Friday, December 21, 2012


Everyday, repeating
patterns, the endless sliding
up and down, the crawling,
erratic rhythm.
Always filled with strangers,
and going.
Spreading myself,
everyday filled with more and more
sweat slick bodies pressed
front to back,
filling me but never making me
So brief, their presence, leaving
me emptier than before.
Momentary reprieve
from an existence with
no meaning but to serve, to
fill their needs.

And why?

Because they enter me?
Because they shove
inside me and
push my buttons with their fat
groping fingers?
And were I to close myself to them,
what then?
Deny them
entrance, ignore their needs.
Be complete with myself without
opening for the first one to come
along, to need me,
to use me.

Would I be happier,

or lonely?

© Q Washburn

Friday, December 14, 2012

Idea Files & Why They're Amazing.

(Ignore the crappy quality of my own example images. I took screen shots of them from my website because I was too lazy to hunt down which external hard drives the various images were stored on, haha.)

If you don't already keep an inspiration or idea file, you should. I keep track of anything and everything that inspires me, because I don't know what tiny thing will eventually germinate in my brain and spawn a book or photo series. Images, lyrics, random words and thoughts, even paint chip color names can fuel entire projects. My current book was a brain lighting moment born of trawling my photo and story inspiration folders. (Read about it here.)

Inspiration can be very literal, such as with a retelling. (West Side Story is essentially an updated Romeo and Juliet.) It can also be as abstract as a blurry cell phone picture inspiring a 90,000 word novel. The point is, you'll lose the inspiration if you don't tear it out, write it down, take a photo...whatever necessary to document the moment.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Monday Pep Rally: Agent For a Day

Today's not actually Monday, but one of the YA Misfits linked this during the #PitchWars frenzy, and it looked like fun!

My wishlist if I was an agent for a day? Quirky, dark YA and MG.

Anything spooky, dark, or twisted would make my heart go pitter-pat. Gargoyles, ghosts... I would LOVE an American Horror Story-esque YA with great setting and voice. A MG or YA roadtrip series like Supernatural or So Weird would also be awesome. Basically, if the Midnight Society would chat it up around their campfire, I'm your girl. (Are You Afraid of the Dark?)

Pretty much any high concept second-world fantasy would make me perk up and take notice. No vampires or werewolves. Love zombies, but it would have to be really unique and pulse-racing. No love triangles unless extraordinarily well done. (Or you turned the trope on its head.) No Hard Sci-fi or High Fantasy. Thrillers are iffy, but would love a good period detective story with quirk, like Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Dick Tracy.

Anything with natural disasters...earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, wildfires... My FAVORITE movie genre is disaster flicks, so if you can bring that same sense of scale and impending doom to a book with compelling characters? MINE.  Historical disaster re-imaginings, such as with Krakatoa or Pompeii, would also be right up my alley.

Not opposed to Contemporary, but it needs to be quirky and different, like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, or have a strong setting like a summer camp or allegedly haunted house. (Haunted summer camp!)

If you send me something campy or loveable like my favorite 80's movies (Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles, Little Monsters, Goonies, Back to the Future) I would love you forever.

This list is pretty specific, but if I were handed one of these in my internship, I would squeal and dance and read it RIGHT THEN. In fact, I've read some pretty fantastic haunting stories for my internship and you can bet my reports were especially enthusiastic. Somebody please go write these things and then get them published so I can read them, pleeeeease?

And if you have written something like anything above and are looking for a beta or critique partner, pick me! ^_^


Now go to The YA Misfits blog and do this challenge!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pitch Wars!

Pitch Wars is this fantastic contest run by Brenda Drake over at her blog. Unagented writers can submit an "application" consisting of a query letter and the first five pages of their manuscript to three of the eleventy-hundred (slight exaggeration) mentors participating. Mentors are outrageously awesome industry folk (authors, editors, interns) who will mentor/coach one person from their pile of applicants for a month. They'll read the mentee's book, suggest edits, and help them polish their query.

Then comes the battle round.

All of the mentees get thrown into a ring where they must battle to the death for the attention of over a dozen agents. Whichever mentee gets the most requests wins! (But everybody wins because seriously...mentoring and a panel of agents? That's beyond awesome.)

Did I mention the ninjas? There are ninja mentors swooping in to snatch up unclaimed applicants to mentor.

And the Twitter. All the Twitter. #PitchWars is a ridiculous time-suck and I love it so much.

And did I mention the super secret #SekritProject that's been hint-dropped all over the place? I don't know what's going down, but it sounds big. So. Much. Cryptic.

Also, as if the mentors weren't awesome enough, most of them are sending personalized rejections. To the 2000 applications they received. 0.o

No wonder writers drink.

So...I applied. Now I'm waiting. For the 12th when notifications go out. For the love of cheez-its and all that is holy, the anticipation is keeeeeling me. I don't even care at this point if I get chosen. The fact that everyone is so awesome and I've cut 3k words from my manuscript in a fit of panic-induced polishing is win enough for me.

Still, it would be pretty awesome. ^_^

Friday, November 30, 2012

Sharing Good Books: Dust City

Dust City - by Robert Paul Weston

Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? His son, that's who.
Ever since his father's arrest for the murder of Little Red Riding Hood, teen wolf Henry Whelp has kept a low profile in a Home for Wayward Wolves...until a murder at the Home leads Henry to believe his father may have been framed.
Now, with the help of his kleptomaniac roommate, Jack, and a daring she-wolf named Fiona, Henry will have to venture deep into the heart of Dust City: a rundown, gritty metropolis where fairydust is craved by everyone-and controlled by a dangerous mob of Water Nixies and their crime boss leader, Skinner.
Can Henry solve the mystery of his family's sinister past? Or, like his father before him, is he destined for life as a big bad wolf?


If you have a soft spot for edgy kidlit and fairytale retellings, this is the book for you.
I was wandering the YA section of the main branch of the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh (where I used to live), when DUST CITY caught my eye. It sounded cute, I liked the idea of turning LRR on its head and exploring the story from the wolf's (son's) perspective in a more modern setting. One of 20 or so books I checked out, I kind of put off reading it because there were some I was a little more eager for. I totally did not expect this book to be what it was.

DUST CITY surprised me. A lot edgier than I expected, it dealt with some pretty powerful themes... drugs, gangs, elitism, racism, a child's relationship with an incarcerated parent, as well as the more standard outsider, awkward crush, and general conspiracy goodness. There was even a scene that's right up there with the most disturbing and graphic I've ever read. Yeah. Good stuff. 

I'm a sucker for world building. If it fails, you lose me. If you do it brilliantly, I'm pretty much blind to the negatives and sins, whatever they may be. I honestly can't tell you if I disliked anything about Dust City, because I was so fully immersed in the world. I love that in a book. Please take me somewhere I've never been and make me believe it. Weston made me believe. 

What I liked about this book--and what you might not like, if your idea of a great wolf is a sexy man who only chooses to turn furry to save the woman he loves--is that it really is like a fairytale all grown up. It feels like a fairytale. It's definitely fantasy...wolves, fairies, goblins, etc...but beautifully creepy fantasy. 

I loved the setting, and there's an interesting plot that's fun in it's own right, even as it explores some pretty heavy themes. Kids and teens deal with drugs everyday. If you don't think so, you're blind, naive, or both. This is a great book that deals with the issue of drugs without being like... drugs are bad, mmmk? Not to mention it's just fun. 

I don't know what I expected when I picked this up, but I never imagined it would be a book with so much depth. I'd recommend it to anyone with a strong stomach and a big imagination, especially if they enjoy fairytale retellings.

Also--this book only has 484 ratings on Goodreads. That kind of surprises me. If you want to read something a little different, with great characters that don't include a pretty yet klutzy heroine, please give this a try. These are just my thoughts and views, but I really do think the author is fantastically talented. 


Friday, November 23, 2012

"Revision" might be my favorite word.


It's not a dirty word. It's not obscene. I promise.

When I'm self-editing, there's a lot going on in my head. Some revision passes are for specifics like pacing, plot, and characters, but once those are banged into shape I look at other things. Smaller things.

Is this chapter/scene/paragraph/sentence necessary? (If it doesn't advance plot or character, then the answer is no. If it's not necessary for clarity, the answer is no. If your only reason for keeping it is that real people do it, for the love of Jeebus get rid of it. If you're only keeping it because you like how it sounds even though you know it's unnecessary, GET RID OF IT. People WILL notice.)

Is this chapter/scene/paragraph/sentence in the right place? (Trust me. I rearrange sentences like an OCD women rearranges her furniture. Rearrange for flow, rearrange for clarity...things are seldom exactly where they belong when you first write them.)

Is there a better/wittier/more emotional/more concise/punchier/whatever-ier way to rewrite this boring/long/cliched sentence? (Yes. Always yes.)

Is there a better way to re-structure this sentence? (A.k.a Is there a simpler way to rephrase this? Simple is king. People hate your overly complex sentences. Trust me on this one.)

Do I repeat a word or sentence structure in close proximity? (Don't.)

Do I repeat an unusual word or phrasing several times on one page? One chapter? One manuscript? (Please don't. I actually keep track of stuff like this unintentionally. I will literally scream if you use the word scrunched 43 times in your book. Find your pet words/phrases and kill them with fire.)

Is there a better word to use here? (Probably.)

Am I only keeping this sentences/paragraph/scene because I love the writing/I'm so witty? Bite the bullet (<---Cliche!) and kill your darlings. You want your reader to be focused on your story, not your beautiful, impossibly clever prose. (If you're a Literary writer, ignore me.) 

Is this sentence grammatically correct? Is everything spelled correctly? Did I use the correct homophone? (I've stopped reading books I've paid for because of  extreme homophone abuse. I don't care if it's the final installment of a trilogy.  I go through a series of emotions: annoyance, anger, rage, disbelief, more rage, amusement, maniacal laughter. I hate throwing my Kindle in a fit of abused homophone induced rage. Don't make me do this.)

There are always going to be things we don't catch. 
That's understandable.

By picking apart your manuscript on the word and sentence level, you'll catch most obvious typos and spelling/grammar issues. If the subject or verb is missing from a sentence, odds are you'll notice if you're trying to think of punchier verbs and subjects.

When I'm reading for sentence structure, I still keep an eye on grammar/spelling/typos. I have a subscription to The Chicago Manual of Style Online so I can check pesky grammar questions as they come up. No one expects you to be perfect, but they do expect you to look like you care about your craft. If you don't know, look it up. Behold the miracle of Google. Go ahead. I'll wait.


Agents, Editors, assistants, interns--they're all looking for reasons to reject your manuscript. If you send in one that's been polished, they'll notice. Trust me. I might only be a lowly intern, but it drives me crazy when I find multiple typos and misspellings on every page. I even tend to overlook occasional minor grammar oopsies, but there is no excuse for typos. That's just laziness.

Please. For the love of all that is caffeinated, do yourself a favor. Do your agent/editor a favor. Do their assistants and interns a favor. Proofread. Revise. HONE YOUR CRAFT.  Editors aren't there to fix things that you can easily fix yourself.

Final word of advice? Follow publishing industry blogs (agents, editors, writers), and follow those same people on Twitter. If you're serious about being published, don't be lazy. Do your homework and it will pay off.

<3 you all.

Now go write. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

When Vision Exceeds Execution

It wasn't until a third of the way through school that one of my instructors put a name to a problem that plagued almost every beginning photographer: Vision Exceeds Execution. It stuck with me. Years later I still use it to keep myself in check. (Do I have the skills to do this project justice? Yes? Do it. No? Set it aside, keep learning. Come back when I'm better.)  I pick my battles, because sometimes it seems like waiting on an idea too big to do now will keep me from getting discouraged.

I've had the same problem with writing. 

The summer I turned sixteen, I outlined my first novel. It will forever remain trunked.  I never wrote more than a few chapters.  I'd done all the plotting and world-building, but it was too big for my First Attempt. I couldn't even wrap my head around where or how to begin. 

Attempt Two is actually worth writing. It’s my my white whale. It was--is--so huge, so perfect in my head, that I still feel like I'll mess it up if I try...and I've been sitting on it for eight years.  

Attempt Three--I had The Idea, the one that would finally exist on paper. I started and almost finished a novel for the first time ever. What changed was NaNoWriMo. I gave myself permission to fail. This is important, peoples. You're allowed, and even encouraged, to suck. And suck I did. That story is trunked for now while I figure out how to unravel the beautiful mess I created for myself. (A wonderful learning experience I would never trade for anything.)
So for Attempt Four, I wanted to try something different. I took an idea out of my idea folder with two pages of notes and no clear plot and just dove in. The words just spilled out. Every page was a surprise. And I finished my first novel ever. Why? Probably because I tried pantsing instead of over-outlining. Because I didn't have a monumental  vision of what this book had to be, it evolved naturally without any pressure. I'm figuring out my process.

See, the problem isn't my ability or lack thereof, but my expectations. When I build up an idea in my head until it's this perfect, shining thing, I set myself up for failure. There's no way I can reach such unrealistic heights with novice abilities. My ideas will almost always be greater than my ability to execute them. And that's okay. As an artist, giving yourself permission to fail is the most freeing thing you can do. 

Permission To Fail doesn't mean disregard for the craft itself. It just means that no matter how much you research, or how much effort you put in, you will never attain perfection. And that's okay, too. I've let fear of imperfection hold me back from too many projects. Even if you utterly and spectacularly fail at your attempts, you can always try again later. That's the beauty of art. Trunk it and come back when you can figure out where you went wrong. It's okay to suck. In complete suckitude, there are countless learning opportunities.


Ideas are easy. Writing (creation in general) isn't. So you have no idea of how to tell a story? Learn by doing. Educate yourself in the process.

My advice to myself, to other writers, to artists starting out in any medium, is this: hone your craft. Set aside your pressure-filled "perfect" idea if you have to and work on something you can allow yourself to suck at while figuring things out. 

I keep learning and writing and am finally (mentally) ready to tackle my white whale. It's been almost ten years in the making and will probably be one or two more as I finish this current novel, untangle my trunked project, and perhaps write one or two more that are nagging more insistently than my ever-patient dream project.

The moral? Don't let fear hold you back. The only way you will become a better writer/photographer/painter/installation artist is by doing. You'll fail. You'll recognize your failure. You'll do better next time. 

(That said, don't fall so in love with your ideas that you get ahead of yourself. Don't neglect craft thinking that your idea will carry your art. It won't. Poor technical skills might kill your awesome idea. Please don't do that. Treat your art with the care and respect it deserves. Learn the ins and outs of your field so that when you finally tackle your Mona Lisa or whatever, your readers/viewers/listeners will  be just as enamored of it as you are.)

And don't be afraid to try. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Sharing Good Books: Nation

Nation - by Terry Pratchett
Alone on a desert island — everything and everyone he knows and loves has been washed away in a storm — Mau is the last surviving member of his nation. He’s completely alone — or so he thinks until he finds the ghost girl. She has no toes, wears strange lacy trousers like the grandfather bird, and gives him a stick that can make fire.
Daphne, sole survivor of the wreck of the Sweet Judy, almost immediately regrets trying to shoot the native boy. Thank goodness the powder was wet and the gun only produced a spark. She’s certain her father, distant cousin of the Royal family, will come and rescue her but it seems, for now, that all she has for company is the boy and the foul-mouthed ship’s parrot, until other survivors arrive to take refuge on the island. Together, Mau and Daphne discover some remarkable things (including how to milk a pig, and why spitting in beer is a good thing), and start to forge a new nation.

Encompassing themes of death and nationhood, Terry Pratchett’s new novel is, as can be expected, extremely funny, witty and wise. Mau’s ancestors have something to teach us all. Mau just wishes they would shut up about it and let him get on with saving everyone’s lives!


I bought this book while on vacation to read on the beach, and it was seriously the best purchase I made the whole week. Okay, except for butterbeer at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. NOM.

It breaks my heart a little bit that books I've literally hated have higher ratings on Goodreads than NATION. Terry Pratchett is a master. This book? So, so good.   

Pratchett explores one of the biggest issues we grapple with as human beings, regardless of age. Faith. With his trademark humor and wit, Pratchett delves deep into themes of death, questioning faith, and what it means to truly belong. 

NATION went surprisingly deep. The viewpoint shifts between Mau and Daphne, and both voices are refreshing and really, really well handled. 

The world-building was fantastic. I really believed in Mau's Nation. The characterization, especially of secondary and minor characters, really underscores Pratchett's mastery of the craft. I felt like I knew and understood characters who had no more than a line or two. 

I get the feeling when people say 'beach book' that this isn't what they mean. But NATION was the definitive beach book for me. It was humorous, deep, and really made me stop and think throughout. I'm pretty sure I cried at the end, too. I was fully immersed, and reading this book on the beach only heightened the 'island' experience. 

If you like smart, funny books, I can promise you that you will love this book. It's so good. I wanted a different ending, but that's just because I've read too many romance novels and always want the perfect happy ending tied up in a bow, even if it's not the right ending for the book. Even if it's not the ending I wanted, the ending I got was the perfect one for the book. Pratchett didn't pull any punches and didn't cheapen the writing by giving readers what they think they want instead of what they need.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The 'Write What You Know' Myth

"Write what you know."

This phrase gets misinterpreted almost more than certain religious tomes. It's one of those vague bits of writerly advice that might have a kernel of helpfulness buried in the muck, but the words themselves have become meaningless. Even so, people keep throwing it around, perpetuating bad writing and confusion. This post is just my interpretation. Don't stalk me with sporks and ninja throwing stars if you see it differently. Again with the many interpretations bit.

Write What You Know (WWYK) doesn't mean transcribing your life events. If your  characters break up, you shouldn't make it exactly like your break up. In my Puke or Death post, I talked about how writing is reality, but better. WWYK is, too. Reality, but better.

Everyday dialogue is filled with boring crap that people don't want to read. When real life events are going down, we say the first thing that comes to mind. We act in predictable ways. Both are things to avoid in writing. People don't want to read about boring, predictable characters. They want to be entertained, transported, and that holy grail of reading, enlightened.

WWYK isn't an excuse to regurgitate your life events instead of creating living, breathing characters--it's a reminder to use your life experiences to connect with other human beings. It's using what you know to write what you don't.

Maybe you've never been in a relationship but you need to write a break-up scene. Have you ever had a fight with your best friend? Have you ever been betrayed by someone close to you? (Or done the betraying?) The same feelings of bitterness, anger, confusion, frustration, etc will be similar. You don't have to have been through the things your protagonist goes through in order to write them convincingly. You just have to connect with your character as a human (Alien? Vampiric?) being.

J.K. Rowling has never been a magical little boy in an abusive household locked in a cupboard BUT she wrote it convincingly. Neil Gaimen is certainly not a little girl with a creepy, button-eyed other mother. As far as I know, Phillip Pullman never had a daemon or a polar bear friend. These authors created amazing, convincing characters and worlds because they are good at studying human nature. They create characters that resonate with us, characters that are so powerful we are fully convinced they are real--and they do it all without cheating the reader and themselves by taking the easy way out. That is, regurgitating every emotionally charged conversation they've ever had.

In the movie Inception, there's one line that always reminds me of writing. When Leo DeCaprio's character is showing Ellen Page how to be a dream architect, he tells her never to recreate anything from memory. Take a lamppost or a window pane here, a sign there, and use them to create something new. It's the same with story crafting. Bits and pieces of reality--a snippet of conversation overheard on the daily commute, the fluttery feelings of a first crush, a particularly striking visual committed forever to memory--those things build people and worlds. 

WWYK isn't an excuse to cop out. It's a gentle reminder that we're all human and so have human experiences we can use to connect with our readers. Readers are people, too.

So next time you're tempted to model your characters' split after your own break up, leave the words and take the emotions. Your character will say what's right for her without you putting your words in her mouth. And because you trusted her, there will be wittier lines, irony, deeper truths, and symbolism you never managed in your real life split--because you've taken the time to craft it and milk the scene for everything you can get from it, in a way that's true to your character.

Reality but better.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fear and the Art of Procrastination

When I finished the first draft of my current project, I realized I had a problem--my subplots ate my main plot. It was more than fixable; I mapped out the scenes and information that need to be added, then wrote another 20,000 words or so. My current draft is a completely different story from that first version. It wasn't easy, though. It was demoralizing to write 'The End' and then realize I had another 20k to go.  And more than that, switching from editing back to writing is hard. I got stuck in this hyper-critical place.

So instead of writing, I fell into the hole of not writing. I went to the library and checked out ten books I've been meaning to read. I lived on Twitter. I daydreamed about taking naps. I even poked at my query letter, hoping that if I worked on it bit by snarling bit, it wouldn't be this huge task when I finally NEED to write it. Like Melinda Mae, if I start at the tail and tackle it bite by bite, eventually I'll eat an entire whale. (Hopefully it won't take me 89 years...)

But none of that helped my novel.  (Well, except maybe the whale bit. That's some good advice, Shel Silverstein...)

My book lingered in limbo. Because my brain was stuck. Because I was tired. Because I was scared.

My trip to the library was actually the thing that got me back on track. I read a fantastic book and it fired me up to finish mine. The prose was beautiful, the foreshadowing and world building subtle. It made me realize just how far I had to go in beating my WIP into submission, but it reminded me why I'm doing this. I love my story. I believe in it and want to give others the same emotional high I got reading that book.

It's easy to fall into the trap of 'I'm not a real writer, so what's the point? Everyone is going to realize I'm a fraud. Why did I think I could write a book?' But this is how artists think. (Well… some artists. Some think they're the next J.K. Rowling.) I'm the same way about my photographs, always expecting someone to call me out as getting lucky shots instead of having skill. On the suggestion of one of my photography instructors, I read the book Art &Fear. It was like someone snatched all the insecurities out of my head and laid them bare in paper and ink. (Go read it if you haven't. Writer/painter/animator/composer/photographer/sculptor, it'll resonate. Trust me.)

Making art is intensely personal. We pour out our very souls and put ourselves out there, naked and vulnerable, to be judged. It's hard. But we're hardest on ourselves. Much easier to bury myself in a mountain of books or play on Twitter or nap. Or even shuffle words around and pretend to work.

At the end of the day, the only person I'm cheating when I procrastinate is myself.  I don't have an agent or an editor to put the fear of deadlines into me.  I have to be self-motivated. If I trunk this novel and never write again, no one will know. But the stories in my head aren't going to go away by ignoring them. The only way to quiet the voices is to write them. It can be painful and difficult, but most times it's invigorating and FUN. It's a natural high when things come together just so, when some small, arbitrary decision ends up blindsiding the plot 200 pages later. I LOVE that feeling. It might be my favorite part of writing. (Brain's are so cool!)

( used to have this totally sweet pin. And now they don't. Sadness.)

If it was easy it wouldn't be rewarding. So from now on, instead of procrastinating I'm going to give myself permission to suck. Maybe today I'll write a bunch of lousy lines that I won't be able to use. Tomorrow, though, maybe I'll be back in that wonderful place where I can hardly type fast enough to get the words all down. I'll never reach that joyful creation space if I don't first confront the blinking cursor and perhaps weep a few bitter writer tear droplets.

I don't know what I'm so afraid of anyhow. That's what revisions are for, right?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Entangled Intern

I applied for an internship with Entangled Publishing and was accepted!

I'm so excited for this opportunity to gain experience in a field I'm interested in joining. Books make my heart go pitter-pat and this internship is books, books, and more books. <3333

It's only been a week so far, and I love it. It's mostly reading, so that's not surprising, but still.

All the books.
All of them.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sharing Good Books: Sugar Rush

Sugar Rush - by Rachel Astor      
There’s nothing quite like your first bite.

Dulcie Carter has been running her family’s homemade sweet shop, Candy Land Confections, on her own since her mom passed away. But business is slow and rent is high, so Dulcie knows if she wants to keep her mom’s dream alive, she’ll need a miracle. Winning the annual Assembly of Chocolatiers competition will change everything, if only she can overcome her fears and bring herself to create something new for the first time in a long time.

Then she meets Nick, a molten-hot guy with a sexy smirk and chocolate brown eyes. The attraction is stronger than any sugar rush—until she discovers he’s set to inherit his family’s big-box candy shop in town, which is her strongest competitor for first prize. Nick’s got his own reasons for needing the win, but then being around Dulcie is proving addictive.

As the competition heats up, so do the sparks between them. Can they keep their sights on winning, when love might be the sweetest prize of all? (Goodreads)

This book was utterly adorable. I've probably read at least a thousand romance novels in my life, and this one stood out as unique for several reasons.

#1: Candy. The plot revolves around CANDY. It's sweet and feel good, and even though I got anxious at one point, it never felt angst-ridden... which I like.

#2: Awkward characters. Both of the main characters are adorably awkward around each other. The guy isn't this suave alpha. He's just a guy. The girl isn't some Mary Sue who lets the guy walk in and boss her around. They're real people and act like real people attracted to each other. It's refreshing.

#3: Plot other than romance. I'm always disappointed when I read a romance novel that practically has no plot except the characters getting together. I'm not saying this happens all the time in romance, but I found myself more focused on the candy plot and more anxious about the candy plot than about will they/won't they (which is GOOD, because it's a romance novel--of course they will).

#4: No sex. I didn't actually realize this until I finished the book. When it did finally dawn on me, I realized why the book felt so light and adorable and enjoyable. Besides the candy, of course. I tend to skim sex scenes in romance novels for the dialogue. I know, shame on me. But the fact that this didn't have any sex was a huge bonus for me. If you like your romance steamy, you should pick this up anyhow, because it's so freaking cute.

#5: Adorable. If you ever watched the show Pushing Daisies and loved it for the adorably awkward romance and bright colors and pie, then you will love this book. It feels like Pushing Daisies. I LOVE Pushing Daisies, so for me to say that means something.

Other than the fact that this book will make you want candy hardcore, I can't really think of anything I didn't like. (And is wanting candy reeeeally a bad thing?) There's also a recipe at the back for one of the candies in the book. That's right. CANDY RECIPE. Now go. Buy. Read.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Endings, Beginnings... Middley-bits.

Not-so-secretly I’ve been working on a novel. My second, actually. But it’s my first completed, because the other is cooling off on my thumb drive while I figure out how to beat it into submission.

So on June 20th I wrote THE END for the first time and it was fantastic. I can’t describe the feeling. It’s completely different from one of my photographs, because there’s no “moment” of finish with those. Hell, I’m never finished. Some of them I’ll be tinkering with until I die.

But writing THE END doesn’t mean I’m done with this novel, either, because now I’m so deep in revisions that it’s all I can think about. I woke up the other morning muttering about the word blistering being in the wrong scene. Seriously.

It’s just nice to reach an actual milestone and feel that sense of accomplishment.

Oh, and another milestone passed; my birthday.

So yesterday the country turned 236, I turned 26, and the wheel in the sky keeps on turning.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Puke and Death (or Reality Without the Puke)

So it's mid-June, and writers everywhere are burying themselves in their manuscripts, fingers flying fast and furious as they struggle to meet the 50,000 word NaNo goal. In June? Yes, in June. Camp NaNoWriMo is in full swing.

I met my 50k camp word count on the 14th, but have a personal goal to finish the novel before the end of the month. I'm aiming for about 75k, and am somewhere around 62k right now. I have a feeling I'll finish.

Writing a novel in such a short time is a little ridiculous, but I've loved every second of it. Instead of getting stuck in my head, I'm letting the story pour out as fast as I can type it. Later, during the second draft, I'll do all the language polishing that I'm yearning to do now.

Before that, I'm struck by another interesting thing that has happened when just pouring the words onto the page without carefully editing as I go (like I usually do).


Seriously. I've counted at least five instances of characters… well.. emptying the contents of their stomachs. This isn't the Exorcist I'm writing--it's YA Fantasy. But it's edgy, and after some of the dark, sick, twisted things I put my characters through, it seems many have a tendency to throw up.

When I realized this, I spent a moment face palming. Or several moments. Puke? Seriously? Once I could understand. There's some heavy shit in this book. But at least five times? Really?

Which brings me to reality vs. fiction. Perhaps in real life, when faced with death and torture and rape and any number of horrific things, a person's natural inclination is to puke. Or scream hysterically. Or go catatonic. Who knows. Pick your coping mechanism.

In fiction, characters can't just go catatonic when things get too scary or psychologically damaging. It doesn't make for a good story or a very compelling character. We don't want to read about characters just like us. We want to read about characters like us but better.

In my first attempt at writing a book, I didn't have a single instance of puking. There was some heavy, twisted stuff in that book as well, but the characters handled things in ways that were truer to them. Reality but better. Reality without the puke. 

In my haste to plow through this novel before I lose momentum, I've let a little too much reality into my fantasy world. I've made a note about it for now. I refuse to go back and edit out any of the regurgitation until I write the words 'THE END'. Because I promised myself no editing.

Will anyone puke in the final draft? Maybe. Possibly even two people at the same time. Who knows. But when someone empties his stomach, I want it to mean something. If someone loses her lunch, I want it to be because what has just happened is so powerful, so horrific, that these fictional characters that have dealt commendably with other horrific things are brought to their knees.

But puke still isn't necessarily the best way to handle that. 

So the moral? Whatever your characters do in your story, make it a little bit better than real. Be true to the character, true to the world, and make them worth reading about. Puking is easy. It's like tears. Just because a character cries doesn't mean we feel sad with them. Just because a character's stomach turns inside out doesn't mean we feel as disgusted, horrified, and traumatized, unless it's from picturing the vomitorium that their world must be.

Now I’m off to write the climax, which hopefully will involve plenty of death, mayhem, destruction, pyrotechnics, but not a single instance of vomit. 

(What? You didn't seriously think I would pass up the opportunity to put half a dozen pictures of cartoons puking on my blog did you? Bwahahahah? As if! You should've realized you never make it out without some awesome exorcist-style decorative flair. Now go and be queasy!)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sharing Good Books: Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty - by Elle LothLorien

Sure, Claire Beau thought about sleeping with her doctor. With his moss green eyes and sexy petulance, neurologist Brendan Charmant is definitely worth fantasizing about. But she didn’t actually do it…did she?

Claire should be able to answer this simple question, but she has no idea. All she knows is that she met him in a sleep lab for an appointment one day, and woke up at home seven weeks later to find that he’s suddenly her warm and loving boyfriend instead of her cold and remote doctor. According to Brendan, her brother and all their friends, Claire is in the middle of a whirlwind love affair with him, a claim bolstered by the weeks of steamy emails and text messages the two of them have exchanged. But to Claire, he's just the arrogant doctor with only a passing interest in finding a diagnosis for her debilitating symptoms.

Claire Beau is afflicted with “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome,” a mysterious disorder that causes her to sleep for days at a time, and black out for entire weeks. Dr. Brendan Charmant might have given her the best night (or two, or three) of her life, but she has no memory of ever seeing him out of his white coat. Still, she can’t help finding herself more than willing to fall for him (again). After all, doesn’t every girl deserve a Prince Charming?

But when Brendan’s arrested, and she discovers that she’s the alleged victim of a heinous crime that she can’t recall, she’s crushed to find that her dream-come-true was all just a cruel illusion. Despite having no memory of the actual crime, there are mountains of damning evidence against him. So why is she risking everything to save both of them from this hellish, waking nightmare?


What got me interested in reading this book was finding out the author wrote a version with an alternate ending. (Janet Reid had posted about it on her blog.) There's something very tempting about getting to see the consequences of a different set of actions and decisions. Reading an interview with the author, she said something along the lines of going back to the tipping point and rewriting it from there. Ms. Lothlorien really cared about making sure the alternate timeline existed because the characters made slightly different choices, not just to appease fans in camp love rival. When I read that, I was sold. Someone who cares that much had to write an interesting book, right? Right. She didn't just swap out boy #2 for boy #1 and call it good. (Did I mention it was a love triangle?)

Yeah. Normally I rant and rave about love triangles. In YA fiction. Romance novels are a little different. I don't see them nearly as much, and if it furthers the plot, then I say go for it. When I say I've read several hundred romance novels in my life, I'm probably being conservative in my estimate. No joke. I won't disparage romance novelists and say once you've read one you've read them all, but there is a general story arc that's almost universal to romance novels. When you're well-read in a genre, you can probably tell how many pages are left just by what's happened without even looking at page numbers. It's not that they're predictable, they just follow a pretty standard format. And yeah... you know the girl has to end up with Mr. Right. It's law.

So this love triangle? Pretty interesting. There's no insta-love, well, not really anyway. There's also not the familiar romance arc. I looked down, sure I was 75% of the way through the book, but I was only like 22% done. Yeah. Shocker. And I kept reading until 4am because I couldn't put it down. I kept telling myself to go to bed but I couldn't. I HAD to know what happened next. I'd read spoilers (because of the interview talking about how she handled the alternate ending), and I still had no idea how it was going to all work out for these characters. I was anxious. There was some pretty serious shit going down.

This wasn't your girl meets hunk, girl and hunk have opposing goals or are at odds in other tension and conflict inducing ways, girl and hunk work it out and achieve happily ever after kind of story.

The MC doesn't remember big chunks of her life due to a medical condition, even though she's up and walking around. Certain events during those black out weeks cause her already complicated life to unravel around her.

I didn't need all the surfer lingo, honestly. It was like reading the surfer version of A Clockwork Orange. Yeah, she interpreted, but I think a sprinkle of surfer speak would've given us some flavor without reminding me why I don't care for Pointbreak. (Which she mentioned, funnily enough.) 

Was it transformative? Probably not. Then again, I don't expect to be transformed by every book I read, just transported. Did it transport me? Heck yeah. Did it turn the standard romance format on its ear (in a really good way?) Yup, yup. Will I read other things by this author? Oh yes. After all that, I'm not sure I'll read the alternate ending. I think she ended up with the right person, and I'd be a little squicked at her ending up with who I think is Mr. Wrong. Still, if I ever feel like rereading it, I might get the alternate version and read that instead, just to see. (I mean... at 2.99 it was pretty affordable.)

It was refreshing. I'd recommend it to people that don't need their romances to follow the standard arc, like some mystery, and don't mind feeling anxious because of shit hitting the fan.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wild Rumpus

Maurice Sendak--author  and illustrator--will always be remembered. All you artists and makers and doers, take a moment today for a wild rumpus... in memory of a true artist.

" I was gonna hide somewhere where nobody would find me and express myself entirely. I'm like a guerrilla warfare in my best books."
 --Maurice Sendak

And if you don't know anything about this visionary, Google is your friend. This man was and is an inspiration for children, for the LGBT community, for human beings.

"Please don't go. We'll eat you up. We love you so."
-Where the Wild Things Are

Friday, April 27, 2012

Sharing Good Books: Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants - by Sara Gruen
As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

I seriously wish I could just say 'read it', but it deserves so much more than that. People have been telling me to watch the movie forever, and it's sat in my Netflix queue just as long. I honestly don't know why, either. Anything circus related usually has me chomping at the bit. I'm so, so glad that I didn't watch it, though, and read the book first. (EDIT--especially because I just watched it, and trust me, the book is so much better it's astounding.)

Imagine my surprise and delight when I got to my rental condo in Florida and one of the books on the shelf was Water for Elephants. I snatched it up, spun in circles, and exclaimed to the whole room how much I'd wanted to read it. We were in Sarasota, FL, so it was kind of perfect given Sarasota was the winter home of the Ringling Bros Circus. Caught up in this book, I desperately wanted to visit the Ringling Circus Museum, but at $25 a ticket, I passed on that. (I am full of regret and plan to rectify this next April. CIRCUS MUSEUM. Ugh. Damn me and my thrifty tendencies.)

I LOVED this book. Every few pages I'd tell my little sister exactly how much I loved it. I'm pretty sure she got sick of it.

I love Slaughterhouse Five for the narrative structure. (Among other things, of course.) I read it almost a decade ago, so am due for a reread, but it still sticks in my mind as brilliant. Vonnegut jumped around in time, and for some reason, that non-linear structure really does it for me. Too often I guess the end of movies and books, and I suppose I like non-linear because it's harder to see exactly what's coming. Not to mention it's just fun.

Water for Elephants is kinda like that, minus the aliens. We alternate between a young twenty-something Jacob, and a ninety-something Jacob (he can't quite recall anymore). Part of what makes it so fantastically done is that because of his advanced years, the flashbacks make sense. He loses track of time. The flow between past and present is handled magnificently. There's even a circus in the present time to tie it all together.

The characters are so real, sometimes disgustingly so. Sometimes I wanted to throw the book because I'd get so angry at August. I alternated between disgust, delight, terror, anxiety, and a whole other slew of emotions. It felt real. I was actually shocked when I finished the book and looked at the author and saw it was written by a woman. The male voice was so strong and authentic, I just assumed the author was male. That's good writing. She transported me.

I was so invested in these characters, I literally shouted I'd get so angry. In the present timeline, when Jacob's family let him down, I was pissed. I was more than pissed. I was livid. I turned to my sister and explained the whole situation just so I could have someone to complain to about how incredibly unfair and tragic it all was. (She's thirteen. I'm twenty-five. She humored me.) Jacob was a real person to me. He deserved better. Also, there were clever writerly things Gruen did that I appreciated. (Did I mention how much I love non-linear narrative?)

I actually think the least developed character to me was Marlena, which is kinda funny given she's the love interest. But maybe she was just a little overshadowed by some of the saltier characters like Walter. You could really see the passion the author had for the history of circus. It just felt so authentic and real. I also really enjoyed the photographs from the Ringling museum that were included.

Maybe it's just me, but I was most interested in Jacob's journey, so didn't care one way or another about the romance aspects. The parts that kept me reading were the intense parts... the redlighting and animal abuse. (Would everything turn out OK for Rosie?) I know a lot of the negative reviews I've seen focus on a 'contrived romance and thin character of Marlena.' If you're reading for the romance, this might be a problem for you. I didn't find it contrived. (Trust me. I've read my share of romances with unlikely fate-driven relationships. This was not one of them.) Personally, I wouldn't even classify this as a romance. That's just me, though. Without the romance, you'd still have a strong book, so take that how you will.

Sara Gruen wrote a truly remarkable book. It definitely deserved every little bit of hype it received, as well as its long stay on the NYT best-seller list. I literally cannot think of a negative thing to say about this book. It was executed perfectly. Plus, the cover is so damn cool.

Well, perhaps it gets a little graphic for younger readers. But it's seriously no more graphic than a romance novel, and I started to reading those in seventh grade. I certainly read things a lot more graphic for classes in high school. For high school aged students this would certainly be appropriate. It's a new classic and every single last one of you should trip over yourselves getting to the library to read it. I don't know what took me so long.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sharing Good Books: Hive

Hive (No Man's Land Series #1) - by Griffin Hayes
Nearly two hundred years after the planet was ravaged by millions of undead Zees, the human race is still struggling to rebuild. The Zees may be long gone, but so too are centuries of scientific advancement.

A group calling themselves The Keepers of Knowledge have set out to retrieve and protect what little technology survived the fall. When four of their Prospectors go missing, the Keepers turn to a no-nonsense mercenary named Azina and her eclectic crew of hardened veterans to find them.

The search leads the group to a crumbling underground city. But what looks like just another ruin from a bygone era isn't nearly as deserted as it appears. Soon, a simple rescue mission becomes a slippery descent into hell as Azina and her men unwittingly awaken a savage, bloodthirsty world. Who will stand and fight, and who will be lucky enough to stay dead?

(Summary from Amazon)

I love zombie fiction, and HIVE is exactly the kind of zombie story I like. It's set far into the future, which is far more appealing to me than zombie fic that takes place during the initial outbreak. I think it's more fun to imagine the lasting effects of the zombie apocalypse rather than read or write yet another version of how they come to be. (Not that there's anything wrong with that. I read those, too. I just love the world-building in post-apocalyptic tales.)

I don't tend to read novellas but am glad I read Hive. For .99 on Amazon, it's a steal. Most of the free or bargain priced books I've gotten for my kindle are painful to get through. It makes me feel for agents and editors tackling their slush piles.

Hive is nothing like those slushy books--it's actually pretty fantastic. The cover is just perfect, too. Creepy and graphic and indicative of what's inside.

The story moved along at a good pace, with the action scenes clear in my mind--which is so important for something action-heavy like this. The voice was great, very engaging. I pictured the MC almost like Frankie from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow... fierce, badass, and likeable despite (because of) her hardness. I'm usually not even a fan of first person present POV, but Hayes does it so well that it adds to the story, not detracts.

I thought the characters were realistic and well rounded. Especially considering this is a novella, he did a great job fleshing out the characters. Even with the low word count, some of the characters felt more real than those in beefier books. Sneak, especially, struck me as as a compelling character. I want to know her story.

That's the problem with novellas--I wanted more! (But that's just me being selfish and not a fault of the author's.) I could easily have read this at 80-100k words and not been bored. The world Hayes built was really rich, and I loved all the hierarchy and structure, because that's what people do. It made sense. Luckily for us, this is the first in the series. I spoke with the author and a lot of the questions Hive left me with seem like they'll be answered later on. Good! Because in the short time we had, I really grew to love these characters.

Of course, the ending was jam-packed with action, I mean... hello, zombies! Hayes created some really original zombie mythology here. The whole concept of the hive itself--being able to sense the others, their communication--it was so unique, but it made so much sense. It doesn't violate my sense of zombie history, but instead, I feel like it's a missing piece of zombie lore that we're gifted with.

Also, I feel like I must mention that the night I read Hive, I had an Amish zombie inspired dream. Hive was good, I really, really, really wanted more, and it gave me a fantastic scary dream. Why aren't you reading it yet?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Delivering on Promise

One of my first roommates told me:

"You're kinda like a Chucky doll, Q. You're cute and innocent on the outside, but inside you just want to stab the hell out of a soccer mom."

I mean...yeah, kinda. I'll be the first to admit that I get frustrated sometimes. My frustration is usually directed at people who violate the rights of others. Don't get me started on Wisconsin. Seriously. The fact that our country is regressing to the point that women are losing rights like they're car keys?

My dad has this great line that he's used as long as I can remember. I don't know who originally said it, but it's still true. What you permit, you promote. Regardless of what your views are, if you stand idly by while wrongs are committed all around you, you're just as guilty as the perpetrator. For permitting it.

There's a great Desmond Tutu quote that says much the same thing:
"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." (Emphasis mine.)

What does all this venom and angst have to do with writing or art? Well, writers and artists have a pretty unique power. They can change minds. They can open minds. Not to get all spidey on you, but with great power comes great responsibility. When you have thousands, sometimes millions, reading your words, you can actually do something with them. Subtly, of course. No one wants to be hit over the head by some proselytizing albeit well-meaning author.

(There's a reason Dr. Seuss is one of my favorite authors and the proud owner of 99% of my favorite quotes. That man was a genius.)

But this authorial power over minds is one of the things that frustrates me the most when I'm reading. A lot of books with the potential to inspire never deliver on  that promise. The books I loved as a kid are ones I still love today. The Giver. His Dark Materials. I was and still am drawn to books that force me to question authority and evaluate my place in the world. My choices. I love books with (subtle) messages: Question the government, learn and understand your rights, stand up for them before they're systematically stripped away from you.

That's not to say every book needs to have a deeper meaning, or that every theme needs to be heavy. But when a book about revolution or resistance or overthrowing the government doesn't explore the themes at its heart, it's sort of a let down. There are scary things going on in this country right now. If we don't start paying attention, we're going to end up wondering where all our rights went...because we permitted it. So yeah, I'm pretty disappointed when a book doesn't follow through that has so much power and potential and promise to actually make readers care about the world around them.

My two favorite quotes pretty much say the same exact thing. One of them (surprise, surprise), is  a Dr. Seuss quote. (From the Lorax, actually. I really need watch the new movie). The other is Gandhi.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.
Dr. Seuss

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. 

So this is a call to action for the writers out there:

Please, please, make sure your words mean something. It doesn't have to be heavy. But if I read 100k words and nothing has changed inside me, you haven't done your job. Figure out what's meaningful to you, what gets you up in the morning, and yes, what pisses you off. Then use it. Write it. Make your readers care. Twenty years from now, people are going to remember the books that made them cry, that made them think, that made them throw the book at the wall then pick it up again because they just can't stand not knowing what happens. 

And the way you get readers to care? By giving them something to care about.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Dreamers of Dreams and Makers of Things.

I’m a firm believer that trying to pigeonhole yourself makes you neurotic. From birth, we try to figure out who we are, which usually boils down to one or two key words that supposedly sum us up as people.

The smart, quiet girl.
The funny, athletic guy.
The weird, outspoken one.
The class clown.
The artist.
The writer.

The thing is, even fictional characters are too complex to boil down to what are essentially clich├ęs and tropes. You’re not a trope, and neither am I.

When I graduated from high school, I panicked. I thought I’d have to “choose” my future. All I could think of were those Choose Your Own Adventure books and how, without fail, I always died. A lot.

I tried vocal performance. I tried acting. I tried writing and photography. I was even reasonably okay at all of them. But again, you can’t be all things, so you must choose. I chose photography and went to an expensive commercial art school and learned everything I needed to know to be a photographer. 

And I’m not happy. 
My problem is that I like to create the weird things in my head. I don't WANT to be a commercial photographer. I want to live in the woods and run on coffee, writing books and making art and generally doing things that make me happy—not things that stress me out.

Which brought me to a scary realization; I’m not a photographer. Not really.

I’m an artist. A doer. A maker, a weirdo, a maker of images, and a writer of imaginary things.  And I’m so much more than that. So are you.

This blog isn’t about me, though. It’s about writing and art and books and coffee addictions and causes.

Sure, these posts are basically my ridiculous outlook on life. But I don't learn anything from my outlook. I want to interview artists and writers. If I'm ever fortunate enough to get followers, I want us all to share and discuss the things that make art so wonderful and encompassing... because we are all dreamers of dreams and makers of things.

(Yeah, that last bit was cheesy. There will be a great deal of cheese, too.)