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0 In Reading

Review: THE DEATH AND LIFE OF ZEBULON FINCH by Daniel Kraus

THE DEATH AND LIFE OF ZEBULON FINCH (1)
by Daniel Kraus
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
Pages: 656 (HC)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

May 7, 1896. Dusk. A swaggering seventeen-year-old gangster named Zebulon Finch is gunned down on the shores of Lake Michigan. But after mere minutes in the void, he is mysteriously resurrected.

His second life will be nothing like his first.

Zebulon’s new existence begins as a sideshow attraction in a traveling medicine show. From there, he will be poked and prodded by a scientist obsessed with mastering the secrets of death. He will fight in the trenches of World War I. He will run from his nightmares—and from poverty—in Depression-era New York City. And he will become the companion of the most beautiful woman in Hollywood.

Love, hate, hope, and horror—Zebulon finds them. But will he ever find redemption?

Ambitious and heartbreaking, The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume One: At the Edge of Empire is the epic saga of what it means to be human in a world so often lacking in humanity. Continue Reading →

0 In Reading

Review: THE MIDNIGHT STAR by Marie Lu

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THE MIDNIGHT STAR (The Young Elites #3)
by Marie Lu
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 314 (HC)
Publisher: Putnam’s Sons (Penguin)

There was once a time when darkness shrouded the world, and the darkness had a queen.

Adelina Amouteru is done suffering. She’s turned her back on those who have betrayed her and achieved the ultimate revenge: victory. Her reign as the White Wolf has been a triumphant one, but with each conquest her cruelty only grows. The darkness within her has begun to spiral out of control, threatening to destroy all she’s gained.

When a new danger appears, Adelina’s forced to revisit old wounds, putting not only herself at risk, but every Elite. In order to preserve her empire, Adelina and her Roses must join the Daggers on a perilous quest—though this uneasy alliance may prove to be the real danger.

Overview: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Plot: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  | Characters: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (4.5) | Style: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This book is probably one of the most impressive closes to a series I think I’ve read. I loved the ending, and the changes that came Adelina’s way. I recommend this book and series for high schoolers (due to the amount of death and rage and violence), and anyone who loves a good twisted story. It’s the tale of a villain or a tragic heroine–however you want to refer to it. But it’s a story of the “dark” side to humanity which is still human, and I think that’s the most important part.

0 In Reading

Review: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab

 

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A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC
by V.E. Schwab
Genre: YA / Fantasy
Pages: 400 (HC)
Publisher: Tor (2015)

Kell is one of the last travelers–magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King–George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered–and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London–a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.


Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Characters:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ | Plot:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ | Style: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

I like this book. The small technicalities of world building are wonderful, and Kell’s coat. Can we appreciate that for a second? I want a multi-sided, multi-dimensional coat. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a sort of film noir fantasy. (At least it played out in my head with a similar color scheme.) It’s got dark points but it’s got a lot of creativity and a world and characters that I can feel truly invested in. Also, there’s a thief who wants to be a pirate. And did I mention magic? It’s great.

0 In writing

How to Plot Your First Novel

I have a lot of young writers ask me how I work. Do I plot? What about outlining? Do I fill out character interviews? Since writing my first novel my answers have varied but after learning some more tips and tricks in college, and finding a couple more critique partners, I have to answer with a resounding yes to all of those questions.

How to plot your first novel

What I want to talk to you about today is how I plot my novels after learning all of these things. But let’s briefly discuss the different types of plotters:

  1. Plotters (to an extreme)
  2. A Plantser (plotter-pantser, mid-range)
  3. Pantsers (who write without knowing much about their projects)

Plotters

Now, when I first started writing I bucked at the thought of actually sitting down and planning an entire story, let alone a novel. Where’s the fun in knowing exactly what’s going to happen next and how?

As a twelve-year-old, I didn’t like to admit that I was still more of an off-the-cuff storyteller and reader than I was a writer. But I wrote my first book going in blind. It ended up being over 60,000 words long and that draft will never again see the light of day because I’ve come to learn what a valuable tool plotting can be–especially when planning global domination.

There are terms in the writing world of plotters and pantsers. Plotters, as you may have figured, plot. I know several plotters whose notecard skills put librarians to shame (ironically one of them is a librarian). Plotters can at some points go to extremes. I had a friend who plotted each scene of her entire novel (those moments that build on one another to form chapters). She ended up with over 400 tiny, 3×2″ note cards before she ever set her proverbial pen to paper on the first draft of her book. It took her almost an entire semester to simply plot her novel.

I’m not saying this to scare you, but just so you know, it’s a reality.

When you’re friends with plotters, like I am, you tend to pick up a few of their tricks. My plots look something akin to:

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This follows a circular plot method which I’ve outlined on the blog before. I first learned this roundabout way of plotting in a screenwriting course and it’s saved many of my manuscripts from wandering aimlessly into the rabbit holes of “I have no idea what’s happening or why.”

As a plotter, I feel I’m just dipping my toes into plotter territory. I haven’t gone notecard crazy yet, but I’m also not writing by the seat of my pants like I was when I first started out.

Plantsers

Which puts me somewhere on the scale of being a plantser (plotter-pantser). I know the core plot of my story, but a lot of my subplots I’ll leave a little open-ended in the planning phases. Which means I have to revise later to tie them up. It’s a drawback to my impatience (or as I like to think of it, my eagerness) to jump into a new project. For me, at least, not plotting meticulously is an okay thing. But it makes the revision period drag.

I used to be worse and would plot via bullet points and simply summarize what I wanted the chapters to be. And half the time I’d find lines like “figure it out,” or “something happens here,” that never quite got filled in before I started drafting. At least I had goals for the beginning and ending of my manuscripts. I wasn’t writing totally blind.

Pantsers

Now, I love pantsers, especially when they write really well. It’s fascinating for me to hear someone admit that they had no idea where their story was going while writing. But damn it, they were going to follow where it led.

I started my writing career being stubborn enough to think that I didn’t need to do research, let alone plot my novel before I wrote it. In the last eight years I’ve learned, for me as a writer, that plotting can be beneficial for my timelines. It helps keep me organized, and I end up with fewer tangents in my novels.

But there are people who can write without knowing the ending of anything and still do just fine. It all depends on who you are as a writer. I did it with my bad first novel, but I finished it and can total call it a bad first novel nonetheless.

There’s no hard and fast rule on how to plot your novel. I have many friends who use notecards, post-it notes stuck on walls. They draw webs, use whiteboards, type their outlines up in Word or Scrivener. Or they jot ideas down in notebooks or on used coffee napkins. No one should try to tell you how to plot or plan your novel. No one is going to have a cure-all answer. What works for some writers won’t work for others.

But I highly recommend you try being a plotter, a panster, and a plantser with a project at least once. Just to test out each type until you find a method that’s just right for you.

0 In Reading

Review: THREE DARK CROWNS by Kendare Blake

3dcs THREE DARK CROWNS
by Kendare Blake
Genre: YA / Fantasy
Pages: 398 (hc)
Publisher: Harper Teen

Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.


Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Characters:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ | Plot:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ | Style: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

I like this book. It’s dark and a bit gory if you’re super squeamish, but it’s also really real within the world that Blake’s created. The perspective shifts are handled nicely and the plot is solid. AND THAT ENDING THOUGH. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes dark fantasy.

0 In Life

On Community and Commitment

Commitment and Community


I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my history when it comes to my life. If there’s one thing I am, it’s committed. I played several sports as a kid but the longest hauls were soccer (eight years) and horseback riding (over a decade of training and showing at competitive levels). I’m also a project person. I like to build things from the ground up and see where they take me. It’s one of the reasons I stuck with horseback riding for so long: I had my own horse that I had helped train and work with since she was a yearling (little), and I sold her when she was eight to a marvelous family where she went on to win regional championships and now she’s on her second home since me and she’s learning to be an eventer. I couldn’t be prouder of her.

I stick around with the communities that prompt growth

When I started writing I didn’t ever think that it would be a short-term thing. I love my work and over the years I’ve come to realize just how powerful our words can be. With all the political warfare going on with the election season, this message seems even more important.

I started writing in the fall of 2008 after finishing the Twilight series. I’ve told this story time and time again, and when I started my first novel I was so proud of myself. But I also knew I would need readers if I was ever going to write something that sells. So I found a local critique group for young writers and I later stumbled on the community of Inkpop.

It was between these two groups that I learned the bulk of my writing knowledge. I’m still learning after leaving both of them, but at a much slower and lonelier rate. What I know I’m missing is a strong sense of trust and community.

I’m reminiscent of Inkpop. I have been since the site closed four years ago. And it’s because, like many other inkies have said before me, that we had a strong sense of community and acceptance. Most of the projects we posted on the site are ones we’d now considered cringe-worthy or “shelved”. But within that community, we would swap projects, share critiques, and try to build each other up. It was always about building each other up and improving our work.

Granted, the hope of publication from HarperCollins added a motivator.

But for me, it was all about improvement. I had two projects reviewed by those editors when I was only 15 and 17. I wouldn’t submit those projects to anyone now, at 22. But for a teenager to have such a community when the friends I had at school didn’t understand why I was so quiet or always reading or never really interested in heading to the next sporting event, it was pretty invaluable.

Eventually, that community changes

The inkies lost a common space for community engagement with the closure of the site. They fractured and disbanded across the internet. Many of us tried to find another site that would replicate the community and acceptance we’d found on inkpop. But the search was futile. There appeared to be little available in the way of critiques among young writers anymore. I’m still searching for something similar to inkpop all these years later.

The groups have stuck together, scattered across facebook, wattpad, and even figment. But nothing feels the same as inkpop. What I’d like to do, one day is reunite that old community somehow. Because we all learn better when we’re learning together.

0 In Reading

Why You Should Read THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES

I’ve reviewed The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis before, in a review of the ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy), I got in June. It’s been over three months since I finished this book, and like a lot of other reviewers out there, initially I wasn’t sure what to think about it. But I’ve had three months to process what I think and feel about this book and sometimes I still struggle to put it into words.

What I can tell you is that it’s important, and so beautifully written that I doubt it will be ignored. And it shouldn’t be. It’s a monumental piece of fiction that explores the very real issues of rape, sexual assault, degradation of women, and themes of murder, finding one’s self, and a fear of one’s own capabilities.

More importantly, it’s a depiction of real, honest, female rage in a world where it’s let loose. I wouldn’t argue that this is a warning against the female rage, but against the societal constructs that work to keep that rage bound and gagged by shutting out the women who choose to do something about it. (I’m in no way condoning acting on homicidal rage, but instead of finding healthy outlets for the anger we all have that don’t lead to suicidal tendencies.)

If you’d like less concise reasoning to read this book, watch my video. I subtlely low-key beg you to get it as soon as you can:

Again, this book is so important to me because I’ve been in Alex’s shoes. I haven’t acted on the homicidal rage in my life, but I’ve certainly wanted to. I’ve been the outsider at school. It goes as far back as kindergarten where I chose not to play what the other kids were playing. So I played by myself and that’s essentially how the next thirteen years went. An act this small, I’ve learned, breeds both self-confidence in one’s choices but also a feeling of otherness. Once the masses agree that the confident play-by-myself–or protect-the-herd in Alex’s case–individual is to be left to the outskirts, they tend to stay there.

It was a struggle for me in high school to have friendships I felt were meaningful. Thankfully I didn’t have as much trouble with this in college. But I think women everywhere, at one point in our lives, feel purely enraged by the world around us. Alex acts on this rage (albeit not in the healthiest ways) and she struggles with the consequences. I think her actions implore us to consider the voices we’re shutting out. And how unhealthy it is to not help girls understand their anger. Or give them productive ways to act on it. Be those coping method working for policy change, artistic expression, charitable work for a cause, or even taking certain types of fitness classes like boxing or a form of self-defense or fighting style courses.

And Mindy’s right when she quotes Rudyard Kipling:

The female of the species is more deadly than the male.

I think we need reminded of that little fact of nature.

If you’ve read THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES, let me know what you thought of it in the comments! I’m always curious to hear other readers reactions. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s on back order from Amazon (shipping early November). You might still find copies at B&N or your local indie bookstore.

0 In writing

Why Your Plot is Not Important

I’ve been writing novels for the last eight years. It’s been a long road, and I still haven’t gotten one published. Why? Because I thought the plot of my novel was the most important thing in the world.

And I was wrong.

Why Your Plot Is Not Important

Now, I want to teach you all the misconceptions I had when tackling my first book. This will be my first post in a 12-part series on how I structure and write my novels. Hopefully, you’ll be able to learn something from my mistakes.

I started writing novels thinking that I needed an exciting plot, one that went at break-neck speed toward a very obvious climax and that my characters would grow and change along the way without much say from me. In many of these early drafts, that was the case, but the character growth was steamrolled by action, action, action, and no recovery time.

Why was this a problem? Because without that downbeat, that recovery time from the events happening to your characters, there is no time for growth. And while you might be reeling at the idea of setting aside the gorgeous plot you’ve laid out in your head, I advise you to listen again:

Your plot is not as important as you think.

Your Characters are More Important

Everyone stresses the importance of plot on a lot of writing blogs. They may not say it directly, but one of the golden rules of writing is:

“Hook me in the first five pages.”

~ Noah Lukeman

This seems to get misinterpreted to mean that something exciting has to immediately happen within the first five pages of your manuscript. Which gets further misread in most cases to mean you’ve got to start your book off with some crazy plot twist, something exciting, something ground-breaking.

And while all of these things are good intentions, it may be hindering the most important part of your book: your characters.

If you have an explosion on the first page and we haven’t even met your protagonist, we’re not going to care that his brother was killed in the blast. We’ll have no attachment to them, no glimpse into their relationship, that will make us feel the loss we’ve witnessed.

So consider how to start your book off right by introducing the reader to who your character really is. Their character is shown through what they notice, how they interact with others, or even their internal dialogue.

But please don’t start with the following cliches

  • Waking up
  • Dreams
  • Going to school (YA specific, unless your school is unique)
  • Looking into the mirror/pool/ocean/anything reflective
  • Backstory galore (I don’t care if you’re writing fantasy, you still don’t get to do this)

None of these show the reader who your character is from the get-go. These are overused openings and will get your manuscript shoved to the bottom of the pile. Or worse, instantly rejected. (Trust me, I read over 900 query letters while interning for a literary agent. These openings get really old really fast.)

Consider putting your character in a slightly abnormal situation in your opening. They’re at work but something’s gone awry, they’re at school and a new kid arrives/natural disaster happens, or they’re working on one of their favorite things.

Give us a situation that a reader can get into your characters’ heads, and you have a hook. What that scene might be, depends on the character and (honestly) the reader’s tastes. But give us something that your protagonist cares about.

Your Plot Is Less Important Than Other Elements

By giving us nothing but a break-neck plot, you’re not giving us a reason to care about the sequence of events because we haven’t connected to your characters. I’ve seen so many writers make this mistake, and honestly, it’s almost so often that I’m starting to consider it a right of passage. If you do this, don’t get discouraged; you’ll learn when it happens (your beta readers and critique partners will surely point these spots out), and you’ll learn how to avoid it (using character interviews, changing the opening, or even changing your narrative POV). Get good enough and you may even be able to make fast-paced plots work to your advantage.

By working on developing and understanding your characters first, you’ll be able to have your break-neck plot but we’ll care. After your readers are attached, you can add in some explosions and a World History lesson. As long as it fits into the proper pacing of your story.

If you or someone you know suffers from over-plotting and under-developed characters, send them this article or share it on social media. Because it’ll save them a lot of time to learn this now rather than eight years later like I have.