Friday, February 25, 2011

Celebrity Gossip Turned Novel -- YES PLEASE

The creators of Go Fug Yourself, one of my favorite websites, have their own YA fiction novel coming out this year called Spoiled. I will definitely read this! For the uninitiated, GFY is a blog of celebrity fashion criticsm that is on par with how The Soup covers inane entertainment news. Certainly a guilty pleasure, but it's clever and witty enough so that you don't have to suffer shameful morning-after feelings like you do when you watch say, a hard-hitting Access Hollywood story on whether a Kardashian has a baby bump.

Plus, what I like about GFY is despite the fugly reference, which sounds inherently mean, a lot of the posts applaud well played fashion, even for frequent offenders like Rhianna or Bai Ling, who I literally only knew from the fugly blog. Honestly I still don't know what movies or TV she's been in.

The concept of Spoiled sounds like a YA precursor to what my sister-in-law calls, "chick in the city" books (think 20-somethings in New York a la Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada or Everyone Worth Knowing, and many of the books by Jennifer Weiner, Sophie Kinsella, Emily Giffin... I could go on). I don't mind those type of books as long as they are done well. I like Lauren Weisberger's writing style a lot, it works. Even Meg Cabot can take her cute voice and spin it into some pretty funny adult chick lit (Queen of Babble in the Big City, Size 12 is Not Fat).

Here's to hoping they have success with their book. They have such a strong following with their website, I have to think that helps.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Lost Days

One of my originally intended themes for this blog was to explore old journal/diary entries (thus the name of the blog). I'm thinking I might return to this every so often as I find opportunity. Having just finished Paper Towns and demanding that my husband also read it (he did!), led to a few discussion topics for us, which is something I love about reading the same book back-to-back with him.

The story in Paper Towns takes place during the final months of high school. My husband asked me if I cried during my last day of high school, which he said, "seems like something you might do," because I'm apparently sentimental like that.

Well, first of all, I am not a big crier. And I know for a fact there was a stretch of about 3 years or so as a teenager where I didn't cry at all. Seems unlikely, I know, but I remember this. I'm sure there's something to explore with a therapist there, but my point being, I didn't think it likely that I cried. I figured why not check in my stack of journals and see what I wrote on the last day of high school? Then I can confirm whether I was a sentimental sack of sad or a coolly confident college-bound girl.

I looked at the date ranges of each journal (which I helpfully list on the inside cover), but the book that should have had the last day of high school stopped on Feb. 14 of that year. The rest of the book was blank, and the next journal's start date wasn't until the fall during college.


From ages 11 through my mid-twenties I kept a fairly consistent journal. I can't believe I chose to take a break during such a pivotal time. Did I take a break from journaling because I was so busy and didn't have time? I have to say, I was pretty shocked to find I had not documented those final days. Maybe it was my attempt at proving I was not sentimental by refusing to dish elaborately about the ending of my youth. Like the not crying thing, it kind of sounds like something I would do.

Who knows.

I do though, have a memory of leaving high school, thankfully, because music and events are so memorably linked for me. I rode out on my last day in my friend Heather's car, and we heard U2's "With or Without You" on the radio. They were one of my favorite bands at the time, and this classic felt so fitting for the moment. I don't remember feeling sad, but perhaps I was sentimental. If only I had chosen to write it down at the time, then I would know for sure.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Book... it's a start.

So, I sat down to write tonight, fully intending to deal with a specific section of my work-in-progress. I ended up somewhere else in the story, editing sections I haven't gone through yet, all the while thinking probably the whole first chapter needs to go. I have all this material, and characters that I like, with a pretty cool story concept, but assembling all of those pieces into a cohesive, entertaining story... it is not easy.

In other words, writing is hard!

Except it also sort of isn't. What I've realized the most with this project is how much I like writing, how easy it feels sometimes, and how crazy I've been for not figuring this out earlier. I am not suffering from lack of motivation, at least not yet. The difficult part for me is making it all work, getting alternating points of view within the story to play out in a way that isn't too predictable, but not so abstract that it's disjointed.

What's frustrating to me, is to read a book where a concept is great but the execution is lacking. So I'm torn with how to start the story, how to present all that I have to present. My husband and I are currently brainstorming, since the original concept was his, and although it has since morphed into something much bigger and in a different voice than he anticipated, he is totally on board with making this into a fully realized novel. So, we're working on an outline so we can shape what we have.

Also, I may need to give my genre defining anxieties a rest. It is a bit of a revelation to think I might be writing a Young Adult market novel, but it may work. Struggling with not caring about classification and just writing, or keeping that on my mind since it is a factor. For publishing, that is. Which I'm very far from.

So, instead of working out a chapter this evening I'm probably reworking The All Of It. And it's already 9:30! Where does time go?!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cookbooks... the gateway to Martha Stewart Obsession

I never thought I'd be the type to get excited about a cookbook. Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis was the cookbook that changed me. It was arty looking and filled with Italian food, and the very thought of cooking the recipes in it I felt would guarantee the transformation from sad-maker-of-ground-beef-and-canned-soup-casseroles to a bona fide sophisticated house-frau. 

I still love that book, and a few of her others.

What one does not realize when they begin a flirtation with cooking, is that all roads eventually lead to Martha Stewart. You may disagree with this, but Martha is pretty much everywhere, and her stamp is on things you don't even realize. 

I never expected to have any interest in Martha Stewart, considering my opinion of her as an uppity ex-con portrayed by Cybill Shepard in a terrible TV movie (which I watched), was less than appealing.  I started getting Everyday Food magazine in the mail by accident (it was meant as a gift but I redeemed a free subscription from some points program that didn't really understand the concept of a gift subscription), thinking it would be full of high concept dishes with long lists of ingredients using things like saffron or clams.

Oh, how I was wrong!

The recipes are simple, use minimal processed foods, and actually taste good. Plus, it's aesthetically pleasing. The photos are lovely. You not only want to eat the food, you want to invest in putting it together.

I now devour each new issue of Everyday Food, marking the pages of recipes I have to try. If I have the ingredients on hand, I'll make one of them that day. Otherwise, I make a shopping list from several recipes and buy what I need, then cook all week. And I like it. There is helpful general cooking information, too. Martha has taught me how to sharpen knives, how to cut a butternut squash, how to even approach using eggplant in anything.

Martha, what have you done to me?

So, good 'ole Martha has a new book out: Martha Stewart's New Pies and Tarts: 150 Recipes for Old-Fashioned and Modern Favorites. I have made probably one pie in my entire life, so most likely I won't buy this book. I'll at least look through it at the bookstore and imagine myself at a rustic table in a New England farmhouse where a slice of cherry pie has been lovingly made for me. By someone else!

What are your favorite cookbooks?

Monday, February 14, 2011

I Call Myself a Star Wars Fan...

...And yet, there is a plethora of Star Wars material out there that I've barely touched. I mean, we own the movies, I saw Clone Wars in the theatre, I have dressed as Princess Leia for Halloween (bought an official wig, too) and I've made Boba Fett cookies. But I have not ventured into the world of Star Wars fiction. Wait, I take that back. I did try an audio book once, but there were explosion sound effects and I found that distracting and cheesy, so I never finished it.

The internet is such a great place, in most cases you can find the hard work already done for you. Here's a review of a book called The Courtship of Princess Leia, which is an actual, real book. The cover art alone might make it worth a purchase. Anyway, props to the bloggers out there doing the work of investigating curiosities like this so I can determine if "I want to go to there."

In this case, it's probably a no. But if I ever see that gem at a Goodwill, it's mine.

FYI-Blog link courtesy of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, which looks like a really fun site, although I'm not a fan of romance novels.

Friday, February 11, 2011

RIP Borders?

I might have to hustle up and use that Borders gift card pretty soon... I think it might be the end for Borders. If you haven't been following this news, the book retailer is close to filing bankruptcy. Even if you don't follow business news, if you have a Borders Rewards card, you can almost tell impending doom is near by the desperation in their emails. It used to be that they rotated coupon savings between amounts of ranging from 20% to the more rare 40% off. Ever since the holiday shopping season started up, I don't think I've seen a coupon for less than 40% off list price.

While there are a few local bookshops in my area, Borders is by far the most convenient to go to, and I will definitely miss it if it closes.

Related Source

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book Review: Paper Towns

I figured I would still be reading this over the upcoming weekend, but I could barely put the book down. I practically devoured it.

Can I say what a gem this novel is. It's almost a shame it's listed as Young Adult, because there are people I know who would never think to read a YA novel, and I hate the idea of a larger audience missing out on such a great book. Paper Towns has an overarching story involving a girl named Margo that high school senior Quentin has been enamored with since childhood. They shared the experience of happening upon a dead man's body on a playground when they were younger. Fast forward to high school, where the two spend one adventurous night driving around Orlando in Quentin's parent's minivan, implementing Margo's devious plans to get revenge on her ex-boyfriend. Margo keeps dropping vague statements about disappearing and wanting to check out from suburban life, so when she runs away, Quentin isn't sure if it's another stunt or something more serious.

The other side of the story is filled by Quentin among his friends, who for once in a novel, are fully developed, funny, endearing characters. The guy nicknamed Radar is ashamed to bring new friends to his home because his parents have the one of the largest known collections of black Santas. Their other friend has a car on its last legs that is described as being fueled by human hope. I think I liked the relationship progression of Quentin and his friends and classmates even more than the storyline about Margo.

Not only is the dialogue snappy and hilarious, but themes of life and its expectations are very well put together. This is the way a coming-of-age story should be written. Funny, real, not trying too hard, but trying hard enough as not to be easily forgotten. This is the type of book that makes me want to read everything else the author has written.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Digital Age of Books

It seems a major sea change is occurring in the Publishing industry. I know this because I've been reading Publisher's Weekly emails for about 3 weeks now. I hear it only takes 3 weeks to become an expert in a topic.

Or something.

Anyway, so this blurb about Harper Collins releasing only a few audio books on CD and choosing a digital download format for the rest of their spring titles, has me thinking.

How on earth do I download an audio book?!

I understand the concept, it's just that, well, I haven't actually done it yet. I completely get the convenience factor. The multi-disc audio book seems like a for-sure goner. I recently posted about a fantastic audio book I got from the library (Paper Towns by John Green). Sadly, I never got through disc 2 because it stopped working. I have no idea what the problem was, but the rest of the discs refused to work in my car's CD player. Pretty cruel considering the first disc worked fine and the reader of the story was so engaging. I returned the discs and checked out the print version so I could finish the story.

Some libraries already have digitally downloadable books, and I'm thinking that might be a good place to start. Except.. how do I do that? It's silly, really, since I regularly use technology and have a smart phone and all, but for some reason this process seems daunting.

Then there's e books. When I got my new phone, I downloaded the Kindle app. Have I used it? No. Could I? Yes. Will I?


I just need one brave step in this direction. And, coincidentally, I may have found it since a friend said they have free credits I can use at audible, which I had to look up because I'm so out of the loop. But now I know.

Technically proficient readers, what is your favorite way to read a book? Have you embraced ebooks yet?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Everyone wants to write a book. No, really. Everyone.

I've heard it said that everyone has an idea for a book. I thought I understood this, I really truly did. It's difficult to comprehend just how many people want to write the next great American novel until you can see the reality for yourself.  A few weeks ago I attended an in-store event at Anderson's Bookshop where the authors of the following book, which is a worthwhile read, hosted an a forum that included a chance for random audience members to pitch their story ideas.

Now honestly, had I known the format of the event would entail listening to other people pitch story ideas for 2 hours, I might not have gone. However, the authors and the other "experts" on the panel (a literary agent, a couple publishers) gave excellent feedback and advice after each story pitch. Plus, it helped me work on defining my story as a pitch, which I never thought of before.

What was incredible to me is how stuffed this little bookshop was; people from their early 20s up to retirement age, with ideas varying from a family quilt cookbook to a space adventure to young adult historical fiction (which apparently does not sell right now, according to one of the publishers). In a way, it was inspiring to see how many people are trying to get their work published. On the other hand, it sheds light on just how competitive the market is.

It always kind of saddened me to go into Half Price Books; all those tables and shelves lined with bargain priced books that hardly anyone has heard of. If the goal is to just get published, it's probably easier now than ever to do that. I think for me, I want to take my time with this, and write because I enjoy it. I want to get better at it.

I've at least taken the first step, going from wanting to write a book to actually writing one. It's the first step in a long process, but for me, an important step to note.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I promise, it's literary

February is the month for...

...zombie beheading; courtesy of Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On Writing

Did I mention I'm writing a book?

Well, I am!

I started out with a good story idea from my husband, Jason, who has a constant stream of ideas at the ready that are not limited only to stories, but practical inventions, rules for society, and of course, band names and concept album titles. But one particular idea he had for a story seemed to have a lot going for it, so either I offered to write it or he told me to, I forget which, but the commission was made. I started with a few short stories and then forgot about it. He encouraged me and sometimes nagged me to keep on with it. "Sure, I will," I'd say, and then played Fallout 3 instead.

So, when National Novel Writing Month came around this year, which is annually in November, a friend of mine posted about it on Facebook and I figured it was a sign. This is a project to encourage writers to drum up a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in 30 days time. There is no prize other than satisfaction of completion. What there is, is nationwide support from thousands of other writers who are undergoing the same project. Within days, I was perusing through the NaNoWriMo (get it?) message forums, which were very slow by the way due to heavy amounts of online traffic. I signed up for a regional forum and found there are literally hundreds of people in my general vicinity doing the writing challenge, and events were set up at my local library that I can practically walk to.

Who knew?

So, I finished the 50,000 word count, by accident sort-of, since I was away over Thanksgiving and was offline using a tool that didn't have a word count function. Anyway, I finished the count, although the story itself didn't have an ending yet. All the advice on the website, and the helpful emails that NaNoWriMo puts together from published authors and founders of the site, said to give it a rest for a bit before returning to the draft for editing. But, it was important to come back.

That's the point I'm at. I'm halfway through a first general edit. I still have to write an ending for the story, but it helps to go through everything to clear up some inconsistencies. The story is a lighthearted supernatural mystery of sorts, and there is a lot of mythology and stuff to work through. Sure, I invented a lot of it, but it should probably make sense. I spent at least 8 hours one Saturday, and just as many hours on Saturday and Sunday of last weekend, going through this. I have this feeling it will never be fully revised but I'm at least trying, right?

I should make note that I don't exactly know what I'm doing. However, a friend invited me to a writer's group, which I attended once so far this year and may go back. Another writing group is a little closer in distance and at a more convenient time, so my plan is to check that one out before I commit to a group. Either way, I absolutely see the benefit in having a peer group evaluate work. It's a bit terrifying, but I made a promise to myself that I would clean up an appropriate length excerpt to submit for peer review. Then I'll run away and hide.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Audio Books

I went through a phase a few years ago listening to audio books. It was a great way to change up the commute to work, and my yearly reading list doubled.

The thing with audio books, at least with me, is that it is quite a challenge to find the right kind of book to listen to. I found that many classic books do not work for me. I started Jane Eyre and had to keep rewinding tracks. Then I cut someone off in traffic without checking my blind spot because I had to concentrate so much on the dialogue that I wasn't paying attention to driving.

Some of my favorite audio books I've listenend to are:

"To Kill a Mockingbird," read by Sissy Spacek. It makes a big difference to have an Oscar winning actor reading a book.

 "Love is a Mixtape" read by author Rob Sheffield, who was a music critic for Rolling Stone for many years, so his personal musings on songs and bands were a treat. I straight up cried at the very sad turn the book took regarding his personal life. This wouldn't have been nearly as great if it was a hired actor reading his part.

"Paper Towns" by John Green, read by actor Dan John Miller (who you may not know by name but may recognize as a bit part actor). I cannot underestimate how much an actor can bring to an audio book. This is a perfect match for a quirky coming-of-age type story.

On the other hand, an audio book can greatly alter the experience of a book in the wrong way. I could barely get through "The Secret Life of Bees" on CD because the author spoke so terribly slow with that long southern drawl. The accent was a perfect fit for the story. But certain themes of the book were driven home pretty hard, and having to hear it sp-o-k-en out s-o sl-o-w-ly had me skipping tracks and swearing at the author for being so literal about the damn bees.

I am about to pick up an audio book for Chrisopher Moore's "Bite Me" from the library, I'll give an update after I start it. I would hope someone reading Moore's work will have the right energy to get the quirks right. I'm a huge fan of his books and it would be a shame for the audio reading of it to be mishandled somehow. Having listened to one of Carl Hiaasen's books on CD  ("Nature Girl"), the voice acting really made the most of the bizarre story and extreme characters.

Do you have any suggestions of good audio books?