Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Inspiration Black Hole

Hey guys.

sorry I've been a little bit MIA from the blog again!  Between planning a wedding, keeping my day job, and the start of summer, I haven't had a chance to even come up with an entry topic!

Which is why I'm opening up the lines to you guys now.  Tell me what to write about.  I'll write about ANYthing you say, so be daring. :)

Look forward to your ideas (that I will steal and make my own! jk)


Friday, May 6, 2011

One Paragraph Review of Red Glove

For anyone who follows me on Twitter, you know that I loved this book.  So if you're looking for an unbiased, non-gushy review, just a warning that you won't get that here!  My apologies.

If you don't already know, Red Glove is the sequel to Holly Black's White Cat, the first book of the Curse Workers series.  We continue to follow the main character, Cassel Sharpe as he tries to figure out where he fits between his mob family, best friend/crush (who, incidentally, is the daughter of the mob boss), and prep school.  I'll be honest.  I almost didn't read this book.  I read White Cat on the recommendation of a friend, and it was good, but not jump up and down good.  So I wasn't sure about the sequel.  Let's just say I am glad I picked it up!  Holly manages to weave together so many intricate plot threads to create such a layered and surprising climax that it's impossible to put the book down until you Know What Happens.  And, thought the plot is AMAZING, it's not just that that keeps you reading.  I think the strongest piece of this book was the character development.  While I found the characters slow to reveal themselves in the first book, this book was full of rich, colourful characters that it was so easy to love, hate, worry about, and not want to leave.  I found Holly's depiction of Cassel's mother and her relationship with him phenomenal.  As I mentioned in my previous review, so many books leave the characters and their relationships one-sided, but here we can see Cassel's love for his mother while we also see his embarrassment and mistrust.  He doesn't just hate her or love her, he *feels* for her, authentically.  In short, Red Glove was strong on plot, character development, suspense, and even romance.  Also, I learned a lot about how to con my friends. :)  Definitely worth a read!

Front to back time: Two days

Favourite character: Cassel's mum, with his friend Sam as a close runner up.  Sam really came through in this novel, and Cassel's mum, as I said above, is just incredibly realistic.

Musical Accompaniment: My headphones broke! :( so the only thing I read this to was coffee-shop background noise. :)  But if I had to choose, something with a brass section would go great.

Overall Rating: 9/10  I know, I know.  Even better than Ship Breaker.  Yes.  We're just going to have to accept that I have a 3 pt rating system, since it's all either 8, 9, or 10 out of 10. :)  Adjust accordingly!

Now, have you guys read this?  Let me know what you think about this one OR White Cat!  Time to go twiddle my fingers for a year and pull out my hair until the third book is released!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

mother mother

Check out this band if you get a chance. They rock!
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Confronting High School

"These strange steps take us back, take us back..."
-Yeah Yeah Yeahs

People have been asking me lately why I'm writing so much YA and Middle Grade instead of more adult fiction.  (Especially my mom, who somehow thinks writing YA is easier and that I'm just looking to not work as hard.  Pshaw, I tell her.)

The answer eluded me until recently.  I mean, when I picked up to really start writing a book, I just found it was a teen voice with a teen situation - it wasn't even a conscious decision.  But, last week, I figured out where the real reason lies.  I'm still, in a lot of ways, stuck in high school.

A couple weeks ago, I was at one of my favourite live music venues and a flier for this band caught my eye.  The singer of this band was someone I used to go to school with...over ten years ago.  Now, I went to high school in North Carolina, a far cry from Vancouver, where I am now.  So, of course, I wanted to go!

But then, the day hit.  I woke up before my alarm, having been thrust awake by a nightmare in which I went up to greet the old friend and he was like, "Uh...who are you?"  So, the whole day my anxiety grew about this supposedly exciting encounter.

See, when I was in high school, I was 2 parts weird and 1 part lame.  0 parts cool.  I had a lot of cool friends - one of my best friends was the head cheerleader (blonde, thin, popular), and the other one always managed to hang out with the older alternative crowd that I so longed to break into.  But, I was just a little fringy, in enough that I got invited to some of the parties, but annoying enough that no one wanted to hang out with me once I was there.  This sounds like self deprecation, but really it's not.  Okay, it is.  A bit. :)  See!  I told you I was still in high school!  Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I was SO desperate to be accepted that I tried my best to act like everyone else, and for awhile I lost myself.  (My REAL self, who is 3 parts cool and 0 parts weird and lame, by the way.  Well, maybe 2.5 parts cool and .5 parts weird!)

Anyway, the point is, I was never really Friends-with-a-capital-F with this lead singer guy.  I just kind of knew him...and he may have dated 3 or 4 of my friends over the course of 5 years.  So, as the night drew near, the panic grew.

And then, we went (myself--the real one--and my fiance) to the show.  I approached lead-singer-guy, who TOTALLY remembered who I was and seemed to think it was pretty neat that I was there, and I introduced the fiance.  He introduced his wife.  All things told, it was quite the success.  We've both come a long way from high school, and I realized some insecurities are worth letting go of.  Not to mention that there are different angles to every picture.  Lead-singer-boy didn't seem to remember me as a 2 parts weird 1 part lame, annoying girl at all.  (I mean, I didn't ask, but I think I'd have picked up on that, no? :) )

Another thing I learned, and that I keep on learning all the time, is that NO one feels completely comfortable in their skin in high school and NO one is immune to self consciousness in those teenage years.  What got me through was the fact that I could always disappear into a book, and the characters always knew exactly how I felt...even when it seemed like no one else in the real world did.

So, I write YA because I know that feeling of outsider-ness and through the eventual successes of my originally flawed, lost, and struggling characters, I want to show teens that there's a light at the end of the tunnel.  ...and sometimes I need a little reminder too. :)

So, tell me, dear readers, am I totally off?  Were you completely confident and popular in high school without a care in the world? :)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

David the Movie Snob takes on HANNA (slight spoilers)

Last Thursday, David and I went to see the new film, Hanna.  It's no secret that I have no qualms about watching murderous preteens; in fact I kind of dig that stuff.  So, as you might expect, I was very excited to see this movie.

Joe Wright's camera work and Saoirse Ronan's performance were no disappointment.  The visuals are absolutely incredible, from the opening scene where Hanna takes down a reindeer (I think?) to the ending in an overgrown, whimsical children's theme park.  The initial scenes, aided by Ronan's amazing acting, provide what is needed to get the audience on the side of the underage killer--even after watching her commit brutal acts of (possibly unnecessary?) violence.

However--and it pains me to find myself nearly as snobby as the movie snob himself--the film begins to lose steam about halfway through.  The plot becomes relatively predictable, with the only questions being how exactly it plays out.  Meaning, who lives and who dies.  But all the how's and why's are pretty well inferred.

Another issue, as the Snob himself pointed out, is that there are a few...let's say "ability" inconsistencies. Early action scenes are very Bourne-esque, with Hanna and her father taking down 2-8 armed and trained federal agents with minimal difficulty.  However, when Hanna and her father's nemesis enlists the help of a German fetishist and his two scrawny skinhead goons, well, that's when the super-teen and her dad meet their match.  While 8 agents don't pose a threat, man it's really hard and stressful to take down these German brawlers on motorbikes.

So, in sum, it was an amazing and visually exciting movie to watch, and I'd still recommend it to anyone who digs that sort of thing.  I mean, I'd probably even watch it again.  But, there are plot issues, and I can tell you David the Movie Snob will not be taking in a second viewing.

The breakdown:
DMS rating: 4/10, to which I responded, "REALLY!?"  Jeez, it wasn't that bad!
my rating: 7/10  Seriously, give it a watch! :)

Anyone else seen this flick?  What did you think?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Silver - just some writing

My mind has been brimming with little stories, character sketches, and other things lately.  It's like the start of summer sent a creative surge through my brain.  Which is awesome, but I'm trying to focus on my current WIP right now, and all these great ideas can be VERY distracting.  So I had an idea.  Just as listening to that song in your head makes it quiet down (at least for a little while), I thought if I did a bit of writing on just one of these ideas, maybe they'd all shut up for awhile and I can focus on my space opera. :)

As I was falling asleep last night, some lines were flickering in my head - less story than character sketch, but I thought I'd put them down.  And, since I'm trying to write more in the blog, I figured why not put them down for all to see? :)


Silver -

I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't know about death.  No one had to teach me; it was just something that wove itself through my childhood like the silver thread woven through the quilt my dead grandma made me.

I was born exactly one year after the death of my uncle, the one I never met.  In some ways, I knew him, Paul, better than I knew my living aunts and uncles.  His photograph stared at me from every room in the house we shared with my grandparents.  His name lingered always just behind the last word of every conversation, as if the walls themselves whispered it.  I still remember the way the air around us would turn thick like syrup if anyone slipped up and actually did mention his name out loud.  If someone said it, "Paul," time stopped for a few seconds, freezing us in that moment until we could push it away again and go on with life.

There is a lot of responsibility being the first born after a death.  Though no one said it, even before kindergarten I knew that I was more than just the first grandchild.  The more religious of the family believed I was sent to them.  The spiritual thought I was Paul reincarnated.  And even to those whose views were less articulated, I was the Silver Lining, the light shining behind the dark cloud of death.

If anything, I was a constant reminder of him.  I learned to tell the difference between someone looking at me, the new baby born into this family, versus someone looking at his memory.  When they looked through me, a sad smile on their lips and softly glazed eyes, I knew they weren't seeing me at all.  But that was alright; at least they had a smile, even if sad.  At least I made them smile at all.


And that's all we have today, folks. :)  Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

One Paragraph Review of Ship Breaker

I picked this book up at the SCBWI Western Washington conference this past weekend...and then I didn't put it down again until I finished it. :)

Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker takes place in a future where the oil has run out and the wealth distribution is even more uneven than it is now.  On a beach off the Gulf of Mexico, we follow the protagonist, Nailer, as he risks his life scavenging old wrecked oil tankers for enough copper wire to maybe buy his next meal - that is if his addict father doesn't take most of it first.  When Nailer finds the scavenge of all scavenges, a huge wealthy clipper ship left behind by a recent hurricane, he must decide whether to save the clipper's lone survivor and possibly escape his life of poverty, or to remain loyal to his crew and family and strip the ship for all it's worth.  Bacigalupi's frank language and amazing sense of setting combine to keep the pace up while making you feel you're right alongside Nailer in his adventures.  The characters of this book leapt off the page for me, so much so that when I finished, I felt I'd lost friends.  Perhaps it's because I'm so used to trilogies these days, but I haven't felt like that at the end of a book in ages.  And it's not just Nailer, either; the supporting characters are even more well-rounded and lifelike.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes good adventure, an exciting plot, and strong characters.

Front to back time: Two days

Favourite character: This was tough.  I think the most interesting character in the book was Nailer's father, but I wouldn't want to meet him!  As for one I'd like to meet, I thought Sadna was wonderful.

Most exciting scene: I had to add this new category just for the amazing nautical battle scene.  I won't give anything away; I'll just say one word gripping.

Musical Accompaniment: Metronomy, Massive Attack

Overall Rating: 8/10  ...I'm beginning to think my rating system is flawed.  I'm always rating them 8!  But maybe that's because I only read good books! ;)

Have any of you guys read this book?  Let me know your thoughts!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's No Zombie, It's My Blog

*cue eerie B-movie music*

From the depths of the Blog Graveyard, a bloodcurdling chest rattle drifts through the binary fog.  Your hair stands on end.  You know what's coming, the walking dead.  You should run, but you're curious.  What will emerge from the fog? blog!  And it's ALIVE!!!

So, thanks for sticking around! :)

Things have been flowing along here in Amanda-land.  In the essence of time, I'll give you a bulleted list:

  • I've finished my first novel, DROWNING.  It's a story of two twins, Elly and Samantha, who are separated when Sam finds a gate into another world - a world on the brink of civil war.  Elly embarks on a quest to find her sister, but to do so she needs to decide which side of the conflict to trust.
  • I've also begun my second novel, THE TIME BETWEEN.  That premise is secret for now. ;)
  • Stay tuned in the coming weeks for some awesome giveaways!  Okay, at least one awesome giveaway.  I have some super awesome swag from the SCBWI Western Washington conference that I'd love to share with you all!
  • Which brings me to my next point - I spent last weekend at the Western Washington conference and learned a great deal!  Some highlights: Holly Black says the best way to plot is to talk about it out loud!  Is she crazy?  I don't think so!  Liz Waniewski says strong characters make a story.  To build strong characters, don't just ask about their flaws and virtues/ likes and dislikes, but remember to ask WHY.  Writer/Illustrator Dave Santat had a really moving keynote speech to kick off the second day, in which he said, "Life is a series of baby steps" and the more you do it, the better you get.  Justin Chanda said now is a great time to be a debut YA novelist.  And Joe Monti, Tina Wexler, and Justin Chanda all gave great insight into the "back end" of publishing.  What happens after that query is sent out into the world?  Too much to discuss here in my bulleted list! :)
  • Finally, the other big news I've had since my last entry (WAYYY back in January), is that I am engaged and will be getting married in August!
On that note, I'm off to read some more Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi.  Halfway through, I can't recommend this book enough!

*stretches zombie-blog arms* "Ah, it's good to be back!"


Thursday, January 20, 2011

What the eff is your problem? When not to swear...

So, I may or may not have a swearing problem.  It all depends on if you think cursing like a sailor is a problem.  Personally, I don' least not in most situations.  Certainly, there are times you just shouldn't swear. church?  Even if you aren't religious, I don't think any of the religious people in the church with you would care very much for your eff-bombs.

Today, my swearing (non)problem came to a head, I think.  See, as a speech pathologist, I cart around a lot of toys.  Some are nice and quiet and, well, some like to talk to me in my travels.  While driving down the highway, I think nothing of hearing a MOOOOOOO from the backseat.  While entering an elevator, I have been known to get odd looks as my bag starts vibrating and laughing (tickle me elmo anyone?) :)

Now, I have this new toy, Countalong Cookie Jar.  Could someone please tell me why toys like this don't have off switches?  This morning, I put little Countalong in my trunk and headed to my appointment.  The whole way there, she kept asking me to play in that automated toy, adult-sounding-like-deranged-child voice.  "Hi!  I'm Countalong Cookie Jar!  Let's play!  Please put in a cookie! .... Please put in a cookie!  .... Please put in a cookie!"  After, like...some insanely long amount of time without getting her damned cookie, she finally had mercy.  "Let's play again REAL soon.  Byebye!"  BUT, after the next sharp turn, she was at it again.

I know I know.  "Get to the swearing part!" you're all yelling at me.  I hear you I hear you.  And, here it comes.  So, after my 40 minute trek to my appointment, I finally park and go to my trunk to get the toys I need.  As soon as I open the trunk, there's little creepy sounding Countalong: "Please put in a cookie!  Let's play again REAL soon!  Byebye!"  To which I reply, "FUDGE YOUR FUDGING COOKIES AND GO TO HELM!"

...sort of.  What I actually said had much less to do with sailing and chocolate than this blog-safe version.

Not a big deal.  I mean, swearing at inanimate objects is no biggie, right?  Everyone does that.  Right?  RIGHT?

But, it was a big deal.  Well, maybe a little big deal.  After my ode to fudge, I heard a voice behind me.  "Everything alright?"  I turn to see my client's parent peeking out their front door.  Evidently, they'd seen me pull up and had opened the door for me.  And they'd heard the whole thing!  I turned bright red and chuckled, "haha...You know those V-tech toys...hahaha"  Yes, yes, chuckle away your profanity, Amanda, chuckle it away!

Fortunately, Parent didn't say anything else about it and seemed remarkably willing to treat me like a normal person, rather than a lunatic who goes on swearing tirades at her toys.

This experience made me think about all the places we may or may not swear.  I swear in front of my parents, do you?  I didn't used to.  I think I started at some point in high school and no one ever really made any mention of it.  I don't swear at work (usually!  Except for toy induced tantrums in my clients' driveways.  haha).  I don't swear at the gym...though I'm not really sure why.

I do swear in my book a bit.  Not a lot, and certainly no eff-bombs.  So, what do you guys think of swearing in young adult literature?  (...or, swearing at toys? hehe)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Top 5 Ways to Land an Agent/Editor at a Conference

So, like some of you, I will be going to the SCBWI New York conference in...less than two weeks!!!!!!!

*Ahem* excuse the squealing. Very excited.

To prepare, I've been researching good ways to meet and "bag" an agent in the short 2.5 days I'll have at the conference.  You may be thinking, "Why, ducky, that's impossible!"  Oh contraire, my little followers (and please, pardon the French.  My second language is Spanish...).  For, with my handy dandy list of the Top 5 Ways to Land an Agent/Editor at a Conference, you cannot fail.  And if you do, it's not my fault.  There must be something hideously and inalterably wrong with you and perhaps you should consider a career in serving fries instead of writing.

So, without further ado, I present to you, Top 5 Ways to Land an Agent/Editor at a Conference:

  1. Editors and Agents like to clear the stage quickly after panels and presentations, sneaking out through the back door, so it's always important to approach them DURING the panel or presentation.  Don't worry, they won't mind being interrupted at all!  Especially once you tell them what a BESTSELLER you've got on your hands.  And, if the audience behind you yells for you to clear off, that's just because they're jealous.  Flip them the bird and carry on with your pitch.  After all, you were the only one smart and brave enough to earn it!
  2. Before you even begin speaking to said editor or agent, remember to hand them your business card.  Sometimes they like to play coy and won't take it, claiming they just lose it.  Feel free to stick it in their pocket/briefcase/cleavage while they're not looking.  They're sure to notice it there.
  3. While conversing with your agent or editor of choice, be sure to remind them REPEATEDLY that you are better than their other clients.  Say something like, "Oh yeah.  I picked up your client X's new book.  Psh.  I didn't even make it past page 10.  That stuff was such crap!  I can't believe you signed her.  You can be sure that MY book will sell twice as many copies because it's TWICE as good!"  Now knowing their own clients' work pales in comparison to yours, they'll have no choice but to sign you, if for nothing other than to save face.
  4. When pitching your book to agents, be sure to highlight how short a time you've been writing.  Everyone loves a prodigy, am I wrong?  Even if it's taken you a year to get your manuscript written, it's okay to fudge a little bit!  Why not try, "So, I had been working at the bowling alley since high school, but after I saw the movie Twilight, I was like, 'hey!  I can write a book too!'  So, I started like last week, and wrote on ALL my breaks since then.  What you see before you today is a masterpiece unlike any other.  And it only took me a week to write!  Feel free to put that on the cover, by the way.  I think it'll sell more copies for you."
  5. Last but not least, I cannot stress enough how important a personal touch is.  Rather than just having flowers sent up to their room after the first day of workshops (c'mon, everyone does that!), why not hand deliver the flowers and champagne YOURSELF?  That way, the agent or editor can put a face to your name, and he'll forever associate you with the pleasant tipsy feeling brought on by too much champagne!  Also, if you're lucky, you'll get him drunk enough that he'll sign you without even seeing your book!
So, I hope these tips help you at your next conference!  And, don't forget to thank me in your acknowledgements.  After all, would you have ever landed that book deal without my sage advice!?  I think not!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

I'm not a writer; I was just born this way

Now it’s time for a LONG overdue blog entry!  Yay! 

For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about my past forays into writing.  Even though this is the first time I’ve REALLY truly thought about publishing and what that would entail, I think I’ve been on this train for a long while.  Please, join me, in a short (ok, not that short) jaunt down memory lane, where I recount some of my finer literary moments!

A couple years ago, my mum invited me to her house to clean out the bazillions of boxes she has carted around through all of her moves.  Most of these boxes were filled with things related to me (I’m an only child so...yeah.)  There were home made cards of all sorts and occasions, old school projects that we couldn’t bear to part with, random scribblings, and, of course, many many “stories.”  The earliest of these consisted of my pre-literacy attempts, mere scribbles and some random words arranged haphazardly on the page.  I’m certain there was a method behind my madness (most lunatics are!) though.  Unfortunately, I can’t recall any exact examples now, but suffice to say, it was things like 

rAIn  boW           FLowERbECAUSE she Loved!

  and the like.  I’m sure I was asking my mum for each letter as I went.

Flash forward a year or two, and I’m in Kindergarten.  I was the only child in my kindergarten who could read (not bragging, it was just true.)  The teachers actually called my mum in for a conference after one particular disciplinary “incident.”  Apparently, I’d written a story (I still remember it - something about a black unicorn named Wildfire scrawled all over one side of a looseleaf paper in my exceptionally messy handwriting) that I wished to read for my show and tell.  The teachers refused me that privilege - because it would be bad for the morale of the children, I later found out - and I threw a fit.  So, they had to call my mum in and say she had to get me under control and tell me I was absolutely not allowed to read in Kindergarten.  Yeah, yay public schools!

Flash WAY forward and I’m in grade 8 with the best, most amazing English teacher I’d ever had.  (She even bought me a journal when I moved away to encourage me to keep writing.)  One of the poems I’d written in her class was published in a local paper, thanks to her.  I wrote so many short stories in her class and used to dream up covers for the novel I’d someday write.  She assured me she’d keep her eye out for my book in the coming years.  I aim not to disappoint!

Now, we come to grade 10, when I finally buckled down and decided to write my first book.  Sort of.  I’m not sure whatever happened to that gem.  I’d made it to about 60 pgs on WordPerfect (hey, it was the 90s!).  It was a very original plot - 16 year old boy falls in love with his homely neighbor who may or may not have been abused.  She moves away and he drops into the deepest of deep depressions, which is only turned around when he goes on a massive class trip to the beach.  Loads of debauchery ensue, he gets alcohol poisoning, and one of the girls there (the blonde popular one, of course) nurses him back to health.  I only remember one choice line, in the scene where he’s about to puke.  “Somehow she knew to get me the bowl right at that moment.  She knew a lot about what I needed.”  Oh yes, I am sorry I lost that masterpiece! :)

The following year, a friend and I decided to write a play called Waiting for Gryphon.  I remember bits about the plot - nothing nearly as entertaining as the alcohol-soaked novel of the year before.  But, the prep and research that went into Waiting for Gryphon was better than actually writing the thing anyway.  :)  We wanted to ensure that the dialogue was as authentic as possible, so we spent most of our time carrying around an oldschool tape recorder, like this one  and hanging out at local teen squats.  Later, we’d listen to the tapes and transcribe the best parts to possibly use in the play.  I’m sure all sorts of privacy laws were violated, but it was worth it.  We caught some real choice words.  

Walking through McDonalds one day, we recorded one woman’s whole rant about her boyfriend, to which her friend responded, “All men are dogs.”  A statement that was later corroborated when we got some snippets of a fight that broke out in our high school parking lot.  The girl yelled out, “You ain’t got nothin’ but a two inch dick!”  Her charming partner hollered back, “And you be chokin’ on it!”  You might be wondering how we picked that one up - well, it was no simple task.  During the fight, I laid the recorder on the roof of the car while I pretended to dig through the back seat.  After the fight was over, my friend held the recorder in her lap under a sweater while we drove past and “interviewed” the girl on what had happened.  ...all under the guise of concern.  I do have a slight tinge of guilt about that, but hey, it’s not like we posted any of this anywhere public.  This was pre-youtube.  Otherwise, we might have been tempted! :)

After Waiting for Gryphon ended before it even got started, I moved away from the whole writing thing for most of college and all of grad school.  3 inch text books and 60 page reports can do that to a person.

Anyway, fellow writers, how did you all get started?