Thursday, December 20, 2012

Romance Fiction Has Come a Long Way

Photo: Public Domain via
The sultry duke ravishes the chaste duchess. 
The sexy pirate wins over the fair maiden in distress.

I used to think this encompassed the romance genre.

How wrong I was!

It took attending a Romance Writers of America conference for me to see how varied the romance genre is, and that *gasp* I read romance and didn't even realize it! A lot of books I read have romantic elements; any book that features a romantic relationship can technically work as a romance, although romance as a genre involves a happy ending.

Still, this could be romantic suspense, romantic comedy, paranormal romance, or romance in Young Adult ...  the list goes on and on!

NPR posted an article this week called: Don't Hide Your Harlequins: In Defense of Romance. The title says it all: why are we ashamed to admit we read romance? So much variety exists, with lots of contemporary and paranormal romance that push the boundaries. The covers have come a long way too. This article references two really great contemporary romance writers: Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jennifer Crusie. Their books feature flawed characters who defy stereotypes. Plus, their books are funny. They've changed the way I view romance fiction.

Do you have a favorite romance author? Have you been known to downplay reading a romance when someone asks what you're reading?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Pushing the Limits
Katie McGarry
YA Contemporary
Published: July 2012

image: Goodreads
I'm pretty sure this is the first book I've read under Harlequin Teen. Since I joined Romance Writers of America earlier this year, I've paid more attention to the romance genre and wanted to see how Harlequin worked the YA angle. In YA, romance is usually not the primary focus like it might be in many adult niche markets of romance, but it is a driving factor in the plot.

Pushing the Limits involves Echo, a traumatized teen who just made her return to school after time off from an incident with her mother that involved the courts and a restraining order. Since Echo has repressed the memory of "the incident," all she has left are severe scars on her arms. She's deemed a freak, even by herself. A new school counselor challenges Echo to safely explore her repressed memories to work through the trauma. At this same time, she meets bad-boy Noah, a foster kid who's also working through his issues with the school counselor. Echo is assigned as Noah's tutor, and they clash from the start. But Noah's not afraid of Echo's scars or her past, and it changes his perspective of her.

Comparison's to Simone Elkeles' Perfect Chemistry series are inevitable; Echo is popular but flawed, just like Brittany, and Noah is the bad boy with a past, much like Alex, and the two are even paired together in a science class. Check out the cover comparison. And I have to say, Perfect Chemistry's Alex Fuentes is pretty hard to beat. He's such a great YA character that felt real to me the whole time. Noah was like Alex on the surface but lacked some of the charm, and some of his internal thoughts seemed too mature or he spoke stilted dialogue which didn't match what I expected from a kid like him.

However, the strengths of Pushing the Limits is the foster care and therapy angle, which is why I continued reading. I was glad to see a positive social worker in the mix, even if some of the foster care stuff bordered on melodrama (abuse and neglect in the foster homes, a few cliches). Echo is easy to sympathize with, and I definitely rooted for her to find confidence again after uncovering what happened with her mother. It was heartbreaking at times to see her devotion to a mother who abused her, even if the reason was mental illness.  Sadder still was her father and his new wife who wanted to protect her with structure and pretending like life was normal.

This is an edgy romance that I see as appealing for fans of Simone Elkeles.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Guest Post: What To Do Before Revising a NaNoWriMo Novel

I'm super excited to host Angela Ackerman, co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus! I used her reference book to create varied character reactions while writing my NaNoWriMo draft last month. Here, she shares strategies on how to take that draft and prepare for revision. 

Beauty or The Beast: What To Do Before Revising A Nano Novel

The month of November is a bit of a sugar high, isn’t it? There’s Nanowrimo, and the stream of words fueled by coffee, old Halloween candy, Kraft Dinner and not enough sleep. The Muse is fired up, leading us down the Yellow Brick Road and we follow at full throttle, writing whatever craziness comes to mind. Then there’s the ultimate high: achieving the 50K! Writing The End. There’s fireworks. Tears. Maybe cupcakes and bacon. Huzzah! We are MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.

And then comes that not-so-delightful...December...crash. We have a novel. It is a mess. We feel like we’ve just woken up to a strange noise in the dead of night, sure a Stephen King-esque monster is under the bed.  We play online Scrabble and wish people Happy Birthday on Facebook rather than edge the mouse toward the ‘open file’ button.

For some, writing the novel is enough. For others, like the authors of Forest Of Hands And Teeth; Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, Water For Elephants and Wool, the journey does not end, and the hardest part begins.

Life After Nano: Moving Forward

Because Nanowrimo focuses on the creative process rather than slow and steady technique, I think writers need to approach rewrites differently than with something written over the course of a few months or half a year. Here’s some food for thought!

Take Advantage Of The Process

One great thing about Nano is that we’ve written it so fast, the character’s journey is fresh in our mind from first page to last. Take this opportunity to make some notes to yourself and ask these three questions:

1) What plot twists/ideas/story elements did I love best?

2) What parts of the book am I pretty sure need to change?

3) What ideas have sprung to mind since finishing that I might want to go back and incorporate?

While the story is fresh, you’ll want to capture these answers. If you don’t get this down, you may forget the good ideas that writing the story generated. Maybe you had a brainwave for an earlier scene but didn’t want to lose the flow, so you promised yourself you’d add it during revisions. Or perhaps over the course of the book, you realized the logic didn’t work somewhere and it would require retooling. Are there plot holes? Events that need foreshadowing? Make copious notes-everything that comes to mind.

Finally, answer one more question:

4) What worked and what didn’t with each character?

If you’re anything like me, you get to know your characters as you write. They evolve, too. Make notes on each--things you really like and things you need to develop. Who still needs fleshing out? Who needs motivation for things they do (or don’t) do? Who developed a quirk partway in which needs to be added right from the start?

Let Your Novel Sleep

All writers know the power of time. For some, hearing that they should shelve this book for awhile is music, while others want to rip into it right away to see how bloody the waters will get. Resist the urge to read your Nano right after writing it. Give it time to settle. Let your notes about the book steep. Wait two 
weeks to a month, whichever feels right to you.

Pull That Sucker Out Of The Closet

It’s time to find the Beauty in your Supposed Beast. Set aside time to read your novel and try to do it within a short period. You want to be able to view the book as a whole, not as parts.
But before you start, tell yourself two things:

First drafts are never as bad as writers think they will be.

I will read this as a reader, not as a writer.

Do not make corrections. Do not fix typos. Read your novel for the story and characters. Appreciate the journey that your creative brain sent you on and don’t let your Internal Editor interfere. If he starts to rant at you, shove him in a room full of virtual clowns. :)

After you’ve read your manuscript, bask in ALL THE GOOD THINGS. There are pearls, rubies, diamonds, even! Then, pull out those notes you made. Go through them and challenge your initial thoughts and beliefs. Do you still believe X is a plot hole? That Character Y needs to be cut from the manuscript? 

Does Z subplot still make sense?

Add To Your Notes

Delete what you no longer agree with, and add new ideas to what you want to develop. Think about bigger problems you noticed, and mull over how you might fix them.

Finally, sit back and reread what you’ve written, because these notes are your pathway to revisionYou now have a place to start, the big issues lined out. Choose what you want to focus on first. Maybe like me, you want to fix all the typos before you dig in. Or you want to finalize the bones of the plot, or develop your lead character. Maybe you decide to see how your novel stands up to a Save The Cat Beat Sheet. Whatever you choose, come back to these notes for ideas and inspiration and remember how many published books out there started just like yours...a simple Nano challenge!

Angela Ackerman is a Canadian who writes on the darker side of middle grade and young adult and blogs at the award winning resource, The Bookshelf Muse She is also a co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression, a writer's guide to help navigate the challenging terrain of showing character emotion. This brainstorming tool explores seventy-five emotions and provides a large selection of body language, internal sensations, actions and thoughts associated with each. Written in an easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: How Many Books Do You Read in a Year?

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. 

This week's topic
About how many books do you read in a year? Do you want to read more? Or, less?

I used to read anywhere from 10 to 20 books a year. Maybe 25 or 30 once I added audio books to my commute to work. As I finished, I wrote them as a list in a journal. The past few years I've tracked my reading solely through Goodreads.

About six or seven years ago, I saw some posts on a message forum where people tracked their books, and they read between 50-100 books a year. I used to think reading 50 books a year was impossible! Since I started writing a few years back, I've doubled the amount of books I read in a year. I've made a commitment to reading reading more, and I make sure to take a book with me everywhere; I usually have a print book, ebook, and audio book going at all times. This year I adjusted my goal to 70 books. I'm about six shy, but I'm working through two books now and have a few more I'd like to finish. The more I read and the more writing I do, the more books I discover. Thanks to all the blogs I read, I will never be at a loss of what to read next.

How about you? How many books do you read in a year? Do you track them?

Also: Stay tuned to my blog tomorrow for a special guest post by Angela Ackerman, co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus, a really cool resource for writers.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review: If I Lie by Corrine Jackson

If I Lie
Corrine Jackson
YA Contemporary
Published: August 2012

Image: Goodreads
If I Lie is deep, personal, and heartbreaking. From the start, we know a great injustice has occurred, and it's all the fault of our main character Quinn. It's a mark of a good writer to evoke sympathy from a protagonist who has right away made a painful mistake. Quinn's boyfriend Carey is missing in action in Afghanistan, and while he was away, she became involved with his best friend. Her military-devoted small town makes Quinn out to be as despised as a war criminal.

But the truth is more complicated. Not everyone knows that Quinn and Carey broke up before he left for his most recent tour. She can't tell anyone that because she promised Carey she wouldn't. Quinn suffers the wrath of the town, her father, and her classmates out of respect for Carey and to protect him from revealing even deeper secrets.

The writing here is stellar. I hurt for Quinn, and wanted so much for things to work out for she and her family. The other piece of the story relates to Quinn's abandonment by her mother, and her struggle with her strict, detached father who believes Quinn's betrayal of Carey is turning her into a next-gen version of his ex-wife who left him. As punishment for her sins, her father makes Quinn volunteer at the local veteran's hospital, where she connects with a former photo journalist working on a project to document veteran's experiences. I loved how three generations of the military were woven into the story: Carey currently enlisted, her father's hardened career-military ways, and the man in the VA care center. This story shows how the people at home deal with the realities of military service.

I highly recommend this if you like introspective YA contemporary. This is a debut author for 2012 and one of my favorite reads of the year!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Catching Up

I've been a bit MIA on the blog lately. Here's what I've been up to:

National Novel Writing Month
I finished at the stroke of midnight on Nov. 30th but didn't validate in time on the website, so I kind of messed that up. They're working on fixing it on the forums. So, I have 50k toward an untitled YA contemporary with a psychological suspense bent--strange where stories lead! It veered a little darker than I expected. Now I have a draft to work with when I'm ready to tackle revisions, maybe later this month.

Blog Contests
Today, the  Miss Snark blog hosted the agent bidding for the annual Baker's Dozen pitch contest. I walked away with a requested full manuscript from a really great agent! The entries were strong, and at least 18 out of 60 received full requests by agents, and lots of others landed requested pages. I can't recommend contests enough--they're a great opportunity to get feedback from other writers, agents and editors. I'll be working frantically this week on some edits before submitting my MS again to the winning agent. Worst case scenario: I receive more valuable feedback on how to improve my writing.

Not to mention, all the fun on twitter surrounding different writing opportunities, like Pitch Wars, which is a super cool idea to partner with established writers to polish pitches and opening pages. I'm not participating directly, but I've made connections with potential critique partners through the lively twitter chats (#pitchwars).

I have a few new book reviews to post soon!

TV Binge
I watched the entire first season of Downton Abbey the day after Thanksgiving when my mom visited. It's only 7 episodes, but it was enough to get she and I demanding Netflix get season 2 right away!

Well, sometimes it's nice to do something totally different. Borderlands 2, Dishonored, and Halo 4 were all released this fall. We actually upgraded our Xbox storage from a measly 4G to 200G to accomodate all the mayhem. I swear I'm not a hoarder, but I was really sad to lose my 200+ hours saved game of Fallout 3 to make room for other saved games, no now that's no longer an issue. OK, that sounds like hoarding...

Guest Post Coming Soon!
I have a really great guest author lined up for this month to share editing tips. Stay tuned!

What have you been up to for the past month?