Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Writing Software

I heard a rumor that Scrivener for Windows is releasing in July. I've waited anxiously for this release since I found out about the software during National Novel Writing Month. But... I don't seem to see any concrete evidence of a release date. All I see is the Windows beta version expires June 30. I signed up for their email updates and I suppose I'll have to be patient until then.

So, why am I excited for Scrivener? I am a visual person and the writing process further proves this. I frequently "zoom out" to view my Word text in different ways (reading layout, print format etc.) to get a better grasp on layout and scene transitions. Ideally I would have a space plastered with photos, snippet text of scenes and a giant outline hung map-style in front of my face. But I also don't like clutter. The idea of having this style of work formatted into a writing program, all condensed onto my laptop appeals to me.

Also, the software is unbelievably cheap, which also appeals to me. Word, you are great, but you are basic. I'm ready for the next step.

My family has this thing we call "typical Scott style," in which we work with the lowest form of technology for so long, once we upgrade it's virtually a miracle. In typical Scott style, my husband learned to program entire songs on ancient software meant for playing short sound clips. In typical Scott style, he made all his own sound samples (he made a drum beat and turned into a loop and turned into a song) rather than using pre-programed samples from a software program. We are not early adopters of new technology, but when we get it, we grab on and hold for dear life.

photo: nuttakit

Do you use any writing software other than a standard word processing program? Which do you use and why do you like it?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review: Jane by April Lindner

Title: Jane
Author: April Lindner
Category: Young Adult*
Published: 2010

I DEVOURED this book. Jane is a perfect beach read (or a stay-up-late-in-your-house read). I admit, I have not read Jane Eyre, which this is a modern retelling of, so the story was new to me. Based on the plotting, I could tell it mirrored another book, since with any spin on a classic, sometimes the details don't totally come together without feeling a bit awkward or forced. The pacing in the second half of the book seemed rushed, with a lot of time passing within a few later chapters compared to the timeline of the first half. This pulled me out of the story a few times, but not enough to make me put the book down.

I always mention covers: this one manages a modern feel with a hint of a throwback. The Jane of the cover is more stylishly dressed than the character in the book, but to entice a reader, I think the look is perfect.

Jane is a character to root for. She is frustratingly bland at times, but her internal reflections reveal the depth of her character. She was not a cookie-cutter type personality, which I appreciated. All of the characters are nuanced and flawed, and Jane recognizes this as well, which gives weight to the decisions she makes.

I look forward to reading the original Jane Eyre.

*I found this in Young Adult, but the protagonist is 19 and in college when the book starts. I'm GLAD to see a YA book about an older character, but I know the industry can get picky about what YA is and where to shelf the book.

Friday, June 24, 2011

SE Wisconsin Book Festival

Last weekend I crossed over from the Land of Traffic (Chicago) to the Land of Construction (Milwaukee), into the pleasant area of Waukesha (pronounced WAH-keh-shaw) for the Southeast Wisconsin Book Festival.

I met Barbara Vey of the Beyond Her Book blog on Publisher's Weekly:

Barbara spoke about social media and hosted a panel with several romance writers. She was incredibly friendly and encouraged me to check out some larger conferences coming to Chicago in the next year. She even said to let her know beforehand so she can meet up and introduce me to people in the industry. What an awesome contact! Her blog focuses on romance books, and although that's not what I typically read, I appreciate any contact with someone who knows publishing.

Speaking of romance books, I snapped picture of one of the books for sale because, how could I not:

What woman can pass up a hunky firefighter who snuggles with kittens?! At sunset?

There were a couple Young Adult panels, one addressing the "dark" themes in YA (how timely) with some insightful authors (including: Stephanie Kuehnert - I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and Swati Avasthi - Split), and later a more general YA discussion with James Klise - Love Drugged, and Colleen Houck - Tiger's Curse among others). One of the other authors also works as an editor and she had some helpful information in response to a question on why so many YA books are romance with female protagonists. She said it doesn't mean that publishers aren't looking for young male protagonist in YA books.

I spoke to James Klise a little bit after the panel. He asked me specifically about my writing and gave me some great information. He confirmed what I already know, along with specific intel from his work as a high school librarian. He mentioned how libraries buy a lot of books which aren't necessarily what's featured at chain retailers; libraries want a variety of subjects, in in particular, YA stories with male protagonists (since the market is currently flooded with girl heroines (not a bad problem to have, I think!)), a diverse cast of characters, books about another culture woven into a contemporary theme, and issue-related books. He also said he has students specifically request books written in 1st person because they can relate more easily. I guess there's a reason so much YA is written in 1st person since it gives more of a sense of urgency. He was able to frame things in such a positive way, I feel renewed hope for someday getting published! Even if I don't, I'm still have a great time writing, reading and meeting authors.

My mom came with me to the book fair, and we made a trip of it by staying overnight. Waukesha turned out to have a lively little downtown scene, the streets closed off for free music in the streets and sidewalk sales by stores in the area. We ate at a little cafe that must cater to vegetarians because they really knew how to make a delicious veggie wrap (not like Subway toppings shoved into a pita). We ate gelato and shopped at the independent bookstore that hosted the book fest.

While this was a bit of a drive for us, it was great to be at such a community-driven event. If I find an event like this close to me I'll definitely go. I'm not sure I'm ready for the big expensive conferences just yet. Some big ones are coming to Chicago in the next year so I better prepare!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Link I Must Share (Gilmore Girls related)

I recently watched the entire Gilmore Girls series on cable - I'm not sure why I never got into it before. Forever Young Adult wrote up a highly scientific analysis of Rory's boyfriends. It's a super funny read if you're a fan of the show. The comments section is even more entertaining if you have the time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Reading Challenge: Updated!

I had my Goodreads reading challenge set to 30 books for the year, and since I'm already working on book 24, I just upped it to 50. Fifty books! A few years ago I remember discussing books on a music message forum, and someone said their reading goal was 50 books. At that time I read around 15 or 20 books a year. I never dreamed of reading a book a week!

Now here I am, setting the bar higher. Audio books are a big help since I can finish one in about a week. I also finally bought the new touch screen Nook reader, so I have so many ways to read. I will certainly share all the great books I come across, so stay tuned!

And if you aren't on Goodreads, it really is a fun place to track your own reading and see what's new. Happy reading!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Title: The Vespertine
Author: Saundra Mitchell
Category: Young Adult, Paranormal, Historical
Published: 2011

Despite a rather confusing flash-forward scene at the beginning, The Vespertine is a beautiful little historical paranormal romance. There is just enough historical detail and frilly prose balanced with genuinely believable friendships and flirtatious boys. I liked the emphasis on calling card culture, mirroring more modern concepts of texting; it was a manual process back then, but the socializing aspect is still relatable.

I also enjoyed the mystical aspects. It didn't seem forced because the author tied in the spiritual movement of the late 1800s into what the characters experience. Thankfully, there is no tragic accident or extreme situation that caused Amelia to have visions. She just does, which I found refreshing.

I had to re-read a few parts toward the end to fully get what happened. The ending came swiftly, I almost felt like another 20 pages could have detailed the transition better. A worthwhile read if you are willing to put in a little effort with the Victorian language. And that cover! Beautiful.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

This is Teen Event: Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, Maggie Stiefvater

The always wonderful Anderson's Books brought in 3 more great Young Adult authors: Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries, Mediator series, Jinx, Abandon and too many to list here!), Maggie Stiefvater (Shiver and Mercy Falls series) and Libba Bray (Gemma Doyle trilogy, Going Bovine and Beauty Queens):
They spoke about their newest books and the This is Teen community forum which aims to give young readers a place online to talk to authors and find new YA books to read. I found it inspiring what Libba said during the Question & Answer spot about what most influenced her to become who she is today. She suffered severe injuries after a car accident as a teenager, and while she recovered she wrote all of her feelings in a "little yellow journal." From then on, she kept writing. It wasn't until later that she realized being a writer was a viable career option. She points back to journal writing as her biggest inspiration. What an awesome plug for keeping a written journal!

Some of the recent author events I attended I was not as familiar with the author's books. I've read all but the newest book of Libba Bray, and have read several of Meg Cabot's books for adults and one from a young adult series. If I have a book signed, a lot of times I don't have a lot to say to an author unless it's something basic. I have to say, this group of authors was so friendly and chatty, they took time to talk to everyone who went through the signing line.

See how friendly Meg looks?

I mentioned to her how much I liked the book Size 12 is not Fat, which is about a former teen pop star who after her career fizzles out, moves into a college residence hall for work and solves campus mysteries on the side. What stuck with me is a part where the main character determined a girl could not have possibly pushed a fellow student down the elevator shaft because she had a Ziggy (a totally lame outdated Sunday comics character) notebook in her room - surely no one who had anything with Ziggy on it was capable of murder.

I'm planning to buy Beauty Queens for my e-reader (when I finally buy it! Hopefully soon...) and I'll post a review. I have Abandon which I'm planning to read next.

Next up this weekend: Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books: a free event with seminars and panels from local midwest and national-level authors. It will be my first foray into any type of publishing conference. I thought I'd start with a smaller scale one that seems to be less about publishing and more about writing and books in general. I will do a write-up next week!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Review: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

I've been making a point to write reviews of what I read and post on Amazon & Goodreads. I depend on reviews so much, I want to contribute to the pool to help people know more about what's out there. As a note: any review I post on my blog is something I've either purchased myself or borrowed from the library (not paid for any reviews).

Title: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
Author: Lish McBride
Category: Young Adult, Paranormal, Humor
Published: 2010

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is an enjoyable read with a great title -- I love the title. It was refreshing subject since I have not seen necromancy (raising the dead) explored much in YA fiction. The humorous angle was a big plus for me. Although werewolves make an appearance here, it contributes more to the subplot than the main storyline.

I enjoyed the shifting point of view, which is another aspect I don't see often in YA. The story's main character is Sam, whose chapters are told from a first-person perspective. The chapters involving secondary characters are told in third-person and spaced throughout. I felt the secondary character's chapters rounded out the story rather than detracting from it, with the exception of the first time Bridg appears, since she is entirely new about a 1/3 of the way in. Each chapter is titled with a clever song reference.

The villians are truly creepy. To have a few chapters from the point of view of Douglas solidified the creepy factor. There is a fast, clever vibe here, with interesting supporting characters. I am glad to see a sequal is in the works! No cliffhanger here, the ending wraps up fairly well, but there is clearly potential to continue the story. I'm looking forward to the next book in this series by Lish McBride.

Click here for a FREE Kindle bonus short story: Necromancer: A Novella by Lish McBride.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I continue to rant over that WSJ article...

Here's a follow-up by Publisher's Weekly in response to the Wall Street Journal write-up on the darkness of current YA books. Although I'm sure the author felt attacked by the massive response to her essay, which she clarifies in the article was an opinion piece and not meant as a news article, she doesn't seem to show compassion or interest in why so many were upset by what she wrote.

Meghan Cox Gurdon, the author of the article, mentioned to PW in the link above that her own kids read books by YA authors like Meg Cabot, who are well-known for contemporary-themed YA lit. Why not meantion this in the article? Gurdon then says her piece was not meant to be representative of all YA, but only on the disturbing trend in "dark" subjects. I personally think one sentence stating that would have cleared up some of the hurt people felt.

She is also baffled by criticizers who jumped to accusations of censorship and banning books. I don't think the leap is that far. She is lamenting the idea of books on dark topics, for example self-harm, and goes so far to suggest that it can lead to more teens trying out those behaviors because they are exposed to them in books. It's an old argument. Don't teach kids about safe sex because they'll want to have sex. Don't tell them about cutting and suicide because they'll want to cut or kill themselves. She gives absolutely no support for this argument, but I suppose if her piece is classified as a personal essay, even though printed for millions of readers in a high-profile publication, then she can freely not provide any data all she wants.

I still think this writer missed the mark. Maybe she meant to focus on one aspect of YA, but by the inclusion of her opening lines about a mom who couldn't find a single book for her adolescent daughter in all of Barnes & Noble's YA section, that kind of points to representation of the entire genre.

Here's a big fat WHATEVER to that WSJ piece. I could hope the potential part 2 might have some saving grace, but after reading Gurdon's response in this PW article, I'm not thinking it will show YA in any better light. I think what Gurdon really missed here, is opinions can hurt. I would hate for anyone to assume the YA genre is ONLY full of depressing, controversial books, when the reality is far from it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Twitter done blew up, ya'll

Today I witnessed the implosion on twitter in response to a rather bizarre Wall Street Journal article on the supposed decline in appropriateness of young adult fiction. I saw the article linked from Publisher's Weekly on my twitter feed this morning (confession: I scan twitter as to get my mind going when I first get out of bed). I was weirded out by it, and once I clicked back to my twitter feed, I saw a few of the YA authors I follow were more than weirded out - they were angry.

Author Maureen Johnson reportedly started the #yasaves hashtag, and the topic trended immediately, like in 30 minutes. If this is too much twitter-speak, let me translate: you tell a coworker at lunch about Jane getting dumped by her boyfriend, and by the time you get back to your desk, your entire row of cubicles is discussing who to set Jane up with next. Twitter is that fast, but on a global scale.

The jist of the article is the author thinks YA lit has taken a turn too dark, that it's all vampires, suicide and self-mutilation. From my past 6 months of reading mostly YA, I have not read a single book about a vampire, suicide or self-mutilation. Instead, I read about a girl weighed down with grief over her father's death (The Truth About Goodbye, Sarah Dessen), a teen boy whose job it is to find trends and make them happen, then solves a crime (So Yesterday, Scott Westerfeld), a psychicly-gifted socialite in 1880s Baltimore (The Vespertine, Saundra Mitchell), a boy who finds himself while in search of his mysterious girl-next-door-neighbor who disappears during the last days of high school (Paper Towns, John Green). I could go on, but you get the point.

True, I am a bit over the vampire craze, so I sought out other books. I also read a ton of book review blogs and follow authors on twitter. Still, all of their books were easy to find at Borders and my public library. Just sayin'.

Beyond the fact there ARE books in the YA genre that aren't "dark," as the article suggests, the other issue is why are those "dark" books written, and who is reading them? I'm not saying every book about teen suicide or whatever is a good book, but having been trained in and taught suicide prevention education post-college, I see the need for literature to deal with this for teens. It was sad when I saw first hand some school districts did not want suicide prevention ed in their classrooms, either out of fear or they did not think it worth the cost.  Those conversations need to start before a tragedy happens. YA lit can't solve everything, in the same way preventative education can't catch every kid at risk, but shunning it out of fear isn't the answer either.

Look, I don't have kids, and I would never tell anyone what they should or should not let their kid read. I think it's a rather easy issue to solve. Read what your kids read. Recommend books that you think are appropriate. Ask them about what they read. Ask a librarian for suggestions. Go to a bookstore where employees know about books and can help you find them. I don't feel like this is brain surgery - go figure, it has nothing to do with surgery! I don't recall ever being told I couldn't read a book, but I usually  had to report back a little bit about it. And for that I'm grateful.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Follow Friday!

I'm a sucker for finding new blogs, and I've been wanting to participate in a blog hop (doesn't it sound cute?). Sometimes I can be shy, but now, I forge ahead!

There is an obligatory question to get the party started, so I'll share:

Q. What are you doing to prepare for an upcoming zombie apocalypse and/or the return of Mel Gibson to the silver screen? (Both of which could be terrifying.)

My husband is pretty into zombie-lore (loves the books World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide, and his favorite movie is Zombieland), so I am happy to say we have a survival plan, including a short-term get-out-of-the-house plan to long-term survival tactics. I am not happy to say I am not allowed to carry the shotgun. Apparently, my trigger finger is too quick and reckless as evidenced by many gaming blitzes in Borderlands & Fallout. As if I would have such large quantities of ammo to waste in real life... sheesh!

The rest of this post, I just wanted to say a little about how awesome the book blogging world is. I'm a long-time blogger, going back to... oh my gosh, it's been ten years by my calculations. I used LiveJournal for a long time and mainly wrote about daily activities, and I read the blogs of my friends. It wasn't until more recently I discovered the wealth of writing, publishing and book review blogs. I have to give you all credit - the book community is incredible! I've found so much support for writing, I am wondering why people even pay to get an MFA (that was a joke). The enthusiasm I see for books on these blogs is also encouraging.

I joined Goodreads and set a goal of 25 books to read this year. I changed it to 30 and may up it to 40 at the rate I'm going. My To-Read list is a mile long thanks to giveaways and my frequent trips to Anderson's Books to see authors and of course, buy more books. In addition to that, my library card is wearing thin from all the audio books I've checked out this year. (On that note I'm trying out an MP3 book via Overdrive from the library. I downloaded it to my phone! We'll see how this works out).

So, this post is a shout-out to you all: the bloggers, the twitter-ers, the book reviewers. Thank you for your instruction, inspiration and sharing. I appreciate all of you and have learned so much!

After the jump is the list of participating blogs. Happy reading!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Links List!

I troll through a lot of information every week. Here are a few items I plucked from the weeds:

Two great posts over the past month on the rise in popularity of Young Adult fiction (in case you find yourself having to explain to non-YA readers why you read books about teenagers):
Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire
Glass Cases has a litte blurb about Lock-In with e-readers, which is my main struggle in deciding which e-reader to buy. I'm going to check out the new Nook releasing next week before I decide on this one vs. the Kindle.

And just for fun (if consider it a good time to torture yourself with misused punctuation) is the "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotations

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Diary Days

This is where I review an old diary entry (thus, the blog name) and reflect. Sometimes there isn't much to reflect on, but at least it's funny. In 1994, I decided it was time to document things I hated. I listed them using the aptly titled, Things I Hate:

  1. Noisy eating habits - Still one of my top pet peeves.
  2. A mouthful of excuses - Clever!
  3. Lima beans, beef stroganoff, meatloaf - Yup, still true.
  4. Posers (with the note: the act of doing, not the people) - Clearly an adolescent thing.
  5. School, everything related (except friends) - I always remembered liking school...
  6. Baywatch bikini girls - Who doesn't?!
  7. Cloudy, moody days - I live in the Midwest, we practically manufacture these.
  8. People watching me sunbathe - OMG, ew. I think this was a kid from school talking to a neighbor in the next backyard. I don't remember if he actually stared or if I was only paranoid of it happening. 
  9. Sandy everything from being at the beach - Fact: sand teleports. 
  10. Music by Phil Collins, ZZ Top, Rush, Meatloaf - A good hate list, for sure.
  11. Hoochies - I cannot make this stuff up.
  12. Jet lag, readjustment - And airplane food, right? I mean, gross!
  13. Annoying bugs! - Right on!
The only addition I have is when a person talks through a yawn. When the urge to yawn arises, just stop talking and get it out. You're not fooling anyone by pushing through it, as if no one will notice the weird way words sound as a mouth shapes around the yawn.

Did you just yawn?

What do you think? Do you have anything you remember hating that has carried over from childhood to adulthood?