Thursday, May 24, 2012

At MFA residency

The more time I spend at this residency, the more ideas I get for my story.  How to fix aspects and problem areas of it. I know who my mentor will be for the semester now. Her name is Lesléa Newman. She has been published and has a marvelous  reputation among the students for her critiquing ability.  One girl said, "She doesn't leave a single comma unchallenged." She sounds marvelous.  Strict but marvelous. I'm looking forward to learning from her.

A lot of the suggestions that have been made about "Shadowed" are not new.  A few suggestions caught me by surprise, like the suggestion that the book have a prologue.  What? I've always heard prologues were bad ideas for first time writers. But they had some good points on why I should go with a prologue.  Others are just occurring to me as I attend lecture after lecture on writing.

But I'm seeing a major rewrite in my future.  And the major rewrite will require the complete removal of at least one scene and the rewriting of two or three other scenes to reconnect everything. But by making such a big change--removing the one scene I believe the story will be significantly sharper, stronger and add a few more layers to the characters. There is so much I want to change, to play with, to work with.  But I should probably wait until lectures are over. That way I'm not re-changing changes to my story in a rather short amount of time.

For those of you who follow me fairly close on twitter and Facebook, you've probably seen me ask for suggestions on what YA books and writing reference books I should read. The list grew quite long and my mentor told me she didn't want me reading reference books for the papers I need to write.  I'm supposed to read the book and then write a two to four page essay on a specific element in the story, like description, dialogue and pacing. But she does encourage me to read reference books if I feel they'll help.

So Lesléa and I came up with a list of ten books for me to read through the semester.  The books can be switched out later if I want but for now these are what I'm looking at for reading material. I'll try providing a URL for each book as I read them. In no particular order this is my initial reading list:

Which books have you read?  Any suggestions on which order I should read them?
I'm thinking about posting my element paper and a book review on each book as I finish reading them, on separate days, of course. Would anyone be interested in that?  Leave answers in comments.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On The Road...Again

And I can't wait to get on the road again. On the road again -Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway. We're the best of friends. Insisting that the world keep turning our way. And our way is on the road again. Just can't wait to get on the road again. --Willie Nelson

Today is the day. I'm leaving for a few days to participate in Spalding Universities Residency program. Residency marks the beginning of a semester and I'm looking forward to getting started on the MFA program.  It sounds like it'll be a lot like a writer's conference, with different workshops, lectures, conversations and events. Is there anything in particular you want me to take extra careful notes on or ask about? No promises, but I'll try.

Anyways, as soon as my shift ends at work, I'll be heading to Indiana.  According to MAPQUEST the 1874.52 mile drive should only take 27 hrs 22 mins.  I've made this trip enough times to know MAPQUEST lies.  Unless you don't have a bladder or need to stretch, it takes longer.  Fortunately, I know how to prepare for it and I've given myself enough wiggle room where, even if the weather is nasty or we end up trapped in a traffic jam for 4 hours, I should still make it in town in time for opening ceremonies.

No little ones with me, unless you count my grandmother and she's taller than me, so that saves me a lot of time and space. I'm a writer, so I'm easily entertained with things that can easily work/fit in a car.  On road trips like this I always have multiple notebooks and a ton of pens.  You can never have too many pens.  I have books to read--some of them for class. Of course, since we'll be driving at night, I have book lights and extra batteries so the darkness won't be an impediment or dangerous as my grandmother drives.

I take an MP3 player with me.  I don't care what they say. There is always somewhere out there that doesn't have a single working radio station and you need music, for those long hours on the road. Usually that's all I need to entertain myself, but I also have my latest draft of my manuscript printed out so I can look through that and a few other things.

To cheapen the expense of driving cross-country we're bringing snacks.  We bought those goldfish cheez-its, some fiber and protein bars, butter crackers and chips.  We've made our own chip dip and a handful of other things.  The idea is we'll snack the entire trip down. If we need to stop for something, fine, but we'll try not to. That way gas is the only expense.

What do you do for long trips?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wanted: Undead or Alive--A Review

He's a vampire from the big city . . .
Phineas McKinney thought New York City was tough, until he was attacked by Malcontents—evil vampires who consider mortals to be snacks. Saved by the good vampires, Phin swore to devote his now undead life to stopping the Malcontents. He's got his job cut out for him when word comes that their enemy may be hiding in Wyoming. What does a city boy like him know about horses and campfires? Good thing he's got Brynley Jones with him . . . if only she didn't hate every vampire on earth.

She's a werewolf princess . . .
Bryn believes vampires are seductive and charming, and that makes them dangerous. So she's more than a little annoyed about teaming up with Phin, even if he is the only bloodsucker able to make her inner wolf purr. But as they hunt down the new leader of the Malcontents, danger threatens . . . and Phineas and Brynley discover a passion that will rock the foundation of their supernatural world.

Normally, I love Kerrelyn Sparks as a writer.  I own all of her Love At Stake series books.  So, I've been looking forward to reading Wanted: Undead or Alive. But although I can't say this book was bad, I can't say there weren't a few points that irritated me in this book.  My irritation was not enough to keep me from reading the book, from enjoying it, and it won't keep me from recommending the book, though I'd have a little more reservations in doing so with this particular one. However, the irritation could have easily been removed if Sparks had simply slipped a paragraph, an explanation, something inside the book to keep me from going, "Ok...that's bad, but why is that such a big deal?"  For those of you who want to read the book, without knowing any spoilers I recommend you stop reading now.  Some of my points are major spoilers.  Some minor.

My main issue was with Brynley Jones, the heroine of the story.  She is seen as the Princess of the pack, the eldest daughter of the Supreme Pack Master.  All her life she's rebelled against what she was taught: never defy your father, be submissive, and you'll be happy. After watching her mother die, and some very cruel things happen to her, Byrnley finally follows her twin brother's example and runs away from home.  She becomes a teacher for a pack of boys her father banished from the land, which she's nicknamed "The Lost Boys."

This is where Wanted: Undead or Alive starts.  Phineas and Bryn go to Wyoming to hunt down the new leader of the MalContents, Corky Courrant, knowing full-well it's the worst place for Bryn to be.  Because if her father finds out she's in town, and captures her, she'll be forced to marry a guy VERY much like her father. Her father is a cheater, spoiled with his power, corrupt and demands absolute obedience from everyone he interacts with.

Eventually the ifs and whens do happen.  Brynley is captured by her father's minions.  She is sent to share a room with her younger sister, who is SUPER excited at the prospect of Brynley getting married.  Because, their father won't let poor Glynis marry until her Brynley is married....  Kind of like with Taming of the Shrew.  The oldest must marry first. And considering where the plot leads, why couldn't Rhett marry Glynis?  It would make everything so much easier for everyone's plans.

You see enough of her forced fiancè, Rhett, to know, she not only would be unhappy with him but that he would abuse her.  The first time they meet, Rhett slaps Brynley and kicks paralyzed Phineas. He shows how little respect he had for her and how miserable he'd make her life if they were married but instead of taking every opportunity to try to escape form this horrible marriage, Brynley lets a few possibilities slip by because she doesn't want to hurt her sister's feelings. For example, she knows she can get help from Phineas if she can get a phone.  She searches her sister's room.  She asks a wolf at the party her father is hosting for a phone.  But she never asks her sister to help her or lie to her sister about the reasons she needs a phone.

And yet we're told how miserable she is at the prospect of marriage to Rhett.

I realize those who suffer from domestic abuse may say, it'll be impossible for her to escape the marriage once she's his wife because he'll be so controlling.  I may be completely wrong in my thinking, never having experienced it myself, and please tell me if I'm wrong, but that isn't exactly the situation she finds herself in.

From what I understand, domestic abuse usually starts when the couple is dating. The guy lowers her confidence enough to get her to marry him and lowers it more once he has the ring on her finger. Until she's captured Byrnley has never met Rhett before.  She has no emotional connection to him.  She only knows his name because on her 30th birthday, her father announced that she would be marrying Rhett in three days.  She ran away that night, still never having met him. She also doesn't want to marry the guy. Aren't most brides, even those who suffer from domestic abuse, looking forward to their wedding? She's also in love with someone else. NOTHING IS HOLDING HER TO THIS GUY.  She simply can't escape because she's locked in a room, doesn't want to hurt her sister and is constantly watched.

So she can't escape.  Once she knows Phineas has escaped, is safe, why doesn't she make a stronger effort to escape herself?  Or, why worry so much about the marriage?  She doesn't have to get married.  They have no leverage on her to force her to sign the paperwork or say the words with Phineas having escaped.  And even if she does married Rhett, so what?  She'll escape when they're not paying attention.  File for an annulment and marry her hero, Phineas. Is it because Phineas has to save her?

I could believe the whole, can't get divorced thing if it was placed even a hundred years ago.  But it's not. It's modern day United States.  If divorce/annulment wasn't possible, because of something like "wolves mate for life" part of their culture that MIGHT explain some of it. She's been living outside of the culture, I don't see why that would matter that much to her. But at least it would be an explanation.

Anyways, after she's been saved, Brynley returns to her father's house, where she just escaped to face her father.  Her twin brother is now at her side.  Her youngest brother is against them. Father still tries to force her to marry Rhett even with Phineas and 50 other people on her side, ready to fight to the death for her. When they're about to drag her off, she pulls an "alpha."  Only then do we learn that women are never Alpha werewolves. Would have been nice to know sooner.  I kept wondering why she didn't just charge out of her sister's room, using super wolf powers she know doubt had as princess of wolves.

Rhett, who originally planned on killing Brynley and her family, once they were married and who knows her father planned to have him killed when Brynley married, goes, "She's the only Alpha female in the world. She's too valuable to kill, I must make her my wife because she's so rare.  It'll make me powerful."

Blood and fighting ensues.

Phineas is hurt.  And his injuries cause him to...develop certain abilities that make him himself a commodity, which pleases Brynley's father enough that he gives her his blessing to marry Phineas...huh? As a wedding gift, her father also gives Phineas and her the cabin Rhett was originally living in.  Brynley suspects her father--who not only told Brynley it was her fault she was raped  but arranged for her to be raped--before the book takes place, gave her the cabin only to keep her and her husband close.  But she gladly moves in afterwards, because family forgives each other.  She's married to the man she loves.  And she's living on her favorite hunting grounds..

I must give Sparks credit. I found the fact that Brynley was raped realistic.  Even with the rape having taken place 5 years before the story took place, she acted edgy, much like one would expect her to react in certain incidences after being raped. But why move so close to her father who she's rebelled so hard against, who more than likely would arrange to have her assaulted again if he felt it might help his cause.  Her rapist is dead, but Daddy isn't.  And in my mind, he's just as much a rapist as her actual rapist is.

Granted, this is really only one aspect of the story, but it feels like major author interference occurred to keep the story rolling, to make the characters do things the story needed, not the characters. I'm not sure what happened to Sparks with this book but I hope she'll return to her old way of telling tales. Overall  Wanted: Undead or Alive is an entertaining read.  But I must question some of the events in the story.

I do enjoy certain aspects of the story. Phineas is a vampire and Brynley is a werewolf, which in a lot of fantasy books, makes them enemies.  They aren't enemies in Sparks world, but a relationship between the two is highly looked down upon. Phineas is African-American.  Brynley is described as someone with "Sky-blue eyes and a long mane of hair that glimmered with shades of brown, red and gold."  Sparks kept the comedic aspect in her story, though there was less than I was used to. The characters were also well-rounded.  I plan on reading the next book in the series Wild About You, which will be released November 27th.

 Have you read Wanted: Undead or Alive?  What did you think?  Post your thoughts in comments.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Highs and Lows of Writing

So, I am starting my first semester at Spalding University next week.  I'm looking forward to start earning an MFA in creative writing. Of course, there is plenty for me to do to get ready. One of those things is filling out a form that's supposed to help my mentor get to know me. The form asks that I write a paragraph or two for a few questions.  Two particular questions amuse me.  What are your greatest strengths as a writer?  What are your greatest weaknesses?

I smile. The answer I want to give is highly...sarcastic, sardonic.

The answer I want to give?  It depends on where I am in my novel.  At one moment, I may believe the words, the pace, the characterization, everything is perfect.  It makes the world sing.  I'm perfect.  I don't need to change a word, a syllable, a comma.  To change anything would be sacrilegious. I bask in the gloriousness of my great, beautiful writing and believe myself a goddess among writers. HOW DARE SOMEONE SUGGEST IT'S NOT READY TO BE PUBLISHED? My story should be thrown off an airship made out of chocolate so all can enjoy in the majesty of my work.  And as people worship me as I float above them, I shout "Enjoy the sprinkles that is my novel!" WHICH MAKES NO SENSE.

At another point in my novel, or perhaps the same section it's just a different day, or even an hour later, my novel can feel horrible. My writing is the absolute worst in existence and HOW DARE I EVEN TRY TO BECOME A WRITER?  What I write sucks.  Nothing works.  Everything is cliched and dirty and....wrong. Just absolutely wrong.  What made me think that word would even possibly work there? I'll have readers bleeding from the eyes if they tried reading my work. What I write is hideous and should be forever hidden in a bamboo tree, guarded by a dragon with a grumpy disposition, who also needs a fire to warm himself with.  Burn baby, burn!

The best place for me to be is at my happy medium.  Nothing is glorious.  Nothing sucks. My writing is mediocre.  I get the most work done in this state, but I'm also my most paranoid.  Everything is mediocre, so how can I kick it up a notch..?. Does this need kicked up a notch or does it just feel like it needs kicked up a notch because I've read this section for the 980th time?  I think my friends avoid me when I'm in this state.  Email boxes fill--often my own as I bang my head against a wall. Sometimes an answer will be emailed back to me.  Often my only response is a headache as I try to figure out what email note 129 means by: J needs to turn into a  p so she can kiss B.  And dance with the fluffy masked creatures that want to kill her.  And don't forget about the purple striped and blue polka-dotted elephants.

Did I even write this email?  How did it get in my mail box?
I'm losing my mind.

Care to guess what state I'm in? What state are you in on your own writing?  High, low, paranoid-mediocre?

Post your response in comments, or anywhere else.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


For those of you who followed me from my livejournal site, thank you for staying with me.  For everyone else, I hope you decide to visit my blog often.  This blog will maintain a lot of characteristics of my livejournal one.  I plan on posting weird facts, things on writing, and small updates on my life.  Since I am now in college, I imagine my blog will fill up with what I'm learning in class and, perhaps, write book reviews much more often.  I want to start getting more guest bloggers to provide a variety of point of views. But most importantly I want this blog to be open to conversation, a give and take of information, thoughts and perspectives.  I know that's a lot to ask, especially since I'm not a known name. But it is a goal.

I can't say how often I'll post on this blog.  Every time I make a goal I fall far from it, but I hope to write regularly.