. And for the love of all that is good, grow out the bangs already. You look like a Romulan, and at your present point in history, that isn't cool. One day in the not-so-distant future, geek will be chic and some Star Trek fanboy might think helmet bangs are hot. But for 1990s Jaime it's a bad look.

The boys you'll meet in college will be just as immature as they were in high school. Get over them. No, run screaming. Speaking of college, don't shell out the funds for Bible college (trust me), Accounting is so not your thing, and Teaching is...well, I'll spare you the details, but pick another career path. Like Journalism or Creative Writing. I know, weird right? Cultivate your love of writing now. You won't regret it.

I know the handful of guys that you'll date will help you sort out what you really want in a mate, but mostly they're just a string of duds. The one you end up with will have longer hair than you do when you first meet (a fan-of-90s-alternative-and-punk kinda do.), and he'll show you every day that you're more special than you think you are. He's worth waiting for. Trust me. Oh, and by the way, he's a Trekkie and would totally dig your Romulan bangs. But still, grow them out. Do it.

Mostly I just want to let you know:


Hang in there!

Future Jaime 

P.S. Y2K was totally ridiculous. 
P.P.S. Post Grunge Era everyone starts showering again and wearing clothes that fit and aren't flannel.
P.P.P.S. Remember Donnie Wahlberg from New Kids On the Block? Yeah, he's one of your favourite actors now.
P.P.P.P.S. You can stop pinning the fly of your jeans up. You've been going pinless for years and still have yet to 'fly low'.


We all have things we'd like to tell our teen selves, only one of which concerns purchasing Apple stocks. A group of authors compiled letters to their teen selves in a book called Dear Teen Me, published through Zest Books. Here's the Goodreads blurb:

DEAR TEEN ME includes advice from over 70 YA authors (including Lauren Oliver, Ellen Hopkins, and Nancy Holder, to name a few) to their teenage selves. The letters cover a wide range of topics, including physical abuse, body issues, bullying, friendship, love, and enough insecurities to fill an auditorium. So pick a page, and find out which of your favorite authors had a really bad first kiss? Who found true love at 18? Who wishes he’d had more fun in high school instead of studying so hard? Some authors write diary entries, some write letters, and a few graphic novelists turn their stories into visual art. And whether you hang out with the theater kids, the band geeks, the bad boys, the loners, the class presidents, the delinquents, the jocks, or the nerds, you’ll find friends—and a lot of familiar faces—in the course of Dear Teen Me.


To celebrate the launch of this book, lots of people have started writing letters to their teen selves, but also coming up with Dear Teen Me videos. I got to take part in one that the lovely Erin L. Schneider put together: DEAR TEEN ME

It's seriously awesome and well done, and you should check it out. You'll see familiar faces and hear Imagine Dragons!

November 15, 2012

Got CAPTCHA?

Loneybu to you too! Is that a fraction?! Are you serious?
Do you know what that sound is? Those are the shrieking eels commenters. If you don't believe me, just wait. They always grow louder when they are about to feed on human flesh have to type in the CAPTCHA word three times because it's completely illegible.*

Ahem. Sorry 'bout that. I got a little carried away. But if you find yourself with a permanent QWERTY face tattoo over the frustration that is word verification, you'll understand exactly how I feel about the whole thing. (Team Disable CAPTCHA over here)


So what is CAPTCHA and what purpose does it serve?
"A CAPTCHA is a program that can tell whether its user is a human or a computer...CAPTCHAs are used by many websites to prevent abuse from "bots," or automated programs usually written to generate spam."**

It's what you see when you leave a comment on a word verification enabled blog. Actually, what you see is a string of letters and numbers called reCAPTCHA. I'm not going to lie, the idea behind reCAPTCHA is really interesting. While it's keeping spambots from having a field day, it's also helping to digitize books and newspapers. Especially with old texts, computers still aren't able to decipher difficult to read fonts. That's where we come in. If enough people agree that this mess of letters says loneybu, then it's safe to assume that this is correct. Score: Humans 1 Toasters 0 (if you don't get that reference you aren't geeky enough). For more info on this digitizing text thing, see this video: CAPTCHA (Thanks, Colin, for directing my attention to it.)

Why are people so rabidly anti-CAPTCHA?
Because:
1) We all follow a number of blogs. We have limited time to swing by, read a post, and then leave a comment before moving on to the next blog. Having to type in CAPTCHA slows readers down and quickly becomes frustrating.

2) Lately the CAPTCHA words/numbers have been especially bad. (See photo above.***) On an average day, I have to re-type CAPTCHAs not once, but a number of times when commenting. And you know what? I have near 20/20 vision.

But what about the dreaded Cylons spambots?
About a year or more ago, I removed word verification from my blog, and I've gotten only about 2 or 3 spammy-ish comments in all that time. And it was completely harmless, nonsensical stuff. If you're concerned about spambots, you can always set up comment moderation (Settings > Posts and Comments > Comment Moderation) as an alternative.

Here's the thing...
It's entirely up to you whether your blog has word verification or not. I'm not here to bully you into removing it. What I am trying to suggest is that you might be missing out on comments because readers would rather not go a round or two (or ten) with CAPTCHA. Comments are one of the main ways that we know people are reading what we post, and it's how we connect. If it takes readers twice as long to battle CAPTCHA as it does to type up a comment in the first place, they'll be less likely to bother. Or they'll leave all grumpy-pants and that's not something I, as a blogger, want to cause.

So how do I get rid of CAPTCHA?
If you haven't actually gone to your settings and disabled word verification, you've got a raging case of the CAPTCHAs.

Here's how to cure it:


Go to your Dashboard, select SETTINGS, then POSTS AND COMMENTS, scroll to SHOW WORD VERIFICATION and select NO from the dropdown. That should do it. If you're worried it's still lurking, ask one of your commenters to let you know whether or not it's officially gone. Again, don't feel like you have to remove it. This is just my own opinion and you're free to disregard it. It's something to consider, though.

* Thank you, Vizzini for inspiring this.
** From the reCAPTCHA site.
*** This is a screenshot I took when I was leaving a comment on someone's blog one day. Seriously.



November 13, 2012

NaNo NoGo...Sort Of

Progress (word count or general status update)
Yeah...so... (*crickets chirping*) I'm sitting not-so-pretty at roughly 15,000 words right now. For those of you even mediocre at Math, that's not quite where I should be with thirteen days of NaNo under my belt.

Current Mood
BUT I'm surprisingly not all that stressed about my paltry word count. As I've already mentioned, my goal was never to 'win' NaNo by writing 50,000 words. I'm finishing a WIP, and that many words would make this thing a surly beast. There was a day recently where I found myself falling back into bad habits again: using multiple words when one would do (to meet my target word count for the day), writing a whole string of rubbish that bored me to tears (again, to meet my target), and just generally spewing pure suckage onto the page. I'm not okay with that. I refuse to set myself up to rewrite thousands of words post-NaNo. I like revising, but not that much. I plan to keep going, but at a pace of my own choosing.

Inspiration
“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, 
knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out." 
- Ray Bradbury -

 ...And to keep the crap from pouring out onto the page along with it.

Goal as of Today
To continue working seriously and regularly on ONLY ANNIE. I want to love what I'm writing, and if I find that the opposite is true, I will step away for a while. This story is supposed to be heart-wrenching and romantic, and I don't want to settle for anything less. This first draft will still need tons of revisions, but I plan on lessening the stress of that process by writing mostly good words now.

Recent Favourite NaNo WIP Line Snippet (Again, this hasn't been revised yet, so it's very rough.)

“Where are you going,” I manage to say between gasps for air.
He won’t meet my eyes, but stares at the polished floor instead. “Home. I just remembered this isn’t exactly where I want to be tonight.”
“But you just got here. Aren’t you enjoying the art?” I air quote around ‘art’. Air quote. Ugh. It was meant to remind him of the suggestive chalk scrawl we mocked only moments ago. It fails. I try to smile, but the effort is too much for my face to sustain.
“I was. And then I wasn’t. I just want to get out of here, away from all this.” He nods toward the crowd, eyes cold once more. When they meet mine at last, the hurt I see tucked around the edges nearly breaks my heart all over again. He’s slipping away. We were finally making strides, finally approaching a place where we could begin to heal this rift between us. All of that feels useless now. Two steps forward, twenty steps back.
“Went, I—”
The air shifts next to me and I know who it is without looking. “Is everything alright? You need to stop taking off like that. Walden’s going to be pissed.” Will. Again.
I whirl around, irritation rippling off me in waves. “Just give me a second, okay?”
Will backs off, hands raised in surrender. I turn to face Went, ready to do what it takes to keep him here, to seize my opportunity like I promised Lyddie.

But he’s already gone.

Non-NaNo News (because life DOES go on)
I started querying last week. Cue racing heartbeat. No, not really. I'm actually kind of stunned by how chill I feel about the whole thing. I fully expect that there will be rejections, but for some odd reason this isn't bothering me like it probably should. I guess I figure that rejections are part of the process. We'll see once they start rolling in, but for now I'm A-OK.☺

In My Downtime (ha!) I'm Reading
The most excellent THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak. What a phenomenal read! Really. Of course, this isn't exactly news to any of you who have read it. I'm regularly amazed by the new ways in which authors tell familiar stories. We all know about the Holocaust, but Zusak manages a unique take on these events. I'm impressed, moved, and humbled.

You Should Read This Blog Post
Love Is a Verb by Ellyn Gibbs (via Lauren @ Word Art: Painting With Words) because it talks about why we keep on writing even when we don't feel like we love it.

Gratuitous Photo
Look what showed up in the mail yesterday! Yay!

Many thanks to Katy Upperman for coming up with this NaNo Update template. Thanks, lady!

November 11, 2012

In Remembrance

"They shall not grow old,
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning

We will remember them."




* The Act of Remembrance is an extract from "For the Fallen" by Laurence Binyon.

November 9, 2012

It's the Little Things

Like many other readers I know, I'm on Goodreads. Among other things, one of my favourite aspects of Goodreads is that they host book giveaways. And many of them are offered to folks outside of the U.S., which doesn't happen often. Now I've put my name in for plenty of books and haven't been lucky enough to win. Until recently.

I won a copy of Karen Amanda Hooper's Grasping At Eternity. There were cheers, I assure you. Of course, I mentioned the win on Twitter and Karen was one of the first to respond, congratulating me. It's always nice to hear from authors this way, but she didn't stop there. The book showed up in the mail a couple of days ago, and it wasn't just tossed in an envelope and addressed to me. It was an envelope stuffed full of sparkle and fun. Check it out:


The first little treat was the book itself tied up with a sparkly ribbon that made the turquoise/teal in the cover pop. When I slid the ribbon off, a beautiful envelope with a note card addressed to me slipped out from the cover. The card and envelope, as you can see, match the peacock feathers on the cover. What you can't see is how gorgeous and sparkly the card is. Seriously you guys, it's really pretty! Karen wrote me a little note about being "my first" Goodreads win and expressing the hope that I would enjoy her book. She also signed the inside title page and slipped a signed Tangled Tides postcard in the pages of the book. It was awesome heaped on awesome and a really thoughtful thing to do.

It's the little things.

I've been stressing these days about querying, about NaNo, about the fact that it hasn't stopped snowing in three days. (It's just tiny flakes, but still. It's accumulating.) And then this delightful parcel showed up and brightened the heck out of my day. All because one author took the time to spread some sparkle to one single reader. That is seriously cool, my friends.

If someday I'm fortunate enough to get published, I want to remember this. I know that authors are busy folks what with writing, editing, book tours, you name it. But taking the time to do this one small thing endears you to your readers in a way that tossing a book in an envelope and mailing it as is ever will. I know one thing: I'm a Karen Amanda Hooper fan, and I haven't even cracked open her book yet! If you haven't read Grasping At Eternity yet, you should snag yourself a copy and show your support for a wonderful person and author.

November 7, 2012

RTW: October's Awesome Reads

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. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic:
What was the best book you read in October?

 
As is often the case, I can't just pick one. October had some seriously good reads in it, and I would recommend all of the above. All three titles are linked to their Goodreads synopsis.

The Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvater
Engaging characters, rich atmosphere, compelling story. The first in a quartet, and I will definitely be picking up Book 2 as soon as it's out. (That is if our near-monopoly book chain Indigo/Chapters/Coles actually has it on release day. They didn't have Laini Taylor's Days of Blood & Starlight yesterday unless you lived in Toronto or other major cities in Ontario. Seriously?!)

The Sky Is Everywhere - Jandy Nelson
A quick but beautiful read dealing with the loss of a loved one and how those left behind cope and begin to move on. It also has a pretty swoonworthy romance with a really sweet boy. One of my favourite features was the bits of poetry scattered throughout at the beginning of each chapter. This book took something that has been done before and put a new spin on it. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo
Ever since picking up Kristin Cashore's Graceling and Fire, I've been into fantasy again. I also really enjoyed Rae Carson's The Girl of Fire and Thorns. This is another great fantasy which is totally accessible to those who aren't bonkers over fantasy. The world-building was fantastic and reminiscent of Russian folk tales, which is probably one of the things I loved most about it. It lent a truly magical quality to the book. The characters were engaging, especially the many types of relationships between those characters. This was a great start to a series that I will definitely be following.

How about you? What was your favourite October read?

November 6, 2012

NaNo Update

As most of you know, this month is kind of crazy thanks to a little thing called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month and henceforth referred to as simply 'NaNo'). As such, it's going to be tough to get in a whole lot of blogging. Thankfully, the wonderful Katy Upperman came up with a way to check in and to keep from going AWOL for the entire month of November.

Progress (word count or a general status update)
With the exception of yesterday, I've managed to beat the daily word goal every day so far. I'm now sitting at just over 10,000 words. That's about half of what I managed to write during NaNo last year, so I'm thrilled. And I'm especially proud of myself because I've been doing this while revising another WIP I'm hoping to start querying this week. Crazy!



Current Mood
Meh. Not about my WIP, but about sitting down and writing again today. I'm finding it challenging to switch gears from revising one story to writing a totally different type of story. It's working, but I've got a bit of the brain drain going on.

Inspiration
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” - Robert Frost

If I'm bored, my readers will be bored. Ergo, stop writing boring words. That's my mission and I choose to accept it.

Goal as of Today
This is sort of the same as Katy's: Write 2000 words Monday through Friday and 1000 words on Saturday and Sunday. This is where it differs: IF I manage to write more on any of the days I can reduce another day's word goal or take it off altogether. Because sometimes I just need a break, you know?

Recent Favorite NaNo WIP Line(s)
I wouldn't say this is a favourite, exactly. And it's not an overly important scene in my WIP, but since it made me snicker, I thought I'd share. Bear in mind, all of this is unpolished and unedited and may not stick around:

When I walk in the door the others are starting to rise, in various states of awake and Montauk Monster-esque disarray. Charlie, in particular, looks the most frightful of the bunch, his hair standing out in spiky tufts all over his head. He looks like the sea urchin we ate for dinner at his place the other night. Well, before it made it onto our plates anyway.
“You are planning on taming that mess I hope.” Maura pats down his sandy blond tufts with her palm.
“Nope. This is the look I was going for. You know, that whole sexy bedhead thing.”
“Dude, there’s nothing sexy about what’s going on on your head right now.” Harry thumps him on the back before flopping onto the sofa. He runs a hand over his own cropped black hair.
“Like you’d know. Your jarhead do isn’t exactly en vogue, you know,” Charlie shoots back.
“Says the guy who just used the phrase en vogue in casual conversation.”
“Touché.”
“You can’t help yourself, can you?”

NB: Do not Google Montauk Monster. It's nasty, I promise. But if you insist... CLICK HERE!

Non-NaNo News (because life DOES go on)
For months now, I've been trying to boil down WIP#1 to a single sentence. Fail! Yesterday, after nearly going QWERTY face a few times, I managed to write a logline that sucks somewhat less than it did in earlier attempts. And this morning I entered my logline and my first 250 words in the Baker's Dozen Agent Auction. Nausea ensued.

In My Downtime (ha!) I'm Reading
With Remembrance Day* rapidly approaching, I wanted to spend some time reading books that have some connection to remembering and the wars. I've been meaning to read Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys and Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, and I figured that this was the perfect opportunity given that they both deal with the events surrounding WWII. I'm currently reading the former, and while the subject matter is tough to handle, it's definitely worth the read. 

You Should Read This Blog Post
Why I Love YA Lit by Bookshelvers Anonymous because it sings the praises of YA, and I couldn't agree more with it. Big confession: I haven't been spending as much time lately on the blogs. But I have read some other NaNo update posts. To see how some other bloggers are doing on their NaNo stories, check out Katy Upperman, Liz Parker, and Jess Silverstein.

Gratuitous Photo
Would you like some ham with that cheese? Seriously goofy photo aside, these NaNoWriMo shirts are awesome. The sizing is a little weird on the NaNo site, but in my experience they run true to size. It's a quality shirt and very comfy. Also, for those of you who can't handle super short sleeves digging in your armpits, the sleeves are a bit longer, so no armpit wedgies here. As for this case of too much information? You're welcome.





* Remembrance Day (formerly known as Armistace Day) is a Commonwealth memorial day on November 11th of every year. It has been observed since World War I in remembrance of all the men and women who have served in the armed forces. In the days leading up to Remembrance Day, people wear poppies on the breast of their coat. The emblem was chosen because of the poem In Flanders Fields, penned by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae.