Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top Ten Fiction Books I Read in 2014

I'm excited about a lot of things for 2015, one among them being starting a new Goodreads challenge because BOOKS, amirite?

This last year, I had the pleasure of reading some really fabulous ones. I'd like to mention them here. Because when you read a great book, it's good to tell others about it! Then other people read it and soon everyone's reading great books and the world is a happier place. *rubs face on books*

Note: The following books were not strictly books written in 2014, or anything like that, just ones that I read in 2014. You can find my reviews of each on Goodreads. I'm also limiting this list to fiction books; I'll post an honorable mentions for nonfiction below, as I read a great deal of that, too.

So here we go!

TOP TEN FICTION BOOKS I READ IN 2014 (in as close to an order as I can get them, but really they're all enjoyable and numbered lists are stupid and just read them okay?)

#10. Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt
#9. Dragon Age: Last Flight by Liane Merciel
#8. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
#7. Kenobi by John Jackson Miller
#6. The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, translated by Jesse L. Byock
#5. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
#4. Wife Number Seven by Melissa Brown
#3. World War Z by Max Brooks
#2. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
#1. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

HONORABLE NONFICTION MENTIONS (in no particular order because HAHA no)

The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman by Margot Mifflin
Dangerous to Know: Women, Crime, and Notoriety in the Early Republic by Susan Branson
The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen by Susan Bordo
Tough Towns: True Tales from the Gritty Streets of the Old West by Robert Barr Smith
Love and Death in Renaissance Italy by Thomas V. Cohen
Women in Old Norse Society by Jenny Jochens
Hen Frigates: Passion and Peril, Nineteenth Century Women at Sea by Joan Druett

How about you? Read any good books this year? If you have, post their titles in the comments section below! Seriously. Inquiring readers want to know.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Writers, Do the Things That Scare You

Over the weekend, I went with my family to Disneyland and California Adventure.

(Yes, I'll give you a moment to be jealous . . . Okay, moment's over. Back to reading.)

Most of you are familiar with the rides at Disneyland; they're all fun, kid-friendly attractions. Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, etc. Being a Disney park, California Adventure is also family-friendly, but it has a few rides that are geared more toward adults. Or at least children that are way less chicken than I was at their age (or height).

Not pictured here: me as a little girl, looking as though I'm about to be murdered coming down Splash Mountain.
One of California Adventure's thrill rides is called The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. For those of you who aren't familiar with the ride, it's a drop tower. It brings you waaaay up, drops you, brings you back up, drops you again. It does this a couple times, and it's a blast. Seriously, I love this ride. It's possibly my favorite between the two parks.

I am also terrified of going on it basically every time. There's a lot of suspense to the ride, as you wind your way through the hotel lobby, enter a room that plays a Twilight Zone-esque video, then wind your way through the hotel boiler room, and then even once you're seated in the service elevator itself, there's more theatre. Even the cast members are dressed like hotel concierges and speak in a spooky way. Disney doesn't do things half-way. Everything looks and feels authentic to the setting.

It's great! But the suspense just kills me. Every time, I think, "eh, maybe I'll just skip it." Because it's easier than dealing with the nerves while standing in line.

This last time I went on the ride, it occurred to me that my response to the Tower of Terror is similar to the response of many writers on their path to publication.

You know you want to be published; you know it's going to be Awesome with a capital A.

You know what's involved on the journey to get there: query, agent, editors, etc. You're not Lewis and Clark going West. Many have gone before you, and can offer advice and tell you how it works.

But it's still terrifying, right?

So much could go wrong! Your query could suck; an agent might not be able to sell your book; no editor will take you; the ride might malfunction, causing the service elevator to shoot through the roof, thus crushing you to paste while other park guests watch, their faces framed with horror! OH THE HUMANITY.

Er, ignore that last one.

You might think to yourself, How much easier would it be to just keep my stories here, in the safety of my computer? After all, Google Docs won't judge that vampire sci-fi you've been working on. Better not to try than to fail horribly, right?

I'm going to tell you something now, and I want you to hear me. (This goes out to future!Me, too. Don't think I don't see you shuffling your feet and making excuses, future!Me. I know us too well.)

As writers, we have to do the things that scare us.

Maybe that means taking a chance on a plot or a character, even when you're not sure you can do it justice. DO IT ANYWAY. Maybe you have a completed, polished manuscript that's just languishing away in the digital recesses of your computer because you're too afraid to put it out there where an agent can see it. DO IT ANYWAY. Maybe you're already a published author, worried about what some family members will think about X in your next story. WRITE IT ANYWAY.

To be an artist is to be at war with fear. Fear of failure, fear of judgement, fear even of self, of what you might uncover as you rifle through your subconscious, hunting for honest emotion. But you can't let fear stop you from doing what you love. You can't use fear as an excuse.

To paraphrase the immortal Captain Jack Sparrow, "If you were waiting for a sign, this is it, mate."

Consider this your call to action.

And if we ever go to California Adventure together, I expect to see you in line with me for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

But not for those Silly Symphony swings. Let's not get crazy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sit with me, friends, and I will tell you the tale of a woman who believed she could write a 50,000 word novel at the same time she was finishing her college degree. Yes, right there is comfortable. No, don't touch the fine china. I don't have any fine china? Oh, then I guess you can touch it. I don't know whose that is.

You see, this woman believed in this novel, as many who begin such a journey do. The characters compelled her to write, and who was she to deny them a chance to tell their story? However, a 20-25 page final research paper loomed over November like a vulture over weakening prey. It knew its time would come. And as the writer neared the final third of the month, mentally fatigued, staggering through scenes in a daze, it could wait for its meal no longer!

Basically, I'm saying I lost NaNoWriMo.

But I didn't lose. And neither did you! If you embarked on this same crazy month of literary abandon, if you threw caution to the wind, if you let yourself dream a little bigger, a little harder (no, not like that, you naughty thing), then congratulate yourself! You've done something many are afraid to do. You tried. You looked fear of failure right in its ugly face and stuck your tongue out.

No, my friend. We did not lose. We only gained. Maybe you gained insight into a genre you've been meaning to try for a long time. Maybe you met a new character who made you smile or laugh or cry. Maybe you only wrote 5,000 words, but those words are the genesis of a story that will one day take the world by storm! Maybe you wrote 49,000 words, and there are some sentences or plot points in there waiting to be excavated from the mess and put to good use in a different novel.

You don't know. Not unless you keep going. NaNoWriMo might be over, but you still have a novel to write. You still have a story to tell, characters to breathe to life. Writing 50k in a month is an arbitrary goal. A fine, impressive, motivating goalbut arbitrary. It is okay if you cannot do that. Let me say that again. IT IS OKAY IF YOU CANNOT WRITE THAT MANY WORDS THAT QUICKLY. Not many writers can. It does not reflect your ability to tell a damn good story. It does not mean you are not or cannot be a damn fine writer.

What does determine that is whether you finish what you started.

Look at your story.

Now back at me.

Now back at your story.

Your story is now tickets to that thing you really love! Or it will be! One day! With edits and hard work and determination, it could be your ticket into the publishing industry. More importantly, your ticket into the hearts and minds of readers. Your story could be just what someone out there needs to read.

I know what you're thinking. This is an old joke. Does anyone even remember the Old Spice Guy commercials? But, Hayley, it's such a bad story. The plot is falling apart. The characters aren't showing active agency. The voice is ALL wrong. You don't even KNOW.

You're right. I don't know. I also don't care. Finish it.

Remember why you started, and finish it. Every great book today started out as a bad book. Don't give up. I believe in you. It's hard, but as my Grandma told my Mom who always tells me, "Just because something is hard doesn't mean it isn't worth doing."

Let's get 'er done!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Liebster Award: 10 Questions Blog Hop

Two of my friends, Sandie and Vanessa, nominated me for the Liebster Award. I'm going to be honest, at first I wasn't sure what this award constituted. But then I thought to myself, Self, it has "award" in the title so that can only mean good things, right? In reality, the Liebster is a friendly, pay-it-forward type of award that bloggers pass around to other bloggers as a way of helping readers discover new blogs to follow. Pretty neat, huh?

Part of what's involved this time is answering 10 questions, largely related to my current WIP (or work-in-progress, in layman's terms). Right now, that also happens to be my NaNoWriMo novel. Which is the other cool thing about being tagged for this. It just so happens I love talking about the novel I'm working on. ;)

So, without further ado...

1. Where does your story take place?

A BEAR GORGED ON SORROW (or ABGOS as I fondly refer to it), takes place in tenth-century Denmark, near the end of the Viking Age, and just as Christianity is gaining entry into the country. I chose this setting for the neat interactions between the old and new religionsNorse pagans often converted without abandoning their old superstitionswhich I felt heightened the drama in the story, and has so far allowed me to explore some interesting themes related to faith.

2. What genre is your story?

Historical Fantasy. I'm trying to keep it as historically accurate as possible, but with the added fun of having runes and curses actually work, and Christians performing real miracles. Since the story is based in part off of the tales relating to Bera and Bjorn in The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, it makes sense to keep a lot of that fun pagan magic. Plus, one of my characters gets turned into a bear, sooo... there's your fantasy aspect right there.

3. What POV is your story told? First person, or third?

Third-person, past tense, alternating between two POV characters: Bera, a female runemaster, and Hvit, a lonely, embittered queen.

4. What 5 songs would best describe your WIP?

I LOVE this question. Like many writers, I keep a running playlist with songs that "fit" the book. Sometimes it's because of the lyrics; other times, I just like the way the song feels. Here are 5 that I most associate with my book (in no particular order):

A. "Glass Heart Hymn" by Paper Route
There's a ghost in the mirror / I'm afraid more than ever / My feet have led me straight into my grave / Oh Lord have you walked away? / Oh Lord have you walked away from me?
B. "Wings" by Birdy
Sunlight comes creeping in / Illuminates our skin / We watch the day go by / Stories of all we did / It made me think of you / It made me think of you
C. "Oats in the Water" by Ben Howard
And you'll find loss / And you'll fear what you found / When weather comes / Tear him down
D. "If I Had a Heart" by Fever Ray
This will never end / 'Cause I want more / More, give me more / Give me more
If I had a heart I could love you / If I had a voice I would sing / After the night when I wake up / I'll see what tomorrow brings
E.  "This Place is a Shelter" by Ólafur Arnalds
5. Are you a plotter or panster? Why?

I am a pantser, through and through. I've fought my nature, attempting to outline novels before, but oddly enough, I never end up finishing those books. I prefer following the pulse of the story, letting the characters have the freedom to do what they want. I like not knowing what's going to happen and figuring it out along the way. I'm also fortunate enough to have a natural instinct for story structure, too, which helps me avoid the usual pitfalls of pantsing.

That isn't to say I don't sometimes make eyes at outlines. Those outlines, man. They can be pretty sexy.

6. What's your favorite scene in your WIP?

Oooh, hmm. This is a tough one. It's a toss-up between Hvit making a sacrifice in the woods, or Bera and Bjorn in the cave after she first frees him from his bear-form. I'd like to post a few lines, but I'm highly protective of my WIPs in this early stage.

7. Do you find a newly discovered technique helps you with your WIP?

Yes, actually! I'm doing something in this novel that I've never done before with any other writing project: I'm jumping back and forth between scenes, following where the inspiration takes me. Typically, I am a strict chronological writer, but I kept getting hung up on scenes I didn't feel like writing. This not only solved that problem, but also revived my interest and motivated me to keep going, reminding me what aspects of the story I still loved. It was an eleventh-hour Hail-Mary (how's that for mixed metaphor?), but it worked. Whether I will repeat this habit in future WIPs, I'm not sure. Part of my OCD, perfectionist self is still annoyed that I'm writing out of order.

8. Who is your favorite writer?

No! Bad question! I love too many writers! But if I had to pick... hrm... Shannon Hale or Margaret Atwood, probably. Atwood when I want poetry or prose that will cut me, and Hale when I want to just enjoy a story and feel generally hopeful about life and love. Liane Moriarty also gets an honorable mention, as do George R.R. Martin and J.R.R. Tolkien.

9. Which actors would you pick if your book was optioned for film?

Another easy question! I actually headcast my characters before even beginning the book. (Yes, I'm one of THOSE writers. I have a secret pinterest board and everything.) I find choosing a PB (or play-by) helps me visualize the character, and sometimes watching the actor/actress speak/behave in a role also helps me get a sense of voice, movement, and behavior.

Here's my cast:

Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Bera
Norman Reedus as Bjorn
Jessica Grabowsky as Hvit
10. What advice to you have for writers?

Can I just post a link to Chuck Wendig's blog? No? Fine, fine...

Shoot from the hip. I don't mean that in a macho, cowboy-struttin' way (though I do love me a cowboy who can shoot from the hip). I'm talking about lightning quick instinct. 

Trust yourself; trust what aspects of the story you're being drawn towards and go there. Even if it scares you. Especially if it scares you. Yes, "shooting from the hip" will sometimes result in your aim being off, and the story or characters going in the wrong direction for a time. That's okay. Sometimes you will hit upon something you didn't mean to. That's okay, too. In fact, that's great! That might be exactly what your story needs. 

Maybe you're like me, and at the end of the day, you realize you're telling a different story than you thought you were. The only way to find out for sure is to press ahead. Even if you miss your target ninety percent of the time, that ten percent will always be worth the effort you spent trying. 

So endeth the metaphor.

And now, here are the wonderful folks I would like to nominate for the award! (If you've already been tagged for this, I apologize. You don't have to do it again, unless you'd like to.)

Laura Heffernan
K. Kazul Wolf
Lisa Houghton
Rosalyn Eves
Sara Jo Cluff

Here are your questions:
1. What most inspired your current WIP?
2. How do you best get "in the zone" for writing?
3. Do you have a certain time of day/place where you find you're most productive?
4. If you could sit down and pick the brain of one author, living or dead, who would it be? What would you ask them?
5. Your WIP has just become sentient. On a scale of 1-10, how much trouble are you in?
6. If money was no issue, where would your ideal writing vacation take place?
7. How did you come up with the title for your current WIP?
8. Who would you want to direct the movie adaptation of your WIP?
9. What advice would you give to another writer?
10. Hypothetical: You have a time machine and a nefarious mind. You can travel back in time with one book and take credit for writing it. Which book would it be?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Seven Sins Blog Hop

My dear friend, Sandie Docker (whose blog is here, click click!), tagged me in this Seven Sins blog hop because she knows I love talking about books almost as much as I love reading them. So, without further ado...

Greed – What is your most inexpensive book?

Well, since acquiring a Kindle, I tend to get quite a few books for free every month. (I am a glutton for free books, y'all). But if we're talking about physical copy, it would have to be the most recent book I got for about $2 from a book sale in the basement of CSUS's library. The book in question: That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba. I picked it up because I love strong women in unique circumstances, especially where issues of royalty come into play, and because the cover is super pretty.

Wrath – Who’s the author with whom you have a love/hate relationship with?

Hmmm. Generally, I either like an author or I don't, but if I have to choose... Off the top of my head, I'd have to say Lauren Oliver. I loathed her YA dystopian, Delirium, and wanted to throw it at the wall when I finished it. Yet, her YA contemporary, Before I Fall, has to be one of the best, most emotionally authentic books I've ever read. Seriously. I loved it, and feel it's extremely relevant to high school culture. So much so that I wish it was required reading in high school.

Gluttony – What book have you devoured over and over again with no shame?

There's really only one book that I reread over and over again. Those who know me and my love of Lord of the Rings/Boromir will already be able to guess, but it's definitely The Fellowship of the Ring. I mean, to give you some context of how often I return to this book, if you were to drop it, it automatically opens to the Council of Elrond--specifically, the page in which Boromir is introduced. Because, let's be honest, that's where the story starts getting good anyway, right? GONDOR 4 LYFE

Sloth – Which book have you neglected reading due to laziness?

So, so many. To be fair, I'm finishing up my Bachelor's degree in History right now, so I'm swamped with reading as is, but there are a couple books I've been putting off because of their length. The biggest one is Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This thing is a monster. Like, if it were a hardcover, I'm pretty sure it could be used as a weapon of opportunity. One day, I will read it! But probably not today. Tomorrow's not looking good either...

Pride – What books do you talk about most in order to sound like an intellectual reader?

You know, I feel like I probably do this a lot, but I can't really think of anything off the top of my head. Probably Shakespeare. To people who don't read a lot, or read only modern stuff, Shakespeare's plays seems to be the epitome of intellect and high-brow education. Which... it isn't, obviously. Oh, but that reminds me of a hilarious story I can share with you about that time in high school when I read Othello and thought a Moor was someone who lived near water and not, you know, Muslim. Missed the whole racism issue by miles.

Lust – What attributes do you find attractive in a male or female character?

Oh! This is an easy one. Ambition. Male or female, if they have some sort of ambition, and are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it, I'm on board. Good, evil, doesn't matter. Admittedly, this quality often goes hand-in-hand with villainy, so I tend to be attracted to the antagonists, or "villainous" characters. (Do you like my air quotes there? It's because these poor characters are just misunderstood. Isn't that right, Loki? Don't let the big, bad world label youuuu.)

I mean, look at that face.
Envy – What book would you like to receive most as a gift?

ALL OF THEM. ALL OF THE BOOKS. Kidding aside, probably Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel or The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thorton, at the moment. Or The Winds of Winter by the one, the only George R.R. Martin. Boy, would I love to have that book ahead of everyone else. ;)

And now I tag Kacy Kish, Missy Shelton Belote, and Susan Bickford. Confess your bookish sins!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

As most of you know, today is my birthday...

Wait, no, I was going to talk about NaNoWriMo, but how KIND of you to remember that it's my birthday!

Why, yes, that's the second time I've used this gif today. Never gets old.
A lot's been going on in my life since my last update, and I don't have time to get into all of it (short version: I got into PitchWars after all as an alternate (!!!) and it's been wonderful and I have been busily revising and putting off school work like a responsible adult, and now I'm writing a new novel for NaNo!).

But this post isn't about ME. This post is about YOU, dear NaNoWriMo writer, if you are still reading this and have not been put off by my off-topic opening. *ahem*

My friend, Emily, sent me some NaNoMail this morning with the idea of sharing encouraging writerly quotes with one another. I loved the idea and wrote back, but I couldn't just provide my quote. Oh, no. I am much too verbose for that. So, in the process of explaining why I chose the quote I did, I accidentally ended up writing a mini-pep talk. A pep talkette, if you like. And I figured, why not post it here as well? If it helps inspire or bolster the morale of some of my fellow NaNo soldiers while y'all are in the trenches, then good! If it doesn't, well. Read it again, and lie to me.* (kidding, kidding)

Without further ado... my pep talk:

"It's a first draft, not a bomb."
I don't know who said it, but this quote's really resonated with me over the past year. Often when writing a first draft, I feel an anxiety about putting the words down. Will they be the right ones? What if they're the wrong ones? OH GOOD HEAVENS WHY DID I EVER THINK I COULD DO THIS.

But the truth is, there ARE no wrong words in a first draft. And an imperfect sentence will not make or break your book. We are not disarming bombs. The wrong dialogue/character/plot is not the end of the world. You will not self-destruct if you clip the blue wire. We are creating something new, and new things have flaws. I repeat: It's a first draft, not a bomb. So roll up your sleeves, get in there, mess around, and handle the story as rough as you want!

Good luck!


*In all seriousness, if you liked this pep talk, or if it helped any, do let me know! Provided there's interest, I may write more over the course of the month. :)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

10 Books That Affected Me

So my friend, Taylia, tagged me on Facebook to do the following:
Name 10 books that have affected you in some way. Don't think too long or hard. They should be books that naturally stand out to you.
 Now, this was supposed to be a quick list to be reposted on FB, but since I have a lot of book feelings, I thought it would make a good blog post. So here we go!

10 Books That Affected Me (in no particular order)

1. The House at Tyneford
by Natasha Solomons

Some books you read and enjoy so much, you can't help but want to go out and proselytize it. At every available opportunity, you try and shove the book into a friend's hands, babbling about how amazing it is. But for other books, they affect you on such a deeply personal level, you'd rather hoard it away, protecting it from the judgment of others.

For me, The House at Tyneford is the latter book. I read it at just the right time in my life, and it hit me hard. Like, waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-a-mess-over-the-fate-of-one-of-the-characters hard. This story is not just beautifully written, but raises some haunting WWII ghosts, and it still leaves a kind of ache in my heart when I think about it.

by Shannon Hale

This book made me laugh out loud, and had me crying so hard I couldn't see the pages. Any book that can accomplish such a spectrum of feelings is one that lingers with me for a long time afterward. The Actor and the Housewife wasn't at all what I expected when I first started reading; it turned out to be better than I anticipated, heart-rending, funny, and honest in ways I couldn't have imagined. When I first read it, I was still uncertain whether I enjoyed contemporary/women's fic as a genre; afterward, I had no doubt that I did.

And I maintain that if this were ever to be made into a movie, Colin O'Donoghue would absolutely have to play Felix. No exceptions. I have very strong feelings about this.

3. World War Z
by Max Brooks
World War Z was definitely a slow-burn for me. It's a fascinating pseudo-oral history account of a zombie war, and for much of the book, I simply felt fascinated and curious, devouring every survivor's story. Yet whenever I wasn't reading the book, I couldn't help but keep thinking about it. And the more I thought about it, the more it freaked me out. Because here's the thing about World War Z: it is incredibly realistic. The author clearly put a lot of thought into how a zombie apocalypse would actually conceivably go down and the result is a harrowing peek at a world ravaged by the undead. A world that could easily be ours. It's more than just zombies. It's about humanity--sometimes its beauty, sometimes the lack of it entirely--and that's what really makes this book stick out in my mind.

Also it was the first ebook I ever bought on my kindle so there's that.

4. Summer of My German Soldier
by Bette Greene

This was one of the books required for reading in middle school, along with books like The Pearl by John Steinbeck and Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Yet, Summer of My German Soldier is the only one I really remember (fondly, anyway), and there's good reason for that.

This was the first book to ever make me cry. And whenever I'm prompted to list books that were meaningful to me in some way, it always springs to mind. It is not a book I ever intend on reading again, however. I'm not sure I would derive the same pleasure as when I was the intended audience, and I would rather not ruin my halcyon memories of the book.

5. The Fellowship of the Ring
by J.R.R. Tolkien

I was tempted to cheat here and list The Lord of the Rings as one book, but I'll play fair and list my favorite of the trilogy. The Fellowship of the Ring is by far my favorite of the books, which may seem strange to some people since it has a rather slow and ponderous beginning. My reason for loving the book, apart from it's wonderful prose and dreamy, mythical atmosphere is quite simple: Boromir. This is the book that not only started me down a wonderful journey of fantasy and lore, but introduced me to one of my favorite fictional characters ever.

Seriously, guys. Boromir is the best. <3

In more recent years, as I've learned about Norse mythology, Germanic legend, and poetry, I've begun to appreciate these books even more for how Tolkien handles the source material he's drawn inspiration from.

6. The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale is a disturbing book in many ways, but also very affecting. Like World War Z, I enjoyed this book for its elements of realism, nestled into a dystopia society that seems far removed from our own, yet one can still glimpse the kernels of its possibility in our present day issues. This is the book that introduced me to Atwood, who has since become one of my favorite writers and poets. If her prose were a tangible thing, it would cut you. I never cease to be amazed at how she can pull beautiful phrases from such ugly settings, yet it never feels contrived or forced. And her imagination is incredible, as evidenced by the layers of this book, as with many of her others.

If you're in the market for a classic dystopian, you can't do better than Atwood.

7. Tough Towns: True Tales from the Gritty Streets of the Old West
by Robert Barr Smith

One of the best nonfiction books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Seriously, folks, Tough Towns is just FUN. Robert Barr Smith not only presents snapshots of historical events, but also, by virtue of his utilizing the vernacular of the time, really draws you in to the time period.

Best of all, Smith always appears conscious of the wild and frequently outlandish spirit of the American Old West, and embraces it like a fiction-writer rather than side-stepping it in historical textbook verbiage. I would highly recommend Tough Towns to anyone interested in outlaws, common heroes, and life in the Old West.

8. Dangerous to Know: Women, Crime, and Notoriety in the Early Republic
by Susan Branson

I discovered this little gem in a class on women in American history. It's nonfiction bordering on creative nonfiction, simply by virtue of how well and interesting it is written. It nearly reads like a novel, and I was immediately captivated by the tale of Mrs. Ann Carson and Mary Clarke, the former who became a criminal to save her husband from the gallows and the latter who was a writer, ghost-writing the former's story. All true, too! Not only do you get a fascinating story with this book, but Branson also provides some in-depth feminist analysis on the culture at the time, and illustrates how both Carson and Clarke utilized to their advantage the gender conventions at the time in different ways. It is an utterly enthralling narrative, with very modern relevance. Also, I'm pretty sure I'm going to adapt it into a screenplay or else write a historical fiction novel about the two women at some point. Just saying.

9. Killing Lincoln
by Bill O'Reilly
and Martin Dugard
This was the book that made me really love Abraham Lincoln. Like the aforementioned title, Killing Lincoln is written in a creative, fast-paced, almost thriller-like manner, which immediately pulls you in and makes you eager to learn what happens (or, at least the manner in which it happens, as I'm sure we all know how Lincoln's story ends).

More personally, from the new admiration I developed for Lincoln through this book, and a burgeoning interest in the period of the Civil War, I came up with the idea for a character... and then a whole story idea which became the basis/inspiration for my current work in progress, Corkscrewed, about a woman formerly in the employ of President Lincoln who fails to save him and ends up moving West and becoming an outlaw instead. So yes, Killing Lincoln holds a special place in my heart for that!

10. Mere Christianity
by C.S. Lewis

I read this at a time when I was wrestling with some theological questions of my own, and as a Christian myself, I found Lewis' perspective both frank and refreshing. I wish I had more to say about this book, but it definitely falls under a more personal category of effect. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I'd recommend it to everyone, regardless of whether you're a believer or not, since he presents his argument for Christianity in a positive, logical manner I haven't seen done as well anywhere else.

As per the challenge, I now tag the following 3 people: E.G. Moore, Missy Shelton Belote, and Sandie Docker! What 10 books have affected you? Note: your response need not be as extensive as mine, if you'd rather just list the books. Up to you!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

We've all heard of method acting, where actors live and breathe the characters they play for the duration of filming, even when the lights and cameras are off. But what about method writing? Does such a thing exist?

Allow me to answer that with a story.

A story about johnnycakes.

Mormon Johnnycakes, to be exact.

For those who do not know what a Mormon Johnnycake is, it's basically dense, sugarless cornbread. And not the fluffy kind either, more flatbread-esque. Quick trivia: this particular variety received the name "Mormon" because many Mormons traveling west in the nineteenth-century would partake of johnnycakes on the trail, as long as they had a source of fresh buttermilk to use in cooking. The food was, of course, not exclusive to them, but rather originated with the Native Americans. As for why it's called a johnnycake, there's some disagreement on the etymology. One camp says it was African American slang for an Indian corn cake; others think it's derived from Shawnee cake.

No crazy writers were harmed in the taking of this photo.
Now, being that I am currently writing a novel set in the American Old West, I've been rather obsessed with all things relating to that time period. I've read books, listened to music from that era (allow me to recommend this rendition of The Old Chisholm Trail; you're welcome for that ear worm), received a replica Marshal's badge for a gift, and even bought a hat (seen: right). Because of course.

What can I say? When I commit to learning about a historical time period, I commit. (I also end up watching a lot of Hell on Wheels and Deadwood but I digress.)

Add to my obsession with the Old West my newly discovered love of baking and you have a recipe for... well, food. I thought it would be fun to try to make something that my main character would have ostensibly eaten while out and about, and settled on the johnnycakes since they seemed relatively simple to make. And they were.

Mormon Johnnycakes, as made by me
Unfortunately, they also tasted terrible. Well. Terrible is a strong word. They were edible. With butter. A lot of butter. To be fair, I have a rather... let us say, distinguishing palette. So they were probably fine, and I was just being picky. But still. I am not a pioneer. I am spoiled by modern day preservatives and corn syrup. Sweet, sweet corn syrup.

Which brings me back to the title and topic of this blog post. Method writing.

When I get really into a story, I like to get to know my main characters as best as possible. I get intimate with them (not like that, get your mind out of the gutter), trying to understand their every facet and what makes them tick. Sometimes this close empathy bleeds over into real life, either inspiring fashion choices or prompting me to bake horrible cornbread. But this is one of the things I enjoy most about writing: the opportunity to experience things I wouldn't normally experience. Feel things I wouldn't normally feel. Think about the world in a slightly different way. And be grateful I don't have to subsist on johnnycakes (my MC is much tougher than I am!).

I don't ever go as deep as most method actors, thankfully. I'd probably lose my marbles, and they're in short enough supply as is, but getting to take my story/characters into the real world with me even in such a small way is great fun, and I like to think it also helps me add authenticity to my writing when I finally return to my own fictional nook.

How about you? Do you indulge in any kind of method writing? Do you find your characters' likes, dislikes, or habits ever bleeding over into your own?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pitch Wars: Ask Me Anything!

Today I'm doing an AMA (ask me anything) as a part of Pitch Wars, courtesy of E. G. Moore who tagged me. Go check out hers, if you haven't already!

For those who don't know what Pitch Wars is, it is an amazing contest that will make your writerly heart soar with hope (yes, breathe in the fresh air of possibility, there you go) and also probably inspire a bad Twitter habit. You may also experience some nervousness, doubt, and resort to baking in order to avoid stalking your potential mentors' feeds. What? Just me? Okay then.

(All kidding aside, here is a link to the page that describes it in a more concrete way. It really is a great opportunity to not only improve your manuscript, but also network with other writers who are experiencing the same highs and lows as you on this crazy publishing journey.)

Now onto the questions!

@Eris0303 asks: What is the one thing you absolutely cannot leave your house without?

Boring answer: Keys, cellphone, wallet, the usual stuff one might carry in one's purse

Slightly more writerly answer: While I tend to take spur-of-the-moment notes on my phone, I still like to carry a small moleskine and pencil/pen with me whenever I leave the house, just in case technology fails me. There's nothing worse than being caught out and about by an excellent piece of dialogue or story idea and having no way to record and preserve it for later!

Weird answer: An extra pair of socks. Wait wait, hear me out! The reasons for this are twofold. First, have you ever gone to an amusement park and been on a log ride and gotten your socks wet? I am pretty sure there is a circle of Hell that simply consists of being stuck in wet socks forever. An extra pair of dry socks solves this problem (mostly; if the inside of your shoes are wet, I'm sorry, may God have mercy on your soul). Second, I suffer from a condition called Raynaud's Phenomenon which sounds a lot cooler than it is. Basically, I have poor circulation, so my feet are constantly cold if I'm not actively exercising. I bring socks with me to slip on at a friend's place, if I've left the house in flip-flops or some such.

@AmyKiddAuthor asks: How will you celebrate if you are chosen for #PitchWars mentee or alternate?

Good question! I'll probably jump up and down, shouting "YES YES" in a totally uninhibited and slightly less than dignified manner. Then I'll text one of my best friends (who coincidentally is also participating and I hope also gets a mentor!) and let her know, because we're in this together. Victory for one, victory for all!

And then I'll probably play this song to psyche myself up for the revisions.

@raballard asks: What advice can you give those who aren't chosen by a mentor?

First off, I know a lot of mentors themselves have said this, but I feel it's worth repeating: it's not personal. Just as with querying, it's highly subjective. There may be nothing at all wrong with your story; it's just a matter of taste. The right person for your work is out there. Believe in that, and keep going.

Second, if you haven't already, get back to writing ASAP. Rejection in any form stings, and the best salve I've found is to keep writing. Keep working at it. Try to find your weak spots (we all have them) and see what you can do to improve them. Struggle with plot? Read a book on narrative structure. Have difficulties getting your dialogue to sound true? Try writing a scene that is only dialogue and then read it aloud, listening for any artificiality. Study and learn and improve, and be forgiving toward yourself. Writing is a lifelong effort, not some imaginary summit you reach only once you're published. We are all Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill; you can either let it crush you, or build some literary muscle along the way.

@ChadTastic92 asks: What, to you, is the most important aspect of world building for a sci-fi or fantasy story?

Verisimilitude. For me, it's the little things in a world that draw me in and suspend my disbelief. Petty annoyances, attitudes, or whatever is considered a mundane occurrence in that world can say a lot about it. Stacking these small details on top of one another provides a relatable sense of the world. Big, grandiose settings are great, but you'll lose me if the characters don't behave in a way that is sensible to their environment. More specifically, I particularly love seeing how religion and myth are handled in sci-fi and fantasy, since the presence or absence of religion has such a major impact on our own world, and can profoundly change who a person is and how they behave. For better or worse.

And lastly, I think language (such as slang, profanity, and the characters' daily vernacular) also plays a large role in convincing me of a fictional world. If your characters are speaking in a modern way, I'm not going to believe it takes place in a pseudo-Medieval or Renaissance setting.

@ELWicker asks: Regardless of the outcome, what do you feel you will take away from the #PitchWars experience?

Oh, man. So much. So, so much. One of the biggest things Pitch Wars has given me is the confidence to open up and talk with other people, even virtual strangers! For a long time, I've wanted to get more involved with the online writing community and connect to other writers, but I was frustrated by how. Overwhelmed. I didn't know where to start, and I didn't realize just how vast the writing community was on Twitter, particularly. Pitch Wars provided the perfect springboard into this wonderful pool of brave and determined writers. My kind of people!

The other thing I will take away from Pitch Wars is the necessity of overcoming fear and self-doubt. Of beating down that ugly voice in your head that says, this is worthless and no one will ever want to read it and you're kidding yourself if you think YOU can be an author. Pitch Wars gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get back out there and fight for my novel, fight for the chance to share myself and my work with the world.

Because my novel isn't worthless.

Someone out there is going to love it.

I'm not kidding myself about becoming an author.

And if you share this attitude, then you're my kind of people, too!


Hope you all enjoyed that! And now I tag @AmyKiddAuthor! You're on deck for #PitchWarsAMA! Let me know when you post your answers, I'd love to see them! :)

New blog!

The act of starting a new blog is always exciting. I can tell you this because this is my second time creating one and so obviously that makes me an expert on the matter. Obviously. A new blog is so shiny and clean and full of potential. Kind of like beginning a new novel. The world is your oyster. Crack that sucker open. Or something. I'm not sure where I was going with this analogy.

But writing a blog also makes me nervous. Will I have anything interesting to say? Will anyone want to listen? Am I just shouting into the void? HELLO IS ANYBODY THERE HELLO? YES I'D LIKE TO TELL YOU SOME THINGS

But you know what? That's okay. Because I'm a writer. And writers write. Also, we tend to have some experience with writing in a vacuum, without an audience. John Green once compared the act of writing a novel to a lengthy game of Marco Polo, where you spend a large amount of time going "Marco Marco Marco" all by yourself in your room, hard at work on a piece of fiction, writing and rewriting and editing and (let's be honest) suffering, until finally... one day in the future, a reader gets a hold of your work. And they reply, "Polo."

That's what it's about, in the end, isn't it? Connecting to a reader. Connecting, period.

I hope with this blog I can connect to all you readers and writers out there in the wild blue yonder of the internet! I hope we will become great friends.

I hope, one day very soon, when I call MARCO, you will answer "Polo."

(And I'll try not to lead you into the edge of the pool when it's my turn. Agreed?)