Saturday, January 30, 2010

Is Diana Really "Here"?

I'm here! I am!!! *Deep breath* Okay, I'm not the type to drag out a bunch of personal "life things" here, but I don't want you all to think I'm neglecting your blogs for no reason-- I care about your posts! I love every blog I follow!

But in case you notice that I haven't been commenting as much lately, I don't want you to think I've forgotten about you... or that something bad is going in my world. The only thing happening is we're trying to buy our first home (yay! And also, terror!).

We have a deadline of sorts which is making this a little (okay, a LOT) more stressful than we anticipated, and I'm mostly using every spare second of internet time I can searching for homes... and then spending the majority of my day with our realtor or dragging the kids to see "neighborhoods." Yeah, that hasn't been much fun, but my 2 year old has learned to use the potty in the back of the mini-van (NO, not while it's MOVING! Considering I would never unstrap him from his carseat in a moving vehicle, that would require way too much aim for the little guy).

So yeah, lots of strange new things are coming from our house-buying adventure. I'm finding out that buying a house is CRAZY, much more intense than I thought it would be. I guess I sort of imagined buying a house would be like buying a care... "Oh, this one's nice. And it's for sale. It's in our price range, let's buy it!" So. Not. The case.

But anyway, we are trying. Whether we find a house or end up renting again, either way we'll be moving out of where we're living now, and I think overall it's a good thing. If life hadn't forced this decision on us, we might have been too comfortable here and never bought a home of our own. Of course, with the way things are going we STILL might never buy one, but at least we're trying!!

So in conclusion, my very sincere apologies if I seem "absent" dear blog friends. I will try my hardest to make time to comment, but at the very least I AM reading your blogs and I will still post whenever I have a spare minute. Like right now. We have an appointment to meet with the realtor (who is such an awesome, great, understanding person!) and we have to leave in half an hour. The kids are not looking forward to another day of house-hunting; it seems to be the only thing we do anymore.

To my new followers, you must think I'm an absolute mental case and actually, you aren't completely wrong (I should say, "ha ha" or something there, but you may as well know the "real" me from the beginning, New Blog Follower). I will find my groove and make it over to your blogs soon, and I hope you stick around!

Thanks again blog friends, *hugs* for being so loyal, especially when I can't be there as much as I used to be :) You guys are the best.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Sweet Giveaway and Even Sweeter Writing Advice

Before I talk about the giveaway, I want to send out a HUGE thank you to Suzette and Bethany at Shooting Stars . I won their first-five critique and these ladies are PHENOMENAL!! They have incredible insight, and knew what things I could cut and even a good place for me to move my hook... such awesomeness. Truly ladies, thank you. I am taking all of your advice and suggestions to heart. As promised, to my super-sweet followers, here is some of what I learned:

  • Leave introspection for later. Keep your characters right in the moment for that opening; there'll be time for internal tug-of-war in future chapters.
  • There's no room for error. These first five pages are all you've got as far as an agent's concerned, so don't "tell" or use easy descriptors, not even once! Give your reader no reason to stop reading!
  • Don't be afraid to put that hook on page one. If you've got a great idea, don't count on agents-- or readers-- to read five pages to find it!
I can't thank Bethany and Suzette enough :) I'll use their advice throughout my whole manuscript, and count myself very lucky to have two talented, savvy authors offer me so much encouragement, support, and even friendship.

Okay-okay, I should have broken this up into different posts, but I don't have time right now to think logically. Dinner is supposed to be being eaten and other life-is-happening stuff. Before the giveaway though, one more quick thing... having my picture up is SO WEIRD!! Especially when I comment on someone's blog. I keep looking for the fairy and thinking, "Didn't I comment on this blog? Did my comment get deleted? OHHHHH that's riiiiiight!"

And now, (FINALLY!), I'm so excited to have reached 100+ followers, it's time to celebrate with

The Coaster's 
Sweetest Followers Ever 
Super Sweet

There are two super sweet categories and prizes (it's a theme, peeps. Both books are "sweet" YA; aka innocent and fun!):

Category 1: Keepin' it Real-

For those who love books set in the real world, How to Take the Ex Out of Ex-Boyfriend is funny, cute, and of course, very sweet.

Category 2: Fairy Tale Fantasy-

For those who love books set in magical worlds, The Faerie Path is a precious adventure, complete with a sweet fairy princess.

Check out synopses and book reviews for each of the books in an earlier post, HERE .

(Sorry, giveaway is only open to U.S. residents, due to shipping costs).

Here's how to enter:

Comment on THIS post with your desired category (only one category per person, please!). Easy! That's one entry. :)

**Ding ding ding ding ding!** 
¡¡¡Bonus entries!!!

+2 You were already a follower before today
+1 You became a follower today or thereafter
+1 Extra points for sweetness! Share something sweet in your comment! Your favorite dessert? The sweetest story you've ever read? A sweet poem? (Maximum 2 sweetness bonus points)
+++++1 Pimpage points! For each way you pimp this Super Sweet Giveaway (Twitter, blog mention, sidebar, Facebook... let me know in the comments! No limit to pimpage! Pimp away!!!!)

Giveaway ends Friday, February 5th at 11:59pm... spread the word! And thanks for being the sweetest followers ever!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hello? Hello? Query as a Phone Call, or-- A One Minute Rejection is Perfectly Plausible

Mary Cole has a great post at the KidLit Blog that I wish every aspiring author could swallow as a pill for instant effect. Good stuff, read it people, especially if you have a critique from me coming your way *slides a look at my darling Natalie* Fair warning, I give honest feedback.

I saw something on Twitter (I should say, I SEE it on Twitter. A lot) and that is, writers bashing agents for their quick responses to queries.

I have this thing about people hating me; basically I don't like it. But I also don't like seeing perfectly nice agents being bashed over doing their job. Actually, doing more than their job requires.

The trouble is, I feel like there's this writers versus agents vibe sometimes. Aspiring authors get a rejection, and the desired response from their writer-buddies is that the agent was a total jerk. And if I don't side with that view-- publicly, in fact!-- I am somehow on the agents' "side." Or worse... I'm a buttkisser.

First of all, I don't imagine any agents are reading MY blog or MY tweets. I barely make a dent in their submissions, first of all, and there are thousands of wannabe writer blogs out there so truly, a-buttkissing I am not. I defend agents, true, agents who read slush at least, because I don't understand the villainization of people who are doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing and, in fact, oftentimes do their best to help!

I have many gripes, but the fast-response-time complainer defies understanding for me. The agent rejected the writer's work five minutes after the writer sent it, and the writer then tweets that information all over the twitterverse or posts it on a dozen forums. Is it better to wait four weeks for the same amount of attention, because I'm no mathematician but according to my calculation I can still imagine it didn't take four weeks for the agent to debate over my query. How long would it take you, to read a single page and decide if you wanted to read more? Imagine if your query were a business phone call, one in which you had about a minute or two to convince an agent to look at your pages. That's all it would really take, right? Either the genre and idea sounds interesting, or it doesn't.

Here let's try:


Agent: "Hello?"

Writer: "Hi, may I speak with Awesome Agent?"

[Even at this point, Agent may hang up --meaning, reject the query-- Why?

  a) Writer got Agent's name wrong. Oops! This was Amazing Agent. Awesome Agent never worked for this agency.
  b) Writer also lists the names of fifty other agents because Writer saves time by mass-conference-calling queries.

The lesson? Get the agent's name right! And don't mass email queries. Now let's assume that neither a) nor b) is the case.]

Agent: Speaking.

Writer: I follow your informative blog and am impressed by your knowledge of the YA market. I admire the passionate, historical novels of your client Quinna Quillfeather, and since you mentioned an interest in historical YA with elements of magic, I thought I would try you with my 80,000 word YA romance, Heartless Heartbeat.

[Agent may hang up/reject the query if

   a) Writer lied about admiring Quillfeather. Her novels star crime-fighting clowns in modern-day Chicago and are NOT passionate historicals.
   b) Writer didn't read Agent's blog thoroughly because Agent said, "I'm NOT interested in historical YA. I hate the genre so much I want to spit after saying the words."

Again, let's say this isn't the case. Also, the lesson: know who you're querying! And don't lie. Now then...]

Agent: I'm listening.

Writer: Philemina's past held dark secrets, including a forced marriage to a powerful duke at the age of fourteen. She has the power to blend into shadows, a fact that helps her escape from dangerous situations. Having fled her husband and native France under an assumed identity, she now works as a scullery maid in the castle of one of England's most powerful baronies. She is determined to find her way to the colonies to start her life anew, and when she overhears Tristan, the youngest son to the castle lord, talking about plans to voyage to the colonies and leave England forever, she knows he is the key to her freedom. Convincing Tristan to help her is easier than she thinks... until his sister finds the jewels she'd carried with her from France, sewn into her petticoat, and accuses Philemina of theft. While she is imprisoned, Philemina's vile husband arrives and her true identity is revealed. She can only imagine that Tristan's trust is shattered, and she would rather die than return to France with her husband, so Philemina does the one thing she does best... disappears. Tristan will be better off without her, or so she thinks. Her impassioned feelings of love don't vanish so easily, but by the time Philemina realizes this, will it be too late???

[Agent may have hung up halfway through, or may have waited until the end to hang up. There are too many reasons to list, everything from

a) cheesy, derivative plot Agent has seen a thousand times before, to
z) there was no spark, as simple as that. It just didn't click and that is nobody's fault at all.

Either way, Agent doesn't want to hurt feelings or waste time, so agent says the same kind of thing anyone would say after being offered something they don't want, "Thank you, but I'm really not interested." I KNOW I'm not some expert published novelist, but I bet this "blurb" paragraph is where most of us lose the agent's interest, and if the hang-up/rejection occurs just remember, Agent didn't reject your query to be a jerk. AND, the response was quick, not because Agent didn't care, but because this is how long it took... long enough to hear what the story was about. Also, a fast response indicates the agent is good at keeping up with queries. It doesn't mean the agent didn't read your query! And it doesn't mean you suck. It could mean anything!

The lesson: stop taking rejections so personally. (Gosh Diana, that's so cold! But it's true!!) Why? Because you have NO WAY of knowing whether it was reason a, b, c or x, y, z. If you hit a few rejections without requests at all, take a look at your blurb and opening pages and revise. And keep trying. If you keep trying and keep getting nowhere, try AGAIN (meaning, try writing a book again. A different book. Because yeah, the problem may be the actual book).

Agents WANT the next fabulous novel, they don't reject them if they can help it. Show them how fabulous the story really is! (Diana, you do know you should take your own advice. Yes, I am trying, Evil Internal Voice... remember? My wip is the one, it really is!).]

Okay, okay, let's assume, however, that something in the idea seemed to work for Agent. So far, this conversation is probably about thirty seconds long...]

Agent: Okay, so who are you?

Writer: I'm a graduate from Unprestigious but Affordable State University and have been a fan of historical romance since sneaking them off my mom's night stand in junior high.

[In most cases there isn't much more to say. If there is, and it matters, lucky you. Just remember not to lie and/or exaggerate. Agent will probably not hang up if they are still listening, unless you say something to make yourself look deranged, needy or otherwise unprofessional. The lesson: avoid appearing deranged. Be professional. But even then, if the idea was still good, I bet Agent would probably peek at the pages-- wouldn't you?]

Agent: Sounds good. Give me a second and I'll look at the pages here...

[At this point, Agent knows from a few paragraphs whether or not the desire to read pages is there. Don't you know that much, when you pick up a book in a bookstore? I'm not an agent, but I know it doesn't take me a week to make a decision on whether or not a book should be added to my TBR or not. It doesn't take more than reading the blurb and maybe a paragraph or two for me to decide that-- EXACTLY WHAT I SEND A PROSPECTIVE AGENT-- a blurb (see above) and the opening pages of my book. The agent will take about another minute to know whether to reject it or whether to keep reading to the end of the sample pages and ask for more. That's it. A minute. Or two. Done deal.]

Look, if I tell you, right now, to read Heartless Heartbeat-- the WHOLE book-- you would know whether to answer me "yes" or "no thanks" or "can I start with the first chapter and see if I like it?" within one minute of reading that blurb, and you would know whether you wanted to keep reading the book after only a few pages. It would NOT take you days and days of deliberation, re-reading the blurb, discussing the blurb, taking a night to sleep on the blurb-- to decide to read this book.

This is why it frustrates me when writers vent about a quick response on forums or in tweets. Agents have a job to do: help their clients succeed. A writer who queries an agent is not their client. I am grateful for quick responses because, in all actuality, the four-week rejection took that agent only a few minutes anyway, and the sooner I know the answer the sooner I know whether it's time to tweak the query and sample pages. But don't hate me!! I'm not on the agents' "side" and I definitely don't think there should be any sides. We all want an agent, so it kinda-sorta makes sense to try and be understanding of their role. Besides, if you stalk them on their blogs and Twitter, you'll see how cool and nice they are.

A one-minute rejection on a full request would, on the other hand, be a heartbreaker. Luckily, I don't hear many of those going around. *Phew!*

What do you think? Do you ever sense a "writer-versus-agent" mentality? Would a rejection within five minutes of querying infuriate you? Do you hate me (WAIT! Don't answer that!! This is a hate-free zone peeps! *Diana runs and hides for a while*).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Surprise, I'm not a fairy!

Well here ya go. A picture of me. Wendy put me up to it (after she put her picture up I couldn't leave her hanging). I miss my fairy, reading on the moon. Maybe I'll work her into my blog somehow anyway (and maybe I'm still her, sorta-kinda).

Back to being unplugged. Tweet or email if you miss me!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Unplug Week is Live! AND a Book Giveaway!

It's the third Monday of the month, and for anyone needing a reason to tone down the blogging, this begins Unplug Week! Unplug as much or as little as you need to, the point is to keep the focus on writing or revising that wip :)

Before I officially fade off the blogosphere, the Coaster will be having it's second giveaway, this time in honor of reaching 100+ Followers!!

The Coaster's
Sweetest Followers Ever
Super Sweet 
Details still to come!!

Stay tuned for the big announce and giveaway rules next week! I'll choose two winners... here's a peek at the winning choices (both books are very sweet, in keeping with the theme), one book is for the magic lovers out there, the other is for those who like real-life YA stories:


How to Take the Ex 
Out of Ex-Boyfriend 
by Janette Rallison

Funny, cute, yet surprisingly real, I loved this romantic comedy from cover to cover. I was swept into this fun story, and really fell in love with Giovanna and her brother, and especially the butterfly-inducing Jesse (he is so hot, caring, and ready to defend his girl *sighhhh!*). This book is impossible not to enjoy, and brought me right into the emotion, intensity, and embarrassing moments of high school romance. Thank you again Mary at Writer's Butt Does Not Apply to Me for the great book giveaway that led me to a new favorite author!

Reviews for How To Take the Ex Out of Ex-Boyfriend:

Gamila's Review
Book Loons

The Faerie Path 
by Frewin Jones

Another sweet story, this time with magic. If you love far-off worlds, faeries in a traditional sense (as opposed to Wicked Lovely fairies), princesses and sorcerers, this is the book for you. There is a cute love triangle between Anita (aka Princess Tania), her adorable high school boyfriend  and the faerie prince she's betrothed to. A true fairy tale, this story is high on the precious-meter in case that turns you off, but I enjoyed it and love a whisked-off-into-an-immortal-realm kind of story. Full of love, adventure and enough plot-twists to keep you reading, it's a charming book and the first of a series (The Lost Queen, The Sorcerer King, etc).

Reviews for The Fairy Path:

The Compulsive Reader
The Story Siren

Have a great week everyone! I'm still on Twitter and checking email in case you miss me :) And again, giveaway rules and entries start next week. Happy writing!!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dilemmas and a Quagmire: Have a Happy Blog!

Please be warned, I may or may not mention sculpted, hard-bodied males in this post. I know, I know, your tender sensibilities. Brace yourselves.

Before I get to the awards (which, invariably leads to sculpted, hard-bodied males... I think), a quick THANK YOU to Mary at Writer's Butt Does Not Apply to Me. I won her book giveaway just before Christmas, and the other day I found How to Take the Ex out of Ex-Boyfriend in my mailbox... so far it's adorable! Such a fun book, thank you Mary!!

Now for award time!

Awards make me happy :) Amalia and Steph must KNOW this about me because they both gave me the Happy Blog Award! Thank you Steph and Amalia, your blogs are so great, everyone should hop over and say hi to you two lovely blog writers.

The Happy Blog Award
Stephanie Damore
(at the Stephanie Damore Blog)
Amalia T.

The rules are easy, at last! No horrifying high school reveals (you guys like to see me work for my awards). All I have to do is list ten things that make me happy, then pass it on to ten blogs that make me happy. Wait... that is going to be hard. If I follow a blog, it's because it makes me happy. Dilemma, dilemma...

While I ponder this, here are the ten things that make me happy (and since I randomly blogged about that very topic HERE, I promise not to cheat and copy all the same answers. Maybe. Never mind, I crossed my fingers so the promise didn't count!).

Ten Things That Make Me Happy

1. The beach. Sandy toes means a day well-spent.

2. Massages. Especially the kinds where scented candles and heated oils are used. I'd mention sculpted, hard-bodied males (preferably shirtless) but this is a PG blog.

3. People who read my writing and comment. My one friend (you know who you are), agents (the commenty type are rare, but make me so happy), crit buddies (my Dana!!), beta-readers (my Wendy!!), blog commenters (you! Yes, you reading this blog right now! *kisses!*), and fabulous agented authors who offer wicked-awesome comments on my writing (Bethany and Suzette-- I almost called them "my" Bethany and Suzette, but they're mega stars and I don't want them to think I'm stalking them or anything, even though I am, shhh!).

4. Writing. But not term papers or anything. I should say, writing fiction. But I already wrote it this way and look-how-lazy-I-am.

5. Excessively sweetened beverages. Roy Rogers, White Mochas, uber-sugary green tea, caramel fraps with extra caramel... mmm... caramel.

6. Family, friends, people who are nice to my kids. I love these people. Even though the majority of these people don't read or even know I have a blog, they make me happy in other ways.

7. Vacations. Especially involving airplanes and beaches. And possibly massages and sweetened beverages? Or is that asking too much?

8. Cheese. I'm so ridiculous. Wendy and Void, I'm not wrong here, right? Top ten things that make me happy... cheese and family on the same list? What about that appetizer at Red Robin's-- deep fried cheese-- and instead of ranch, ask for cheese dip... oh yeah!

9. Desserts. Since we're on the topic of food, I don't only love cheese. I LOVE dessert. Pie, oh and anything with caramel especially. Yum, dessert should be a meal. I could easily go into a restaurant and order only dessert. Well, maybe after having cheese-dipped cheese. Hmm... cheese AND dessert... can we say cheesecake? The genius of this food... bliss! Now drizzle caramel on it *Diana faints in ecstasy*

10. Book People. As in, people who read fiction. For fun. I don't have many in my life. When I find someone who'll read a book and gab about it with me, it's like choirs of angels singing. Then there are book people who write or publish fiction... who are a part of making books happen. I haven't been to a writer's conference in ages, but take the choir of angels thing and multiply it by a thousand, then add some sculpted, hard-bodied males and feed me caramel-drizzled cheesecake. Really! When you hear agents talk on a panel and best-selling authors who you admire speak at keynote addresses, and the people at your tables during dinners and luncheons are actual authors, editors, agents... well, the creative side of your mind may turn to mush too. Mine did :)

Now what?

I've come to the part where I'm supposed to nominate ten blogs that make me happy. This is reeeeeally not fair. Or easy. I rescind the easy comment I made earlier!!

  • If I list ten blogs that make me happy, does that mean the other nine-hundred and ninety-nine blogs I follow will think they DON'T make me happy?
  • Do I give this to everyone, then?
  • But what if someone doesn't want it?
  • Or what if someone doesn't have ten things in their life that makes them happy (how sad. Okay, that person definitely needs this award).
  • But if I just say, "Take the award if you want it," to everybody (which I've done before), almost NOBODY takes the award (I think because everyone's so modestly sweet and humble), and if no one takes it, I don't get to read all their happy things.
I'm in a quagmire.
  • (Diana wonders if anyone will find her blog by Googling quagmire.)
  • (Diana also wonders if anyone will find it by Googling "cheese-dipped cheese").
  • (Diana cringes as she wonders if anyone will find it by Googling "sculpted, hard-bodied males"). 
  • (Diana Googles "sculpted, hard-bodied males." Google suggests a misspelling. The NERVE! Google's suggestion??)
  • NO!!!! I did NOT mean females! I meant males! Grrrr!!! That was just intolerable. I thought I was going to get something juicy. (Go ahead, reader. Google it and be just as disappointed. Unless you're a guy, then you may be fine with it.)
*drumming fingers on keyboard* The quagmire remains without a solution.

WAIT! I've got it!! Genius strikes! I'll use my Roulette Wheel of Blogs to choose ten blogs I follow that make me happy! My roulette-whatsit thing will choose them COMPLETELY AT RANDOM. There's no other fair way, because you all make me happy :)

That Make Her Happy
(Chosen by Her
Roulette Wheel of Blogs.)

1. Charity, at Thoughts...By Charity Joy Bell. Here's a blog that's all about poetry. Loving, motivating, thoughtful musings by a sincere heart. She was one of my first followers and she makes me happy :)

2. Tina, at Sweet Niblets. Oh man, if she plays this game, it will be her second happy things blog post too. (Play Tina!! Pretty please?). Her blog makes me happy, but life has hit her a little hard lately (a little?? Try a lot.) but I know she'll dig deep and find ten things that make her happy... or ten things that WILL make her happy once 2010 stops being so mean to her. *Hugs*

3. Bethany and Suzette, at Shooting Stars. (What? Is this roulette thing rigged?). Well, I already did a one-woman band post for them HERE, that's how happy they make me. Suzette and I have the same typo-hunt-and-destroy mania, and Bethany and I both have an old-flame manuscript we love and hold out secret-hopes for... and neither of them fault me for my "awesome" overuse issue.

4. Carolina, at Carol's Prints. Oh yay, a Twitter buddy! Actually, I think I first met her through the Kissing Blogfests. In any case, her blog makes me happy because she has asterisks throughout her posts that you read at the bottom; she says effing and WTF with reckless abandon; AND her blog is the shiznit, as her Followers know :)

5. Lynette, at Chatterbox Chit Chat. If you're a writer, this blog will make you happy. Her posts are very writerly (unlike mine, eek!) and her puzzle of the beach made me super happy!

6. Sara, at The Babbling Flow of a Fledgling Scribbler. Another poet... err, well she did give it a try for Shannon's Poetry Day (I wasn't so brave! And everyone should be THANKING me for not attempting this one!)

7. Sherrinda, at A Writer Wannabe. Aw, who wouldn't be happy at her positive, kind spirited blog? Plus, she came up with the Kissing Blogfest, and that made EVERYONE happy!

8. Rhonda, at Snarktastic Ramblings. Cool, a new blog (to me), this roulette wheel rocks! I love this blog because I love snark; okay, my blog is fairly snarkless, but that's because we have to keep up appearances. I get to watch snarky hilarity at blogs like Snarktastic Ramblings, because where else can I ponder "why" I write to the tune of Nancy Kerrigan... AND classic Sesame Street? 

9. Shannon, at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. Okay, Shannon's blog's sole purpose in the universe must be to spread happiness. I can practically hear her smile in every post (hearing a smile is an acquired skill, but Shannon makes it easy!)

10. Oops, my Roulette Wheel of Blogs landed on an agent blog, and even though this blog makes me happy, I think agents are busy enough without adding blog award fulfillment to their list of to-do's.  Spin again!

10. Karen, at I'm Always Write. Don't you love her blog title? So great. And she is funny and comes up with great posts, like magic eight ball wisdom, and American Idol for writers (but my mom says I can write!! EVERYONE says my stories rock!! *Diana storms off in a diva huff* *Diana sobs into the camera and vows to show them all*)

Hooray! Oh my gosh, this was a lot of work. But soooo worth it. Everyone who didn't get chosen by the Roulette Wheel of Blogs, you make me happy too :) And to make YOU happy, here's a picture of a sculpted, hard-bodied male. 


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti Earthquake

Please consider giving to the Red Cross for the victims of the Haiti earthquake. Tens of thousands are lost, and there isn't even food or water, much less medical supplies. 

Donate $10 by texting "Haiti" to 90999, it goes to the Red Cross and will show up on your next mobile bill. That's all there is to it. Imagine if everyone did this.

Read more HERE; the videos of the babies and kids will be hard to watch. That could be anyone's little one.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I'm a Winner!

Wow! Suzette and Bethany announced the winners to their Wicked-Awesome-Prizes Contest, and I won a critique of my first five pages! THANK YOU Suzette and Bethany; a critique by two agented authors is a a dream prize!! *Happy dancing on tiptoes!*

Check out the other winners, including the winner of a signed Dark Divine, query letter critique winners, and more!

Shooting Stars: Awards Ceremony

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Book Talk: The Hunger Games and Catching Fire

Edited to add: Don't forget to check out the new Peeta/Gale poll! Thanks Agency Gatekeeper for the brilliant idea!

Okay, I sat here for way too long thinking of how to start this post. It's a Book Talk, there should be only one way to start it. "Today's Book Talk will be about Suzanne Collins' phenomenal books, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire." And that is true, I am talking about them. But these books are so full of rock-hard awesome all I want to say is, "Oh my gosh I just finished Catching Fire and it is sooooo good!!! Everyone who's read it, come squee with me! Squeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!"

In a nutshell, Catching Fire was my favorite book of 2009. It makes my all-time list for sure.

So my less-than-new Followers will remember that I don't do the typical book review thing of summarizing the story, then saying "this worked and this didn't, it gets this many stars/hearts/spinning hamsters." I like reading those kinds of reviews, and there are many review links to your left to check out; also I linked a few at the bottom of this Book Talk. For me though, I like talking about the book, the story, the writing, and hopefully share some glimmer of what I hope to learn as a writer.

Okay I usually don't do a setup, but the books are so good I can't resist: 
The nation of Panem has a ruling Capitol surrounded by thirteen districts, and the Capitol dominates the districts with an iron fist. After years of oppression, the districts revolt, and the Capitol annihilates District Thirteen. From then on a new law is enacted, requiring the twelve remaining districts to each sacrifice one boy and one girl to a yearly battle to the death-- to remind the districts that rebelling against the Capitol and breaking the peace will cost them their children's lives. The first story (The Hunger Games) begins on the 74th year of the games (so 74 years since the initial rebellion).

I'm new to the dystopian genre. The Maze Runner is the only other one I've read (thanks Mary!) because I always thought dystopians sounded too harsh and pessimistic for my tastes. But The Maze Runner was great, and I'd heard so many good things about The Hunger Games I had to give it a try. Wow. The Hunger Games made it to my Top Ten Most Engrossing, Impossible to Put Down Books Ever list. Yes it's harsh, and there is so little redemption, but Suzanne Collins brings more than mere shock-value-cruelty to the nation of Panem. The world is so vividly real and terrifyingly possible. I mean, how far off are the disgusting extravagances in food and wealth, as well as the ridiculous glorification of body image in Panem's Capitol, when compared with today's celebrity and upper-upper class excesses? Whoa, that sentence was overly long and wordy; the point is, I like this book because it makes you think.

Move all of that into Catching Fire, and it only gets better. A nation under oppression, Katniss unsure of her new role, even more secrets revealed about the Capitol, the Districts, and everything Katniss thought she knew about the world. There is more harshness and cruelty, but amazingly, there's also this deep, relentless hope. There is still love. There's still people in places of privilege and power who, for no other reason than compassion for the human condition, decide to help. This book was better than the first, in my opinion, and it doesn't do that thing that trilogies often do where the second book slows down. If anything, there's even MORE action.

So, am I burying the lead? I'm two-thirds of the way through this Book Talk and have yet to mention Gale or Peeta. Strong, fiery Gale... deep, compassionate Peeta... both hot-on-a-stick and poor Katniss, so single-minded on the survival of her family she's continually blind-sided by these guys. But her heart isn't. Her heart screams out for each of them in different ways, and I can't wait for the third book to see if she realizes what her heart truly wants. You guys know who I'm rooting for (unless you missed my super-cool Team Peeta banner). I can't give away my reasons without spoilers, but this is my blog, after all, and spoil I will.


Please don't read any further unless you've read the books. Really. This is for the enjoyment of those already "in the know." 

To view spoilers, highlight the section below:

Woooooo, I'm invisible! Hee hee. Okay everyone *relaxes into a comfy chair* go ahead and have some of Katniss' fresh-roasted rabbit over there, and a bit of those fabulous cheese-baked bread rolls Peeta makes. It's spoiler time! If you comment on anything spoilerific, just top it off with spoiler warnings. Most people don't read comments anyway so you're probably clear.

Deeeep sigh. It's so nice to be able to talk about the books. Did anyone else love Cinna and just hate the Capitol that much more after they dragged him off like that? I wanted to scream! And when they whipped Gale, oh my gosh I wanted to chop that Peacekeepers head off. Finnick was hot. Especially once he saved Peeta. Super hot. Poor Madge. And hahahaha on Katniss getting stuck outside the electric fence. I'd been waiting for that to happen since The Hunger Games. And here's what I imagine in the third book: that Capitol ear of hers will help the Capitol spy on them. Who wants to make a bet?

So, Gale versus Peeta...

I love Gale. He's a great hunter, he provides for his mom and siblings, he's ranty against the Capitol, and he's hot. What's not to love? That isn't the issue with me. The issue is, his love for Katniss is based on the exterior-- and I don't mean looks. He admires her as a huntress, he's hung out with her in the woods, but he doesn't know her except for the part of herself she's shown him... he loves who he thinks she is. Who he sees. I don't doubt that her death would be a tragic loss in his life, but he could go on. He would pick up the pieces and soldier on. That isn't a fault, and when it comes down to it, he will do almost anything for Katniss. But only almost anything. 

Peeta. Sigh. I read a review of Hunger Games (can't remember where now) that said Peeta was pretty much useless, but I can't agree. Yes, in a hunt he's useless, but the guy's a political genius. He knows people, what makes them tick, and his mind is always working. Talk about keeping a cool head under pressure, and the best part is, he has a heart of solid gold. Not to mention, he loves Katniss absolutely unconditionally. He loves her for who she is, that little girl in braids on the first day of school, with the spunk to sing in front of the class, or the starving girl clutching burnt bread, or the one who is willing to kill him to save her family. He loves her whether she wants to escape into the woods or stand and fight the Capitol; he is there for her and nothing can change that. He lost his heart to her completely, and her death would destroy him. There would be no one else for him. There never could be. Love it.


What I took away from the writing: 

Oh Ms. Collins, you did take my breath away. At one point in Catching Fire, I literally dropped my head onto the book and felt the air rush out of my lungs, as completely overcome as if I'd heard news of a real, true person. Physical responses from me are hard-won. And they feel so good. But I was too wrapped up in this world to learn anything from the writing!! My mind must have absorbed something, right? I know more clearly what I want from my own writing. The characters have to get into a reader's soul. I'm amazed at how even the side characters leapt off the page, with three dimensions so clear I might have been walking in the room beside them. The people-- because they were too strong and real to be characters-- feel alive even now, days after I finished the book. I would not be surprised at all to find Katniss' mother in some house somewhere, rolling bandages or checking her medicine supplies.

Such great books. Anyway, like I said I don't do a, "This worked, but the author lost me here, and I wish she would have done more there," but I do LOVE reading reviews like that. Especially after I finish a book because I like to see if I agree or not. Here are some good ones I've found (click the links for the full review):

Girl with One Eye reviewed The Hunger Games and said (and I totally agree): The Hunger Games is fantastic!  I devoured every word until the bitter end. 

Here is what Gobbles at The Book Bundle said in the review of Catching Fire (and I wholeheartedly agree): All I have wanted to do since reading The Hunger Games, is meet Suzanne and shake her hand and give her a standing ovation for her creations.

And here's a little from Jessica in her Catching Fire review at A Book Lover's Diary (I also agree): Suzanne Collins has a way of grabbing all of my attention and making me forget where I am because I become so involved in the story, in the characters, in their emotions...

And here's what Tina at Tina's Book Reviews said about Catching Fire (agree, agree, agree!): Holy on the edge of my seat savvy readers..........

(What I thought was cute about Tina's was, her review of Hunger Games was super short and sweet, but with Catching Fire she had a review almost as long as mine!)

In conclusion. I loved both books, and this is one of those amazing and gratifying moments when a book not only lives up to its hype, in the case of Catching Fire, it surpasses it. Happy reading!


Thursday, January 7, 2010

POV and the Potty... the Saga Reaches a Climax

POV determines the way readers experience the world an author created. It's soooo important a thing to get right. (If you missed the beginnings of the drama, you can catch up HERE). Thanks for all your input everyone, I'm so grateful about my blog especially at times  like this. I can't really hash out these issues with my husband (who doesn't read books) or my family and friends (if you had family and friends like mine you'd understand). Thank you, you guys make me happy and help me out, I hope I do the same for you from time to time. That's what blog-friends are for... hug time? Can I come in for a little blog hug? Aw shucks, a great big hug! ***HUGS***

Here are more updates!

The POV Saga
Thanks to all that hashing out, I'm feeling good again. I've thought it over, and I'm sticking with three POVs (the three friends story with one girl as central protagonist) and leaving the love interest's POV out of it. Maybe I can use him for book promo and free chapter giveaways on my website someday (sweet, sweet, fantasies... dreamy sighhh). For now, I came to a new realization. The chapters I'd written from his POV were for myself, and not beneficial to the story. I have to keep the best interest of the STORY in mind, and not write my own fan-fiction into my novel. Story is first. 

The Potty Training Saga
Last night after my other update, I got the kids ready for bed. All your support really helped believe it or not, especially because, like my writing, I've kept my attempt at potty training a relative secret from family and friends. This might seem weird, but I just don't like hearing constant questions and suggestions which feel like reminders of how poorly I'm doing and not like support. It helps to vent though, so thank you! But ANYWAY, back to the update. After I got the kids ready for bed, I asked my two-year-old if he'd like to sit on the potty like his brothers and sisters. Remember, this is day two of trying the "no pants at all" method. 

He sat.

On the potty.

And we waited.

And waited...

And he got up and started chanting, "We did it! We did it! Oh yeah, uh-huh!" (Don't ask. I was a cheerleader in a former life so maybe it's in his DNA).

The chanting was new. So I checked the potty. GREAT SCOTT!!!!!!! He peed in the potty!!! We danced, we cheered, and guess what? He had a dry night and peed again-- in the potty-- this morning!!! I'm not willing to call victory yet, and it seems quick but remember, we started with the potty in October so it has NOT been quick, BUT HE DID IT!!!!!

Okay, that was a lot of exclamation points, but I've managed to keep awesomeing down to a minimum, I think. I'm just so happy!!!!!

So that was my good news for the week. Oh, and getting Catching Fire delivered yesterday (squeee!!). Now I've gotta take the eight-year-old to school and maybe get a little reading time in. I hope you guys have good news to share, and thank you again so-very-much for your uplifting support and incredibly helpful advice and input. Have an awesome day everyone! (Oh crap, I am totally going to jinx myself with all this good news so early in the morning. Okay, ummmmm, even though I'm super-duper excited, and certain writing problems and potty issues are going in a positive direction, I know I have a whole book to finish and many potty accidents still ahead. I'm hoping things go decently well.) Have a decently awesome day everyone!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Oh My Aching Manuscript

An UPDATE!!, for anyone following my potty training and writing saga (below).

The POV changes at chapter breaks-- NOT in the middle of chapters... and NOT all the characters together trying to force their POV wherever they want-- gosh could you imagine? Also, not omniscient. Each chapter is third person limited to one character. So chapter one is from the MC, the next is from the love interest, then it goes to the MC's BFF, then it comes back to the MC, then to the love interest etc etc etc etc. Wicked Lovely aside, I can't think of another YA that does this so there is probably a reason for that. And I'm basically hosed. I'll go with your advice (everybody, thanks); my muse is in charge now and I'll let it explode in my face later.

Potty Training:
The little guy has yet to have success in the potty today-- sob! I don't know how I convinced him yesterday. Maybe it was a fluke... or he could have been teasing me-- he loves messing with my mind and proving me a liar when we have company. Look at him, playing with his Hot Wheels a mere two feet away from the potty. He sits on it a lot though... I count that as progress. Okay, now he's putting his Hot Wheels into his potty and saying, "Wheee!" Ne-ver-mind.

Uber Random Thoughts on Writing, and Also POTTY TRAINING. Ugh.

Like the title promises, this post will be all over the place.

Random Writing Issue:

I've come to a realization. My wip has four pov's. This is horrific. Or somehow okay. I don't know how it happened, and I'm hoping-- severely hoping-- that at least the guy's pov turns out to be some side-thing I can just cut when the whole story's finished. I severely don't think a book with four pov's is wise. But no matter how hard I try to keep it to the MC and the two side characters who are also integral, the MC's love interest keeps dragging himself in every few chapters. Am I over-stressing? Has anyone read a YA that has four pov's (all in third person past tense, nothing tricky going on there at least)? The Wicked Lovely books come to mind... I remember Aislynn, Keenan, and that winter girl at least... but, is this a stupid way to write my book? Am I setting myself up for heinous revisions later and will I regret giving four characters a voice??

Maybe only my crit partners can tell me for sure, but if possible I'd rather know now, before finishing the whole story. Weigh in, pretty please... I need some guidance.

Some Further Randomness:

Frankie Writes has an incredible book giveaway celebrating her 200 followers!

Sara McClung has an awesome book giveaway celebrating her 100 followers!

Courtney at Critique This presents a Love at First Sight Blogfest! Sign up and let the swooning begin!

And don't forget to enter for a critique by two agented authors at the Shooting Stars contest!

Agent Randomosity:

Shelli at Market My Words has an interview with agent Nathan Bransford!

And speaking of Nathan, the Nathan Bransford's Teen Diary Contest ends today at 4pm Pacific!

The KidLit contest for an agent critique is still going strong!

The mysterious Agency Gatekeeper (AG) is hosting a contest, and not only can you win a copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, everyone wins when she reviews a published book on her blog. She already did this with Shiver, fun and informative stuff!

And here is something from Rachelle Gardner that is worth reading. Over and over and over again until I get it through my thick skull. You might not be here yet.

Some Random Ramblings on Potty Training:

My two year old began his adventure on the potty train yesterday. Technically he "started" in October when we stuck his potty in the bathroom and began the process of brain washing and mind manipulation that would hopefully lead to his "training". Here's what we did while the potty gathered a thick layer of dust:
  • We set the DVR to record episodes of any kids' shows having to do with toilets. Blue Uses the Potty was a hit. MTV's Jackass was not. Unless you ask my husband. Result? Although Blue made him clap and cheer, he did not go near his potty.
  • We bought books... tons and tons of books! Elmo Uses the Potty, Once Upon a Potty, Everybody Poops... there are at least a dozen books on our bookshelf about using the toilet. Result? The little guy seems thoroughly confused about himself, his body, and our choice in literature. Still didn't want to have anything to do with the potty.
  • We showered the older siblings with ridiculous amounts of praise whenever they went to the bathroom.  Result? The eight-year-old daughter thinks we're gross. The five year old son slams the bathroom door behind him now and says, "The bathroom is for my privacy!" And our two-year-old, who was unimpressed with their efforts, still wouldn't sit on that potty.
  • We had Mickey Mouse (our son's hero) go on the potty. A lot. We have Mickey M&M's. We cheered! Result? It took me a while to figure out why my son kept saying, "Mickey splashy! Mickey splashy!" Can you guess? Oh yeah, Mickey was in the actual toilet, and when I fished him out, my two-year-old said, "Good job."
Yesterday, however, everything changed. I decided to take a new approach. The sink-or-swim, I guess. I took the diapers off of him-- for reals-- and let the accidents happen where they may. The results?

He had two accidents. Both times he'd stare at himself, calling, "I spill... Mommy I spill..." Both times I reminded him about the potty. The third time I saw him looking antsy and I told him to sit. Can you believe it? He actually did it! He sat and went!

Two accidents so far, both times he said, "I spill! Oh nooooo... ohhhhhh wellllll," almost like a valley girl. I think he's mocking me. But I totally do NOT sound like a valley girl.

I'm tired already, but determined. So fiercely determined. I did it with the first two, so theoretically, my son's resistance is futile. Yet he mocks me... look at him over there, with that sweet little grin as he hovers near but not ON the potty. Something tells me this is going to be harder than I think.

A Disturbing Lesson Learned:

I need to share this. So I saw this cute tiger cartoon on Youtube about going potty. It looked at least as harmless as all the other books and videos I'd shown him, so I called my son over to watch. Note to self... incredibly important note to self: always pre-screen before automatically showing cartoons to kids. It turned out to be a Japanese cartoon that went from cute to weird to traumatic (for me at least, my son thought it was funny) in much less than the two minutes and thirty-five second run time. And the end... oh the bizarre, horrifying end! I almost put it on the Coaster so you guys could see-- it's hysterical in a sick way (except the end. That's just vile)-- but I couldn't bring myself to do it. If enough of you use comment peer-pressure I may change my mind... yick, I don't know... look it up for yourselves if you dare.

I'm editing this because, maybe it all wasn't as random as I first thought. Is there an analogy for my writing in all of this? Maybe, like potty training, all the writing books and advice from author websites or even from agents can't substitute sitting down and physically writing my book. Maybe I need to pull off the diapers and just write.