Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Legos and an Unusual Wizard

Instead of talking about all that writing jazz, this week I'm going to share a few fun photos. Just because.

The first photo is the best (why save the best for last?)

One day I came home from work to find our coffee maker dressed up as a wizard. (This was my husband's doing. We don't have little wizard-making gremlins running about our kitchen.) It was awesome. Here's a picture:

Okay, so actually it was two pictures. I had to be sure to get the wizard's best angle. Wizards are particular about that sort of thing.

Consistent readers of this blog may recognize the hat. I actually made that wizard hat for my Gandalf Halloween costume two years ago. I am very proud of this awesome hat. (Even though I never thought of using it to make a coffee maker wizard.)

In other news, my husband and I recently created a Lego TreeCastle (Like a Treehouse, but in castle form). Here's a photo:

And, because, obviously you can't have a castle without an action shot:

Help! The dragon's attacking!

Okay, so hopefully you were entertained. Next week I may actually get back to talking about writing. Or perhaps I will share a how-to on making a top hat. (I made a top hat last weekend. It is a very cool hat.) But I promise, sooner rather than later, I will get back to the main topic at hand: writing. But query letters are a scary business, and I need a little break from writing about writing. At least on this blog. I'm still working on my YA Contemporary, though. I have not given up!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Garth Nix and Clariel: Excited But Nervous

I'm at a bit of a loss this week, so I decided what the heck. I'll just talk about the thing that made me most excited all week.

And that would be the fourth Abhorsen book, Clariel. Garth Nix tweeted this on Sunday:

So the fourth Abhorsen book is closer and closer to me being able to read it!

Abhorsen History

For those non-fans, the first Abhorsen book is Sabriel by Garth Nix (If you haven't read it, go read it now!). Sabriel was first released in 1995 (according to Wikipedia), although since Nix is Australian, I'm guessing it was a bit slower to make its way over to the US.

Sabriel is quite possibly one of the greatest books of all time by my obviously unprejudiced reckoning. There's an awesome and unusual magical system in a very dangerous and amazing world. Plus, its got the coolest character ever, an aloof and very fish-oriented "cat" named Mogget.

My husband and I have debated just how cool Mogget actually is. My husband contends that the Disreputable Dog from the Lireal books is most likely the coolest character of all time. And, therefore, by extension, Lireal is the second coolest character of all time (because the Disreputable Dog chose to be her pet).

I'd just like to state, for the record: he is wrong. I said it on the internet, so it's got to be true.

Why Clariel Makes Me Nervous


There is one thing that makes me nervous about Clariel. Apparently the book takes place about 600 years before Sabriel (source), so the only possible carry over character is Mogget. That, obviously, is alright with me.

What makes me nervous is that Goodreads indicates that Clariel is the story of the girl who will become Chlorr of the Mask. By the time of Sabriel (600 years down the road), Chlorr is evil. I'm just not sure how I feel about following a character that I will eventually want Sabriel to kill. If Goodreads is correct (and Clariel = Chlorr does make sense based on the little we know of Chlorr), we will follow a future villian in Sabriel's story and, if Garth Nix stands true to form, we'll grow to know and care about her.

I suppose this could be interesting, the viewpoint of the villain and all. Honestly, that's pretty much what Episodes I-III of Star Wars was (although Anakin wasn't terribly sympathetic, in my opinion). It's just unnerving going into a book knowing that the main character comes to a bad end.

And yet, I'm looking forward to the book anyway.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Queries and Unlikely Exclamations

"Oh, me bloomin' onions."

Hello, there. Don't mind me. I'm just trying out a few interesting phrases to exclaim under less than ideal circumstances. Right now my go-to is the classic "Jeeze, Louise," which beat out "For Pete's sake," by a narrow margin.

For a while in college, my favorite phrase was, "For f**k's sake!" (I try to keep this blog nice and PC). I feel like I've had a few more creative ones, but I can't think of them right at this moment.

I've also been known to write songs to things like skillet bread and hot chocolate. These songs, in case you were curious, do not involve many lyrics other than the name of the food/drink in question. I am not a terribly talented songstress.

Well, all this is a rather off-topic lead up to the decision to start querying again. (I went back and forth on that a few times.) I've revised my novel, re-written my query, and picked out the first round of agents. I have not, however, actually sent out any queries yet. That'll probably happen next weekend because I've been too busy revising, writing my contemporaryYA, and critiquing to fit actual querying into my weekend. (Okay, so I'm nervous and dawdling, but I did spend my time well.)

I edge ever closer to the main event. I'm liking my new Chapter 1, and my current query letter has actually received positive reviews from people who did not like my first query letter. It also got positive reviews from people who did like my first query letter. Yea!

And, because I've spent so much time on it, I am going to share said query letter with you. It might go a little heavy on the melodrama (which was something I specifically asked my CPs about), but I like it.

Without further ado, here it is:

It’s 1956, the world runs on dragon magic, and powerful half-human, half-dragon Senator Darius McCarthy is in the midst of his campaign to rid America of the traitorous Reds.

Moura Pearce watches Senator McCarthy's television show every Thursday. The whole country does. Moura's curled up on the couch next to her best friend when creepy, dragon-eyed McCarthy singles out her dad as a communist traitor. Suddenly that poodle skirt she desperately wanted seems a lot less important. Moura runs home . . . and finds she doesn't have a home left.

Moura barely manages to pull her parents out of the fire that’s consuming their house. Her parents must flee, abandoning Moura with a snobby old aunt. Moura knows exactly who's responsible, even if he didn't light the match himself. McCarthy might think he's all-powerful. He might even have huge, fire-breathing dragons on his side. But Moura doesn’t have much left to lose. She finally sees the strangle hold Senator McCarthy has on her country, and she’s going to break that hold even if it costs the one thing she’s got left: her life.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Oh, The Revisions!

My Christmas cactus is in bloom!

This, of course, has nothing to do with the post at hand, but I am quite excited about the pretty pink flowers in the middle of my dining room table.

My camera is being temperamental, so here's a beautiful Christmas cactus photo from Scorpions and Centaurs:

Now, on to my Writerly Topic Of The Day: my revisions.

The Critique

After I had a partial request from an agent and she ended up passing, I took her comments about why she passed pretty seriously. What it really came down to was that I hadn't fully introduced her to my world, so she kept getting distracted from my story. She wanted to know how this world functioned, and I hadn't given her enough info.

Fantasies and World Building

I could see there was merit in that criticism. I had thought that I was showing confidence in my readers by throwing them into the middle of the story and letting them pick up on the little hints about the world themselves. I was probably also influenced by my husband (who dual functions as one of my beta readers). He's the sort of reader who hates excess explanation, and some fantasies really hit readers over the head with that sort of thing.

The Revisions

But I'd gone too far in a minimalist direction. It was time for another round of revisions. One in which I amped up the sensory details and world building (but did not go overboard). So I've been revising my novel for the past month. I think it's quite improved.

I have a new first chapter that does a much better job of introducing how my world works. There are more details and descriptions woven into the rest of the story too. For example, I added some cool clothing descriptions. Did you realize that people in the 50s seem to wear a lot of belts? Even with dresses! (At least that's what I noticed when watching shows/movies from the era.)

I also tried to increase the pace of the novel by chopping out some scenes that started to feel boring and by getting rid of extraneous words from sentences. I seem to have a fondness for the word "just" which I cut quite a few times.

And now it's probably time to start querying again. I've also been revising my query letter. (That might be my topic for next week. We'll see.) But I'm nervous. I might sit on it for a little while and see if I want to revise one or two more things. But the querying will commence soon. I promise.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Will Grayson and The Boy Next Door: My Fav YA Contemporaries

I'm writing this post after ringing in the new year with a glass of champagne and a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity, so please forgive any shoddy wordmanship. I'm tired.

Victorious! I have won the battle against my hair. This time.
(Sorry. I just felt like writing a weird caption.)

I believe I'd mentioned that I had a sudden overwhelming desire to write a YA contemporary (as opposed to a sci fi or fantasy which is my more usual fare.) Well, today I'm going to talk about two YA Contemporary books that helped inspire me.

The Wills

First is Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. As a warning, my comments may include a mild spoiler.

I picked up this book and was instantly drawn to the characters. The book follows the stories of two different teens named Will Grayson who live in the vicinity of Chicago. We start off with the first Will (let's call him Will #1) saying that his dad said you can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose. Will goes on to say that he doesn't think this is true. He did not pick his best friend. The chapter ends with him having to pick the nose of his best friend, which is pretty darn clever.

Will #1's best friend is named Tiny (it's an ironic sort of name because Tiny is actually quite huge and, incidentally, quite gay). By the end of the first chapter which I thought was so clever, I said to myself, "I really hope that by the end Will # 1 feels like he chose Tiny as his best friend and doesn't feel like his best-friendship has simply been imposed upon him." Tiny is pretty darn awesome, and let's just say that the end of this book left me feeling very satisfied.

So, in other words, by the end of the first chapter, I knew exactly what I really wanted to happen by the end. And it did. That takes some pretty clever foreshadowing and character development on the part of the authors.

I probably ought to mention that this book is really funny in places because I'm sure the sarcasm and humor are a big part of why I liked this book so much. And the happy ending. I love a happy ending.


After about a million recommendations, I finally read Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. The titles are a dead giveaway, but I'll spell it out anyway. These are YA Contemporary Romances. And a ton of fun. I enjoyed both, but I loved Lola and Cricket (the Boy) more.

I'm not entirely certain why I fell in love with Lola so much more. Anna is a cool girl, and her book takes place in Paris, so you get something of a guided tour through one of the most popular cities in the world. It's definitely a fun read.

But Lola is a book I'll probably re-read a few times (or more). Lola is outrageous and creative and wears the most insane outfits. Her name is actually Delores, but she decided to rename herself when she was little. She's got two overprotective dads, and a real talent with a needle and thread.

And then there's Cricket. Cricket is freaking adorable and clever and thoughtful, and he has crazy hair that sticks up all of its own accord.

I'm not sure how to better articulate what made this story stand out for me. Maybe it was the characters. Maybe it was the setting (San Francisco may not be quite as exotic as Paris, but it's still a world apart from my own, and it's a lot of fun to explore through this book). Maybe it was just that both Cricket and Lola are very creative, and I really enjoyed finding out what they'd create next. Whatever it was, this book is definitely a keeper.

That's It

So those are two of the books that have helped inspire my sudden desire to write a Contemporary YA. I only hope that my work does both of these inspirations some justice. Because it sure would be cool to finally land an agent and a book contract. But, no matter what happens, I am very glad I read these wonderful books.