Monday, February 28, 2011

The Oscars

My husband and I have started a tradition of filling out those little Oscar ballots and placing a friendly wager between us to make the event more interesting.

As for which one of us has secured more winning categories by the end of the night, it usually comes down to something ambiguous like "sound mixing" or a category where we pick via the scientific innie, minnie, miny, mo methodology because neither of us have seen a nominated "animated short film."

Some things I love about the Oscars are seeing what everyone is wearing, what movie or category inevitably upsets the others, and the advertisements.

"The advertisements?" you ask.

Yes. To me, the ads for the Oscars are kind of like the Super Bowl ads. I love them. It's one of the few times I don't mind watching commercials because you get to see things like this:

What do you love about the Oscars? Note: Haters not welcome :-)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Another Book Giveaway

Pay it forward is a great concept and one of the reasons I love participating and hosting book giveaways. And this one is for Lauren Oliver's very own Before I Fall (reviewed in yesterday's post).

And if you're excited about Before I Fall, HarperTeen is letting you browse around on Delirium, Oliver's newest novel here.

Rules of the Before I Fall book contest are pretty much the same as other giveaways:

1. Be a follower of the blog.

2. Extra entries if you Tweet, Facebook, mention in your blog, comment on this post, or otherwise spread the word (but be sure to let me know what you did). To help you out, feel free to use the following tweet: Enter to win Before I Fall #bookgiveaway on @SCookRay blog.

3. Two extra entries if you refer a friend who becomes a follower.

4. Email me at to enter and include "Before I Fall contest" in the subject line.

Note the following:

*Contest closes at 5pm EST March 17 and the winner will be posted on the blog on March 18 (as well as emailed).

**Because of the size and weight of this hardcover book this contest will have to be for domestic (ie. U.S.) residents only.

Good luck and if you'd like to see other kinds of contests or giveaways here, let me know!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review of Before I Fall

What if you only had one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: the world’s most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.

Instead, it turns out to be her last. Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver was listed here as one of my must-read books of 2011 and here as a book trailer I absolutely loved!

I had read a review on the Confessions of Suite 500 blog by literary agent Suzie Townsend that she was tempted to put this book down during the first chapter despite the stellar writing because main character Sam Kingston is not someone she would ever have been friends with in high school and I couldn't agree more. Suzie had been advised to persist past that chapter hurdle and told she wouldn't be disappointed and so I repeat those words of wisdom. Because once you get through that first chapter, you'll tear through all the rest!

Described as "Groundhog Day" meets "Mean Girls" this New York Times bestselling young adult novel creates a multi-layered story in rich prose that examines the relationships Sam has with both family and friends and the ways in which her choices affect those around her.

I loved Sam's evolution in this book and how as she changed, her relationships with those around her were forced to change. Oliver was able to repeat a day in the life of Sam Kingston that didn't feel laborious or too repetitive.

If anything the overly descriptive first chapter and not-quite-likable Sam only serves to ground us in how far she matures and how unselfish she becomes by the end (ie. one week's time or seven chances at reliving her last day alive).

We all know the Einstein theory that every action has an equal and opposite reaction and this book takes that theory and applies it to high school. In the close knit, small student body that is Thomas Jefferson High, it's impossible to completely untangle one's life from another. There are always intersections and before these recycled days, Sam has no idea of just how much she may have in common with some people and how much she's pretending with others.

Before I Fall excels in three main categories:

1. Quality prose: Oliver is able to be descriptive without going overboard on adjective. She thoroughly describes each scene and character so that we can envision them, and has all the right word play to create a tragic love story, a brave heroine, and a band of friends we sometimes hate but ultimately come to understand.

2. Perfect dialogue: Hands down Oliver nailed the dialogue of Sam and her friends. Their little quips and habits, their interplay and inside jokes were right on. It reminded me of high school and felt more real than perhaps any other characteristic in this novel.

3. Realistic themes: Oliver may have enlisted a cocky popular girl to narrate this book but it's not long before we learn about Sam's unpopular beginnings and the ways in which her clique have unfortunately used their social status to keep others down. Themes of bullying, suicide, and the lengths to which people go to stay on top or struggle to get out from the bottom of the social food chain are all examined.

My only qualms this this novel are so minimal they're barely worth mentioning. For starters, Sam and her friends seem to only listen to dated music from the 1990s which seems out of place since it's set in present day and Oliver has worked so hard to make everything else in the storyline believable.

Secondly, of Sam's friends, we have a strong and thorough idea of likable character Elody who is fun and forgiving and helps balance out mean queen bee Lindsay (who, if you watch Pretty Little Liars is the "Allison" to Sam's "Hanna") but Ally, another friend, is completely forgettable. Other than the fact she likes cows there was no other strong lasting impression she made nor did she help move the storyline forward. In my opinion, she could have been written off but even so, her presence isn't necessarily distracting nor does it denote my overall impression of the novel.

All and all, this is a great and quick read. It will make you consider how you've treated others, how your actions may have reactions associated with them, and consider how you might do--or re-do--your last day if you had another chance.

So what do you think; will you read this book or, if you have already, what did you think?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Things I Learned This Weekend

1. Three-day weekends are the best! It allowed me to travel to the great white North and get in some much-needed ski time!

2. If there was any doubt, I'm DEFINITELY a dog lover! After a couple glasses or wine out with my girlfriends we found a lost dog running through traffic who I ended up bringing home after we couldn't get through to the owners. Long story short, the owners were at the hospital delivering their first baby and in a rush didn't latch the door all the way and their dog got out! I watched this beautiful little girl and the next day they had a brand new son and their little puppy back!

3. I'm liking fantasy/comic-book based storylines more and more. While away on break I watched Losers for the first time.

4. Nothing beats a good sale. AND NOTHING EVER BEATS A GOOD SALE ON JEWELRY! I bought three pairs of earrings and a bracelet for me and a pair of earrings for a friend because, really, you can never have too much jewelry!

5. Regardless of any attempts to eat healthy no amount of willpower will be strong enough to resist the temptation that is Girl Scout Cookies. My indulgence was samoas!

What did you do this holiday break?

Friday, February 18, 2011


I just saw the trailer for the upcoming movie "Bridesmaids" and it instantly reminds me of a female version of "The Hangover." I dare you not to laugh:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kill Shakespeare

OMG, have you guys heard of this?!

A friend of mine just told me about Kill Shakespeare, the graphic novel that pits Shakespeare's greatest heroes and heroines against his most notable villains all in the quest to save--or kill--a mysterious wizard otherwise known as William Shakespeare.

Before I even got to the description this book trailer cinched it for me. I have to read this book series!

Here's the description:
Conceived and written by Canadian-based creators Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col, this comic book series is a dark take on the Bard and his work, pitting his greatest heroes against his most menacing villains.

Kill Shakespeare is true to the Bard's canon, yet also accessible to a wide range of readers. The series offers an edgy interpretation of Shakespeare's most famous characters, bringing Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, Richard III, Lady Macbeth, Puck and others together for an epic adventure.

Creators Del Col and McCreery bring their love of Shakespeare, independent film, and a combination of marketing and writing experience to their first comic book project. Artist Andy Belanger rises to the challenge of interpreting some of the most famous characters in the world.

Del Col and McCreery discuss the inspiration for the series in more detail here:

To learn more about the series check out here and here.

This reminds me a little of the "mash-up" trend taking the publishing industry by storm (e.g. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). I never would have thought to take old world Will Shakespeare's work into the visual and vibrant world of graphic novels but now that I see the vision, the two seem so complemented with one another--and fun! I also love the idea of the various heroes and villains transcending books into a world where they all co-exist. I'm definite stoked to get reading on this.

What book(s) are you excited to get your hands on?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Show Don't Tell

I know every writer out there has heard the invaluable adage of showing versus telling in your writing. And it's true.

I think I learned this the hard way: in my playwriting class. I had never taken playwriting before and let me tell you, it was hands down the toughest writing course I've ever taken. If you want to get out of your comfort zone, sign up for a class at your local writing center.

Playwriting is a completely different beast than writing short stories, novels, or even screenplays. Why? Because the play is a story of making the most out of everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.

Unlike a movie or a book, characters can't quickly change from scene to scene. There can't be all these extras walking around through the school hallway or office building. You have a limited space, a limited budget, a limited number of backdrops to work with, and a whole lot of dialogue!

Sure there are occasional plays where the main character may do some narration, talking to the audience, but for the most part it's all about dialogue and body language. Nuance, in short.

One class we did an exercise (which if you're really looking to flex your writing muscles I highly recommend) where we had to take two characters and without telling the audience their relationship the characters had to talk around a subject. The audience needed to understand what was going on but, true to human behavior, we often don't say what we mean, or we talk around issues that are uncomfortable. The characters, of course, know what's going on but will the audience by the end of the scene?

To test us further, we weren't allowed to read the scene aloud ourselves to the class as we know how it's "supposed" to sound but is our punctuation and direction being clear to the reader. Let me tell you, hearing someone else read your work aloud will tell you right away if you have dialogue pacing down right or altogether wrong.

The easiest way out, I assume, since so many students went this direction was to have the two characters talk about an affair. The hints of "we shouldn't have," and "never again," were the sign posts to the audience about what was going on. But what of other subjects?

I encourage you to eavesdrop on those around you at the coffee shop or on your commute. Listen and take note of how people really speak to one another--and watch them too. What is their body language saying about their relationship with one another? Are they lovers but they had a fight? Are they friends but there's sexual tension? Are they long time friends or new acquaintances trying to impress one another?

And better yet, listen to the fights. Now you're really observing uncensored dialogue.

If you decide to do this as a writing exercise, pass it around to a few readers and ask them to write down what the characters are discussing at the end. This will tell you how well you've shown and not told what's going on. It's a tough exercise, one I know I still struggle with.

I know this because it took me several hours the other night to wrap up a scene and it may still need more editing. It was in essence this same exercise only in reverse. In short, I was trying to find the precarious balance where the reader understands where both characters are coming from even though the characters themselves don't understand one another and there's a complete misread/miscommunication on their parts.

What kind of writing do you think is the most difficult to achieve?

Friday, February 11, 2011

OMG I Love This!

I have to say that I adore Pink. She's a great singer, obviously super athletic, and best of all apologetically herself.

It's fabulous to see her represent such a varied mix of people in her videos lately and while I'm still playing--and constantly re-playing--her fab song "Raise Your Glass," I came across this new one.

It's a message I think is pertinent to all of us and is especially true for young people feeling like outsiders as it's about a rocky road that ultimately leads to self acceptance which is something I am all about. Plus, it's by Pink so you know it's pretty bad-ass too. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

WTF Wednesday

Four months pregnant + wearing leather pants = WTF?

I'm no fashion expert and admittedly I've never had children but something seems very wrong with this picture. I can't imagine squeezing into leather pants, well, ever and certainly not preggers!

Trying to find Victoria Beckham's baby bump feels eerily like playing "Where's Waldo?" Only I can usually find Waldo after a few minutes of hard study and here I simply don't see a thing. Heck I had more of a bump after I shoveled all that Super Bowl food down my neck last Sunday!

Anyone else out there see fashion WTF moments this week?

Monday, February 7, 2011


YA author Elana Johnson had a great post the other day about writing scenes. She talks about dropping your characters in the middle of a scene or, as one of my college writing professors used to say, "where the drama is."

This is absolutely true for great pacing. I also think it's the holy grail to live by for book openings. As writers trying to land an agent, you may only have a few pages to get their attention and the same is true for readers--especially young readers.

I don't recall where I read the interview or, really, who it was with except to say a YA author. She was being asked if writing for young adults is easier than writing for adults as she had penned novels for both audiences. She said that there's such a misconception that writing for young people is easier than writing for adults when, in her opinion, it's harder.

Young readers know right away what they like and dislike. They're not willing to keep reading, and reading, and reading trying to get to the "meat" of the story because they've heard a great review or because it's a best-seller. Plus, young people (especially today) have so many other distractions around them that if you're not able to instantly pull them in then they'll put your book down. You're competing not only against other writers in the marketplace, you're competing against all the technologies surrounding them.

She said adults sometimes feel like they have to really give a book the old college try because they've invested time and money picking it out. Young adults feel no such obligation. And they're also not as forgiving. If a scene feels inauthentic they may put your book down regardless of how far along they are whereas adult readers may think, "I'm already on page 200, I might as well finish."

And I have to say I agree with her. There have been several adult fiction books I've read over the last year that were fantastically written in word choice and description but admittedly a bit laborious to get through. I kept waiting for the action to happen but the author kept building back story that by the time things really got good, the book was nearly done.

I suppose I fall into the category of adult readers as I try never to stop reading a book I've begun and usually by the end, I have more food for thought. In retrospect, however, I can't think of any YA books I've read recently where the writer really failed to draw me in from the get go and have constant rises and falls in action to keep the pacing just right.

In fact, for the few disappointing adult fiction reads it made me wonder if an agent only had those few first pages or even first few chapters, how would they know there was action at the end when the beginning was filled with such inaction. Maybe that's the curse of back story in general. I do believe writers need to beware of too many dream sequences and flashbacks.

Of course there's back story in some YA fiction but maybe the shorter word counts keep it to a minimum, maybe writers know how tough their audience is, maybe high school is so dramatic it's impossible for there to be too many lulls, I'm not sure. All I know if is that writing for adults is not the same as writing for young adults and while I enjoy books geared towards both, I have to wonder, do YA writers really have this pacing concept figured out?

Friday, February 4, 2011

We Have Winners!

Thanks so much for everyone that entered and spread the love on this contest. Thanks also for the many birthday wishes. I had a great time celebrating!

Here are the winner in order. I'll be contacting each of you via email to find out what book you want based on which ones are still up for grabs. *Drum roll*

1st place: Belle
2nd place: Courtney Williams
3rd place: Saba
4th place: (This has never happened before despite being able to get extra entries in vis-a-vis spreading the word.) So (again) congrats to Belle
5th place: Goldie

Thursday, February 3, 2011

If Only Tivo Could Recommend Books

I'm still a relative newbie of YA fiction. I've probably been reading it for a little over two years. I just had NO IDEA how much I would love it or that lots of adults are now reading it. It never crossed my mind to venture to the young adult section of the bookstore and now that's one of the first places I go.

Sometimes it's to see what new books are out or to scan for storylines similar to what I'm working on and scroll to the back to see what agent the author has thanked and then text the name to myself for future reference. (For the writers out there, this is a great way to research what agents might be interested in your work.)

It's strange how I was wandering around so completely clueless and then *bam* an entire section of literature was opened up to me. Rows and rows of more books to check out from the library or buy at the store or online.

Maybe the increased transition of books to movies helped open my eyes; maybe it was the Twilight Saga; I don't really know for sure. In fact, I genuinely don't recall this much great YA literature being around when I was a teen myself. In many ways my reading habits mimicked those of boy readers (more on that in another post): I went from middle grade books and school books to adult books. I missed much of YA.

I suppose now I'm making up for lost time. If my Tivo suggestions, however, could recommend books in addition to shows I might like, I may have stumbled upon YA much sooner.

Sure I adore a lot of "adult" shows, not in the porn way but the older than 18 years old target audience...okay, I'm not helping my cause here! What I mean is I love Entourage, Royal Pains, Hung, Sex and the City, Better With You, etc. But if you look through the rest of my Tivo shows there is no way to deny it.

The teenager in me lives on. I record all sorts of guilty pleasures like Vampire Diaries, 90210, Glee, Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars... Of course I know many shows I watch are on the teen-loving CW station but it wasn't until last night when I was lounging around in my sweat pants with a bowl of ice cream scrolling through the stations did I recognize the continuous trend.

OMG, probably half the shows that keep my Tivo buzzing centered around characters in high school! Sure they have much more beautiful and dramatic student bodies than I ever had in my little town in Upstate NY but it's high school nevertheless.

What kinds of books would your Tivo recommend if it could?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Songs as Writing Inspiration

I don't know why but when I write nonfiction I write in utter silence. The less distractions the better but when I write fiction I like to listen to music.

Sometimes it's an entire album by a particular singer and other times it's just one song over and over until I finish writing a particular scene. The music helps me get into the mind of a character and the emotions of a scene.

And one of my all-time favorite bands for just about everything is Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers. I first time I saw them was when I was in college at St. Lawrence University up in Canton, NY. For those of you unfamiliar with Upstate NY, think a 30-minute drive from the Canadian border and LOTS of snow. We even sung both national anthems at school that's how north we were!

Stephen Kellogg braved it up there to play at our little java house. It's a wooden little building with a small stage and some room for a handful of chairs and that's about it. I had never heard of the band but it was a usual freezing winter night and instead of walking all the way downtown for a beer, I headed into the java house for some coffee and free tunes with a handful of my friends. And that's when I first heard Stephen and it was instant musical love. In addition to great tunes the band is also hilarious on stage so I highly recommend checking them out in person if you're ever able to. You won't regret it!

NPR recently had the band on for a performance which I regrettably missed due to work hours but it's been posted online for all to enjoy. So whether you're also a fan or interested in taking a look, whether his storytelling might spur your own or just help you through a bad commute back home, I wanted to share.

Here's the link to take a listen. Enjoy!

And, of course, if you have any musical recommendations send em' over!