Thursday, March 29, 2012

Totally Joe by James Howe

You might not know from the cover, but this is a "gay" book--meaning, of course, that it has a gay character in it, and that the "gayness" is sort of the central issue.

Here's the thing: I want good gay books. I want AMAZING gay books--the kind that make me want to cry or that literally have me laughing. So, I'm sort of on a quest to find one. And if I don't find one, then I'm just going to have to write one myself.

As far as books go, I'll be honest and say Totally Joe wasn't that good.
As far as gay books go, it wasn't too bad.

Before I get too into critiquing this book, I'm going to say that I'm a picky reader. I'm also going to say that I finished this book (and only skipped a few parts), which, lately is a big deal. If I'm not engaged and I'm not invested in the characters then I stop reading.

I love the cover. I think it was done very well, and had I just seen it on a shelf somewhere I would have picked it up and read it. Of, course, I had to type in something like "gay fiction" on the library catalog to find the title and the call number before I saw it on a shelf and picked it up...but still.

I thought that the main character was cute and quirky. I think I would have liked the other characters, too, if they had been more present and I'd seen them rther than just hearing about them.

The story format was intriquing and different, but not done very well. It was written in second person, which I still haven't seen done well, except for once. The footnote idea was cute, but distracting, annoying, and detracted from the story rather than pushing it forward.

I'm not sure what the plot was...or if it even had a plot, which made the ending rather disappointing and boring.

My main issue with the book is that it seemed to follow "Tell, don't Show" rather than the much better phrase "Show, don't Tell." While it may have been true to what a sixth grader would write in an alphabiography for school, it didn't make for a good story. There was too much summarizing and "oh, by the way this happened, but you don't get to see it". I wanted to SEE what was happening rather than hear about it afterwards.

Okay. I'm done now. I'm going to say, this was a good read in some ways. It was occasionally funny. The characters were good. It had a good, strong voice. The format was fun. I probably read to the end because of the voice. Kudos for James Howe for writing this book--particuarly for writing a "gay" book.

Write on!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Agents and Genres

One of my friends in real life posted this question on her blog: How do I manage the agent thing when I want to write in multiple genres?

And what a good question. We don't read just one genre, so why would we want to write only one genre?

I've been to a few big writing conferences (such as WIFYR) and a few small writing retreats (such as the one last week), and because of these events I've had opportunities to talk to real-life literary agents. I don't know all there is to know about an agent, but I've learend a few things.

First off, it's important to find a literary agent who is interested in you as an author and who wants to help you develop a career as a writer; someone willing to invest in you. This is assuming, of course, that you're willing to invest in a writing career yourself.

Another critical thing (which I learned from Steve Fraser) is to find a literary agent who understands what it means to be an artist. Not everyone can crank out a new mystery novel every year nor do they want to. Art is a process. Art unfolds. And artists evolve and change and need to branch out and try their hand at something new. So, when you and an agent are considering working together, be sure to talk about your career goals--do you think you want to write an entire alphabet mystery series (that's 26 books!)? or do you think maybe after this YA novel you want to try adult non-fiction or maybe a picture book? Some agents are willing to represent you in a variety of differnt genres (if you're a strong writer) and those who know the market well will be able to help steer you in the right direction as well as find a good home for your book.

Don't get discouraged about following your wild genre dreams in terms of literary agents--a good one will take care of you. It's possible to find a good one who will represent you and help get your amazing books published.

Write on!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Writing Competition and Fellowship Award

So, have I mentioned already that I'm an assistant for the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference to be held June 18-22? Let me just remind you because it's coming up fast. FAST. And if you haven't already signed up, then you need to do so now. NOW. And sign up for Greg Leitich Smith's class--because not only is Greg a great writer, he also has a really fabulous assistant *cough*ME*cough*cough*.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers announces its First Annual WIFYR Writing Competition and Fellowship Award

So, this really aweseome writing conference for children's book writers and illustrators is giving away a thousand dollar award to the most awesome person...or something like that. Check out the contest details here for a snootier (I mean more professional) wording, and to see how you can win.

But, don't get discouraged thinking there's only one thousand dollar prize and lots of people trying to get it--because there are actually other "smaller" prizes too! I'm not going to give anything away (because that's for WIFYR to do) but I will say that these prizes will be GOOD and well worth your time and effort.

Write on!!

Monday, March 26, 2012


Last summer I learned something important about the way I write.
Then I forgot it.
I remembered it again during my most recent writing group gathering.

I need to brainstorm.
But not just the kind where you draw a little brain with a topic and then branch out all over with other words or ideas that seem to connect to it...not even the kind where I write on a bunch of sticky notes and try to figure out the right sequence of my novel.

I mean the kind where I'm in a group and I say, "I'm having a hard time with this thing...what are your ideas?" In a group of creative writers everyone has ideas for where my story should go and what should happen. This is how I learn.

It's not even that I take and use all of the ideas people give me--maybe I don't even use any of them. But, it's like when I was in high school and I'd ask my mom for help on my calculus homework. She didn't know calculus (and I still don't), but she tried to help me and she'd read a problem and try to work through it with me. She, of course, would do it wrong, and then somehow I would see the right way to do the problem, and then I'd teach her.

It helps to get other writers talking about possibilities. It helps me see my work from different angles and to see where it could go. Even if I don't use any of their ideas, at least some of my own are sparked a little bit.

Brainstorming with my writing group seems to be almost more helpful than a critique session on a piece of writing. My group decided (after helping me brainstorm) that we're going to have a session every once and a while devoted to helping each other generate ideas.

What's better than a creative genius?

Four of them sitting at a table in a coffee shop talking together.

Write on!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

How To Be A Professional Writer

I had the most amazing opportunity this week to attend a writing retreat with literary agent, Steve Fraser. He represents Carol Lynch Williams (my writer heroine), Cheri Earl, and Matthew Kirby, who also presented at the retreat.

I learned a lot during this all-day event, but for now I'm going to tell you one thing that really stuck with me.

Steve said that you become a professional writer the moment you start acting like one.
  • Don't make excuses and don't apologize for not being published yet.

  • Be confident about your writing--you worked hard--but remember not to get a big head; maintain some humility (but not to the point of humiliation).

  • Keep track of where you submit and when. Follow-up with your submission one month after sending it and ask if it was received. Continue to follow-up each month.

  • Be patient. You already know that writing a book takes time. Selling a book takes time, too.

  • Stand when speaking on the phone--it gives you a greater sense of power.

  • Don't be an ass, and don't burn your bridges. The literary world is big, but it's also small--every editor and agent knows most other editors and agents. It's a tight business and you don't want to make a fool of yourself by burning a bridge with someone who later turns out to be your publisher or who knows your publisher or who knows your old agent...

  • Overall, treat people with respect. Respond courteously. And remember that writing is a business as well as an art.
I was most impressed by Steve in the way he acted. Not only did he give good advice, he seemed to live according to his own words. On Wednesday night Steve gave a free, 0pen-to-the-community presentation and Q&A session. One woman asked a question obviously looking for a specific answer. Steve answered and asked if that helped. She said it didn't and continued to present her question a different way. This went on for quite some time and the woman cut Steve off several times while he spoke. She was loud and seemed a little obnoxious, and most of the audience seemed annoyed by her. Steve however, responded graciously to everything she said. He tried to answer her question as best as possible and in doing so left the rest of us with some good information. Not once did he seem irritated by her, although he did say that she asked hard questions.

I want an agent like that.

Write on!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Review: Ash

I checked out Ash by Malina Lo from the library because it came up in a search for lesbian fiction. The back says it's a Cinderella story re-told. And to be honest, the idea is pretty cool.

I've noticed a general trend with lesbian and gay fiction (that I've read, of course I haven't read ALL there is). Maybe I'm picky, but lesbian and gay fiction in general seems to be poorly done--particularly in the Young Adult areas. Probably this is because lesbian and gay fiction is a small market right now (although it's growing), and, as with other small markets (such as the LDS market for example) it's easier for people to get published simply because there's a need for SOMETHING in this area. Unfortunately this book doesn't stray from this disappointing trend.

I will say that the premise is interesting and catches my attention, but the writing is...well...painful.

And here's why:



-was -ing

-passive voice

-shifting POV

-insufficient character development

-too much description

-lots of adverbs: unkindly, gruffly, sharply, quickly, shortly

-tags: Beatrice ordered, Ash objected, Ash asked in a thin voice, Ash replied, Lady Isobel inquired, the woman teased, the huntress affirmed, exclaimed the woman, Ash interrupted, Ash asked curiously...

While the world-building was very interesting (I've realized I do like to see world building because it's quite fascinating), it took over the story and didn't allow for the kind of character development I'd like to see. It also seemed that the story took forever long to get to her "grown up" stage which is where the real story takes place. We all know the general plot of a cinderella story: the mom dies, the dad remarries, the dad dies, the step mom and daughters treat her like shit...But what makes this story different (aside from the very cool magic stuff) is the prince-charming aspect, and let's be honest here--that's what we want to get to!

One of my favorite re-tellings of the Cinderella story is Elle Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. That book is well paced, has a very unique angle, and builds up a very cool world while using this fairy tale that everyone knows. Ash had some similarities to Ella Enchanted, but for me, it just wasn't paced right. It didn't introduce the love interest early enough into the story. It felt very repetitive with the dreams and otherworldly aspects, and overall was just too wordy.

Ash wasn't for me, but I certainly give kudos to Malinda Lo for writing this book. Writing is really HARD. And, although, this one didn't work for me, I know a lot of work went into this book. I particularly enjoyed seeing a lesbian relationship in a magical setting, because most I've read have been contemporary.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Dress-Up Fridays

The office I work in is pretty chill. We all wear jeans and t-shirts most days (although there are a few exceptions every once in a while, of course). During the winter I don't have to wear big leather boots (they make me like 3 inches taller) or baggy fire pants. I can wear my holey jeans and the t-shirt I've had since sophomore year in high school.

A couple co-workers and I were joking about how we should have Dress-up Fridays since we're all so casual through the week (and casual according to our current office standards might be sweat-pants or pajamas).

It seems like I haven't really had a lot of fun lately, so I decided to adopt the Dress-up Fridays tradition starting with this one.

I wore my adorable blue dress (bought in London!), cute lined blousey-shirt thing and black skinny jeans (because it's way too cold outside to not wear pants).

[picture to come if I can either find my camera, or figure out how to use the one on my computer]

I don't know what this has to do with writing...not that it has to, this is my blog, but I am curious about what you writerlies do to keep things fun. Do you dress up to write? Do you dress like your characters to get in the zone?

Write on!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Notes: Don't Be Late

The irony of this post is that today is in reality Thursday. I'm marking this post as Tuesday. You won't really know the theory.

Unfortunately this sly trick doesn't work for critique groups. I was supposed to send out my next manuscript portion on Friday. I sent them on the following Wednesday, mostly because I never got around to it on Friday and I decided if I missed one day, what harm would one more do? This type of thinking leads to forgetting you had something due in the first place and causes your group members to question whether or not you will even be meeting at all for the regular gathering.

As I've thought about past situations, I realized that if I let this happen again, it will be the doom of my group. We will, once again, fizzle out, fade away, and eventually cease to exist. After a month or so of that I will want a new group again.

So, this is my plan. I'm not going to let that happen!

I was late this week. But, oh ho ho I will be right on time next time, you won't have a chance to wonder if I still have a writing group. Of course I will. Also, since my submissions have now gotten into the murky middles (the parts I still need to write) it will push me to get them written so I have something coherant (and in the right sequence) to submit and receive feedback for. yay for motivational writing groups!

What do you do if your group members are late submitting? Or arriving to the meeting?
How do you keep yourself on time? How do you stay motivated about finishing your book--particularly in the murky middles?

Write on!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

This week's book is Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith.

In case I haven't already mentioned before, I will be Greg's assistant for the WIFYR conference coming up in June. I figured it was only right to see what kind of writer my author is.

I'm happy to say, he's pretty good.

This book is told from the perspective of three different characters who are all friends. This 3 different perspectives thing threw me off quite a bit at first and it was difficult to adjust every time it changed particularly because with each change all the same characters were still involved...overall, though, it worked.

A cute love triangle trails through a story about science projects, student court hearings, and an overload of ancestral culture.

Reptile nerds and music geeks will love the little quirky aspects of these characters (and probably will understand them better than I did).
This was an easy read. I finished it in a single morning, occassionally laughing to myself and even feeling a few pangs in my gut from impending...things :)

My one major critique of the book (and my author's writing) has to do with a nit-picky thing I picked up from working so much with Carol Lynch Williams.

no, he didn't have too many adverbs (ly words)--which was fantastic.

There were too many was -ing's.

He was walking.

She was writing.

I was watching.

I think it would be stronger if these had been:

He walked.

She wrote.

I watched.
Other than that, the book was fun, clever, and I want to read more of Greg Leitich Smith's work.

Friday, March 2, 2012

My favorite Book

Okay, this is actually my second favorite book.

Happy Birthday to Dr. Seuss. :)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lyrics as Poetry: Heal Over by KT Tunstall

If I were doing this for an English class I might have to look up information on the writer's life and take some kind of look into what they were saying with these words. I'm so glad I'm not in an English class anymore. And let's be honest, we love music and poetry not because it shows us a piece of someone else's life, but because it reflects a portion of our own.

This one is particularly relevant to how I feel right now. I can imagine the girl I love singing this to me (and she would, too). She's wiped away my tears a number of times already.

Right now I am in the mourning process, the stages of grief. This happens when a loved-one dies. Or when a big change happens in your life like the one happening in mine right now. It happens at different stages of life--like when someone tells you for the first time that Santa isn't real, or when your best friend moves to another state, or when your mom gets re-married, or when your best friend gets married AND moves to a different state.

Some of these processes are quick, and you are healed over before you have the chance to even realize you had been in mourning. Most of the time we don't notice we're grieving. Maybe because it's such a prevailing aspect of life. We are always changing; always losing and gaining; hurting and healing; always moving on and filling in the gaps.

Anyway, here's why I think this song is poetry:
it has rythm and rhyme and a subtle story
it has a paradox that makes so much sense to me now like it never did before recently. "Don't hold on, but don't let go." Right now I'm in the process of letting go of a huge HUGE part of my life. In trying to let go I grabbed onto another, very BEAUTIFUL part and held tight with the expectation that I would find a replacement for what I'm losing. I can't completely let go of life aspect HUGE, because it will always be there no matter what. I just can't hold on to it anymore. But, more importantly, this life aspect BEAUTIFUL isn't something I'm willing to let go of, ever. I just can't hold on. When we hold so tightly to something, it can become obsession--it can become destructive. I've got to trust myself rather than wanting to believe HUGE or hoping BEAUTIFUL will give me direction. Healing takes time, but it also takes trust.

Now listen to the song already. And read the words.

"Heal Over"
It isn't very difficult to see why
You are the way you are
Doesn't take a genius to realise
That sometimes life is hard
It's gonna take time
But you'll just have to wait
You're gonna be fine
But in the meantime

Come over here lady
Let me wipe your tears away
Come a little nearer baby
Coz you'll heal over
Heal over
Heal over someday

And I don't wanna hear you tell yourself
That these feelings are in the past
You know it doesn't mean they're off the shelf
Because pain is built to last
Everybody sails alone
But we can travel side by side
Even if you fail
You know that no one really minds
Come over here lady

Don't hold on but don't let go
I know it's so hard
You've got to try to trust yourself
I know it's so hard, so hard