Consume

Here’s what I’ve been consuming lately:

hard sunHard Sun on hulu: season one of a show about mismatched police partners who, in investigating a suicide, discover a dossier about an extinction level event occurring just five years from now

 

restore meRestore Me by Tahereh Mafi: a surprise addition to the Shatter Me (former) trilogy!

 

kings hawaiianKing’s Hawaiian sweet rolls

 

reno my renoReno My Reno on Netflix: basically Canadian Fixer Upper 🙂

 

Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

strange the dreamer coverI’m sitting here, staring at the blank screen, unsure of where to start. Beauty sometimes leaves you stunned into silence.

If you’ve read anything by Laini Taylor, you know exactly what I mean.

Honestly, she is an auto-buy author for me (in other words, I will buy anything she writes without needing to know what it is about or read a review). Her Daughter of Smoke & Bone series walloped me (“These books are full of some of the most beautiful prose available in YA lit! The world-building, the characters, the humor, the beautiful imagery: this was the fantasy series I’ve been waiting for.”) and the short story collection she wrote, illustrated by her husband Jim DiBartolo, was “fantastic, full of the powerful, literary prose you’d expect from Laini Taylor.”

I’m convinced she is the most creative fantasy writer in YA right now. Mind-blowing.

So, what is Strange the Dreamer about?

A librarian named Lazlo. A lost city. Blue-skinned children of the gods. A citadel in the sky that blocks out the sun.

Moths. Dreams. Justice and vengeance. Forgiveness. Ghosts. Heroes wracked with guilt.

I just realized it’s better for me to not describe it.

Instead, let me just tell you: read it. Please. Here are five good reasons:

  1. Prose like poetry.
  2. Complicated characters with more layers than an onion.
  3. Romance you believe in.
  4. Sheer creativity.
  5. Everything.

strange insta

Writing Questions from Blog Readers!

Here a few questions blog readers asked me about writing:

What writing resource books you recommend?

emotional craft

Oh man, I have read so many great books about writing, both about the craft and the writing life. Here are some of my FAVORITES:

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott *
The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass *
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
The Art of Slow Writing by Louise deSalvo
The Anatomy of Story by John Truby
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

* my favorites of my favorites

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer? How did you develop your skills during your earlier years (such as during high school)?

I’m not sure I made a conscious decision about being a writer; writing (like wands) feels like something that chooses you. That said, I have always loved telling stories. I first decided I wanted to write a book when I was in 2nd grade. I tried my hand at fiction in 3rd grade (oh man, it is sooooo funny and dramatic!). In junior high, I wrote a soap opera in a notebook that I passed around to my friends, and in high school and college, I focused on poetry.

There are two things that writers have to do to develop their skills, no matter what age or writing-level they are at:

  1. Read. Fiction, non-fiction, in your genre and outside of it, with a healthy dose of poetry. Read like it’s your job. No, read like it’s your air.
  2. Write. It sounds silly, but just like with anything, practice is how we improve. This is true in sports and art and public speaking, in how to be a good listener, how to perform illusions, and how to train for a marathon. You have to write, write, write– and you will likely have to write a lot of crappy stuff first. But do it. Expel it. Get that time in on your training-wheels first.

Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other ways to develop one’s writing! Advice/critique/feedback/workshopping (whatever you want to call it) is critical. And you can learn about techniques like metaphor and what sounds are most satisfying to the human ear and how to manipulate your readers’ emotions (manipulate is such a harsh-sounding word, but most fiction readers go into a book hoping for this!). Two of the books I listed above– The Emotional Craft of Fiction and The Anatomy of Story– are craft books that get into the nitty-gritty details.

But at any (and every) stage? Read and write.

What do you do (or tell yourself) when you are unmotivated to write? Are you ever overwhelmed with how much work it takes to write a book?

First of all, YES, I often get overwhelmed with how much time and energy goes into writing a full-length work of fiction. In fact, in college, I focused on poetry partly because a poem can be so short, whereas fiction is such a big undertaking. But that’s why I have to take a novel one word at a time, one day at a time, and why I have to split it up into about one trillion smaller tasks or, as Anne Lamott would call them, “short assignments.” (I actually do call them short assignments on my to-do list!)

When I am unmotivated to write, I go back to my lists. I either choose one small assignment I am excited about or, sometimes, I might not even be excited about it, but I tell myself, “Just 20 minutes. See what happens in 20 minutes.” In both of these cases, my wheels usually get spinning and three hours later I am sad to put the manuscript away for the evening.

How much of writing is intuitive?

10000 hoursGosh, I don’t know. Sometimes the things that feel so intuitive to me are the things my writing group and editor hate the most. Sometimes, though, those things are a stroke of brilliance– and not even a brilliance I can attribute to myself. When ideas like that come from nowhere, it truly does not feel like I deserve credit. For someone like me, whose spiritual life encompasses all other parts of my life, I can see God at work in my writing. I think, if one has read a lot of great literature and one has put in hours upon hours of writing practice (Malcolm Gladwell says you need to practice 10,000 hours to gain expertise in any field), that intuition is going to be built in you. And if you add an outside influence into that? Mmm.

What’s the most important part(s) of preparing a book for querying?

Every part.

If we are talking fiction here, the manuscript must be as polished and perfect as it can be prior to querying. Along with that, you have to write a query letter that is intriguing, plays by the rules of the agent, and ends up in the right agent’s inbox.

Have any inspiration for young writers or those just getting started?

Yes! I love this:

iraglass-sawyerhollenshead

Have other writing-related questions for me? Click here to ask me anything! 🙂

Hogwarts Yule Ball Couture

Even though the next Tri-Wizard Tournament is not scheduled till 2019, word has it that the Hogwarts students have since insisted that the Yule Ball be an annual event. And who can blame them, since most days they have to wear robes and there’s nowhere really to take a date besides Hogsmeade?

Here’s what’s trending this year in the wizarding world.

In Ravenclaw Tower, the catchphrase is “Make Bronze Great Again.” Let’s be honest, the movies perpetuated a false idea that Ravenclaw’s colors were blue and silver, when every student at Hogwarts knows they are really blue and bronze. The trendiest witches this year are doing all they can to reclaim their roots.

Ravenclaw 2017

Marcella earrings, $180 (here)

Gryffindor has long been known for its daring and nerve, which is why this year’s Yule Ball fashions are saying “All eyes on me!” But the lion pride of witches wants everyone to know they have a softer side too, so watch for frilly details like bows and ruffles this season. The ROAR a la Lily Evans Potter plus the AWW a la Lily Luna Potter equals a hearty Gryffindor RAWR.

Gryffindor 2017

Lion ring, $30 (here) | Valentino bow pumps, retail $825, on sale (here) for $199 | Toriska clutch (here)

Those patient little badgers have been waiting all year to say, “Look, this sweet skirt may represent fair play, but this lacy crop top is not playing fair!” Some say this attitude was inspired by last year’s Head Boy Teddy Lupin, but regardless, Hufflepuff’s coming out so you’d better get this party started, Hogwarts.

Hufflepuff 2017

Amelia Full yellow maxi skirt, $75 (here) | Linda Flora bracelet, $29 (here) | Betsy Johnson flats, $99 (here)

The latest trend in Slytherin House is the vampy pantsuit, noting that it suits them, as Albus Dumbledore once said, to have “a certain disregard for the rules.” But if some unwritten rule said not wearing a dress to the Yule Ball was wrong, we don’t want to be right! These serpents are turning the rules on their heads … and turning all heads on their new rules.

Slytherin 2017

Jumpsuit #1, $67 (here) | Jumpsuit #3, $33 (here) | Jumpsuit #4, retail $240, on sale (here) for $97 | Snake on vine necklace, $75 (here) | Antique snake necklace (here)

Your turn to weigh in: Which was your favorite look? Is it from the Hogwarts House you’re in? Would you wear any of these outfits in the muggle world?

Review: All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

crooked saintsI’ll admit that when I first read the description of Maggie Stiefvater’s latest book, it didn’t sound like something that would be up my alley. Then again, I thought the same thing about Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, and that one immediately become one of my top ten favorite books (review here).

Of course I purchased it. Of course I read it. It’s Maggie Stiefvater.

And it was great. But in a different way from her other books, which I’ll try to explain in a minute.

First, what’s it about? All the Crooked Saints is about three cousins in Bicho Raro, Colorado, in the 60’s: Beatriz, “the girl without feelings”; Daniel, the Saint (who performs miracles for pilgrims who travel to their ranch); and Joaquin, who DJs a pirated radio station from a truck in the desert. There is a wide cast of characters between the residents of Bicho Raro and the pilgrims who must remain there until their darkness is vanquished.

You see, Daniel performs the first miracle for the pilgrims, which makes their darkness manifest itself in some way, but the pilgrims must perform their second miracle, which makes the darkness go away. Until then, they remain at the ranch, where the resident Soria family is not able to help them.

This is magical realism, which I suppose one could argue is what all of Maggie’s books are, though I would probably be more likely to file them under “fantasy.” This book reads more like a fairy tale– and even as I write that, I’m not sure that captures it. Think Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Weight of Feathers (review) vs. Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn (here). More The Last Unicorn (here), less Finnikin of the Rock (here). Just south of Bone Gap (here). (What? “Just south of Bone Gap” is not a clear description of a book? Pshhh!)

(And, to be clear, I love all the books I just mentioned … but for different reasons.)

The reasons I loved All the Crooked Saints:

  • the imagery
  • the magic
  • the miracles
  • the stories
  • the way everything fits into place.

As I put it on Instagram …

crooked insta

Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green [spoiler-free post, but I’d avoid the comments!]

It was John Green’s book The Fault in Our Stars that inspired me, back in January 2012, to put down the manuscript I was working on and try my hand at writing YA literature, the result of which was my debut novel Truest. (Please see: 3 Novels That Changed My Life.)

It’s been over five years since TFIOS came out, so of course, everyone has been excited for Green’s next book, me included. I was less excited to discover the coincidental similarities it had to one of my works-in-progress: Turtles is about a girl named Aza with OCD; Yes Novel is about a boy named Asa with OCD. Yes Novel, meet backburner.

But what a cool intersection of my passions– YA lit, John Green, OCD!

In Turtles All the Way Down, Aza Holmes is fighting against her intrusive thoughts, all while she and her best friend Daisy attempt to locate a runaway millionaire, the son of whom was Aza’s childhood friend Davis. I loved how Green showed the way that Aza’s OCD impacted not only her but all of her relationships.

Did the book get OCD right?

Yes. I was pretty pleased. Green did a really good job of showing both Aza’s obsessions and the resulting compulsions, and I think readers will be able to see the *faulty* logic that presses sufferers to perform compulsions. And although some readers might think things were a bit exaggerated for the sake of the story, in my opinion, Green actually toned down OCD for the book. (My own editor told me of Yes Novel that I had to find a way to lighten it up, make it less depressing, as readers could only handle so much.) There are definitely degrees of OCD (see: YBOCS), but for it to be considered OCD, it has to noticeably disrupt one’s life. I took the YBOCS as Aza Holmes and scored 26 out of a possible 40, which is the severe category. Just because I was curious. 🙂

The book was good, very well written, a much quieter book than The Fault in Our Stars, and I think it needed to be. Though others might argue that it didn’t pack the same emotional punch as TFIOS, I think it was exactly the book Green needed to write after the phenomenal, almost debilitating success of the former.

In September 2016, John Green made the following video. It’s wild to watch it now (especially if you’ve finished Turtles) and see that just 13 months later, that book would be published. It’s because of this video that I say that I think Turtles is exactly the one he needed to write. I’m curious to hear what you think of it. (Probably best to avoid the comments section BECAUSE SPOILERS.)

Reviews (Plus: What Should I Read Next?)

flame in the mistFlame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh | As the self-proclaimed biggest fan of Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn series, I was so, so, SO excited to read her next series. Flame in the Mist is a re-telling (of sorts) of Mulan: although this book is set in feudal Japan, not in China. Mariko is on her way to be married to one of the princes when her caravan is attacked. She ends up cutting her hair, dressing as a boy, and joining a group of outlaws, a la Robin Hood style.

This book was super interesting and very romantic. One of the things I liked best about it was that it was not immediately apparent to me who Mariko’s love interest would be. Indeed, she and that person had such a unique relationship that was so not stereotypically romantic that it made it all the more hot when they fell for each other. Very excited to see how this story ends. It’s a duology and the second book doesn’t even have a publication date listed yet. (Patience is not my strong suit.)

5 to 15 to 1 by Holly Bodger | This book was so unique! I purchased it after I was on a writers panel with the author, and when I finally had the chance to read it, I tore through it so fast! Set in the future in India, it takes India’s current issues with gender selection and female infanticide and reverses them: now that there are 5 boys to every 1 girl, society is run by women and men must compete to be worthy of marriage. The book is told in alternating chapters: poetry for the young bride watching the “Tests” and prose for Contestant 5, who is competing– but who does not want to win.

I enjoyed the story very much, and it definitely made me think!

art of writingThe Art of Writing and the Gifts of Writers by C.S. Lewis | This was an audiobook collection of Lewis’s shorter essays and talks on writing, and it was super enjoyable! Ralph Cosham/Geoffrey Howard, the narrator, is the familiar voice from the audio versions of Lewis’s Space Trilogy, and so it’s easy to feel like you’re listening to Lewis himself. This was an intriguing and useful set of essays, advice, and criticism on various aspects of writing, including fairie stories, writing for children, and thoughts on his friend J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. If you’re a fan of Lewis (or any of the Inklings), this will be a fun and fast read for you!

the names they gave usThe Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord | In this book, Lucy– at her mother’s request– agrees to spend the summer as a camp counselor for kids from at-risk backgrounds. This is a deviation from her usual: the Bible camp just across the lake, where her mom and dad will be. What makes it even harder is that Lucy’s mom’s cancer has just come back, which has shattered Lucy’s faith and has her living in fear.

There were so many things that felt SO familiar to me, who was a volunteer camp counselor (at a Bible camp, no less!). I really liked the ending, when ends (that I didn’t even know were loose!) started getting tied up. The ending is also abrupt, but in the best way.

shrillShrill by Lindy West | This book. This. Book. I loved it. So much. It spoke to me on so many levels– as a woman, as a curvy girl, as a feminist, as a writer. I laughed aloud. I cried real tears. I felt empowered.

I went to my therapist on Thursday, and– no joke– spent about 90% of the time talking about this book and how it impacted me, all the things I am learning.

Please. Read this. Then let’s get coffee to discuss.

 

***OMGOSHJIMMYHAILER***

I have exciting news for you, friends.

Firstly, if you’ve hung around this blog for any time at all, you know that Australian author Melina Marchetta is my QUEEN. (See here, here, here.)

She is a master of characters, and my favorite crew of hers first appears in Saving Francesca: Frankie, Will, Siobhan, Justine, Tara, Tom, and Jimmy. After Saving Francesca, the crew reunites in The Piper’s Son, which is Tom’s story, set five years later. Everyone has been begging for years for Jimmy’s story.

Back in April 2013, in a Goodreads-sponsored discussion, Melina made my heart go BOOM when she teased:

Jimmy’s not going anywhere, but it’s just not his time yet. All I know about him is that he is the first of Frankie gang to start breeding (accidently).

In the four years since, she has posted on her blog about Jim from time to time. Earlier this month, she posted there was a forthcoming short story:

My short story is called When Rosie met Jim. It’s about a young woman who finds herself stranded in a Queensland town during a flood, where she meets a guy named Jim. (the title is quite literal, and yes, it’s him for those who know my previous work).

A couple days ago, she added this:

It will be a novel primarily about one house, four characters, five lives, and told through three points of view.

Jimmy is 23 years old in When Rosie met Jim.  In the novel, he’ll be about 25 because it takes place in Sydney about two years after the events of the short story. It’s not  YA, but regardless, I’m predictable. It’s a generational story and it’s character driven, relationship driven and pretty much about community, solace and the ties that bind. (and netball).

OH. AND THIS ALSO HAPPENED:

mm jim 2

Peeps, I read it last night, and it was everything I wanted it to be. More.

First, you don’t have to have read her other books in order to read this story. It’s brilliant even on its own, and of course, it has added meaning for fans who miss the Sydney crew.

Next, it works as a short story– yes, it is an excerpt (or something like it) from what will eventually be a full-length novel (PRAISE GOD), but it works on its own too as a short story. What I mean is that it’s got its own narrative arc; you won’t feel dissatisfied at the end (though you will feel so desperate for more).

Lastly, I don’t know how on earth she does it, but there is not one word extra in this, nor one word missing. It’s perfect and has the right amount of action and vulnerability to enamor you in so few pages. (Frankly, I re-read Marchetta’s books over and over, hoping that I will somehow take on her writing capabilities– and yet, every time, I’m reminded she is the master.) There is foreshadowing and the ideal amount of backstory to offer both grounding and intrigue. The characters are multi-dimensional, and … OMGOSH, I don’t know how to wait for the entire book. I guess if I survived the wait for Quintana, I will survive this too, right? Right?? (P.S. I bought the Australian edition of Quintana, since it came out 6 months before the American version. I am not excellent at patience.)

This issue of Review of Australian Fiction comes out tomorrow (er, um, maybe today actually, since Australia is ahead of the USA) and is available for only $2.99 at this link:

http://reviewofaustralianfiction.com/product/raf-152-volume-22-issue-6.

Go. Buy. Be delighted (readers) and envious (writers). While you’re at it, buy all her books. I promise you they are the best.

Love,
Jackie

Quick whatever-this-is: I want you to know this is not sponsored. I don’t get anything when you purchase this … except for the satisfaction of knowing I’ve introduced you to your new favorite author. Enjoy!

Book Heroines I Adore

unsplash90Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling | Related
“The smartest witch of her age” and fiercely loyal, never gives up. Never.

Shazi from The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh | Review (and sequel)
“So you would have me throw Shazi to the wolves?”
“Shazi?” Jalal’s grin widened. “Honestly, I pity the wolves.”

Citra from Scythe by Neal Shusterman | Review
Whip-smart, deeply philosophical … but can also kick your ass.

Joana from Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys | Review 
“She must have been a nurse. She looked a few years older than me. Pretty. Naturally pretty, the type that’s still attractive, even more so, when she’s filthy.”
So strong in the face of a thousand hardships

Roza and Petey from Bone Gap by Laura Ruby | Review
Each of these girls is so strong in her own way; I adored every character in this book.

Liesel Meminger of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak | Related
She can hold her own against any boy, she knows the power of words, and perseveres through tremendous loss.

Isaboe of The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta | Related
Fearsome. Unwavering. Isaboe’s resolution and leadership are a thing to behold. She is her own boss. She loves with ferocity.

Quintana of The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta | Review 
“‘Do you know who tells me my worth, Phaedra of Alonso?’
The princess pointed a hard finger at her own chest.
‘Me. I determine my own worth. If I had to rely on others I’d have lain down and died waiting.’”
‘Nuff said.

 

 

 

Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Even though I really loved Neal Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology (spoiler-free review), his new series wasn’t really on my radar. Then the first book– Scythe— kept getting rave reviews from my favorite book bloggers, so I knew I needed to read it.

scytheIT. WAS. SO. GOOD.

Here’s the set-up: it’s the distant future, and the internet “cloud” has accumulated all knowledge and become the nearly sentient Thunderhead. Because the Thunderhead now prevents things like disease, war, and even death, the only issue left is population control. There is a worldwide network of scythes who are given the power to glean life and to grant immunity. They are highly respected and rarely challenged. Citra and Rowen are two sixteen-year-olds chosen to become scythe apprentices. Then things get crazy.

I’m hooked. Just like the Unwind books, this series is so thought-provoking. I was especially captured by the question If men become immortal, what will inspire them to create? There is a scene where Citra and Rowen are taken to museum. These days, art has all been perfected via the Thunderhead, but they find that they actually like the “Mortal Age” art better … it is imperfect, but there is passion to it that is rare in their time. I have maybe 70 or 80 years on earth. In what ways does that drive my art?

That’s just one of the questions raised by this incredible book. It’s full of twists and the stakes are high. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!