Tuesday, 30 October 2012

An Evening With Snow Patrol


This past weekend I had the chance to see Snow Patrol in concert. Not only are they my favourite band ever, but I have some of their songs on the playlist for my WIP. Talk about an amazing opportunity for writing inspiration! Seriously though, writing inspiration or not, I’d pay good money to listen to Gary Lightbody yodel the phone book.

We drove five hours to get to the concert and it was worth every freezing snowy minute and every penny we spent on tickets--especially seeing as on the way there I managed to crank out a detailed outline of book two in my trilogy (Yay!). Have to do something to keep busy in the car right? This was my son’s first rock concert so it was a fun family milestone and a total blast for him. And as an added bonus, I got to see my sister Jaime and her hubby who managed to get last minute tickets right across the aisle from us.


Here we are before the concert, and yes, that's my brother-in-law making wacky faces behind us.


Not the clearest picture, but there's Snow Patrol putting on an amazing show. The highlight for me was their performance of "Open Your Eyes", which I listened to when writing a certain important scene in my WIP. Also enjoyed hearing "Run" and "New York". Both are on my playlist as well. Loved listening to Gary Lightbody's lovely Northern Irish accent almost as much as the music, and man is he energetic. No wonder he's so skinny (thus the name "Lightbody", hmm?). Phenomenal show. I left with a huge smile and very numb eardrums. Oh, and an ecstatic twelve year old :) I would go to another of their concerts in a heartbeat. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds and Jake Bugg opened the concert and both were great as well.


Before heading home, we checked out Wee Book Inn, a very cool used bookstore. For of any of you Firefly/Castle fans out there, Nathan Fillion used to buy comic books at Wee Book Inn when he was a kid. It seems that whenever we go away anywhere we always end up at a bookstore of some kind.


This is Yvan, one of the cats that lives at Wee Book Inn. He's seventeen years old and has the squishiest face I've ever seen. So adorable. His buddy Bunny was sleeping in the display case under the front till when we paid for our books. The guy working the till said there's something fitting about having cats in a bookstore and I have to say I wholeheartedly agree. Petting the cat was just as fun as buying books, and that's saying something!


Another not so stellar picture taken by my husband's phone, but perhaps clear enough for you to see the rows of delicious cupcakes in the case. This is Fuss Cupcakes and it's becoming a tradition to stop there whenever we go to Edmonton. Sure their cupcakes are delicious (I chose Pumpkin Spice and Chocolate Addiction), but the best thing about them is that they're peanut free! This is a huge deal in my family because it means my son gets to enjoy them as well. In fact, he's the one that found Fuss Cupcakes on the internet. This was lunch on the long ride home. I'm such a horrible mom. :)

Well, that was our whirlwind overnight trip. Incredible music, lots of books, cute cats and stuffing our face with cupcakes. Great weekend!

Here's a link to Jaime's account of the concert: A Wonderful Weekend.



Monday, 29 October 2012

YA Book Club: The Raven Boys



If you'd like to see the Goodreads.com overview for The Raven Boys before checking out my review, click the link.


The Raven Boys is only the second Maggie Stiefvater book I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last. I’m already counting the days till the sequel comes out. Here’s why:

Characters

This is very much a character driven book and Maggie Stiefvater has created a fascinating cast for readers to follow.
I like how Blue starts the story despising the Aglionby boys and then finds her assumptions about them challenged as she gets to know them better. Despite the fact they attend a school for the privileged they all have issues that soon endear them to Blue in ways she didn’t expect. The author communicates these issues so subtly, for example, a fray in Adam’s sweater tips off Blue that he isn’t one of the typical rich kids that attend Aglionby.  Blue goes from labeling the boys as “the Elegant Boy”, “President Cell Phone, the smudgy one, or their hostile friend” to discovering that, like her, they’re real people with real problems.
The relationships in this book were complicated and I really enjoyed that. Each of the Raven Boys could be difficult to get along with and often they got under each other’s skin. Toss in Blue, the slightly eccentric daughter of a psychic, and the dynamic gets even more complex.
I also enjoyed  Blue’s unconventional home life with her mother’s psychic friends. Out of the adult characters, I liked Persephone the most. Her soft spoken and spacey demeanor reminded me a lot of Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter. Interesting considering the Raven Boys had a bit of a Marauders thing going on (perhaps another reason I liked them so much).
My favourite character overall was Adam. The issues in his home life caused me to be the most invested in him. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by his story line.

Plot

The plot of The Raven Boys seems designed first and foremost to build the characters. The book centers around a quest involving ley lines and searching for a legendary sleeping king that will grant his finder a magical favour. The characters have their own reasons for participating in the quest and wanting this favour. Those reasons say a lot about who they are and, more importantly, who they want to be. It’s easy to see how a quest with such a prize could lead to dissension even among close friends.
Initially I found this book a little slow, but once it became evident that it was far more about the characters than the actual quest itself, I settled into the pace. Perhaps that’s because I loved the characters and wasn’t eager for this segment of their story to end.
There was also one particularly spooky twist that I did not see coming. In looking back, I can say that the author definitely played fair in foreshadowing this revelation.

Romance

The premise of the romance in this book hooked me in right away.  Blue’s mother and her psychic pals predict that if Blue kisses her true love, he’ll die. Kind of makes relationships tricky, so naturally the author introduces two different boys that Blue wouldn’t mind smooching. The way Blue initially discovers the identity of her “true love” is both creepy and intriguing and I was immediately eager for them to meet in person. Of course her supposed “true love” isn’t the boy that Blue initially gravitates to—that would be too easy. This had to be one of the most creative takes on a love triangle I’ve ever seen and I honestly don’t know who to root for because I like both of the potential love interests.

Overall Writing

I don’t feel remotely qualified to comment on this, but I’ll give it a go. Maggie Stiefvater writes beautifully and has a very distinct style. In my opinion this is the kind of author new writers should aspire to be like. She knows how to create vivid pictures of characters and settings with only a handful of details. Her writing is often poetic, yet not overly flowery, and manages to capture a feeling of real life. There are lessons to be learned here: looking past the labels put on people, loyalty to friends, the dangers of obsession (and probably others I’m missing) but none of them are heavy handed. This is helped by the humour in the book, which  isn’t overdone either.
I also feel the need to say that I’m pleased with the way the author handled the issue of one character’s allergic condition. This is an issue in my family, which makes me particularly sensitive to how it’s presented. Too often I see inaccurate and even ridiculous portrayals of anaphylaxis/allergies (mostly in movies), which don’t help people understand how serious a problem it actually is. I was very happy when Maggie Stiefvater accurately portrayed the severity of this. I have no idea whether this is a personal issue for her, but at the very least it shows she did her research.

There are many more great things I could say about this book, but I’ve rambled long enough and I don’t want to give away any spoilers. If you’re big on stories that have interesting characters and a unique premise, then this is definitely one to check out.
  


Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Rules


As I mentioned recently, I’m smack in the middle of revising my current WIP. I’ve been hacking my word count, tossing out adverbs, picking apart grammar, rewriting and rearranging until I can barely see straight. (Shoot. One of those stinking “ly” adverbs weaseled its way in there.)

In the process I’ve been using a certain editing book. I’ve found it very helpful, but also a little bewildering at times. The authors lay out their rules clearly and for the most part I understand their point of view on various writing taboos and see how eliminating some of these practices will lead to a smoother more professional sounding manuscript.  I’ve never had a finished first draft before now, so I dove into mine prepared to take their advice on every last detail.

Very quickly I felt the urge to buck against those rules. When abiding by all of them, weeding out started to feel more like watering down. I’d read a segment of my story that I particularly like and balk at the idea of chopping out or rewording.  I did it anyway, but after sifting through a few chapters I started to worry that it didn’t sound like my writing anymore. By that point I was frustrated and wondering if I was going overboard.

Then I sat down and read another nice chunk of The Raven Boys and realized that Maggie Stiefvater breaks a whole lot of the rules outlined in my editing book:

Don’t use verbs other than “said” in dialogue tags. Check.
Don’t start a paragraph with a dialogue tag. Check.
Don’t state how characters feel rather than showing it. Check.
Don’t use italics for emphasis. Check.
Don’t incorporate a lot of poetic wording or figures of speech. Check…

But Maggie Stiefvater is a talented writer, well known for her distinct style. When she breaks the rules it works. Her story is engrossing because she does use poetic language and because she does occasionally start paragraphs with dialogue tags, and refuses to beat the word “said” senseless. And while she has an incredible knack for showing us her characters’ emotions, she sometimes just comes right out and tells us how they feel.  Okay, I need to shut up about Maggie Stiefvater now or I won’t have anything left to say in my review on The Raven Boys. Of course she's only one author of many that bend the rules and take risks.

My somewhat longwinded point is that while the rules are there for a reason, it seems a balanced approach to following them is necessary, otherwise you could strip your story down to the bare bones and be left with something that lacks emotion or style. In all fairness, the authors of the editing book I mentioned do warn against taking certain rules to extremes for these very reasons. If every writer stuck religiously to the rules we’d have an entire market full of cookie cutter books. I guess the trick is figuring out when you need to obey the rules and when it might be better to break them.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Ghosties and Ghoulies and Long-Leggedy Beasties


Top Ten Tuesday:  Books for Getting in the Halloween Spirit

I have to confess I really haven’t read many dark and scary books that would suit a more grown up Halloween list. That’s fine because I think I’d pick most of my favourite Halloween books for nostalgic reasons anyway.  To me, Halloween has always been a celebration of childhood: costumes, candy, and everything pumpkiny. It’s a time for creativity and letting your imagination see ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggedy beasties lurking behind every tree.

These are some of my favorites (at least the ones I could think of without rooting through our entire book collection).  I know it’s Top Ten Tuesday, but seeing as I included a few series my list is a bit shorter.


1.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Every year when fall hits I get in the mood for Harry Potter—me and three quarters of the planet. Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite in the series and it seems especially suited for Halloween considering the Shrieking Shack and the whole Buckbeak fiasco in Hagrid’s pumpkin patch.



2. Skeleton Creek 

The Skeleton Creek series by Patrick Carman is categorized as middle grade but the characters are teens, so I’d recommend it to anyone who likes YA as well. Too be honest, I think these books are a little on the scary side for younger middle graders. The night I finished Skeleton Creek my husband was out, so I made my son stay up late to keep me company. Yes, I’m a total chicken. The concept of this series is great. After reading segments of the book, you’re rewarded with passwords for unlocking online videos. These directly tie in with the plot. So creepy and fun!  I have yet to read The Raven (book four) but it’s definitely on my TBR list.


3. Coraline

Neil Gaiman has quite the imagination.  When Coraline goes through a magical door in her new-old house, it leads to a world that’s a sinister mirror of her home and family. This book is full of suspense, creepiness and bizarre characters. I will never look at buttons the same after reading it. I have to admit the illustrations in our copy freaked me out a little—but in a fun way.




4. Araminta Spookie

I read this series to my son a number of years ago and he loved it. These are some of the cutest books we have on our shelves.  Just the right amount of spookiness for the younger crowd and the pictures are adorable. Nothing too scary here, just funny ghosts, a knitting vampire and lots of bat guano. I wish Angie Sage had written more of these.





5. Leaf Magic

This was one of my absolute favourite stories when I was little. It’s really more of an autumn book than a Halloween book, although the part where the leaf follows the boy home and tries to get in his window is kind of eerie. Not realizing how much it meant to me, my parents accidentally sold my copy at a garage sale. A few years ago I was thrilled to find a used copy.






6. Mousekin’s Golden House

Who could resist a story about a mouse that hibernates in a jack-o-lantern? The artwork in this book is beautiful and the ending is so cosy. Perfect for reading to little ones.




7. Georgie’s Halloween

Love this story about a shy little ghost that is more afraid of children than they are of him. The illustrations--mostly black and white with a smidge of orange--are wonderful and leave lots of room for imagination. A sweet book for wee ones at Halloween.



Have any childhood favourites or spooky recommendations you’d like to share?

Friday, 19 October 2012

Eyebrow Mania


Seeing as it’s Friday, I thought I’d kick off the weekend with something fun.

I think any writer will admit that body language can be tricky to describe and that it’s hard not to fall into the trap of overusing certain descriptions.  Pretty soon all the shrugging, eye rolling, and arm crossing can get out of control. While revising, I’ve definitely come across repetition of certain gestures that I need to omit or change. One of my personal favourites is raising, arching, quirking, pinching, and furrowing eyebrows. Apparently the eyebrows in my story like to bust a move.

Kinda like this:



What can I say? I find eyebrows expressive and in this case weirdly funny.

Have a happy weekend and watch out for breakdancing eyebrows.  :)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

RTW: A Head Start

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. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.


This week's topic:

Are you doing NaNoWriMo, or have you ever? Does having a deadline inspire you?

I’ve never done NaNoWriMo and I’m not officially participating this time, although I do plan to dive into the second book in my trilogy very soon. The fact that November happens to be a couple weeks away isn’t really a factor in that decision, rather it just happens to be good timing.

Lately I’ve been working nonstop on revisions.  I’m making good progress (at least I think I am), and while I want to stay focused on trimming down and sprucing up book one, I don’t want to lose momentum for actual writing. The other day I jotted down a story detail for my sequel, and it led into ten pages of notes. Probably a good sign that I need to start delving into book two, and by November I might be able to devote some time to it. Until recently, I always struggled to get the story out of my head and onto the page, computer screen, whatever. It took a lot of discipline (Butt in Chair…er…on couch) to finish the first draft of my WIP and to be perfectly honest, it’s like I’m in withdrawal now because all that discipline sort of turned writing into an addiction—a healthy one of course.

This whole plunge into book two directly plays into the second question in this week’s topic: Does having a deadline inspire you? Heck no! The idea of a deadline terrifies me. We’re talking enough to induce writer’s block. This is one aspect of being an author I would definitely find difficult, although I'm sure it's something I'd get used to. Maybe book one will never end up on a bookstore shelf, but on the off chance it does, I want to be prepared. I’ll take whatever head start I can get on book two.

Deadlines aren’t a reality at this point though, so the real reason I want to work on book two is because I’m eager to keep the story going. This is the one that clicked for me. I love my characters and I can’t wait to see where the plot takes them next. Okay, I’ll admit, I already know where the plot is taking them next --excessive planning is all part of that head start I was talking about--but I’m looking forward to seeing the story come together, even if it’s just for my own entertainment.

So while I’m not officially participating in NaNoWriMo,  and I still need to work on revisions, I will be putting pen to paper and fingers to keyboard to try and get out a nice chunk of writing. It does provide some motivation knowing that others will be frantically scribbling away at the same time.

And on that happy note, I’m off to do some more revising…

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

RTW: The Back Burner

What do you hope to be writing in one year? Three? Five?

Road Trip Wednesay is a "Blog Carnival" where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing-or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

Hope is the keyword in that question. Writing has always been one of the first things to go on the back burner for me, because “real life” takes over. It wasn’t until my sister took up writing and provided some much needed accountability that I buckled down and started realizing if I ever wanted to finish a story I was going to have to consider writing an important part of my “real life”.

That was about a year ago. Since then, writing has become a priority. Now I’ve got a first draft of a sci-fi/romance that took just over four months to write and two-thirds of a contemporary romance done. Pretty surreal to me seeing as my usual pattern was to plan the heck out of a story and then get bogged down in copious amounts of notes until I gave up several chapters in. Sometimes I’d half-heartedly poke away at a story for years. Actually finishing a first draft was a huge goal for me and now that I’ve accomplished that I’d really like to complete the next two books in the trilogy.

So what do I see myself writing a year from now? Hopefully book two and/or three in my sci-fi series because at this point I can’t imagine not finishing the whole story.  I really want to see it through to the end. And, of course, I’d love to be writing for a real audience. Seeing as my contemporary romance is the one on hold right now, I also want to finish it off down the road sometime.

Thinking ahead three to five years just makes my head spin. While it’s fun to dream about other writing projects, I need to take things one day at a time and stay focused on revisions. The biggest thing though is giving myself permission to write. Maybe in the future I’ll dig through some of my old story ideas and see if any of them are worth taking off the back burner to polish up.

And yes, I had to clean my stove before taking that picture. Housework is the other thing that ends up on the back burner :) .


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On Your Fall TBR List


This week’s Top Ten Tuesday at the Broke and the Bookish is a rewind to any previous topic discussed. While I’ve lurked on the blogs for a while now, this is my first ever post, so I decided to go with something simple.  Autumn is already well underway, and I’m smack in the middle of revising my WIP, which means that more than likely I won’t get all of these read before winter. Sometimes a little wishful thinking doesn’t hurt though.

1. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor 

November 6th can’t get here fast enough! I recently read Daughter of Smoke and Bone for the second time and found myself rereading parts of it just to savour the language Laini Taylor uses. I know the first seven chapters of Days of Blood and Starlight are available to read online, but I’m holding off until I have the whole book in my hands. Getting a taste and then having to wait for the rest would be torture.


2. Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel 

I loved everything about This Dark Endeavor: the atmosphere, the characters, the alchemy, the pretty damask design inside the cover. I was very excited when its sequel arrived in my mailbox recently, although there’s no pretty pattern inside the cover this time (so disappointed). Victor Frankenstein is such an intriguing main character because he constantly struggles between doing the right thing and giving into his darker ambitions. He’s certainly no Gary Stu and I can’t wait to see what this second book holds for him. 




3. The Kill Order by James Dashner

I’m not usually thrilled with the idea of prequels, but in this case I’m eager to read more about the events leading up to the creation of WICKED and the Glade.





4. Cinder  by Marissa Meyer  

I received this one as an early birthday gift from my sister (Thanks, Jaime!) and I’ve heard so many great things about it. Cinderella as a cyborg has to be one of the most creative rewrites anyone could come up with.





5. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi 

Also recommended to me by my sister. I’m eager to find out what the deal is with all the crossed out words in the text. Interesting technique. And who am I kidding? The words “oozing with romance” in the review on the back cover might have a little something to do with why I want to read it.





6. Starling by Lesley Livingston 

I stumbled on this one during my last visit to the bookstore. Hadn’t even heard of it yet. Love it when that happens. And like Kenneth Oppel she's a Canadian author. Yay!




7. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo 

My son is learning about World War I this fall, so we’re going to read War Horse and then watch the movie. The rule in our house is book first and movie second. Looks like a real tearjerker, so I hope I can make it through without bawling.




8. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater  

Hopefully I can get this one read on time to participate in the YA Book Club. Considering the premise involves a girl who thinks she’s going to cause her true love to die, that shouldn’t be too hard. Putting it down might be though.





9. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare 

Just finishing up The Mortal Instruments and then I’ll be onto The Infernal Devices. I’m a little late to the game concerning Cassandra Clare’s books, but I’ve been devouring them for the last month or so. They’ve renewed my interest in paranormal and I have to admit I’m excited for the City of Bones movie.




10. The Whisper by Emma Clayton 

I read The Roar quite some time ago, so I’m going to have to refresh my memory before delving into this sequel. If you’re a fan of Ender’s Game, you might like this middle grade series.





So there’s a little bit of everything in my TBR pile (which is really more like a whole bookcase to be honest).  Care to share what you’re reading this fall?