Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My Favorite Books: The Honorable Mentions

These books weren't originally on my list of all time fav's but as I scanned my shelves, they called out to me (saying, "Sarah, did you forget about me? Don't you love me any more?"). I have very needy books.

As I'd mentioned in my last post, these are pretty much all picture books (except one). I just . . . I couldn't leave them out.

This is me "reading" Sabriel - the number one book from my last post about my 5 Fav Books.
This is actually me pretending to read while I take a selfie.

In no particular order, here are my Honorable Mentions:

  • Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede This is the story of a princess (Cimorene of Lindwall) who does not want to marry a handsome, brainless prince. She'd much rather live with dragons and learn to cook chocolate mousse. I think I got this book through the Scholastic Book Club. You know, those odd circulars that let Scholastic sell awesome books through our public school system? Maybe they don't do that any more. I'm not sure. But when Mom finally let me pick out a book, it sure was exciting.

  • The Very Little Girl by Phyllis Krasilovsky This was the first book I remember loving. I'm not actually certain why I loved this book above all other books when I was very small. Perhaps because I was a very little girl. Kids love books where they see themselves in the pages. And I loved watching the little girl grow. Oh, and Pat the Bunny. I loved that one too. It's my tactile nature. But it doesn't stand up to the test of time quite as well as the Little Girl. I shall include a picture from inside the book below, so you can see just how beautiful the Little Girl illustrations are.

Here I am, looking suspiciously over the top of my awesome book.

I love the minimalist colors and drawings in this book.
It's so pretty. And you can see it was well-loved too.

  • Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson This story is about a boy who can just draw himself whatever he wants. That would be so cool! Below you can see Harold drawing himself a boat and then climbing right in. He also draws himself some pies to eat. I loved this book so much when I was little.

  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak This one's a no brainer. In my twenties, I had to ask for this book for a few different holidays before I was finally given it. Now it is mine, all mine.

  • Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, pictures by Lillian Hoban Really, any of the Frances books would do. Frances and I have a lot in common. Namely, we like to make up ridiculous little songs about our day-to-day lives. I believe that in the below book, Frances ponders why anyone would want to eat anything other than bread and jam in her very own catchy little song. And then, later, she sings a sad little song about how she's rather sick of bread and jam. It tugs at the heart-strings.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My Five Favorite Books (Plus a few more)

I had no idea what to write this week, and my self-imposed Wednesday morning deadline was closing in fast, so I was inspired to raid my shelves for a Top Five list.

my books
This is my stack of books, pre-photo shoot.

Here I am, looking like a crazed idiot with my books:
me and my favorite books

Fair or not, I did notice that I read every single one of these books before I was out of high school (and some pre-elementary school). Sorry, new and wonderful books, apparently I'm a sucker for nostalgia. And kids' books. I don't read my picture books very much, but I've still got a shelf full, and I will NEVER give them up! (No matter how overstuffed our shelves get or how seldom I read them. I will defend them to the death!)

I'd just like to note that I really didn't intend for this blog post to turn into a photo shoot with my books, but somehow that's exactly what happened. (Which also turned a "quick" post into one that took a little longer than anticipated.) So. Here they are:

My Five Favorite Books

Sabriel by Garth Nix
1. Sabriel by Garth Nix I've already mentioned this book a few different times. So I won't belabor the point. This book is awesome. The end.

Eloise books, Kay Thompson, Hilary Knight
2. Eloise by Kay Thompson, Pictures by Hilary Knight (And, honestly, without the pictures, you just would not have the funny, spunky, and maybe just a little bit bratty Eloise that I know and love.)

The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
3. The Horse And His Boy by C.S. Lewis Perhaps it's not the most famous of the Narnia series, but I do believe it's the only one that takes place entirely in Narnia's world. I loved the back and forth between the two main characters (Shasta and Aravis) and the Talking Horses (Mostly Bree, although whatshername was nice too - she was The Voice of Reason. No wonder I don't remember her name). For a quite a few years running, I read this book once a year.
4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Oops. Looks like I don't have this one on my shelves. I've got Emma and a well-loved Sense and Sensibility but no P&P. To be fair, I believe the last time I read it, I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg. (A great big shout-out to the wonderful people at Project Gutenburg. Thank you!)

One Morning in Maine, Robert McCloskey

Robert McCloskey, Sal
5. One Morning in Maine and Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey I loved the life out of these books. The top one is an old library reject (like quite a few other books of mine) because my dad was a librarian, and I wasn't about to turn my nose up at a book just because it wasn't fit for library circulation any more. I love these illustrations. They're gorgeous. And it probably helped that Sal looked a little bit like me at that age, so I saw myself in the book's pages.
I fully intended to include a small section on my "Honorable Mentions" - the other books that I picked up as I was searching for my original Fav Five. But that's going to have to wait until next week. Sorry, people, but it's my bedtime. You can guess what I'll be reading tonight.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Painting My Own Magic Card

In this post, I mentioned that my husband had me playing Magic: The Gathering (the dorkiest card game known to man).

Well, apparently, re-painting the cards to make them look cool is a thing. (These cards are known as "Alters" because you have altered the card from its original state - this game has all kinds of its own lingo).

I wanted to show off my repainted Abzan Guide:

Magic Abzan Guide on lion

Note that the guide lady is now riding a lion. That is way cooler than the original creature she was riding that didn't have a head:

Magic Abzan Guide

I noted the lack of head and decided we needed to resolve this issue. Animals without heads are really quite sad.

And if I want to stretch the writing theme of this blog, I will say that Magic: The Gathering has a ton of really complex story lines. After the first few sets apparently they ("they" being the company Wizards of the Coast) started putting out books that correspond to the stories. These people do some serious world building.

Also, my lion reminds me of Aslan, and it doesn't get much cooler than that.

My husband painted an Abzan Guide too, which I figured I'd share. I sketched out the lion for him, but he painted it. I actually kind of like his colors better than mine. They're more vibrant:

Magic Abzan Guide Alter

His lion reminds me of the Cowardly Lion (perhaps he's a bit of an Eeyore too). Definitely got that sad old man look.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Everything About Writing Takes Forever

I don't know. Maybe there are people out there who managed to write their first draft in about three months, have it be miraculously wonderful, and sell it in about a month, but if they do exist they are few and far between.

Even those people who manage to have a lucrative writing career in their twenties usually started writing when they were about eight.

Harry Potter
Awesome illustration by karly nuñez

J.K. Rowling (mentioned because of the ridiculous amounts of money her books made) didn't have Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone published until she was almost 32, and that run was only for 500 copies.

As for me, I've written somewhere around six or seven books (I'd have to sit down and count them to know for sure). I started writing in grad school, which is really lamentably late to the scene. That was about six or seven years ago.

The seasons. Photos by (from top left, clockwise):

The current book (Dragon Bait), I've spent even more time on than usual. I started it around two years ago, edited it about three or four times, decided it was ready, was proven wrong. Then I paid for a critique by someone who really knows their stuff back in July. That was . . . discouraging but helpful.

winter snow
Photo by Jono Hey

It took a few weeks to determine to do it, but then I re-wrote the book in fairly quick order, finishing using the incentive of NaNoWriMo in November. I edited as I wrote, but, realistically, I knew the book still needed another going over.

I spent December reducing the book down from 71k to 63k. It took some pretty ruthless editing, but I like to think the pace is significantly improved. And, oh yeah, I finished it just this weekend!

spring robin
Photo by Barbara

After the euphoric high of (re-)finishing the book, I realized I still need other eyes on it to know what OTHER people think might be wrong with it (writing in a vacuum is a bad idea). Then I need to incorporate their suggestions. Then I need to revise my query letter and send it out to agents. And send it out again when that first letter doesn't work.

Let's say agents like the book. They'll take a while with my partial or full. A month or two. Tick, tick.

summer flowers
Photo by Rachel Kramer

If I do manage to sign with an agent, it'll be time for submissions to publishers. If I'm ridiculously lucky that will take a month. If I'm more normal, that will take a while, and then I might not actually manage to get the first book sold.

The lovely and talented anonymous writer, Authoress, of the well-known writing site has had an agent for a while, but dystopian science fiction (her genre of choice) is "out" right now, and she hasn't actually been able to sell any of her books to publishers, even with an agent.

It's a hard knock life out there.

autumn leaf
Photo by Grant MacDonald

Anyway, I'm just being a little doomy and gloomy (although, actually "realistic" might be a better word choice) about my chances these days. I've learned so much about the ins and outs of writing in the last few years, but, if I'm very lucky Dragon Bait will be my book that lands me an agent and a publishing contract. But, if not, I guess about two years from now I might have another polished book out on the streets.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Gryffindor vs Slytherin: The Battle of the Scarves

I spent most of my weekend working on a belated Christmas present for my husband's sister.

She is a Gryffindor, you see, and she happened to be lacking the appropriate cold weather gear to properly represent her House.

I made her a scarf. And, because I had leftover yarn, I made a matching hat. Perhaps its not Harry Potter-approved, but it had a pom-pom, so it's cool.

This is her in Gryffindor Ninja mode:

Gryffindor ninja

Well, it just so happens that my husband belongs to Slytherin.

As she was opening her gift, my husband sneakily pulled on his Slytherin scarf, and the moment she had the scarf on, he attacked yelling, "Filthy Gryffindor!"

It was pretty funny.

Sadly, I didn't have a camera handy to commemorate the event, so instead you're getting two phone-quality photos of the siblings in their House gear.

Here's Nigel:

Slytherin scarf, suspicious

He is suspicious.

But, really, you should be suspicious of him.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Links: Blog Traffic, Fun with Words and Diversity

I enjoyed a few articles I read recently, so I'm sharing them in this week's post.

Blog Optimization!

adorable little girl writing
I'm not nearly this adorable when I write, so I've gotta find ways to compensate.

I'm not very good at blogging. I post regularly, which I hear is smart, but to keep from going crazy I only post once a week which is bad form, you know.

I was reading through Chuck Sambuchino's (editor of Guide to Literary Agents and Writer's Digest staffer) blog post about blog traffic. One of the comments led me to this nifty link to check out my blog's SEO (search engine optimization).

traffic in a city
Traffic - like blog "traffic". Get it? I'm so clever.

I put my blog site in and learned that my title wasn't long enough, my pictures needed "ALT text" (text to describe a photo), and I needed a blog description.

That's why I did a slight overhaul on my blog. I'm not sure the headline's the best, but, hey, it's apparently the right length.

For Fun and Literature

You can always get a bad review. No matter what you've written, there are people out there who are going to hate it. It's a fact of life. Well, here's a few highlights from bad reviews of classics novels.

Pixar's La Luna, row boat and moon
From Pixar's La Luna by NASA APPEL

Nobody likes a long description. Here's the Pixar movies in 140 characters or less, à la Twitter.

Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the most respected science fiction and fantasy authors out there. That's why in 2004, the Sci Fi Channel that was (it's now the SyFy Channel) turned her much-loved Earthsea series into a TV Mini-series. They also turned her very diverse world into a very white world, which pissed her off. And, what the hell, while I'm at it, here's Chris Rock's take on what it means to be black in Hollywood.

Amon, Avatar villain from Legend of Korra
Awesome cosplay of Amon, the villain from The Legend of Korra

While I'm discussing diversity, here's an article on the last episode of The Legend of Korra, a very diverse cartoon with a ton of kick-ass women. Incidentally, Korra was preceded by a TV show called Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was a big hit. Its movie, however, was plagued by white-washing the title character (and much of the rest of the cast) and, apparently, a pretty crappy script. The movie was a total flop.

Also, this homemade picture book on etsy is adorable.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What I've Been Reading

I'm a conflicted reader. I don't think I'd want to be a writer if I didn't love reading too, but the truth of it is that it's not always easy to find the time to read. And when I've been writing like crazy, sometimes I get just a little bit sick of the written word. And then, when I make the time to read, I've got a whole host of genres pulling me in different directions.

Here are some of the ways I've been spending my reading time this year.

Middle Grade Books

You've got to read it to write it. That's the common consensus. Weirdly enough, I love writing MG, but I don't always love reading it. But I can't be That Sort of Person, so I make some time. I probably read some other MG books in the last year, but the ones I remember reading were:

Flora and Ulysses
Photo by Schu

Photo by Etrusia UK

I especially loved Flora and Ulysses (this year's Newberry Award winner - it's not one of those depressing ones). Actually, from this list, the only one I struggled through was The Mysterious Benedict Society.

Until I made this list, I didn't actually realize I'd managed to read so many MG books this year. Yeah for me!


Patti Smith
Patti Smith by August Brill

Just Kids kicked me off on non-fiction with Patti Smith's autobiography of the NYC music scene in the 70s. I've never been a big fan of non-fiction before, but it was a very interesting and beautifully written book. Not for kids, though. Not by a long shot.

glowing Eiffel Tower
Photo by Moyan Brenn

I learned some interesting things about the way others live from these books. I ought to read more of them, but . . .  as you can see, the theme of this post is that I don't have enough time to read everything!

YA Books

This category is easier for me because I naturally gravitate towards it, and I also enjoy writing it (so, I'm supposed to read it). I love a good, light-hearted YA. I'll cover a few of the highlights below.

John Green

John Green books
Photo by RiveraNotario

This year I finally sank my teeth into John Green (the phenomenon who authored The Fault in Our Stars, amongst other much-loved YA books). My personal fav of his (co-authored by David Levithan) was Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

Cassandra Clare

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Photo by Kaitlin Kühn

And I finally, finally, finally read City of Bones (of the Mortal Instruments series) by Cassandra Clare. I had tried to read it before, but got irritated by the love triangle, and abandoned it. This time around I finally gave it a real go, and I will say it was an action-packed read. I enjoyed it, but I still gave it a bit of a mixed review on Goodreads.

Stephanie Perkins

Oh, and I finally read Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. I think that was this year. It might've been a little more, though.

To be perfectly honest, I think the title was holding me back from diving in, but once I did, I had the pleasure of reading some good, light-hearted fun. I'm always a sucker for romance, and I enjoyed it's sequel (of sorts), Lola and the Boy Next Door even more. Although I might like to have a good chat with the people who title these books. I would be way less embarrassed to be seen with a book that had a slightly more, uh, grown-up title. Of course, these books are meant for YA, which by definition is not for adults, so I guess that's more on me than the Titler.


There are a few things that fit into this category. First is the:

Guilty Pleasures

This is Nigel & I in Venice.
We are an adorable couple, of course.

A guilty pleasure typically means adult romance for me. If I'm really sick of everything else (TV, reading, writing, chores) I can breeze through a romance in a day. I've found myself less and less likely to do that this past year, partly because I've devoted so much time to writing, and partly because I'm just a bit less interested in romances this year than in other years.

However, Nalini Singh is always a great go-to for me. She writes the Guild Hunter series. It has fantastic world building and a kick-ass heroine. It's perhaps more of an urban fantasy than a romance, but she's got a few steamy scenes, so be warned.


Actually, Until Tuesday was a coworker's recommendation, but it's already been categorized. So what I really mean here is: Books My Husband Thinks I Should Read.

Fancy old book
Photo from Stéfan

Nigel found out I'd never read a Jules Verne (I got half way through Around the World in Eighty Days and got side-tracked) and he threatened not to give me my Christmas present until I read one.

We are compromising in that I will eventually finish Verne (but not before Christmas), and I will finish The Name of the Wind by Dec. 25. Or my present will be held hostage. The Name of the Wind is a somewhat recent adult fantasy that happens to be one of my hubby's favorite books ever. I'm enjoying it, but not as swept away as he was.

I'm sure there's more that fits into this category, but I think this post is long enough as it is, don't you?