This month reading has fallen to the wayside to make time for Camp NaNoWriMo. At the end of the day, I’m worded out enough that picking up a book and trying to give it the proper care and attention it deserves makes me give an exhausted little twitch. I want to give the books I read my best, I don’t want to spend a half-hour reading the same paragraph over and over and over again… I given serious thought to letting Nancy send Weeping Angel pictures if I don’t read the books currently collecting dust on my shelf. Fortunately, come August, there will be another way to motivate me: Nancy is hosting a To Be Read Readthon, complete with sign-ups, prizes, and buttons to place on your blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to let everyone know about it!

The rules and sign up are available here. Join us! It’ll be massive amounts of fun. (Especially since my school year starts on August 19th. Oh gods.)

My August TBR List:

Ruined by Paula Morris
Fated by Benedict Jacka
A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Dragon Champion by E.E. Knight
The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa
Looking for Alaska by John Green
The Stone Rose by  Jaqueline Rayner
I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter
Steadfast by Mercedes Lackey
Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde
Dragon and Thief by Timothy Zahn

Read:

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa: I liked the book a lot even if my long-standing familiarity with mythology/fairy tales/TVtropes allowed me to call a few points ahead of time. The sequel is sitting in my bag now!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: I finished the book in an hour flat and promptly texted Nancy “GODS DAMMIT WHY IS HE SUCH A GENIUS?” I love Neil Gaiman’s work and this shows the best of his talent– taking the boring and the mundane and mixing it together with the fantastical in ways that no one seems to think about. Even with my aforementioned familiarity with mythology et. al, I was still delighted and horrified in turns with the story he wove. When I first saw the book I was surprised at how small it was but it was just further proof of Neil’s skill as a writer– He didn’t need anymore pages. I was just as satisfied with this as I was with American Gods despite the disparate lengths.

The Stone Rose by Jaqueline Rayner: Ok, I liked this book for the blatant Doctor/Rose shipping in the last few pages but overall I wasn’t a fan of the writing. It felt stilted and jerky, moving the POV from the Doctor to Rose and back and I found myself bored at parts where I shouldn’t have been– Like the Doctor escaping the Colosseum. Part of me wonders if this can be improved by listening to the audiobook…I should check. For reading-science! Totally not because it’s narrated by David Tennant. Nope. Definitely not.

I’d Tell You I Love You … by Ally Carter: Well. I tore through this book in about two hours and immediately started placing all the other books in the series on hold when I saw that my library didn’t have them as ebooks (except for the fourth book, what?). I love Ally’s characters and the world she’s building and all of the pop culture references andandand like…everything. I NEED MORE ALLY CARTER BOOKS IN MY LIFE.

Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury: Ok, I loved this book. Not as much as ITYILU but it was a photo finish. Proper Regency lady rebelling against Society’s constraints? Translating Jane Austen quotes into how many languages when stressed? Becoming a spy with her utterly fantastic, antagonistic, love interest to beat Napoleon? 😀 Please tell me this will be a series. PLEASE.

A Letter of Mary and Dragon Champion: Sadly removed from the list due to lack of interest in them at the current moment.

The Iron Daughter: I was really disappointed in this book– I kept waiting for something more plot-like to happen but found the book to be bogged down by a horribly cliche love triangle and a main character who seems steadfastly set on not developing. This was especially irritating since I’m a character reader/writer and can’t look past the bad characters to what may be going on with the plot.

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys: Wow. Probably like most people I assumed this book was set in and during the Holocaust and while it’s dealing with the same time period, it focuses on another, completely unknown travesty. Go read it.

Ruined by Paula Morris: I was drawn in by the idea of ghost and New Orleans culture and while the book was well-written, I wasn’t wildly enthused by the characters or plot. Probably going to give the next book a pass.

Fated by Benedict Jacka: I liked this book a lot! There’s some intriguing character and world building (the magic system!!!) and sly references to the Dresden Files (a favorite series of mine) and the plot kept me guessing at every turn. Next one please!

I have three other books but I hope to finish them before the end of July. They are Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury, The Iron King by Julie Kagawa, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Weeping Angel pictures may or may not be involved.

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Last week, I was chatting with a friend and I mentioned that I was participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. I explained how I was taking the month to explore different story ideas and she asked where I find my ideas. It’s something every writer is asked and everyone has a different answer. Some writers are bursting at the mental seams while others have great droughts of inspiration. I’m somewhere in the middle. I can think of several story ideas in the course of the week but only if I’m actively working at it and not every idea is worth expanding into a full grown plot bunny. 

As far as where my ideas come from, it’s a combination of the media I’m consuming, observing people/places, and playing What-If while at work, relaxing with friends, or just letting my brain spin its wheels as I try to fall asleep. Real-life events occasionally inspire bunnies of their own and very rarely I get story ideas from dreams.

It’s a peculiar mindset that takes me a while to get into but when it happens, stories crop up on a semi-regular basis. The latest maybe-bunny came while I was helping a gentleman check out several issues of a hunting magazine, a gun bible, pregnancy books, and knitting patterns. He was probably picking up some materials for his wife/significant other but I played What-If. What if all the materials were for himself? What kind of man would read hunting magazines, be reading up on pregnancy, and checking out knitting patterns? It’s an interesting thought but not one I’m interested in exploring right now — I’m writing historical fiction this week, which means research and I’m still scrambling to figure out my new main character, Guinevere Hazel Thompson.

What about you? Where do your story ideas come from?

Last night, I created a new character for the first time in three years. I had no idea of who or what I needed, just the vague inkling of a plot that involved a cross-country trip, a Hotel Californa-esque library (?), a dragon (?), and magic (!). In true NaNoWriMo spirit, I didn’t even have a name for my character and scrambled for Scrivener’s name generator. My nameless protagonist was christened Renee Watson and I fumbled for the first paragraph, typing out something about murdering Justin Beiber and college freshman who sing his songs.

Two sentences later, Renee was joined by a roommate, Paige Gilmore, and I found myself grinning as I typed. Details trickled in as the pair quickly established witty banter and some basic facts. Paige is an art student, hoping to work in the video game industry while Renee became a mechanical engineering student who wants to design cars. They both have short hair, don’t really get along with their moms, and enjoy watching Doctor Who. Renee likes her science but tends to fly off the handle while Paige keeps her feet on the ground despite the wide array of fantasy books crammed into her IKEA bookshelf.

In 753 words, I went from having no clue to who these people — People! More than one! — were to having very clear idea of what they’re like. Now I can indulge my planning side and fill out the seven page character profile for both of them, adding details to their lives and figuring out how to get my plot on a proper roll. But right now, I’m sitting back with a cup of ice cream and savoring the delight and challenge Renee and Paige pose:  New characters to inhabit a new world that I know absolutely nothing about because I haven’t created it yet.

I can’t wait to explore it.

In six days, the July Session of Camp NaNoWriMo starts and I find myself slightly dreading the experience this time around. Why, you ask? Blog aside, I’m looking to play with completely new ideas for the first time in three years and I’m terrified.

We all know how it goes: You settle into something and you get comfortable. A job, a relationship, your parent’s guest bedroom. You know where to find the staples, you have a million in-jokes, you can count on your mom to bake you cookies. Three years of working with the same characters and plots and now I’m hesitant to step beyond that universe. It’s a very nice universe, developed, filled with characters, and all sorts of unexplored possibilities–!

[hangs head]

Life is about growth and change. Life is what inspires my writing and if I want to keep growing as a writer and person, I need to mix things up. To that end, my plan for this session of Camp NaNoWriMo is write at least 5,000 words a week exploring the plot bunnies below and see what potential lurks beneath their twitching noses and placid red eyes…

Bunny One: A MC is taking a road trip to find him/herself breaks down in a middle-of-nowhere town. While waiting for his/her car to be repaired s/he wanders into the small town library that seems to be bigger on the inside…The Eagles’ ”Hotel California” was the major inspiration for this bunny.

Bunny Two: WWII-esque story, fae horse, female hero. Itty bitty fae gardens. The girl would have been part of SOE in France but got invalided home. The family is set on squashing the heroine back into her old role as the youngest girl child and marrying her off but she has gotten the taste of a wider world.

Bunny Three: Magical society where people are born with “craft” magic that dictates their trade. Family business/guilds/alliances are a major thing. Occasionally, there will be people who are born with a different craft magic from their family. MC is comes from a family of animal-husbandry crafters but has a more intellectual-craft magic.

Bunny Four: Something inspired by the recent Florence + The Machine binge I’ve been on. “Howl” and “If Only For A Night” are the top contenders so something paranormal.

There are other nebulous bunnies but they’re variations on the magic/libraries of Bunny One. Or Doctor Who  bunnies, damnyouNancy. Nerves aside, I’m looking forward to seeing what bunnies will catch my attention enough to deserve a NaNo draft of their own. See you at Camp!

Last Thursday, I was lucid — I mean, lucky — enough to attend a presentation about self publishing with authors Nancy Kelley and Andy Bunch. They went over the process of self publishing and the various aspects an author has to consider such as cover design, print-on-demand services, and marketing. Throughout the talk, they discussed their own personal approaches: Andy prefers to do his sales in-person while Nancy sells most of her books online.

One  point that was reiterated in all aspects of the presentation was that a writer pays for self-publishing whether in time and energy or monetarily. One prominent example was cover design: An author can choose to photoshop her own book cover or pay a cover designer to do it. Despite having taken a photoshop class I have the feeling that I’ll be on the hunt for a cover designer when the times comes.

I took notes and had a lot to think about afterwards. I have a long way to go before publishing but it’s never too early to start planning. I added several self-publishing books to my GoodReads shelves and have started a planning document where I can put all my self-publishing ideas/notes.

This week, I anticipate having more reading time than usual. Why? Well, I’m getting my wisdom teeth removed on Wednesday and have requested two days off of work to recover. This gives me until next Monday to be back in patron-helping shape. Between the pain pills, copious amounts of milkshakes/smoothies, and my mother’s able nursing skills, I hope to spend most of my recovery time reading*.

Right now, I have six books checked out from the library:

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury
Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
A Step of Faith by Richard Paul Evans
Dragon Champion by E.E. Knight
Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

The only work I’ve read involving Terry Pratchett was Good Omens, co-written by the utterly fantastic Neil Gaiman. His Discworld series has been recommended many times by many people and I finally got my hands on the first novel.

I’ve slowly been working my way through the Dresden Files and love Jim Butcher’s worldbuilding and characters– I’m very interested to see what he does with a more “traditional” fantasy.

I stumbled across the first book in Richard Paul Evans‘  The Walk series while shelving at work and I’ve found the first three books to be fast reads with intriguing characters and plot twists. Oh man, the plot twists. I need to take notes on the wringers this author likes to throw at his beleaguered protagonist, Alan.

The other three books and authors are complete unknowns to me and I look forward to the mix of adult fantasy, young adult magical historical fiction, and contemporary fiction. When left to my own devices, I tend to reread the same beloved sci-fi and fantasy series  but I’m making an effort to branch out in my reading tastes.

*Or getting my mother hooked on Doctor Who. Yes, I’m a Whovian. Yes, I’m trying to suck my family into my fandom.

As May rolls into June, I find myself with two out of three sets of beta notes. After my initial reaction of “Oh gods, I’m not ready, please don’t make me do this,” I cautiously opened the emails and poked through the notes they had given me. I was pleasantly surprised and not-so-secretly relieved that both my betas had liked the story and found plenty wrong with it– in a good way.

They were extremely helpful in different areas and the feedback was constructive criticism at its best. I’ve already figured out how I can restructure events in my novel, compressing events I had spread out over three years in-story into one action-packed beginning. (It was very much a “Oh. How did I not think of this before?” moment.) I also can go through and edit  several bad habits in my grammar that I was completely unaware of– The benefits of outside eyes!

In the meantime I’ve been going through and making my own superficial edits. This first draft was filled with horrible tense switches and far too much passive voice to my horror. The margins are filled with rewritten sentences and notes to myself along the lines of “Is this in-character/what I want the reader to pick up? Drop in more character/plotty bits here. Use this description way too much.” Here’s the first page of chapter three, hacked apart:

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Slowly but surely, my editing process marches on . . . and I’m loving every step of the way!

While writing my last post, I was tempted to include some of my favorite fanfiction stories and authors. My first thought was, No, fanfiction doesn’t count as real reading, and that got me thinking: Why doesn’t fanfiction, especially very well-written fanfiction, count as “real” reading? I don’t dare deny that the large part of fan-based material on the internet is living proof of Sturgeon’s Law: Ninety percent of everything is crap. But what about the other ten percent? I can think of at least two “mere” fanfiction authors whose in-depth real-world research, character development, and world-building have left me in awe of what they do — Doubtless you have your own examples.

For Avatar: The Last Airbender fans, I cannot recommend Vathara’s Embers enough. For any Narnians out there, rthstewart’s stories (any of them) are a wonderful exploration of the Pevensies in both their Narnian and English lives. I could easily see Vathara being drafted to write official for Avatar or the Legend of Korra. The same for rthstewart, if the Lewis estate ever allowed it.

I have very strong, very positive beliefs about fanfiction. Still, my iPad was nearly received an impromptu tea-bath when I saw Amazon’s announcement that it was going to solicit and publish Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries fanfiction. 

Having read Chuck Wendig’s blog post and this article I have mixed feelings about Amazon’s move: The thought of fanfiction being published doesn’t thrill me to pieces. As Wired points out, prospective authors are getting the chance to publish their stories but Amazon gets far more out of the bargain. It blurs the lines between concrete canon, generally accepted fanon, and a fan’s personal head-canon further. The line between stories like Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey is also blurred. (If it ever existed in the first place for those particular examples.)

I, like most of the fanfiction community, will continue to watch Amazon to see how its latest experiment will turn out. In the meantime, I will return to reading my usual fanfiction — Currently I’m on a Doctor Who and Star Trek 2009 binge.

Reading

I’ve covered a lot about writing and my writing process (awkward fledgling that it is) over the past month. Today I’m switching things up and talking about what every good writer should also be doing: Reading. I’ve been a voracious reader since I was young, in large part due to my mother. I’d ask for a book to read and she would promptly introduce me to the wonderful worlds created by Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey, and Nancy Atherton. I was also involved at my local library as a teen volunteer and enjoyed attending the monthly book discussion group where I was introduced to John Green, Alex Finn, and Derek Landy.

As an adult, I continue to read tons of fantasy and young adult novels with some form of mystery on the side and the occasional graphic novel thrown in. Being friends with Nancy introduced me to Jane Austen’s works and fellow authors who write historical/Austenesque fiction. I am now an employee at my local library and count myself lucky since it allows me to be around a wide variety of authors and genres. Take a peek at my current stack of library books to read:

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Not shown: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffrenbaugh. Also not shown are the three ebooks I currently have checked out: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth, Partials by Dan Wells, and Dope Sick by Walter Dean Myers. I am also currently listening to the audiobook of the Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. 

While I miss actively working on my own stories, waiting for my beta reader’s notes has given me this wealth of spare time and I’m enjoying using it to catch up on my reading and look for new recommendations. What genres and authors do you like to read? Tell me about them in the comments below!

When I moved into my apartment last month, I knew furniture and boxes would be shifted around as I settled down and started to make the place a home. This has been especially true in my kitchen– I have a limited amount of counter space and several appliances. One of my most prized possessions is a bright red Kitchen Aid standing mixer that I received several years ago. 

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When I first moved in I didn’t have a microwave and my mixer was tucked against the wall of my island counter/dining table. Once I got a microwave however, things got interesting. How to keep everything close to hand without eating up counter space? First I tried placing it behind the microwave, facing out into my living room. No dice, it was too far from the fridge and oven. (Naturally I discovered this the first time I tried to bake.)

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Then I tried keeping it tucked against the wall with the microwave to the right. Nope! Way too cramped for mixing/baking ease. Ugh, I thought, where could I keep this? I had cookies to bake and a book to finish!

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As I hefted my mixer to the opposite side of my microwave, I had a moment of clarity: Moving my mixer around, getting settled into my apartment, was like editing. Both have absolute, can’t live without things surrounded by less vital items that still add to the whole. My apartment with it’s boxes and “Don’t know where this lives yet” piles and clutter is a real world example of my novel’s first draft. I’m expecting to receive my first set of notes from one of my beta readers this week and I can’t wait to see what he thinks could be moved around, tossed, or reworked. I’ve started my own edits, mostly comprised of scratching out and rewriting chunks of texts and taking notes about character traits I want to emphasize and plot points I need to drop earlier or remove but it’s going to take an outsider’s eye to see what my novel really needs. (Note to self: Get someone else to take a look at my apartment too…

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