Wednesday, 29 May 2013

What's Up Wednesday

This week’s What’s Up Wednesday post is going to be short and sweet compared to my usual longwindedness. Okay, maybe not so sweet, because I’m sick. If you’d like to take part in the blog hop, you can sign up in the link widget at Jaime Morrow’s site: here.

What I’m Reading:

Yep, I’m still poking away at Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers. My tortoise-like pace isn’t due to the story, but because it’s been busy around here. Plus, when I get in the Writing Zone, I tend to read much, much less than usual. Sad, but true.

What I’m Writing:

The beginning of my current WIP was being stubborn and uncooperative, but I think I finally have it figured out. Possibly. I had all these great things I wanted to happen, and rather than gelling, they ended up forming this long, disjointed string of events that was nowhere near as cohesive as I wanted them to be. I know this is a first draft, but I feel strongly about getting off on the right foot. I’m also not a “just get the story out” kind of writer. Wish I was, but alas, that doesn’t work for me. At least not for key scenes. I’ll elaborate on that more in another post sometime. In any case, I think I’ve identified the problems and will be working on rewriting a good chunk of the beginning.

What’s Inspiring Me Right Now:

My husband’s dedication to running has been a huge source of inspiration for me this week.
Some of you may have seen the post I did on Monday in which I gushed profusely about how awesome he is. He managed to finish fourth in our provincial marathon on Sunday, even though he was sick with a nasty cold. After initially deciding not to run, he changed his mind at the last minute and ended up crossing the finish line in under three hours. For anyone not familiar with marathons, that’s great even when you’re in top form. I need to apply this same drive and determination to the writing process, because writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. And for the record, I did catch my cold from him. Germs be damned, there was no way I wasn’t going to kiss the guy after he did so well!

What Else I’ve Been Up To:

Other than writing and screaming myself hoarse on the sidelines of the Saskatchewan Marathon, I haven’t been doing a whole lot that’s worth posting about. That’s okay though, because I need to rest and get rid of this pesky cold.

Hope you’re all having a great week, and if you’d like to share what’s up in your corner of the writing world, feel free to join in!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Running and Writing Marathons

I’m going to start this post by bragging just a bit, but bear with me. I promise there will be a writing metaphor (or two) in here somewhere.

My husband, Trevor, is a marathon runner, and over the course of his involvement in this very intense sport, he’s faced some huge challenges. He’s conquered Heartbreak Hill at the Boston Marathon, run in pouring rain and gusting prairie winds, come back from an injury to his Achilles tendon, and endured more blisters than he can count.

Yesterday, he faced a new challenge: running while sick. After training for months in anticipation of our annual provincial marathon, he developed  a cold two days before his big run. Now while a cold doesn’t sound like a huge deal, consider running 42.2km (26.2 miles) while battling congestion, a sore throat, and fatigue. Distance running is a difficult feat when you’re in the best of health, let alone when you’re bogged down by sickness, so the night before the race, he made the tough decision not to run the full marathon. Instead, he opted to run with our son who was registered for the 10k race. He figured that would be as much as he could handle while feeling so under the weather.

We got up at 5:30 in the morning after Trevor spent the night tossing and turning and breathing much like Darth Vader. Needless to say, he looked like death warmed over. When we got to the exhibition grounds where the start of the race course was situated, the guys began preparing for the 10k. The music was pumping, his fellow runners were already gathering at the start line, and that familiar feeling of excitement that precedes every race was in the air. That’s when “the look” crossed Trevor’s face. I’ve seen it before. It’s the look that says “Oh man, do I ever wish I could run today, because I’d love nothing more than to put my body through forty-two kilometres of complete hell.” I know my husband well and understand this is what he lives for, and so I asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to try running the full marathon?”  He hummed and hawed a bit, took a couple easy laps around the parking lot, and decided he would give it a shot even though he was sick. If he couldn’t finish, or managed to finish in a much longer amount of time than usual, at least he tried.

He took off from the start line, all tired and sniffling and doing the very thing he’d decided against. When it comes to running, I’ve learned not to underestimate my husband. I had a sneaking suspicion he’d push himself hard enough to finish. That being said, I was more than a little surprised to see him coming up the home stretch less than three hours later and in fourth place! My throat is still kind of sore from all the screaming I did. Yes, I know. I probably caught his cold, but I’d prefer to think it’s purely from my wifely cheering skills. His official time was two hours and fifty-four minutes--another sub-3 marathon, his fourteenth full marathon overall, and the highest he’s ever placed. And to think he set out this morning planning not to run in his event!

My son also did an awesome job. While he's run 10k races before, this was the first one he’d ever run on his own--a big milestone for him--and he finished in 56 minutes. That's a great time for a kid his age, especially seeing as he was competing mostly with adults. I love watching his hard work pay off and his enthusiasm is infectious. Like father, like son!

So I promised that I’d bring this all around to writing. Here goes…

While running and writing are, on the surface, very different activities, many of the underlying principles are similar. Each requires discipline and hours of regular practice in order to improve. Learning the biomechanics of running and practicing form is comparable to how writers learn about and refine their craft. “Hitting the wall” is an issue runners face when they feel completely drained. This is as much mental as physical and can be compared to writer’s block. Whether you’re running or writing, there are times when finishing feels grueling and impossible and you just have to push through the pain. The running and writing communities are both places that have an overwhelmingly positive outlook and are full of support and camaraderie. And perhaps the biggest similarity of all: runners and writers both understand that drive to meet a personal goal and the importance of having passion for what you’re doing.

I’m proud of my husband’s running accomplishments and admire his dedication to his sport.  He’s inspiring and supportive, and he gets that writing a book is my marathon. I’m so thankful that while our pursuits may be different, at the heart of it, we understand each other’s ambitions.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

What's Up Wednesday

Hello again! I can’t believe another week has just flashed by. In case you’re not familiar yet, What’s Up Wednesday is a meme meant to help readers and writers keep in touch. If you’d like to join the fun, you can sign up on Jaime’s blog: here.

What I’m Reading:

I haven’t had much time for reading lately, so I’m still plugging away at DARK TRIUMPH. I’d love to devour the whole thing all in one sitting, but unfortunately that’s not gonna happen.

What I’m Writing:

Where do I start on this one? First of all, I think I’m finally done revising my manuscript. Hurray! I'm a little scared to say that, because the moment I do, I'll probably find something else that needs fixing. The plan is to stick the thing on my kobo and give it one last read through before venturing off into the scary land of querying. I also need to brush up my synopsis and update my agent research, which hopefully won’t take too long.

I’ve heard varying opinions on whether or not to start writing a sequel when you don’t know if an agent will tear apart your first book or if it will ever be published, but I’ve always felt that whatever the “official” process, I’d rather keep writing while I’m inspired to. If the first book goes nowhere, such is life. At least I’ll know I wrote the story that grabbed my imagination and wouldn’t let go. I’ve tried numerous times to get things rolling on the second book in my trilogy, but with revisions and whatnot it’s been slow. A recent rush of ideas and a string of evenings to myself have kick things into high gear though. This past weekend, I got sucked into the writer’s vortex. Don’t you love it when that happens? I managed to get some solid writing done and reworked my plot arc diagrams to incorporate the new and improved ideas. They look all pretty and exciting and colourful. I want to frame them.

What Inspires Me Right Now:

Hockey! And not for the reason you might think. While I do have a partially finished manuscript that features a character who’s a hockey player (Of course, I do. I’m Canadian, remember?), that isn’t what I’m talking about. My husband and son bought tickets for the Memorial Cup, which happens to be taking place in our city. That means nine hockey games for them and nine free evenings for me.  Knowing I’ll have some nice blocks of time for writing has greased the wheels in my brain and given me some extra motivation.

What Else I’ve Been Up To:

While things are always busy at our house during this time of year, I haven’t been doing much that’s interesting enough to talk about in a post, other than writing, of course. My husband and I did finally sit down with some wine and cheesecake to watch Les Misérables, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. I thought Hugh Jackman was amazing in the role of Jean Valjean. I’ll never look at Wolverine again without expecting him to burst into song.

This past week, I was also invited to take part in an awesome writing related project. It's not something I can really talk about yet, but I was super excited to be approached about it. Can I just say the writing community is pretty incredible?

So what’s up with you this week? 

Monday, 20 May 2013

Book Review: That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard

That Time I Joined the Circus wasn’t originally on my Debut Author Challenge list, and after reading it I’m sort of wondering why. This is the second time I deviated from my list (the first was when I read Splintered), and in both cases I was happy I did.

The first thing that jumped out at me about That Time I Joined the Circus was the voice. Lexi, Xandra, Lex, X (or whatever you want to call her) sounded like a real teenager with genuine problems. As the story progressed, I discovered I really liked Lexi and actually cared about her situation. She wasn’t the perfect mc, which I loved, since I’d much rather read about a flawed protagonist. Lexi made mistakes, including one particularly big blunder that unraveled her limited social life and contributed to a portion of her emotional journey in the book.

A number of boys in the story gravitate toward Lexi, which is more than the average high school girl usually has on her plate. Initially, this worried me. I thought the author was going to turn the story into a full blown love square, but luckily she didn’t go that route. At least one of these relationships doesn’t progress further than a passing interest, which seemed realistic to me. As far as the male characters in the book, I wanted to smack them all in the head at one point or another. Especially Eli. Poor, kind of sweet Eli, who really bungled things up. That isn’t a criticism of the book, because I’m fairly certain the author wanted readers to feel that way. Again, none of her characters were perfect, thus there’s some conflict for Lexi to work through.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book in terms of the setting. It largely takes place at a circus (hence the title), so I thought it might get kind of kooky and outrageous. This wasn’t the case though. For a book about a circus, that aspect of the story isn’t over the top. It’s not full of tacky costumes and flashy performances and carnies. In fact, the author doesn’t swamp readers with excessive descriptions of the circus at all. Instead, it’s about the people Lexi meets and their lives behind the scenes.

Without giving anything away, I appreciated the conclusions Lexi came to at the end of the story. I felt like she grew up quite a bit, while also getting to know what she wanted and who she was as a person.  I thought the author did a good job of showing how Lexi identified her own faults and learned from the mistakes she made. By the conclusion, it seemed that Lexi saw many people in a different light—some that were new to her, and others that she had known for years. While this book definitely has romance woven in, and this plays a big role in the plot, I didn’t feel it was the main issue. Ultimately, That Time I Joined the Circus was about Lexi figuring out her direction in life, especially in light of the crappy hand she’d been dealt and the fact that she always struggled to belong somewhere.

There are a couple other details worth discussing. This story addressed the shortcomings of Lexi’s parents. They fouled up pretty badly on some things while raising (or not raising) her. That being said, I didn’t feel the author demonized Lexi’s parents, nor did she allow Lexi to give in to resentment over the mistakes they made. While I think I would’ve been a lot harder on them, I appreciated that J.J. Howard didn’t go overboard on this aspect of the story. Another thing worth mentioning is the chapter titles and the music quotes that accompany them. I thought this was very fitting to Lexi’s character and helped to highlight her interest in music and her voice throughout the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed That Time I Joined the Circus. I do wish some of the characters and relationships had been fleshed out more, and there was one plot detail that I found a little convenient, however, I don’t necessarily see this as being the fault of the author’s writing, but more due to time and space constraints. As far as I know, this was a standalone, and there was a lot to squeeze in on a limited number of pages. (Can you tell how much I despise word counts?) And it’s a good thing that I wanted to know some of these characters better, because they were fun to read about. Soooo, should you choose to delve into That Time I Joined the Circus based on this or any other review, I hope you find it as enjoyable as I did.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

What's Up Wednesday

It’s hard to believe another week has gone by already. I meant to post since last week’s What’s Up Wednesday, but this time of year is crazy busy at my house, and time got away from me. In case you’re new to this whole Wednesday meme, it’s something my sister and I came up with to help people stay in touch with blogger friends. The format is pretty open, and it’s basically meant to provide a framework for sharing whatever is going on in your neck of the writing world.  We’d love it if you’d take part!

What I’m reading:

The other day I finished That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard. I liked it a lot, but will reserve my comments for another time as I’m hoping to compile my thoughts into a review.

Now I’m finally reading Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers. I’m only a few pages in, but my fingers are crossed in hopes that it lives up to Grave Mercy, which is one of my favourite YA books ever. Heck, forget that it’s YA, it’s probably just on my list of favourites, period.

What I’m Writing:

I’m still plugging away at some revisions, though they’re pretty minor for the most part now. It’s been exactly a year since I started this manuscript. Halfway through May last year, I fished out my old notes on this story and threw myself into the writing. Soon I’ll be querying, and the urge to dive headlong into another project is grabbing me lately. I’ve started on the sequel to my manuscript, but haven’t been able to dedicate much time to it yet. I also have another WIP that’s been on the backburner for quite some time that I’d love to revamp. And I have another idea, complete with notes and inspiration, that’s just begging for attention. Why aren’t there 80 hours in a day?

What’s Inspiring Me Right Now:

The rain. We’ve had a bit of rain lately, which is so much nicer than the piles and piles of snow we got this winter. The other night my son and I stood in our back doorway and just smelled the rain together. You know that damp, earthy scent? Love it. And watching my son breathing it in was one of those special mom moments for me, the kind where I feel like this is how life is meant to be.

Last night, we had our first thunderstorm of the season, and it was a doozy. I was sitting here working on the couch (at an ungodly hour, as usual) when the rumbling started. It turned into that sort of thunder that shakes the whole house. We had some pretty nice lightning too. I love a good, scary thunderstorm and for whatever reason rain always puts me in the frame of mind for writing. I think it’s because things slow down and there’s a tendency to stay inside when it rains. It makes me feel introspective, which inevitably leads to creativity.

Oh, and in case you'd like to listen to some rain for the purpose of inspiration, check this out: 

What Else I’ve Been Up To:

I had a lovely, relaxing Mother’s Day this weekend. We went to The Broadway Café, one of my favourite restaurants. It’s a little greasy spoon 1950s diner with pictures of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe all over the walls. I’m really more of a Buddy Holly, American Graffiti kinda gal, but I still love the atmosphere. With my son’s peanut allergy we have a limited list of restaurants and though it’s pretty much the opposite of fancy, we tend to gravitate to this café even on special occasions. They make a mean patty melt.

So what’s up with you these days? Go ahead and share in the comments or feel free to join in on your own blog. If you’d like to sign up for the blog hop, go to my sister Jaime’s site: here.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

What's Up Wednesday

Hi again, and welcome to another installment of What's Up Wednesday. This is what's been happening in my corner of the world lately...

What I’m Reading:

I just finished Enchanted by Alethea Kontis which is a magical conglomeration of all different fairy tales. I enjoyed how the story is built around Sunday, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, and her sisters who are also named after days of the week. My favourite character was Grumble/Rumbold, otherwise known as the Frog Prince. Rather than being the typical dashing prince of most fairy tales, he always seems sort of rumpled and worn, and I found this endearing. I wish certain aspects of the story had been explained a bit more, but all in all it was a sweet, pleasant read.

Last night, I started That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but I can at least say the main character’s predicament has hooked me in.

What I’m writing:

Last week, I mentioned I was working on a brutal chapter rewrite. I finally finished it, and I’m more than pleased with the result. In fact, I think it kicks the original chapter’s butt.

Now I’m going through my entire manuscript and tweaking the voice. When I was researching agents, two things kept coming up over and over: BEAUTIFUL PROSE and VOICE. Obviously, I know that’s what agents want, but the repetition of this on their wish lists scared me into taking yet another look at my story. I had a few different ideas of how I could draw out my main character’s voice and make her personality stronger, so I’m currently working on that. As for the beautiful prose, I can only cross my fingers and hope that some agent out there will like my writing style. I promise I will eventually start querying this thing. Just about there.

What’s Inspiring Me Right Now:

As nerdy as this sounds, I’ve been using pictures of futuristic cities to inspire my two chapter rewrites and latest (hopefully final) round of revisions. My story takes place in the near future, approximately thirty years from now, and it’s light sci-fi, so there’s nothing too outrageously futuristic in it setting-wise, but I’m finding this helpful in creating the urban, high-tech atmosphere. Obviously I don’t borrow from what’s in the pictures (that’s someone else’s work), but much like music, the right picture can really set the mood for writing. There are some incredibly talented artists that share their work on the internet, and you know what they say about a picture being worth a thousand words.

The other thing that’s inspiring me this week is the weather. I guess that’s more motivational than inspiring. The snow is FINALLY gone here!!! Even though I mostly write at night, I always feel like I have more energy during the warmer months. That might have something to do with the fact that it’s not dark at four o’clock in the freaking afternoon anymore. It’s also less cumbersome when I’m not buried in a bulky sweater and blankets to stay cosy while I write.

What Else I’ve Been Up To:

This past Saturday, we went to a book sale and two different book stores. If you think that’s kind
of excessive, you’d be right. Over the last month, we’ve accumulated a whole stack of books to add to our library. Yes, that stack I’m standing behind in the picture. I thought it might be fun to see how tall it was in comparison to me. When I’m standing straight up, it’s just slightly taller than I am. I’m five foot two, which isn’t very tall for a person, but it’s definitely tall for a pile of books. In case you’re planning on trying this feat yourself, I’ll warn you it’s a two person job. I had to enlist my husband’s help to balance the tower while I built it. I think someone needs to stage an intervention.

Besides new books, I’ve been enjoying cherry cola tea. I can sense a few of you wrinkling your noses in disgust, but trust me, it’s awesome. Unfortunately, David’s Tea cancelled this flavour, which stinks because I love it. Why, David’s, why?! Our local store was out, so my husband ordered us some from the last bit of their supply, and it arrived in the mail yesterday. This tea would’ve been the perfect complement to one of my writing projects (that’s currently on hold), so I’m disappointed that it’ll all be gone soon. In the meantime, I’m savouring every drop.

Oh, and we've been barbecuing, because there's no longer a snowbank burying our barbecue in the backyard. Yay! And yes, that's a very, very recent development. Barbecuing = easy meals, which = more time for writing. 

So what have you been up to for the last week? Feel free to comment or to join the blog hop by signing up on my sister Jaime’s blog, here.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Smashed to Pieces: Thoughts on Rewriting

Have you ever seen those mosaics made from broken china? (Besides in the picture to the left, I mean.) People use them for garden stones, patio table tops, and other decorative purposes They’re really quite beautiful, not to mention it’s a great way of recycling a dish that might be chipped and otherwise useless. Still, there’s something I find sort of unsettling about smashing apart an object that’s relatively whole and lovely, even if you’re making something new out of it. Call me crazy, but I’d miss what it used to be at least a little.

I mentioned recently that I had to rewrite a certain chapter in my manuscript. That ordeal reminded me very much of the process of making mosaics. Somehow it felt aggressive to me, like I was shattering something I loved into sharp, little bits and creating more of a mess than anything. I didn’t really want to do it, but I knew I had to. Ironically, I had to destroy something that was, in a sense, chipped or cracked in order to create something new and better.

When this comparison came to mind, I watched a couple Youtube videos to see how it’s done. Technically, you don’t smash a dish in order to prepare the pieces. There’s actually a tool for breaking chunks off. It’s still not very precise, but that’s part of the charm of it. The result is pieces that are all different shapes and sizes that can be arranged in an entirely new way. See where I’m going with this?

So I broke apart my chapter and decided which shards I needed to preserve and which had to be discarded (sniffle). Then I fit some brand new pieces into the spaces. And to my surprise, I think they actually fit better than the story chunks that were there before. The whole feel of the scene was very different. It maintained the important details and accomplished the same purpose, but the overall picture was superior to the original in many ways.

Now, after filling in the seams with metaphorical grout, I’m doing the final polishing. And I’m looking forward to doing a complete read through to see how the new and improved chapter flows with the rest of the story.

On my sister’s blog, she recently used the analogy of sewing a quilt to explain her rewriting process. What about you? Have you had to rewrite any major scenes lately? What would you compare your process to?

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

What's Up Wednesday

Welcome to the second week of What's Up Wednesday. If you'd like to take part, feel free to snag a copy of the button. You can sign up for the blog hop on my sister Jaime's site: here.

What I’m Reading:

A few days ago, I finished reading This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith. Rather than do a full review, I'll keep it short and just say that I enjoyed it almost as much as The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. It was a sweet little romance and I liked both of the main characters and the setting. If you're looking for a light, quick read, I recommend it.

Now, I'm reading Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, but so far I'm only a few pages in. This one has been on my TBR list for quite some time, which might have just as much to do with the pretty cover as the fact that it’s a fairy tale retelling.

What I’m Writing:

Currently, I’m rewriting a large chunk of a particular chapter in my WIP. I need to change the overall dynamic of the scene while retaining certain important aspects that set up the end of the book. It's proving to be a bit of a challenge, but I finally have all the details sorted out. I'm almost finished the new first draft and I think maybe, just maybe I love it.

What Inspires Me Right Now:

The other night, we watched the movie Lincoln. Not only is Abraham Lincoln an inspirational historical figure, but I found Daniel Day Lewis’s depiction of him to be inspirational as well. I’ve been a fan of Daniel Day Lewis since his performance in The Last of the Mohicans. (He had me at “I will find you!”) He’s one of those actors that applies himself so thoroughly to his craft, and as a result he was completely convincing as Lincoln. Acting and writing are both ways of telling a story, so this makes me ask myself: How committed am I to my craft? Have I been as convincing as I possibly can?

What Else I've Been Up To:

Every April, our local symphony has a used book sale in order to raise funds. Over the years, we’ve bought literally hundreds of books there. I’m not exaggerating when I say our house is running out of space for book shelves. For me, spring cleaning usually means rearranging books to try and make more room.

Here are a couple of the treasures I found at the symphony book sale this year:

I admit that I already own copies of Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott and At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald, but I couldn't resist these beautiful old versions. I mean, come on, the boys are all in kilts on the cover of one, and the other has gorgeous pictures throughout. We bought a lot more books as well, but these were some of my favourite finds this year. There are still a few more days left for the book sale, and I intend on going at least once more.

So what's up with you these days? Care to comment or join in on your own blog?