Poem: Sarah Kay – If I should have a daughter…

This isn’t by any means new, but my lovely younger sister (who is into spoken word poetry) has gotten me interested in spoken word poetry as well. I can’t help but be deeply and emotionally affected by these poems and the way they encompass human experiences.

This has led me to realize, too, that all poems sound better when heard rather than just read. I may be late in the game, but I’m glad I understand it now. The realization has started a new tradition for me: every day, I read one poem aloud.

It’s making me fall in love with the language all over again. Everyone should give it a try!

Mystical Monday: Ten Writing Lessons from the Diviners by Libba Bray

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult–also known as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.”

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer–if he doesn’t catch her first

(from book description on GoodReads)

(I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but there still may be some light spoilers in this post!)

What Worked:

  1. Fleshing out the setting. Ms. Bray did an incredible job with the setting and atmosphere. This novel is set in the 1920’s and the world is absolutely brought to life. The characters speak very strongly in vernacular, but she does a great job of making it feel genuine and real. Plus, I’ve noticed since her Gemma Doyle trilogy that she does a fantastic job with creepy. This is a supernatural murder mystery, and the reader can feel it. I was immersed so deeply that I sat and read instead of doing other things I should have been doing (i.e. writing).
  2. Flawed characters. The protagonist, Evie O’Neill, isn’t always likable, but she is relatable. I know people provide that writing advice all the time, but it really does make a difference. Even if I didn’t like her in a moment, I could still relate to her. I understood her motivations, and she came off as three-dimensional.
  3. Forcing the protagonist to face the antagonist alone. Speaking specifically about my WIP Synchronicity for a moment: there was something bothering me about the end of Synchronicity, and upon reading The Diviners, I realized what it was; a group of characters fight the antagonist in the end. It makes for a much more compelling and dramatic ending when the protagonist is forced to face the antagonist alone, particularly when she is outmatched in strength and/or skill. (This also happens at the end of every Harry Potter book with the exception of the third and the possible exception of the fifth).
  4. Placing hints throughout that so the idea of sequel doesn’t come out of nowhere. It seemed like a the Big Bad was defeated toward the end of the novel – and while the antagonist of The Diviners was certainly defeated, there was a phrase repeated throughout the book that comes up again at the end.
  5. Bringing threads together just enough to get the reader intrigued to read the sequel. These threads were mentioned at different points in the story and seemed completely unrelated. Some of them even seemed like little throwaway details to make characters more three-dimensional. When the connection between these details were revealed and the book ended, I immediately jumped on Google to make sure there would be a sequel. There is a sequel, but it isn’t being released until Spring 2014!! 😦

What didn’t Work:

  1. Backstory info dump. This is probably because there are just so many characters in this novel, but there were quite a few times that a character’s backstory is told to the reader. Oftentimes, the reader would be in the dark, wondering about the character’s mysterious past only to have it all blurted out suddenly. Although it was nice to finally find out what the secret was, it would have been nicer if the layers were peeled away, and it was revealed a bit more slowly. I think it would have been more rewarding for me, as the reader.
  2. Having SO many different perspectives. I’m of two minds about this because it wasn’t pleasant to be in the perspective of a murder victim, but it was nice to have the murder victims feel like real people rather than just corpses placed in the story for the sake of having murder victims.
  3. Jumping perspectives within one scene. Since there are are so many perspectives, there was often more than one represented in one single scene. It could be a bit confusing and also through me out of the scene because I had to think about which character was thinking a particular thought or feeling a particular emotion.
  4. Hasty editing. At times, I was brought out of the story because, for example, in one line Sam said something…and in the next line Sam said something. Was Sam replying to himself? Plus, there were a few instances where I thought the author stated too much. Take this excerpt: “Evie shivered. From what they knew, John Hobbes had been anything but a lovely man. He’d killed many people and taken body parts from them…” (442). The paragraph continues in this vein when it could have ended after “John Hobbes had been anything but a lovely man” or even just “Evie shivered.” As the reader, I remember all those other details and understood through his actions that he wasn’t a lovely man. I didn’t need to be told it as well. If excesses like these were cut out, the book would have been a bit tighter.
  5. Love triangle? This is just a quibble (possibly because I’m a Sam-Evie shipper) but it bothered me a little that Evie has feelings for Jericho all of a sudden. It seemed that Ms. Bray was laying the groundwork for Evie to fall for Sam (and I still hold firmly to this idea) when Evie suddenly liked (and kissed) Jericho. Not that I don’t like Jericho – I just find Sam to be a much more interesting and dynamic character. Also, there’s definitely more chemistry between Sam and Evie! I think the reason it turned out this way is because Ms. Bray wanted to set up a love triangle. *sigh*

Mystical Monday is about anything fantasy/supernatural/ethereal in honor of my YA Urban Fantasy novel, Synchronicity.

Writing Lessons from Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Last year, Annabel was “the girl who has everything” — at least that’s the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf’s Department Store.

This year, she’s the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong.

Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen’s help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.

(from the Goodreads page)

Lessons:

  1. The main character saves herself. Ms. Dessen’s books tend to be a bit formulaic. The main girl has some sort of problem and meets a guy who is passionate about something. In this book, the guy is Owen and the passion is music. She uses Owen and his passion for music to help with Anabel’s personal growth. However, in the end, Anabel is the one who takes that last step to save herself. 
  2. Using flashbacks to reveal the backstory. In a book I read recently (that I will discuss on Monday), there is a great deal of backstory info dumping. Just Listen uses flashbacks to show us what happened instead of just telling them to the reader. I’ve been struggling with the idea of using flashbacks for awhile. If anyone has any ideas for a more elegant but still effective way of conveying backstory, I’d love to hear it!
  3. However, flashbacks shouldn’t interrupt a scene. I can think of at least one instance where Ms. Dessen started a scene and then suddenly jumped back a few hours, recounted what happened then, and then came back to the point where she’d started the scene. That threw me out of the moment when reading it.
  4. Symbols and motifs aren’t just for classics. The front of Anabel’s house is made of glass with certain parts hidden away. Anabel talks about how what you see isn’t the whole story. This theme is brought up again in different ways (such as with Anabel’s modeling and the rumors people spread about her at school). Using symbolism can illustrate the theme in an intelligent way.

SHINee – Dream Girl

(SHINee’s back!)

SHINee’s new album and music video for Dream Girl dropped on February 19th, and I really like it! This might be an unpopular opinion but Girl’s Generation’s I Got a Boy isn’t my favorite song of this year. It’s strangely catchy, but it also feels a little disjointed and seems to lack any cohesiveness. Super Junior M’s Break Down and now SHINee’s Dream Girl having a refreshing quality to them and both have me impressed by SM Entertainment.

Unlike most other SHINee songs, it seems that SM Entertainment didn’t focus on SHINee’s dancing and choreography in this music video. It isn’t bad, necessarily, but it was a little strange when I expected to see some awesome dancing.

All in all, I love this song and think SM Ent seems to be taking a great direction (fingers crossed!).

Why I’m Glad I Went to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference

I loved having the chance to:

  1. Meet other writers. I can’t speak for other conferences, but everyone at SFWC was so kind and welcoming. It was easy to walk up to anyone and strike up a conversation. We arrived as strangers and left exchanging hugs. There’s a real community feeling to being among kindred spirits.
  2. Get a realistic but encouraging look at publishing. Nobody sugar-coated the fact that publishing is both easier and harder than ever now. It’s easier because, of course, self-publishing means there’s no barrier to entry. It’s harder because so many people are publishing books, which makes it more difficult for each book/writer to stand out. At the same time, all the speakers continued to be encourage us and tell us to just go for it without giving up hope.
  3. Meet agents and editors. Being able to meet agents and editors was an invaluably helpful experience. Their insight into the industry was informative. Besides, it was nice to be able to talk to them and make that personal connection that is so important in every field these days.
  4. Learn about self-publishing, indie publishing, and traditional publishing. SFWC did a great job of representing all three aspects of publishing by providing us with successfully self-published authors (i.e. Bella Andre and Guy Kawasaki), representatives of SmashWords and BookBaby (Mark Coker and Brian Felsen), agents, editors of small publishing houses, and editors of larger houses (such as Simon & Schuster).
  5. Be introduced to resources. Until the conference, I didn’t know that the branch of California Writers Club closest to me is only five minutes away from my house, for instance.
  6. Pitch (or practice pitching) to agents. This was really one of the best parts. I got to talk to agents one-on-one – if only for three minutes – and find out what they thought about my pitches and the novels I’m revising right now. (P.S. The response was good!)
  7. Get advice from a freelance editor. Although it was only ten minutes long, it was nice being able to ask my questions to an editor and get her advice about the first chapter of my novel.
  8. Learn about the craft and business about being a writer. How do you craft the best possible first chapter for your YA novel? What should a writer website look like? How do you find a critique group, and how should it function? What are some of the biggest myths about finding an agent? What are some myths about an agent’s job? How do you make your work resistent to rejection? How important is it to have a copyeditor if you’re self-publishing? All these questions and more were discussed at the conference.
  9. Assume responsibility for my desire to be a writer. Spending the time, effort, and energy to attend this conference has forced me to truly admit to myself that I want to be a serious writer. I’ve always loved writing, but this has made me accept that it’s something I really want to do.
  10. See R.L. Stine speak! I read Goosebumps obsessively as a kid. Getting the chance to see him in person was just incredible. One of my favorite moments was when I was just standing around, and I turned around to see him standing there.

Edit: This is a really great post about the conference.