Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What's Up Wednesday & Ready Set Write

It's Wednesday already! I'm checking in for Ready. Set. Write! (details in the link) along with what's been going on over the week.

What I've Been Reading

Well, writing wasn't going so well this week--I had one of those slumps where the plot holes I haven't yet figured out really stalled my progress. So instead of writing for most of the week, I read two really great books:

Just One Day (Just One Day, #1) 
Just One Day by Gayle Forman
THIS BOOK! The author is now solidy on my favorites list. She wrote a love story that is not really about the boy, which was so inspiring to me. This book starts out like a lot of YA, but it goes pretty deep. Parts of this were tough to get through, only because the character is depressed and not able to shake it, and I just hurt for her. So much of this story that could seem cliche or toss-away was explored, characters that could have been one-note were not. Such a great example of how complex YA fiction can be.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kahling

This ended up being one of my favorite memoirs. Mindy was a head writer for The Office and she now has her own NBC show The Mindy Project (which I have the entire season save for the first episode unwatched on my DVR). She talks about growing up with immigrant professional working parents who while strict still nurtured her artistic side, being bullied as a fat kid by an exchange student who everyone was afraid of offending, and discrimination as a woman writing comedy, all with a breeziness that does not elicit sympathy, but instead is quite empowering. You want to cry with her when a magazine shoot specifically for her only offers up size 0 samples, but she tells it in such a funny way, you don't pity her. (she also says this was her rare diva moment where she told the stylist to make it work and promptly picked out her favorite size 0 sample and had them affix a back panel  to make it fit, at least for the camera). I was highly amused how several times she names a rivalry with Rainn Wilson, Dwight from The Office, and never says "oh just kidding." I'm sure she is, but it's really funny how she seeds it in what an egomaniac Rainn is and never follows up with examples. Like an inside joke, which is subtle enough to be really, really funny. I totally want to hang out with her after reading this.

What I'm Writing

Not all a lost cause: I did end up acheiving my writing goals for the week. I caught up editing about 4 chapters of my current project, liberally noting [issues] within brackets that I can easily search for later to fill in. I don't like this in-between draft where I'm polishing stuff but I still have plot issues to work out. This is the part when Writing is Hard.

I also did some intel on a new retelling of a classic movie. I hate to be all hush hush but well, TRADE SECRETS! (Not really). It's so fun coming up with ideas, and I even wrote some very rough intro lines, but that's the fun part of writing--coming up with characters and setting and what you want to do with the story.

For next week's goals, I'd like to:

  • Continue revising WIP (untitled YA contemporary story) 4-5 chapters
  • Brainstorm how to work through my plot issues--I may need to reconsider one of my central conflicts. At the very least, define the motivation more clearly
  • Write rough general outline of new WIP (untitled YA which I will covertly name Project Audrey)
  • Recruit a writer or two to brainstorm ideas with for new project

I don't tend to be much of an outliner. I mean, I've already written the first page of my new project and I haven't even named the characters yet. But I do want to get some ideas solidifed to see how my concept will work.

What Else I've Been Up To

My husband helped re-design my blog to look a little more customized than generic Blogger options and I now have my custom domain name pointing to my blog (yay!). Things I've been meaning to do for awhile. I wanted to get that done before making business cards that I've been told I will need for hob-nobbing at RWA Nationals and the Midwest Writers Workshop next month. And when I say next month, that's really next week, and all of it is creeping up pretty quick.

What's up with you, readers? Read any good books? Do you watch The Mindy Project, and do you like it? Do you have reading or writing goals?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Review: A Midsummer's Nightmare by Kody Keplinger

A Midsummer's Nightmare
Kody Keplinger
YA Contemporary
Published: 2012

Image: Goodreads
Whitley is ready for a last summer of hanging out with her dad at his bachelor pad before she heads off to college. Only when he picks her up, he has a surprise: he's just moved into to a new place with his fiance and her two kids.

And I won't ruin the other twist, even though I think the back cover copy does (why do books DO that?). The last person she expects to run into becomes the unintended focus of her summer.
Credit to the author for showing a partying "bad" girl who is ultimately sympathetic and believable without going the preachy route. Definitely a needed book in YA given how many girls are shamed for being slutty or dismissed entirely because of speculated reputations. The story shows the person behind the partying persona and readers can get the sense why Whitley acts the way she does, making her someone to root for so she can get her life together.

I'm sure this book ends up on banned lists as a knee-jerk reaction to strong language, drug and alcohol use, and sexual situations. However, all those factors are told within a responsible narrative, meaning that consequences are shown, and nothing is so outlandish that it steps beyond what many teenagers experience. I like that Whitley made choices for herself that reflected her own self-worth. The lesson here is not that "partying is bad" but the character's understanding of what triggered her destructive behavior and why it was hurting her. Plus, this is packaged in a YA voice that reads very authentic and not strained or like a morality play.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summer Flix: Man of Steel

OK, I need to rant a bit about Man of Steel, the new Superman movie. It just needs to happen so here goes.

First off, I should say, they got the casting right. This guy?

I'd say he's pretty much a spot-on Superman. I loved Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Russell Crowe as Jor-El, and even the kid cast as young Clark/Kal-El... the casting was great!

Then, you ask, what's the issue?

I wanted some story. Man of Steel seemed to me like a collection of backstory-infodumping, flashbacks, and action sequences with a very muddled narrative, most of which felt very distant from the hero himself. If you're going to tell a hero's story, here is the ultimate hero. The whole time it seemed like looking in on a movie about him rather than ever fully engaging with the character.

But it was supposed to be dark and edgy! Plus it's Zack Snyder and freaking Christopher Nolan!

Yes, yes, I hear you. I know some fans loved this take on Superman. Ain't It Cool News loved it, an opinion I respect, and I'm glad some fans devoted to the legacy of Superman comics thought Man of Steel got it right. But for me this one had all the style and look but a story that was not engaging.

It was kind of like sitting through the first half of Phantom Menace and wondering, who is the main character here? Is there one? It's supposed to be that guy, I think but... For literally half of Man of Steel, I was waiting for the dang thing to get started.

Take the beginning. An extended backstory about Krypton and its troubles, the birth and sending off of Kal-El, followed by a brief trip to the present where Clark/Kal-El is literally on fire saving people, followed by more flashbacks of Clark as a kid saving kids and doing superhero-y stuff. We are now a good 30-40 minutes in and still no scene with our Hero himself having any meaningful dialogue in the present day. A brief tussle in a bar does not count for me, although it was a great scene. I am seeing you doing things Clark, but I don't know you.

But hey, didn't the Star Trek reboot start the same way? Why yes, it did! Star Trek opens with Kirk born at the same time Romulans are taking down the ship his father is the captain of. It is not extended exposition, and the Romulans are a key part of the story. Then it flashes to kid Kirk hassling the law, which then flashes to the present with scrappy Kirk getting into a bar fight and then recruited to Starfleet. The scenes are brief enough and related enough to give context, and then we move on. Man of Steel spends so much time on the backstory, I figured they just wanted to get the most out of Russell Crowe's massive paycheck, and if I'm thinking about that during the movie that means I'm not connecting.

Now, I've seen Zack Snyder's other movies so maybe I shouldn't be surprised. I thought Watchmen was a great representation of the graphic novel, some of the shots even mirrored the comic exactly. It was a tough story to adapt, but the feel of it fit. Sucker Punch on the other hand was all style, no substance. Schoolgirls with big guns masquerading as girl power. Well, the soundtrack was good at least. And Christopher Nolan--I loved Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Inception. I was geeked about a grittier take on Superman. The scene (shown in previews) where Superman walks across snow, a shot from the back with his cape blowing aside, gave me chills. But geez, can you give this man some dialogue?!

I couldn't resist! From The Hawkeye Initiative 
The last half of the movie is an extended chain of Blowups. Superman crashing into all sorts of stuff, epic punches to Zod's face, a few PTSD-inducing  skyscraper collapses. Avengers did it too, so hey, I get it. But Avengers also gave each hero his or her scene to establish their story, and Tony Stark didn't even steal the show. Every one of the Avengers had a scene where they stole the show: Hulk smashing, Natasha tricking Loki out of information, Captain America's line about a reference he understands, Hawkeye being a badass with one last arrow. They each showcased their abilities, and we saw their character, and this is a film with no fewer than five leads.

I didn't hate Man of Steel. It's not the worst superhero movie by far, and in a lot of ways, it's pretty good. I liked the mythology and the absence of campy Daily Planet stuff. Henry Cavill sure was pretty to look at. His posing wasn't Tourist level bad (where Angelina Jolie, supposedly mid-chase on a boat, looked like she'd stepped off the cover of Vogue), but he seemed more the representation of Superman in an arms-length look at the hero. Some people might be fine with that. I just wanted to get inside his head, to know this man of steel a little better.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday? I mean, what's up?

What I'm Reading

On my long weekend road trip, my husband and I listened to the audio book for World War Z (the movie FINALLY comes out this weekend--overbudget, delayed, curious to see how well it does). The cool part was it was narrated by well-known actors and some great voice actors (the format is interviews recounting the zombie apocalypse). The not so cool part was the audiobook was abridged so my husband's favorite chapter wasn't even in there. I hadn't realized it wasn't the whole book until I saw the bizarre line on the front: Unabridged Selections. So, "selections" not edited. Right.

If you haven't yet seen movie trailers for World War Z, the fast zombies are terrifying. I mean, they are SO FAST. Not like the shamblin' "walkers" on The Walking Dead.

What I'm Writing

Here's my weekly check-in for Ready. Set. Write! (details in the link)

Last week
I wanted to edit 3 chapters of my current WIP. Success!
I also wrote 750 new words for a new chapter during a weird downtime that I normally would not have used to write. I need to do that more often.

This week 

  • Edit 5-6 chapters of WIP
  • Step 1 on New Project--brainstorming, drafting out the idea
  • Brainstorm a tagline/brand (this ties into order business cards and putting something up on my web domain--was considering "Vintage-inspired YA" but not sure if that works (thoughts?). My finished YA is set in the 1960s, and saying historical makes me think of older historical, so I thought vintage might work. However, my WIP is contemporary, although my other idea for a new project is inspired by a vintage movie. Ack!)

What Else I've Been Up To

Family stuff: honoring my grandmother in a memorial service. She was a fun, compassionate, and totally unique lady.
Road-tripped my new 2013 Honda Civic--the first car I've ever truly chosen (not out of desperation or substantial financial limitations). Moonroof, heated seats, working A/C--Yes!
The Hubz and I are making our way through The X-Files on Netflix. We're now into the later years where Scully's hair is finally not tragic and David Duchovny wrote and directed a stinker of an episode. Stick to being droll and mysterious, Mulder!

What's Inspiring Me

I got this in the mail:

I signed with Agent Sarah LaPolla back in February, but she recently switched agencies to Bradford Literary. Even though we were just getting started, I had to sign a new agency agreement after she moved. Something about a handwritten note really makes a difference. Right now, this is my motivation to keep working, and to set new goals.

So what's up with you, readers? Goals, inspirations, outdoor grilling failures?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Book Review: The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

The Madman's Daughter
Megan Shepherd
YA Historical/Horror
Published: Jan. 2013

image: Goodreads
I'd been looking forward to this one for awhile. It's a YA take on H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau, which if you are not familiar with the source material, is about a shipwrecked Englishman who ends up on an island with a mad scientist and his animal/human experiements. 

In this story, the mad scientist has a daughter Juliet, who is the narrator of the book. The story begins in London, where Juliet is alone after her mother has passed away. Her brilliant father has left her with nothing and she assumes him dead after a medical ethics scandal outed him England years prior. She discovers he is alive through his former assistant, and the adventure begins.

I did not expect the romance in this book, but looking back I think it tempered some of the creepier aspects.  Dr. Moreau uses a method called vivisection, which is dissecting animals while they are alive. This is YA so it doesn't get overly gory by any means, but  if you are squeamish or particularly sensitive about animals, consider  yourself warned. The vibe is definitely creepy and haunting. Although the middle read a bit muddled, overall I loved the dark, odd world, and how it balanced the source material with an entirely new story from the mad scientist's daughter's perspective. 

I'm pretty sure when I added this to Goodreads it wasn't yet listed as book 1 of a series. So when I got to the end, I thought hmmmm... It certainly could end as a stand-alone, but it makes more sense that it's part of a series, and I'm curious what direction the story will move. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday is a blog hop hosted in part by Jaime Morrow to catch up on the week.

PLUS, it's how we we will check in for Ready. Set. Write! an idea generated by a few writer/bloggers to help each other stay accountable with writing goals over the summer. Here's a description:

Ready. Set. WRITE! A two(ish) month-long writing intensive for writers that includes weekly goals and updates, and a whole lot of encouragement, accountability, and support along the way. Each week we'll check in during What's Up Wednesday, share what we accomplished and set new goals for the coming week in the What I'm Writing section.

What I'm Reading
I usually have several books going at the same time:

Detroit City is the Place To Be: The Afterlife of the American Metropolis
I'm still chugging through a non-fiction book on Detroit which is incredibly interesting, but not quite the best read to curl up in bed with.
A Rogue by Any Other Name (The Rules of Scoundrels, #1)

A Rogue by Any Other Name
I started an audio book by Sarah MacLean, regency queen. Her books are witty and clever, similar to Courtney Milan's. I'm not sure if audio book is the best format for a wordy regency--at least for me. I listen while driving and my mind tends to wander.
The Princesses of Iowa (Hardcover) 

The Princesses of Iowa, a contemporary YA about a queen bee/princess whose senior year is marred by a drunk driving incident that occurred the year before. I pretty much love this book.

What I'm Writing
For Ready. Set. Write! my goals for the summer are:

  • Complete the revised draft of the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo last November. It's contemporary YA with a sort of psychological twist. 
  • Draft an outline or "zero draft" a new project. I'm keeping mum on the details but it's to potentially adapt a classic movie. The idea came from my agent and I let her know I'm putting together An Exploratory Committee. Not sure if it will work so I have to do some homework and brainstorming.

For the next week, I'd like to revise at least 3 more chapters. I have weekend plans which will limit my time, but thanks to a wonderful workshop at my local RWA chapter, I learned how to calculate the average wordcount I can churn out in a sitting, and that helps to realistically plan how long it will take to complete a project. Granted, editing is different because the wordcount is there, and this is revising, adding, or taking away. But it helps to know how much you can do and plan ahead.

What Else I've Been Up To
Working, writing, catching up with friends. I think Jaime usually puts a photo here so I'll have to work on that for next time!

What Inspires Me Right Now

  • I recently watched a bunch of MTV's Awkward, which is pretty hilarious, especially if you read or write Young Adult. It's smart and a little harsh and well-written. 
  • Forever Young Adult is doing a rewatch/recap of Gilmore Girls. I started recording some re-runs on ABC Family for when I have downtime. Their recaps got me all nostalgic for Rory and Stars Hollow.
  • Reading The Princesses of Iowa inspires me. I want to dive in and write more when I read something that really clicks for me.

You can visit the other blogs participating in Ready. Set. Write! or just share in the comments what you're up to and inspired by this week!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Summer Reading List

When you think of summer, what do you think of?

I think of trips to the library and stacks of books to bring home to read on vacation, on the beach, in the park, wherever.

Here's my recent haul:

Note the kitty who couldn't resist peeking in!

A Midsummer's Nightmare by Kody Keplinger 
Contemporary YA about a hard-partying girl dealing with her dad's remarriage. I enjoy when tough-to-like characters are transformed.

Girl Parts by John Cusik
The author is also a literary agent (my manuscript was rejected by him, rightfully so as it really wasn't ready). I'm curious on his YA book about a robot girl who develops a will of her own.

The Princesses of Iowa by Molly Backes
I took a 6 week writing course in Chicago taught by the author, so naturally I want to read her book! I'd heard of it last year at Printer's Row Lit Fest when she spoke on a panel about her rather bumpy road to publication. Like A Midsummer's Nightmare, this book is about the popular girl who gets into some trouble, and learns some hard lessons.

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler
My RWA chapter hosted Margie Lawson for an editing workshop, and she quoted from this book, using it for examples of emotional writing. The premise, about interracial love in the 1930s South, is right up my alley. 

How about you? What's your favorite part of summer? What books are on your summer reading list?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

YA Day at RWA National Conference, Atlanta July 17, 2013

Romance Writers of America's annual conference is hosting a Young Adult Day Wednesday July 17 featuring an agent and editor panel (including Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary), a networking lunch, and a session on editing by Margie Lawson, who I can attest, is wonderful. The event is open to anyone, regardless of RWA membership. Details linked here and below:

Day of YA – RWA 2013 Atlanta

YARWA is proud to announce our Day of YA at RWA Nationals in Atlanta, Georgia!
Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 11am – 5pm
Member price: $40
Non-member price: $70
(Registration for non-members opens May 25)
Join us for this fun-filled, day-long event that’s all YA, all day! Here’s what we’ve got in store:
10:30-11:00  Check in and Registration
11:00-12:15   Welcome and Industry Panel with YA-acquiring agents and editors 
  • Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary Agency
  • Louise Fury, L. Perkins Agency
  • Leah Hultenschmidt, Sourcebooks
  • Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
  • Whitney Ross, Tor (Macmillan)
  • Natashya Wilson, Harlequin Teen
  • Michelle Grajkowski, 3 Seas Literary Agency
Panelists will discuss industry trends, recent acquisitions and what’s hot in YA. Additional YA-acquiring panelists will be announced.
12:15-1:45  Networking Lunch
Buffet lunch with plenty of time to mingle with fellow YARWA members and other attendees
1:45-3:45  Craft Workshop
Writing instructor, Margie Lawson presents her wildly popular Writing Craft workshop with a special focus on YA books
3:45-4:00  Break
4:00-4:30  Featured Guest Author 
YARWA member and award winning author Tera Lynn Childs shares some words of wisdom
4:30-5:00  Annual Meeting and raffle* 
*This meeting is free and open to all YARWA members
I'm super excited for RWA's conference. I attended a regional Chicago conference last year and found it so valuable to learn the business side of writing, as well as writing workshops and opportunities to meet with other writers and industry professionals. You can learn more on the regular conference here.