Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What's Up Weds: Midwest Writers Workshop 2013!

I'm officially back from my month of traveling (dove right back in to vacation planning for the fall, but for now, I'm home!)

What I've Been Reading

I finally, after great effort, made it through Ready Player One. I wanted to love this book--many times, I was close to loving this book. But finishing it on audiobook was a battle, ya'll. Listening to a narrative makes writing weaknesses more glaring, and for as high-concept as this story was, the writing consistently frustrated me. More from an editing perspective. Overall, I liked the book, the premise is crazy-cool, and it was a fun adventure. Minus the repetition, excessive fan-boying (which related to the plot so I forgave it mostly) and rather passive storytelling. Subjective things, but frustrating when you see the potential of how great a book can be, rather than a good story with sufficient writing.

On my trip to Midwest Writer's Workshop, my husband and I listened to Beauty Queens, one of my all-time favorite books, YA or otherwise. Libba Bray is a fantastic narrator. I love this book even more now because of the extra production in the audio. I bought this because my library didn't have it, and I'm so glad I did.

What I've Been Writing

I wrote 2k words on a new story idea in a chunk of time between work and the gym, which normally I might fill with running an errand, or getting to the gym early and killing time on an elliptical. Success!

Wrote some more last night now that I'm back in the groove from July Vacation Extravaganza.

For this week: My goal is to try out writing every day, even if it's just for fifteen minutes or a half hour. I'm going to see if I can write in smaller chunks more frequently. We'll see...

What Else I've Been Up To aka July Vacation Extravaganza

Last Thursday I headed for the bright lights of Muncie, Indiana, to Ball State University for Midwest Writers Workshop. I'd heard great things about this conference, but I admit the pull was chiefly due to fizzygirl's fiendish fangirling. No really, I think she recruited a legit chunk of attendees, several of whom I "know" from twitter and was able to meet. There is definitely a midwest feel to this conference; people are friendly, the writers and staff are there to help all levels of writers improve their craft and learn about the industry. Apparently they make changes every year to make sure they're keeping with industry trends and giving writers what they need. 

The other draw was that I could meet my agent Sarah LaPolla! Sarah and Fizzygirl/Summer met at last year's conference, and this year they hosted a panel about how to make an author/agent connection at a conference. Pictures? Of course there are pictures!

Summer and Sarah share their Meet Cute story :) 
The conference is set up with an optional, additional full-day intensive workshop to focus more on individual manuscripts and editing, along with some genre-specific and industry workshops. The second part is more workshops and panels. I attended a really cool historical fiction session with Barbara Shoup, which confirmed I've fumbled through what works and what doesn't in writing historicals already, and I found her depth of research so interesting. Historical writers love research and I ate it up. 

I learned about using setting to enhance plots, how to develop stronger characters, and what makes a great first line. I think it's almost easier to say what doesn't work in a first line rather than what does. Though a rambling sentence with excessive setting where somebody is waking up will pretty much never be great.

Hank Phillippi Ryan on RT Book Reviews
One of the guest staff, Hank Phillippi Ryan, a newscaster in Boston and mystery/suspense writer, really progressed since I saw her at a free book fair in Wisconsin back in 2011--now magazine covers! 

In the evenings and for lunch I met up with my husband who tagged along with me, which was super cool of him. Our hotel was near a desolate-looking movie theater where he was the only patron one evening for a first-run movie (summer in Chicago area this would never happen, even at the old or cheap theaters). 

Agent Sarah and me!
One of the roundtable discussions we had early on the last day was particularly inspiring; a MWW staff member talked about writing articles, non-fiction, and assorted other stuff as a living, and how inventive writers need to be with their time and how enterprising they can and should be about their career. I had the thought that I'd like to teach a workshop or work on a panel, given how many people asked me questions about the process after they heard I signed with an agent (who was AT the conference, which piqued curiosity even more!). I'm hoping I can help out with RWA's Spring Fling next April and for experience. Maybe I can teach a workshop myself someday. 

After all these writing conferences, I'm definitely pumped to keep on writing. I see this even more solidly as an industry where writers need to continue churning out new material. No more treating each book like a delicate little flower. Ha! Time to press on. 

How was your week?

Head over to Jaime Morrow's blog to visit the other Ready. Set. Write! bloggers!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What's Up Wednesday: RWA 2013 Nationals!

Hi all! Back from RWA Nationals in Atlanta. While my Ready. Set. Write! progress has stalled for July since I've been away most of the month, I did get more of a feel for my new project and even started some first lines during Michael Hauge's screenwriting to novel session because I got so excited. My hand actually turned green from the pen I was using--I was writing so fast the color rubbed off!

What I'm Reading:

On the plane, I finished an indie-pubbed New Adult novel called Game. Set. Match. by Jennifer Iacopelli, featuring three characters who intersect at a top-ranked training facility that prepares them for pro-level matches. I ate up the tennis stuff since I used to play and still occasionally watch the sport. I started this book while Wimbledon was on, so one day at the gym, I could read a snippet and look up at the TV monitors and see Serena Williams smash a baseline hit. I also started a Scottish Highlands historical romance based on a recommendation, and while I appreciate the details, it may not be for me.


What I WILL Be Reading:
Omgz boooookssss

(Mostly) Free books!
RWA is a bonanza of free books. The conference tote bag is packed with at least ten books, so immediately after registration, you either dump all those books upstairs in your room, or lug them around, as I did, to your pre-conference workshop. (Aw, such a sad problem to have!)

Each keynote speaker lunch gives attendees two of the author's books on their chair. Publishing imprints host their own author book signings throughout the week--such as Avon or Sourcebooks--and those books are free and you can meet the author.

MOAR books!

I also paid for a few books at the massive literary signing the first night, where a portion of the proceeds go to various literary charities. Being a newbie, I just may have tried to hand some cash to Rachel Gibson for one of her paperbacks, not realizing that readers collect their books and then line up at the end to purchase in bulk. WHOOPS!

Rachel Gibson promo on the elevator door

Crowds at the literacy signing

What Inspires Me

The RWA conference inspired me on two levels: the workshops, meeting new writers, and learning industry stuff, and then on a second level, to realize how far I've come already. I attended a regional RWA conference in Chicago in early 2012, where it clicked for me that this writing hobby really needed to be treated like a business if I wanted to succeed in it. I'd been writing seriously for a year or so at that point, but wasn't ready to pitch to an agent, and I still needed a lot of help in how to craft a good story.

Laura Bradford & I
To think, just a year later, I signed with an agent and we're moving forward toward publication. I still feel like a newbie, but chatting with other writers at the conference, I found many were asking ME questions. Lots of writers go to conferences to pitch to an agent, or to prepare, learn, and grow before they query or self-publish. Realizing I was more toward the middle--not totally green, but far from experienced, was a cool little revelation. And at least with RWA, the Big Name authors are almost all very friendly and eager to share their knowledge and experiences.

Here's me and agency owner Laura Bradford, who my agent Sarah LaPolla works for. I sat next to her for YA Day and saw her a bunch of times througout the conference.

I've learned so much in the past few years outside of conferences. I've learned it from YOU. I want to give a BIG VIRTUAL HUG to all the bloggers who have posted query letter revisions, and offered critiques, writing advice, industry guidance, and everything else that helps mentor new writers. It's because of you, your blogs and this community, that I found the resources on how to research agents and industry standards. So THANK YOU!

Now here's a fun little collage from the conference:

The two women in the top row, right of my blinged-out name badge are India Powers and Sonali Dev, both Windy City members (my chapter) who were nominated for the Golden Heart, the RWA award for unpublished manuscripts. I met one of my agent's other clients, AJ Larrieu, who is fabulous, and another writer Karen Akins who I met because we found our agents through the same blog contest (Miss Snark). Also featured: Windy City and Chicago North RWA chapter members, me with historical romance writer Erin Knightley, some lost work gloves, Kristan Higgins as keynote speaker, Samhain Pub dance party, historical author Cathy Maxwell signing (who made us all cry at her keynote), and the downtown ATL skyline. Good times!

Here are a few links to other blogs with recaps and round-ups:
Top 10 tips, quotes, and advice I heard at RWA2013

The RITA winners with book reviews

Red Carpet Roundup! (including Yours Truly with my fancy fascinator, standing next to a cute blond in hatwear)

Author Roni Loren, Photos from RWA

Casablanca Authors cover the event, including FOOD PICS!

A chance to win the signed book haul from RT (Romantic Times Mag/conference)

What have you been up to this week? Have you met your reading or writing goals? Or did you take a really great vacation?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book Review: The Girl is Murder (#1) by Kathryn Miller Haines

The Girl is Murder (#1 in series)
by: Kathryn Miller Haines
Young Adult Historical/Mystery
Published: 2011

image: Goodreads
I'm always on the lookout for unique settings and different time periods for YA fiction. In this series, 15-year-old Iris lost her mother to suicide and her father just returned injured from the war, World War II in 1942. Despite all this, she's rather plucky, ambitious, and ready to make new friends. But life is pretty different living with her father whom she barely knows, and public school is nowhere near the same as her old private school. Iris fumbles with new friendships, and her relationship with her father, so she takes on some of her father's private investigation duties in attempts to help out at home. She uncovers a mystery of a missing student, and Iris believes if she can solve the case, she can win over her new friends, and her father.

I liked the voice in this book a lot; Iris is a bit naive, and her new friends definitely let her know it. There are a lot of fun '40s phrases and slang. I listened to the audiobook, which was wonderfully narrated (would recommend). Iris gets into trouble, but it always feels like "safe" trouble; nothing too shocking, and it's all couched in historical context. One nitpick is the Goodreads blurb compares this series to the TV show Veronica Mars, but the only similarity is teen girls who sleuth and have a single dad; Iris and Veronica as characters are completely different and the tone is not even the same. So, this is not historical Veronica Mars, but it's still a fun read.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What's Up Wednesday: RWA Nationals and Four Seasons Contest

Happy Wednesday everyone!

I'm partying/furiously taking notes at Romance Writers of America's national conference in Atlanta this week. Today is YA day where I get to meet Laura Bradford, and then do a workshop with the truly inspirational Margie Lawson. Tonight, the big literacy signing charity event (books, books, books, and lines, lines, lines), and THEN the Mustaches and Mayhem reader event hosted by the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog. This is all PRE-conference, ya'll. (See what being in ATL does? I now say ya'll).

Follow #RWA13 on twitter if you're interested, or follow me and see what I'm up to while at the conference.

(Or, if you are so inclined, #SDCC for San Diego Comic Con, also this week, which I will try to keep up with if I have any downtime).

image: Windy City RWA
In more RWA news, it's less than two weeks until the Windy City RWA Four Seasons Contest opens for entries!

Click Here For Details!

FYI, for all you YA writers, the final round judges for our YA category are Leah Hultenschmidt from Sourcebooks and Anita Mumm from Nelson Literary.

Each submission is read by three trained judges (meaning the judges have either judged before or have gone through our critique and scoring training) and at least one published author judge. And we have some pretty great authors in our group--just sayin'. The top scores for each category move on to a final round judged by an agent or editor.

Full disclosure: I will be judging a portion of the YA entries. Our chapter is pretty big and our YA writers are growing--I wanted to chair the category and someone else was quicker than me to volunteer!

This is a great opportunity for feedback. I entered three RWA chapter contests last year. I made revisions based on feedback for each one, and I was fortunate to win the YA contest category for one chapter.

OK, I will now step away from my RWA pedestal (in my new chunky wedge sandals) and wish you all a wonderful summer week!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

The Next Best Thing
Jennifer Weiner
Contemporary Fiction
Published: 2012

image: Goodreads
I hadn't read a Jennifer Weiner book in awhile, and I loved In Her Shoes, including the movie with Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette. I like her mix of contemporary, romance, and family issues which usually relate to a 20-30-something woman trying to find herself.

I listened to the audiobook version, and the narrator made this an easy listen. It's a light read that feels more like a single title romance than literary fiction, but the author blurs those lines pretty regularly.

What drew me to this book was the the insidery look at TV pilot development, as the main character Ruth has just sold her TV comedy, loosely based on her own life being raised by a grandmother and living together as adults, to a network. Yes, there are Golden Girls references. 

Ruth struggles with how to fit in in Hollywood; as a writer with experience on another TV show, she feels at home with the writers, but scarring from an accident (which killed her parents) has left her face and parts of her body deformed, so she is constantly self-conscious. Her relationship with her grandmother is fun and sweet. The narrative is kind of all over the place, which was a little irritating. Chapters of backstory fill the beginning with not much happening in the present, and long chunks of exposition are stuck say, in the middle of a phone call which made me wonder, is the person on the line just hanging on for eons of silence while the narrator internally explains her childhood? 

I appreciated the themes about respecting and empowering women. The unfortunate irony is that the Ruth is essentially a doormat. Ruth never quite wins until maybe the very end. That in itself is fine, but Ruth is so passive, she only internalizes her need to speak up for herself, but never really does. It's like listening to someone vent about a problem and then they don't take any steps to correct it. 

The other issue that bothered me [potential spoiler] is how Ruth is told that one of her love interests, who she understands to be in a relationship, has a girlfriend "that's all for show," and she doesn't question this until much later. What does that even mean? That would be my first question, how/why someone's supposed relationship was an act. Red flag, yes?

I'd recommend the audiobook; I'm pretty picky on narrators and this reader had a voice that meshed well with the character and made the read enjoyable despite my hang-ups. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What's Up Wednesday, Ready. Set. Write!

Here is the obligatory, "I can't believe it's July already!" comment because, well it's true. Weather has been weird here in the midwest. It's been rainy and mild, which honestly, I'm cool with. I'd take upper 70s any day over 90 degrees and scorching.

What I'm Reading:

The one perk of being sick with a cold was that I read 3 books. I was doing just fine until a hot yoga class last Tuesday; I hadn't taken a single a yoga class in probably a year (cardio classes are not the same as the strength and stretching in yoga) let alone when the temp is set higher and it's a 70 minute class. All that sweat is supposed to release toxins, but I guess on the way out they decided to infect me.

BUT, here's what I read:

Golden by Jessi Kirby
The Best Man by Kristan Higgins
Where She Went by Gayle Forman 
Current Audiobook: The Girl is Murder by Katryn Miller Haines

What I'm Writing:

To find more about Ready. Set. Write! click here.

Summer Cold from Hell distracted me from writing, but I was able to plan out my new project a little bit. No outline yet, but some ideas.

I reached out to two writer friends to help me work through issues in my current WIP and further brainstorm on my new project.

What Inspires Me:

This is the view out to my balcony with my container garden. It's cute and sunny and makes sitting on the couch looking out while I write feel like I'm enjoying the summer a bit. 

FYI: I'm growing cherry tomatoes, a patio tomato, basil, chives, mint, lettuce, eggplant, and jalepeno peppers!

On the way to my RWA (romance writers) meeting last week, I stopped by a mom n' pop coffee-slash-knitting shop in the downtown near the library where my group meets. They had the cutest little fountain and a landscaped area between the buildings, right off the town's main street, that made me feel like a tourist for a few minutes. At the end of that little pathway were some colorful flowers (a better camera than my phone would show that!).

At the meeting, we did a Skype chat with historical fiction author Courtney Milan, who has such a great outlook on how to take control of your writing career. She transitioned from traditional to self-publishing, and has strategized to make the most of her publishing experience. She is all about educating writers to make the best choices for them, and I found a lot of her advice applies whether you self-publish or not, and how crucial it is to understand the publishing industry for yourself, and not assume that certain details will be figured out for you just because you have an agent/publisher/PR person.

Also, I have to admit, I don't gravitate toward regency or Victorian-era romances, but her books are so good. Her characters are the opposite of cliche, her stories have so much depth, her heroines are amazingly witty.

How about you? How was your week?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Summer Reading List: What Are You Reading?

Just a quick post to check in with everyone's summer reading goals. Do you have any? Mine are just to get caught up on as many books as I can when I have downtime. I took a break from YA earlier this year, reading some non-fiction, historical fiction, romance, mostly checking out books from the library. I was probably dropping off or picking up books just about every week for the past few months--I rotate audio books too for my commute.

I finally bought a few (or five) books at my local indie Anderson's. All YA. Here's my loot:

I've been working through a summer cold which sapped my weekend, but I read three books! I finished the top book there, Golden by Jessi Kirby, which was sweet, and sad, and really well done. She is a consistent contemporary YA writer. I also read Where She Went by Gayle Forman, an amazing companion book to If I Stay, about a girl looking in from beyond after a car accident. I just love her writing, and am so excited she is doing a similar type of companion book to Just One Day; rather than a typical series, this is just two books that are told from different character point of views in the same story universe. I also love how Forman really bends lines of what is YA; Where She Went takes place at least a year or so out of high school, the main character is in his early 20s.

So, now your turn: tell me what you're reading!