Saturday, December 28, 2013

Three Act Plotting Structure

So today on the vlog, I talked about the Three Act Structure in plotting a novel. You can check it out here:

I wanted to include some sort of visual aid to help you out, so here is one! It's not a perfect rendition, but I've found that this is the closest in accuracy to my own method (and I found it here!).

And lastly, here's the Wikipedia page for Three Act Structure, which provides a great cursory look at it, as well, if you wan to be able to take it and adapt it yourself easily.

Happy Saturday! :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I Think an Apology is in Order...

So I know I said that later that week I would post my Harry Potter recipe links... But it didn't happen. Things have been so crazy! I just finished up my last three classes, passed all my finals, and am OFFICIALLY the first woman in my direct family line to have a bachelor's degree! I wish I could say I wasn't telling you that to brag, but really I think I am a little bit. College wasn't easy for me, and I am so excited to have completed it. I couldn't have done it without awesome friends and family who encouraged me all the way!

And now, to hopefully make up for the time it took me to get you this list, please enjoy this gif:

In preparation for this post, I actually found a recent BuzzFeed article that included pictures and links to basically everything my husband and I had ever made together for our Harry Potter date nights. How convenient! So instead of making an extensive list here, I'm just going to give you the link to that page because they do it way better (and way more hip) than I ever could:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Harry Potter Party Time!

So today for my vlog with the WordNerds, I talked Harry Potter recipes. Three of my favorites, to be exact. And, as promised, I wanted to make sure that y'all could have access to those recipes, so here they are! Later this week, I will also do a post of all of the Harry Potter-themed recipes I've tried, with links to their recipes.

Fish and Chips
2-3 tilapia filets (or any other fish of choice- feeds 2-4 people per filet)
As many potatoes as is necessary for your group. I tend to use 1 potato per person.
Batter (adapted from here):
3/4 cup flour (for a healthier choice, you can use wheat flour and it still tastes great)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
Fill a medium-sized sauce pan 3/4 full with canola or vegetable oil. Heat it on medium until when a small amount of water is dropped in, it pops.
While doing that, cut the potatoes into thin strips. Soak those potatoes in a bowl of cold water.
Prepare the batter: Sift the dry ingredients, then add the water. Cut up the fish filets into chunks, then coat them with the batter.
Prepare the chips first by patting them dry and then adding them to the oil. They are finished when the edges are browned and crispy.
Remove the chips, and then add the fish to the oil. Tongs are the easiest way to do this. Let them fry for about 10-15 minutes. They are done when the batter is browned and the fish is cooked all the way through (tilapia will be white when it is cooked).
To make them less oily, when you take them out of the pot, lay them on top of a paper towel on a plate.

Department of Mysteries Punch
makes 2 quarts
3 1/4 cups water
3 1/4 cups club soda
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup sugar
2 drops red food coloring (potential alternate: make strawberry lemonade)
1 brain jell-o mold (like these)
Freeze water in the jell-o mold 1-2 nights before the event.
Mix all ingredients together to make the lemonade.
To serve: Remove brain shaped ice cube (you may need to run warm water over the top to help the ice separate) from the mold. Put the ice into a punch bowl, then add the lemonade. 
For a theatrical effect, and small chunks of dry ice throughout the night to make it smoke. IF YOU ADD DRY ICE, do not use club soda. Make it with all water, and the dry ice will make it fizz.

Cockroach Clusters
(adapted from here)
makes about 30 pieces
16 oz. dry roasted peanuts
1/2 package of milk chocolate chips
2 oz. semi-sweet baker's chocolate
Spray crock pot with cooking spray (you may omit this step if you're using a crock pot liner). Place peanuts in the bottom of the crock pot, mixing salted and unsalted peanuts together. Add morsels, German chocolate, and bark. Cover and cook on low setting for 90 minutes. After allotted time, stir so that all the contents are well combined. Cook an extra 15 minutes if chocolate is not completely melted.
Line baking sheets with wax paper. Place rounded spoonfuls onto wax paper and allow to cool. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

NaNoWriMo is Coming!

So, in case you missed it, I subbed for Tom last Thursday over at the YA Rebels, and I talked about the upcoming National Novel Writing Month.

On Saturday Mitch talked about getting prepped for NaNo on that same channel. Fate? I think YES!

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, as the hip kids like to refer to it) is just two weeks away, and if you're not sure what you want to do for it, now is the time to make up your mind! Like Mitch said, you will find your NaNo experience so much better if you have some sort of plan. Right now Susan Dennard, author of the Something Strange and Deadly series, is doing a great series of posts on how she outlines books, from the perspective of someone who used to consider herself a pantser (though now realizes she's really more of a blend).

In addition to that, though, there's a neat little program I stumbled upon courtesy of said blog posts, that could be useful for you more technologically-savvy plotters out there: Scapple. It's made by the same people who made Scrivener (which I ADORE), and is supposed to function as a free-form outlining tool for those who prefer typing to writing things down. There's a free trial that I'm going to be giving a shot, just to see what it's like, and you totally should too! If outlining is a necessary battle for you, then this program might be able to help you.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Something AWESOME

Okay, can we just talk for a second about Brandon Sanderson? His most recent book, STEELHEART, came out last month (I believe), and I can't wait to get my hands on it! It looks like it will be a great read.

Brandon Sanderson is also a creative writing professor at my alma mater. An AMAZING professor. Every semester his class fills up on the first day of registration, and even then dozens of people who couldn't get on the roster show up and wait for him to tell them to leave. Next semester, the rumor is he's getting an auditorium for his class so that more people can take it.

I was always jealous of those who were able to take his class, since I always had too strict of a schedule to add it. But NOW... Anyone can see his lectures! He is posting all of his lectures onto YouTube from the current semester. I have watched the first few and am loving it. He specializes in Sci-Fi/Fantasy writing, but I would say these lectures are great for anyone interested in honing in on their craft. You've GOT to check it out!

Here's the link to the very first video (NOTE: in the first lecture, I skipped a couple of the videos since they were about classroom workshopping, of which I won't be doing since I'm watching as a fly on the wall... I would recommend doing the same, since the lectures are pretty long):

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Book Review: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Moon and MoreI absolutely LOVED Sarah Dessen when I was in high school, but it's been a long time since I picked up one of her books. So, when I saw that this one was being released soon, I made sure to grab it. Dessen does not disappoint! This book is filled with characters who are strong, and make the kinds of changes that teenagers really make as they come of age. In fact, one scene involves Emaline-- the main character-- having a heated discussion with her mother about moving to college, and as I read it I could perfectly picture the exact same discussion I had with my mom the summer before I left for high school. I liked this book because of those real changes and relationships.

That being said, I feel like the book could have been much shorter. There was a lot of back story thrown in that didn't need to be there. For example, you see Emaline's good friend, Morris, moving slowly on the job, only doing the things he's told exactly, and getting fired. Instead of putting in a brief sentence about how "That's the fourth job this summer!" or something along those lines, we get a page of backstory about how Morris has always been unmotivated, and what that means for his future, and what it's done to his past. It felt like the first 50-60 pages were backstory.

Additionally, the style in which much of the story was written just wasn't my cup of tea. Oftentimes there would be a turning point at the end of a chapter, and then at the start of the next chapter you would find yourself dumped 24 hours later, and then would get filled in as Emaline pondered what happened after the change. It was definitely unique, but to me it felt like I was left hanging too often.

And finally, I loved the ending. For more on why, check out the spoiler section of my Goodreads review. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good read with very real characters and relationships.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

This day... We Vlog!

(if you know what I'm referencing in the title, then we are probably kindred spirits)

Today was my first day vlogging for the WordNerds, so definitely check it out! I wear lots of crazy outfits, talk in a deep voice, and reference Arthur. So yeah, it doesn't get much better, right?

Check it out! And definitely be sure to keep watching, because I have a feeling there is something coming on Sunday that you won't want to miss! ;)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Virtual Hug

My blog has been getting a TON more views than normal lately, 
and so I just wanted to say: THANKS! You guys are the best!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

When One Door Closes

Sometimes you have to break open a window.

I tested the waters with vlogging shortly after moving to California, and absolutely loved it. It was so fun building a fort out of books to record from, and acting like a crazy person in front of a camera, and sharing it on YouTube and actually getting some nice comments! I knew that I wanted to continue with this vlogging thing no matter what else life threw at me. It's something I have the potential to be good at, and it's a great way to make friends (which, as we all know, I'm in desperate need of)!

And that is why I am SO SO excited to share this news with you.

So often since moving here, it's felt like door after door has closed on me. I have now applied to dozens of jobs, with only two rejection emails and zero phone calls to show for it. I haven't met anyone who is anywhere close to my age, and I didn't make the cut for something that I had auditioned for. So I should give up, right? Right? Trying for a few weeks is good enough.

Yeah, right.

I was approached by the lovely Kellie Sheridan, who liked my video (and who also has her own awesome vlogs!), about joining a hot-off-the-webcam group of readers and writers who are starting a YouTube channel about YA lit. These girls are amazing! We have been working hard over the last few weeks to get everything put together, and I can't wait for y'all to see what we've got going. There will be a new YouTube video every day on our channel, based on a theme for each of those days. The themes will be as follows:

  • Monday- Ink Slinging (Writing life/advice)
  • Tuesday- Reader's Nook (Book recommendations)
  • Wednesday- Word Play (Fave/newly learned words or inspirational quotes)
  • Thursday- The Circulation Desk (The publishing industry)
  • Friday- Inspiration Corner (Things that inspire our writing)
  • Saturday- Vlogger's Choice (Where we get to do whatever we want... MUAHAHAHA)
  • Sunday- The Sunday Special (random things like: a book club once a month, discussions or interviews with other writers... Basically anything that’s not a traditional vlog!)
There are six of us, and we will rotate days each week and collaborate on Sundays. We're starting THIS Monday, September 30th! You'll get to see us be silly, talk about our passions, and every now and then things will get REAL. So definitely check out our debut video, and like and share if you want to see more!

You can also follow us on Twitter! @YAWordNerds

Monday, September 23, 2013

Home Sweet Home

Today I decided I wanted to play around with my blog design a little bit... I've had this one for awhile, so maybe it's time for a change, right? Right?


After spending close to an hour and a half playing with other templates, and then another half hour trying desperately to find a way to remove one particularly sneaky and determined background, I have realized that there really is no place like home (or the template that you're used to...).

Also, I am terrible at computer-y things.

In other news, I am loving Neil Patrick Harris's performance at the Emmys last night. He is and will always be fabulous.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Take the Leap: Critique Partners

Writing a book is hard... But you probably knew that already, right?

Writing a book is also a deeply personal thing. Delilah Dawson says (in the oh-so-hilarious 25 Steps to Becoming a Traditionally Published Author) that sending your book out to potential publishers is like saying to them, "HERE IS THE BEST WAY TO BREAK MY HEART FOREVER." She is totally right. And it feels kind of the same way no matter who you give your work to.

Sure, there's the excitement that comes from having one of your friends/classmates read something you wrote, but there's also that gnawing in the pit of your stomach. What will they say? Will they like it? Will they hate it? Will they tell me I should give up writing completely? I probably should. My work sucks.

You should know that the inner monologue will never go away completely, but that inner voice is wrong. There will probably be things you need to fix- sometimes really big things- but your work matters, and anyone who is the kind of critique partner you want, will never let you forget that. If you send your work out to someone and they don't have anything nice to say, or if they ever say anything that puts you down as a person or as a writer, then they don't belong in your super exclusive circle of beta readers.

Find people you trust, who make that leap of sending out your work a little easier.

I've got to take a moment to give a shout out to my writing group: Holly, Kyra, Cassie and Emma. I met them in a children's book publishing seminar in college, and they are AMAZING. They make me feel good as a writer, and they also tell me when there are big things I need to fix, or when I just need to move the plot a little faster, or when my characters do something that just doesn't make sense.

Criticism is hard, but it is also awesome. Without my writing group, my story would have no chance of success. No chance. Because alone, I can write a decent novel, something worth sending to my grandma. But with others, I can create something worth selling in a bookstore. Critique partners see the things that you are just too close to the story to see. They are there to bounce ideas off of when you are stuck, and make you feel awesome when you're going through that phase everyone goes through where you think MY BOOK SUCKS NO ONE WILL EVER WANT TO READ THIS ISHOULDJUSTKILLITWITHFIRE.

It doesn't, someone will, and you definitely shouldn't. Take the leap. Send your work to someone. It will be worth it; I promise.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

10 Steps of Writing (According to Nick Miller)

So New Girl has just started back up, AND they put season two on Netflix recently, so we all know what I've been doing. And since I've been working so much more seriously on my current work in progress (and preparing it to hopefully snag an agent), watching Nick Miller write his book (Z is for Zombie) is all the more hilarious. And so, without further ado, here are the ten steps of getting on with your manuscript, according to Nick Miller:

1. Brilliance strikes. It is THE BEST IDEA EVER.

2. The world is going to love this book! You can already imagine your name on the NYT Bestselling list for weeks on end.

3. BUT THEN, you actually sit down to write that perfect scene. It is so beautiful in your head; you just know that it will be equally as magnificent on the page. Until...

4. From there, it goes a little something like this:

5. Until you just can't take it anymore and all of your frustrations just come out in an entirely inappropriate way.

6. When your non-writer friends find you in such a state, they try to fix your problems. But they just don't understand! And even though you've spent hours procrastinating by reading other writers' blogs that are chock full of advice, you're still like:

7. Maybe reevaluating your writing career will help? It's time for a little soul searching.

8. And after you imagine every other career possibility, you realize that there is no other choice. There can only be one career for you, and you are willing to do whatever it takes. YOU WILL BE THE NEXT ERNEST HEMINGWAY.

9. And then you just push on, and don't even care that what you're writing doesn't make sense, because you are writing. A REAL book. Besides, you can get rid of all that sucky stuff during revisions, right?

10. And it doesn't matter what the final outcome is, because you are so proud that you actually WROTE SOMETHING. And even though you didn't leave the house or put clothes on today, that indecipherable manuscript is no small feat.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New Things are HARD.

So I just moved to California.

I grew up in the South, and went to college in a relatively small town, at a Christian school. I had amazing friends, both back home and in college, but I have no one here.

That should be a writer's dream, right? Right? I can ALWAYS write! That's what I tell myself.

Except for I'm not an introvert. For me, I am more creative when I can get out of the house and see real live humans and maybe even communicate with those humans. But here in California, where I am farther West than anyone in my family has ever lived, where I know absolutely no one and have no real way of meeting anyone, it is a lot harder to keep the uplifting blog posts and tweets and outlooks coming.

I know what my MC would do... But that's not really relevant because I made her up. No matter how real she might feel, or how much she might argue with me sometimes.

I don't know the solution yet. I just keep applying to jobs and taking advantage of social media, in hopes that that will give me what I need for now. We'll see. I'll keep you posted. But for now, it's hard- maybe picture Bridget Jones singing "All By Myself" and imagine that is me? Because that's surprisingly accurate.

On a more trying-to-keep-it-positive note: I am making homemade Cafe Rio salads tomorrow... YES.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

What Lizzie Bennett Diaries Has Taught Me About Writing in the First Person

One of the classic traits of YA literature is that it is written in the first person (NOTE: not all the time... But it's incredibly common). I know several people who don't read anything that isn't written in the first person because they think they won't be able to relate to it (my teenage sister-in-law included).

I've heard in some writing classes that writing in the first person is easier, that it's the lazy man's way of writing a book. To those people I say: Watch the Lizzie Bennett Diaries. I am a huge fan of this vlog (if you haven't heard of it, it's a modern-day Pride and Prejudice told from Lizzie Bennett's perspective). It seemed like everyone who watched it was crazy about it, and for good reason.

The entire story is told in front of a webcam. That means that if Mr. Darcy does something critically important, it has to happen in such a way that Lizzie talks about it or sees it happen from in front of her computer.

This is just like writing!

If something important is going to happen in the first person, then it has to be seen through the eyes of the protagonist. You can't just take a second to write a paragraph or two about the important history, or the motives of the villain. Everything will be seen through the bias of the MC- and trust me, everyone has some sort of bias. It's harder to do well than it sounds!

So if you find yourself with a huge gap of time, I highly recommend checking out The Lizzie Bennett Diaries! There's a ton that can be learned from them. But be warned: only start watching them if you have a ton of time on your hands, because you won't be able to stop!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Where's the Love? Oh I know...

It's with the book lovers!

This week has been awesome. I went a little out of my comfort zone and auditioned for something that normally I'd be too nervous to try, and it was so fun! It's been a great opportunity to interact with more people in the YA community.

A lot of times when you're a writer (especially an unpublished/unagented one), it's easy to get discouraged because it feels like you're just writing. But what about all those awesome people who are total book BFFs and have that perfect relationship that you want and all the authors tweet each other and it's this circle that it feels like you'll NEVER break into? They have it all! Friends! Book deals! Websites that get visited by more than three people per month! They live in hip apartments that make cluttered look cool! So why does my apartment just smell funny and why haven't I had any human interaction all day?

Before this week, these were the kinds of questions that could send me back into sweatpants for the rest of the day (not that it takes much to do that). Today, though, I had an epiphany. As I was checking the comments I'd received on a YouTube video posted, I realized that I had been acting a little like Rapunzel in Tangled. She sits up in that tower all day and even though she has everything that she needs to get out, she doesn't. But once she does take one small step, she finds what she's looking for.

That's EXACTLY what goes on in the YA community. Everyone is so so friendly and willing to talk with you, but there are so many people out there who also want to write and be a part of that world (cue Little Mermaid song here?) that if you don't go out of your comfort zone, you won't find what you're looking for.

I went out of my comfort zone. You better believe that anytime I think about it, adrenaline spikes through my arms and legs and I feel the slight urge to run and delete my YouTube account and drown my lonely sorrows in ice cream and puppies.

But I don't.

Because even though I haven't become instant best friends with anyone and I am not in any seemingly exclusive author-y circles, I have met people. Nice, amazing people who are maybe also going out of their comfort zone to make friends. And sometimes it's scary, but it is cool to know that the bouncer of the super exclusive YA club is actually me. Or you.

And that's why the writing community is the best.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Let's Talk TinTin

I never had any desire to watch the new(ish) Adventures of TinTin movie. I'd seen a little of the cartoons, but none of it seemed like it would really appeal to me. However, this weekend for date night Mr. J convinced me to watch it with him, because he'd read a lot about it and wanted to give it a try.

Let me start off by saying WOW. I mean, I should have known it would be good, given that Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson worked on it together, but still. I wasn't expecting that level of action from a (surprisingly realistic-looking) animated film.

And TINTIN. I loved him. Even though things had a weird way of working out for him in ways that wouldn't be realistic in a live-action film, he was just awesome. It was great to see a male character who was as smart as he professed to be. It went beyond merely quoting Shakespeare like so many smart male protagonists do these days. I very nearly swooned when he ran to the library to find some answers, and how he used all kinds of deductive and inductive reasoning to figure out the mystery of the Haddocks.

I'm hoping to portray some of my male protagonists in this way in the future, because the smart guy who doesn't always get the girl is more realistic (though the lack of women in the movie, period, was not realistic... but that's for another time).

So what do you think? Who are awesome, realistic male protagonists you've found in your reading of late?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

On Strength

CONFESSION: I read Twilight this summer.

Like, really read Twilight. All four books, plus the novella. I hadn't read it since high school, and realized over the last year that I had been helping to perpetuate a lot of ideas about the quality of the literature, even though I couldn't talk about it at length aside from vague buzz words that everyone says when they talk about the negative effects of Twilight. I wanted to read them now that I've started writing consistently, and have taken some creative writing classes at the university level.
I won't spoil everything that I discovered right now... But one thing I did realize was just why I loved this book so much in high school, and (maybe) part of why so many girls loved Bella Swan and her story.

I was Bella Swan.

I had an eerily similar story... Minus the paranormalcy, of course (or WAS it...?). I found myself wanting to rip my hair out reading Twilight this time around because I knew Bella was making the wrong decisions. I saw my past mistakes in hers. And yet, if my story had the same ending as Bella Swan's, I don't think I would have regretted it (although, as it is, I'm quite glad my ending was not the same). By the end of the fourth book, Bella makes it abundantly clear that she doesn't regret those decisions.
Bella doesn't match the standard definition of a strong character: she doesn't really beat anyone up, she's a pushover, and she's easily manipulated if she thinks her loved ones are in danger. But Bella Swan also fiercely loves her family- it is her greatest trait. She charges head-first into danger for them enough times that sometimes you wonder how natural selection hasn't won out against her yet.

Bella Swan is not "strong". But she is a real teenager.

There's not much I can say other than this: I want more real teenagers in YA. I want to see someone pitch a fit and make rash decisions and fall in love like a real teenager, and I don't want to hear adults talk about how ridiculous it is. This is a topic that has gone a little viral lately, and so I put together this list of articles on strong female characters, and what that really ought to mean, because really, these people say it way better than I can. Click on the links and check them out! I highly recommend all of them.

Monday, August 12, 2013


This week I have been focusing a lot more on developing characters- or, I should say, letting characters develop themselves. I love my outlines and just want to squeeze them and hug them and snuggle with them and let them keep me warm when I am frustrated with everything else in my writing. You probably noticed that in one of my earlier posts.

But then I had this idea. This shiny, brilliant idea. It was so different from any idea I have ever had. It's like when you open the fridge and your roommate has made something delicious that you never seem to get right and there's a little note saying Eat me! I made way too much!

How can you not take a bite immediately?

I didn't have time to over think it; I didn't have time to plot out the whole story. This MC was so alive that I knew I had to put her voice on paper, or I would forget it.

So I don't know where the plot is going, but it's a good experience. It feels like this character already knows who she is, and is just waiting for me to let her tell the story. I am excited to see what happens. :)

And, speaking of characters who seem to have their own stories to tell, can I just take a second to say how awesome this set of Disney princesses turned evil is? I just want to write them ALL!

Feeling a little like the grandpa who's just discovered texting, but... Three cheers for my first successful gif usage, too!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Something You Don't Wanna Miss...

Okay, I admit it.
I am a blog stalker.
A terrible, creepy blog stalker.

Okay so probably not actually creepy. BUT, nonetheless, one of my favorite YA blogs is celebrating its four-year anniversary, and are hosting a HUGE giveaway for it! You should definitely check it out, and then take a few minutes (or hours, if you are like me) looking over their other stuff! They truly do some amazing things there.

Monday, July 1, 2013

English Adjectives

It has a nice ring to it, no?

So, lately I have been watching a ton of J.K. Rowling documentaries and interviews, and while doing that, one adjective has taking root in my heart. It's one we don't really use in the US, but I think that should change. That word? BOOKISH.

Here's a quick definition, just in case you're not sure what that means:


1. given or devoted to reading or study.
2. more acquainted with books than with real life.

SO cute, right? And sounds a lot less negative than super-geek-who-can't-keep-up-with-reality. So if you're with me, I think I'm going to use this adjective pretty frequently, from now on.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

This One's for the Plotters

So I read a lot of writing blogs.
More than I should. What can I say? I love reading other people's opinions on writing. Maybe that's why I like to write about writing.
Something that comes up all the time is the idea of "plotters" versus "pantsers." Here's a quick definition, if you're not familiar:

plotter: Someone who prefers to plot out his/her story before writing it
pantser: Someone who prefers to figure out the plot as s/he writes (s/he "flies by the seat of his/her pants")

Every article I have ever read talks about how it is okay to be a pantser, how that one author is a pantser and so is So-and-So, and she's a NYT Bestselling Author. So pantsing is great.

And I'm sure it is. But what about the plotters? What about the people who's hearts leap for joy when they see a table? I am one of these people. I had a nice, shiny story idea this week, but I couldn't sit down to write a word of it until I had the whole thing in table form, the day on the y-axis, important characters on the x-axis. That way I could know what everyone was doing, and when.

And that's okay.

You can be a great writer, even if you don't feel like you can just sit down and write up something brilliant at the first glimpse of an idea.

So here's to the plotters: pantsing might make us feel anxious; solace might be found in making endless diagrams and maps even though we're only on Chapter 1 in the actual writing; and yes, sometimes we admire the pantsers. But we are writers too. Don't believe me? Check out these handwritten outlines by famous authors, including everyone's idol, J.K. Rowling.

To the writing cave!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

That One Pump-Up Song

So most writers have that music that they just can't write without. There's this one artist, or this one CD or playlist, that is the epitome of everything they are trying to write.

I am the same way. We discussed this earlier when I talked about Kanye West.

There's that other kind of music, though. The kind that pumps me up and makes me want to shake my hips and scream, "I can do this! I can write a novel that will make people reevaluate their lives! I love EVERYTHING about what I'm writing!"

Sometimes these songs come up for no particular reason, and don't make any sense with my taste in music. Sometimes they fit and make me want to scream, "This song is about ME!"

Right now, that song is this one (but replace 'girls' in the chorus with 'books' or 'manuscripts'. Whichever feels right to you):

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Adding Depth to Characters

I had this professor in college... Let's just say she wasn't my favorite. She wore skirts that were unprofessionally short. She called a quiz a quizzy-poo. She once gave me an answer to a question that I looked up later and found out was woefully wrong. I couldn't believe that she was my professor and didn't want to pay attention in class, because to me me was just a professor who needed to grow up a little.

Sometimes when we first meet our characters, they strike us as something like this. They might be painfully shy, or the classic cool kid, or maybe your villain wants power really, really badly.

One day, I was surfing Facebook in the middle of said professor's class. I had only come for the quizzy-poo at the beginning anyway, and it would be rude to leave right after, right? I scrolled down the page, my mind feeling a little bit like that white noise on an old TV set. Then a picture flew past my eyes. Something about it made me stop, and focus again. I pushed that up button so that the image was zoomed in, and glanced between it and the professor in front of me. It was the same person! My professor's smiling face stared at me from the screen, her arm wrapped around the shoulders of a good looking man who must have been her husband. The caption plead for people to share the image, because they were trying to adopt a child from some group. I never did figure out how sharing the image would help them adopt a child, but when I looked at the professor standing at the front of the class, she was suddenly a different person. She wasn't my ditsy professor anymore, though she still had all of those qualities, but I could see through the outer her, to the woman who couldn't have children for whatever reason, and wanted to adopt one of her own.

When we first look at and write our characters, they seem so one dimensional, and no one wants to be around someone like that. Your readers will pick up your book, read the first two chapters so they can say that they tried, and then (maybe) if they're polite (meaning, if they're family/friends) they'll finish reading because it would be rude to get up and leave in the middle of it. More likely, though, they'll check out as soon as possible.

So before you say you think you know who your character is, think about their other dynamics. That super shy girl might love to do karaoke. The jock might also play the saxophone. Your villain probably has good intentions. So what are they?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Road Trip Wednesday: A Real Road Trip!

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered.

This Week's Topic is: In celebration of the release of Kristin Halbrook's NOBODY BUT US (hooray!!) we're asking: Zoe and Will set off on the road to seek a better life and encounter loads of drama on the way. What's the most dramatic road trip you've ever been on?

We love road trips!
Well, right now I live in a college town that is just that, and as such has nothing but a couple of universities, so I've been on my fair share of road trips. The most dramatic one that comes to mind is when my roommate got married about two years ago, in Colorado. The other four of us roommates decided we would make the eight hour drive to Colorado to see her seal the deal. What can go wrong, right? The trip up was average enough (lots of snacks- none of them healthy- singing loudly as only twenty year old girls can, and just general tom-foolery). We were so excited! We got a hotel room and stocked up on dinner foods and watched cheesy wedding shows all night long.

The wedding was beautiful, we got to hold really pretty flowers and talk to lots of old people and- of course- eat lots of good food that we didn't have to pay for.


The person who made our map fell asleep as soon as we got in the car. So we followed it to the best of our ability, only to realize two hours into the trip that we had been following it the wrong way. We have now gone two hours in the wrong direction, making our 8 hour trip a 10 hour one. Not only that, but it was a Sunday, and some of the girls were a bit more religious, and so they only wanted to listen to instrumental or church music... I was DYING by hour 4. My fingernails were going raw from trying to claw my way out of the car.

Then came the storm. I don't know about you, but storms tend to bring out the crazy in me. I get so excited when a real storm comes through because it reminds me of home in Florida. Suddenly our instrumental music was the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, and suddenly we were dancing and singing again, but less out of joy and more out of hysteria. By the time we arrived home, I would be lying if I said to you I hadn't lost my mind a little. Was it worth it? I'm still deciding, but I think the answer is YES.

The Zode in theRoad

By: Dr. Seuss
(I saw this today and just had to share it)

Did I ever tell you about the young Zode,
Who came to two signs at the fork in the road?
One said to Place One, and the other, Place Two.
So the Zode had to make up his mind what to do.
Well the Zode scratched his head, and his chin and his pants.
And he said to himself, “I’ll be taking a chance
If I go to Place One. Now, that place may be hot!
And so, how do I know if I’ll like it or not?
On the other hand though, I’ll be sort of a fool
If I go to Place Two and find it too cool.
In that case I may catch a chill and turn blue!
So, maybe Place One is the best, not Place Two,
But then again, what if Place One is too high?
I may catch a terrible earache and die!
So Place Two may be best! On the other hand though…
What might happen to me if Place Two is too low?
I might get some very strange pain in my toe!
So Place One may be best,” and he started to go.
Then he stopped, and he said, “On the other hand though….
On the other hand…other hand…other hand though…”
And for 36 hours and a half that poor Zode
Made starts and made stops at the fork in the road.
Saying, “Don’t take a chance. No! You may not be right.”
Then he got an idea that was wonderfully bright!
“Play safe!” cried the Zode. “I’ll play safe. I’m no dunce!
I’ll simply start out for both places at once!”
And that’s how the Zode who would not take a chance
Got no place at all with a split in his pants.

((Life Writing Lesson from Dr. Seuss: It doesn't matter where your story goes, as long as you write it.))

Friday, January 25, 2013

Text Boundedness

I study Teaching English as a Second Language, which means that I get to take endless amounts of classes about how second languages are acquired, how to create good ESL (English as a Second Language) tests/assessments, how to teach ESL in academia and in less formal settings, and I just love it. I was especially excited this semester to be taking a class on Teaching Literacy in ESL. In our last lesson we discussed an idea called text boundedness (get pumped for a brief lesson in teaching ESL!). When someone who is already literate in a certain language tries to read, they  don't have to focus on specific sounds. Our brains are already wired to know that a d makes a 'duh' sound, so we don't have to pause to sound out every little thing. When someone is just beginning to learn how to read a new language, they have to take the time to sound out those little things. When I learned French, I could spend an hour reading a book and then look back and realize that I had been so focused on the sounds that I had no idea what I had just read. That is text boundedness: when you're so focused on the sound that you miss the meaning.

This is so much like writing that I wanted to jump up from my desk and do a little jig. That probably wouldn't have gone too well though, so I restrained myself.

Sometimes as writers we get caught up in how beautiful something sounds. We just love the adjectives and the colors and how these words make pretty loops that become pretty little flowers in our heads! We love it so much that we oftentimes want to emulate it. I feel this way when I read Rae Carson's Crown of Embers series, or (lest we forget) the Harry Potter series. I just wish that I could sound as talented as these people, but I just can't ever seem to get it to work.

But here's the key: every author has his or her own voice. I will never sound just like J.K. Rowling, and people wouldn't want to read my work if I did! she already exists. She is published; we don't need another Jo (no matter how badly I may want her to just write new books every six months). What we dont have, is you.

Our words are beautiful because they convey meaning, and we can get those points across in seven billion different ways. My writing style may not speak to everyone in the world (no matter how much I pretend it will), but I know it's beautiful because it's mine, and it means something.

Take the time to read something that you've written that you are so proud of, and be happy because it is looping across the page to make its own unique flowers in your (and probably someone else's) head.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book Review: The Evolution of Mara Dyer

So I may be a little behind on the times, but I still have one semester as a student and working a student job, so I'm too poor to just go out and buy a book right when it comes out (no matter how badly I may want to). However, I finally got this book from the library after a hold that felt like a lifetime.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Book #1 in the Mara Dyer trilogy) managed to paint pictures for me that had me sitting up at night with the light on, no doubt bothering my husband, but I just couldn't stop myself. Her writing was so vivid, and the horror was so unlike most of the horror I had read in the past (which isn't actually that much) that I kept wanting to go back and read it again and see just what she did that made such an impact on me.

However, at first read The Evolution of Mara Dyer (Book #2) just didn't do that to me, and I found myself getting frustrated with it very early on. It was a pretty quick read though, and after the first hundred or two hundred pages, I realized that it was a different kind of horror. It was the kind that made me wonder what in the world is going on? Why won't anyone listen to her? Why is this supposedly dead guy wandering around her house while everyone is sleeping? And why, oh WHY, am I concerned that this guy is secretly watching ME as I'm reading this book???

Once I realized this, I was able to connect with the story a bit more. Hodkin does a great job of making Mara's condition realistic. While I found myself getting frustrated that no one believed her, I think that really was the way most parents would have handled the situation. By the middle of the book though, I felt stagnant, like I was stuck in that asylum doing the same thing over and over and I would never get out and neither would Mara. After awhile I started to not care anymore what happened to Mara, and the only thing worth pondering was why in the world Noah wanted to go hang out on a private island for fifteen minutes before heading back, and why all of these adults seem to play into his hands no matter what he does.

The premise of the book is unique, which was what drew me to it initially. Noah's persistence in trying to keep up with Mara and help her, and Mara's spiral downward until the line between insanity and her gift (or curse) become so blurred that it's impossible to see it, provided character dynamics that I loved. I felt like I knew these people in real life,like they could be real people.

The "cliffhanger" ending seemed very reminiscent of Kelley Armstrong's Summoning trilogy though, which also involved an asylum full of people with unique gifts/curses. However, there were some plot holes that I had a hard time ignoring. At the end, when I stared at the word deceased next to Noah's name, it was all I could notice. But somehow Mara didn't notice it until a page and a half later? And on top of that, an obviously shifty minor character who really doesn't get much face time suddenly pops out of nowhere as the ultimate bad guy. It seemed thrown together in a way that will be difficult for me to remember by the time book 3 comes around.

In the end, I'd give it a 3.5/5 stars because I love the writing style so much. Hodkin proves in this book that she can use various different writing styles to portray different feelings involved in the horror genre. I had to watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother before I went to bed to that I would stop thinking that someone was wandering around my apartment without my knowledge. I am excited for book 3, but hope that the holes from the end of book 2 get filled.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kanye West is my Muse

One thing that every writer I have ever come across (including myself) has in common is that it is much more difficult to write in complete silence. I usually write to my classics- A little country, a little indie, a little rock and roll... And it always works for me. I feel pumped! I am ready to write the great American novel by the time I pull up Microsoft Word, its bright blue logo like peeks of blue sky between all of the clouds shaped like nasty Linguistics homework.

Throughout the past few weeks, though, it just hasn't been working for me. For some reason, I was getting tired of all of my music, as well as all of the stuff Pandora gave me. I would type a paragraph or two, and then I would listen to the music, and let out a groan. I HATE this song right now. Why can't you read my mind and know exactly what I need, Pandora?! It never answers back... In case you were concerned.

Yesterday though, our internet wasn't working, and my computer is broken, so I pulled up Husband's iTunes, and began playing what he had the most of... And as shocking as this may be to you if you don't know him very well, he has a LOT of Kanye West music. I will wake up some mornings, and he will be having what he calls a "Ghetto Rap Day," where he spends and hour or two kickin' back to some Tupac, or another Husband-favorite (and also a Kanye-favorite, apparently) Jay-Z. I feel like I have become more cultured being married to him.

So yesterday, I hesitantly reached forward to begin playing my favorite Kanye song. I paused, wondering if Husband might come home and catch me jamming to his music, for some reason not wanting to be discovered enjoying his rap. But then I shrugged my shoulders, and let it flow. Amazingly enough, Kanye's dulcet tones lulled me away to a short-story writing heaven. In one hour, I had cranked out 2,000 words that I was actually proud of, and only slightly nervous to have critiqued by my classmates.

To test out my theory, when I felt like the words weren't flowing well for this blog post yesterday, I decided to turn on some more Kanye, and the words flowed right off the edge of my fingertips... So there you have it: [for now, at least] Kanye West is my Muse.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Road Trip Wednesday!

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

This Week's Topic is: Imagine you get to open your own bookstore. What would it look like? What kinds of books would you sell?
This is actually something that’s been on my mind a lot lately… Though that probably doesn’t surprise anyone else who reads like crazy instead of doing homework or that Senior Thesis that just doesn’t seem as important as the life or death situation the MC is currently facing.

My book shop would be two stories, but square footage-wise it wouldn’t be huge. Maybe 1500 square feet? It would have rich brown and green walls, designed to feel just like that cozy home you wish you were living in instead of a dingy apartment with too many dirty dishes. The first floor would be full of bookshelves designed to match the genre of the books. If it’s fantasy, it might have turrets at the top, mystery might have jagged edges, etc. etc. I would sell a little bit of everything, with the emphasis being anything fiction.

Upstairs would be the café and reading area, full of squashy armchairs with foot rests- because, really, as a short person it is just a pain to try sitting comfortably without putting your feet up or resting them on something. There would also be a room in one corner of the upstairs with tables and chairs for studying, and in there I would offer reading classes for English language learners.

Assuming J.K. Rowling is my benefactor, so money is no object, the last thing (which I am SO SO excited about) is that my book shop will be teamed up with an NGO created by us and run by the people of Thailand. For every book bought by a patron, my shop will donate a book to a boat library, which will travel up and down the rivers of Thailand bringing books and reading lessons to the people in rural communities. Everyone has the right to read a book, I think.

Now all I want to do is get started on it! 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

True Strength

I have never felt good at anything in particular. Actually, that is a lie. I know there are things that I have been good at, those kinds of things that you just pick up and are pleasantly surprised to find that they resonate with you. The first time this ever happened to me was in the driveway of my childhood home in Florida. It was undoubtedly hot and humid, and the driveway scraped at the bottom of my feet as a nine-year old me rushed out to meet my mother, home from a long morning of garage sale-ing, the only time it's okay to rummage through someone else's belongings in their own driveway, and then take whatever you like.

She held out a thin plastic box, lifting the front latches with a click and putting together the instrument for me. it was long and thin, and felt awkward in my hands, like when you try to pull a piece of elastic off the waistband of your favorite pair of pants (don't act like your pants didn't have elastic waistbands when you were nine) and find that the elastic just keeps sliding out, and then with sinking horror your realize that your pants are getting looser. She placed my fingers over the correct holes, and even though I had to stretch and it hurt a little, it also felt right. I pulled the mouthpiece up to my mouth and, not knowing what sound could possibly follow, I blew, and made a sound on the very first try.

It was hard work from then on. I practiced so long sometimes that my wrists hurt. I moved up the ranks of band geekdom until I felt comfortable sitting with the cool kids, talking about the last marching band competition, and how well we did, and if-only-that-one-girl-would-just-pick-up-her-dang-flute-and-practice-we-could-achieve-world-peace. It seemed that easy. It was that easy.

I read today that Laura Joyce Davis said, "Strengths are not what we’re good at, but what make us feel strong." Some days making music did make me feel strong. The only time that has stood out to me enough to make me reminisce and wish I practiced more was in my Senior year of high school, when I conveyed enough emotion that the judge in my solo competition cried. I knew that that was what art was about.

Back then I thought my future was in music, and maybe part of it is. I changed my major four times before deciding to graduate with a linguistics degree. You'd think that your degree would dictate you life's work, I know for a fact that's not true. Nothing ever seemed to click, until I looked back at what made me feel strong, even if I wasn't the best at it. 

When I was thirteen I wrote fanfiction. It was angst ridden, full of unrequited love, and (unfortunately) looked a little something like this:

“The day was finally upon me. I didn't bother getting up when I felt someone calling me. I didn't even open my eyes. I knew who it was. Harry and Hermione had been trying to get me to come to the dance anyways, saying that I should go because it's my last year. I don't care. I'll be a table ornament if I go.” 

When I took a writing break, I thought it didn't get any better than that. I thought I couldn't get any better than that. At least, the other prepubescents on told be I was the bomb. Coming back into writing, though, I have worked my tail off (Seriously. You can look for yourself; there isn't one). Now my writing looks a bit more like this:

"The rain started. It began slow, like the first few tears when you are trying not to cry, and it quickly escalated into those heaving sobs that cannot be controlled, the booming thunder and lightning happening simultaneously as the shrieks that come with knowing that there is no end to the tears in sight. The howls shook our house, and lit the sky as a brilliant spider web cracked through it. Mom managed to pull Dad and I inside and shut the door, turning for the television, flipping the switch so that she could do her hourly check of the StormWatch crew. The meteorologist stood out in the rain, his perfectly styled hair not even moving in the forty mile per hour wind. I wondered if he slept with his hair so tough. If he rolled over too quickly, would the helmet knock out his wife?" 

My writing isn't perfect- that's for sure- but it keeps getting better, and even though it will never be perfect, I love it. It makes me feel stronger.