Saturday, January 5, 2013

New Baby!!! And New Blog. :)

Hello everyone!

Exciting news!  My little Ebba Irene arrived on New Years Eve, so to commemorate this new phase in my life, I'm splitting my blog in two.  This blog will still function as my writing blog (which, unfortunately may continue to experience a hiatus) but now I will also have a mumly blog over at Babble Fluff and Other Mumly Stuff.  Feel free to pick one or the other or stay tuned into both!

Either way, thank you for reading, and I welcome your comments!

Here is a picture to keep you coming back for more. :)



--Mamma Manda

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Belly Dance

Well, after my week-long challenge to myself (7 posts in 7 days), I thought I'd write more in the blog.  But, surprise, surprise (or maybe no surprise at all?) it just tapered off again.  My mind's been on other things, like house cleaning, cloth diapers, and due dates.

Photo Credit: Candace O'Brien

So, I decided, why not write about those things instead?  Pregnancy has been completely dominating my mind, so it should be easy to get an entry or two out of it. :)  And here we go.  Where to start.  

Today Baby has just hit her 41 week gestation mark!!  So, according to the early scan I had, I have been pregnant 41 weeks to the day.  And so far, it has been fantastic!  

Being pregnant is much different than I had expected.  I expected it to be difficult, that I'd miss my non-pregnant self and way of life.  But now, my biggest worry is that I'll miss being pregnant after baby comes!! :)  So, without further ado, I present to you what Pregnancy means to me.

Being pregnant is:

  • Feeling energized and motivated more than ever before!
  • But also taking that 2:00 pm nap without any remorse. :)
  • Being continually astounded by my own body's capabilities
  • Feeling a connection to all women throughout time everywhere.  Feeling more female than I ever had before, but also much, much stronger
  • For once, having a body that really wants to exercise and a mind and palate that really want to eat healthy
  • Knowing that I'm changing permanently, but trusting that it's all for the better.
  • Really allowing and trusting the people around me to support me 
  • Talking to strangers on the street about babies and birth and everything cute and wonderful in the world
  • Being surprisingly open to it when said strangers want to rub hands all over my belly while we talk!
  • Giggling (instead of being grossed out) when my little one pokes a foot out to one side of my belly
Of course, not all of being pregnant is sunshine and roses.  Granted, the second and third trimesters were definitely more comfortable than the first, so I've probably forgotten some of the less fun parts of it, but here are some other things it means to be pregnant.
  • Gagging mid-sentence for no apparent reason (or, more usually, because we were driving past a fast food restaurant and the odor of days-old oil)  This was more of a first-trimester worry
  • Sore boobs! - another first trimester worry
  • Having swollen, numb, sausage fingers (I wish that were my excuse for writing so little, but the swelling only started recently!)
  • Having to pee every 5 minutes.  The bladder has no concept of how difficult it is to find a bathroom in some areas of town!  ...at least one that doesn't make me want to douse myself in purel afterwards.
  • Obsessing, and I mean OBSESSING over cloth diapers.  And wanting to buy like 20 of every kind!  Though, I attribute this to the fact that I haven't been able to buy much clothing for baby because my best friend (who just had twins!) has given me ALL of her baby clothes.  So I have to go crazy over something cute and snuggly, right???
  • Pseudo-insomnia, as I call it.  Waking up at 3 am to pee and feeling wide, wide awake.  (this is when I do most of my online cloth diaper obsessing, of course.  I'm worse than Gollum and his ring.  I go to www.newandgreen.com and scroll through the sale section, changing "my preciousssssss!"  I'm sure it'll end soon, right? :)
But all in all, I have loved every minute of it.  Stay tuned for more pregnancy and birth related posts -- I have a lot to say about it!  I forgot to add that to the list: Being pregnant also means learning more than you ever thought you would about pregnancy and childbirth.  So, in the comments, let me know if there's any aspects of it you'd like me to tackle first.

Thanks for reading, even though this is a vast diversion from the usual topics of the blog!

Amanda


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Reconciling Saying No to NaNoWriMo

So, as you all know, we're almost a week into National Novel Writing Month.  Congrats to you if you've joined!  I've always wanted to participate, and I thought this would be my year, but now I sit her eyeing all of the NaNoWriMo twitter posts with envy.

YES!  I want to do a 30 minute sprint!  YES!  I want to compare wordcounts.  YES!  I want to eat half a bag of jelly beans and wash it down with Mountain Dew.  Ew, actually, not that last one.

But, the point is, I can't NaNo this year.  I thought this would be my year, with maternity leave starting and my work winding down.  But, unfortunately, even though work is winding down, I'm not officially done until Nov 30 (the LAST day of NaNo, of course.)  Who planned this!?  Oh, right, me.  And, not only that, but "work winding down," does not equal "free time," as I thought it would.  Instead of NaNo, I'm doing NaGSDMo, aka: National Get Shit Done Month.  The formula is as follows:

Less Work = Training replacement + setting up meetings for my clients to meet my replacement + readying nursery + prenatal visits, which just seem to keep increasing in frequency like nobody's business + prenatal preparation + prenatal fitness + wading through the 3-million different kinds of carseats to choose one + finding SOME time to relax before baby comes!

So, no NaNo this year.  But, there are still great things that can come out of this month, writing-wise.  I get so wrapped up in the NaNo hype, forgetting that many great novels AREN'T written in a month.  And, if they are, it's not necessarily November.  I mean, there are definitely others who can't participate in NaNo because of other life duties, like all those dudes growing huge moustaches!  I mean, it must be the same; I'm growing a baby, they're growing a moustache.

Without further ado, I'd like to share my list of NaNoNoWriMo activities.  Just writing, no pressure to finish a novel.  Consider it like auditing a course; you learn the material but don't have to take the test.  A lot of these may sound to some of you like sound practice for All The Time, and they are!  But I haven't been very good at keeping up my practice.  So, if you're like me, you can take these to heart this month.

  • Write every day.  It doesn't matter how much.  As long as you've put a line in, or even moved things around or jotted a quick note to yourself about how to change a scene, it counts.
  • You can "sprint" too.  Even though you aren't doing NaNo, and thus may not have arranged your life to accommodate 50 thirty-minute sprints every day, you can still sprint a few times.  Maybe just three times a week.  Maybe 2 times a day you can fit in.  But, the point is, take some of that shared NaNo energy and put it into your own writing. 
  • Team up with buddies.  You can team up with your NaNo buddies to do some sprints and word-wars, or you can just team up with another NaNo dropout like yourself.  Perhaps one of your crit partners wants to get online and race with you, or a friend in a writing group.  You don't have to be excluded just because you aren't in it for the marathon.
  • Arrange your writing area as though you WERE doing NaNo.  Keep snacks handy, have your computer and notes already set up at all times.  That way, when you do get those 2 or 3 or 35 minutes to get some words down, you're already halfway there.  (or, at least 10% of the way)
  • Set your own goal and share it.  You might not get 50,000 words by the end of Nov, but maybe you want to have at least 20,000.  Or even 10,000!  Or maybe your goal is to finish edits on a current project, or to outline and prep a new project.  Whatever it is, share your goals with a few writing buddies and you can keep each other accountable.  (And, maybe compete if it's motivating for you. ;) )
  • And, finally, take advantage of the fact that you AREN'T participating.  This means you can edit whenever you want, without the pressure of time and wordcounts weighing in on you.  You can leisurely read through your pages to make sure you're still going in the right direction.  You have the luxury of time, so take it!
So, are any of you guys foregoing NaNo this month too?  If so, why?  And, even though you aren't participating, what are your writing goals?  Let's check back at the end of November and see how our National Non-novel Writing Month went!

Get writing!
Amanda

ps - anyone want to race? ;)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

One Paragraph Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

I think I used to do this segment about once a month back when I was blogging more regularly, but now I think I'll switch to just doing it whenever I read a book I really, really enjoy.

And, boy did I ever enjoy this book!!

http://www.raecarson.com

I hadn't heard of Rae Carson before last week, when a (very generous and possibly delusional) friend of mine compared my writing to hers.  It was a flattering comment, but after reading (edit: devouring) The Girl of Fire and Thorns, I have to decline the comparison.  Carson's writing is genius.  It's not just her beautiful and effortless prose; her plotting is absolutely fantastic.  She manages to weave together several complete stories, allowing them to mingle and braid in such a way that draws the reader in until you can't get out again.  In addition to that, her character arcs are incredibly well-constructed (though not overly obvious).  Elisa, the main character, grows and changes in ways that both make sense but also surprise the reader.  The flow is very natural and not forced at all.  I've read so many books where the character arc is forced, as though the author thought to themselves, "Well, I want her to get from here to there by the end of the book, so we'll just make that happen."  In the Girl of Fire and Thorns, every single thing that Elisa goes through contributes to her transition across the novel in subtle ways.  These subtle changes add up to create on kick-ass arc.  And, while we're on the subject of characters, I'd like to add that the relationships between the characters were also surprisingly different from the typical YA cliches.  First off, I want to both congratulate and yell at Carson for not being afraid to "kill her darlings."  There were definitely some kleenex box moments.  And, while there is something of a love triangle (or, V maybe?), it isn't the run-of-the-mill "she likes him and he likes her but she also likes him and he also likes her; which one will she choose?"  The relationships in this book were more realistic, and along with the characters, the relationships had their own arcs, which I appreciated.  For characters you'll love, a plot that will draw you in, and writing that is exquisite, I'd totally recommend this book.  Sorry, I'm gushing. :)  Let's move onto the nitty gritty.


Stats:
Front to back time: 3 days

Favourite character: I found Humberto to be the most likeable character.  However, as far as complexity and intrigue, I was very interested in watching Cosme and Alejandro's characters unfold.

Musical Accompaniment: Did a lot of reading in coffee shops, so whatever they had on. :)

Overall Rating: 8.5/10


Have any of you read this?  Any thoughts?



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Change - Fear it, embrace it, or wait it out?

There is a lot of movement with publishing giants this week.  It's kind of like the earthquake on the west coast and the hurricane on the east combined forces to rattle the very foundations of the industry.  The seismic activity over here dropped Canadian publisher D&M so low they had to file for bankruptcy, while Sandy blew and blew and blew Penguin and Random House down...or, at least, into each other.  (Now to be called Penguin Random House -- for a company that ships creativity, that has to be the least creative name I've ever heard.)

Meanwhile, more and more people seem to be entering the authorly scene, competing for fewer and fewer published spots.  For this reason (as well as, I'm sure, many others), vast numbers of writers are skipping the middle man (well, middlemen) of traditional publishing and plunging into the bookselling waters solo.  With the ever increasing popularity of the e-reader, publishing your book yourself, in electronic form, is easier than ever.  Then, if things really get moving, there is always a possibility to expand into print.

For a long time, this was a little-talked-about issue.  Whispered in corner chat rooms and wholly separate from the "real" publishing talk on Twitter.  Those people, who obviously couldn't make it in the traditional scene weren't real authors and weren't to be taken seriously.

But that is changing.  Perhaps it's because of the scary-looking shifts in traditional publishing, but perhaps they just needed time to get accustomed to it, people are openly discussing self-publishing values.  There are even breakout workshops at major conferences all about how, when, and why to self publish.

And, people are learning a few things about it:

  1. It's not easy.  While being traditionally pubbed doesn't mean you get to sit on your laurels while a whole team does your marketing for you, when you publish yourself, you are seriously On Your Own.  You do everything, from the editing to the publicity and marketing to the artwork to the formatting.  It's a full-time job.  Oh, yeah, and you still have to write the book.
  2. Not everyone who self-pubs is a horrid author.  Some really great success stories are coming out of the self-publishing world!
  3. Not everyone who publishes traditionally is an excellent author. (ahem, 50 Shades of Gray?)
A great and honest blog post about self-pubbing, written by someone who has worked in almost all areas of the industry can be found here.  Find out why, even after working for an agent and operating her own editing company for years, she decided to self-publish rather than wading into the rapids of traditional publishing.

I'm still not sure what my plan is.  I've sent out a trickle of queries (when I say trickle, I really mean it: 5 over 3 years) but have not wholly discounted the whole self-pubbing route.  

Where do you guys weigh in on the issue?  Does it make sense to embrace the change and jump into self pubbing head first?  Or does it make more sense to stick with the traditional publishing, ignoring (or maybe fearing?) the changes.  Or, is it better to wait out the storm and see where things lie the next morning...how ever many years in the future that will be?  Let me know your thoughts.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Make it Messy

Okay, so the 7th day in my 7 day challenge to myself, and I have made it!  Perhaps I'll keep going whenever the whim strikes and, who knows, maybe my 7 day challenge will turn into 10, 20, and 30 day challenges.

...but, then again, maybe not. :)

So, since I'm a writer, I figured at least ONE of my posts should be about writing.  I have a lot to blog about on that topic, since I've recently gone to the Surrey International Writers' Conference and got my brain filled with a whole lot of strawberry flavoured inspiration.  Okay, well, at least it was filled with inspiration.  Not sure about the strawberry flavour. :)  The SIWC is an annual conference held about 20 miles from my house...and somehow I'd never heard of it until this past year, when a friend of mine in the Netherlands, of all places, asked me, "Have you ever gone to this?"

No.  I had never even heard of it.  But now I have.  And now I know, it's an amazing conference!  Smaller, but just as fantastic as the SCBWI ones I went to in Western Washington and even NYC.  I will certainly be making return appearances.  (or, as Soames Forsyth in the Forsyth Saga says, "I shall recur.")

One of the talks I went to was called "Complex Conflicts," by Sam Sykes.  I had never heard of Sam Sykes before, and yes, I do feel a bit funny writing about his fantabulous advice when I haven't even read his books yet.  But, let me tell you, after the awesomely quirky/funny/amazing and inspirational talk he gave, his books are totally on my list!  ...right after I finish "Happiest Baby on the Block" and "Childbirth Without Fear."  (My bookshelf looks very strange now that I'm sharing reading time with pregnancy brain!)

What did he say?  I'll try and distill it into a few concise bullet points.  Unfortunately I can't give the same kind of hilarious spin he did on everything he said, but I hope it's still interesting enough for you to keep reading. :)

1: Messy Conflicts are good!!!

Try to put your protagonist in a situation where there is no obvious solution to the conflict...or where no matter what the protagonist does, someone will be left unhappy.  Happy endings are for sissies.  Are you a sissy!?  I didn't think so.

This recommendation made me think of Clockwork Prince, by Cassandra Clare...which is still totally ripping my heart into pea-sized shreds even months after I finished it.  (Spoiler alert!)  At the end of the book, Will finds out the curse he thought he had -- that anyone who falls in love with him will die -- was a lie.  He runs off to tell Tessa the good news (mainly that he doesn't have to be a douche to her anymore to keep her from loving him), just as Tessa becomes engaged to Jem, Will's "blood-brother." Will would never hurt his blood brother like that, so now he can never have Tessa.  He missed his chance.  And, she missed hers.  Because, we all know she'll never love Jem the way she does Will. AH GUT WRENCHING HEART STOMPING CONFLICT OF A LOVE TRIANGLE!  *ahem* Allow me to compose myself before proceeding.....   Okay.  So, see how Tessa has no one way out of this situation?  No matter what she does, there will be a huge cloud of unhappiness hanging over.  And, we will all preorder Book 3 and await it with bated breath. :)

An example Sam gave was, in sum, "Yes we took down the horrible dictator [resolved conflict], but now the whole region is destabilized and falling into civil war."

My fail-safe check for this: Once you have a conflict in your story, ask yourself, as the writer, do you know exactly how the protagonist will resolve it?  If your answer is yes, then your conflict is too easy.  Make things harder for your MC.  Make sure their lives are a living hell. :)  Try to use the phrase, "We succeeded BUT..."  There has to be that "but" clause for it to be complex.

2: Keep your villains complex (this will help with point #1)

If you villain is just plain evil, there isn't much conflicting emotions if the protag just frags the asshole, right?  However, if your villain has some likeable pieces, or some reason for being so villainous, it can add another layer to the conflict.  Don't be afraid to give the villain her own story, or to allow readers to even identify with the villain.

Two ways to do this:  You can make the villain "relatable" which means you can understand the villain on an emotional level.  You feel for them.  You know the protagonist has to win, but even when he does, it's a bit agonizing to see the villain's defeat.

Or, maybe your villain isn't that great of a person.  Your reader isn't going to go all sappy and feel bad that he's lost.  But you can still at least make the villain "understandable," which means you might not identify on an emotional level, but you can still logically see their point.  You can see what he's trying to prove.  The example Sam gave of this was the Joker in the second new Batman movie.  He wanted to prove that he could easily pull down everything Batman had created in Gotham; he wanted to show the Batman/Gotham empire as being weak.  While we might be like, "wow you're a douche bag," we could at least see his point.

In either case, the reader needs to be able to see things from the villain's side too.

My little check (loosely pilfered from some stuff of Donald Maas's: Ask yourself, "What do I like about this villain?"  Or maybe try "What does this villain tell her psychologist?" :)

And a couple smaller points:

  • Try to limit the coincidences that get the MC out of trouble.  If a coincidence gets her into trouble, excellent.  But she has to figure her own way out.
  • Betrayal sits very strongly with readers.  It stings worse than direct conflict because it's multi-sided.  Everyone who betrays someone has to arrive at it by a touch choice.
  • Make your conflicts on a small scale.  No one cares if the armies of good and evil are clashing, but we'll all stop to watch that one soldier on the front lines who is fighting to stay alive to return to his love...or who is fighting against his own brother...or who is a pacifist but was forced there by his father...etc.  People identify with small conflicts.  We're riveted at someone sitting on a bench next to their crush, agonizing over whether to hold her hand.  We're mildly interested in that same somebody deciding to save the world.
  • Things that interest the character interest the reader.  We care about world-building and other details because they matter to the character.  (on a related note, things that interest the writer are good for the plot.  Parts that you find difficult to write will probably be difficult to read.)
So, I hope that gave everyone some food for thought!  And I hope Sam Sykes doesn't mind that I've shared some of his points with my...oh, 4 readers. :)  Now, all 4 of you, go out and buy his books!  I know I will.  (erm, author crush. hehe)

Stay tuned for more of everything you've seen this past week!  And, tell your friends!  I can ... 75% promise you won't be disappointed if you keep reading my blog.

Amanda



Saturday, October 27, 2012

One Paragraph Review of Throne of Glass

sarahjmaas.com

I picked up this book after a recommendation from my crit partner, Laura.   I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant at first, partially because I'm not a big fan of the cover.  (Yes, I do judge books by their covers.)  I was also a little weirded out by how much the protagonist on the cover resembles the author's photo in the back jacket.  But, alas, those are not reasons to skip a book!  Throne of Glass, a tale of a young, female assassin, Celaena, who is taken out of the death camp/prison in order to compete to become the King's Champion -- his weapon, basically.  While living in the castle, Celaena uncovers secrets -- political and otherwise -- that go beyond her own torturous past.  But, those secrets and her past may be more intertwined than she thinks.  I have to say, I really loved this book!  Celaena's character is beautifully constructed.  While she possesses abilities most don't, she still manages to remain painfully human in parts.  There were even times (Not sure if this was intentional on Maas's part) when I kind of didn't like her.  She can be a little shallow, a little superficial.  But, rather than that creating a bad taste in my mouth, it seemed to make her more of a well-rounded character.  The other thing I adored was the way Maas wove in a subtle love triangle.  Rather than writing page after page of Celaena trying to decide between the two hot guys in her life who worship her,  Maas created organic relationships between her main character and the two "love interests," if I can even call them that.  They had major roles outside of the realm of the love triangle, so they became more than just "insert male character here for romantic subplot."  They became real people, with their own lives that weren't all-consumed with Celaena.  I liked that!  And, rather than decreasing the romance factor, it really made their relationships stand out as being special.  In sum, this was a really entertaining novel, and the 4 prequel novellas were equally as riveting!  Maas has created a story with a strong foundation, authentic characters, and *real* romance.

Now for the stats:
Front to back time: 1 week, but it could have gone much quicker if I hadn't also been doing my day job and baby-prep stuff. :)  Very fast read if you have the time!

Favourite character: Chaol, the captain of the guard.  He seems to always remain true to himself through the story, and his character arc is very well done, in my opinion.

Musical Accompaniment: Mostly Band of Skulls' latest album.

Overall Rating: 7/10


Have you guys read this?  Let me know what you think!  Now I get to wait a whole year until book 2 comes out!