Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Blog Post of Epic Hilarity

When I was about 19, I started writing a personal memoir.

I wish I was making this up.

I wasn't very dedicated to the writing. The format was going to be a compilation of the most interesting stories of my life thus far, and every so often whenever the mood struck me I would open up a Word doc and start typing away. Then college and life got in the way, I studied journalism and creative writing, and that personal memoir was forgotten as I learned how to...well, actually write.

Until tonight.

You see, I must have started that memoir as soon as I got my old laptop, because the remains of it were stashed in a supersekrit folder hidden away as I went through and organized the very last of the folders from the epic Mac switch of 2010. And there it was. The folder called FIRST BOOK.

"WTF?" I thought to myself. (See? Reading all that bad writing is making me a worse writer. Obviously I thought it to myself...who else would I think it to?) "The Reaper's List is my first book! I didn't write a book before-oh.em.gee." I immediately clicked the folder and there it was, all laid out in separate chapters.

There are about five and a half chapters written in all, but I can't share some of them because they name names and make me look like a moron. (Not just because the writing is bad, but...remember...this is a memoir, so these events actually happened. I can't believe I was ever that pathetic.) But I read the first chapter and it made me LOL so hard, I had to share it...and some snarky comments.

I love that I am a much better writer now. And in six years, I might look back on what I'm writing now, laugh, and make a hilarious blog post for all to enjoy about how awful it is. But the point is, we all grow and change, become better writers and better people. Unfortunately I'm not published and not many of you have read more of my work to vouch for me, so there's not a lot of proof but...this awfulness is still fun.

I should give fair warning: There is one five-letter word in here (repeated twice) and there is some blood near the end. But I'm not sure it's really well-written enough to bother anyone with a weak stomach....

Enjoy! My awesome, 25-year-old snark is in blue. Also there is no editing of any kind, so there are double words, extra hyphens, and all kinds of awesome.


Chapter 1 [Which is not actually a chapter, but a weird/narcissistic intro/prologue]

I have never considered myself to be an interesting person. In fact, I would say that I am quite average, even dull. [Six years later, this is definitely still true.] But as my life unfolds before me, a veritable roller coaster of plot twists, emotions, shocks and revelations, [gee, for someone who finds herself boring there is an awful lot going on] I find that other people think that I am fascinating. [LOL!! Do they tell me that? Hm...I guess I will write a book about it...]

Chapter 2
I suppose it all started when I was 11. [What started? Me being fascinating? Or strangers walking up to me in the street and saying, "You're FASCINATING!!!"] My father’s friend was having a party, one of those adult parties that provide no entertainment for children save the long table of cakes, pies and other desserts that they aren’t allowed to eat anyway. [Why not? Was I watching my figure, even at 11? Because it definitely didn't work.] I sat in the corner, bored out of my mind, when the hostess let her dog out.

The dog was a shiny black with smooth hair and a bright pink nose. It seemed jubilant enough, but when I looked more closely I realized that the dog only had one leg. [Because clearly I would notice its color and bright nose wayyy before I would notice the fact that it was limping and missing a limb. Duh. Edit: ALSO!!!! Thanks to LOLA for pointing out in the comments that my awesome 19-year-old self wrote that the dog "only had one leg" when the dog was in fact missing a leg, and had three that worked just fine. LOL. I am ridiculous and can't believe that my skillz as an investigative journalist ever got me As in school or a decent job. Ever.] It hobbled around the room, sniffing around for treats and crumbs that people had dropped on the floor. As the dog got nearer to me, I grew extremely excited. [UH.] I couldn’t wait for him to come play with me and ease my boredom, even if only for a moment.

Then, the dog locked eyes with me, as if it had read my mind. He came over to me and rested his head in my lap. I scratched him behind his ears, and he nuzzled my thigh gratefully. [Dude, I am getting a little uncomfortable. I swear I did not write a romance novel, but all this business about "locking eyes" and "nuzzling thighs" WTF!! And this is a DOG.]

“That’s surprising,” said the hostess, “Troubles [this is actually not terrible foreshadowing. The dog's name really was Troubles] doesn’t usually like strangers, especially females. He was abused by his former owner and has been unfriendly to females ever since he lost his leg. He bit his owner’s sister, and that’s when she gave him up.”

Looking back, [Wow! That's not cliche at all!] I always thought it was strange that no one seemed concerned that the dog had a history of violence, least of all his current owner. Considering that she knew Troubles didn’t react well to strangers and females, you would think that she had the sense to keep him out of a room full of them. Apparently this woman did not have much sense. [Neither did I, when writing this scene or playing with this dog.]

Troubles pulled away from my lap, and I let out a sigh of disappointment. My brief moment of entertainment was gone, [I honestly didn't know that scratching a dog's ears was such fun for an 11-year-old. Huh.] and I was forced to go back to pretending to listen as my father talked about work and church and all the other boring things he liked to talk about.

The dog went to get a drink of water, and when he was done he laid on the floor by my feet. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I knelt on the floor in front of him and continued to scratch his neck and ears.

The next thing I remember is a loud growling sound. I can still hear it, nearly a decade later. It was one of the meanest and scariest sounds I have ever heard, at once loud and angry and unforgiving. The horrible noise was followed by a warm, wet feeling above my lip and a thick, salty taste in my mouth. [In case you don't know what just happened (I don't blame you, I don't even know what happened and I was there)...the dog totally just bit me. ON MY FACE. And instead of feeling any pain, I heard a noise and felt something warm and wet (sounds pleasant!) and got a salty taste in my mouth. This required 50+ stitches and I still have a scar, and I didn't have any pain?? No. NO. Not right.]

My mother screamed. My thick, purple glasses fell to the floor as she picked me up and carried me to the bathroom, all the while screaming, “You stupid bitch, how could you let that monster out? You stupid bitch!” [Wow, I have quite a mouth on me!! Oh, wait. My mom was screaming that. I get it now. Heh.]

My mother stood me up in front of the sink and turned the faucet on. Before I could look in the mirror, the entire lower half of my face was being rinsed with water. Through the foggy-haze of my glasses-free eyes, I saw dark red water rinsing spiraling down the drain.

When you rinse out a cut, usually the water turns lighter and lighter, until the blood no longer looks red but pink, and finally the water runs clear. The water never ran clear for me. My mother screamed for ice as my brother retrieved my glasses. The glasses and ice bag arrived at the same time, and my mother made the poor decision to let me put my glasses back on. I looked up and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

During my middle school days, I harbored dreams of being a movie star. [Totally true. I wanted to be a movie star right up through junior year of high school.] As soon as I saw what that dog had done to my face, I began bawling. [Because I wasn't already crying with pain from being BITTEN ON THE FACE??] Movie stars are supposed to be beautiful and glamorous. They are the ultimate in attractiveness, grace, poise and sophistication. [And I need to let my readers know this because they have never seen a movie star in their lives.] As I examined myself in the mirror, I thought I would never be attractive enough to be famous.

Troubles had bitten me on the right side of my face, just above my lip. His teeth reached my cheek and my nose, and tore a hole through my flesh. The blood kept pouring and pouring. [I must have passed out by now. Maybe that means I'll stop writing.] I could have put my finger through that hole. Fortunately, he didn’t manage to split my lip apart, or even penetrate the edge of my lip. [How do I know this is fortunate right now? Answer: I don't. The doctor told me that.] Still, I knew the gaping hole went stitches, I knew that stitches meant scars, and that scars meant I would never be pretty. I knew that I was awkward and a little overweight, but I thought I could outgrow that. I would never outgrow this. [Fortunately, though, I did outgrow my desire to write a memoir, and I learned how to be a better writer.]

So, there you have it. The Blog Post of Epic Hilarity. And you didn't even have to ask for it. The story goes on to tell about the trip to the hospital, me getting stitched up, and some other stuff. Then there are the other chapters, which are also awful/awesome. 

All I can say is...thank goodness for artistic growth.  

Friday, April 23, 2010

Maybe Eyjafjallajökull Should Think About a Pen Name...

This week, my Twitter feed has been ablaze with comments about the unpronounceability (that is totally a word, I just made it up) of the Icelandic volcano's name. Some people just refer to it as "that volcano in Iceland," others actually took the time to spell it (and most of them got it correct), but almost everyone took a jab at how difficult it was to spell or pronounce.

Which, of course, reminded me of something related to writing (because everything comes back to writing). I have a writer-friend named Lisa Grace. Only her name isn't actually Lisa Grace. To be perfectly honest with you, I can't remember what her real last name is, even though she told me once. But I remember when she did tell me, everyone at the table (myself included) completely understood why she chose to use "Grace" as her professional last name - there was no way that I could have spelled her last name correctly if I had to do a Google, Amazon, or library search for her. She was especially worried about this because she her YA book, Angel in the Shadows, had recently been published, and she wanted to make sure that teens could search for her name if they wanted to find her. And Lisa Grace is a lot easier to remember than Lisa Eyjafjallajökull (you like what I did there?)

Ever since I met Lisa, I thought the name Lisa Grace fit her, and "Lisa Grace" stuck in my head. Even Laura Lippman, her conference leader at the Eckerd College Writer's Conference, which Lisa and I attended together (and is a seriously amazing conference...seriously), told Lisa that she couldn't help but call her "Lisa Grace" - two names, not one, because they just naturally went together. How's that for marketing?

I have other friends that chose pen names because their last names were complicated. I have female friends who are choosing to write under their maiden names, even though they're married, because their maiden names are either easier to remember or easier to spell, which isn't exactly a pen name but it's on topic. (Conversely, I'm choosing to write under my married name because it's more unique. Though I know I will spend the rest of my life correcting people's pronunciation of it, and that's OK - it's easy to spell and short. Plus when you Google me I'm the only thing that comes up, which is totally awesome.) I have one friend who is writing under her maiden name because her married name is a very specific ethnic name, and she isn't a member of that ethnic group, and she doesn't want to have to think about that down the road.

There are other, more strategic reasons you might choose a pen name. I once heard about an MG fantasy writer who chose a pen name that began with "R" so that he would be shelved next to Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling - a move suggested by his agent when he was considering a pen name anyway. Speaking of J.K. Rowling, we all know how she was encouraged to use the ambiguous J.K. instead of Joanne to help appeal to male readers. And some writers might use pen names to protect the privacy of their friends, family, or selves (apparently I totally don't care about that).

Don't get me wrong - I'm not advocating pen names as the only way to go here. I'm not using one, and have never even considered it. But I definitely see that there are circumstances when they make sense, and maybe that Icelandic volcano should think about switching. We could call it simply VOLCANO. It would be amazing.

So, writer-friends...how do you feel about pen names? Will you use one? Why or why not? And reader-friends...how do you feel when you find out that someone is using a pen name? Excited that you're in on the secret? Or a little perplexed?

Extra credit:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Of Pitches, Hooks, and Loglines

Lately, I've been thinking about pitching and my hook. A few nights ago, I was up at 2am (as usual) and all of a sudden an amazing query rewrite came to me. I started scribbling furiously and didn't stop until I felt I really was on to something. I think my query is getting there, and in a week or two I'll be sending it off for some critiquing by a friend who knows a lot about querying and has had a lot of success making people's queries shine.

But then I realized that, while I might have a good start, I'm not sure if I have an awesome hook yet - and I definitely don't have a pitch. Like if an agent walked up to me today and said, "I will represent you right now if you can tell me about your novel in less than 10 words!" I would have a serious case of HeatherFAIL because there is no way that I could describe my book in less than 10 words. I would just do that awful rambling thing I do when I don't know what to say, and the agent would roll his or her eyes, walk away, and tweet something hilarious about new writers who don't know what they're doing, and tag it with #pubtip, and everyone on Twitter would join in making fun of the person who blew her chance all because she couldn't finish the sentence: "My book is about..." in 10 words or less. (Seriously. I am actually terrified of this.)

Since SCBWI registration opens today (woot!) and I'm going (double woot!) and I might actually be talking to agents there (triple woot! or gulp!) I asked my friend if she had any advice about hooks. And she started by giving me a homework assignment. I'm supposed to start by writing hooks/loglines for books that I enjoy. That way I'll get a feel for what they're supposed to be, and I can hopefully come upon mine more easily.

So, rather than keep all this learning to myself, I thought I would share it here...

What is a hook/logline?

A hook is one sentence (maybe two, but the key is to keep it short) that explains what your novel is about and draws the reader in or grabs their attention - it literally "hooks" them.  (Loglines are what they call them in movie scripts.)

To give an example, here's a logline for a classic movie (which started as a book):   

After a twister transports a lonely Kansas farm girl to a magical land, she sets out on a dangerous journey to find a wizard with the power to send her home.(Source)

Sound familiar? What about this one:

A girl travels to a new land where she kills the first person she meets and then teams up with a bunch of strangers to kill again.

Here's the crazy thing: they're both describing the same movie. The Wizard of OZ. The first hook sounds like a fantasy full of whimsy and surprise, whereas the second sounds much darker, and paints Dorothy as a definite psychopath. It's all about how you want to represent your book.

So I started thinking about some of my favorite books. And I wrote a few hooks. And maybe they're awful. But here they are, for all the blogging world my 163 followers to read. But let's see if you can figure out which books they're for on your own (I substituted character traits for names so as not to give anything away). Maybe some of these aren't that hook-y, but they were fun to write! I also learned that some books are definitely easier to write hooks for than others.

A girl moves to a rainy city and starts dating the hottest guy in school, only to end up being hunted by one of the deadliest creatures alive.

When the school's biggest druggie asks her to pee in a cup to avoid getting busted, a former goodie-two-shoes catches herself falling for the wrong guy.  

A girl is living the worst day of her life over and over again - the day she dies. 

After nearly destroying her high school on prom night, a teen witch is sent to a boarding school containing snarky faeries, shapeshifters, one total hottie, and a series of bloody mysteries that could leave students dead.   

Terrified about what awaits him at the end of the story, a man with undiagnosed anxiety disorder does everything in his power to keep intruders away. 

I'm still not sure what I would say if I met an agent on the street today. (Honestly, it would probably just be "hi." If I met them at a conference, that's when I might pitch. Let's not be crazy stalkers here, people.) How do you even start that conversation? "Hi, I'm Heather, let me tell you about my book?" But I do feel like this exercise in researching and writing hooks has gotten me very close to finding my own. Hopefully with a little more time I'll find the perfect hook that will land me the right agent - or at least get someone to read my pages.

For more on hooks, check out:
Guess my hooks in the comments, and feel free to make up your own to let me (and other commentors!) guess too!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Funday! (23)

Happy Sunday Funday everyone! It was a rainy day here in Florida, and I spent the day reading Before I Fall, snuggling with my dogs, and falling asleep. Also, cleaning, and arguing with my husband about whether or not we should leave the windows open (I think leaving every window in the house open makes the house feel wet and humid. He thinks it's nice. Not a rainy day goes by without this conversation.) Anyway, here are some great links from around the blogosphere!

Look, everyone knows writers are crazy. And that's OK. It makes us quirky. Except when you're being a total psychopath to agents when they reject you. Not. Cool.

SCBWI registration opens this week! Woot! I'm hoping to meet some agents and get a chance to pitch. And that totally terrifies me. Fortunately, Suzie Townsend has created a list of conference pitching dos and don'ts for me to study before I go!

Jacki at Lovely Little Shelf highlights some of the best first lines in literature.

Apparently, there's been some plagiarism in the book blogging world. So not cool. Lenore from Presenting Lenore wrote an amazing post on the topic, as did Steph Su (including information about legal ramifications) and The Compulsive Reader. Educate yourself, people. I am concerned about plagiarism as a journalist, writer, and reader.

AND thanks to Jessica's awesome investigative resources, I can add this incredible gem of amazingness, in which William Kostakis sends a totally snarky email to the unnamed plagiarist. Seriously, just...wow.

And finally, the most awesome post you will ever read in your LIFE, which explains the difference between a lot and alot.

(Hint: this is a lot of beer cans:

This is alot of beer cans:)

Image from Hyperbole and a Half, with even more if you click on the awesome link I told you to click on earlier. Just in case you're too lazy to scroll, here it is again.

Hope everyone had a great day!

Friday, April 16, 2010

It's All in How You Look at It

I went on a looooooong motorcycle ride with the hubs today. Like probably too long. And since I haven't slept much in the past few days, there was a brief moment on our ride home when I honestly thought I was going to fall asleep on the back of the motorcycle. Which would have been a disaster. But before all that, we drove to Brooksville, FL, which...uh, WOW. I didn't even know they made houses like that in Florida. Seriously, people. There were COWS. And HORSES. And wide, open FIELDS!!!

So hubs and I started doing what we I love to do whenever we're in the presence of houses that actually have decent square footage and backyards: pretend like we could actually afford them and discuss which ones we like best. We were driving along a particularly windy path, and in between two houses (one, a lovely two-story country home with wraparound porch, the other a stucco mini-mansion with a long palm-lined driveway) was an empty lot. Well, not exactly empty. It had a couple mounds of dirt in it, and a mailbox at the end of the driveway, so I assumed it was a construction site. But then hubs turned around and said, "Cool! A BMX track!"

Me: "Uh, that's not a BMX track."
Hubs: "Yeah it is!"
Me: "No, it's not! It's a construction site! Those are just piles of dirt!"
Hubs: *Laughs his face off* "No, that's a BMX track. It's organized a certain way. You just can't see it because you're not a boy."


I can't see it, because I'm not a boy.

What looked to me like this:

Looked to my husband like this:

We were riding with his dad, otherwise I probably would have done the obnoxious girl thing and made him turn around. (Although, since he doesn't read the blog, I can comfortably admit that searching for pictures of BMX tracks made me realize he might have been right...maybe.) But what he said got me thinking about perception, and of course, how perception can affect your writing and reading.

How many times have you read a book that everyone LOVED, it just wasn't for you? I can think of at least two strong examples of this in my life. But just because I didn't like the book doesn't mean it's awful (as awesome as I am.) And when people don't enjoy my favorite books, I try to let it slide. The things they've experienced in their lives, or just their general preferences (i.e., liking BMX vs. not being sure why someone would want to ride a tiny bicycle) affect their perception of a book. And that's totally OK. And one day, when (not if - it's all about positive thinking here) I get published, there will be people - multiple people, probably - who don't like my book. And that's OK too.

I don't think there are many times when writers send something off to a crit partner thinking it's totally perfect. But the funny thing is, a crit partner (or a beta reader) might look at something you wrote and have a totally different take on it. That is, in fact, why you have them. So you might have a scene you love and think makes perfect sense, and they'll write, "OMGWTFBBQ?????" in the margins, letting you know you are totally out of your mind. (Hopefully they'll also give a little more explanation as to why you are out of your mind.) On the flip side, you might have a scene that you think is not actually working, and it turns out it is. Or maybe it just needed someone else's perspective - a little chat session or a few emails exchanged with some of your writing buddies, and before you know it your villain has a back story, and your subplot fits in perfectly with the rest of your novel. You just needed someone else to see your pile of dirt as a BMX track.

Even when you're querying, it's all about perception. We've all heard stories about how a book might get rejected by one agent, only to be picked up by another the next day. Just because one agent (or publishing house) doesn't like what you've got going on doesn't mean that there isn't another one who will see that your WIP is so not a pile of dirt...obviously.


How could I mention my hubs, his motorcycle, and my pink helmet (oh, did I not mention that? Well, I have a motorcycle helmet. And it's pink. It's awesome.) without sharing one of these awesome pictures from the mini-engagement photo session we did with one of my best friends, photographer Elizabeth Atkins? There's an even better one but we're KISSING in it, and no one wants to see that...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Things I'm Looking Forward To

I think we get down on ourselves a lot as writers. We get frustrated with something crappy we've just written. We get mad that we don't have as much time to write as we'd like. We want to throw things at our MCs because they won't just stick to the damn outline. And every once in awhile, we need to remind ourselves that there are good things to come. Good things like...
  1. Going to SCBWI-LA, and meeting one of my crit-partners, multiple blogging friends, and an endless sea of Twitter-buddies in real life. Not to mention authors, agents, and editors, and learning a whole lot.
  2. Applying to VCFA's MFA in writing for children and young adults. My transcripts are sent, one recommendation letter has arrived, and by the end of the weekend I will have submitted a critical essay and writing sample, too. I know you don't need an MFA to be published. But I would love to learn more about craft, and maybe even teach one day, and studying writing for two years just sounds like a whole lot of fun to me.  
  3. Finishing (what will hopefully be) my last round of revisions. Before I do that, of course I need to finish the two rounds that come before that. But I know the end is coming up soon, which means that before I know it, I will be...
  4. Polishing, perfecting, and sending off my query. Uhm, wow. That is in my four/five month plan. And it is terrifying. And awesome. 
  5. Attending the Decatur Book Festival. OK, this one is about a million months away (read: six months). But I still can't wait. And they won't even announce all the authors until June. But I know this one is worth driving to Atlanta for.
  6. Reading books by people I know. You guys, in case you forgot, people we know (through the Internet and/or in real life) are getting published. They're getting agents. Things are happening for them. And one day, we'll get to read their books, after months and years of watching their journey. This is very, very cool to me. Not only will I be squeeing through 250+ pages of prose (OMG!! I KNOW THIS AUTHOR!!!), but the whole time I'll be thinking, "This could so be me one day." And who knows? Publishing takes a long time. By the time those books are in print, maybe I'll have a deal of my own. Or maybe I'll be running a blog called IHatePublishedAuthors.Com, where I make fun of everyone who manages to get a book deal, because I don't have the talent or drive to make it. One of those two.   
Now you tell me...what are you looking forward to?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Library Appreciation Part 2: My Favorite Library Worker!

Yesterday was Library Appreciation Day, part of the blogging world's effort to raise awareness about National Library Week. I wrote a post about my local library, and originally I thought I was going to leave it at that. But then I remembered that I know a librarian! And not only do I know her, but I consider her one of my close friends - even though we met online and I've only seen her in real life once (and I know none of you will think I'm crazy for saying that, because you get what it means to be able to have real friends that you met online.) Best of all, she told me that today was National Library Worker's Day! Obviously, I had to celebrate my friend, and workers around the country, by having her here on my blog.

So, blog-followers, meet Julie. Julie is awesome. She is incredibly kind, beautiful (she's the blond in the picture), intelligent, and has the sweetest voice I've ever heard (seriously. I almost died when I met her because her voice is so cute.) She's also a book blogger, so after you get to know her, you should check out her blog, Book Hooked!


Heather: Welcome to the blog, Julie! Tell us about your job.
Julie: I work at a small technical school that offers degrees in Computer Drafting and Design, Information Technology, Electronics, and Criminal Justice.  The largest part of my job is building our collection and working with students on basic information literacy skills.  Most of our students are non-traditional, over the age of 25, and below the poverty line.  I do a LOT of basic skills training - using a computer, spelling, how to use the Internet, etc.

H:  It sounds like you make a huge difference! How long have you been working at the library? 

J: Two years, although technically I'm only a library assistant.  My school is so small that I am the only library staff, so I do the same duties as a librarian, but I won't have the official "librarian" title until I finish my MLS degree in December.

H: Titles, schmitles...you do the work, you're a librarian to me! (And trust me, she does a LOT of work! She's done some amazing programs in the past for her students to bring awareness about literary events, and this month she's hosting two "break the rules" nights in the library, as well as a school-wide trivia game. She's also hosting a haiku workshop! She's amazing. All of this programming for no extra money and little additional praise!) Why did you decide to become a librarian? 

J: I graduated college with a BA in English, which doesn't give a whole lot of career options :)  This is something I decided to try and have loved, so I went on for my graduate degree!

H: I know what you mean about options! Even with my degree in journalism, I pretty much could work at a newspaper, or a magazine. What do you like most about your job?

J: Loving on my students and seeing them get excited about learning.  I have a few who are incredibly dedicated and work so hard to improve their lives - seeing that and getting to be a part of it is inspiring.

H: I hear you talk about that a lot, and it makes me want your job! Is there anything you don't like? 

J: My main pet peeve is being treated like a secretary or babysitter.  Lots of faculty want me to make copies for them or watch their classes and that drives me nuts.  I also hate hearing "so you just paid to sit around and read books all day?"  I wish.

H: OK, so on to the topic of the day: library worker appreciation! What do your students do on a regular basis to make you feel appreciated?

J: I do a lot of work that I feel like is "behind the scenes" - making tutorials and websites and working on events that students don't see - so when one of them notices and just says "thank you" it means a lot.  Even little things like stopping by to tell me hello or offering to watch me walk to my car after dark or telling me to drive safely make me feel appreciated.  I had a student tell me one time that I was the only "authority" he could talk to about his personal life who didn't make him feel stupid.  That kind of stuff can keep me going for weeks! 

H: What can library patrons in general (like me and my blog readers) do to make sure that their librarians feel appreciated today?

J: Just saying thanks really goes a long way.  Realize that your librarians are not sitting behind a desk reading books all day.  It might look like they're just chilling out behind the desk, but I promise they aren't.  Someone has to make the websites, flyers, programs, type the spine labels, etc.  Just hearing someone say "you did a good job" or "I enjoyed that event" can really make a difference.

H: OK, note to self: bring thank-you cards and baked goods to my library the next time I go! With budget cuts, e-Books, and the Internet becoming even more widely available (literally at our fingers all the time), what do you think the future role of the library will be?

J: A lot of people say that libraries are on their way out, but I really just can't see that.  The demand for information is always increasing and, especially with the down turn in the economy, are more necessary than ever, especially for the unemployed and those who live below the poverty line.  So many people in urban areas depend on libraries for access to the internet, as well as books, magazines, newspapers.  I really love to hear stories of communities pulling together to keep their libraries open because they really show how much the community depends on the library as a source of information.

H: OK, enough of the serious stuff...time for two fun questions! If you could work at any library, anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

J: That is such a hard question!  I'd love to get some experience at a public library, but I really think that in the long run academic libraries are my cup of tea.  I'd really love to find a job doing reader's advisory services in any setting - getting paid to tell people what to read is my dream job!

H: Well, on that note...get some practice! Tell my readers to read any book. Go! 

J: Read Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis.  Best book ever!


Thanks for stopping by, Julie! Don't forget to check out her blog!

P.S. I cut two people out of that picture of Julie and me. I feel a little bad about it, because they are really awesome people. But I didn't have time to ask their permission to put their picture all over my blog, and I thought posting without their permission would be rude. But the good news is they both have blogs! And they're both hosting SIGNED Hex Hall giveaways right now!!! (Crystal also has Princess for Hire and Leaving Gee's Bend!) So you should head over to Crystal from Crystal Clear Reading and Leah from My Life: Uncensored blogs, say hello, and enter their giveaways!

Monday, April 12, 2010

It's Library Appreciation Day!

This week is National Library Week, and to honor the occasion, the blogosphere has decided to declare today (Monday) Library Appreciation Day! Woot! This is excellent news because I definitely appreciate my library. It is gorgeous, and right on the water! (Though I loved it even when it was a hot mess. You can probably tell it was renovated within the last ten years.) Check it out:

Ah, the library. Calmer of my soul. Keeper of an awesome YA collection. Saver of my book budget. (In more ways than one...that Friends of the Library store has books in near-perfect condition, and none for more than $2!)

The library is an amazing place. Where else can you get free books? True, you don't own them forever, but it's even better, because you get to share the books with the people who came before and after you. Because of this sharing aspect, I have found letters and bookmarks inside my library books, and once I left $10 inside a book I loved for the next patron to find (a random act of kindness inspired by Heather Zundel).

Most of the library workers are very good to me. (Though there is one not-so-nice lady at the main branch, but I won't tell her story today.) A guy at the check-out desk at the main branch adjusted the due date on my late books once even though I returned them a day late, and he knew that they wouldn't get to checking them in until the next day, so he didn't want to charge me extra late fees. At the East Branch (another, smaller branch which is also very close to my house), a woman at the check-out once charged me half price for a used book because I was friendly to her, and she said that the world needed more people like me. Because of the library, I discovered a love for Garth Stein, The Overlander Series (Suzanne Collins' must-read pre-HG MG novels), Rick Riordan, Jim Dale, Patricia C. Wrede, Megan McCafferty, and Neil Gaiman (who, consequently, is the honorary chair of ALA's National Library Week). The library is my happy place. I love it so.

But the library isn't just about great books! Most libraries have career seminars, movie nights, Internet access, various classes, and even (OMG!!!) author appearances! When I was in high school, I even went to a swing dance class at my library, and had a very awkward encounter with a boy...then again, about 95% of my encounters with boys in high school were very awkward. If you never have, you should definitely check out your local library to see what's coming up on the calendar. For example, at various branches in my area, upcoming events include a Sherlock Holmes film festival, a writer's support group (hey! I didn't know about that! I might check it out...it's at 1PM on Wednesday, but I could go during my lunch break!), various book clubs, Zumba at the library!, and classes teaching Microsoft programs, drawing, interview skills, and chess strategies for children. Wow! And it's all FREE!!!

Sadly, many libraries across the country are facing budget cuts, staffing shortages, and even threats of closing. All of this while usage is up, especially among job-seekers and children - if you're interested in seeing numbers, check out the ALA fact sheet. You should show your support for your library by using it, and maybe even go a step further by donating, and writing or calling your local representative about how important your library is to you and your community.

Now, you tell me...do you use your library? Why or why not? What do you use it for? Just books, or do you hang out there, take classes, go to events, etc.? Why not take just five minutes to visit your library's Web site and see what events they have to offer? You might find something new and exciting! (I did! And I'm on my library's Web site all the time!)

And while we're appreciating libraries, check out this post from Market My Words - tell her why you appreciate libraries, and enter for some fab prizes!

Don't ask questions...

Just click here, and enter this amazing contest hosted by Sarah Wylie (to win critiques, lunch with agents, and TWIZZLERS!!!).

You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Funday! (22)

Hey, look everyone! It's a totally normal time on a Sunday! (Not, like, 11:58 PM, pushing the boundaries of this feature.) First off, I notice I have a few new followers...like more than I normally gain in three days. I'm attributing this not to my general awesomeness, but to Anne Riley's murder scene blogfest. So, new followers, welcome! I hope you enjoy me, or at the very least tolerate me somewhat. The good news is I am inching ever closer to 200 followers, and I have an ARC and some other goodies stored away for that milestone, so spread the word about how fabulous I am!

OK, and now it's time for Sunday Funday! This is my weekly feature where I post the funnest/funniest/most useful (in my humble opinion) links from around the blogging universe!

The First Novels Club attended an SCBWI retreat in the Poconos this weekend! They live-blogged the whole thing, because they are le awesome. I can't link just one post, because they are all worthwhile, so head on over to FNC and check out the posts!

Emilia Plater is an incredibly bubbly and adorable 16-year-old writer who wrote and performed (in a vlog) an incredibly bubbly and adorable song about how much she loves publishing. This vlog has been linked all over the place, but if you haven't seen it yet you pretty much need to. If it doesn't make you smile, nothing will, and you are a soulless freak.

Speaking of talented teens, Kody Keplinger wrote this week about the worst possible thing you can do to your characters - let them do something out of character.

Apparently, it's talented teens week on Sunday Funday! I have another for you - Steph Bowe, who talked about things she can't relate to in YA books. I especially agree with her discussion of super hot, totally perfect boys. What super hot, totally perfect boy would have talked to me, let alone actually dated me in high school? And why would I have been interested in any of them, anyway? I much preferred boys like...

Sam, from Shiver. (Well, I guess he is supposed to be hot. But bare with me for the continuity of the post. And he is kind of an outcast, so I think it works. Plus he works at a bookstore, which definitely would have made him lame at my high school. You had to work at the yogurt shop or the golf range or something to be cool. Popularity is so weird.) But do boys like that really exist? Maggie Stiefvater set out to prove that they do. EDIT: Jessica is a genius, and pointed out that Maggie has said Sam is only hot because Grace loves him. Really he's a skinny pasty guy, and Grace mentioned that she probably would have walked right by a guy like him. I'm pasty. My hubs is skinny. Which leads perfectly into...

I joined the party a little too late to tweet at Maggie my own story about my real-life Sam. And I don't have an LJ account so I couldn't comment on her entry (which I think I must have been doing something wrong, or maybe she changed her settings, because I have commented on her stuff in the past. But I digress.) But I married a Sam. We met on a blind date in high school. He used to write me poems and leave them for me to find when I woke up in the morning (on my car, or my fence). I definitely wasn't on his way to school so this was a big effort for him. When I moved to college, we were broken up, but we stayed pen pals. I dated (and almost got engaged to) someone else, but in the end I got back together with my hubs. The girl who set us up is still my best friend, and was the maid of honor at our wedding. Here's a picture of us from high school (and it is super awesome.):

Happy Sunday everyone! Feel free to share your favorite links in the comments.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Murder Scene Blogfest!

It's Murder scene blogfest day! Today, blogs around the blog-o-sphere are posting scenes from their WIP, or scenes they wrote just for this day, where someone gets murdered or almost murdered. Fun! (That makes me sound crazy.)

OK, here's the deal...death is a huge theme in my novel. Like HUGE. I explore different relationships with death - people who want to die, people who don't want to die, and people who don't know which would be better for them. So I had a few scenes to choose from. But all of my favorite murder scenes were big spoilers for the book, and like I've said in the past, I like to pretend that you all care about spoilers. Therefore, my options were:
  1. Write an entirely new scene just for the blogfest.
  2. Post a spoiler scene.
  3. Post a non-spoiler scene that's semi-lame and not necessarily that bloody/obviously muderiffic. 
I decided to go with option three because, well, I don't have time to write a new scene (as much as I love Anne Riley, I really want to dedicate my time to my WIP), and I just don't have it in me to post a super-spoilery scene. This one is pretty good, though, and even though it's not bloody or gory, and it's really short (less than 400 words...but the set-up is really long because it winds throughout some other action), it is quiet and a little disturbing and I thought it would be a nice change of pace from all the other Murder scene blogfest entries which you should definitely, definitely read.

This scene takes place early in the novel, so I'm not going to give a lot of set-up. Basically, you need to know that my book is a YA future dystopian novel, and my main character is part of the government group which helps control the population...in a way. 

Enjoy! Comment! And don't forget to visit Anne's blog and read all the other entries!

In the foyer, a slight man with curly black hair and the deep maroon uniform of a dispatcher was bent over Joseth’s sleeping body. I watched as the dispatcher pulled a case from his pocket, a case which, at the beginning of the evening, had been full of needles. Now, there was only one left. He removed the cap off its pointed end and tapped the glass edge with his nail. A tiny clink echoed in the marble room. Then, the dispatcher lowered the needle to Joseth’s arm and plunged it into his bicep. My eyes lingered on the boy’s chest as it rose and fell, rose and fell, then, simply, stopped. The dispatcher smiled and removed the needle, leaving the now-empty vial on the floor next to the dead child.

“Aren’t you going to check his pulse?” I called.

 The man turned to me, the corner of his mouth twitching.

“Isn’t that what you’re here for?” he asked.

 He picked up the now-empty needle case and made for the door, feet crunching on the bits of broken table scattered throughout the room. I hesitated for a moment, but I knew what I needed to do. It wasn’t the cleaners’ responsibility to check the dead. I had to be sure Joseth was gone.

Hand outstretched, I approached the body. It was slouched against the wall, limp and definitely not breathing. My fingers found the spot on his neck where his heart would pulse through. Nothing. I exhaled deeply. I brought my other hand around to do an ocular check – examining the eyes was part of the process. With my thumbs at the tops of his cheeks and my forefingers resting on his soft eyebrows, I pulled apart Joseth’s thin eyelids to reveal the most startling pair of golden-brown eyes I’d ever seen. Golden-brown wasn’t even the right description, as they had almost no brown in them at all. They were the color of honey, the strangest thing I’d ever seen. I pulled my hands back in surprise, but his lids didn’t close. I turned away, scrambling to stand up and get out.  
So, there you go! The world's smallest blogfest entry ever. 

And for those who want a little more blood...here's some Dexter!

(Season 2, Episode 2 spoiler...plus some naughty language and obviously graphic content.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My First Vlog! (More on Making Time to Write)

So I made a vlog.

It's not really that great.

It's probably too long. It lacks direction. There's a period near the end where I sort of forget I'm on camera and just look through my notebook, but I was too tired to edit it out, so it ended up in the final cut.  Also, I'm not wearing any makeup, and there's definitely some shoddy editing going on.


You get to meet my cute dog, Evie. You get a glimpse at my new haircut (even though the ends are a bit flippy tonight). You get to hear my voice (which might be annoying and make you forever thankful that I'm a writer.) AND most exciting of all, you get a glimpse inside my writer's notebook, and you get to hear me read the sentence that sparked the idea for my current novel (including the original title! The title and the idea have been modified significantly, so I feel totally cool sharing them all with the world.)

Plus I promised I would.

Also, I totally stole that sign-off from the podcasts I do at my full-time job. I work for an insurance magazine, and we always say, "Until next month, happy selling!" at the end of the podcasts. I think it's cute, and have since I started working there, so I totally borrowed the idea for my vlog. Happy writing is way more fun/easier than happy selling. Happy selling doesn't exist. At least not for me.

So...there you go. Watch at your own risk.

EDIT: I fail at YouTube. Apparently the settings were automatically set to private, and because I have no idea what I'm doing I didn't change them. I posted the video then, like a good writer, turned off the Internet and crit read and did a little writing...and awoke to messages of my fail. But the video should be fixed now! Hopefully my nightowl tendancies mean most people weren't affected. If you were...you aren't missing much.

Related posts/posts mentioned in the vlog:
The last time I talked about making time to write (which includes some eerily similar advice...but I have new followers, plus this is a VLOG!)
The time I wrote an entire post about my dogs, who I probably definitely mention more than my husband

Monday, April 5, 2010

Is Your Novel Re-Read Worthy?

I'm a re-reader and a re-watcher. Need evidence? Currently in my car, Jim Dale is reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to me, while in my DVD player season three of The Office plays for the 100,000 time...and I just took out season 5. (Hilariously, the episode I watched over dinner, which is the only time I have for watching TV, one of many reasons we don't have cable, was "The Convict," which features Prison Mike discussing demontors. I wanted to post the scene for you, but there wasn't anything on YouTube that was remotely watchable. But there are so many HP references on The Office it makes me giddy.)

I love revisiting my favorite shows, movies, and books. There is something magical about picking up a book for the second (or third...or tenth) read and knowing that you will be returning to that comfortable, familiar place, or even finding something new that you didn't notice the first time. And since you already know that you loved the book, there is zero chance that you'll be disappointed by the ending. You can just savor every moment.

I'm definitely a re-reader, and I always have been. You could always tell which books were my favorites growing up - The Monster at the End of this Book, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, anything by Daniel Pinkwater or Roald Dahl, and in high school Youth in Revolt, got thumbed through so much that the copies I have today are literally falling apart. I'm glad that my tendency to re-read has followed me into adulthood, although I have much less time for it now than I used to. There are so many great books I want to read, I don't have the time to dedicate to the old favorites anymore.

I know it used to drive my mom crazy when I re-read books. She didn't see the point. She wasn't a re-reader. She enjoyed a book, then moved on. But she also made her way through the library more than once. My husband also fails to understand my desire to re-read - part of the reason I'm listening to HP this time rather than reading (aside from the awesomesalsa that is Jim Dale) is that I don't want to hear it from the hubs.

But all of this led me to thinking...what makes a book re-read worthy? Is it simply a great plot with outstanding characters? Or is there more to it?

I think a big factor in the re-read is whether the book is a series. HP is easy and fun to re-read, because I want to see how all the pieces connect and interweave throughout the books (and boy do they!) The HG series will be a definite re-read, right before Mockingjay comes out, and again and again over the years. Many of my favorite re-reads are series books, but Youth in Revolt was a stand-alone for a long time before I got the sequel in my hands - and I still re-read that so much that my friend bought me a new copy. But that book was simply laugh out loud funny, ridiculous, and unlike anything else I had read at the time. Plus my big brother recommended it to me, and I pretty much worshiped him when I was 15.

Then again, some of my favorite recent reads I probably won't pick up again. Some Girls Are was fantastic, but I'm not sure I'll read it again. I may. I own it, and I want to...but it would be difficult (or maybe not, since i know what's coming. Or would that just make it worse?)

I think YA writers are in a unique position because they are writing for a demographic that is much more likely to re-read than adults. Not that you should only write something that is re-readable, or make that your sole goal...but you definitely want it to have a certain re-read factor. You want to create a world that readers want to come back to, that they want to send their friends to, and that they want to have on their bookshelf for years to come.

Are you a re-reader or not? What do you think makes a book re-read worthy?

P.S. I'm planning a vlog for this week, but I'm short on ideas. I have a few, but I'm afraid they're lame. Any suggestions? And no, I won't just do whatever you say - I'm going to be selective. I'm not Shannon Messenger, after all. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sunday Funday (21)

I am so behind on blogging! I'm trying to finish my WIP so that I can start querying by July (eek!) which is actually a lot closer then I realized (three months!! double eek!) and I'm also really behind on some other things, including crit reading, because some data got shifted around in The Great Mac Switch of 2010. So I've been focusing on writing and reading and making excuses have therefore been ignoring my blog. Sorry. I'll try to remedy that, because I know you all care very, very much about it. In fact, I am planning a VLOG this week, to show off my new haircut and let you all hear what a girl born in Jersey and raised in Florida sounds like (hint: a fast-talker who pronounces half her words wrong, according to her grandmother.)

Anyway, happy Sunday Funday! Here are some great links from around the blogging world:

Do you remember when I said Shannon Messenger had an amazing agent? Well, because she's fabulous, she's celebrating by giving away some books from her agent-mates!

The multi-talented Weronika Janczuk (who also played the best April Fools' Joke of the day) got an email from an aspiring 13-year-old writer looking for advice. Weronika responded, then shared her response on her blog - full of advice, no matter what the stage of writing you're in.

Anne Riley is the kind of girl who will take a grasshopper out of a stranger's hair. Unfortunately, she can't spot the grasshoppers in her own manuscript - which is why her crit partners are so important. Can you find your own grasshoppers?

Rachel Hawkins, who I love endlessly, did an FAQ on her blog!

Ever wonder what all those crazy definitions in the publishing world mean? Editorial Anonymous has a little dictionary to explain them all

That's all for this week! Feel free to post your favorites in the comments.

P.S. Happy Easter, everyone!
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