March’s Too Few Book Reviews

As I mentioned recently, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve become interested in starting a little blog series where at the end of every month I give a few little book reviews of any books I read that are under reviewed. In this series I want to focus on books that, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten the media attention and book buzz other more popular books did, have less than 2,000 reviews on Goodreads as of my posting, and could use a little bit of love and attention. Also, I’m adding information for each title about how I discovered that book and/author. Mostly because I think this is interesting information, but also in case it helps any authors who have under reviewed books of their own and want to think of creative new ways of reaching new readers.

Book: Kursed by Lindsay Smith

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 3

Date Published: March 3, 2015

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

How I Discovered this Book: I initially discovered the author Lindsay Smith through the lovely podcast series, First Draft (if you haven’t started listening to this and you are a writer and lover of YA/MG…start with Lindsay’s interview here). As a result, I started following Lindsay on Twitter. She tweeted that the prequel to her YA book/series Sekret was on sale for only $1.99 and I preordered it on the spot! I had been curious about her writing and this seemed as a good a place to start as any!

Thoughts: WWII Russia. Plus scientists. Plus PSYCHICS. Using mind powers to bend enemies to their will and have Nazis expose their research secrets and proceed with general bad-assery, I picked up this book soon after I finished binge-watching the Marvel/Captain America TV spin-off, Agent Carter, which was so perfectly spies meets superheroes meets awesome 1950s outfits and heels. I could TOTALLY imagine this little novella taking place in the exact same universe/time period as Agent Carter, but half a world away. What else could you ask for?! This taste definitely got me interested in picking up the first full book in the series.

Book: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 1,830

Date Published: September 30, 2014

Publisher: Harlequin Teen

How I Discovered this Book: Similar to Lindsay Smith above, I discovered this author and book through the podcast First Draft. If you’re interested in Robin’s interview that got me hooked on picking up her book, try here.

Thoughts: Segregation-era Virginia, telling the story of the first black students who attend the previously all-white–and still very much wants to be that way–prestigious local high school. The scenes in this story were so interesting because though I studied segregation in a variety of history classes in my academic career and have experienced a lot of museum exhibits on the topic, I don’t think I’ve ever read a fictional account of the experience, the horrors big and small, from the perspective of children and young adults. Add to that complex situation the fact that one of the black and one of the white students start developing feelings for each other…and they’re both young women. Perfect book to pick up if the We Need Diverse Books campaign has you itching for something different.

Too Few Book Reviews: November/December

As I mentioned recently, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve become interested in starting a little blog series where at the end of every month I give a few little book reviews of any books I read that that are under reviewed. In this series I want to focus on books that, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten the media attention and book buzz other more popular books did, have less than 2,000 reviews on Goodreads as of my posting, and could use a little bit of love and attention. Also, I’m adding information for each title about how I discovered that book and/author. Mostly because I think this is interesting information, but also in case it helps any authors who have under reviewed books of their own and want to think of creative new ways of reaching new readers.

Treasure Hunters by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Book: Treasure Hunters by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 998

Date Published: September 2013

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

How I Discovered this Book: Earlier in the fall, I attended the Women Who Write conference in northern New Jersey. The guest speaker was Chris Grabenstein, author of Escape from Mr. Limoncello’s Library, and coauthor with James Patterson on several other children’s books, including I, Funny. I enjoyed Chris Grabenstein’s talks (one on avoiding writer’s block and the  other on plotting) a lot and wanted to see how he plotted his books. So I checked out everything available in my local library’s audiobook archives. First I, Funny, then I moved onto this one.

Thoughts: This is an everything but the kitchen sink sort of book–there are pirates, storms, kidnappings, treasure hunting, history, siblings–with lots of adventure and cooky situations. I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if I were actually a young kid, which is fine, that’s the intended audience! It read a lot like a sitcom TV episode–fast paced, full of typical comedic situations, entertaining, but just about as memorable; the plot and characters made a fleeting impression on me. I’d more highly recommend these co-author’s other book I, Funny, which has a strong and unique voice, and is one of the better middle grade books I’ve read in a while.

Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost! by Cornelia Funke

Book: Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost by Cornelia Funke

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 910

Date Published: July 2006

Publisher: Chicken House/Scholastic

How I Discovered this Book: Sifting through the local library audiobook archives again, I surprised myself by finding a book by Cornelia Funke–in fact, an entire series–that I had never read or even heard of before! Imagine my delight! From Inkheart to The Thief Lord, she was one of my absolute favorite author’s as a kid.

Thoughts: Cute, funny, young middle grade with messy ghosts and old ladies with lots of personality and all of Cornelia Funke’s classic imagination. As a kid, I wanted to live in the world as Cornelia Funke imagined it. It’s nice to know that, as an adult, that feeling hasn’t really changed. Her stories are still just as magical now for me as they were then.

Ghosthunters and the Gruesome Invisible Lightning Ghost! By Cornelia Funke

Book: Ghosthunters and the Gruesome Invincible Lightning Ghost! by Cornelia Funke

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 487

Date Published: October 2006

Publisher: Chicken House/Scholastic

How I Discovered this Book: See explanation above.

Thoughts: Book #2 in the series, just as cute and charming as the first.

August’s Too Few Book Reviews

As I mentioned recently, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve become interested in starting a little blog series where at the end of every month I give a few little book reviews of any books I read that that are under reviewed. In this series I want to focus on books that, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten the media attention and book buzz other more popular books did, have less than 2,000 reviews on Goodreads as of my posting, and could use a little bit of love and attention. Also, I’m adding information for each title about how I discovered that book and/author. Mostly because I think this is interesting information, but also in case it helps any authors who have under reviewed books of their own and want to think of creative new ways of reaching new readers.

Since the 48-hour reading challenge in June, I’ve read three books that qualify.

Book: The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 414

Date Published: April 22, 2014

Publisher: Candlewick

How I Discovered this Book: I discovered Annie’s blog when trolling WordPress for young adult writers blogs years ago, started following it, and have been looking forward to the release of her first novel ever since!

Thoughts: This was, no exaggeration, the best (and most realistic) contemporary YA book I’ve read in a long time. I feel like most contemporary YA falls into one of two categories: either the characters experience something Truly Terrible and Horrifying–like a drug addiction, a violent life-changing car accident, or cancer, etc.–or the conflict of the novel is developed out of a few high-school specific obstacles like “my boyfriend dumped me,” or “I’ve lost my best friend and I don’t know why.” These, of course, are all valid plotlines that appeal to many readers. But, personally, I don’t strongly relate to these experiences and don’t enjoy reading them as a general rule; as a result, I haven’t really enjoyed that subgenre of YA for a few years now. I didn’t realize what was MISSING in my life and what I WANTED DESPERATELY from a YA novel until I finished this book and was like, YES. THIS. YES. While main character Alex deals with some normal high school troubles–liking a boy, driver’s ed (which, by the way, isn’t discussed ENOUGH in YA, learning to drive is a huge momentous moment and stresser in the teenage years), etc.–the focus of the book is on her mom’s mental break down. She thinks she’s Amelia Earhart and nothing and nobody will convince her otherwise. Alex’s home life is in shambles as the family tries to struggle through this hardship. While a common complaint I have about YA is that the parents simply disappear from the story, the family is the front and center of this book. Which is so accurate to the actual teen experience! I don’t know about you, but the drama and events of high school were a minor portion of my life during those years. I spent most of my lifetime at home with my family, on weekends, after school, during the summer. What they did and what happened at home dominated my life and colored my experiences out of the home. Family problems just don’t dissipate when you walk out the front door–my freshman year, my dad had a massive heart attack and later was diagnosed with an aggressive form of skin cancer; my concerns about his health were constant worries for me. For personal reasons, I really appreciated and related to this book. It is beautifully written, the relationships complicated and artfully drawn. It’s gritty, honest, heartbreaking, true. An absolute must read.

Book: Summerfall: A Winterspell Novela by Claire Legrand

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 14

Date Published: August 26th, 2014

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

How I Discovered this Book: I won an ARC of Claire’s first book, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, through YA author Nova Ren Suma’s blog a few years ago as a giveaway. I loved the book and started following Claire’s blog, and kept informed of each new book release. Her first two books were middle grade fiction, which I love, but I was particularly excited for her first YA book, Winterspell, due out September 30th, and jumped on this prequel as soon as it published.

Thoughts: I loved the world–it’s the land of Cane, where fairies, humans, and mages all coexist…though not peacefully!–and the descriptions of the fairy culture were tantalizing. The clothing, dress, hairstyles, etc….loved it. However, it seems that this prequel was the origins story, sort of, of the main character in the forthcoming Winterspell. This prequel was therefore the story of how the main character’s parents met, fell in love, etc. Personally, I didn’t really like their love story, though, so I’m glad that Winterspell will have the world I like so much but a whole new set of characters for me to meet and enjoy their new adventures. Can’t wait for the full-length novel in less than a month!

 

 

 

Book: The Cabinet of Curiosities by Stefan Bachman, Katherine Catmull, Emma Trevayne, and Claire Legrand

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 78

Date Published: May 27th, 2014

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

How I Discovered this Book: By following Claire Legrand’s blog, I discovered that she had started a new blog with other writers (I had read co-creator Katherine Catmull’s Summer and Bird prior to this and LOVED the writing, so was extra excited about this collaboration effort) called The Cabinet of Curiosities where they weekly post creepy little short stories. This book developed out of that.

Thoughts: A collection of short stories for a middle grade audience, this collection appealed to me right away because I like short stories, but there are almost never collections of them focused on a YA audience, let alone a middle grade one. The book ended up being a fun collection of a huge variety of story ideas, full of an impressive amount of imagination, a variety of monsters, unpleasant magic, and horrible things, perfect for readers who like stories that don’t end happily ever after!

 

48 Hour Reading Challenge Finish Line

Start Time: 9:30 am, Friday, June 6th

Finish Time: 9:30 am, Sunday, June 9th

Hour Breakdown: 

Friday: 9:30-10:30 am: (1 hour); 1:15-2:15 pm: (1 hour)

Saturday: 12:45-1:15 am: (1/2 hour); 12:15-1:15 pm: (1 hour); 1:30-4:30 pm: (3 hours); 5:50-10:10 pm (4 hours, 20 minutes)

Sunday: 7:30-9:30 am: (2 hours)

 Total Hours: 12 hours, 50 minutes

Total Books Read: 2.5

Total Pages Read: ~700

REVIEWS!

Book: Girl Parts by John M. Cusick

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 1,234

Date Published: August 10, 2010

Publisher: Candlewick

Format: Audiobook

This is probably going to be the strangest sentence I ever typed, but this book was a cross between Feed by M.T. Anderson and the movies Failure to Launch and Pretty Woman. Set in a not too faraway future, where teenagers use the internet so much that they’re starting to suffer from “dissociative disorder,” robot female companions have been invented to help the boys develop “real” relationships and reconnect with reality and, hopefully, their moral consciousnesses. It was an interesting idea–I was still thinking about the plot line days afterwards–but not really my cup of tea, mostly I believe because of how similar the futuristic setting was to Feed, another good book (for others) but set in a world I didn’t really enjoy visiting.

Book: The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 593

Date Published: May 20, 2014

Publisher: HarperTeen

There’s that argument that there are only a few stories that can be told and we retell them over and over again. From the first page, it was clear that this book was one of the “boyfriend breaks up with me, I want him back, but by the end of the book I’m going to realize he was wrong for me and fall in love with the right boy,” variety. The title is a spin off of The Art of War, the summer reading title that Lainey ends up pulling advice from to fight for her boyfriend back (cute and clever, no?) But this book was so much more than a standard YA romance. It was so detail-rich–the setting in a suburb of St. Louis, the goth/rock subculture, the really fleshed-out relationships with best friends–that it was full of plot twists, turns, and surprises that I totally wasn’t expecting from what I never anticipated. Mizz Creant’s House of Torture (and Pancakes) for example? With tons of torture-themed breakfast options? With probably one of the “baddest” and dearest “bad boy” character I’ve read in a long time, I was really impressed by how complicated the emotions and world building was. Besides the slight technicality of the main character’s age (she’s a rising high school senior) which actually didn’t affect the plot or characterization in any meaningful way, I would actually say that this doesn’t feel like YA, but New Adult. Personally, I imagined all of the summer shenanigans that went on to be more believable for characters just finishing their freshman year of college, or even older. (Perhaps this is based off personal experience, as I wouldn’t have really been able to relate to many of the things that happened in the book–drinking parties, dance clubs, etc.–until I was a more mature and experienced college student.) I actually think this is a selling point for this book, though, for those readers who desperate for some YA books with older themes, as there isn’t much out there on the New Adult market yet.

Book: The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 188

Date Published: April 22, 2014

Publisher: Candlewick

I actually started this challenge mostly to read this book, but, as I often do, I kept putting off the book I most wanted to read because I wanted to save the most guaranteed feeling of book-enjoyment until the end. As a result, I only got 50% through, though! Annie Cardi is a lovely writer whose blog I’ve followed for years, all the way back before this book was a book and the WIP title was still Queen of Glass, I believe. I’ve enjoyed her blog and her short fiction and as a result I was eagerly anticipating this book for years! Annie was also the one who introduced me to the 48-hour reading challenge, so I thought it would be a fitting tribute to read during the event. So far, the book is lovely. I’m in love. But I’ll have to save the review for my next post.

I think I’m going to keep reading the stack of under-reviewed books I have set aside for the next few weeks. I’m itching to read them all and am a little disappointed that I didn’t make it through more books this weekend or get more reading time in. I ended up having a busier weekend–and probably the most perfect summer weekend–than I expected. A beach day with my best friend, who I haven’t spent time with in too long. A backyard projected screening of Up with my sister and friends. A flea market adventure, some time spent at the pool, and the release of the third season of Sherlock all combined in the same 48 hour period! It’s hard to regret not reading more, with so many amazing things happening.

It was a great weekend, for both adventures and reading, and I’m so glad I participated. Until next year!

Writing Shortcuts: (Part 4) Characters

This is the fourth post in the Writing Shortcuts mini series where I discuss all the things I learned in the second draft that I wish I had known (and done right!) during the first draft of my current WIP. Check out post #1 and #2 (setting) and #3 (pacing) to catch up!

Apparently everyone in the world besides me knew about this handy little writing trick. Even the non-writers of the world (I polled a few, so it might be an unreliable sample) knew. And when I mentioned my mind-blowing, brilliant, life-changing writing idea to them, even the non-writers paused and stared at me like I was crazy. “. . .  you don’t already do that?” some asked. “Doesn’t every writer do that?” others asked, inevitably referencing some world-famous writer who had admitted to the practice in an interview/magazine article/memoir.

Apparently, this is obvious to the logical people of the world.

But in case some of you out there never had this idea occur to you before (like me) and (like me) just go at a manuscript and writewritewrite 50,000, 60,000, 70,000 words with no real character knowledge, just kind of expecting each word to get you a little closer to the character having life breathed into them, I have news for you:

Characters back stories are the most amazing thing in the world.

Character back stories are a get-to-know you opportunity. They’re generally only one or two pages long and in them they include first impression information (what you’d notice right away if you met them for the first time), self-introduction information (the quick-and-dirty sort of elevator speech every person has when introducing themselves to someone you want to get to know. Think back to how you introduced yourself to your college roommate), and the deep dark stuff you’d only pull out of someone past 2:00 am when you’re laying on a trampoline together, staring up at the stars, and talking about life.

These back story write-ups were inspired by MG/YA authors Kit Grindstaff and Jennifer Hubbard, who gave this great session at the NJ SCBWI conference back in April that completely rocked my world. It was about dirty little secrets. About how important it is to know those secret, dark things about each of your characters. Only once you understood them like that, could you then throw them on the page, like I had been blindly doing, and expect any magic to percolate.

After reading the first draft and giving the first few chapters to a critique partner, I knew one of the greatest weaknesses of the manuscript–and one I didn’t yet know how to fix–was the main character. She was the most important person in the book, by definition, especially because I was writing the book in first person, but she almost barely existed. She had no personality and was overshadowed by the much clearer secondary characters. I was having her do all these things and say all these words, but she was not a fleshed out person with flaws and feelings and fears, and it was really obvious that I just didn’t understand what made this character tick. What was her motivation? Her favorite things to do in her free time?

I came up with nada.

The other characters were also pretty flat, so I systematically began approaching each character with a homework assignment: each one had to have this entire form filled out completely and satisfactorily before I could dive into revisions.

CHARACTER BACKSTORY

[Full name, occupation]

Motivated by: [i.e., truth, justice, fear, guilt, secret crush, etc.]

Instant description words: [i.e., adventurous, devoted, controlling, bubbly, lone wolf, etc.]

Biggest mistake ever made in life: [usually a flashback memory scene to a regret]

Biggest obstacle: [The thing the character finds most challenging, the thing they’re constantly trying to work on. Example: needing to fit in, mending a frayed relationship with a loved one, getting over fear of heights]

Least likeable quality: [Flaws are so much more illuminating of a character than why I like them. This question helped me figure out that one character was meek to a fault, for example. If I had just focused on her likeable qualities, I would have had a pretty flat character who was friendly, polite, and a loyal friend. But with that meekness shining through, she has an added depth and becomes more real.]

These are the basic things I always answer. A lot of other stuff gets written down and crossed out and doodled, but these are the bare bones I need to understand every character’s personal history. I write these out by hand, so they’re pretty much a hot mess of scribbles in a notebook that only I can decipher.

It took me about two weeks to do a character sketch for each of the secondary characters. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know about each one. But I kept returning to that blank page for my main character. I’d jot down ideas, tid-bits of the main character’s history, anything to get to know her better.

After a few weeks and a lightbulb moment thanks to a brainstorming session with my sister, I finally finished her character sketch. I understood her. I got her. And it made revising her scenes, her dialogue, her actions, and writing new scenes for her so much easier. I was able to edit away all the crap in the first draft that, it was very clear to me now, was simply not this character’s MO. If only I had done these character sketches to begin with, before I ever started the first draft! Writing that entire first draft over the course of about four months didn’t help me get to know the characters better. I wandered through that world and through that plotline as lost as any of my characters. It wasn’t an effective method for me. The characters just foundered for pages upon pages and even when I wrote “The End,” I was still lost.

Lesson learned? Always write character sketches for each and every character before the first scene they appear in. It’ll help make them consistent and it’ll help the scenes write themselves. Now, off to squeeze in some character sketches to prepare for the secret NaNoWriMo project…!! I can’t wait to spend the month practicing writing a speedy and much better first-draft process! Join me?

Writing Shortcuts (Part 3): Pacing

This is the third post in the Writing Shortcuts mini series where I discuss all the things I learned in the second draft that I wish I had known (and done right!) during the first draft. Check out post #1 and #2 (setting) to catch up!

While reading through the first draft, I slowly came to realize how uneven the days of the week were. The plot spanned across the course of six days. Nearly 40 percent of the book happened on Day #1. (!!!) Other days got as little as 5 percent of the grand total page count. (This was partly a symptom of my speed-writing need. I get really excited about a story idea during a first draft and want to get to the end so badly that I write only the barest of bones. I just want to write “The End” ASAP…and scenes, chapters, and entire day’s worth of events get increasingly shorter as a result.)

Something that would have REALLY helped me during the drafting process to slow down my writing pace and, as a result, create a manuscript that had better story pacing, would have been a calendar.

Like this one.

Plotting Calendar

Plotting calendar. Magical tool for measured pacing!

Once I read through the first draft, I bullet-pointed the scenes on the calendar. That’s when I started seeing the holes. Literally. Huge, gaping holes. Seeing it laid out like that, I realized that one day only had one scene: a random conversation that happened during the evening. Then, cut scene, the next day! Seeing all these holes was like instant inspiration to dig in and start fleshing out the story. I started envisioning the characters interacting together–these were detailed visions I was itching to get on paper–in scenes that didn’t yet exist in the draft, but which I knew HAD to happen and would fit in those holes perfectly. The calendar helped me see a lot of scenes that I should have written during the first draft but was too rushed to give them the time and attention they deserved.

So, lesson learned? Always have a calendar for a first draft. (A lesson learned just in time for NaNoWriMo! Anybody else doing it? Friend me!)

A Write-Tastic Summer

So, I went to a conference thing a few weeks ago. It was the first writing conference I’ve been to in a few years–since college, actually, when I used to drive all over the northeast region and crazy long miles away from the only town in Pennsylvania, fueled by a desperate need to find a few other people my age who were as crazy about writing and children’s literature as I was.

Money’s been tight and conference fees are high–so it seemed like a logical thing to cut from the budget. But when I found out that this year’s New Jersey Regional SCBWI conference was going to be down the road from me, only about seven minutes away, it gave me some serious pause. I wouldn’t have to worry about hotel or travel costs this year. I was further intrigued by the fact that the keynote speaker was going to be Lauren Oliver–who I hadn’t read but had heard great things. So after a book binge which included most of her backlist–Delirium, Pandemonium, Before I Fall, and Liesl and Po–I was hooked. I absolutely had to get myself to this conference.

Amazing writing. I seriously wanted to just pull out some of the beautiful sentences and frame them on my walls. And this happened to me for all of her books. I simply don’t have enough wall space. [deep sigh]

So I went. In some ways, I was a little disappointed. From my perspective, much of it seemed more heavily geared towards the topics and concerns pertinent to picture book writers than MG/YA writers and I came to the realization that I was “aged out” from the majority of the workshops dedicated to publishing. After the intensity of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute and my own insider understanding from working in publishing (admittedly, scholarly publishing) for two years, it was all old news to me. I didn’t need these more beginner, introductory sessions. So I changed up my schedule and started attending more of the craft-focused workshops and I am so glad I did. These were the most valuable portions of the conference for me.

With authors Kit Grindstaff and Jennifer Hubbard I delved into the backstories of my secondary characters, learning all their dirty little secrets and deepest regrets. With author/agent John Cusick, I studied the structure of successful first lines in some of my favorite YA and MG books. With author Laurie Calkhoven, I explored scene structure in a way that has completely upended my writing process–in a good way. I learned so much and got so many brain-fizzy ideas about how to rework my current manuscript. The conference opened my eyes to how much wonderfulness can be written into a good novel and gave me a bit of a reality check as to how much work I need to do for this book to be ready–ready to be queried, read, shared.

Even though it’s not published yet, he shared the first line. It’s a good one! Excited to pick up a copy!

It’s a YA novel, by the way, for those wondering. On this blog, for simplicity’s sake, and also because I’m too superstitious to share it completely, I’ll call it OMM, because that’s the acronym for the working title. (Any guesses for what it is? Feel free to guess in the comments!) I really like thinking of it as “OMM” because it sounds like that soothing meditation sound people make in the movies (clearly, I do not meditate myself). Ommmmmmmmmmmm….

Right, back from that. So, with my brain crammed to burst with inspiration and new ideas, over the following weeks I was (and still am) completely swallowed by this book, in a good way. The revisions are going well. I’m about 25% done. (I’m a linear writer, so I have to go one chapter at a time, and I’m averaging around three chapters improved to my satisfaction a week.) I’m sharing batches of these chapters with a few critique partners and based on their AMAZING feedback, I know there’s going to be another revision swift on the heels of this one. I’m not disappointed by this fact, or overwhelmed by the knowledge of how much work is on the horizon. Even though the CPs are pointing out plot holes, moments where the characterization needs to be flushed out, pacing issues–i.e. things that are WRONG–the fact is that they’re critiquing an existing plot, existing characters, an existing manuscript. It’s nice to realize that I’m not writing a book from scratch. Instead, I’m revising and improving the stuff that’s already there. The revisions have successfully taken what was a big pile of mess into a real manuscript. OMM (I can’t resist. ommmmmmmmmm…) has some warts, definitely needs some more serious revising, but it’s a full and complete story, and while it’s doing a lot of things wrong, it’s also doing a lot of things right. This jumble of 50,000+ words is coming to life, slowly making some baby steps on its own.

As Lauren Oliver said in her keynote speech, writing is “something that is both an indulgence and really hard at the same time.”Dwelling in my own little fictional world, pitting the characters against each other, has been a combination of that: terrifyingly challenging but also thrilling. Kind of like those roller coaster rides I associate with summer and fairs and other wonderful things.

I’m not sure yet if the past few weeks of silence on the blog has been a preview for the rest of the summer. Sometimes, when I sit down to write a blog post, it just feels like I’m stealing writing time away from that book. Every free moment I have I want to dedicate to the book or to reading more books within the genre, to see how others before me have done it. As Stephen Barbara, an amazing agent I met at the conference, wrote in an article: “Read till you nearly go blind; write till your fingers are numb.” I am definitely doing that! In the less than a month since the conference alone I’ve written 17,000 polished words and read 6 books (5 of them YA/MG)!

For example, I just read this one and OMG STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND READ IT ASAP! (Unless you haven’t read the first one yet. In that case–do you live under a rock? What are you DOING with your life!? Call off work sick and read both in one sitting ASAP.)

I really want to have OMM polished up for submission by the end of the summer, and to make more time for it, it seems logical to cut TV time (done!) and blogging time. On top of this, my job just moved location and my daily commute is a little longer. Finding writing time is becoming logistically a bit harder. But I’m doing it every day, hammering out and shaping up 500-1,000 satisfying words a day, about four days a week. My game plan is focusfocusfocus.

As for what else I’m doing with my life, I’m trying to immerse myself in writing circles by spending time on the Absolute Write forums, a new discovery in my life, which is helping keep my craft-hungry brain well-fed. If you’re already on there, friend me and I hope I’ll see you around the boards!

Also: CALL OUT FOR CRITIQUE PARTNERS!

If you’re in similar straights, writing young adult or middle grade fiction, and are looking to swap WIP chapters and develop a long-term critique partner relationship, let me know! I’m making time to seriously read other people’s writing as well as writing my own and I’d LOVE to share/swap chapters with you! The more the merrier!