Monday, August 30, 2010


I love a good series, don't you? Revisiting favorite characters, their friends, family, enemies, and the world they live in. A sequel is like a pair of broken in sneakers. I settle into the story quicker, it's comfortable right from the beginning, especially if there's a little recap, and I enter the next adventure with the characters I've come to know.

Most of the series I read are continuations of the story told in the first book. Sometimes there's a cliffhanger but more often there are threads which tie each story to the next. Take Harry Potter for instance. Each book takes Harry through a school year at Hogwarts in which some type of adventure occurs leading him to his final confrontation with Voldemort. I know that's an extremely simple look at HP but you get the idea. Diehard fans (me) spent months speculating and discussing what would happen to Harry, wondering if Snape was good or evil, who was the Half Blood Prince or RAB, while waiting for J.K. Rowling's next book. And that's one of the fun parts about a series, particularly if it's the last book - the anticipation and wondering how the author will wrap it up. We saw that just last week with the much anticipated Mockingjay, the third and final book in The Hunger Games trilogy.

I bring this up because even though I love to read books in a series, I know I'll be investing a lot of time with the same characters, their world, in their particular circumstances, and also with the same author and his/her own style of writing. That's why I have to be in the mood to read a series and like to choose whether or not I want to invest that time. I just finished Leviathan, a book I had heard a lot of good things about by well respected YA author, Scott Westerfeld. Ironically, I picked it up because I was looking for the first book in a series by him called Uglies. When the library didn't have it in, I chose Leviathan, a steampunk, historical adventure. It's such an imaginative, well written story, a real treat to read, and a refreshing change from what I've been reading lately. And the illustrations are incredible and really add to the novel. As I got near the end, maybe 50 pages away, and was waiting for a particular character to do something (sorry for the vagueness but I don't want to ruin it) I realized that I wasn't going to find out. There's a sequel called Behemoth coming out in October! Somehow I missed the fact that there would be a sequel and felt let down at the end. Not that I'm blaming Westerfeld or anyone else, and I really don't have to read it, but now I'll be wondering what happens to Deryn and Alek. Even though I found steampunk a different and creative genre, I'm not sure if I want to read another, at least not now.
What about you? Do you like to know ahead of time that you're reading the first book in a series? Does it matter?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hot Chocolate in August?

This morning my daughters requested this with breakfast. Yup. Hot chocolate. It's August. Does this seem strange to anyone but me? I mean, I drink coffee and tea (not iced but hot) all year round, but for some reason I associate hot chocolate with winter. I understand completely why they requested it. This is our third day of rain and it's in the 60s. Hardly summerlike weather.

It lead me to think of things I associate with books I've read. Powerful images that have stuck in my brain and take me back to a favorite story. When I smell peppermint, for example, I'm reminded of Basta from Inkheart who chewed mint leaves and was often identified by its scent on his breath. Roses will forever remind me of President Snow from the Hunger Games trilogy. I can't look at a snake without thinking of Voldemort.

Authors create characters who become alive and memorable through the careful and deliberate images they use to describe them. These descriptions often appeal to our senses and are usually the ones that linger long after we're finished reading. A tinkling bell has me looking over my shoulder for a certain thistle-down haired fairy from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and the mention of whiskey? I'm back in Scotland with Jamie Fraser. I think I'll ponder that last association a little while longer....hmmmm

What sounds, scents, objects do you associate with your favorite books or characters?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blogger Woes

Dear Blogger,

You and I both know that I don't have a lot of computer savvy, but when I signed up with you, you promised it would be easy and I took your word for it. And while yes, I admit it was fun thinking up a cute name and creating just the right look, I'm a tad annoyed that you won't let me post any images. What's up with that?

Remember the baseball game I went to last week? I had a lot of fun that night looking around the park (it was Fenway btw), thinking "Hmm..what should I take a picture of? Which shots could I share with my friends on the blog? Oh, wouldn't a pic of the food on my lap be funny?" I couldn't wait to try scanning my images in the computer the next day (because there's something wonky going on w/ my cord) and was thrilled when that worked. Uploaded to photobucket - easy, peasy! I was all set to go. Followed the blogger instructions, clicked the cute little image button and ...nothing. I tried again. Nothing. Surely, I must have forgotten a step. Reread, posted, nothing. Searched Help, uploaded again, STILL NOTHING! Left it for the weekend, searched every place I could think today, tried again and you guessed it.

I'm not giving up. I WON'T give up. Blogger, we can probably still be friends, after all it's not you, it's me. But today I'm hanging out with MOCKINGJAY. There's no techy kind of thing-a-ma-jig I have to figure out (until the day I buy an e-reader). Don't worry, I'll be back when I'm finished reading.

Until tomorrow when I have more time to waste,


Monday, August 23, 2010

Sunday Night of Summer

Even though I try to convince myself that summer doesn't end until late September (in the Northern hemisphere, that is) let's face it, after Labor Day weekend, summer is officially over. And for those who go back to school in August, summer ends even earlier. I've always thought of this time of year as the Sunday night of summer. Remember that feeling you'd get in the pit of your stomach on Sunday night before the school week started? The weekend was over and it was back to the routine of getting up way too early, sitting in classes, mounds of homework, etc.

That's how I feel at this time of the year. I'm fortunate enough to have summers off and stay home with my kids. I'm able to get up later than the usual 5:30 wake up during the school year, there are no school lunches to pack and uniforms to iron, I'm not juggling my schedule to get the kids where they need to be, and there's a lot more free time to procrastinate, er, I mean, get things done. That's all coming to an end soon and that familiar pit-in-stomach feeling is returning. Soccer practice for 2 of my kids starts this week, cross country practice for 1 starts next week. I've been nervously go over and over in my head if everything is ready - supplies bought, uniforms pressed and ready, school assignments completed - and whether I've forgotten anything. (Cleats! The kids have to try those on today!). This fall I'm also returning to a part time job that I began last winter (with the possibility of extra hours) which means bye-bye to my free time to write. I'll need to get back to a disciplined mindset if I want to achieve some writing goals I've set for myself.

I recently reached the 10,000 work mark in the first draft I'm working on now which means it's only 1/4 of the way finished. I plan to push myself the next 3 weeks before I officially return to work. I'd like to add another 20k by then. This is rather ambitious for me because I'm not a fast writer, but I have other writing goals I'd like to accomplish between now and the end of the year.

Unlike those Sunday nights, I'm not dreading the fall, I'll just miss the laid back, carefree days of summer.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Win

Thanks to one of my awesome sisters-in-law, my 11 year old and I were able to go to a *baseball game Wednesday night. It was a beautiful night and best of all the home team won. Now I promise I won't subject you to bad puns and analogies relating baseball to writing, but I will give you the answers to Wednesday's (read Tuesday because I'm still learning the blogger ropes and the day I drafted this appeared as the post date) first line quiz. Oh, you didn't know it was a quiz? Well, since I gave away Coraline, you all start with 1 out of 10. But Jason correctly identified 4 out of 10 for the win. Way to go! So without further ado, here are the answers.

  1. Coraline - Neil Gaiman
  2. I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith
  3. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
  4. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  5. Feed - M.T. Anderson
  6. Princess Academy - Shannon Hale
  7. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - E.L. Konigsburg
  8. Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld
  9. Inkheart - Cornelia Funke
  10. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis

Surprised? I'll admit #10 surprised me. I loved this book growing up but when it comes to first lines it's not very intriguing. I think most of us are forgiving when we begin a new book and an ordinary line isn't going to stop us from reading further. As I mentioned, I'm working on the first draft of a novel. Sometimes it takes a while for me think of that perfect opening, but this time the line came first and I've been building on it ever since.

"Girls named Felicity should not be allowed to play tag football with boys, especially with Timothy Williams."

*I'm planning on posting some pics of the game, but I'm having difficulty uploading to blogger for some reason. I'll try again in a while.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

First Lines

We've all heard don't judge a book by it's cover, though I'll admit I do that all the time. I've been known to pass on a book if I don't like it's cover. But that's not what I want to write about today. What about judging a book by it's first line? If the first line doesn't hook you or grab you by the eyeballs, do you put it down or continue reading? Personally, I keep going, but that first page has to pull me into the story. Here's a an example of a great first line that gives just enough information and tickles our curiousity bone (which is connected to the funny bone, of course).

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling)

Right away I'm thinking, who are these Dursleys and why are they so proud of being normal unless they were constantly worried about appearing not normal? And the 'thank you very much' indicates that they were a bit snooty about appearances in general.

At first glance it seems easy to come up with one line. But every word choice is important to convey tone, voice, mood. One little line could be the difference to whether someone picks up your book and buys it or whether he or she puts it down and moves on. Oh, the pressure! So far I haven't entered many online contests, since most require a finished ms, but I did submit my first line to a critique thread on literary agent Nathan Bransford's blog. In his forums there's a thread for rating and commenting on first lines. I typed my line in and nervously clicked 'post now.'


That was 3 days ago. I figure everyone was either blown away by the absolute genius of my word usage or else they couldn't find a polite way to say, "Write much?" Did I mention that the thread has been moving lower and lower down the blog roll, my name glaring off to the right as the last person who posted?

To comfort myself, I looked up some first lines from books I have around the house. See if you guess can guess where they come from.

Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved in the house. (Okay, that's a give away. But there's good stuff in that opening line. That door leads to a very creepy adventure.) Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

When I wake up the other side of the bed is cold.

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.

We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.

Miri woke to the sleepy bleating of a goat.

Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away.

(From the book I'm currently reading...)
The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised.

Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain.

Once there were four children named Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.

What do you think? Did they grip you? Intrigue you? Did they set the tone? Would you want to read more or is there just not enough to tell? If you recognize some of these, feel free to put your answers in the comments. I'll post them on Friday along with the first line from Nitpicky.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Where It All Began

Well, hello there! You found me.
Like my novel, this blog is a work in progress so bear with me as I learn my way around.

A little about myself. I've been writing off and on since I can remember. Most of my writing as a kid consisted of making up stories and comic strips about my stuffed animals, Ellie (who really belonged to my brother) and Marie. As I got older journal writing, a little poetry, and prayer letters replaced the stories.

I've alway loved reading children's literature and often prefer it to adult fiction. After discovering Harry Potter and devouring the first 4 books, I found friends online who shared my obsession. Discussing and speculating, while waiting for the last 3 books to be released was a blast and reawakened my love of writing.

About a year and a half ago I decided to seriously think about writing my own novel. Through different agent/editor/author blogs I've been slowly learning about writing and the publishing business and so far it hasn't scared me enough to quit. I started 2 stories which I haven't finished and probably won't. I'm currently working on a contemporary upper MG (middle grade) novel with the working title, Nitpicky which I hope to finish by the end of the year.