Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cover Love

December typically marks the time when I reflect on my favorite books of the year (blog on that one forthcoming) and look ahead to what books I might want for Christmas or to mark in the "to be read" pile on Goodreads. Here are a few intriguing stories and equally intriguing covers.

1. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Here's what it's about: Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from "aging out" of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life - answers that will ultimately free them both.

2. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns quickly became one of my favorite reads, beautifully intertwining various people's lives impactfully and thoughtfully together so I'm excited to see what happens here. Here's the description: novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos.
3. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
This isn't the typical kind of cover I fall in love with. Usually I'm all for realistic imagery but I appreciate the simpleness of this one especially given the time setting in the 1980s. I'm curious to see how or if music plays a role in the novel given the headphones. It makes me think of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist which is exciting. Also, who doesn't want to read a book by someone named Rainbow? Here's the description: Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

So tell me, what books are you most looking forward to reading and why?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Self Worth and Writing

I've been meaning to write on this blog for a while now--a long while. I haven't given up on it and there is a list a million miles long of forthcoming book reviews and other related posts that I really am so excited to share. (So stay tuned. Really, I mean it; other new posts are coming!) However, somehow time and, in a way, life have gotten away from me these past several months.

To be honest, I'm not 100% sure I know where they went. I worked hard but certainly didn't live at the office. I met up with friends but my social calendar didn't explode with daily reminders. I volunteered, did odd projects around the house, and altogether lived my life except that living my life feels like it's been on high speed lately. Yes, no one single thing has consumed me and yet I've felt consumed, altogether crazed for more "me" time or on occasion simply more time. I'm told time only speeds up as we age too so it's simply one more reason I favor time travel--or cloning!

How I spend "me" time is also very much filled with writing and reading time. I don't quite feel like myself without this element in tact. The oddity, of course, is that I technically read and write for a living. I'm in front of a computer, composing words or helping others wordsmith day in and day out. I'm navigating the sometimes breezy and sometime tumultuous waters of writing for other people and having multiple reviewers with sometimes varying ideas on vision. This is a great education, and it's one that I love.

As time dwindles, we're forced to either a) go crazy or b) re-prioritize. And as one week fell into another and I realized I had started to slack on the blog it seemed like the likely place to free up some necessary time especially as I worked to rewrite my manuscript. Truth be told, however, I thought my manuscript would be done by now and because it isn't and today is already (SOMEHOW!) December 12th, I'm having that writerly moment of crisis, that questioning of worth. All these days passed and how much progress have I really made?

I think we've all been here at some time or another. Some days are bad writing days and we delete everything we put down. Other days the question of worth comes in the forth of a critique or a rejection. I believe as writers we're fickle folk: brave enough to put our words and ourselves out there in the world and yet so sensitive and prideful of what we've sent out for all the world to see. And, yes, with each word we write or each sentence we reconstruct we're becoming better at our trade. What's difficult is that sometimes seeing that betterment can be hard. If we're creating cabinets then each piece of wood is very tangible and yes, as writers we can count words but words for the sake of words don't make a good story and what of editing--swapping out the old and bringing in the better?

For example, I know my current manuscript is far superior to earlier drafts. There's been so much plot redevelopment and new text that I'm not even sure this could be called the same book. And yet I want to feel that sense of accomplishment of completing it and finally querying it. I feel like a runner who has trained and trained and knows full well there's a marathon ahead and yet isn't quite yet to the start line. Just shoot the gun and let me take off in motion already! I want to say but, alas, I'm not quite there yet. Close but not complete.

What I'm realizing is that with my writing I have to be much more regimented than I ever have been before. Just as any other activity I take on, this has to be on my calendar. I have to make room for it or life and its other commitments will always find a way in. This is hard because I prefer to write when I'm inspired, whether listening to music or dashing in after a walk with the dogs nearly breathless with excitement at my new plot line revelation. That kind of writing still has a place but it must be amidst the outlining and the butt-in-the-chair no matter what kind of strictness.

Recommitting to this blog is a way for me to recommit to the writerly world too, which is important both in terms of motivation but also in terms of support. No one else quite understands all the wonkiness of jotting down ideas on napkins or self text messaging so they aren't lost or of reading passages aloud to oneself just to hear how it all rolls off the tongue. We're a manic bunch who could spend 30 minutes on a single paragraph which will end in either sheer heartache (How did I spend 30 minutes and have nothing good to show for it?! This book will never come out before I'm old and gray and all the agents I'm eyeing are long retired!) or sheer excitement of nailing that perfect word choice to perfection (I'm a writerly genius! Publishing Houses here I come!).

In the end, just as everything in life, we need to keep perspective; we need to ask for encouragement when we need it; and we need to take stock in what good we have done today even if it's not all exactly as we planned. If we do that then, hopefully, we won't feel like passive participants in our lives but as active drivers directing things in our favor and enjoying the process all the same.

So tell me, what helps you carve out time for yourself? What advice would you give to other writers needing encouragement?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Swagger Song

I featured "Hey Ho" by the Lumineers a while back and have continue to be impressed with them. (If you haven't listened to Stubborn Love, you have to!)

But my swagger song today is not The Lumineers but, rather, a delightful cover. I watch the show Nashville and was so incredibly impressed with this performance given the age of these young girls and the fact they sound positively amazing. I listened to this song on repeat while I worked on a new scene in my book. I hope you like it as much as I did


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

So True!

I think all writers are or have been part of this group!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Swagger Song

So I'm in serious need of some swagger these days. Time is slipping away from me and when I say that I feel old which only reinforces the need for more swagger. It's also tough when time is at a premium and that means finalizing my WIP for querying or writing here.

This song is quite possibly the most creative reinterpretation of a song I've ever heard, and the music video is a testament of that. Talk about talented! I'm sure Ben Rector has many more gems up his sleeve. I only just discovered him a few days ago and I'm already circling through his library. I knew, however, that I had to share this one right away. Not only is his original music awesome but his renditions of other songs are both nostalgic and unique.

As writers we try to create a story--and an experience--that is entirely its own but invariably it's part of a genre, compared to someone else's work, or taps into the reader's previous experience. Is anything truly unique or is all art different kaleidoscopes of different experiences reinterpreted, remastered, reimagined? I don't know the answer to that. We all try to be unique but we're, of course, always conscious of what else is out there, what's shaped and encouraged the work we're writing on today and dreaming to write tomorrow.

What I do know is that I love this version of "Free Falling" and there's no other song quite like this that makes you want to throw your hands up and sing out loud, to push aside a deadline for just a couple of minutes of purely all-American music. And boy does Ben Rector do this song like no one else. Enjoy!

So what do you think?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


All the things we carry with us from past experience has been called "baggage." I got reflecting on this the other day. It's not baggage in the negative sense to me, not necessarily. It's our experiences that have shaped us and, in full, create the lens through which we see the world. And if it is "baggage," then it's our carryon baggage that we take with us wherever we go. It's our past. There's no checking it. There's no escaping it.

Sometimes our experiences can't prepare us for what's next though. Sometimes the road to life doesn't keep winding or take a detour but, rather, plants us firmly at a T in the road. Each choice distinctively leading us--and our life and potentially the lives of our loved ones--down very different paths with entirely different futures. Yes, we can wax on about Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" but that's easier said than done; that's a romanticized notion that I've always loved but it's a scary one. And when all options are the road not yet taken, we're fraught with anxiety.

Within this past week I've talked to one friend who just recently started an IVF cycle, desperate to have a child, to start a family, but never contemplating this is how it would happen or something she would consider and the glimmer of hope is marred by a history of miscarriage. I have another friend whose father is dying and who just this week added DNR (do not resuscitate) to his medical record, something that's forced to be right there prominently out in the open for all medical staff to see. Daily injections, daily postings, both daily reminders of which path they've taken and all the risks associated with it.

I don't think we know what we're capable of or what we're willing to do until we're there. Right there in that moment. And I believe that too. It's not only a point that I think is so applicable in fiction--keep the reader guessing of the MC's next move, but it's one that's applicable for life. My grandma loves to say that God only gives us what we're strong enough to take on. But there's certainly been times in my life that I thought, God must think I'm a lot stronger than I do--or than I am--because this is too much. 

When I've come out at the other end of things, discovered that next T in the road to reflect upon the last, I do surprise myself--as do my friends and family. Somehow we were strong enough after all, not only to ever move from that T and take a risk in one direction or the next but sometimes along the road we have moments of reprieve--the Gatorade stops to our marathons, giving us just enough to get those next few miles. 

As I'm sure you know, I enjoy YA fiction. My favorite all-time book as a teen was The Power of One by Bryce Courtnay. Something about the unlikely friendship of a young white boy and his black boxing teacher intrigued me. It all did, from their meeting in a prison in apartheid South Africa to the empowerment they both found through boxing and through each other. The backdrop of their lives is one of chaos and yet they find each other and somehow that's just enough of what they needed to make it through. I've wondered recently if I read the book again whether I would love it just as much. I've been worried to re-read it because I want it to mean everything it did to me as it did at age 16. Perhaps it would still be fabulous but simply mean something else because I have nearly twice the years of "baggage" now with which to reflect. 

One thing I'll never deny about this book is it's underscoring the need for support networks. They're our roadmaps that help us navigate the way regardless of which road we take. They're our lifelines, though only we can make the decisions of which way our lives will go.

So tell me, what keeps you going when things get tough?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Cover Love

It's been a while since I've done a cover love and I've recently stumbled up on these and had to share. They also sound like amazing reads and are definitely being added to my TBR list.

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Here's what it's about: Hannah has a lot going on between the constant presence of her best friend--who died six months before, a bad boy with a heart of gold who sets off sparks when they meet, and The Valentine Killer who has started murdering young girls in their town. Again.

I love this cover. The oversized heart and sharp contrast of red against the black and gray background catches your eye. It's this giant bleeding, pulsing, overwhelming heart. It's symbolic of the love story and Valentine's Day. There are storm clouds brewing in the background. You can tell something isn't right, that this girl is in danger. It's equal parts beautiful and haunting. 

Then on the complete opposite end of the spectrum we have this lovely and equally stop in your tracks cover.

Here's what it's about: This is the first book to explore the meticulously composed and richly detailed photographs that Norman Rockwell used to create his famous artworks. Working alongside skilled photographers, Rockwell acted as director, carefully orchestrating models, selecting props, and choosing locations for the photographs--works of art in their own right--that served as the basis of his iconic images. Readers will be surprised to find that many of his most memorable characters--the girl at the mirror, the young couple on prom night, the family on vacation--were friends and neighbors who served as his amateur models.
I grew up absolutely in LOVE with Normal Rockwell pieces of art and the way they brilliantly captured life. That love was further solidified when I took a school field trip to the Norman Rockwell Museum. 
Not only have his images become iconic snapshots of America, but they feel as if we're given a stolen glimpse into a particular moment in time. Whether funny or heartwarming, Rockwell was able to take his vision and make it feel so authentically real. This cover really struck me because we see behind the scenes of the artist and his craft. 
So whether haunting and edge of your seat like Paper Valentine or sit down and take note like Behind the Camera, both seem like fascinating reads and wonderfully done covers.
What good books have you seen lately?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Carrie Diaries

The Carrie Diaries starts today and I'm SO excited. It's the prequel to Sex and the City and centers around young Carrie Bradshaw. It doesn't try to be Sex and the City junior, however, so you won't be seeing all of your favorite Sex and the City co-stars which I actually think is a good thing.

From what I've seen of the various trailers and reviews of the pilot, it's well acted, accurately captures that teen hormone, wide-eyed and ready to take on the world excitement. It's, of course, based on the prequel YA book written by Candace Bushnell.

To read my review of the Carrie Diaries, see my post here. I'm also a total Gleek and Chord Overstreet is a love interest. *fangirl squee*

Here's a trailer:

So what do you think, will you tune in? If so, why or why not? What other TV shows are you dying to have start (or re-start) for winter TV season?

Friday, January 11, 2013


Suspense is that quality that makes you stay up way past your bed time to finish a chapter--or an entire book. It's what puts you on the edge of your seat and makes you want to yell at the characters and warn them. It's also that quality that had me plowing through the entire first season of Revenge on Netflix over Christmas break. (So addictive!)

Hitchcock made a differentiation between mystery and suspense. In mystery we often know what's happened and the role of the protagonist is to find out how. In suspense, the reader is constantly wondering what's going to happen next.

Perspective, especially third person or alternating perspective, lends itself very well to suspense writing because, then, the writer can tell the reader something that the main character doesn't know. It's the "bomb under the table" scenario, as Hitchcock has described. For example, if two people are eating dinner at a diner, that's not suspenseful. However, once we're shown a glimpse of the ticking bomb under their table we suddenly have time against them and danger is near. As the two characters leisurely browse the dessert menu and discuss whether they should order, we want to scream to them, "No! Get out while you still have time!" We're privy to information that they're not and we're helpless as we watch them but we can't turn away, we have to know: do they make it out of the diner alive or not?

Suspense, when done well, also plays upon basic fears. That's why darkness is so common in suspense writing. Intrigue, as in leaving the reader with questions, is also important in suspense writing. For example, take a basic sentence and keep building upon it with more detail until it's clear to the reader that something is wrong.

Sentence 1: Toby looked in the mirror at at his long, lanky body. (Statement, nothing suspenseful here.)

Sentence 2: As Toby looked in the mirror, he noticed for the first time a bruise to join the others along his long, lanky body. (Okay, we're getting there. Definitely some intrigue about the bruises and a sense that maybe there's some kind of abuse or bullying here since it says there are multiple bruises.)

Sentence 3: What scared Toby the most as he looked in the mirror was that this bruise he had no recollection of getting--and no way of hiding. (Definitely stronger and lends itself to more questions. Why doesn't he know how he got it? Was he unconscious? Is abuse that frequent? What's at stake if he can't hide it? And, in case the reader didn't know to be scared, we've told them that Toby is and so they should be too.)

Suspense writing is also given an additional layer when the hero isn't inherently all good and the villain isn't inherently all bad. For example, in Revenge we all want to cheer for the real Amanda Clark. Everything she's ever had has been taken away from her. We see moments of vulnerability and caring BUT, overall, she's not an entirely sympathetic character. She does some really awful things. Her entire revenge vendetta is based on having a flexible moral compass and the idea that retribution can be something that she doles out rather than the authorities. However, each time we question her we're given reason to get back on her side. Either the Grayson family has done something far more despicable than Amanda that overshadows her action or Amanda plays into our emotional vulnerabilities, crying while she watches the video of her father, learning that her mother is still alive, etc. And every time we think we can't hate Victoria Grayson any more, she'll look at a picture of her one true love David Clark and choke up and beg her husband that they come clean about their faults. For those brief moments we sympathize with her. We see glimpses of her vulnerability--her humanity. But just when we start to forget all the bad she's done, she comes back and does it again and the hero/villain balance is righted.

Even if you're not writing a true "suspense" novel, small elements of intrigue can be added into your manuscript by taking these lessons into consideration. When the reader feels emotionally on edge, they flip pages--and that's always a good thing, right?

So tell me, what are some of your favorite suspense reads or movies and why?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Swagger Song

Happy Monday! I had a bit of trouble getting out of bed this morning. I admit, I don't do well with it still pitch black outside my window when the alarm goes off. For that reason, I think Mondays are the perfect day to have a new jam and I just stumbled up one by William Fitzsimmons.

I became a fan of Fitzsimmons during the first go around on my WIP, particularly as I wrote some of the more melodramatic, emotional scenes. Fitzsimmons has this great folksy, raw quality to his music that just resonates. I was particularly surprised to learn that he did a cover of Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" so I had to check it out and I was pleasantly surprised.

I suppose it's like writing in that, if you're going to break into a genre that's well established, you have to make it your own if you're going to standout. I think the same is true for cover songs, it can't sound like an only slightly different version of what already exists; it needs to feel entirely unique in some way--it has to become your own. So, here is the folksy revamp with Fitzsimmons' own twist. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Happy New Year's!!! One of my resolutions is to write on the blog more consistently and that starts with this post about one of my absolute FAV movies I saw this past year: The Perks of Being a Wallflower starring Emma Watson and Logan Lerman and based on the critically-acclaimed novel by Stephen Chbosky.

If you haven't seen the movie or read the book, I recommend you do both! I'm always a little skeptical of the translation of a book to a movie and The Perks of Being a Wallflower is written in a series of letters so I was particularly interested how this would be treated in film. Prior to this film my familiarity with Emma Watson was limited to the Harry Potter films and had only seen Logan Lerman in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Could they really take on this kind of indie movie based on a literary cult classic?

Then, I learned that the screenplay was written by Chbosky himself AND he directs the film. And, finally, I saw this trailer and *swoon*

The movie centers around Charlie (Lerman), a self described introvert who is reeling from a summer of seclusion and healing from the suicide of his only friend. Charlie is beginning his freshman year of high school, hoping that things will be different but as the story begins to unfold we still see Charlie watching the people around him live their lives while he loses himself in books and letters to an anonymous friend to whom we never meet. That is until he befriends Patrick and, shortly thereafter, Patrick's step-sister Sam (played by Watson). Charlie is immediately enthralled with them both and their outward, non-apologetic hunger for life and adventure.

Both Patrick and Sam are seniors but they share a kind of kindred spirit with Charlie. Patrick takes Charlie under his wing and Sam and Charlie dance around the sexual tension left between two people always waiting for the other to make the first move. They are all, of course, self-described misfits. (Likely the reason that some reviews have called this "The Breakfast Club of a New Generation" but I won't go there; I'll just say the film accurately portrays the pressures of high school and how equally exciting and isolating self discovery can be.)

Charlie grows a lot as an individual, realizing that sometimes people don't always choose who they should in love, that sometimes it's incredibly freeing to tell the truth than suffocate under it, and that even when people seem carefree like Patrick, we all have our secrets and our own insecurities, just some of us are more forthright with them.

The story tackles many heavy themes from death and suicide to mental illness, physical abuse, and homosexuality. These are balanced with humor, first love, first parties, and a cast of characters so vivid you'd swear they were friends with you too.

Once again, Chbosky does not disappoint. I left the movie theater wanting to go right back in and feeling in love with the cast and the storyline and the cinematography all at once. This works so well because, watching it, the feelings of the characters are raw and real and it taps into something that makes you genuinely care. Bravo!