I Am Agented!

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t posted on my blog since April! That’s probably the longest stretch I’ve ever gone.

Some of you may remember that I announced that I was working on edits, and that’s why I’d been so sporadic about posting. Well, for the last year, I’ve been working with an agent on editing my book, and we finally made our relationship official.

I am being represented by the wonderful Susan Velazquez at JABberwocky Literary Agency. Since I love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it seems like a perfect fit. (The Jabberwocky appears in the sequel, Through The Looking-Glass)

So, stay tuned. I’m going to try to get back into blogging periodically, and I’ll definitely let you know as things happen.

My Favorite Books from January

I finished 14 books in January, putting me on track for the 150 I want to read this year. Of those 14 books, here were my favorites.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue/ The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, by Mackenzi Lee (YA Historical fiction, LGBTQ+)

If history had been as interesting as these books, I would have liked it a lot better. Mackenzi Lee explains that she did take a few liberties with history, but overall, she tried to make them as historically accurate as possible. They’re fast-paced adventure stories with great characters.

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Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff (YA mystery)

Usually when people say a book is “atmospheric,” that’s a clue for me to stay away because it’s more about setting than plot.

Not true in this case. It is creepy and atmospheric with a mystery I only partly had figured out by the end. I couldn’t stop turning pages, and I loved the relationship between the main character, and her best friend (who’s a ghost and still haunting her). The best friend died from her anorexia, and it’s discussed in a realistic, moving way, but it doesn’t take the focus from the plot.

I look forward to reading other books by this author.

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Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds (YA contemporary, poetry)

This book is hard to describe. I kept putting it down and picking it back up, so I ended up reading through it in one day.

It’s a contemporary novel about a teenage boy whose brother was shot due to gang violence, and he’s “supposed to” get revenge. In the elevator, on his way to shoot the guy who did it, he’s visited by various ghosts who tell their own stories. It never gets preachy or heavy-handed.

Oh yeah, and it’s written in poetry. Which sometimes slows reading down for me, but not in this case. It did take me a few pages to get used to the style and voice, but once I did, I was all in.

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Red, by Erica Spindler (Romance)

This is an old favorite of mine, written in 1995. To describe it as “romance” doesn’t do it justice. It’s not the same old boy meets girl, boy pursues girl, boy marries girl story that we’ve all seen.

It starts off with teenage Becky Lynn, an ugly duck living with an abusive family in a small town. When some teenage boys rape her and no one believes her (or cares), she takes off on her own and makes a life for herself. It follows her through finding her dreams (and then losing them). No matter what terrible things, Becky Lynn continues to remake herself until she gets the happy ending she deserves.

Seriously, if you like romance but aren’t into same old/ same old, this one is fantastic.

 

What’s the best book (or books) you read in January?

 

Book Challenges- September 2018

I didn’t read as much this month as I have in previous months, mostly because I’m working very hard on editing my book. But I did get a few good ones read…

Popsugar Challenge

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A book set in a bookstore or library: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, by Matthew Sullivan (mystery): This was not what I expected, but it was still enjoyable. The story starts with an odd man who commits suicide in the bookstore and leaves all his possessions to Lydia, who works in the store. He’s left her clues that connect his history to a traumatic event from her past. It was a lot of fun.

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A book with two authors: The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (MG fantasy): This is the first in a series of five books, and I’m not sure if I’ll be continuing or not. There were a lot of things in it that reminded me of Harry Potter, so if you’re searching for something like it, maybe that’s a good thing…

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A microhistory: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach (nonfiction): This book was disgusting and fascinating, chock full of information I never knew I wanted to know (but I kind of did). It’s got a trigger warning for everyone and is not for the squeamish. I struggled with the experimentation done on dogs, and had to remind myself that they would have been long dead anyway.

While I Was Reading Challenge

No progress this month. 😦

The Unread Shelf

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman (genre: contemporary, mental health): Eleanor Oliphant is completely unlikable… at first. She’s also fascinating and vulnerable. By the middle of the book, I wanted to gather her in my arms and comfort her. I couldn’t stop reading. The “surprise” ending has been done many times, but it worked for me.

Running Total: 29

5 Classic Books

No progress this month.

Miscellaneous Reading

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Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints, by Nancy Kress (genre: nonfiction, writing): My writing group has told me a million times that my characters are too gray and need more agency. I’ve understood the words, but that hadn’t helped me change. I got so frustrated by trial and error that I was ready to quit. And then this book was like a revelation. The information is presented in a concrete, straightforward fashion with lots of examples. It’s finally making sense!

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The Girl Who Fell, by SM Parker (YA contemporary romance): This is a dark romance about a teenager with goals who gets enmeshed in a psychologically abusive relationship. It’s mesmerizing and terrifying.

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Pretty Little Liars, by Sara Shepard (YA contemporary): It was suspenseful and interesting, about the disappearance of a girl, and her friends who are all a little relieved, because the disappeared girl knew a secret about each one of them that she’d never want revealed. The first book doesn’t tie up any loose ends, and there are 16 books in the series, so be warned that if you try the first one, you’ll probably want to commit to the series. I’m not continuing.

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Where She Went, by Gayle Forman (YA contemporary): This is the sequel to If I Stay, and while I loved the first book, I adore the second one. Adam loved Mia and stayed by her side while she recovered from the car accident that killed her entire family. Then, she stopped returning his phone calls. After a chance meeting, they have one evening to figure out what went wrong.

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Story Fix: Transform Your Novel From Broken to Brilliant, by Larry Brooks (nonfiction, writing): I will read pretty much any writing book Larry Brooks writes. He presents concrete “rules,” which maybe wouldn’t work for some people, but I like structure. He presents information in a concrete manner with lots of examples. His books can get a bit repetitive at times, but I can live with that.

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Leverage In Death, by JD Robb (mystery, romance): We know whodunit, but not why or who was pulling the strings. Another fantastic mystery in the series.

Abandoned

None this month.

2018 Running Total: 113

Have you made any progress on your TBR or book challenges?

Finalist in the Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest!

Hey everyone, guess what! My manuscript, Not Dead Enough, was a finalist in the young adult category of The Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest! It’s a fancy way of saying I was a runner-up, but I’ll take it!

When Charlotte’s abusive boyfriend starts texting her from beyond the grave, she has to figure out if he’s haunting her, if she’s losing her mind, or if someone else wants her dead. He may be gone, but he’s NOT DEAD ENOUGH.

I got fantastic feedback on how to improve my book, and I’m eager to start working on it. Plus, I got a great compliment. The person who critiqued my manuscript said, “It is reminiscent of older horror books (like Christopher Pike) but the social media and modern voice stops it from feeling dated.”

For a while, I was getting frustrated by the fact that I keep getting close to winning contests and such, but don’t quite get there. I’ve put it in perspective now though, and I wasn’t even getting this kind of feedback before, which means I’ve improved. I only have a little more to go before I’m where I want to be.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that as long as I keep improving, I’m moving forward to reach my goal. Maybe it’s taking longer than I like, but that doesn’t matter, as long as I keep moving forward. And I’m learning so much writing and editing this book that the next one will be a little easier.

On a related topic, for the last two weeks, I blogged about writing groups, and I have proof that my writing group is awesome. My friend from my writer’s group, Mary Osteen, was a finalist in the same contest in the middle-grade category for her book, The Book With No Story.

Have you ever been frustrated by not making progress or reaching a goal as quickly as you wanted to?

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Can Genre Fiction Be As Life Changing As Literary Fiction?

IMG_8384Awhile back, I read The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George. The concept is intriguing. A book apothecary recommends books to “cure” people of their ills. Of course, there’s more to the book than that, but that’s the part that’s relevant to this discussion. I looked up some of the books he recommended, and they sounded like literary fiction to me.

What is literary fiction? you ask.

Good question. According to Wikipedia (but this is essentially the answer I’ve seen everywhere):

Literary fiction comprises fictional works that hold literary merit; that is, they involve social commentary, or political criticism, or focus on the human condition. Literary fiction is deliberately written in dialogue with existing works, created with the above aims in mind and is focused more on themes than on plot, and it is common for literary fiction to be taught and discussed in schools and universities.

Literary fiction is usually contrasted with popular, commercial, or genre fiction. Some have described the difference between them in terms of analyzing reality (literary) rather than escaping reality (popular). The contrast between these two subsets of fiction is controversial among critics and scholars. Source: Wikipedia

So, in a nutshell, it’s about analysis vs. escape. I like some literary fiction. And I like lots and lots of genre fiction. I think that, in general, the analysis vs. escape definition fits.

So it got me to thinking if genre fiction ever crosses that line into analysis, and if genre fiction can be as life changing as literary fiction.

I would argue that it can. And in fact, I think young adult fiction tends to do a lot of that.

I realize this is a bold assertion. After all, there are pages and pages dedicated to either people saying “I love YA and won’t apologize for it” and “Adults should be ashamed of reading books made for kids.” Honestly, both sides of the argument are compelling.

But I think that YA is uniquely appropriate for analyzing reality. After all, before they learn that they don’t know everything, many teens are amateur philosophers, solving all the world’s problems. I don’t miss the arrogance and self-centeredness of that time (and I was), but I miss the feeling of having all the answers. Teens are passionate about issues because they haven’t gotten to the point where they realize they don’t have time to be passionate about everything they care about. They don’t know how to pick their battles.

I’m not trying to say that all YA books analyze reality, or even reflect it in any meaningful way. But the ones that do can promote some good discussions and make me think about the nature of reality.

6 Genre Books That Explore Complex Issues

  1. This Savage Song/ Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab: Discusses the nature of responsibility for one’s actions, and that actions have consequences. (genre: dystopian YA)
  2. Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes: This was a controversial book because of the way it portrayed one of the main characters, Will. Will became quadriplegic because of an accident, and is also suicidal. While I understand the concerns associated with this book, I loved it because it explores the nature of self-determination, and an individual’s right to choose. (genre: romance)
  3. And The Trees Crept In, by Dawn Kurtagich: Explores the nature of grief and loss, and how our choices can imprison us (genre: YA horror)
  4. Six Months, Three Days, by Charlie Jane Anders: Explores the nature of choice and fate. (genre: science fiction novella)
  5. All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven: The main characters struggle with suicidal ideation and depression, and this book looks at how that can manifest for different people, and that sometimes there are no good “reasons.” (genre: YA)
  6. The Female of the Species, by Mindy McGinnis: Looks at themes of vigilante justice, self-protection, friendship, and how actions can have unexpected consequences. (genre: YA)

Have you ever had a genre book impact your life? What book would you “prescribe” to others?

 

D is for Decisions

Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions. ~Author Unknown

How close should I get to this potentially dangerous baby Gila Monster?  Just a... little... closer...

Chuckwalla: South Mountain Park, Phoenix, AZ; Photo Credit Doree Weller

Good fiction should always have the main character making decisions.  The trick, I think, is having the character make decisions that fit with the character.

I’ve read books before where a decision seems misplaced, and I couldn’t understand why the character would do that.  Decisions shouldn’t necessarily be explained to death, but should fit with what we know about the character.  The one exception to that is Young Adult fiction.  I was reminded of this by JK Rowling.  Young adults need to occasionally make decisions that don’t make sense.  Why?  Because they’re impulsive, with raging hormones and under-developed decision making centers.

I remember making some decisions as a teen that I look back on now and think… “What the *BLEEP* was I thinking?”  I wasn’t.  And the logical adult part of me has trouble remembering what that was like.  Until someone cuts me off on the highway.  Then I can remember for a second or two what that was like.

But the quote makes a good point.  Experience does come from bad decisions.  Sure, there are other ways to gain experience, but most people want to find out for themselves (myself included).  Most people don’t want to listen to someone else.  They want to see it, hear it, taste it, touch it.

We all make decisions constantly, whether we’re actively thinking about them or not.  In books and movies, I love getting a peek into the thought process of a character faced with a tough decision.