Monday, January 30, 2012

Read Books That Make You Squirm with Envy

I started reading John Green's new young adult novel, The Fault in Our Stars, today, and I immediately found myself hooked by his writing, his protagonist's memorable voice, and the novel's central predicament: a wisecracking, terminally ill young cancer patient named Hazel finds a new love in her life. Even as I sit here and type these words, I'm tempted to chuck all attempts at getting any writing done today and dive back into his story.

My instant love of Green's novel got me thinking about all the books I've read—from the disappointing to the brilliant—and I realized I can place them into four categories:

Category #1: Books I dislike shortly after I start reading them. Perhaps a rave review, the opening chapter, or the promising premise got me to pick up the book in the first place, but the book rapidly goes downhill. I usually set these novels aside instead of forcing myself to read them.

Category #2: The so-so books. I give the book a fair shot and eventually make my way through to the end, but it's not without some pain and regret. Usually I hold onto the hope that the ending will make the difficult journey worthwhile, and sadly, I'm often disappointed I stuck out the ride.

Category #3: The good books, worthy of 3- to 4-star ratings. I enjoy the reads, but there are one or two flaws that fail to make the book superb.

Category #4: The superb books. The authors are so skilled at their craft that they're able to juggle fascinating characters, a compelling plot, and ridiculously gorgeous writing without letting any element fall to the wayside. Typically, these are the award-winning books, and leaving their fictional worlds behind when I close the last page usually makes me feel a little lost. It's always hard to find a worthy follow-up read after finishing this type of book.

As a writer, I find Categories #2 and #4 are the ones that challenge me to write better books.

When I come across a so-so book in one of my favorite genres, I'm disappointed as a reader. In response, I set out to write the book I wanted to read. If all books in a genre were superb, I probably wouldn't feel such a compelling need to spin my own tales. For example, I've never experienced an overwhelming desire to write children's picture books, namely because the messages I'd want to get across for that age group have already, in my opinion, been achieved incredibly well by someone else. 

When I come across a book in the superb category, I feel my own writing improve. The skilled author sets the bar high, and as a writer, I find myself trying to climb to meet their nearly impossible standards and produce a story equally as compelling as theirs. It's like a cook who wants to improve themselves by eating a feast prepared by a master chef: you savor, you absorb, you fill yourself up with the other person's bounteous talents, and you learn.

If you're a writer, seek out the superb books as often as you can. Find yourself squirming with envy at an author's work. Treat your mind to writing that blows you away.

Never, ever be afraid of a challenge.

Your readers will be thankful.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Today at ADR3NALINE3, I Explain How an Orange County Childhood Turned Me into a Gothic Novelist

Fellow Amulet Books author A.G. Howard, author of Splintered (January 2013), invited me to be her guest today at ADR3NALINE3, the new website for dark middle-grade and teen fiction.

Head over to my guest post to discover how my Orange County childhood, Walt Disney, Harry Houdini, and an elementary school library book all led to the creation of my upcoming Gothic novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds.

If you've just arrived here from ADR3NALIN3, welcome! Feel free to have a look around my humble virtual home.

A little mood music to accompany your visit:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Yes, I'm Definitely Seeing This Ghost Movie

Being the huge fan of Gothic historical ghost stories that I am, I'm counting down the days until the February 3 release of The Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe. If you haven't yet seen or heard anything about this film, or Susan Hill's novel on which it's based, here's one of the many Woman in Black featurettes popping up around the web (it includes a quick peek at the author):

As with most movie adaptations, differences from the book seem to abound, but I still can't wait to run out to see this creepy, classic, ghostly tale on the big screen and get scared out of my wits.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Gothic YA Novels Coming Our Way

Today at Suburban Vampire I blogged about Gothic young adult novels coming our way...and I discussed ADR3NALIN3, a brand-new site that celebrates dark YA and middle-grade fiction:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Trailer Love...Amazing Mini-Movies for 2012 YA Book Releases

Just a quick post to share some highly impressive book trailers for some highly impressive-looking 2012 YA releases:

BORN WICKED by Jessica Spotswood

STARTERS by Lissa Price (who shares my incredible agent, Barbara Poelle)

CINDER by Marissa Meyer

THE SPRINGSWEET by Saundra Mitchell

What do you think? Do you love how book trailers are starting to resemble movie trailers more? Or are you a little peeved that actors are getting cast for books before we're able to form our own mental images of the characters?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My First Post-Book-Deal Interview & Other Blogosphere Travels This Week

All this week I'm traveling around the blogosphere, making various guest appearances.

Today Mindy McGinnis, author of the upcoming dystopian thriller Not a Drop to Drink, interviewed me over at Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire. I'm part of her interview series called Submission Hell—It's True (I'll let you figure out the acronym of that series on your own). You can read about my long and winding submission journey here.

P.S. Not a Drop to Drink sounds amazing. Check it out at Goodreads.

I also just participated in Gennifer Albin's Januquery project. Gennifer is the author of another upcoming novel I can't wait to read: Crewel, set in a world where women designated as "Spinsters" can control time. She invited members of The Lucky 13s to help her critique query letters people are submitting to her site, and my critique ran yesterday. I've worked as a copy editor in the past, so I sincerely hope the author whose query I chose didn't pass out when she saw all my red marks. Queries are an extremely challenging part of the process of getting an agent, and I wish the best for all the Januquery participants.

Tomorrow (Jan. 11) I have a post running at The Lucky 13s. This week's topic: What Keeps You Going When the Going Gets Tough. I may have composed a song for that particular subject...

Finally, this Friday I'm participating in the monthly 13th-Day Post at The Lucky 13s and celebrating Friday the Thirteenth with a special post at Suburban Vampire.

When I'm not running all over the place, giving my two cents on the world of writing, I'll be right here working on my newest manuscript, which I'm trying to tackle as much as possible before I receive my In the Shadow of Blackbirds edits. All I can say about this one is that it's another Gothic historical novel. The working title, the basic plot, and everything else about the book will be staying under wraps for now.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My Novel's Time Period Is Showing Up in Movies and on TV...Tonight!

It's one thing to study a time period's look (i.e., the clothing, the hairstyles, the home furnishings, the lack of indoor plumbing!) by poring over pictures in books and reading about all the minute details. But to see your historical era of choice portrayed in a movie or on a TV series is especially satisfying. Observing the way a particular style of skirt moves when a woman walks or the way her complicated hair arrangement stays in place can be extremely helpful in imagining life for your historical character.

I happen to have chosen an era that occurred after the invention of movies, so I have the advantage of seeing people from 1918 in action. For example, here's a 50-second glimpse at women involved in the YWCA during WWI:

The film is a really short peek at 1918, but like I said, I can see a woman's hairstyle from all angles in this clip, and I can watch the way a female walks in WWI-era clothing.

Furthermore, I currently have the opportunity to watch two different WWI-set dramas made in modern times, both at my local theater and on my TV tonight: War Horse and Downton Abbey. The number of movies set during WWII is staggering, but it's usually really hard to find modern-made tales involving the first world war.

I saw War Horse last week (and sobbed like crazy), and tonight I'll be curling up on my couch, switching on PBS, and traveling to WWI-era Europe, paying attention to everything from the rumble of automobile engines to the way everyone's hats fit on their heads.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Interview with a Debut 2012 Author & a Query Critique Opportunity

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! It's 2012, which means we'll now get to enjoy the books of The Apocalypsies—a group of YA, MG, and children's book authors debuting this year. I had the pleasure of interviewing one of those writers: Kami Kinard, author of The Boy Project (Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister).

You can read my chat with Kami at

In other news, Gennifer Albin, author of the upcoming YA novel Crewel, is running an event called Januquery on her blog. She asked us members of the The Lucky 13s to help her critique query letters that people send in, and I'm going to help out. If you have a query letter you'd like to submit for feedback, go to

My kids are heading back to school on Tuesday, so I'll be wrapping up some goodies over at my Suburban Vampire blog and then diving back into my writing, which has been drastically ignored during the break. I'm also contemplating starting a group blog for debut YA historical novelists, but we'll see if I have time. It's also the start of Girl Scout Cookie season, and I'm the cookie mom, so things are going to get a little insane around here soon. If you hear the muffled cries of a stressed-out writer buried beneath boxes of Thin Mints, that'll be me.

Happy New Year!

P.S. 80% of the people who responded to my December poll said they've had a ghostly image show up in their photographs.