Saturday, July 31, 2010

Kindred Spirits

When I was in high school my family had a unique Christmas tradition. Each Christmas Eve my parents would arm us with the latest and greatest Nerf weaponry and we would raid the neighbor's house. We'd break down the door (figuratively-- usually we just rang the door bell), stormed the house, and started all sorts of foam ball chaos. Needless to say, the neighbors loved us (no, they really did).

One Christmas Eve as we were dressing in our camouflage and painting our faces black, I had an idea. If I was going to be a villain, I'd better do it right. So while all my siblings painted thick smudges of black across their cheekbones, I did the only logical thing. On my face I painted angry eyebrows, a thin mustache, and of course, a pointed goatee. I was only short the black cowboy hat.

My brother did a double-take when he looked at me. "What are you supposed to be?"

And that's when I knew. I was different-- something in my brain was just wired a little different than other people (even my family-- which is saying something considering it seemed totally normal to us to play a giant game of war on Christmas Eve).

I believed this for years, trying to keep a lid on my "quirkiness." And then I took up writing. After just one writing conference I realized I'd finally found MY people. I'd returned to the motherland. In fact, this whole writing world fits me so perfectly that it's hard for me to understand why it took me this long to realize it existed.

This last weekend I went to a writing retreat with my critique group, ANWA (not just my chapter, but the whole group-- think 30 women, one cabin, and a bunch of laptops). I had such a great time and met some wonderful women. Though I'd never admit this to my husband and children, it was hard to come home.

So the next time you see me storming a house with a Nerf gun and you wonder, "Why has she painted a mustache and goatee on her face?" you'll know...

It's because I am a writer.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Lesson Learned!

I'm at a writing retreat right now, and last night a couple published authors were talking about bad reviews they'd received. They must've talked for ten minutes about how insulting it is to be called a "beach read."

Gulp.

I'm pretty sure I've used that term for a few of my reviews. And I'm pretty sure some of the books were by people I know. The sad thing is that I thought I was saying something good. I mean, when I think of lying on beach, listening to the waves, soaking up the sun, there is nothing I like more than a book that draws my undivided attention. Because that, my friends, is the ONLY time that my attention can truly be undivided. So of course, this has only happened a few times in my life...

Anyway, to any of you authors who happen to read this blog (and that means all of you, because I can only assume my blog review, which will be viewed by only a handful of people, is probably the most important one you'll receive), just know that if you made my blog, I like your book and I think it's worth reviewing.

Even if I say that it that it's good to read while doing other mundane tasks (and if you ever read my blog, Sarah, you'll know I'm talking about you)...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Hunger Games



Synopsis from B&N:
Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat's sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place.

My Review:
Okay, folks, this one goes on my top ten favorites of all time. If you like dystopic fiction, then you'll like this book. Although the main character is a girl, it is not written solely for a female audience (which is tough to do, because most books that are written where the main character is a female tend to turn off male readers). Just a warning: No light, happy, skippy themes here. This book is dark and a little violent. But man, can Suzanne Collins tell a story. I'm excited for the third book in the trilogy coming out soon.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Dark Divine


Summary from Bree Despain's website: Grace Divine, daughter of the local pastor, always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared—the night she found her brother Jude collapsed on the porch, covered in blood. But she has no idea what a truly monstrous secret that night really held. And when Daniel returns three years later, Grace can no longer deny her attraction to him, despite promising Jude she’ll stay away.

As Grace gets closer to Daniel, her actions stir the ancient evil Daniel unleashed that horrific night. Grace must discover the truth behind Jude and Daniel's dark secret . . . and the cure that can save the ones she loves. But she may have to lay down the ultimate sacrifice to do it—her soul.

My Review: I have to qualify this one by saying that I know this author as well. I also have to qualify this by saying that I happen to like paranormal romances (i.e. romances with elements of fantasy in them). I thought this book was really well written. If you liked Twilight, you'll like this book. If you didn't read Twilight but you like paranormal romance, you'll still like this book. I'm always a huge fan of Young Adult books that I actually feel young adults can read, and this is one I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to a teen reader. I'm excited to read the second book coming out soon.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Brainstorming

I went to my critique group a couple nights ago. Still loving it. A couple of the girls and I went to lunch the next day to brainstorm. Remember in my last post how I just discovered how useful it is to brainstorm with others? Sometimes I think when you send things out into the atmosphere (or the internet, in this case), what you need comes back to you.

Lunch was great. Of course, I'm one of those psycho people who go over the top: "Hey, let's do this every week and go to the library afterwards to write for a couple hours! Then we can give ourselves a group nickname, travel to conferences together, take pics of each other posing with famous authors (or becoming famous ourselves)."

I can see it all now. Never mind that we have children, work, other aspects to our lives...

Now that I'm back to reality, all I can say is I hope we can make this a fairly regular occurrence, even if it can't be as often as we would wish (or I would wish, anyway).

Thanks girls.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Deadline

I've been wondering lately what it would be like to write on a deadline. Probably the biggest reason why I've wondered is because I've done very little writing in the last few weeks. Oh, I got a little research in. Sat down and looked up a few things on the internet. But every time I opened my manuscript I'd look at it and think, "hmm, I really need to figure out where this story is going." I'd stare at the screen for a moment, maybe read over some of what I'd already written and make some grammatical changes, and then turn off the computer. There was just nothing coming to me.

So what have I done to correct this problem? Well, first I pondered what I'd do if I had to write. If there was an editor or agent out there waiting for my next 50 pages. Then, I thanked my lucky stars that I didn't have the pressure of somebody waiting for my next fifty pages. Then, I reminded myself how stupid I was to be grateful not to have an agent or editor.

After playing this mental tennis match for a while, I decided I needed some inspiration. I'm fairly new to the whole mental block thing, so I didn't really know where to go. But I did know what brought me enjoyment, and what made me want to be a writer in the first place.

Books.

So I've been reading and reading and reading. And not just books from my genre. I've read books about eating (and not eating), scriptures, romances,YA fiction, children's fiction. Anything I could find that would grease the cogs of my mind. And it worked...mostly. It definitely got me inspired to write, but I was still stuck on my story. I just couldn't figure out where it was going.

Then, quite by accident, I found my inspiration. At a recent family reunion in the mountains a family member asked me about my manuscript as we drove a 1/2 hour to the grocery store (she should have known better than to ask me while I had her captive in a car for half an hour). I told her all of it. What I'd written so far, what I was struggling with, how I wanted the story to end.

I was amazed at how useful it was to brainstorm with somebody else. Of course, she told me she was not creative in that way and that she was the last person to ask. But still she gave me ideas and listened as I shared mine.

And (let choirs of angels sing), I came up with the rest of my story.

I am always amazed at how creative and intuitive people are who claim they are not. I also wonder how on earth people write who don't have an army of family members who are graciously willing to take part in the process.

Friday, July 9, 2010

My Fair Godmother



Summary on the Web:
After her boyfriend dumps her for her older sister, sophomore Savannah Delano wishes she could find a true prince to take her to the prom. Enter Chrissy (Chrysanthemum) Everstar: Savannah’s gum-chewing, cell phone–carrying, high heel-wearing Fair Godmother. Showing why she’s only Fair—because she’s not a very good fairy student—Chrissy mistakenly sends Savannah back in time to the Middle Ages, first as Cinderella, then as Snow White. Finally she sends Tristan, a boy in Savannah’s class, back instead to turn him into her prom-worthy prince. When Savannah returns to the Middle Ages to save Tristan, they must team up to defeat a troll, a dragon, and the mysterious and undeniably sexy Black Knight. Laughs abound in this clever fairy tale twist from a master of romantic comedy.

My Review:
Okay, I have to change my review because I just learned that "beach read" is not exactly taken as a complement by authors. So let me clarify. I really liked this book. It's light-hearted (not light-minded), funny (I think that's one of Janette's great talents-- both in writing and personally), and an engaging read. What I particularly like is that it's a clean romantic comedy for the YA crowd (12-16 year-olds). If you have girls that age, any of Janette Rallison's YA books are good a pick.

Life of Pi



Summary From Publishers Weekly:
The peripatetic Pi (ne the much-taunted Piscine) Patel spends a beguiling boyhood in Pondicherry, India, as the son of a zookeeper. Growing up beside the wild beasts, Pi gathers an encyclopedic knowledge of the animal world. His curious mind also makes the leap from his native Hinduism to Christianity and Islam, all three of which he practices with joyous abandon. In his 16th year, Pi sets sail with his family and some of their menagerie to start a new life in Canada. Halfway to Midway Island, the ship sinks into the Pacific, leaving Pi stranded on a life raft with a hyena, an orangutan, an injured zebra and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. After the beast dispatches the others, Pi is left to survive for 227 days with his large feline companion on the 26-foot-long raft, using all his knowledge, wits and faith to keep himself alive.

My Review:
Interesting. Very interesting. Somehow the author convinces you that it is actually possible for a tiger and a young boy to both survive for months on a life raft together. It's a little more of a challenge to read, and people say it's hard to get into, but an interesting story nonetheless.

Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society



Summary From the Web:
“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”

January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

My Review:
Did you know that the English Channel islands were occupied by Germany for five years during World War II? Neither did I. This story has a warm, funny feel to it, while at the same time giving you an understanding of what those horrible five years were like. The entire book is told in a series of letters sent by different people. That's not usually my favorite format, so it took me a minute to get into it, but once I did I enjoyed it. Despite the subject, I would classify this as a light read. It even includes a little romance, for those of you who are interested.

Left To Tell By Immaculee Ilibagiza



Summary:
ImmaculĂ©e shares her miraculous story of how she survived during the Rwanda genocide in 1994 when she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor’s house for 91 days! In this captivating and inspiring book, ImmaculĂ©e shows us how to embrace the power of prayer, forge a profound and lasting relationship with God, and discover the importance of forgiveness and the meaning of truly unconditional love and understanding—through our darkest hours.
My Review:
I didn't think I could begin posting reviews without mentioning this book, although I read it over a year ago. For me, it was a life-changing book. It's not a light read, but it's worth it. This is heart-wrentching story of misery and suffering (she was forced to push her pleading, crying younger brother out of the house in the middle of the night to face his doom among a mob of machete carrying murderers, for example). However, amazingly and impossibly, this story is actually about hope. It will leave you filled with confidence in God and in the power of our own minds. Amazing.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Graceling


Synopsis by Kristin Cashore on her blog:
Graceling, my debut novel, is the story of Katsa, who has been able to kill people with her bare hands since she was eight. Katsa lives in the seven kingdoms, where very occasionally, a person is born with an extreme skill called a Grace. Gracelings are feared and exploited in the seven kingdoms, and none moreso than Katsa, who's expected to do the dirty work of torture and punishment for her uncle, King Randa. But then she meets a mysterious stranger named Po, who is also a Graced fighter and the first person ever to challenge her in a fight. The two form a bond, and each discovers truths they never imagined about themselves, each other, and a terrible danger that is spreading slowly through the seven kingdoms.
My review:
This is my kind of book. I admit, I'm a huge fan of fantasy. And if you're not, then you won't like this book. But the female protagonist is strong, the pace is quick, and the story is compelling. Again, it's a "power is in you" kind of book. But there's less of a "life lesson" feel to it. It's just good story telling.

The Help


Synopsis from the Web:
Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

My review:
I really like The Help (of course, or it wouldn't be on here). I'm only just realizing how much I enjoy historical fiction. I found this insightful, touching, and liberating. It made me grateful for the good that is out there, and sad for the way we often dehumanize and even vilify people who are different from us. The theme of personal discovery and empowerment is so prevalent in books today. I once heard an author describe it as the Star Wars moments ("Luke, the power is in you"). This book is a twist on that same theme.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

One Solitary Dot

So I just moved this blog to a new site, and so far I'm the only visitor. My own, little, solitary dot on the map of the world. Hello dot.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Moving

I am moving to a new blog site. The address is: www.melindajonescarroll.blogspot.com. I'm still just learning the whole importing, exporting thing, so until I've moved this blog over, I thought I'd better post a notice (for my many, many fans out there).

Transition

At the last writing conference, I had a lightbulb moment. I've been to a few conferences over the last year or so, and I've learned a few things. First, writing conferences are awesome and inspiring. But they also can be overwhelming (it's hard not to get discouraged when you see all the other people who want to be writers). Second, it's great to go to writing conferences to learn about the publishing market, however, things start to repeat after a while. My first conference, I soaked everything up. But there are only so many times you can sit in a class of fifty people (or more) and get told that the economy is rough right now, that YA is huge, and that "voice" and originality are the most important things in a manuscript. After a while, you really start needing some specific help, not just generalizations.
So that's where I am now. I'm not going to swear off writing conferences, but I am going to be a little more selective. Unless I know that my work will get workshopped, that I will have a real opportunity to network with people in the industry, or that I can take some specific classes on writing (if I hear one more vague description about "voice" I'm going to scream), then I will probably pass on the conference.
I'm learning that it's also good to have a completed manuscript when going to these conferences. I once had an editor read my first ten pages and ask if I had a completed manuscript and I had to say no. Not that he would have been interested in the whole thing (though he was very nice about the first 10 pages), but he could have been. The "what if's" are a killer.